Archive for August, 2009

29
Aug

Political Health Care Rationing

   Posted by: Robert    in Politics

The Associated Press has an article which begins with a statement that “The national Republican Party has mailed a fundraising appeal suggesting Democrats might use an overhaul of the health care system to deny medical treatment to Republicans.”  The apparent suggestion comes from a question on a questionnaire which asked if people are concerned about the possibility that “GOP voters might be discriminated against for medical treatment in a Democrat-imposed health care rationing system.”  An RNC spokesman has apparently dismissed the statement as having been “inartfully worded,” but the question actually touches on a concern that I’ve expressed privately for several weeks.

One of the major considerations of the health care plans being worked through congress is a significant consolidation of information.  From the various reports I’ve read over the past few months, the government is planning to build a database which includes not only health history information, but also financial data, social security records, and various other things.  Campaign law requires the disclosure of names of “significant” campaign contributors, and it is probably not too hard an exercise for a party to identify most of their minor contributors as well.  Many states also require partisan registration for voting in primaries; which, while some people cross party lines, most people register straight up with how they usually vote.

If the voter rolls and campaign contribution lists are connected to the health care database, even if the connection is informal, it is difficult to ignore the abuses that would be possible.  Imagine how powerful it would be for a power hungry leader to declare that only people who vote for him get power.  With politics being essentially a power game, it would be only a matter of time before someone starts using health care as a tool to help their friends and subtly dispose of their enemies.  It may not be Obama, or his successor, or any President in our lifetime, but once a power is given, someone will figure out how to use it.  (And, by the way, that “someone” might be a Republican.)

Whether or not the survey question was properly worded, the issue it raises is real and significant.  Nobody is saying that Obama will only give health care to Democrats, but someone, someday, might.  That possibility alone makes the question worth asking.  We must be sure that health care cannot be rationed to partisan advantage.

16
Aug

Public Option Fading?

   Posted by: Robert    in News, Politics

Saw an article today saying that the Obama administration may be backing off its push for a public option in health care.  If this is true, it is good news.  But it makes me a bit nervous to see conservatives talking this up as some kind of victory.  As I posted in the comments section of another blog:

Without having done a lot of research, I can think of a few things to consider:

  1. Depending on how the thing is set up, there may still be increased federal involvement. One article talks about government insurance whenever there are fewer than two private alternatives, and Schumer has said that he feels any co-op would need to achieve the same goals as the public option.
  2. The co-op would probably need to be started by the federal government, probably with federal dollars. As we saw with the car companies, when the federal government gives money away, it thinks it owns the thing it gave money to. How independent is a federally funded co-op really going to be?
  3. If these were such a good idea, why hasn’t private industry created its own co-op system yet?
  4. The public option is only part of the government’s health care plans. A co-op may kill that, but it won’t keep the government from expanding its reach in other ways.
  5. To me, it feels like socialized health care on an installment plan. They reached too far, and are now willing to make concessions and meet in the middle. If this passes, expect the next health care go-around to focus explicitly on single-payer, with concessions to get us back to about what we’ve rejected today.

With the left apparently on the run, now is the time to press the attack.  When fighting Medusa, one does not quit after removing only the first snake.

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15
Aug

The Political Waiting Game

   Posted by: Robert    in Politics

Toward the end of an article on Obama talking about health care, the New York Times shares a quote from the President which is his apparent attempt to calm fears of bad consequences with examples from history.  he probably should have picked different examples:

When President Roosevelt was working to create Social Security, opponents warned it would open the door to ‘federal snooping’ and force Americans to wear dog tags.

While I suppose that technically they aren’t dog tags, the national ID cards established by the Real ID Act seem rather close enough.  As far as “federal snooping” goes, it’s probably impossible to figure out which of Roosevelt’s policies should be blamed for opening the door to that, but as the Social Security Administration is now involved in everything from retirement savings to disability assistance to reviewing corporate hiring decisions, it strains credulity to suppose that Social Security didn’t lead to more federal involvement in our daily lives.

