Free Markets, Free People

Health Care


Conference on Health Care Reform

Cato Institute is hosting a conference on health care reform today that will be webcast live. It will feature the following speakers:

* Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)
* Rep. Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX)
* Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA)
* Karen Davenport, Director of Health Policy, Center for American Progress
* Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Former Director, Congressional Budget Office, and Director of Domestic and Economic Policy for the McCain presidential campaign
* Tom G. Donlan, Barron’s
* Karen Tumulty, Time Magazine
* Susan Dentzer, Health Affairs
* John Reichard, Congressional Quarterly

This represents a wide range of views and promises to be much more interesting and informative than the White House/ABC News infomercial scheduled for next week. so if you’re interested in this topic at all, take some time to check it out.


Obama Media

While it comes at no real surprise given how they behaved during the presidential campaign, the MSM has finally decided to go all in with its support for the President. Next Wednesday night, June 24, ABC News will host a program about health care reform from inside the White House, but only one side will be presented — i.e. Obama’s. The Chief of Staff for the RNC is not happy about this decision and sent the following letter to David Westin, the President of ABC News:

Dear Mr. Westin:

As the national debate on health care reform intensifies, I am deeply concerned and disappointed with ABC’s astonishing decision to exclude opposing voices on this critical issue on June 24, 2009. Next Wednesday, ABC News will air a primetime health care reform “town hall” at the White House with President Barack Obama. In addition, according to an ABC News report, GOOD MORNING AMERICA, WORLD NEWS, NIGHTLINE and ABC’s web news “will all feature special programming on the president’s health care agenda.” This does not include the promotion, over the next 9 days, the president’s health care agenda will receive on ABC News programming.

Today, the Republican National Committee requested an opportunity to add our Party’s views to those of the President’s to ensure that all sides of the health care reform debate are presented. Our request was rejected. I believe that the President should have the ability to speak directly to the America people. However, I find it outrageous that ABC would prohibit our Party’s opposing thoughts and ideas from this national debate, which affects millions of ABC viewers.

In the absence of opposition, I am concerned this event will become a glorified infomercial to promote the Democrat agenda. If that is the case, this primetime infomercial should be paid for out of the DNC coffers. President Obama does not hold a monopoly on health care reform ideas or on free airtime. The President has stated time and time again that he wants a bipartisan debate. Therefore, the Republican Party should be included in this primetime event, or the DNC should pay for your airtime.

Respectfully,
Ken McKay
Republican National Committee
Chief of Staff

This comes on the heels of a Politico report about how Obama has been “wooing” the New York Times (as if it needed wooing), and further evidences a disturbing level of acquiescence to the White House. It’s one thing to have a broadcast from inside the White House, although it does strike an appearance of impropriety, but its another thing altogether to so blatantly snub an opposing views when the production is supposed to be one of news reporting. Presenting the view of those in power without question or examination, and refusing to allow any other voice, is pretty much the textbook definition of propaganda.

Since there is sure to be an uproar over this in the blogosphere, however, I’m wondering whether ABC News will back down and either allow some token opposition voice, bring on a known opponent of the President’s plan to raise some issues, or allow some questions of the President from actual reporters (Jake Tapper does still work for ABC News, doesn’t he?). Either way, its awfully pathetic that the MSM can’t seem to figure out how to get it right the first place. They are so blinded by their fascination with all things Obama, apparently, that any semblance of actual news reporting has gone out the window, and is being replaced with unabashed cheerleading for The One.

UPDATE: Oops! I didn’t realize that Bruce was writing on the same topic until after I posted. See his take below as well.


ABC: Absolutely Shameful (update)

Per Drudge:

On the night of June 24, the media and government become one, when ABC turns its programming over to President Obama and White House officials to push government run health care — a move that has ignited an ethical firestorm!

Highlights on the agenda:

ABCNEWS anchor Charlie Gibson will deliver WORLD NEWS from the Blue Room of the White House.

The network plans a primetime special — ‘Prescription for America’ — originating from the East Room, exclude opposing voices on the debate.

If this is indeed the plan then it is simply unacceptable. It flies in the face of one of the media’s self-stated reason for existing – a watchdog, not a lapdog, over the government.

