Archive for the ‘Healthcare’ Category

h1

Erectile Dysfunction, God’s Birth Control for Men

March 5, 2012

OK, blowing away all the smoke here is the bottom line – conservative religious zealots are all against a woman’s right to choose contraception but support the hell out of products like erectile dysfunction medication for men.  In other words, they think a woman making birth control choices interferes with God’s will while a man choosing to take Viagra does not. 

What hypocrites!

h1

What If We Lost Seattle

January 10, 2011

Imagine if you woke up on January 1, after a fun New Year’s night, made your coffee, tuned in the news and heard every person (man, woman, and child) in Seattle, Washington suddenly died, roughly 616,000 people gone from the planet forever.  It would shock our nation; it would shock the entire world.

Describing the instant magnitude of such a loss is beyond the power of words.  What if the loss spread out over the course of a year, is it any less devastating?  Take Afghanistan, our emotional house would be no less devastated if we lost the 100,000 or so U.S. service members currently serving in a year, much less a number like 616,000.  No, spreading such a massive loss over a year does nothing to negate the impact.

So why is it, in our society, we happily ignore the loss of a Seattle’s worth of population every year?  Over 1,800 people a day, every single day, lost!  The major news organizations do not bother to report it, at least not with the same sensationalism a 22-year old idiot with a gun commands.  Do not misunderstand, the unfolding tragedy in Arizona, with its senseless brutality, requires immediate coverage if we, as a people, wish to understand it.  The question is, given the overwhelming magnitude of loosing over six-hundred-thousand Americans yearly, why we show it such little concern.

Now, Seattle is in no more danger than any other place, in fact, it seems less likely something dire happens there than in other cities.  Seattle simply has a convenient population size to compare to the number one killer of Americans – heart disease.  According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), in 2007, the most current year for such data, 616,067 people died in the United States from heart related issues[1].  Seattle’s population, in 2009, reported in at 616, 627 making it the 23rd most populous city in the country[2].  In other words, enough Americans die each year from heart disease, alone, to populate any city in America except the top 22.  For example, heart disease kills more Americans, each year, than live in the following cities:

o  Atlanta, Georgia – 540,922 people

o  Omaha, Nebraska – 454,731 people

o  Miami, Florida – 433,136 people

o  Washington, DC – 599,657 people

o  Sacramento, California – 466,676 people

o  Cleveland, Ohio – 431,369 people

[Population figures taken from U.S. Census data[3]]

Oddly enough, we already have the answer to reduce the impact of heart disease.  It does not require some newfangled program, discovery, invention, or billions of tax dollars.  What we need is awareness and the ability to correct our behavior (easier said than done for sure).  Perhaps that is the reason heart disease receive the relatively low attention it does, the answers are with individuals and not in some pill.  According to the Mayo Clinic’s website[4], here are five easy steps to reduce the risk of heart disease:

