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Jul. 14 2010 — 1:39 pm | 443 views | 3 recommendations | 44 comments

The solution: turn red states to blue and blue states to red

I don’t know about you, but I’m fed up with the focus this nation places on partisanship. It has destroyed much of what we value in America.

No longer do our politicians – or their followers – put what is best for the nation at the forefront although many believe they do so by taking strong, unyielding partisan positions.

Today, it’s all about how a policy plays out for the party – not the country.

Does anyone really believe that the Obama win, cool as it may have been for those who supported his candidacy, has turned out to be a victory for the nation? Does anyone really believe that the two terms of George W. Bush was a victory for the nation?

Yes, I know…Obama’s problems are the fault of a GOP minority in the Senate hell bent on stopping the president no matter what he attempts to do. As for Bush, it was all about oil, right? While Obama’s hidden, nefarious agenda involves the pursuit of socialism in America, Bush’s master plan was to further the interests of corporations and the nation’s wealthiest citizens.

Guess what? George W. Bush contributed more money to fight AIDS in Africa than any president in our history. In the real world (the one where politics is not reduced to a football game), an evil man who cares nothing for the disadvantaged and only works to benefit the privileged just doesn’t do this.

Here’s another shocker.

If you actually believe that Barack Obama is pursuing a socialist course for this country, you are either completely ignorant of facts or need to return to high school and pay attention the day your civics class teacher discusses what socialism actually means. While facts can be inconvenient, President Obama has, so far, turned out to be a pretty conservative president – certainly far more conservative than most who supported his candidacy expected.

The truth is that an American president can no longer succeed on behalf of the nation because whoever is on the other side of the aisle believes they have too much to lose in that success. It’s not about the country – it’s about the success of the team for whom our politicians and their followers play.

The inevitable result is the loss of logic and good sense in the national debate. And when good sense is lost for too long, history tells us that nobody wins the game.

We have GOP senators running around making the case that the nation’s jobless be damned because the deficit can’t handle further payment of their jobless benefits unless we can find the money elsewhere so as to avoid increasing the national deficit. To back up their position, they try to sell us on the notion that the unemployed are only unemployed because, content to take the taxpayers’ money and watch TV all day, they don’t really want jobs. Of course, the fact that statistics make clear that there is only one job out there for every six trying to get it is of no consequence.

At the same time, these identical senators pitch the notion that we should continue the Bush tax cuts despite the treasury’s need for a little help from the nation’s wealthiest in order to conquer the deficit – no offsetting money required to keep the deficit at even.

In what logic system does that add up?

The Democrats are hardly immune from the loss of good sense. Robert Gibbs goes on television and makes a dramatic statement of the obvious by pointing out that the GOP could retake the House this fall. Wow…who would have thought that was a possibility? Apparently, Nancy Pelosi figured that there was still someone left in the United States who didn’t already know this provocative bit of information when she publicly beat up on Gibbs for having spoken the obvious to avoid looking like a complete dunderhead before the nation.

And then there are the whack jobs. Michele Bachmann wants us to believe we are being turned into a nation of slaves. The tea party hangs up billboards comparing the President to Hitler because, somehow, this is good for America. And yes, liberals made some similar accusations against President Bush that were just as stupid.

Ultra-progressives insist that unless we get a health care program that includes every single thing they want, we should have no reform at all. The uninsured will just have to tough it out until the progressives get their all or nothing solution. Of course, most of those who take such a position do so with the comfort of having their health insurance policy sitting comfortably in a file somewhere. They will also tell you that faith based distribution of aid to the needy is a bad thing because it mixes church and state. I’m sure that argument comes as great comfort to families without food who only want a sandwich and don’t really care who gives it to them. But then, a hungry child’s stomach has yet to be indoctrinated into partisanship. To such a kid, food provided by a conservative or a liberal, a church or a government welfare program, is still just badly needed food.

So, I’ve got an idea.

If you live in a blue state – whether you are a Democrat or a Republican – look for a Republican who is moderate to the point that you can swallow hard and vote for his or her candidacy. Look for the Snowes and the Collinses out there. Maybe even the Scott Browns.

Best of all, look for folks like Charlie Crist.

These are the candidates who actually use their brain instead of their party affiliations and aren’t afraid to be supportive of a president from another party if what that president proposes is good for the candidate’s constituency.