Ken McKay, Chief of Staff of the RNC has sent letter to ABC protesting this. In part he says:

Next Wednesday, ABC News will air a primetime health care reform “town hall” at the White House with President Barack Obama. In addition, according to an ABC News report, GOOD MORNING AMERICA, WORLD NEWS, NIGHTLINE and ABC’s web news “will all feature special programming on the president’s health care agenda.” This does not include the promotion, over the next 9 days, the president’s health care agenda will receive on ABC News programming.

Apparently the Republican party asked to be included and was rejected. McKay concludes:

In the absence of opposition, I am concerned this event will become a glorified infomercial to promote the Democrat agenda. If that is the case, this primetime infomercial should be paid for out of the DNC coffers. President Obama does not hold a monopoly on health care reform ideas or on free airtime. The President has stated time and time again that he wants a bipartisan debate. Therefore, the Republican Party should be included in this primetime event, or the DNC should pay for your airtime.

Obviously McKay has to be somewhat circumspect in how he says things, but I don’t. It will be an infomercial and it is a shameful example of how poorly the media, now led by ABC, has done its primary mission when it comes to this administration and this president.

ABC not only should have the DNC pay for the air time, that should be prominently and permanently displayed at the bottom of the screen throughout this planned infomercial.

And ABC – anyone who works for them should hang their head in shame. They should also avoid associating the word “journalism” with anything they do from now on as well.

UPDATE: ABC’s Kerry Smith responds.  You can read the response in full here.  Essentially they tell the Republicans and opponents to stuff it, that ABC and only ABC will  decide who will provide the other side of the argument:

Second, ABC News prides itself on covering all sides of important issues and asking direct questions of all newsmakers — of all political persuasions — even when others have taken a more partisan approach and even in the face of criticism from extremes on both ends of the political spectrum. ABC News is looking for the most thoughtful and diverse voices on this issue. ABC News alone will select those who will be in the audience asking questions of the president. Like any programs we broadcast, ABC News will have complete editorial control. To suggest otherwise is quite unfair to both our journalists and our audience.

But, of course, ABC isn’t choosing who will be on the pro-government takeover side, are they? Instead, it is Obama’s “townhall” meeting and, one assumes, he will bring who the heck he wants to that dance and if ABC doesn’t like it, I’m sure they were told they could find something else to do that night.

How freakin’ stupid does Kerry Smith and ABC think we are out here!?

~McQ

[HT: Neo]


Obama’s Visit With The AMA

I‘m not sure what part of this Obama doesn’t understand.

On the one hand, he told doctors at the AMA convention yesterday that he was not a fan of tort reform and felt that limits on malpractice cases was a disservice to those who were truly injured.

On the other hand he made this case:

Not long ago, doctors’ decisions were rarely questioned. Now they are being blamed for a big part of the wasteful spending in the nation’s $2.5 trillion health care system. Studies have shown that as much as 30 cents of the U.S. health care dollar may be going for tests and procedures that are of little or no value to patients.

The Obama administration has cited such findings as evidence that the system is broken. Since doctors are the ones responsible for ordering tests and procedures, health care costs cannot be brought under control unless they change their decision-making habits.

Somehow, apparently, he doesn’t understand the linkage. But AP’s Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar thinks there’s a much more basic reason than Obama not understanding the linkage:

If Obama announced support for malpractice limits, that would set trial lawyers and unions—major supporters of Democratic candidates—on the attack. Not to mention consumer groups.

Somebody has to go under the Obama bus and the apparent choice is doctors.

USA Today led its story about Obama at the AMA convention with this:

President Obama told wary doctors Monday that the nation’s health system is “a ticking time bomb for the federal budget” and said those who call his plan for a taxpayer-funded coverage option a step toward a government takeover of health care “are not telling the truth.”

Of course the one “not telling the truth” in this case is President Obama. Any “public” option funded by taxpayers is not going to be competing on the same level of the playing field as private insurance carriers. Right now there are 1,300 private choices out there. The introduction of a taxpayer funded “public” option will, according to many economic and health care experts, end up seeing employers dump private health care coverage in favor of public health care coverage and eventually see the system become a single-payer public plan.

