Tuesday, March 27, 2012

One Ballot, Two Votes

Dave Cunix – surrogate. I was asked to represent Al Gore during the 2000 presidential campaign. I presented his positions at candidate forums and spoke to citizens’ groups. Based on Mr. Gore’s success, I was recruited four years later to serve on the John Kerry campaign. We know how well that went.

The candidate forums were very inclusive. Surrogates were invited from all of the major campaigns. The Bush representative and I were often joined by men and women prepared to advance the agendas of Pat Buchanan (Reform), Ralph Nader (Green), and Harry Browne (Libertarian). At the end of these forums I would say something that though incredibly true was sure to agitate the Libertarians and the Greens. “A vote for Ralph Nader is a vote for George Bush. A vote for Harry Browne is a vote for no one”.

Gosh that would torque them off. Worse, as we now know, I was totally correct. Here are the results of a few of the states:

Fl........16,414.....17,484.......2, 912,790....2,912,253....97,488

Emotion plays a huge roll in politics. The politicians, our leaders, use our emotions to push us in one direction or another. Our first task must be to remove all emotion from political discussions. Once we get down to facts, to cause and effect, we can determine what we really want to do and how to create a logical course of action.

My issue with government in 2012 is the inherent laziness of our politicians. Speaking in snippets and sound bites and relying on emotion laden advertisements, candidates and elected officials don’t debate solutions, just fears. They exploit our fear of spending money. Our fear of the “Other”. Our fear of losing what little peace or privacy we have left.

The President’s health care program, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), was initially sold as a way to insure the uninsured, all 50 million of them. The American public was told that not only wouldn’t it cost more to do this, but that premiums would go down. And we were going to get better coverage (free stuff!) at no additional cost.

The Republicans were asking for a birth certificate from the tooth fairy.

And what were the Republicans doing during all of this? They defended the status quo and promised to respect the doctor/patient relationship. They assured us that they would protect the world’s best health care system. And we do have a great system. And we do have great doctors and hospitals. But G-d help you if get really sick and are stuck with inadequate insurance coverage.

So here, again, is the truth. We aren’t going to return to 2007. No one in power wants to replace the PPACA. No one wants to fix it. The Republicans took control of the House of Representatives over a year ago. Repeal Obamacare? How? To what end? If the Republicans had a constructive option they would have advanced it by now. As in any successful negotiation, common ground and saving face are keys to victory. Mr. Boehner, Mr. Cantor, Mr. Romney, and even Mr. Gingrich, a legislator who has promoted the individual mandate for most of the last twenty years, have not offered a path to modify the PPACA to make it work. They have no solutions, just campaign issues.

The Democrats have a program that won’t work as a privately insured system, but could lead to single payer. The Republicans have a fundraising gold mine. You? You have debates about birth control pills and a lifetime supply of smoke and mirrors.

The numbers are real, everything else is, as Rick Santorum would say, “BS”. The PPACA had to have gimmicks built in to it to cover the exorbitant costs. One by one these income generators are disappearing. The 1099 silliness is gone. The Long Term Care program (CLASS) is gone. The tax on Cadillac Health Plans will disappear, too. The Supreme Court is hearing arguments TODAY about the constitutionality of the individual mandate. We will get the verdict in a couple of months. Regardless of the outcome, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will move forward.

So which party deserves your support? Who is going to get our health care system on to firm financial ground? Will a vote for one guy really be a vote for someone else?

I need a ballot that offers “None of the Above”.



Monday, March 19, 2012

Let's Pretend

Let’s pretend that you own a business, any business. Since we are talking about your imagination, this enterprise could be as small as just you and one employee or it could be as large as G.M. Your pretend business might be a service provider, a manufacturer, or a retail store. You may establish this business in any of the fifty states. It doesn’t matter. The only rule is that your imaginary company must be in a field that is totally foreign to you. So for me, someone who can’t even play an instrument, my fantasy will have me as the leader of a private orchestra. Got it?

I want you to think about your pretend business for a moment. Think about your time, your effort, your sacrifice as I announce that one of your company’s largest expenses is being eliminated. Excited? Did you feel that you are about to be rewarded for your hard work? Have you begun to spend the money?