  1. Don’t smoke or use tobacco products. By now, everyone knows the danger of smoking.  It leads to atherosclerosis as well as introducing as many as 4,800 chemicals into the body, but the danger does not end with smoking tobacco.  Snuff and chewing tobacco present a danger to the heart as well.  Nicotine restricts or narrows blood vessels making the heart work harder to supply oxygen to the body.  Not to mention, smoking also increases the chances of the number two killer in America – cancer.  In other words, want to kill yourself, smoke like a chimney.  It may not be the most pleasant way to go but you cannot argue with its success.Another point, car companies spend millions, if not billions, to make safer cars.  In 2007 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 41,259 car related deaths[5].  That is less than 10% the number of deaths by heart disease.  While not all heart disease related deaths are attributable to smoking, large portions are.  How much money do tobacco companies spend to make their product safe?
  2. Get active. Participating in physical activity for at least 30-minutes on most days of the week provides benefits in just about every aspect of life.  It reduces the chances of developing conditions that place strain upon the heart, conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.  While these condition carry problems all their own, they also adversely affect the heart.Remember, things like gardening, housekeeping, taking the stairs, and walking the dog all count.  You do not have to exercise strenuously to achieve benefits.  Need another reason to exercise?  Many study show moderate exercise improves the sex life.  Who needs more reason than that?
  3. Eat a heart-healthy diet. There are many diets and plans out there, most focus on dropping weight rather than improving heart-health. Eating a special diet called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)[6] can help protect your heart as well.  Following the DASH diet means eating foods that are low in fat, cholesterol and salt.  The diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products that can help protect your heart.  Following this diet along with being active will reduce your weight as well.The Mayo also goes on to say “Heart-healthy eating isn’t all about cutting back, though.  Most people, for instance, need to add more fruits and vegetables to their diet — with a goal of five to 10 servings a day.  Eating that many fruits and vegetables can not only help prevent heart disease but also may help prevent cancer.”  What does all that mean, people do not have to starve to lose weight and have a healthy heart.
  4. Get regular health screenings. High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels.  But without testing for them, you probably won’t know whether you have these conditions.  Regular screening can tell you what your numbers are and whether you need to take action.
  5. Maintain a healthy weight. A healthy weight lends itself to a healthy heart.  Carrying too much weight is simply all around bad for the body.  It stresses the joints, lungs, and circulation as well as the heart.  A modest reduction of 10% is beneficial for heart health.  According to The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a couple of key guides are Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist size[7].  As muscle weighs more than fat, the index can give high numbers for people with a healthy weight.  For that reason, waist size also comes into play.  Anything over 40” for men and 35” for women is overweight when the BMI is over 25.  Here are the basic guidelines:

o  Underweight = <18.5

o  Normal weight = 18.5–24.9

o  Overweight = 25–29.9

o  Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater

While these steps are not a guarantee in preventing a heart attack or developing a heart related disease, they do greatly reduce the risk as well as provide for a generally healthier life.  So often, in today’s world, we depend upon science or some invention to solve a particular problem.  In this case, there is no need to wait.

Heart disease, being the number one killer of Americans, is something we can address without the help of technology or waiting for some pharmaceutical miracle drug.  It is up to us, through our individual action, to change the reason for heart disease not being in the news from apathy, to its being only a minor cause of death.  Let’s make it a story with no need to cover in the first place.


[1] “FASTSTATS – Deaths and Mortality.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. 10 Jan. 2011. <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm>.

[2] “Population Estimates.” Census Bureau Home Page. Web. 10 Jan. 2011. <http://www.census.gov/popest/cities/SUB-EST2009.html>.

[3] ibid

[4] Staff, Mayo Clinic. “Heart Disease Prevention: 5 Strategies Keep Your Heart Healthy – MayoClinic.com.” Mayo Clinic. Web. 10 Jan. 2011.
<http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-disease-prevention/WO00041>.

[5] FARS Encyclopedia. Web. 10 Jan. 2011.
<http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx>.

[6] The DASH Diet Eating Plan. Web. 10 Jan. 2011.
<http://www.dashdiet.org/>.

[7] “Calculate Your BMI – Standard BMI Calculator.” Web. 10 Jan. 2011. <http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/>.

h1

The Danger of Unknowns

August 19, 2010

We live in a time when the best choices a particular politician made in years past are used as a club against him or her today, when times and situations call for different choices.  It really does not matter if a politician is liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, or any other flavor of alignment, votes and positions of yesterday haunt them today.

Imagine if such attacks happened around our Founding Fathers.  George Washington would never have been elected as president, he lost more battles than he won and seemed to always be retreating.  John Adams, president # 2, forget it, he represented the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre, resulting in the acquittal of most and only two soldiers guilty of manslaughter and not murder.  As for Thomas Jefferson, he was a deist who was critical of organized religion, a death knell for a politician today.