That’s why there is such fierce opposition to this sort of an option. Even those in favor of the public option know it is a means to single payer and willingly admit it. So to have the President stand up in front of a group of doctors and tell the whopper he told yesterday is disappointing but not unexpected. He’s lowballed the cost, he’s dissembled about how it is going to be paid for and now he’s being totally disingenuous about the eventual end-state a public option would bring.

~McQ


Krugman: The “Nipponisation” of the World

After a lot of partisan “happy talk” about how the Obama administration is handling the economic crisis here, Paul Krugman goes on record saying the world is doomed to suffer Japan’s lost economic decade on a global scale.

The thing about Japan, as with all of these cases, is how much people claim to know what happened, without having any evidence. What we do know is that recessions normally end everywhere because the monetary authority cuts interest rates a lot, and that gets things moving. And what we know in Japan was that eventually they cut their interest rates to zero and that wasn’t enough. And, so far, although we made the cuts faster than they did and cut them all the way to zero, it isn’t enough. We’ve hit that lower bound the same as they did. Now, everything after that is more or less speculation.

For example, were the problems with the Japanese banks the core problem? There are some stories about credit rationing, but they are not overwhelming. Certainly, when we look at the Japanese recovery, there was not a great surge of business investment. There was primarily a surge of exports. But was fixing the banks central to export growth?

In their case, the problems had a lot to do with demography. That made them a natural capital exporter, from older savers, and also made it harder for them to have enough demand. They also had one hell of a bubble in the 1980s and the wreckage left behind by that bubble – in their case a highly leveraged corporate sector – was and is a drag on the economy.

The size of the shock to our systems is going to be much bigger than what happened to Japan in the 1990s. They never had a freefall in their economy – a period when GDP declined by 3%, 4%. It is by no means clear that the underlying differences in the structure of the situation are significant. What we do know is that the zero bound is real. We know that there are situations in which ordinary monetary policy loses all traction. And we know that we’re in one now.

Shorter Krugman, “we’re in new territory in terms of the size of the problem, but it is all eerily similar to what happened to Japan”. Unfortunately our reaction has been eerily similar to what Japan did as well.

Krugman’s bottom line:

WH: So, one way to think about it is that self-reinforcing financial crises rooted in overstretched, overborrowed companies and governments in less developed countries – like those in Argentina and Indonesia, which were amazingly destructive in the 1990s and 2000s, but localised – are now playing out in the developed world?

PK: There are really two stories. One is the Japan-type story where you run out of room to cut interest rates. And the other is the Indonesia- and Argentina-type story where everything falls apart because of balance-sheet problems.

WH: So in a nutshell your story is …

PK: The “Nipponisation” of the world economy with a bunch of “Argentinafications” playing a role in the acute crisis. But even after those are over, we have the Nipponisation of the world economy. And that’s really something.

And of course, implicit in the “Nipponisation” of the world economy is the “Nipponisation” of the US economy – something we’ve been talking about for some time. Now, add “cap and trade” and “health care reform” into the mix.

What will we be wishing we were suffering when that all kicks in, should it pass? Nipponisation, of course. As bad as lost decade or two might be, it would be heaven compared to the economic carnage those big tax and spend programs will inflict on a very weak economy here in the US. And that, of course, will ensure the “Nipponisation” of the world economy.

~McQ


The Coming World Of Obamacare and AGW Taxes

Nothing makes it clearer than a real world examples. From socialized Canada:

The Lower Mainland’s health authorities will have to dig more than $4 million a year out of their already stretched budgets to pay B.C.’s carbon tax and offset their carbon footprints.

Critics say the payments mean the government’s strategy to fight climate change will further exacerbate a crisis in health funding.

“You have public hospitals cutting services to pay a tax that goes to another 100 per cent government-owned agency,” NDP health critic Adrian Dix said.

“That just doesn’t make sense.”

Heh … it would really be funny if it wasn’t so absurd or headed in our direction like a runaway freight train.

Enjoy those “little green shoots” of growth, because they’re going to be as dead as the Mojave desert if “health care reform” and “cap and tax trade” are passed.

And don’t even try to throw the “these people have your best interest at heart” canard out there either:

Dix warned that some of the potential cuts – such as closing the ER at Mission Memorial Hospital – would actually increase carbon emissions by sending patients further afield.

“Obviously when you shut down regional centres it makes people travel farther to get to their health care facility,” he said.

