Archive for March, 2010

As of today, House Democrats are close to a vote on the Senate Health Care Bill, which they intend to pass and then modify through a budget process that will circumvent Republicans.

I think we can all agree that it’s sad if not demoralizing that something so important as health care should be put through a process so ridiculous as this, and that the result could be as ineffectual as the Senate bill promises.

The bill’s lack of popularity comes from all sides of the political spectrum. Some fear it imposes too much government while others fear that keeping health care in the private sector accomplishes nothing. Abortion rights advocates claim that it could prevent health insurance companies from providing abortion coverage, while abortion rights opponents claim that the bill could provide tax-payer money for abortions. Some people worry that it doesn’t tax “cadillac” health plans enough to pay for itself, and people with “cadillac” health plans lament a possible new tax.

The health insurance industry worries that the penalties for not buying insurance are not substantial enough, others doubt the plausibility of a mandate with no public option to assure that all people can afford it, and others still simply reject the idea of a government mandate for buying anything. Many people see little in the bill to reduce health costs, and most people question the effectiveness of a bill that lacks bipartisan support.

I’m definitely disappointed. Health care reform is so important. Our system leaves out millions of people, and millions others remain less protected than they think, which exacerbates the misery of a health emergency by tacking on a devastating  financial one. The way the system is presently designed, the health insurance industry is the least motivated to provide for people who need the coverage the most. That’s a pretty backward economy if you ask me. Furthermore, the system is channeled through employment benefit packages, which makes lay-offs so much more troublesome, and which simply isn’t consistent with today’s transient workplace.

I’m disappointed in both political parties. The Republicans have been despicable. It is very clear that they see a distinct political advantage in blocking this effort, and they’ve put that goal ahead of the needs of people. Most disturbingly, they continuously repeat lies and mistruths about the legislation that have distorted perceptions and derailed the process. I would like to hear just one Republican tell the truth on this subject. I would like to hear one Republican stand up and say something like this:

“I don’t support this plan for good reasons, but I reject the lies that my party is spreading. Sarah Palin lied about death panels. She was referring to end of life counseling. They are not death panels, and she, herself, supported them in the past. This plan is not a socialist takeover of health care. It’s too much government, yes, but the government will not takeover the companies. Furthermore, there’s nothing in the plan to limit your choice of doctor or to prevent you from keeping the coverage you have now. It’s still a bad plan, and here’s why…”

I would deeply respect such a republican, but as of now, no such republican exists.

Republicans claim that they do want reform and they’ve been bringing stellar ideas to the table, but those horrible democrats won’t let them contribute. I have real difficulty believing this. Republicans had control of executive branch for 8 years and full majorities in the house and senate for six of those years. During that time, the best they did for health care was pass a perscription drug plan that failed to help anybody in any way. Instead, they preserved the status quo, while my health insurance premium tripled and my co-pay quadrupled.

I’m also disappointed with democrats. For one, they are up against air-tight voting discipline from the republicans. In general, I’m opposed to such tactics, but health care is too important. The democrats need to have discipline of their own in this case. Their fragmentation on this issue has not only jeopardized the bill itself, but it’s also caused the public to lose confidence in their efforts.

More problematic for me is their inability to achieve bipartisan support. They say that Republicans won’t come to the table, while Republicans say that democrats won’t let them come to the table, and there’s really no way for us to know the truth on this. My guess is that it’s both. What we do know, however, is that tort reform did not make it into the bill at all, and that’s inexcusable. This issues is one of the major problems affecting health care that needs to be addressed, and it should have been a starting point for building consensus with Republicans. There also should have been no chance that abortion could enter into this debate. Allowing any language that could possibly lead to tax-payer money funding abortions is not only unacceptable, but politically stupid. My belief is that democrats wanted to do this without republicans, which means that they would do it without half the country, and that simply can’t work.

My concern on this issue isn’t just based on health care. This process we’ve been through makes me seriously question our country’s ability to tackle any problem in our future. Republicans will have power again soon, and democrats will use the same tactics against them, and possibly worse. Imagine the consequences of such a spiral.