Politics has never been a business for the thin-skinned, but what takes place today goes beyond simply pointing out ideological differences and extends to character assassination.  Every vote or position becomes a vulnerability for any politician with a few years of experience.  Moreover, it encourages the creation of proposed bills and legislation designed to force opponents in voting for or against something solely for use later as ammunition against them.

The ultimate result is electing individuals without a record or history.  While this in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, it does open the door to placing people in positions they are not fully ready to hold.  For example, after the corruption surrounding the Nixon administration, the country turned to a little known governor from Georgia, Jimmy Carter.  The country wanted an honest man, and President Carter is that.  His inexperience in dealing with national politics made his time in office difficult and prevented him from achieving much he tried.  America’s experiment with national political newcomers ended with the election of Ronald Reagan.

Following eight years with President Reagan, again voters elected the better-known candidate in then Vice-President Bush.  During his term, the national economic situation turned and a modest tax increase was deemed necessary for the good of the nation.  The Republican right-wing threw a fit, as Bush campaigned on no new taxes.  Not even the good of the nation is enough to overcome past statements and political parties will throw their own candidate under a bus to make that point.

After that, the nation elected another relatively unknown southern governor, Bill Clinton.  Unlike Carter, President Clinton understood the nature of national politics.  More importantly, he understood the nature of Washington politics.  Through his political savvy, his lapses in judgment regarding his personal affairs did not derail his presidency; in fact, the nation ended up in a stronger position than when he took the helm.  Clinton is an example showing an unknown can get the job done, but leaves the question of should we take the risk.

The conservatives picked up the mantra of electing an unknown in George W. Bush; you know “dub-ya.”  Unlike President Carter, this Bush played to his base.  In fact, in playing to his base, he did little else.  After 9/11, instead of finding the bastard that attacked us, he started two wars he was not willing to finish.  After eight years under his control, he left the United States with a wrecked economy, homeowners loosing homes in record numbers, the military stretched to its breaking point, fewer American’s with the ability to afford healthcare, and our returning veterans left to suffer all sorts of physical and mental problems overwhelming the Veteran’s Administration.

The nation blamed the conservatives.  While President Bush certainly is conservative, that was not the problem, he was simply the wrong man to run the country.  We elected, twice, a guy not fit to run a lemonade stand and left the competent conservative leaders marginalized.  The tide-swell of voter frustration was not to be turned; rather than accepting blame for electing an unknown moron, voters looked to liberals and picked another unknown, President Obama.

While certainly competent and far from being a moron, President Obama’s inexperience in national politics is proving to be an Achilles’ heel.  Much like President Carter, Obama seems incapable of controlling the political party he sits atop.  They are fractured, disorganized, and impotent when it comes to passing meaningful legislation.  Of course, they blame the Republicans but in doing so simply show they’ve been out foxed, or as some might say out “FOXed,” à la Rupert Murdock.

Back in my military days, I went through some very interesting training.  In one course on intelligence matters, the instructor made a statement like “In geopolitical affairs, always side with the despot you know and understand rather than the despot you know nothing about.”  That is good advice for our national politics too.  While we may not like the good-ol’ boys of either political party, we at least have a sense of who they are.  We, voters of both political parties, need to stop electing people we know nothing about.

Does that mean only elect career politicians, no, it means we must elect people with a record of action that points to how they will lead.  For instance, if you never worked in politics and your only experience with financial matters is balancing a checkbook, you might not have the qualifications to lead the nation in a financial crisis.  Warren Buffett, on the other hand, has the same political experience, but carries a financial pedigree that proves his ability.

As the mid-term elections approach, we need to stop firing the despot we know for the one that we know nothing about.  We can really make matters worse.  Politics in the United States has devolved to the point truly smart people avoid it like the plague.  The partisan bickering and backstabbing must end.  We need people who are willing to engage each other to solve problems rather than stand on ideology.  Firing an individual because he or she is not conservative or liberal enough and replacing them with some ideological robot without properly understanding who they are is a dangerous way to run a country.

h1

The Good ol’ Days… Really?