When President Kennedy and President Johnson were working to create Medicare, opponents warned of ‘socialized medicine.’ Sound familiar?

On the road to socialized medicine, you can either go all the way all at once, or you can go slowly, one step at a time.  The VA system, Medicare, and SCHIP are all steps along the way.  As we become used to (or worse, dependent on) these systems, we stop asking tough questions and we tend to neglect the overall pattern.  But there can be no doubt that medicine today is more socialized than it was before Kennedy and Johnson, even if both left the endgame for another day.

It took 70 years for the government to tell us to go get dog tags; a relatively small offense compared to the only-50-years-old socialized health care campaign.  These things take time, but the federal government has shown itself to be patient.  It is far less important what the government has done as of today than what it will do starting tomorrow.

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11
Aug

Arlen Specter and the “Social Compact”

   Posted by: Robert    in News, Politics

It took some work for me to find a video of the question posed by Katy Abrams to Senator Arlen Specter which included his response, but the reward was well worth the effort.  Katy’s question is interesting not only for its power (which is obvious enough from the response she got), but because it is the most crystal clear delivery to date of the question Americans should be asking.

At so many of these town halls, citizens are standing up and asking tough questions to their politicians about the proposed health care reforms.  Many come prepared with questions about the House bill, some speak more in general.  There are questions of taxes, of who pays, of what will happen to private insurance, and all of the other details.  These are important questions which must be asked.

What Ms. Abrams asks, though, is a question which is far more important.  She says it herself, that what she wants to know is not just about this, or that, or the other thing.  Her question — the one all of us need to ask — is what any of these things mean for the foundation of the country.  Even if the health care plan was perfect, as Americans and proud believers in constitutional government, we cannot neglect to ask ourselves if the government is acting within its constitutional authority.  As believers in liberty, we must not neglect to ask ourselves if the government is acting within its appropriate role.  If either of those two questions are answered in the negative, then none of the rest even matters.

Senator Specter’s response is telling in a number of ways.

After stammering around for a bit, he offers a platitude about his work defending the Constitution, then instantly changes the subject completely away from health care.  I do not believe, Senator, that however zealously you may have defended the Constitution in the past, that you or any other government official may be excused from defending the Constitution now or in the future, as long as you continue to serve.  The oath you swear is always and everywhere; it has no provision for “I did good last time,” or “I’ll get the next one.”

From there, Senator Specter proceeds to talk about how our “social compact” has a “provision to take care of people who need some help.”  Whatever his “social compact” may be, I guarantee that it is not the Constitution.  Nowhere can I find in the Articles or Amendments a “help those in need” clause.  Not that they needs one, of course.  The Founders knew what history has shown time and again: The best way for a government to help those in need is to stand back and get out of their way.  The people themselves can — should — take care of their own, and that’s what a “social compact” is all about.  It is an agreement of and among the people, far different from a constitution which is a contract between the people and their government.

Our Constitution, of course, is not one that is admitting of government operated health care.  The power to provide health care is certainly not “delegated to the United States by the Constitution,” which means that it must be “reserved to the States … or to the People.” (US Constitution, Amendment 10)  As that language makes clear, it is impossible to uphold and defend the Constitution and support government health care at the same time.

When the government has no authority to do something, the vote should be simple and  clear.  “No.”  The people understand this, and they proclaim it proud and true from every side of the aisle.  But to get the answer, we must do as Ms. Abrams and ask the question.  Defending our freedom is at the pinnacle America’s “social compact.”

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5
Aug

The Obama Youth League?

   Posted by: Robert    in Politics

Over on the White House Blog today, Macon Phillips tells us about an interesting new service being offered by the federal government.  The services is introduced as such:

There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care.  These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation.  Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to flag@whitehouse.gov.

Now, I know it doesn’t directly affect health insurance, but I, too, get a lot of disinformation about healthcare concerns in general.  Not a day goes by, it seems, where I’m not being introduced to a product or service that falsely promises to improve my level of health and wellbeing.  Most of this stuff comes in through my email, but I have also seen the lies show up on web forums I visit, on blogs I read, in conversations over instant messaging services, and even on television.

