Good For Pelosi… Bad For Dems

In the same week that saw Representative Charlie Rangel convicted of ethics charges, we learn that the Democrats have elected Nancy Pelosi to lead them.  With about 78% of the vote, Democrats made the critical decision to stay the course with the former Speaker.

This is great news for Pelosi, Republicans, most Americans, and me!  First, for Ms. Pelosi, she is able to somehow save some face (what is left) by keeping a title, and control over some of the visibility and direction of her party.  The Republicans get a huge win as they successfully linked many vulnerable Democrats with Pelosi, causing the similar wave of disgust as happened when many Republicans were linked to George W. Bush.  Most Americans gain in this as this should spell the exit of more incumbent Democrats from office.

How do I win?  Well aside from the benefit I listed as most Americans will receive, I look at this as a possible splintering point for one of our major parties.  Like the Tea Party arose and heavily swayed the GOP with their popularity, I think you may see another Tea Party-like movement, or an outright fracture of the party.  I’ve long seen that our two-party system in the US is horribly flawed.  People have gone to thinking in an either/or mentality and usually voting for the lesser of the two evils.  The two evils.  Yes.  The two evils.

Now I don’t truly believe that either party is truly evil, although I’ve found members guilty of this.  These parties have colluded to drive down the quality, and drive up the price to the American public.  That I find destructive.  We need CONstructive, not DEstructive in our politicians.  In this, I am truly happy to see a business-as-usual politician get re-elected to serve the party that brought you the big lie known as “change”.  They re-elected the person who was going to “clean up the swamp”, yet assisted in ramming through a possibly unconstitutional bill of near-biblical proportions.  They re-elected this:

Who won’t they bribe to pass healthcare?

We hear talks of change, and ridding ourselves of corruption on the campaign trails for president and other offices.  We hear the word transparency.  We are told about the “culture of corruption” with the finger pointing to the Republicans.  Yet, it seems that since the presidential election, we have seen some of the largest kickbacks in history (to Nebraska and Louisiana on the healthcare bill), we’ve seen behind-closed-door deals, and legislation passed without congress (or the people) having a chance to read through it.  But just when you thought that they were down and dirty, not to be trusted, and really didn’t deserve re-election, oops they now effort to get more support for a bill by basically catering to the unions by increasing the ceiling for the “cadillac tax” on healthcare plans.  A concession that has been heralded as “helping middle-class Americans”.  Problem is, how many middle-class have healthcare plans valued at $23-24k? 

So what are we getting?  A pay-off to union members to ease passage of this bill through congress.  Ahh, but not just this.  Currently, there is a very important senate race in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  The two main candidates are Martha Coakley (D) and Scott Brown (R), with Brown leading now in recent polls.  So why would this affect anything?  Well, as we’ve seen on videos, many union members don’t support Coakley in the state due to her support of the “Cadillac” tax for healthcare.  With this deal, this increase union support, and turn the tide of support back in Coakley’s favor.  Coincedence?  With this White House?  I think not. 

This White House, not only has a majority in the House and Senate, and yet they are not content with this.  Why?  Because the American people are down-right frightened of the out-of-control spending.  The previous administration shattered deficit records, and is one reason why Americans voted for “Change” in November of 2008.  This administration has accelerated the spending beyond most people’s belief.  Additionally they have rammed through healthcare “reform” legislation that will add billions if not trillions to the deficit (and now another $60 billion due to lack of revenue from the “Cadillac” tax).  They absolutely need Coakley in the Senate to keep that going as it is quite clear that the Democrats will not get this change again for a long, long time. 

Now, I am not a partisan, and rarely to I back a major party candidate.  I believe in issues, and find that the major parties rarely support individual issues, unless they have massive price tags, or invade privacy.  However, in this case, I am formally throwing my support behind a candidate:  Scott Brown.  Issues-wise Brown runs pretty close to center.  He has legislative experience that his opponents don’t, AND — most importantly — his mere presence will force congress (or at  least the Senate) to have to discuss important issues.  Without discussion in congress, we are no better than one-party states like China… and we know how great those work when it comes to human rights, or individual prosperity.