July 25, 2010

Often conservative news organizations promote the idea of returning the United States to the values held decades ago.  Liberals are quick to point out the inequity in civil rights of that time but in fairness to conservatives, that is not the aspect they put forward.  No, it is the improving social and economic situation of the middle-class back then conservative talking heads promote.

Let’s take them at their word.  The question is understanding the values of the times.  Unless you lived through the daily turmoil, it is impossible to fully grasp the nuances that motivated the conversation.  We can however, look at stated conservative objectives.  To that end, the Republican Party’s 1956 national platform[i] sheds some light.

It is not fair to paint all conservative with the Republican brush, but the platform does point to the majority conservative view held.  While it has many parts we would recognize today as purely republican, there are many points that show how far right the Republican Party has moved.  The below bullet points are taken from the published platform.

 

From their declaration of faith:

  • We shall continue vigorously to support the United Nations.
  • We hold that the major world issue today is whether Government shall be the servant or the master of men.  We hold that the Bill of Rights is the sacred foundation of personal liberty.  That men are created equal needs no affirmation, but they must have equality of opportunity and protection of their civil rights under the law.

These two statements do not reflect were the conservative movement is today.  Conservatives tend to loath and fear the United Nations.  While they do stand for individual rights, the current conservative trend is to sacrifice civil rights in the name of national security.

On taxes:

  • Further reductions in taxes with particular consideration for low and middle-income families.
  • Continual study of additional ways to correct inequities in the effect of various taxes.

While conservatives of today still seek lower taxes, the focus on low and middle-income families is lost.  Moreover, anyone addressing “inequities” today receives  bombastic tirades from Rush Limbaugh, Glynn Beck and other commentators that are closer in belief to fascism than a Republican political policy.

On business and economic policy:

  • We have eliminated a host of needless controls.  To meet the immense demands of our expanding economy, we have initiated the largest highway, air and maritime programs in history, each soundly financed.  [emphasis added]
  • Legislation to enable closer Federal scrutiny of mergers which have a significant or potential monopolistic connotations;
  • Procedural changes in the antitrust laws to facilitate their enforcement;

Yes, our big-government, federalized national highway system was dreamed up by Republicans.  Imagine trying to undertake the national highway system in today’s political environment.  These same Republicans sought to limit corporate influence and power.  If only it worked, perhaps today’s government would not be owned by corporate and special interests.

On Labor:

  • Continue and further perfect its programs of assistance to the millions of workers with special employment problems, such as older workers, handicapped workers, members of minority groups, and migratory workers;
  • Protect by law, the assets of employee welfare and benefit plans so that workers who are the beneficiaries can be assured of their rightful benefits;
  • Assure equal pay for equal work regardless of Sex;
  • Extend the protection of the Federal minimum wage laws to as many more workers as is possible and practicable;
  • Continue to fight for the elimination of discrimination in employment because of race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry or sex;
  • Provide assistance to improve the economic conditions of areas faced with persistent and substantial unemployment;
  • Revise and improve the Taft-Hartley Act so as to protect more effectively the rights of labor unions, management, the individual worker, and the public.

Conservatives of today would run a candidate out on a rail if he or she dared promote such socialistic “welfare” programs and pro-union laws.

 

On Human welfare and advancement:

  • Republican action created the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare as the first new Federal department in 40 years, to raise the continuing consideration of these problems for the first time to the highest council of Government, the President’s Cabinet.
  • Republican leadership has enlarged Federal assistance for construction of hospitals, emphasizing low-cost care of chronic diseases and the special problems of older persons, and increased Federal aid for medical care of the needy.
  • We have asked the largest increase in research funds ever sought in one year to intensify attacks on cancer, mental illness, heart disease, and other dread diseases.
  • We demand once again, despite the reluctance of the Democrat 84th Congress, Federal assistance to help build facilities to train more physicians and scientists.
  • We have encouraged a notable expansion and improvement of voluntary health insurance, and urge that reinsurance and pooling arrangements be authorized to speed this progress.
  • We have strengthened the Food and Drug Administration(FDA), and we have increased the vocational rehabilitation program to enable a larger number of the disabled to return to satisfying activity.
  • We have supported measures that have made more housing available than ever before in history, reduced urban slums in local-federal partnership, stimulated record home ownership, and authorized additional low-rent public housing.
  • We initiated the first flood insurance program in history under Government sponsorship in cooperation with private enterprise.
  • We shall continue to seek extension and perfection of a sound social security system.