If you live in a red state – vote Democrat. No, it doesn’t have to be a progressive or a liberal –a more conservative Democrat will do just fine.

In other words, let’s move our politicians towards the middle. While it won’t satisfy the deeply committed progressives or the equally committed conservatives, it may do something much more important – create a government that is capable of actually governing.

Sound radical? Think about what voting ideologies has done for us so far. Democrats are still blaming Bush (not that he doesn’t have it coming) and conservatives are convinced that Obama is the anti-Christ. Congress is incapable of acting in a rational, meaningful way to solve any of our problems because the leadership on both sides doesn’t allow governance – they only allow votes that are likely to deliver the desired result in the next election.

Here’s a new flash. Running a government is pretty much like running any other type of organization. There can be different opinions as to which may be the better plan to get the job done but, at the end of the day, what is most important is that the organization picks a direction and goes there. Mistakes will be made- but they can be corrected when they show up, if it is about running the government to the best interests of the country and not in the interest of political elections.

If the electorate delivers more Republicans in a given election year — assuming they are rational Republicans — then let’s do it their way and see how it goes. If the electorate chooses more Democrats then they get to steer the ship, so long as they do so rationally.

Given the state of our politics, this can only happen if we  put our attention to solving problems – not pursuing ideological agendas. This means choosing candidates focused on problem solving and problem solvers tend to be moderate, deliberative people. They aren’t people who suggest that the president of the United States wants to put our children in camps or make us slaves. They are not people who compare American presidents to the most heinous villain in modern history. They aren’t people who pretend that unions are always right in every opinion and position, even if they are supportive of the right of workers to unionize. And they certainly are not people who suggest that the American government wants to create death panels to decide when our seniors should die.

While it is true that dinner party conversation may be less interesting and cable news shows might drop a few rating points, I think this is a sacrifice we manage in order to preserve the nation.

I would also nominate Charlie Crist to be the poster boy for this movement.

A lifelong Republican, Crist was drummed out of his party for seeking to do what was best for his constituents, whether they be Democrats or Republicans. Those of you who read this blog know that I tend to lean in the direction of the left in my own approach to problem solving. So, my putting up a life-long Republican as the leader of this strategy may appear odd.

However, my interests are for the country – not for a political party. I respect a man who put his state first even if it meant giving the president a (gasp) hug in front of the camera. After all, Sammy Davis Jr., a life-long Democrat, hugged Richard Nixon for the cameras and I didn’t think any less of him for it.

Running the greatest nation on earth like a football game isn’t working out very well so let’s institute a new player draft system designed to even up the teams. Let’s go for moderates, whether Democrats or Republicans, who are more interested in governing than scoring touchdowns.

It has worked well for us in the past ad it might just may save the nation in the future.

Jul. 12 2010 — 8:22 pm | 374 views | 2 recommendations | 14 comments

The death of the American Medical Association

Once one of the most powerful lobbies in all the nation, the American Medical Association (AMA) no longer appears capable of putting much bite into its bark.

To illustrate the point, one need only examine the organization’s complete and utter ineptitude at handling the most important issue facing American physicians – the ever present axe that hangs over their heads as they attempt to fight off the 21% reduction in Medicare payments payable to doctors willing to treat the nation’s elderly.

It’s not like they haven’t had their chances.

The first misstep came with the AMA’s willingness to accept and support the Obama healthcare plan without gaining anything in return. Surely, a promise to deliver on a repeal of the law that is producing the threatened cuts – or at least a commitment to table the cuts for a meaningful period of time – could have been accomplished in exchange for AMA support of the health care reform bill.

But then, when it comes to politics, one must ask before one can expect to receive. And when asking politely doesn’t work,  one must be prepared to threaten with the checkbook.

But not so the AMA.

The AMA says it endorsed reform because the law would help doctors and patients by expanding coverage, adding it never took part in a quid pro quo to support the bill.

“We make no apologies for our strong, principled advocacy on behalf of patients and physicians,” Cecil B. Wilson, president of the AMA, said in a statement to POLITICO. “We have been vocal advocates for covering the uninsured since before the last presidential election — before the issue became divisive and politicized.”
Via Politico

I suppose I can respect such a noble and principled approach. But then, I’m not a physician struggling to keep my office open while accepting elderly patients on what little Medicare already pays, let alone trying to do it with a further 21% cut in pay.