If you live in Massachusetts, and are not quite sure who to vote for, please effort to look into Scott Brown as a candidate.  If you have already made up your mind that you support Coakley, please realize that a vote for her ends all rational debate for the next few years, and creates a far worse rubber-stamp congress than we’ve ever seen.  If you respect sensibility, fairness, and reason, vote for Scott Brown, not because he is so amazing, but because he is not the 60th Democratic vote.

Health Insurance Out of Control: Drug costs a major reason — by Will Brink (Crosspost)

By Will Brink, and (also posted on his blog).

Health care is of course a very hot issue right now. It’s a hot issue for me personally, as my own health insurance – which I purchase privately as a self employed person – just went up 28%.

That’s not a typo. It’s always gone up 4-6% per year, this year, 28%, not to mention an increase in the deductible and other costs, and now exceeds my car payment…

I’m in the state of MA, which passed a universal health care law that everyone had to have health insurance (they will literally fine you $900 per year if you don’t BTW), with the state offering plans at lower premiums for those who qualified, etc.

This was supposed to lower insurance costs by making the market more competitive, etc. The result for MA, a huge increase in insurance premiums, and an increased state deficit to boot…

I don’t know the details of the proposed national health care plan yet, but I do recall a speech by Pres Obama making reference to MA as some sort of success story…

If the national system has any relation to the MA system, we are going to be in big trouble real fast…

I’m not at all against universal health care as a concept, but without [U]major[/U] cost containment taking place, such as tort reforms, and other measures, in particular, drug costs, it’s a pipe dream.

Doctors are also being squeezed hard these days on many levels (for example, insurance costs for doctors is also off the charts these days…), and this only makes it more difficult for them to help their patients.

To that end, many are not aware just how much big pharma costs this country, how much power they have, and what a great job they have done of preventing true competition in the market while driving their profits up.

Marcia Angell, M.D. – former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) – one of the most respected med journal on the planet, in line with JAMA, Nature, etc – wrote one of many good books on the topic. Below, is a summery of some of the major issues by which drug companies fail American citizens, keep our costs up, and add greatly to insurance premiums.

From THE TRUTH ABOUT THE DRUG COMPANIES:

How They Deceive Us, and What to About It

by Marcia Angell, M.D.

(Random House; August 31, 2004)

1. The pharmaceutical industry claims to be a high-risk business, but year after year drug companies have higher profits than any other industry – by a long shot. In 2002, the top ten American drug companies had a profit of 17 percent, compared with 3.1 percent for the other Fortune 500 industries. The biggest drug company, Pfizer, had a profit of 26 percent.

2. The industry claims to be innovative, but only a small fraction of its drugs are truly innovative. Of the 78 drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2002, only 17 contained new active ingredients, and only 7 were classified by the FDA as likely to be improvements over drugs already on the market. Most of the others were just minor variations of old drugs.

3. The most profitable drugs are variations of top-selling drugs already on the market – “me-too” drugs. There are whole families of me-too drugs, and no good reason to believe one is better than another at equivalent doses. They cash in on already-established, huge markets. The top-selling drug in the world, Pfizer’s Lipitor, is the fourth of six cholesterol-lowering drugs of the same type.

4. The industry’s most innovative drugs usually stem from research done at government or university labs. An internal National Institutes of Health (NIH) document showed that only 1 of the 17 key research papers that led to the five top-selling drugs in 1995 came from the company that sold the drug. Big drug companies license or otherwise acquire about a third of all their drugs from universities, the NIH, or smaller companies.

5. Contrary to popular belief, big drug companies spend less on research and development (R&D) than they keep in profits and far less than they spend on marketing. By their own figures, in 2002 (when profits were 17 percent of revenues), the top ten American drug companies spent only 14 percent of revenues on R&D and 31 percent on marketing and administration (of which the lion’s share was probably marketing). The industry claims to spend $802 million to bring each new drug to market, but independent analysis shows that the true figure is a small fraction of that amount.

6. The U. S. is the only advanced country that does not regulate drug costs in some way, and other countries spend only about half as much for the same drugs as Americans. Methods vary, but essentially governments in other countries take advantage of their bargaining power to negotiate prices. Still, drug companies do not sell at a loss in these countries.