Republicans created: the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Education), the program that grew into the National Flood Insurance Program 12-years later, fully funded the FDA, increased funding for medical research and hospital construction, funded low-income housing and sought to extend the social security system.

The platform is full of ideas that today we label as liberal.  With the relevant names removed, the document seems more Democratic than Republican in thought.  Any fair-minded liberal could easily support a candidate promoting such ideals. So there it is, Democrats today are the Republicans of the 1950s.  There is no good definition to describe the metamorphosis the Republican Party has endured.  The creature it has become is beyond words.  The best I can put it, when I hear pundits like Anne Coulter push the Republican message of today, I am reminded of the Sinclair Lewis quote “When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

In looking at it, we might be better off if we follow through on the thoughts of our Republican leadership from decades ago.  Of course, to do that, it seems Rush, Glenn, Anne, and the rest of the conservative talking-idiots are suggesting support for the Democratic Party.  As much as they would like to deny it, the ideals Democrats put forward today are the same ideals of Republicans in the “good ol’ days.”


[i] John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters, The American Presidency Project [online]. Santa Barbara, CA. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=25838.

h1

Something Has to Change

March 25, 2010

We all know statistics are manipulated by politicians, lobbyists, and pretty much anyone with an agenda, to suit their purpose.  It is one of the generally confusing aspects of arriving at a sense of the truth on where we stand as a nation.  To add to our perplexity, the numbers talked about are so large as to lose all relative meaning.  After all, who’s ever seen a trillion of anything?  For practical purposes, it’s just a number that’s much larger than a billion – another number beyond reasonable use for most of us.

What good is it to state the Department of Defense’s budget in 2007 (click here to see the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) report) was $529 billion?  All we really know is that is a very big number.  Another way to look at the budget is by percentage, rather than by dollars spent.  That same $529 billion works out to be about 17% of the over all federal budget that year.  In looking at it this way, we can ask if 17% is a reasonable portion to apply to national defense.

In answering the portion question, many things come into play, things as current threat, perceived future threat, replacement of ships, tanks and aircraft, and what’s been done before.  Only what’s been done in the past is objective.  Focusing there gives a proper frame of reference over time.  Here is the Defense Department’s percentage every ten years since 1962, the year I was born, taken from the OMB’s 2009 report:

Year             Percentage

1962              46.9%
1972              33.7%
1982              24.2%
1992              20.7%
2002              16.5%
2012(est.)      16.8%

Currently, the Department of Defense takes up about a third as much of the budget compared to 1962.  Returning to that really large number, $529 billion, makes one question just where the other 83% and its huge number go.  Obviously, as the Department of Defense’s portion decreases, other department’s portions increase.

Conservatives are quick to point out that social programs make up the greatest portion of that change.  In fairness, here is the Social Security percentage for the same years:

Year             Percentage

1962              13.4%
1972              17.2%
1982              20.8%
1992              20.4%
2002              22.0%
2012(est.)      22.9%

Looking at it line by line does not tell the true story.  The federal budget has many related areas of spending that the public tends to group together.  To that end, the following graph groups the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, Civil Defense as “defense”; while Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Social Security (on and off budget) are grouped as “social services.”  The grouping seems the obvious choice but is open to debate.

