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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 9, 2009 8:55 AM. The previous post in this blog was Product review. The next post in this blog is Dialogue, 2009. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

No tengo a nadie

Joining the Republicans to vote no on health care reform: Brian Baird, the Democrat from the Lars Larson Show.

Comments (11)

Thank you Brian Baird! You have my support!

Strike 1, Strike 2....

I'll withold judgment until I know what "health care reform" means.

It may mean everyone goes under Medicare, but passing this at midnight on a Saturday augurs not well.

Right now, it looks like "health care reform" means "Senate filibuster."

What's disappointing, is that Senators don't even have to diaper up and read the phone book cover-to-cover anymore to perform a filibuster like back in the day. They just have to announce a filibuster, and then they all go back to their offices and do whatever they do until enough back room moves or adjustments to the bill (read: added pork) are made to get an affirmative cloture vote.

At least obstructionists had to work at it back in the day.

I agree with Brian. Casting aspersions isn't gonna work.

Right on, Brian - !! Much appreciated; you have my support.

Somehow, I doubt that his reasons for a no vote are the same as Kucinich's

Any port in a storm.

And this storm is a doozy!

Pelosi had her 218 or whatever it was on Friday night and released the moderates and Blue Dogs to do as they wished. How else to explain the near simultanious announcements of several "moderates" that they'd be voting no? Best to give him this one vote to placate the crazies in WA-3 than run the risk of turning a relatively safe seat into a toss-up. Pelosi was very shrewd on this. She *might* be smarter than I thought.

This is why the whole thing ought to go down anyway. Unless the bill that comes out of conference is radically better than either the House or Senate bills, we'd be better off with nothing but a chance to turn 2010 into a referendum on Medicare for All:

Marcia Angell, M.D.
Physician, Author, Senior Lecturer, Harvard Medical School
Posted: November 8, 2009 08:02 PM
BIO Become a Fan

Is the House Health Care Bill Better than Nothing?

Well,

The House health reform bill -- known to Republicans as the Government
Takeover -- finally passed after one of Congress's longer, less
enlightening debates. Two stalwarts of the single-payer movement split
their votes; John Conyers voted for it; Dennis Kucinich against.
Kucinich was right.

Conservative rhetoric notwithstanding, the House bill is not a
"government takeover." I wish it were. Instead, it enshrines and
subsidizes the "takeover" by the investor-owned insurance industry that
occurred after the failure of the Clinton reform effort in 1994. To be
sure, the bill has a few good provisions (expansion of Medicaid, for
example), but they are marginal. It also provides for some regulation
of the industry (no denial of coverage because of pre-existing
conditions, for example), but since it doesn't regulate premiums, the
industry can respond to any regulation that threatens its profits by
simply raising its rates. The bill also does very little to curb the
perverse incentives that lead doctors to over-treat the well-insured.
And quite apart from its content, the bill is so complicated and
convoluted that it would take a staggering apparatus to administer it
and try to enforce its regulations.

What does the insurance industry get out of it? Tens of millions of
new customers, courtesy of the mandate and taxpayer subsidies. And not
just any kind of customer, but the youngest, healthiest customers --
those least likely to use their insurance. The bill permits insurers to
charge twice as much for older people as for younger ones. So older
under-65's will be more likely to go without insurance, even if they
have to pay fines. That's OK with the industry, since these would be
among their sickest customers. (Shouldn't age be considered a
pre-existing condition?)

Insurers also won't have to cover those younger people most likely
to get sick, because they will tend to use the public option (which is
not an "option" at all, but a program projected to cover only 6 million
uninsured Americans). So instead of the public option providing
competition for the insurance industry, as originally envisioned, it's
been turned into a dumping ground for a small number of people whom
private insurers would rather not have to cover anyway.

If a similar bill emerges from the Senate and the reconciliation process,
and is ultimately passed, what will happen?