7. The pharmaceutical industry has an iron grip on Congress and the White House. It has the largest lobby in Washington, with more lobbyists than elected representatives, and it contributes heavily to political campaigns. Over the past two decades, Congress has enacted a series of laws that practically ensure windfall profits to the pharmaceutical industry, at public expense. For example, the Medicare prescription drug benefit enacted in 2003 specifically prohibits Medicare from negotiating for lower drug prices.

8. Drug companies promote diseases to fit drugs. To expand sales, they persuade people in affluent countries that they are suffering from conditions that need long-term treatment. Thus, millions of normal Americans come to believe that they have dubious or exaggerated ailments like “generalized anxiety disorder,” “erectile dysfunction,” “PMDD,” and “GERD.”

9. The part of the FDA that approves new drugs receives half its support from drug companies. The FDA reviews drugs for safety and effectiveness before they are allowed on the market, but drug companies pay large “user fees” in return for quick reviews. That means the agency is beholden to the industry it is supposed to regulate. .

10. New drugs are not required to be any better than old ones, and there is usually no way to know whether they are. Drugs have to be tested before the FDA will approve them, but they do not have to be compared with older drugs for the same condition, only with placebos.

That means we don’t know whether new drugs are better or worse than old ones. They just have to be reasonably safe and better than nothing — *a low standard indeed.

11. Drug companies have enormous influence over what doctor are taught about drugs and what they prescribe. The companies support most continuing medical education (CME) courses, medical conferences, and meetings of professional societies. They have armies of sales representatives to visit doctors and teaching hospitals to tout their wares, hand out free samples, and provide meals and other gifts.

There is ample evidence that this huge investment in medical “education” pays off in terms of the prescriptions doctors write.

12. Drug companies have a lot of control over clinical trials of their drugs, which makes drugs look better than they are. They support much of the drug research done in academic medical centers by faculty researchers. In return, they insist on designing studies that increase the likelihood of a favorable result. There is good reason to believe that much of the company-supported research on prescription drugs is biased as a result.

13. The pharmaceutical industry portrays itself as a model of American free enterprise, but it is anything but. Of the top ten companies in 2002, half are European. And while the industry is free to decide what drugs to develop and to price them as high as the traffic will bear, it is utterly dependent on government-funded research and government-granted monopolies in the form of patents and FDA*conferred exclusive marketing rights.

14. Even while the pharmaceutical industry turns out whole families of me-too drugs for relatively mild conditions in affluent people, it pays almost no attention to major scourges in poor people — like malaria. It also gives short shrift to less profitable drugs. There are shortages of some vaccines and life-saving drugs, such as antivenins for poisonous snakebites; because few companies want to make them.

Sincerely,

Author and industry consultant, Will Brink @ www.BrinkZone.com

Free articles, free ebook, and other stuff of interest to fitness enthusiasts, see my site at:

http://www.brinkzone.com

Remember, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” — Einstein

Fatness. Reducing Fatness May Heavily Reduce The Need For Healthcare Reform.

There are many, many factors contributing to the current problems facing the United States in the healthcare arena.  Yes, there needs to be tort reform.  Yes, there is an aging population that is living longer and using more healthcare services.  Yes, there are some insurance companies making windfall profits.  Yes, there are antiquated or useless regulations on the books that prevent people, service providers, and insurers from making the right decisions.  Yes, there are abuses in the system.  But there is one area we often overlook as a short- and long-term fix:  Fatness. 

I wrote a piece a while back outlining how the push toward “political correctness” was a huge factor in America becoming so fat.  Again, there are a lot of contributing factors other than political correctness, but that is not the point here.  The point here, today, is that weight directly contributes to people’s health.  People that are of average weight and body mass have fewer health problems that those of similar genetic disposition and heavier weights.  Heart, skin, joint, bone, and organ problems arise from packing on the extra pounds.  Diabetes has made an exponential rise in the US, and this is directly correlated to obesity. 

