November 19, 2009
When discounts are anything but...
As part of the health care reform package, the President cut a deal with drug makers for their cooperation. They agreed to voluntarily reduce prices. What wasn't specified was the start date and from what level they discounts would apply. It appears that they've decided to go ahead jack everything up across the board in an effort to maintain their income and profitability.
Wouldn't it be nice if our doe eyed President would stop trusting people who are, inevitably, going to fuck us over?
October 05, 2009
We want a public option. We do not want anything less.
September 22, 2009
Who the Public Option really hurts
This actually changed my mind regarding what a worthless, wasteful group of douchebags run the insurance companies.
August 18, 2009
A Point Requiring Further Clarification
So by now, I guess everyone has heard or read that the CEO of Whole Foods has come out against the kind of health care reform most of us would like to see enacted.
Of course, what naturally follows is a hue and cry from the left hemisphere of the blogosphere calling for boycotts of the grocery chain. As there are some other issues in play for some of us, I just need to clear something up.
Up to now, I have not shopped at Whole Foods for a variety of reasons:
1. Central Market kicks their ass in the produce department.
2. Pretty much anywhere else has better prices. The "Whole Paycheck" joke has some truth to it.
3. Not to mention that all their alternative/meatless/veganful/gluten-free/organic/otherwise-morally-superior brands and products aren't that good and never fail to disappoint.
4. It's even more disappointing when you pay that much.
5. Half their clientele appears to consist of carpetbagging Beautiful People who just flew into town from L.A. to close on a half-million dollar vacation condo (I know I'm being provincial and superficial here, but just go with it). From outward appearances, these people have no organic connection to Austin. Which is funny and ironic when you think about where they shop.
6. Where else can you go just to buy some groceries for the house and end up feeling like you've spent your day and your wallet at Six Flags by the time you leave?
That said, however, let it be unequivocal that from this point forward, I, Harry Balczak, will NOW not shop at Whole Foods because John Mackey wrote some things about health care reform that I disagree with.
Just so's ya know.
August 17, 2009
Health care reform... Now the President sells us out
Before we get to the nasty little betrayal from Sunday, let's recap on a few things...
And finally, Secretary Sebelius kinda threw the country, on behalf of the President, under the insurance industry's lobbying bus in what will be interpreted by the right as a victory for their little teabagging movement.
Sebelius told CNN's "State of the Union" that a public option was "not the essential element" of healthcare overhaul, but that lowering insurance costs and preventing insurers from dumping customers for preexisting conditions or for exceeding coverage caps are must-haves.
Well, to achieve your stated goal, the Public Option was THE only way. But now we'll go down the rabbit hole of 'insurance exchanges' and watch as nothing really gets done and the costs continue to skyrocket. Worse, you and the rest of the chickenshit Democrats, especially the Blue Dogs, have shown that you can be easily intimidated by, I'm sorry but it's true, a bunch of fat, old white men.
And the Members of Congress, out to sell the public option with town hall meetings did a piss poor job of getting out their supporters. No wonder the news has been interviewing these teabaggers... they're damn near all that's there. When Congressman Doggett had an event here a week ago Saturday, I did receive a few hours notice and went. There I found our side represented 3:1 and a bunch of teabaggers who had to play nice this time because suddenly there were all of us. Because of that little bit of advanced notice.
It's almost as if the Democrats wanted this to happen so they could claim there wasn't popular support for reform, which we already know is a lie.
In the end, I doubt any of it will matter as the whole thing goes down in flames. Oh, they'll pass a weak, watered down bill. The President will claim victory and Congressional D's will say it's the best we could do. Meanwhile, activists and volunteers will be hard to come by in 2010. And I'd put even money on Republican's regaining the House by a narrow margin.
And it all could have been avoided had the fixation on kindler, gentler politics been dismissed after the stimulus fight. But the President chose not to do that and now we're all going to pay the price for his weakness and that of the Congressional Democrats. They have, officially, lost the tremendous momentum that came from the 2008 election, squandered it in an effort to be nice to people who'd rather see them gutted.