Of course, I tend to be fairly busy, and I assuredly don’t have time to read every lie that comes my way.  But, to my good fortune, I am, first and foremost, a child of technology.  A better life can come through software, and I have customized software systems to automatically sort most of these things out for me.  Perhaps the government will do the same.  But, if they are to really keep sharp on the latest information, then they must be prepared to do better than I do; to sit down, and actually read the things that we send.

Next time you see this disinformation, you might as well just send it along.  Though, you may want to create an anonymous email address first, certainly nothing that has your name.  But disinformation is disinformation, and the government clearly needs to care no matter who the mail is from.  They asked for it, after all.

So, why wait?  When it drops in your inbox, just go ahead!

Send them Viagra.

(Nothing in this post should be construed as recommending or encouraging the violation of applicable laws.  Indeed, the world is better off if you don’t.)

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4
Aug

On the American Way

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy

In what I can only hope was an opinion article in the LA Times, Michael Hiltzik asks the question, “What’s so great about private insurance?”  In support of his answer which seems to boil down to “approximately nothing,” he encourages us to “remind ourselves what th[e] American way [of health care] entails.”  Without question, “the American way” is a huge issue in the debate over health care.  It is an issue which extends well beyond doctors and nurses, insurance companies, and bureaucrats.  It is not only “the American way” of health care which is in question, but the American way of life itself.

“So it’s proper to remind ourselves what that American way entails.”  For most of our nation’s history, Americans have prided themselves on being a free and independent people.  The American tradition, in fact, is founded on freedom, and our Declaration of Independence continues to resonate as one of the guiding lights in what it means to cast off the reigns of an overbearing and distant government.  Our people have fought two wars against our own countrymen (the American Revolution, as then-Englishmen against England, and the American Civil War, as Americans against America) against the real and perceived excesses of government authority.  We have fought, with pen and blood, against Nazis, Fascists, Communists, Despots, Dictators, and Totalitarians to “secure the Blessings of Liberty” not only “to ourselves and our Posterity,”(US Constitution, Preamble) but to anyone else brave enough to fight for the right of self-rule.

It is notable that of all of the government intrusions upon the individual Americans have fought in the past, not a single one has been so personal or intimate as government intrusion into the doctor’s office.  In fact, that singular alcove has been the focus of one of the deepest divides in modern American politics.  Some of the most prominent advocates of government healthcare today are the very same people who harp incessantly on the fundamental liberty of choice and the right to no-government-here privacy when medical discussions turn from unwanted illnesses to unwanted fetuses.  So sharp is the conviction against government involvement in the abortion doctor’s office that every year a march is made in front of the Supreme Court on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.  The moral certainty that the government should not direct the fate of people’s lives by interfering with those who help us in white robes is not wrong.  Yet, interfere is precisely what government healthcare by definition would do.

As plenty of other commentators have pointed out by now, government healthcare is a deep threat to American liberty.  Unlike the police and military force which so animated Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, the force of government on our lives through healthcare would be vague and ill-defined.  But once the government has entered our bodies, it becomes far more powerful than a uniformed officer ever could.  Every decision could be rewarded or punished through the evolution of some sort of tax “to help pay for healthcare,” or by lengthening or shortening the line to the doctor’s office.  The government, literally, would have the last word over who lives and who dies.

When Patrick Henry spoke to the Virginia Convention in St. John’s Church, he most assuredly did not have a heart attack, stroke, or cancer on his mind.  Yet, the words “Liberty or Death” resonate through time in the best of the American tradition, and they apply no less to us now in health than they did to the founders in war.  In the American tradition, it is better to die free than live as a slave.

So, what’s so great about the private system?  To be sure, it isn’t perfect.  No system is.  But the private system is able to innovate, able to change, and able to seek out ways to improve.  It is not interested in controlling lives.  The private system allows Americans to live as Americans: Strong, independent, and free.

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