Vancouver Coastal chief financial officer Duncan Campbell said his health authority believes the payments are appropriate and isn’t asking for any exemption from Victoria.

“For us to go back and ask for an exemption wouldn’t fit in well with our green care plans,” he said.

IOW, your health is secondary to their sacred green mission.

Freakin’ amazing. And yes, it is entirely possible you’d be treated the same way here when government controls health care and is collecting on “cap and trade”. Remember, it was Obama who said he didn’t believe in cap and trade exemptions.

~McQ

[HT: Wm Teach, RWN]


How many times do we have to tell you…

… that was then, this is now!

President Obama, to The New York Times, March 6, 2009, on how he’s not a socialist:

[I]t wasn’t on my watch that we passed a massive new entitlement… without a source of funding.

No sir. That wouldn’t be “entirely consistent with free-market principles.”

So I’m sure Pres. Obama will come up with something better than (a.) letting the Bush tax cuts expire and (b.) ending the Iraq War as a means of funding his massive new entitlement.  Because those things won’t even handle the existing structural deficit, much less a new program.


Health Care: “Special Interest Democracy”

It may be hard to believe [/snark], but it appears when Democrats speak of “fairness” they define it in their own special interest kind of way.

Take the talk about taxing your private health care benefits (something adamantly opposed by Obama during the campaign).

Originally it was going to be everyone. But other Democrats complained mightily to Senate Democrats who were considering such a tax to pay for the conservatively estimated 1.5 trillion necessary to pay for “health care reform” (PAYGO? HA!). So they modified it a bit – tax the “rich” – those who had the best of coverage. Always a popular populist fallback, Sen. Dems were sure that would work.

Alas it was soon discovered that a huge number of those holding “Cadillac” health care policies were unions. Yes, the special interest group in the pocket of the Dems (and vice versa) would be heavily hit by such a tax. As you might imagine, they were not happy.

Solution – drop this bad idea?

Of course not. Instead exempt the unions, you silly person:

Mr. Baucus officially floated his plans for a tax this week, only with a surprising twist: His levy will not apply to union plans, at least for the duration of existing contracts. In other words, Mr. Baucus intends to tax the health-care benefits only of those who didn’t spend a fortune electing Democrats to office. Sen. Ted Kennedy, who is circulating his own health-care reform, has also included provisions that will exempt unions from certain provisions.

The union carve-out is designed to allay the fears of many Democrats who remain outright hostile to a tax on health-care benefits, whether out of principle, political fear or union solidarity.

This is not your grandfather’s America. Pay czars who arbitrarily set arbitrary pay limits based on what they “think” (according to presidential spokesperson Robert Gibbs) is “fair”, a government appointed CEO for an auto company who admits he knows nothing about cars and the government hijacking of health care.

If you’re not concerned, you’re not paying attention.

~McQ


We Have A “Winner”

Yes, friends, now we can all comfortably refer to the bevy of taxes sure to come on alcohol, sugary soft drinks and, well use your imagination and I’m sure you can rustle up a few more dozen items that would be perfect in this group.

The group name? “Lifestyle taxes”. Yes, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, if you choose the “wrong” lifestyle, you will pay for it in taxation.

Of course, as we’ve mentioned any number of times as we’ve talked about these sorts of taxes, there are no more regressive taxes than these (except for the quintessential “poor man’s tax”, the state run lottery).

An interesting little tidbit in the article this info comes from:

Soft drink and alcohol lobbyists have snapped into action, though so far their campaigns have been quiet compared to the blaring, multimillion-dollar battles that typify major showdowns.

Their low-key approach is due partly to committee leaders’ warnings to refrain from public attacks or be accused of sabotaging health care overhaul.

Key phrase? “[S]abotaging health care overhaul”. If you don’t think government, or at least the people writing this legislation, don’t have every intention in the world of dictating your “lifestyle” choices in the name of the health care costs they’ll be “managing”, you need to get out more.

~McQ


Health Care – “The Public Plan”

Ezra Klein discusses what has commonly become known as the “public plan” in the emerging “health care reform” legislation. Put simply it is “public insurance” which is supposed to compete with the private insurance industry and, as Paul Krugman claims, keep them “honest”.