First, health costs will continue to skyrocket, even faster than
they are now, as taxpayer dollars are pumped into the private sector.
The response of payers -- government and employers -- will be to shrink
benefits and increase deductibles and co-payments. Yes, more people
will have insurance, but it will cover less and less, and be more
expensive to use.

But, you say, the Congressional Budget Office has said the House
bill will be a little better than budget-neutral over ten years. That
may be, although the assumptions are arguable. Note, though, that the
CBO is not concerned with total health costs, only with costs to the
government. And it is particularly concerned with Medicare, the biggest
contributor to federal deficits. The House bill would take money out of
Medicare, and divert it to the private sector and, to some extent, to
Medicaid. The remaining costs of the legislation would be paid for by
taxes on the wealthy. But although the bill might pay for itself, it
does nothing to solve the problem of runaway inflation in the system as
a whole. It's a shell game in which money is moved from one part of our
fragmented system to another.

Here is my program for real reform:

Recommendation #1: Drop the Medicare eligibility age from 65
to 55. This should be an expansion of traditional Medicare, not a new
program. Gradually, over several years, drop the age decade by decade,
until everyone is covered by Medicare. Costs: Obviously, this
would increase Medicare costs, but it would help decrease costs to the
health system as a whole, because Medicare is so much more efficient
(overhead of about 3% vs. 20% for private insurance). And it's a better
program, because it ensures that everyone has access to a uniform
package of benefits.

Recommendation #2: Increase Medicare fees for primary care
doctors and reduce them for procedure-oriented specialists.

Specialists such as cardiologists and gastroenterologists are now excessively
rewarded for doing tests and procedures, many of which, in the opinion
of experts, are not medically indicated. Not surprisingly, we have too
many specialists, and they perform too many tests and procedures.
Costs: This would greatly reduce costs to Medicare, and the reform would
almost certainly be adopted throughout the wider health system.

Recommendation #3: Medicare should monitor doctors' practice
patterns for evidence of excess, and gradually reduce fees of doctors
who habitually order significantly more tests and procedures than the
average for the specialty. Costs: Again, this would greatly reduce costs,
and probably be widely adopted.

Recommendation #4: Provide generous subsidies to medical
students entering primary care, with higher subsidies for those who
practice in underserved areas of the country for at least two years.
Costs: This initial, rather modest investment in ending our shortage of
primary care doctors would have long-term benefits, in terms of both
costs and quality of care.

Recommendation #5: Repeal the provision of the Medicare drug
benefit that prohibits Medicare from negotiating with drug companies
for lower prices. (The House bill calls for this.) That prohibition has
been a bonanza for the pharmaceutical industry. For negotiations to be
meaningful, there must be a list (formulary) of drugs deemed
cost-effective. This is how the Veterans Affairs System obtains some of
the lowest drug prices of any insurer in the country. Costs: If
Medicare paid the same prices as the Veterans Affairs System, its
expenditures on brand-name drugs would be a small fraction of what they
are now.

Is the House bill better than nothing? I don't think so. It simply
throws more money into a dysfunctional and unsustainable system, with
only a few improvements at the edges, and it augments the central role
of the investor-owned insurance industry. The danger is that as costs
continue to rise and coverage becomes less comprehensive, people will
conclude that we've tried health reform and it didn't work. But the
real problem will be that we didn't really try it. I would rather see
us do nothing now, and have a better chance of trying again later and
then doing it right.

I like Dr. Angell's suggestions, but I disagree with her (and Kucinich's) rejection of the current legislation. If we "do nothing now" as she suggests, we will move into an election year having accomplished nothing on this issue after keeping it on the front burner all year -- and the voters will punish Democrats for it by staying home on election day enabling major Republican gains. This is what happened in 1994 when progressives joined conservatives in rejecting the Clinton plan.

Let's learn from this tactical mistake and take what we can get now, inadequate as it surely is. This way we at least keep some momentum for change on our side and will have a shot at improving the bill later when its faults manifest themselves clearly.


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