But why is it such a problem?  Well, America is a rich country.  Rarely are the poorest of countries the fattest.  Americans are victims of their own success!  But seriously, terms like “fat” and “obese” are constantly discouraged out of sensitivity to those that fit the description making the condition more palatable for those who are deserving of the name.  But are we doing the fat people any favors by calling them clever synonyms to comfort their egos?  Or are we actually helping save their lives, and our healthcare system?  People with weight problems go to the doctor and hospital more often for everything from diabetic issues, to sleep apnea, to heart disease, to kidney failure.  Our terminology is costing us billions.

Now we have a healthcare bill being rammed through congress.  Mathematically, we are looking at covering another 22 million people with a bill costs around $880 billion – approximately $40,000 per newly covered person.  And how many of THESE 22 million are fat – costing even more to the taxpayer? 

So what can be done?  We can start letting people know that they are once again “fat”.  We can allow insurers to surcharge people over a BMI of 30.  We can stop promoting “plus-size” fashion shows and stop discouraging slender models.  We can mandate more physical education in the public schools of all levels.  Instead of government options and the costs therein, we can spend more on simple education for kids and parents on better diets.  This will save our people real dollars, and not with smoke, mirrors, and gimmicks.  For most people, obesity is an unconscious choice, and can be corrected.  As this is the case, we as a county can’t allow our unconscious masses to bloat and overburden our healthcare system.  Fix this, and many of the other problems will drip away.

Side note:  If you want to learn more about diet, nutrition, weight-loss, health myths, etc. this blogger has written posts here, and is a subject matter expert, and an industry icon.

Massachusetts’ Public Option Foreshadows National Health Care Debate

88159978For a while now, I have been drawing comparisons to Massachusetts and its one-party rule and the federal government with same party one-party rule.  Now, one of the hot-button topics on the American public’s plate has been healthcare, and whether to reform, overhaul, or leave it alone.  During my research, I came across an article written almost 2 weeks back that took a look a healthcare in another state, compared to Massachusetts, and the author’s problems with the healthcare issues in Massachusetts.  Please note this author (Wendy Button) has written for Boston Mayor Menino, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and our very own president, Barack Obama. 

Here is her article from Politics Daily that she penned:

For the first time in my life, I am without health insurance and it is a terrible feeling.

In the past, I paid attention to the health care debate as a speechwriter who prepared speeches, talking points, op-eds, and debate prep material on the topic at different times for John Edwards, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and others. Now, I’m paying attention because I’m a citizen up the creek without a paddle.

Throughout my life, I have been very lucky because my insurance has always been there whenever I had a crisis. When my 10-speed hit a patch of leftover winter sand, and I went flying into a telephone pole, it covered the x-rays and stitches and concussion diagnosis. When a half a ton of sheet rock fell on me, my insurance paid for the cast on my foot. When my depression kicked in and I was hospitalized and painting ceramic pieces in art therapy to boost my self-esteem (sheesh), it made sure that when I got home my medical bills didn’t make me reach for a razor. And when there were growths in my uterus, it covered that medical procedure and every regular check-up, lab test, broken bone, sports injury, and antibiotic prescription in between.

Since I care more about my country than my personal pride, here’s how I lost my insurance: I moved. That’s right, I moved from Washington, D.C., back to Massachusetts, a state with universal health care.

In D.C., I had a policy with a national company, an HMO, and surprisingly I was very happy with it. I had a fantastic primary care doctor at Georgetown University Hospital. As a self-employed writer, my premium was $225 a month, plus $10 for a dental discount.

In Massachusetts, the cost for a similar plan is around $550, give or take a few dollars. My risk factors haven’t changed. I didn’t stop writing and become a stunt double. I don’t smoke. I drink a little and every once in a while a little more than I should. I have a Newfoundland dog. I am only 41. There has been no change in the way I live my life except my zip code — to a state with universal health care.

Massachusetts has enacted many of the necessary reforms being talked about in Washington. There is a mandate for all residents to get insurance, a law to prevent insurance companies from denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition, an automatic enrollment requirement, and insurance companies are no longer allowed to cap coverage or drop people when they get sick because they forgot to include a sprained ankle back in 1989 on their application.