I wrote this in December, 2007. I never anticipated then Senator Obama winning the presidency if he won the primary mostly because I never anticipated Sen. McCain's massive campaign blunders and a tanking economy. However, he did win but this piece actually is very applicable to his leadership as President. It's steadily weakened, as if he's being beaten down... a bad trait for a President.
Of course, Secretary Clinton, had she been elected President, would have been much worse, right? It would have been constant attacks, right?
First, those who don’t want to nominate Hillary Clinton because they don’t want to return to the nastiness of the 1990s — a sizable group, at least in the punditocracy — are deluding themselves. Any Democrat who makes it to the White House can expect the same treatment: an unending procession of wild charges and fake scandals, dutifully given credence by major media organizations that somehow can’t bring themselves to declare the accusations unequivocally false (at least not on Page 1).
The point is that while there are valid reasons one might support Mr. Obama over Mrs. Clinton, the desire to avoid unpleasantness isn’t one of them.
Second, the policy proposals candidates run on matter.
I have colleagues who tell me that Mr. Obama’s rejection of health insurance mandates — which are an essential element of any workable plan for universal coverage — doesn’t really matter, because by the time health care reform gets through Congress it will be very different from the president’s initial proposal anyway. But this misses the lesson of the Clinton failure: if the next president doesn’t arrive with a plan that is broadly workable in outline, by the time the thing gets fixed the window of opportunity may well have passed.
Krugman, again, was spot on 20 months ago. He called it perfectly. And right now I'm out of hope for change.
August 11, 2009
Health care reform : The Republican's bad bet
Playing politics with healthcare worked pretty well in 1994. It's apparently working pretty well now if current polling is any indication. For one thing, the numbers are still high for reform but about middle for getting everyone covered and setting up a public insurer.
The Republicans have, in short, shot their wad. They moved public opinion, mostly in a vacuum, and as a result they have the delay they wanted. However, they've given an activist President and the activists who got him elected the ability to counter their arguments over the next month. To call out their lies about what is and is not in the bill being considered.
And finally, to demonize the Republicans and their health insurance industry sugar daddies.
It's that last bit that's important because we're not throwing in the towel this time. We're going for the finish line.
July 20, 2009
Please Give the Man Some Health Care
And the health care debate rages on. I am so totally down with a public option that even Marxists think I'm a leftie. A lot of this support for universal health care has to do with my little adventure a year ago at Large County Hospital in Dallas. I'm relatively sure that county hospitals across the land are all equally cheerful and invite the same sort of cultured and genteel clientele, but if you know anything about county hospitals in Dallas, you know one of Dante's circles is called "Parkland."
A little over a year ago, Krispy Dude was stricken by the karmic meteor known as Random Violent and Incapacitating Accident, which planted his happy ass in Parkland for almost two weeks. This was a not a fun time. And the deets of his incapacitation, hereafter known as The Unpleasantness, are best left on the cutting room floor.
But the Disneyland experience of Parkland itself cannot be underestimated...it is a sort of Land of the Lost, with stethoscopes. You have your gunshot victims, your stabbing victims, your car accident victims, your domestic violence victims, a whole fucking Mall of America-sized wing devoted to headed-straight-for-welfare-teen moms, and your little assorted and sundry junkies homing in on the methadone clinic.
So this one night, really late--I'm talking like 11:00 p.m. late--I'm leaving Krispy Dude's room on the eighth floor to head to my car and home. I've been waiting for what seems like hours/days/weeks/a fucking really long time for the elevator, and imagining in my head that the elevator is so slow because it is not run by some sophisticated system of electronics and gears and technological wizardry, but instead is managed by a hunchbacked dwarf with a rope and some pulleys in a bell tower somewhere...that or one of those big round wheel-like things that you hook horses to and they walk around and around and around in circles for their whole lives, pulling or pushing or grinding or turning some lever or wheel or pulley.
Finally, the elevator arrives and I'm so tired I step on without thinking or paying attention...only to find myself face-to-face with Scary Junkie. Scary Junkie has clearly just come from the methadone clinic or the pharmacy or somewhere where there are A LOT of drugs, and he is very, VERY pissed that he did not receive any of this bounty. At this point, it is far too late for me to get off the elevator...I'm already inside and have reached for the "1" button. Yeah, yeah...if I had bigger balls, I could easily have turned around and walked out because the God damned elevator door was as slow to close as the thing was slow to arrive. But I do not have balls that big. I was raised a nice southern girl, and to exit an elevator because Scary Junkie is the lone tenant, well...that would be RUDE, and rudeness in the south is pretty much an unforgiveable.
So, I made myself as teeny and unassuming and invisible as possible and snuck over to hide in the far corner of the elevator, way the hell away from Scary Junkie, and cursed the system that put Krispy Dude on the EIGHTH FUCKING FLOOR. And of course it took no time at all for Scary Junkie to begin his routine, at which point it became clear that he was Scary ANGRY Junkie. He started his rant, his eyes wild and his six-haired goatee just fucking fascinating to watch as he addressed me, his dead grandmother, and the pretty pink unicorn with the rainbow colored tail standing in front of him. "Those motherfucking doctors gave my motherfucking girlfriend a motherfucking shot of methadone and they DID NOT GIVE ME MY MOTHERFUCKING SHOT TOO! THEY ARE MOTHERFUCKERS!"
And I'm standing there, mouth frozen in this ridiculous rictus grin like I'm either (a) totally happy for his girlfriend who did indeed receive her motherfucking shot, or (b) totally finding his not-getting-a-motherfucking-shot situation hilarious, and my brain is screaming to itself, "What if he thinks it's (b)?!? What if he thinks it's (b)?! Stop with the smiling, you pathetic chickenshit--eyes front, EYES FRONT!!" And even the religious skeptic that is me is suddenly praying as hard as I can that the fucking dwarf with the rope in the bell tower has not gone on break, because the elevator is moving so slowly it's leaving a slime trail.
Scary Junkie's rant continues for floor after floor as we descend, while over in the corner my smile and prayers and screaming brain have rendered me practically catatonic. Finally--finally--the little "1" above the door lights up and a bell dings and the God damned doors crawl open like lava running uphill. I'm still crouched in the corner and while I desperately want to claw those doors apart and run like hell, I decide again that it would be rude, not to mention the fact that in order to accomplish this, I would have to hurdle an addict so wound up, gesticulating and gyrating so wildly, that Joe Cocker would be in awe. Probably best, I figure at this point--brain returning to normal function now that safety and a uniformed guard are in sight--to let Scary Junkie get off the elevator first, which I do...but before he leaves, he turns around and with those little bubbles of rant-spit collecting in the corners of his mouth, he screams at me and the unicorn, "I AM GOING TO SUE EVERY MOTHERFUCKING DOCTOR IN THIS PLACE FOR NOT GIVING ME MY SHOT!!!!!!!"
And because I have no balls, I wait until he is far, far away before I give him a cheerful wave and wish him good luck with all that.
July 07, 2009
Healthcare Reform and Reality
Unlike the HillaryCare fiasco in the '90's, the hardest hitting ads are coming from groups that support the public option plan. And they're targeting weak, insurance defending Dems in the Senate, like Sen. Blanche Lincoln...
The HYSTERICAL thing about this is that ole Blanche thinks that private insurance can't compete with a government run program, which it can't because the private insurance companies can't compete with that kind of efficiency. Forget about the bs arguments from the R's, look at the numbers. SG&A for an insurer is 30+%, for Medicare it's 3%. The President also made a point about this.
Oh, and on the subject of the 'private market', in Sen. Lincoln's state of Arkansas, one insurer controls 75% of the health insurance market. It is any wonder that premiums there have increased more the 500%? No, because you have a monopoly in Arkansas and the company is squeezing the market dry.
But McBlogger, I hear you thinking... What if that one insurer is just sooo awesome that they naturally own the market? What if the other companies are actually more expensive? Well, that would depend on hospital ownership and service provider (doctors, clinic, etc). In other words, not all insurers get the same price especially when one of them OWNS the hospital.
A true public competitor, an insurer that's open to everyone and run by the government, is what we need and I agree with Krugman... any option that doesn't include this is doomed to failure and we'll be stuck in the same mess. Eye on Williamson happens to think the same thing. It's funny how smart people usually come to the same conclusions.
July 05, 2009
A federal advisory panel voted narrowly on Tuesday to recommend a ban on Percocet and Vicodin, two of the most popular prescription painkillers in the world, because of their effects on the liver.
The two drugs combine a narcotic with acetaminophen, the ingredient found in popular over-the-counter products like Tylenol and Excedrin. High doses of acetaminophen are a leading cause of liver damage, and the panel noted that patients who take Percocet and Vicodin for long periods often need higher and higher doses to achieve the same effect.
Oh, well, there's still Darvon.
June 25, 2009
But, no, Senator Graham. They just want the coverage you get
Apparently, Sen. Lindsey Graham thinks a true universal coverage plan would be a disaster...
"The reason you are not going to have a government-run health care pass the Senate is because it will be devastating for this country," he said. "The last thing in the world I think that Democrats and Republicans will do at the end of the day is create a government-run health care system."
Now, this WAS on Stephanopolous so no one pressed Sweetness to back up his claim. Afterall, the government runs Medicare quite well with little waste and overhead. In fact, it runs far better than ANY private health insurance company. VA runs pretty well as well despite the fact that it's facilities need to be updated which was a funding failure on the part of the Republicans when they were in charge that the Democrats are now rectifying.
Graham himself also gets really extraordinary health insurance coverage as a member of Congress. Does he really view his coverage as a disaster? If so, would he be willing to forego it and pay for coverage through a private entity? I might have a little more respect for his position then. Right now he just looks like yet another hypocrite.
Why is it such a disaster to give all Americans access to the same health care that Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. John Cornyn enjoy? We WASTE enough in the private system to cover everyone. So why aren't we doing that? Why are the Republicans and a few Democrats playing with lives of Americans?
June 19, 2009
Fixing soaring medical costs
Part of the problem we face as a nation is the soaring cost of medical care which will come as news to exactly no one. I recently posted this on single payer... while it's true that eliminating the bureaucratic overhead will go a long way to arresting cost increases and allow us to insure everyone, it's not the only thing we can do to bring down costs. We have to restrict the ability of doctors to earn excess profits from excess and unnecessary care.
Oh, but McBlogger! Doctor's know what tests are needed. If they say we need something, we need something. That's the benefit of single payer, the doctor makes the decision on what care is received!
Sure, you have a point. But let me ask you this... if the doctor gets paid more every time you visit, if they have a financial stake in a testing facility and an imaging facility, how often do you think they'll want you to come in, give blood and urine samples and have an x-ray done?
And therein lies a part of the problem that no one is really focused on... self dealing. This article in the New Yorker is pretty spot on with analyzing the problem but very weak in suggesting remedies. For me, it's simple. As the representative of a lender, I am prohibited by law from requiring that customers use certain providers for necessary services. I can't steer business, I can't own a part of the company I'm steering business to (without disclosure) and I can't receive kickbacks. As far as the disclosure, it has to very clearly say that I own a stake in the company and that I will benefit financially from the service I'm requiring you to buy in order to obtain financing from me and that there may be cheaper providers of the same service.
If I can't make money off the downstream, why the fuck should a doctor get to?
What we need, dear friends, isn't a bunch of gooders doing their best to lead us by example back to integrity as a country. We need laws and we need for them to be enforced. And Congress should start with this garbage.
June 16, 2009
U.S. Health Care Crisis getting bigger than Life
Americans are Crumbling Under Excessive Health Care & Premium Costs
Is it too late to help Americans? Is the damage done?
According to a report by Families USA, April 2009 it is urgent that health care must be made more affordable for all families, regardless of income.
The diagnosis from the report outlines a dismal view of the current health care system:
"Long before the current economic crisis began, Americans were already straining under the burden of two related trends: shrinking coverage and rising health care costs. Over the last decade, millions of Americans have joined the ranks of the uninsured, and millions more have become underinsured as the value of their coverage has declined. At the same time, health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs have risen steadily, and the number of families who are facing unmanageably high health care costs has grown. Left unchecked, health care costs will keep going up, forcing more and more American families into debt—and even into bankruptcy and foreclosure.
To better understand the magnitude of the health care cost crisis, Families USA commissioned The Lewin Group to analyze data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Census Bureau that reveal how many Americans face very high health care costs. This analysis allowed us to determine how many non-elderly people are in families that will spend more than 10 percent of their pre-tax income, and more than 25 percent of their pre-tax income, on health care in 2009.
Our analysis paints a stark picture: Nearly one in four Americans under the age of 65—some 64.4 million people—will spend more than 10 percent of their family income on health care in 2009. The vast majority of these people (82.6 percent) have health insurance. And 18.7 million non-elderly Americans—more than three-quarters of whom have health insurance—are in families that will spend more than 25 percent of their income on health care in 2009."
To read more about this report and its findings, see
The amazing, if not disgusting, point is that health care premiums have risen more than 6 times faster than wages. Add to that the increasing number of unemployed Americans and also companies who have stopped or cut-back on covering their employees and you have a major contagion of an escalating number of Americans who 1) are not insured, 2) can no longer afford to maintain their coverage and 3) are paying up to 30 percent of their pre-taxed income to keep their family insured.
You don't have to be Einstein to determine that the negative forces have cancelled the worth and success of our health care system and that another more affordable health care system is needed. While the Obama administration tries to work with the medical and health care professions, wealthy lobbies, unions and other related entities there is resistance to positive change and resentment of government "interference"; however, it has been years since any voluntary reforms have been made to the ailing system.
Will lawmakers and the health care industry learn quickly enough, or will we soon have a similar as occurred within the financial sector, another decay of one of our infrastructures? What happens to private insurance when the government must provide alternative health care services to all those Americans to whom the current antiquated health care system crumbles to the Earth in a pile of dust?
Apparently, Americans will not have to wait too long to find out.
--- Peter Stern
March 06, 2009
REALLY, Sen. McConnell?
Healthcare... public vs. private? Y'all know I love me some capitalism and I think that there are many things private enterprises can do far more effectively than government. I also think that government is far cheaper and more efficient than private enterprise in certain other areas.
Healthcare, just FYI, happens to be one of them. Apparently, Sen. McConnell agrees.
McConnell suggested there were areas in which Republicans won't compromise, particularly the creation of a new public insurance program to compete with private insurers.
"Forcing free market plans to compete with these government-run programs would create an unlevel playing field and inevitably doom true competition," the letter stated. (souce)
There is one thing that can kill capitalism... it's unrestrained greed. We've seen it in banking with predictable results (well, predictable to EVERYONE on my side who thought Milton Friedman was mostly full of shit and Ayn Rand was a dysfunctional emotional cripple with all the warmth and human emotion of a bar of soap). We've also seen it in healthcare as health insurers treat customers and health care providers like crap, only to reap outsize profits year after year while providing less quality to consumers.
It's not that health insurance companies can't do it better than government, it's that in their current state, with their current management teams (or, what we investors like to call 'bloated overhead'), there is no way they can compete with a lean government operation. Private enterprise didn't fail... government failed to make sure the industry was truly competitive and coverage was portable. As a result, health insurance has grown fat, bloated and sclerotic. And the only way to fix it is change the regs and give them a big, efficient new competitor.
And, as a capitalist, I couldn't be happier.
October 30, 2008
Have bad liver, will travel...
The Statesman has been putting up some great stuff on medical tourism. For those of you who don't know, it's when someone (say a US citizen) goes to another country to get a medical procedure done. For those of you who don't live in Texas this concept will be alien and a little scary. For those of us who live in Texas, this is basically like a trip down to the clinica in la farmacia, know what I mean?
What the Statesman did stumble onto are plans by insurers to force people from the US to seek treatment in other countries.
See, doctors and nurses? I told you eventually the insurers would fuck you guys like they've been fucking us for years. Still think socialized medicine is bad deal? Still think 'free' trade is awesome? It's pretty scary when you compete against someone who make a tenth of your salary.