As the graph illustrates, the trend in social spending is increasing while defense is decreasing.  In other words, the conservatives make a valid point regarding percentage.  In reality, all portions other than social programs are either trending at the same level or decreasing slightly.  Currently, the social services take up 55% of the budget to defense’s 23%.  Together, they take almost 77% of the federal budget leaving only 23% for everything else.  A few examples of “everything else” are the Department of Justice, NASA, Department of Commerce, Treasury, State Department, and Department of Interior.  That is not even close to all of them.

Regardless of a person’s position on healthcare reform, the trend of social services to take a larger and larger portion of the federal budget must be addressed.  As important as healthcare is, so is having bridges that do not collapse.  In the end, along with healthcare reform, we need budget reform.  We need to attack waste in every program funded with federal money.  We need to stop Medicare fraud; we need to stop buying F-22 fighter planes the military does not want or need.

Using the F-22 as an example, congress added about $1.7 billion for seven fighters.  That is less than one-half of one percent of the defense budget but it is also one type of fighter, seems the same thing is happening with the C-17 transport planes.  Even with their declining percentage, there is still room to cut waste.

What about social services, does it really have Medicare fraud?  Of course it does.  Mark Potter of NBC News reported in December of 2007 (click here to read story) that Medicare fraud cost taxpayers $60 billion a year, or $181 for every U.S. citizen.  $60 billion is about 8% of the Social Security budget in total.  A simple solution would be take just one billion from Social Security and use it to hunt down the bastards stealing from us and put them in jail.  Even if only half the money were recovered, it would be well worth it.  Just removing the fraud would pay for an annual doctor’s visit for everyone.

Washington is getting serious about spending a huge amount of money on healthcare reform; we all know the huge amount spent on two wars.  Perhaps just as much effort needs to take place in ensuring tax dollars are not squandered.  While it is easy to support healthcare reform, the voices calling for restraint must be heard as well.  Rather than name calling, it is best to phrase it this way – those seeking healthcare reform are interested in our physical health as a nation; those for restraint are interested in our financial health.  Neither side is wrong and there is plenty of common ground to be found.  Only by seeking that common ground will we provide services we want at a cost we can afford.

Without denying the need for reform in areas of healthcare, cost is a valid concern.  Just as spending all of your paycheck on new tires for your car leaves you without groceries, spending all our tax dollars on healthcare leaves the other departments  without.  Prudence demands we use the money wisely.  One thing all of us should easily agree on is to stop waste, fraud, and abuse of our tax dollars.

h1

Our Politics Are Anything But “Social”

March 24, 2010

It is near impossible to pick up a newspaper, listen to the radio, or watch news on television without hearing someone stoke the coal-embers of fear that “socialism” will destroy the United States.  While some may truly believe it, the real goal is simply to frighten middle-class Americans back into the conservative fold.  They leverage a lack of understanding as to just what socialism is and is not.  Ironically, they use the same fear weapon that dictators use to gain control of a population, regardless if that dictator is socialist, communist, fascist, or just a plain brutal son of a bitch.

That lack of understanding is the primary reason fear exists.  In the United States, communism and socialism are thought of as being the same.  They are not.  When pundits use the term socialism, they imply communism.  Simply put, communism is a form of government where the state owns all property.  In theory, it is a democracy where every person participates in government equally.  In reality, communist governments devolve into authoritarian dictatorships or oligarchy (a small group or mob).  In both the Soviet Union and Communist China, power concentrated in the hands of a few at the cost of the population at large.  The only thing a communist government has in common with socialism is communists often include “socialist” in their name.  There never has been and never will be the utopian form of communism leftist speak of with such passion.

Socialism, on the other hand, is a group of economics theories that center on public or direct worker ownership of businesses but not necessarily property.  A good example of a socialist based economy is the United Kingdom after World War-II.  Industries like transportation and coal mining came under state control and the National Health Service was formed (the British healthcare system we hear so much about today).  While its economic policies were socialist, the United Kingdom retained both, its parliamentary system and constitutional monarchy.  In other words, its economic policy did not change its form of government.  The social experiment in the U.K. ended with the election of Margaret Thatcher but even so, the nation retains many of the social institutions and policies, such as the National Health Service formed during this time.