On the question of health care reform, I would like all people involved in this debate start with one simple question: should every American citizen have health coverage? I’d like a yes or no answer on this. If the answer is no, then explain who should be left out an on what criteria. If the answer is yes, then I’d like to know how that can work for our country. I believe that clarity on this question will build common ground and lead to much better problem solving on the issue.

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Release the penguins!

Ironically, my brother Greg was writing a post on our Uncle John at the same time I was.  However, as he is an infinitely better writer than I am, I would suggest you check out his post over at Lost In the Cloud.

Our uncle was a reclusive, witty, and highly intelligent fellow who has become a bit famous posthumously because of his wit and absurd composition ability.

RIP uncle John.

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I’m not quite sure if this post will produce mockery or appreciation for wonderful advice… I’m going to bet on the former.  Regardless, I want to tell you about how you can foil “The Man”, that corporate fat cat who wants to rip you off, at lease as far as hair care for men goes.  Here it is.

Sportin’ Waves.

Ever since I was in college I have kept my hair relatively short, but long enough that it needs some sort of product to style it… if you want to call what I do with my hair style.  Anyway, I had tried many products, gels, spray, and what not over the years and then someone introduced me to Murray’s.  Its cheap and was pretty useful for keeping my hair up without turning hard and crusty like hair spray and gel would.  Problem is that Murray’s is a wax and it does not want to come out of your hair – not to mention what it does to your pillow lest you go to sleep without showering.

Well, let me introduce you to Sportin’ Waves from SoftSheen Carson.  It’s a cream pomade so it washes out easily.  It styles your hair great, and it is $2.99 for a 3.5oz can, versus $16.50 for a 2oz can of Bed Head.  If you use Bed Head or other products, try this out.  It’s so cheap it won’t hurt you if you don’t like it… but I can almost guarantee you that you will switch.  Plus it must get you in good with the brothers and sisters, at least it would seem so from their website.  SoftSheen is missing a target market here… white hipster wannabe’s.

Do I have street cred now?

As I said, I’m sure my first post foraying into the world of hygiene and hair care will produce mockery from my friends.  But hey, at least I have hair to style – ANDY!!

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Before 2001 I had very few views on anything.  9/11 did not change that… getting out of college and working full-time did.  I was daily interacting with older people, and was working for a very smart and politically-minded writer, who’s legal scripts left me searching for what on earth he was talking about.  It was then that I started paying attention to current events, and reading about economics, business, history, education and so forth.  And the more I read and studied and discussed, the more I started to become opinionated and attached to certain philosophies.  It was then I also realized that, with few extreme exceptions, most political philosophies and theories are never enacted completely and freely to see if they work.  One word stands in their way… bipartisanship.

That hallowed word of camaraderie; working together under forced compromise.  Crossing the aisle.  Meeting in the middle.  Whatever you wished to call it, politics is all about it, and I think it causes is something that is less than it’s combined parts.  Or worse-

Health Care Reform's Ultimate End?

I am not against compromise.  It has strong value and is an incredible trait to be able to exercise… especially with spouses.  But I am more of a fan of ideas, and ideas need to be able to run their course to see if they are good or bad.  We would never have known that pure country music is so bad, except that it was released in it’s original form, instead of the more digestible alt-country format of Wilco, Band of Horses, and others.  All kidding aside, I do think that we stand a better chance of needed change and reform (if it is in fact needed) if we allow ideas to work.  And I’m not for it, just out of boredom.

Washington, D.C. is supposed to house our leaders.  But we have lost our leaders because they are all bent on reelection and must watch lest they try something and it fails.  Better to form a bipartisan coalition and we can all blame the other side if it backfires.  Well guess what?  I am willing to give your idea an unobstructed chance at health care, if you let my idea for social security go untouched.  You can have agriculture if you give me education.  We’ll check back in at the pre-appointed time to see the results.  If your idea has been a success then we all benefit.  If it hasn’t, then we try the other one… and so on, and so forth.  Done!