Even if the economy was strong and I was working more, I still couldn’t afford my premium. I am not alone; I’ve got 46 million friends in a similar situation. We wake up every day worried that a bad cough, an accident while walking the dog, or that dreaded pain on the right side of the abdomen will send us into complete financial ruin.

As luck would have it, I didn’t schedule a physical before I left D.C. I thought I could get that taken care of when I moved — after all they had reforms, automatic enrollment, and universal coverage in Massachusetts, all the things I’d written about for politicians. Health care would be affordable. It didn’t dawn on me that it would just be affordable for other people.

Now, sharing my experience doesn’t make me an expert in health care policy anymore more than my knowledge that Kajagoogoo sings “Too Shy” makes me an expert in music. What my story does is serve as a cautious reminder that we need to get this right, not right away. A rushed bill will have consequences. Reforms will not be cheap and some people may be priced out.

How could all of these weeks and months go by and no one is examining and talking about what has worked and what hasn’t worked in Massachusetts?

While the state has the lowest rate of uninsured, a report by the Commonwealth Fund states that Massachusetts has the highest premiums in the country. The state’s budget is a mess and lawmakers had to make deep cuts in services and increase the sales tax to close gaps. The number of people needing assistance has at times overwhelmed the state. The mandate means that some people who can’t afford insurance are now being slapped with a fine they also can’t afford. There is no “public option” in the way the president describes it, no inter-state competition, no pool for small businesses and self-employed individuals like me to buy into groups that negotiate cheaper rates. So far I haven’t found any “death panels,” but if I get sick and need a hospital, I sure hope I can find one and a feisty granny to pull my plug.

What makes this a double blow is that my experience contradicts so much of what I wrote for political leaders over the last decade. That’s a terrible feeling, too. I typed line after line that said everything Massachusetts did would make health insurance more affordable. If I had a dollar for every time I typed, “universal coverage will lower premiums,” I could pay for my own health care at Massachusetts’s rates.

So far, the most informed and civil discussion I’ve had about this issue has been with some of the sales representatives with the top providers in Massachusetts as I searched for an affordable plan. Each person I talked to was kind and considerate and truthful. One man said that he prepares everyone for the “sticker-shock,” whether they are a family of four or an individual.

Right now, the truth is if I could buy my health plan from D.C., then I would. If I could buy into a public option, co-op, or trigger plan, whatever they want to call it, then I would. If I qualified for the new exchange, then I’d get into that, too, but four years is a long time to go without a physical, pap smear, and to have this mole checked. If someone were to put Medicare for All back on the table, then I would be fine with that too. Honestly, it’s starting to make the most fiscal sense: $450 billion we pay to insurance companies could be redirected to Medicare, $350 billion in savings in paper work, and of course that $500 billion in savings for “waste, fraud, and abuse.”

If this country is about to gamble a trillion dollars plus — and it will be a big plus no matter what the Congressional Budget Office projection is — then why not use a system that already exists? My experience in politics has been any time a politician says $500 billion will come from “waste, fraud, and abuse” that’s a fancy way of saying, “Hold on to your wallet; we’ll pay for it later.”

We have to be careful about how we spend this trillion dollars. Right now, we are $1.4 trillion in the hole and the Senate has been asked to raise the country’s debt ceiling to $12 trillion. We are fighting two wars and may increase troop levels in one. We have 250 new Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seeking care from VA facilities every day, and unemployment is headed north, past 10 percent. Has anyone else thought, “Hey wait a minute? Why are we proposing to spend so much on a mess of a plan?”

Why can’t Washington look north to Massachusetts? What’s the lesson for the nation in its successes and failures: universal coverage first or cost reductions? If health care is a right, then why aren’t we starting over with Medicare for All? If health care is a responsibility, then why aren’t we changing the system to address that? There is a big red flag planted in the middle of this state and it looks like everyone’s just pledging allegiance to it rather understanding the warning in its wave.

For now, I’m going to have to get used to this terrible feeling. I’ll eat right. I’ll drive 55. I’ll keep my dog on a tight heel and pet her to keep my blood pressure down. And I’ll hope the economy turns around soon and $6,600 or so a year for health insurance doesn’t seem so unaffordable.