What is needed is an apples to apples comparison.  Socialism and capitalism are economic systems of commerce, not types of governments.  Republics and communist states are forms of government.  Adopting a socialist policy will not change the form of government.  The United States has many examples of socialist policies in effect now.  Our national highway system is a prime example and it works well.  Without it imagine the tolls we would have to pay just to go visit Grandma in the next state.  In fact, all government services are socialist in nature.  Who could imagine a private police force patrolling the streets of our cities?  We have enough problems dealing with abusive law enforcement now and its abuses on the whole are limited, imagine the outcome if profit was the motive of law enforcement.

Here is a quote by a famous American regarding the state of healthcare, see if you think it sounds socialist:

“Beyond the question of the prices of health care, our present system of health care insurance suffers from two major flaws :

First, even though more Americans carry health insurance than ever before, the [million of] Americans who remain uninsured often need it the most and are most unlikely to obtain it.  They include many who work in seasonal or transient occupations, high-risk cases, and those who are ineligible for Medicaid despite low incomes.

Second, those Americans who do carry health insurance often lack coverage which is balanced, comprehensive and fully protective:

–Forty percent of those who are insured are not covered for visits to physicians on an out-patient basis, a gap that creates powerful incentives toward high cost care in hospitals;

–Few people have the option of selecting care through prepaid arrangements offered by Health Maintenance Organizations so the system at large does not benefit from the free choice and creative competition this would offer;

–Very few private policies cover preventive services;

–Most health plans do not contain built-in incentives to reduce waste and inefficiency.  The extra costs of wasteful practices are passed on, of course, to consumers; and

–Fewer than half of our citizens under 65–and almost none over 65–have major medical coverage which pays for the cost of catastrophic illness.

These gaps in health protection can have tragic consequences.  They can cause people to delay seeking medical attention until it is too late.  Then a medical crisis ensues, followed by huge medical bills–or worse.  Delays in treatment can end in death or lifelong disability.”

This quote is taken from a Special Message to the United States Congress by President Richard M. Nixon dated February 6, 1974  (Note: 24 million was changed to [million of] in the quoted text to not give it away as being from the 70s).  Here we are, thirty-six years later, arguing about the same thing.  The only difference today, President Nixon would be labeled a “socialist commie” by Glenn Beck and the like.  It is amazing our society has change so much that Nixon’s policies are considered liberal by today’s standard.

In the end, President Obama and Congress do not have the power to change our form of government.  There are only two ways to do that, a constitutional amendment for one, and overthrowing the government for the other, and I think the U.S. Military would have something to say about the latter taking place, as well as all the gun-toting, myself included, citizens out there.

As far as constitutional amendments go, those take two-thirds of both houses of congress or two-thirds of states to propose an amendment but then it must be ratified by three-fourths of the various state’s legislators, or thirty-eight states.  It is doubtful, even if they wanted to, that any group could change our constitutional-republic form of government.

Providing reasonable healthcare will not destroy our country.  Truth is, not providing it is the real danger.  We will have to adjust our spending in other areas but that is long overdue anyway.  Healthcare needs to be part of our economic security.  Having a healthy population is just as important as having a healthy military.

So next time you hear a fear-mongering idiot bemoaning the death of America’s liberty and freedom, just shake your head and feel sorry for them.  They are no more relevant than the moron standing on the corner with a sign reading “THE END IS NEAR!”

h1

The Healthcare Debate and Critical Thinking

March 23, 2010

Now that our elected political idiots are through wrestling with the healthcare alligator for a bit, pundits from both sides have stepped into the ring for round two.  In the one corner stand those who wish to assure us the bill is manna from heaven; the other corner has us lining up for a lethal dose of socialism and financial ruin.  What the political idiots and pundits lack is critical thinking regarding healthcare.  They simply stoke the fires of preconceived notions.