Having let the moment pass them by at the outset of reform, the AMA determined not to make the same mistake twice. Last month, they went full force for a complete repeal of the threatened cuts – a repeal that would cost  the national treasury some $240 billion. Once again, a noble objective. But in an election year where Democrats are already getting their heads handed to them for ballooning deficits, it doesn’t take a strategic genius to understand that such an approach is not going to succeed and that an unwillingness to compromise is just plain stupid – especially when Congress offers a reasonable compromise.

And that is precisely what Congress did.

Unable to push through an expensive repeal of the law, for all the obvious reasons, Congress suggested a five-year fix that would have given the docs a little breathing room while we see how reform develops. But the AMA refused. Instead, they launched a multimillion – dollar television campaign attacking the U.S. Senate for walking away from the problem.

What did the AMA win for their efforts? Rather than the five- year deal they had within their grasp, they achieved only a one-month reprieve. That’s right – having turned down a five-year deal, they spent millions of dollars only to end up with just 30 days until the ugly problem raises its head once again. Does it get any more embarrassing for a political lobbying group? Is it any wonder that membership in the AMA has dwindled to a mere fraction of what it once was?

For those physicians who continue to belong, I can only hope that they show better judgment when cutting us open than they do when it comes to political decision making. While taking a principled, all-or-nothing approach may be admirable – it is usually the province of interest groups who seek only to be heard in the press and on cable TV rather than those who actually mean to accomplish something in Congress. Our collective health demands much more. Medicine in America is very much about politics. And if the physicians can’t handle it, you and I will pay the price.

It is worth keeping in mind that the AMA is the very same organization that has managed to get its way on healthcare policy since first taking on Teddy Roosevelt to defeat a national health insurance program. Indeed, they have defeated every single president they’ve taken on when it comes to healthcare proposals that did not meet with their approval.

But those days are over.  The time has come to pronounce the AMA dead and hope that the nation’s physicians will respond by creating an organization with the requisite skill and courage required to represent their interests.

Why do we care? Because while you may have gripes about how much money physicians earn (and I hear them all the time), I assure you that the interests of America’s physicians are very much tied to our own. You simply cannot have a health care system without the doctors who diagnose the illnesses, dispense the treatments, work the cures and alleviate our pain. This is not an abstract proposition. Should you or a member of your family become ill, it won’t be politics or disgust over how much the other guy earns that is on your mind. You’re going to want a doctor and you’d better hope there is a competent one available to provide what you need.

The AMA has given a whole meaning to the adage, “Physician, heal thyself.” The nation’s doctors would be wise to take the advice and get themselves properly organized before it’s too late- if it isn’t too late already.

Jul. 8 2010 — 1:58 pm | 266 views | 1 recommendations | 14 comments

Are health insurance companies finally getting smart?

A sign of things to come?

I was busy at work when I received a phone call from my health insurance company, Aetna Blue Cross of California. The insurer, best known for attempting to raise premium rates into the stratosphere and a history of seeking to deny coverage to those often in the greatest need, was phoning to invite me to participate in a program they are offering to their customers with chronic health conditions – such as diabetes and heart disease.

Sadly, such a program very much includes me.

The offer included a weekly phone call from one of their health care aides along with 24/7 access to their nurses, pharmacists and nutrition experts. And…get this… all at no charge to me whatsoever.

While I tend to stay very much on top of my chronic conditions and have a pretty healthy knowledge and understanding of how to properly care for my “issues”, I decided to play along. After all, I’ve been arguing that this sort of program is precisely the sort of thing that will, in the long run, save health insurers a lot of money, improve the health of their customers and, as a result, bring down premium costs for payers everywhere.

I could hardly turn them down.

The conversation took awhile. After a preliminary discussion with the individual who made the initial contact, I was turned over to a health specialist who presented me with a long list of questions designed to work out where I could use a little help or motivation to keep the blood sugar under control and the coronary arteries from suffering any further damage.

The questions were relevant and on point. They knew what they were asking and why.