But this is all an exercise. None of it is real. You can’t know, really know, what you might do in such a situation. Just as I will never be in a band, much less lead an orchestra, the members of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) have no idea how real businesses function.

In a recently released report, the CBO attempted to predict the possible effects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) on the deficit and the uninsured. It has been widely predicted that employers will dump their company sponsored insurance plans due to the ever-rising costs to comply with the new legislation. That is not new. This COB report unveils a Bad News / Good News scenario that we haven’t seen before.

As reported by Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post, “If employers drop 14 million, currently-insured workers into the exchange, the CBO projects that the federal deficit would actually decrease by $13 billion since those workers could no longer use the current tax deduction for employer-sponsored insurance.” Ms. Kliff’s article quotes the CBO’s numbers and explanation.

The staffers at the Congressional Budget Office imagined a scenario where the owners of businesses would drop the cost of insurance, ignore the government penalty (currently set to be $2,000 per employee per year), and give every employee a raise equivalent to the previous cost of health insurance! If that happened, if all of the employers in the country magnanimously dispersed 100% of the insurance premiums, ignoring personal wants and needs, Social Security tax, unemployment tax, Workman’s Compensation costs, etc…then, and only then, could there be significant deficit reduction from moving millions off employer sponsored group insurance and into the exchanges.

Does this make sense? Sure, if we pretend.



Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Entertainer

I was on a cruise, over a thousand miles south of the Florida coast, when Rush Limbaugh chose to waddle into the fray. Watching CNN as we were dressing for dinner, we thought that we were going to get a break from the stories of the horrific shooting rampage in Chardon when the anchors moved on to other topics. First it was the announcement of the death of Davey Jones. Then it was the death of reason in the ongoing health care debate. El-Rushbo had spoken.

The delivery and payment of health care in this country is already over politicized. We have more than enough emotion and not nearly enough facts. Logic and intellectual honesty are notably absent in most of the discussions. The Republican presidential candidates have studiously avoided anything that even approached a solution. They have all vowed to repeal Obamacare as if that wouldn’t create more problems than it solved. And into this we add Rush.

Where do we begin? Let’s start with a clear statement. Calling Sandra Kay Fluke, a law student four days older than my daughter, a “slut” and a “prostitute” because she vocally supports the President’s health care legislation is abominable. She is a civilian, a private citizen. She isn’t a public figure, someone who willingly subjected herself to this kind of derision or scrutiny. And no, it may not be right to say such things about public figures, but we do. Ms. Fluke should have been off-limits, like the nameless group of men that had testified about women’s birth control the week before.

So the predictable occurred. We put an important national debate on hold while we discussed the relative merits of a radio talk show host. The people that hate him, and Gosh there are plenty who do, got riled up and went after his sponsors. His defenders, a little more reserved than usual, assured us that Rush was just being Rush. There was a certain amount of merit on both sides. There is nothing the political right hates more than to be defeated by the use of the free market. And in all fairness, Limbaugh, ignored in the Republican presidential primary and uninvolved in the national discussion, desperately needed attention. Any attention. Everyone won, even Ms. Fluke. Her brand, her name recognition, is huge. She is assured of a much brighter future thanks to Rush Limbaugh.

What didn’t happen, what was stopped completely, was an intelligent, honest discussion of the issues. So let’s try to kick start the process.

Here are a couple of the stories you might have missed:

  • We have discussed the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plans that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) created for the unhealthy uninsureds. The federal government’s actuaries predicted the average cost per enrollee at $13,026. They weren’t even close. The average cost now predicted for each enrollee in 2012 is $28,994! It is that kind of predicting that gives most of us pause as we contemplate the President’s health care program and future liabilities.

  • Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has decided that he sees no reason to vote on the repeal of the PPACA until after the November election. It is important to remember that he has never seen a reason to offer an alternative to the President’s plan or a workable way to modify the legislation.

Add to this the date March 26, 2012, when the Supreme Court will begin to hear arguments about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and we have more than enough to keep us busy. In fact, we are much too busy to waste time on an entertainer.