Critical thinking involves more than understanding a particular position or even all the positions of a subject.  In their book, Critical Thinking, Richard Parker and Brook Noel describe the process as “the careful, deliberate determination of whether one should accept, reject, or suspend judgment about a claim and the degree of confidence with which one accepts or rejects it.”  In other words, the process of critical thinking considers all the relevant facts to determine their importance, if any, on the outcome.

With that in mind we come to healthcare.  Our first problem comes in defining what healthcare means, are we talking about the level of care or simply its cost?  They are not the same thing and in the end, have little to do with each other.  As the current bill’s primary purpose addresses issues related to cost, that seems a logical place to focus.  We need to understand what drives up the cost of healthcare in America and how to reverse the trend.

Of course, there is more than a book’s worth of material regarding the various reasons healthcare costs rise so dramatically.  Rather than cherry-pick a few items to support a view, it is better to boil them all down into a few categories.  There are two broad categories that breakdown into subcategories, costs that add value and costs that do not.

Again focusing on one area, the obvious goal is to eliminate the costs that add no valued to healthcare.  A great example of such a cost is the profit paid to the insurance company’s shareholders.  A for-profit company has a responsibility to make a profit.  It is why shareholders invest in the company.  This profit is the subject of fierce debate, President Obama even called it record-breaking in a June 2009 press conference, a statement PoltiFact.com calls false, by the way – (click here to read).  Rather than addressing the issue directly, both sides use profit as a political football used to score points.

What is not debated though is insurance companies make a profit.  That adds to the direct cost of healthcare.  Industry wide, net profits average around 3.3%.  According to the Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2007, private insurance paid for approximately 36% of all healthcare costs in the U.S. (click here to read the full report).  Using their 2007 expenditure number of $2.2 trillion, that means the insurance companies’ profits works out to about $27.3 billion or $82 for every man, woman, and child in the United States, even the uninsured.  A non-profit insurance system would save both citizens and businesses that $27.3 billion per year.

At first glance, a non-profit, single payer system would seem an option worth undertaking.  This is where critical thinking comes in.  Are there any examples of single-payer systems set up by the federal government currently?  Yes, the National Flood Insurance Program.  As their website put it:

“In 1968, Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to help provide a means for property owners to financially protect themselves.  The NFIP offers flood insurance to homeowners, renters, and business owners if their community participates in the NFIP.  Participating communities agree to adopt and enforce ordinances that meet or exceed FEMA requirements to reduce the risk of flooding.”

While no system is perfect, NFIP provides a cost-effective means for renters and homeowners to protect themselves from flooding related damage costs.  Critical thinking demands we look at the latter part of the statement in detail – “Participating communities agree to adopt and enforce ordinances that meet or exceed FEMA requirements to reduce the risk of flooding.”  The government program provides a service but requires individuals and communities to take basic precautions to protect themselves and reduce their exposure to flooding.  This reduction in exposure is key to reducing costs.

A non-profit, single-payer system will work for healthcare but the same prudence and risk aversion needs to apply.  To put it simply, we need to take care of ourselves, lose weight, stop smoking, and keep in reasonable shape.  By concentrating on prevention with tools like routine check-ups, we avoid the logarithmically higher costs of the post-onset of illness treatment.

The insurance industry’s profit is only one example of critical thinking applied to healthcare and by no means is it examined in full.  Rather it illustrates how applying the process to a problem leads to solutions, and there can be more than one for a particular problem.  It removes rhetoric from the equation and allows for merit-based debate.

The passing of the current bill is only the beginning of the process.  Over the next few years it will change and undergo metamorphosis into a totally different law.  What is needed now is less political fear-mongering and more critical thinking.  Only then will we have a bill that is effective and adds value to our lives.  Otherwise we will end up with another in a long line of useless government programs.

%d bloggers like this: