Friday, February 19, 2010

Obama's Health Care Summit Sham

"The proposal to televise a February 25 health-care summit with Republicans grew out of a conclusion by top White House advisers that Obama had bested House GOP leaders during a 90-minute televised discussion in Baltimore last month," according to the Washington Post.

We thought ObamaCare was pronounced dead with the election of Scott Brown, so why are Republicans even discussing it? The American people had won the victory against this key plank in the Obama socialist agenda. Now, weak and unprincipled Republicans, as they have so many times before, may rush in to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Only after it had become abundantly clear that ObamaCare would never pass, after it was pronounced dead by the Massachusetts voters, Barack Obama asked for a do-over, a mulligan, in the form of this supposedly "bi-partisan" televised healthcare summit. Bi-partisan? Poppycock. It does not require a MENSA IQ to figure out that Barack Obama did not call this meeting to listen to Republican ideas. As Rush Limbaugh said, it's a "trap," an attempt to paint Republicans as the "Party of No" and lay the groundwork to bring ObamaCare back from the dead.

That's why the obvious response to Obama's request for a televised healthcare summit should have received an immediate and firm "no," but it's apparently not so obvious to some of our Republicans legislators because, they're falling for the trap.

Someone needs to save these Republicans from themselves. The New York Times called this televised health care summit "a high-profile gambit that will allow Americans to watch as Democrats and Republicans try to break their political impasse." Political impasse? Give me a break. There is no impasse. The American people don't want government-run health care and Barack Obama and the Democrats don't have the votes to pass it. It should be dead. So why are we going to continue the debate? And why are Republicans allowing it, enabling it. There is absolutely nothing Republicans can gain from this meeting.

Obama will use the occasion, with a little help from his spin-doctors at CBS, MSNBC, ABC and CNN, to make Republicans look bad and/or Republicans will actually offer concessions and put ObamaCare back on the table. Both of those outcomes are losing propositions for the American people.

Here's what Republicans should say:
"With all due respect, Mr. President, the American people have already rendered their verdict on ObamaCare. Further discussion would be pointless, fruitless and an insult to the people who elected all of us to public office. Furthermore, Mr. President, we need not remind you that members of your party literally shut Republicans out of the process, wrote the House and Senate versions of ObamaCare during closed-door meetings with liberal special interests, and, in opposition to the will of the American people, pulled every legislative shenanigan in the book to shove ObamaCare down our throats. As such, your offer of bi-partisanship, after having lost, is laughable.

We will not be puppets for your little political theater. If you're really serious about reforming the health care system, meet with members of your own party and tell them to start advancing some ideas that will actually make health care more affordable and more available to the American people such as tort reform and allowing companies to sell health insurance across state lines. We'll support those measures.

If members of your party are unwilling to go down that road, you can still work with us to advance real healthcare reform. We'll simply agree to wait until November, when Republicans have recaptured the majority, and place real healthcare reform legislation on your desk.

That's what they should say. Will they have the courage? All indications look bad.

Greta Van Susteren of Fox News asked House Republican Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, whether or not he was going to attend the Obama healthcare summit. Boehner tap-danced. He never answered the question. And yet, he did acknowledge the idiocy of the entire exercise. At one point he acknowledged posing the question, "Why are we going to talk about a bill that can't pass?" He also expressed reservations that he might "walk into some trap."

Indeed, Congressman Boehner, this televised healthcare summit is a "trap" and a scam designed to make you and the rest of the Republicans look bad. Since you're going into this trap to "talk about a bill that can't pass," why go?

Moreover, why take the risk that your efforts might actually give new life to ObamaCare and give Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid the opportunity to start the whole sordid process over again? Americans have had enough of the secret meetings, the back-room deals, the legislative shenanigans and the repeated attempts to shove ObamaCare down the throats of the American people.


The WellPoint Mugging

The brawl over rate increases is a preview of ObamaCare

Democrats and their media allies have found a new insurance piƱata: WellPoint and its recent health-premium price increases in California. This spat deserves more attention, because its real lesson is what will happen to health insurance costs around the country if ObamaCare passes.