Based on my answers, the consultant suggested a few things that I was welcomed to accept or pass on. For example, I agreed to the weekly phone call from one of their nurses, mainly because I want to see how well the program functions. I passed on the opportunity to speak with the nutritionist, taking the opportunity to relay the tale of how I was forced to see a hospital nutritionist prior to being discharged from my triple bypass surgery adventure only to find that the nutritionist was a three hundred pound woman who clearly was not prepared to practice what she preached. Despite Aetna’s assurances that their nutritionists were all committed to healthy eating, I really do know enough to understand when I’m eating poorly so I decided to save their nutritionist’s time for someone who could better benefit from the service.

Kudos to Aetna Blue Cross of California.

While these programs may be baby steps in the direction of getting the cost curve under control, they are important steps just the same and should be encouraged.

I’ll report back on this subject after my first telephone conference with the insurance company’s nurse.

Jul. 1 2010 — 11:39 am | 748 views | 2 recommendations | 8 comments

High-risk health insurance pools begin today

One of the first major creations of the new healthcare legislation begins today as state and federally run high-risk insurance pools begin taking applications from American citizens and legal residents unable to get coverage due to pre-existing health conditions.

Twenty-nine states have informed the federal government that they will operate their own program with the assistance of federal money. Twenty–one states have opted to allow the federal government to operate a high risk pool on their behalf. The remaining states, including California and New York, are expected to have their programs up and running by the end of the summer.

The high-risk insurance policies will be available to those who have been uninsured for six months and can show proof that they have been denied health coverage due to a pre-existing condition. For those who may desire to gain coverage from the program, note that you are not obligated to prove that you have been turned down by every insurance company on the market. You need only prove – by presenting a written letter of rejection – that one such company has denied coverage.

For those who live in a guarantee issue state where insurers are not permitted to deny coverage, providing proof that the premium charge you would be obligated to pay is well above the charge from the high-risk pool will qualify you for entry.

Applicants who get their paperwork in by July 15th will begin to receive coverage as early as August 1st.

While the launch program will come as truly welcome news to many of our uninsured, there remains great concern that the funding available to operate the program – totaling $5 billion – will not be nearly enough to provide insurance coverage to everyone in need. While the Secretary of HHS has the right to cap the program at any time, the government is currently accepting all applicants. Accordingly, those who wish to take advantage of the program would be wise to get their applications in as soon as possible.

You can get all the information required –for both state and federally operated programs – at http://www.healthcare.gov which goes on-line today.

Jun. 30 2010 — 5:58 pm | 318 views | 1 recommendations | 13 comments

Thousands in welfare cash drawn at California strip joints and gambling casinos

MS Queen Victoria Gambling

Image via Wikipedia

California has an efficient system for getting cash to those participating in the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program – the welfare program providing money for food and clothing to California’s needy. Participants are issued an ATM card, allowing them to access their monthly allotted funds through the state’s network of ATM machines – machines operated pursuant to a contract with the independent Quest ATM system.

While the use of ATM’s allows welfare recipients to access the funds when needed, it turns out that the ATM machines capable of accessing the welfare accounts are turning up in gambling joints and strip clubs – not exactly the best locations to dole out welfare cash and not really what California taxpayers have in mind when we provide our taxes to assist those in need of help.

Last week, we learned from the official website listing the locations where welfare recipients can go to access their accounts that more than half of the casinos and state licensed poker rooms in California are on the list of approved locations. It turns out California’s neediest citizens haven’t been afraid to tap the accounts when they feel an inside straight coming on.

Today brings the news that 17 adult clubs are also on the list.

Spokesman for the Department of Social Services, Lizelda Lopez, had this to say:

We’ll take a wide-ranging look and apply some common sense to the list of outlets where cash assistance should not be withdrawn.
Via Los Angeles Times

Good idea.

Who says California doesn’t run an efficient government?

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    About Me

    I am an attorney in Southern California, and a frequent writer, speaker and consultant on health care policy and politics. To that end, I am active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists. Based in beautiful Santa Monica, California, I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to be a contributing editor to True/Slant. I've recently finished a book designed to make the health care debate understandable to the average reader, and expect it to be out in the next five months or earlier. In my 'spare time', I continue to write for television and, occasionally, for comic books.

    My checkered past includes stints in creative writing and production for television where I did strange things like founding the long running show "Access Hollywood" and serving, for many years, as the president of the Marvel Character Group where I had the distinct pleasure of being one of Spider-man's bosses.

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