Klein lays out the various flavors being floated out there concerning this option:

• The “Trigger” Plan: Olympia Snowe is pushing this compromise, as are some conservative Democrats. The basic idea is that the public plan would act as an invisible threat: It would be “triggered” into existence if the private insurance market was unable to offer, say, enough options in a particular region, or enough cost control. In addition, the public plan would only come into existence in this or that region, or this or that state. It would be effectively useless as an insurer. It could potentially have some competitive effect in that private insurers would still work to avoid its existence. Some have argued, however, that the conditions being mentioned in the “trigger” proposals have already been met.

• The Weak Public Plan: This is what people are talking about when they refer to a “level-playing field.” This incarnation of the public plan — first proposed by Len Nichols at the New America Foundation and later echoed by Peter Harbage and Karen Davenport at the Center for American Progress — would have no special advantages over private insurers. It couldn’t use the low rates that Medicare sets or access taxpayer subsidies. It couldn’t force its way into networks. It would simply be another insurer, albeit with different incentives than traditional insurers.

• The Strong Public Plan: This would be like Medicare for the rest of us. It could throw the federal government’s weight around. It could negotiate deep discounts with providers. It could muscle its way into networks. Outside groups like the Commonwealth Fund estimate that it would save the average consumer 20 percent to 30 percent. That would give it a massive competitive advantage over private insurers, and would probably result in tens of millions of Americans dropping their current coverage and entering the public plan to save money. A variant of this was in the draft of Ted Kennedy’s bill that was leaked last week.

While Blue Dog Democrats have come out in favor of the “trigger” option, liberals such as Klein and Krugman prefer the “Strong Public Plan” for the reasons stated (massive dropping of private insurance for “public” (i.e. government) insurance). And there’s a reason they both prefer that – they see it as a backdoor way to move health insurance to a single payer system.

And that is a distinct possibility with both the “strong public plan”. In fact it is a design feature. The “competition” touted would most likely be in name only as Greg Mankiw explains (quoting Krugman to set up his explanation):

What’s still not settled, however, is whether regulation will be supplemented by competition, in the form of a public plan that Americans can buy into as an alternative to private insurance.Now nobody is proposing that Americans be forced to get their insurance from the government. The “public option,” if it materializes, will be just that — an option Americans can choose. And the reason for providing this option was clearly laid out in Mr. Obama’s letter: It will give Americans “a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive, and keep the insurance companies honest.”

It seems to me that this passage, like most discussion of the issue, leaves out the answer to the key question: Would the public plan have access to taxpayer funds unavailable to private plans?

If the answer is yes, then the public plan would not offer honest competition to private plans. The taxpayer subsidies would tilt the playing field in favor of the public plan. In this case, the whole idea of a public option seems to be a disingenuous route toward a single-payer system, which many on the left favor but recognize is a political nonstarter.

If the answer is no, then the public plan would need to stand on its own financially and, in essence, would be a private nonprofit plan. But then what’s the point? If advocates of a public plan want to start a nonprofit company offering health insurance on better terms than existing insurance companies, nothing is stopping them from doing so right now. There is free entry into the market for health insurance. If a public plan without taxpayer support would succeed, so would a nonprofit insurance company. The fundamental viability of the enterprise does not depend on whether the employees are called “nonprofit administrators” or “civil servants.”

The bottom line: If the goal is honest competition in the provision of health insurance, the public option cannot do much good but can potentially do much harm.

That is a critical point in this debate – there isn’t an insurer out there that has as deep pockets as the US Treasury. If there is public money backing the public option, then the talk of “competition” is a sham. It is being used to placate and fool those who oppose a government takeover of insurance, the result which would surely happen if what Mankiw’s concerns are true. And if you follow the reasoning process that Mankiw has laid out above, it should be pretty darn obvious what the intent of this “public plan” really is, all the happy talk Klein and Krugman throw out there notwithstanding.

Last, but not least, while the “strong public plan” is an obvious short-cut to single-payer government run health care, the other two plans simply delay that same eventual outcome for a while. While there are certainly reforms that could be made in the insurance industry and health care generally, anyone who believes that government can do it a) better and b) more efficiently has simply not been paying attention to the shape government finances are in right now or how large the deficit has grown as it has mismanaged its entitlement empire to this point.

~McQ