WellPoint's California unit, Anthem Blue Cross, recently informed nearly 700,000 individual insurance customers of premium increases of up to 39%. President Obama jumped on the announcement, claiming in a pre-Superbowl TV interview that the hikes were a "portrait of the future if we don't do something now."

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius quickly piled on by ordering a federal inquiry, claiming a company that made "$2.7 billion in the last quarter of 2009" could not "justify massive increases." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ripped WellPoint and other "greedy insurance companies that care more about profits than people." And right on cue, House baron Henry Waxman scheduled a hearing, where he will not blow kisses.

He ought to subpoena California's political class because Wellpoint's rate hikes are the direct result of the Golden State's insurance regulations—the kind that Democrats want to impose on all 50 states. Under federal Cobra rules, the unemployed are allowed to keep their job-related health benefits for 18 to 36 months. California then goes further and bars Anthem from dropping these customers even after they have exhausted Cobra. California also caps what Anthem can charge these post-Cobra customers.

Most other states direct these customers to high-risk pools that are partly subsidized, but California requires the individual market to absorb the customers and their costs. Even as California insurers have had to keep insuring these typically older and sicker patients, the recession has driven many younger, healthier policy holders to drop their insurance—leaving fewer customers to fund a more expensive insurance pool.

This explains why Anthem lost $58 million in California on its post-Cobra customers in 2009. If WellPoint didn't raise premiums amid these losses, it would soon be under assault from its shareholders, if not out of business.

This episode is a preview of the adverse selection that would happen nationwide if ObamaCare passes. The Democratic bills would control what insurers could charge and force them to take all comers, regardless of health status. These burdens were supposed to be made tolerable by requiring all Americans to buy insurance or face a penalty. Yet when this "individual mandate" proved to be unpopular, Congress watered it down so that younger customers would be able to pay the penalty knowing they can wait until they're sick to pay the more expensive premiums. The only way an insurer can make up for these higher costs is to raise premiums.

This is precisely what WellPoint predicted would happen when it released a detailed actuarial study in October showing that insurance costs would soar for millions of Americans under ObamaCare. The White House hasn't forgotten that study, or forgiven WellPoint for releasing it, which may explain the force of its current attacks.

As for WellPoint's profits, $2.2 billion of WellPoint's $2.7 billion fourth-quarter earnings came from the one-time sale of a subsidiary. After one-time items, WellPoint earned $2.92 billion last year, compared with $2.86 billion a year earlier. Anthem's profit margins are in line with its two largest nonprofit competitors in the state; its net income on a per-member-per-month basis in 2008 was $12.62, compared to Blue Shield's $13.22 and Kaiser's $18.45.

Anthem last year hired an independent actuarial firm that found its rates sound and necessary. The company presented its findings to California insurance commissioner Steve Poizner last November, who had a month to review the proposed increases and never objected. But recently amid the White House campaign, Mr. Poizner has joined the chorus claiming to be "skeptical" of the increases and demanding that Anthem postpone them while he conducts a review. Anthem has done so.

Mr. Poizner is a Republican running for governor, which proves that health-care political opportunism can be bipartisan.


Bashing Insurers: Obama's health reform won't do much to stop the premium increases he deplores

Skepticism from a Leftist writer below

The Health and Human Services department has posted online a memo documenting health insurers' insatiable appetite for premium increases. In 2009 BlueCross BlueShield of Maine asked state regulators for a 56 percent increase in nongroup premiums; the state eventually approved a 22 percent increase. Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon asked for 20 percent and got 16 percent. In Washington State Regence hiked some rates as high as 40 percent, prompting the state legislature to approve new regulations limiting future increases....

But there's little reason to believe that, in the still-unlikely event that the health reform bill makes it to Obama's desk, it will do much to curb premiums. The examples cited in the HHS memo underscore this point. Reform, the memo says, will:

1.) "Place additional oversight on health insurance companies to ensure that people get value for the premiums they pay."