Problem is that there are still too many ancillary arguments to be made.  “My education idea didn’t work because it needs to be combined with an elimination of social welfare benefits and that’s your area”.  “Your farm subsidies are messing up my commerce plans!”  Plus there is the always relied upon threat of our nation’s demise.  “The Stimulus Bill is going to bankrupt the nation and we’ll never recover!”  “Allowing School Vouchers would immediately disenfranchise children all across the world!!!”  Also, how do we determine what results are considered a success?  That’s a political nightmare in itself.

But the same excuses are made within bipartisanship, so at least here we would have some more information to work with… again, theoretically.  This is all semantic arguing… neither party is likely to let the other run hog-wild with an unfettered agenda.  What if, heaven forbid, it works and voters switch allegiances?  Well, I guess that’s where the rubber meets the road.  If you think your ideas truly are the best, then you need to let them be tested.  And if you think the other guys ideas are the worst, let them be tested to prove it.  It’s what happens in laboratories, writers’ rooms, jam sessions, and anywhere else ideas are floated.  Except it seems in our state and national capitals.

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This article that I read today by Michael Tanner clearly and eloquently states the case that I’ve been feebly trying to make for a long time – the reason health care is so expensive is because consumers do not, by and large, pay for it.

When Jana and I first got married I was self-employed (as a private math tutor) and, as such, did not have any employer-provided health insurance.  At the suggestion of my brother Mike (known to CAI as Michael) I purchased a high deductible health insurance policy and began saving money to insulate ourselves from sudden, unexpected medical costs (I think the deductible was a couple thousand dollars, so the policy was only intended to be used for catastrophe).  I remember during that time how, the few times we did need medical services, it was so strange to actually pay for service with cash.  We were surprised to learn that deals could be found with a little searching- for example we found a clinic in Seal Beach that had a completely different price structure for those paying with cash, and it actually wasn’t terribly expensive (I had never actually seen prices displayed in a doctor’s office before).  During that time we avoided the doctor as much as possible, and when we finally decided to go, we shopped around and found a deal.  All of this language is of course very foreign to the topic of health care, and that’s part of the problem.

When I eventually got hired full time as a teacher I got a very generous health care plan, and we ceased to look around for deals.  I remember, in fact, discussing my new benefits with a co-worker who encouraged me to “start taking advantage.”  The new plan didn’t include dental benefits for Jana though, so we continued our frugal ways in that department.

The point is pretty straightforward – the consumer is best suited to ration goods and services when normal price mechanisms are in place.  When we (and I’m speaking about myself here) don’t feel the cost of purchases, we have little incentive to restrain what we purchase.  More consumers purchasing more freely creates more demand, thus higher prices (as was the case with the housing boom and interest-only loans – guilty as charged again).

I’m not suggesting any particular policy here, but I do wish that this simple economic reality would at least make it into the discussion from time to time, rather than the continual demagogue of insurance companies and health care providers, who are only operating according the to same free-market principles that we expect from other sectors.  I have met doctors and people in the insurance industry, and they are no more evil or greedy on average than the rest of us in my experience.

One more anecdote: One time I got some metal debris in my eye and went to the emergency room.  The doctor put a drop of numb juice (I think that’s the medical term for it) in my eye, told me the debris was now out, and gave me some mild pain medication.  To make a long story short, the debris was not out of my eye and was only removed once I visited an eye doctor a few days later.  Nonetheless, the bill for this emergency room visit was over $700.  To make another long story short, I offered to pay the bill in cash if they would bring down the price.  The hospital initially declined my request, but I eventually spoke to a manager at the hospital who apologized and explained that I never should have seen that price.  As he explained it, that price is what they send to the insurance company, because they expect the insurance company to come back and low ball, so they have to start high.  Or some really convoluted scheme along those lines.  He cut the bill in half for me.

In this case I wish I would have rationed myself, and waited to get an appointment with an eye doctor (now I know) but this story clearly demonstrates just how convoluted the health insurance process is, and how costs go up because of it.  If more people were paying cash for medical service we would have a lot more (self) rationing and a lot less wasteful red tape.  Again, I don’t know what kind of legislation (if any) could create this scenario, but I wish it would get discussed more.

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