I want health care reform. I need it, but I want Washington to start over. It doesn’t make me “un-American” or “astroturf” or “racist.” I’m a critic because what Washington is talking about doing has made health insurance unaffordable in Massachusetts.

If Washington won’t go for a simple clean move to a system like Medicare for All, then it needs to do one reform, one new law, at a time — not with a 1,000 page bill where strange things can hide. Line up the 80 percent of things we agree on and vote one at a time to change pre-existing conditions, cut that $500 billion in Medicare’s “waste, fraud, and abuse,” create meaningful lawsuit reform, and add some real competition to insurance companies whether it’s a public option or a pilot exchange program. Show the country that this is possible with lower premiums and more efficiency and then go for the tough stuff. Critics like me want something done right because we actually are up the creek without a paddle.

If Congress and the president want to fix health care, then it is time to start over. They need to look at what’s worked and what has failed in Massachusetts. They are going to have to actually take former Gov. Sarah Palin’s advice and “look north to the future.” Who knew that would ever make sense? But if we continue on this current path without looking, it’s easy to diagnose what’s coming to the country when a health care bill passes.

 A mess.

Wendy Button has written for John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Barack Obama, and Mayor Tom Menino of Boston as well as other national and international leaders, and is working on a book.

What are you doing Mr. President?

1220898966iP329aSo let me get this straight… we’ve got a healthcare debate raging, and the president who had made it part of his platform to pass healthcare reform has yet to give any REAL specifics of what he wants.  We have had months of lies, speeches, and anger from all sides, and yet our president, who claimed to be a person who would unite the parties, has done nothing but divide with rhetoric, passive-aggressive maneuvering, and inaction. 

To me, it appears he is sticking his finger in the air, and waiting to find out what the polls say.  If they go his way, then he’ll push.  If they’re divided, then he’ll stall.  If they’re against him, he’ll claim that was what he wanted, and go in that direction.  Or is it something else?  In his rough-and-tumble upbringing in Chicago-style politics, is this just a set-up for a bigger play?  Either way, it is expending WAY too much citizen energy and expense.  He needs to step up and do what he was hired to do:  LEAD.

Honesty in the “Healthcare Debate”?

sb10066023g-001This whole “Healthcare Debate” is starting to REALLY annoy me.  This side says the other side is lying, the other side says this side is lying.  There are several bills and plans about.  The president has yet to truly state what he wants.  Town hall meetings are happening, and we’re seeing people bused in to represent one view or another.  We have people sitting outside of town hall meetings instructing others on how to drown out viewpoints.  We have high-ranking politicians downplaying, or even in some case attacking supporters of this opinion or that. 

Can’t we all try to act like adults here?  Seriously.  We are talking about an issue that affects nearly all Americans in some way.  Either they are without healthcare (who knows what that figure is), don’t feel like paying for it, hate the high premiums, work in the system, are confused by the bureaucracy, or supply some element of the system with a service or product that might be affected by changes.  In any case, this is an important topic. 

What we need here is honesty.  What I would like to see is town hall meetings with ONLY residents allowed in.  I’d love to see an honest debate between providers, insurance companies, politicians and other legitimate stakeholders, have them all strapped to lie detectors, and put this on national television. 

What we are truly getting is a distraction from fact, and other critical issues.  Legitimately, by the most aggressive polling, we have about 16% of the population without healthcare.  Of that, polls show about 1 in 4 of them don’t want it, or at least don’t feel like paying for it (mostly young people right out of school).  We have some that opt to self-insure in that number.  We have people here illegally, that may qualify under some plans for insurance, and not in others.  We have people that qualify for government healthcare now, but don’t know they do.  Any way you slice it, at the greatest estimate of need, we have somewhere around 10-12% of the population driving a debate that is embroiling the whole country.  A little honesty in this debate would go a long way.

First step (after honest dialog):  Look to see what all sides can agree upon, or at least mostly agree upon.  See what those changes can do for the system, and see if at that point more changes need to be made.  At that point, we may have more of a solution that most think.

Wait, that’s just crazy-talk… honesty in political debate?  Somebody get me a breathalizer.

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