Both the House and Senate bills would achieve this by mandating a minimum percentage of the premium dollar that must be spent on health benefits ("medical loss ratio"). In the House bill the requirement is 85 percent; in the Senate bill it's 85 percent for large-group insurance and 80 percent for nongroup and small-group insurance. These are good reforms. There is some evidence of industry abuse: According to the report from Health Care For America Now!, three of the top five health insurers (WellPoint, Humana, and Cigna) decreased their consolidated medical-loss ratios in 2009. But whether a federally-imposed minimum actually lowered premiums would depend a great deal on how the regulations were written; ambiguities exist about which insurer expenses count as health benefits and which count as administrative, and the industry would seek to maximize these. A November letter from the Congressional Budget Office on the Senate bill's likely effect on premiums makes no mention of medical loss ratio.

2.) "End arbitrary limits placed on coverage by insurance companies" and "End Insurance Company Discrimination."

These are references to the bills' abolition of health insurers' lifetime spending limits, their prohibition against insurers denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and their limits on how much premiums may vary for different demographic groups. All of these reforms are badly needed, but if they had any combined effect on average premiums at all, it would likely be to raise them, not lower them, since they would impose new costs on insurers. (This increase should be offset, however, by health reform's "individual mandate" requiring everyone to purchase health insurance. Because it's not wildly popular, the HHS memo doesn't mention it.)

3.) "Create competition among insurers with a health insurance exchange."

It's true that for most people, the exchanges would lower the cost of nongroup health insurance. But that's not because the premiums would go down; the CBO projects that by 2016 the Senate health reform bill would actually drive nongroup premiums up 10 to 13 percent. Rather, health reform would lower health insurance costs on the exchanges through government subsidies. For the roughly 60 percent of people purchasing insurance on the exchanges who qualified for the subsidy, the cost of premiums would end up 56 to 59 percent below what they are today, according to CBO. The premium increase would also be mitigated somewhat by the fact that the nongroup insurance purchased through the exchange would tend to cover more than nongroup policies do today. Rock-bottom policies would be available through the exchanges—at prices 14 to 20 percent cheaper than comparable policies today, according to Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist who's done some contract work related to health reform for HHS—but CBO anticipates that even the unsubsidized exchange customers would usually bypass them.

4.) "Ensure value in our health care system."

This refers to various small reforms, enacted on a mostly experimental basis, aimed at lowering prices at hospitals and in doctors' offices. Everyone agrees that these are worth trying, but nobody expects they will yield significant savings in the short term, and anyway most of them concern Medicare, not private insurance.

5.) "Lower premiums."

This refers to the 14 to 20 percent price drop in rock-bottom policies mentioned above. CBO's main findings were that by 2016 the Senate health reform bill would have virtually no impact on large-group premiums and would raise nongroup premiums 10 to 13 percent. (For more on this see, "Forget The Cost Curve.")

You may have noticed that the HHS memo makes no mention of the Senate bill's 40 percent excise tax on high-value "Cadillac" health insurance, touted hither and yon as health reform's boldest bid to control medical inflation. That's probably because the idea is wildly unpopular—so much so that it had been whittled down considerably even before Republican Scott Brown's election to succeed Ted Kennedy put health reform in peril. Many called this a sellout to Big Labor, but a new study shows that 71 percent of the Cadillac-tax reductions the White House negotiated with labor leaders accrued to nonunion workers. Since then, labor leaders who previously lent the Cadillac tax their reluctant support have reportedly backed away. That's no great loss, since the Cadillac tax was misconceived from the start as a tax on gold-plated health insurance. According to a study published in the January Health Affairs, a health plan's generosity accounts for a mere 3.7 percent of the variation of in the cost of family coverage. What really determines a health plan's "value" are the demographic characteristics of the people it covers.

The HHS memo also fails to mention the House bill's public option. Creating a government health insurance plan that would compete directly with private insurers is the surest way to curb the rise in private health insurance premiums. But in the House the public option had so many restrictions placed on it that CBO ended up concluding it would charge premiums slightly higher than private competitors. The Senate, hampered by its need to muster 60 votes to break a filibuster, jettisoned the public option. Now 18 senators and 119 House members are circulating a letter urging revival of the public option in a "reconciliation" health care bill, should any such emerge. Reconciliation itself—a process that would allow Senate passage of budget-related parts of the bill on a simple majority vote—is looking like a long shot right now, to an amazing (and largely unrecognized) degree because the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is standing in the way. But if divine intercession were to occur once, maybe it would occur twice and restore a muscular version of the public option (or a weak version that might later be strengthened) to health care reform. Without one, I don't see how President Obama can claim his bill would do anything much to address the plague of rising premiums.



Three current articles below -- giving hints about what the Obamaclown wants for America

How a corrupt government health bureaucracy blames the media for its problems

By Anthony Morris, QC, who oversaw a review of Queensland Health in 2005

I HOPE that the Courier-Mail is thoroughly ashamed of itself. Thankfully, Heath Minister Paul Lucas has now explained that the essential problem with Queensland Health is not the failure of the Bligh Government, or its predecessors. Rather, as Lucas assured State Parliament last Tuesday (9 February) – quoting selectively from the unpublished report by British health mandarin Sir Liam Donaldson – the blame rests squarely with the CM and other media outlets, for creating a “media climate” which is “very hostile and adversarial”.

It took Donaldson a mere week in Queensland to produce his $40,000 report, but it seems that Queenslanders are not going to enjoy the full benefit of his words of wisdom. Lucas has reserved to himself the right to choose which extracts are officially published. So we must take Lucas’s word that the short extract which he has quoted is fairly representative of the thrust of the report as a whole, and not taken out of context.

One should not be surprised that, after spending a week in Queensland talking to QH bureaucrats in Charlotte Street, Donaldson has been left with the impression that media hostility is the greatest problem facing the healthcare system. Perhaps, if he had been able to spend a little more time here – perhaps long enough to visit some of the regional hospitals, and speak with some of the patients – he would have gained a slightly different impression.

Lucas, however, should know better. For one thing, he should know that, to the extent the “media climate” has become “very hostile and adversarial”, it is QH’s own doing. Perhaps nobody mentioned to Donaldson the fact that Queensland Health employs – at last count – over 60 full-time equivalent spin-doctors. Perhaps nobody saw fit to tell him that the main functions of this legion of propagandists are to manufacture “good news” stories for QH, to downplay and obfuscate anything which reflects poorly on QH, and, above all, to ensure that the media never get access to anything potentially damaging to QH without a fight.

Lucas should also know of the sterling work done by a small team of world-class journalists – especially the likes of Hedley Thomas, Des Houghton and Patrick Lion at the CM – in exposing major problems in our public heath service. With resources which are just a fraction of QH’s public relations machine, these journalists have repeatedly overcome QH’s defence mechanisms to ensure that the truth is revealed. Little wonder that QH bureaucrats find the “media climate” to be “very hostile and adversarial”!

Lucas’s real complaint – echoing the complaint apparently made to Donaldson by the bureaucrats with whom he consulted during his week in Queensland – is that the CM and other media outlets have the unfortunate habit of telling the truth. And that, of course, is the last thing that any QH bureaucrat wants.

I believe that I have read every report relating to QH which has appeared in the CM over the last five years. Not once, to my recollection, has QH’s army of spin-doctors found anything substantially wrong to correct in the CM’s reporting. So if the CM is to be criticised for anything, it is for informing its readers of facts which QH doesn’t want them to know. In just one issue this week – that of Wednesday 17 February – the CM demonstrated why it is so hated by QH bureaucrats.

One story concerned the demotion of former Royal Children’s Hospital chief Doug Brown, for misappropriating $6,500 of charitable donations to buy beauty treatments for nurses. Strangely, though this incident occurred in 2007, nothing happened until the CM blew the whistle. On the contrary, Brown actually received a promotion whilst supposedly “under investigation”!

No doubt QH bureaucrats are right to blame the CM for the fact that one of their senior colleagues has been punished for his wrong-doing. It remains to be explained why: (a) Brown has merely been demoted, rather than sacked and prosecuted through the criminal courts, for his theft of charitable funds; and (b) taxpayers, rather than Brown, are to reimburse the funds which he stole.

Another story concerned the latest tragedy of QH waiting-list figures. At least taxpayers and patients are now being given some approximation of the truth about this issue, compared with the folk-stories and urban myths previously being peddled by QH’s spin-doctors. But the full truth is yet to emerge, with Mr Lucas welshing on his promise to release dental waiting lists.

And so it goes on. The fact that the Health Minister and his department’s bureaucracy feel threatened by the “media climate” proves only one thing: that the CM, and other media outlets, are doing their job very well.

Lucas said in Parliament last week, “I yearn for the day when we can have some maturity in the health debate in this state”. His idea of “maturity” seems to involve the press writing only what he and his top bureaucrats want the public to know. So there is little wonder that he yearns for such a day to arrive. The rest of us can only hope that it never will.


Two years to see a public dentist in Queensland

THE median waiting time for a public dental checkup is two years - and people with toothache so bad it keeps them awake at night face a month-long wait for a Queensland Health dentist.

New figures show that the average wait for someone with bad tooth pain in Queensland is about 30 days to see a publicly-funded dentist. Those with lost fillings or broken teeth have a median wait of 50 days, while most people wanting a dental checkup from a Queensland Health dentist face a two-year wait.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle said the long wait for public dental treatment in Queensland was unacceptable. ``Everybody understands what it's like to have a toothache and the pain that can generate," he said. ``Multiply that over a 30 to 60-day period without any relief's an appalling situation."


Special favours needed to get prompt treatment in a NSW government hospital

Federal MP Belinda Neal was last night embroiled in a new political row as the bitter pre-selection for her marginal seat of Robertson erupted into a war of words over alleged favours for a senior branch member. Last night Ms Neal denied allegations that she had offered to help a 72-year-old senior Labor Party branch figure get her hip-replacement surgery performed earlier if she voted for Ms Neal in the pre-selection.

The allegations have been made by Louisa Sauvage, the acting president and treasurer of the Wamberall/Terrigal branch of the ALP, in Ms Neal's seat of Robertson. Ms Sauvage said Ms Neal visited her home last Friday to ask whether she would sign the MP's preselection nomination form. "She saw me with a walking stick and asked me what was wrong," Ms Sauvage said. "I told her what the problem was and she said, 'I think I might be able to do something for you'. I said that would be nice," Ms Sauvage said. But she said she didn't feel obliged to sign the form at that time. She said she provided her doctor's name and number to Ms Neal.

Ms Sauvage said that on Monday morning Ms Neal called her about 8.30am and told her to promise not to tell anybody "but I think we can organise something for you". "She then told me I had to promise that I would vote for her," Ms Sauvage said.

But last night Ms Neal denied acting improperly. She said: "After I visited Ms Sauvage and requested her support . . . she then raised her pain and her distress at having to wait a long time for an operation. "She asked if I could help. I told her I was happy to try but it was sometimes successful and sometimes not. "Over the next couple of days I investigated and determined it might be possible for her to have her operation earlier if the operation were undertaken by a doctor who might have an earlier available vacancy.

"I rang her on the Monday and told her that I would do a representation on her behalf and that I might have some success if she was prepared to consider another doctor. "She said she would consider that and I said I would go ahead and do a representation. I directed my staff to make this representation and they were sent the morning of the following day."

Ms Sauvage has been on a waiting list with the NSW Health system for three months and was told last week that it would be another 10 months at least before she could expect to have her surgery done. Late yesterday Ms Sauvage said she was phoned unexpectedly by the Wyong Hospital and told that a place had been found for her in April.

Ms Sauvage has been a member of the ALP since 1977. "I don't like to be pushed around," she said. "I felt like a second-class citizen, like she thought I must be stupid."

Ms Neal last night claimed that the allegation that anything was requested in exchange for assistance being provided to a constituent was entirely false. said: "I have made representations on many occasions and am happy to do so for any constituent who needs assistance."

Senior officials in the NSW Labor Party have been made aware of the claims made by Ms Sauvage. Ms Neal is being forced to recontest pre-selection for the seat because fellow Labor Party member Deb O'Neill is challenging her for the Labor endorsement.


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