Friday, September 4, 2009

YouCare: It's Like ObamaCare, But it Might Just Work.

Sometimes I think the only reason the ongoing American health care crisis hasn't degenerated into full scale civil war is because both sides know the system couldn't sustain the sheer number of casualties. Not yet anyway.

Fortunately, should everyone come together and agree that my health care reform proposal is, in fact, the most viable (and palatable) option, both crisis and war could be averted. No thanks necessary.

However, I think many of us have ideas about solving the health care crisis that fall outside of what has become the false dilemma of our times: socialism or status quo.

This is America, damn it. We have alternatives. But these alternatives must be brought to light. Exercise your freedom to speak and think and go outside the confines of party affiliation and offer your own health care reform proposal in the comments of this post. And exercise your freedom to respectfully tear each other's proposals to shreds.

Here is my own.

Under cries of socialism, those on the right seem to prefer weeping and gnashing of teeth over surrendering any more of the health care system to the government (while ignoring the fact that a significant portion already falls under their direct influence and/or control). Meanwhile, basking in the glow of a greater sense of humanity and compassion, those left-of-center talk about universal health care as though it should be a given, the ends so thoroughly justifying the means that the means, whatever they are, should be a mere afterthought.

I keep hearing people refer to health care as a right. But this cannot be so. Rights by definition cannot be administered by the government, only protected. Yet, even in my personal life, I am keenly aware of hardworking people who face economic ruin because of either chronic or catastrophic health crises. These are not people looking to suck the federal teet, nor are they among the uninsured.

Then I look at current federal spending.

Right now, there are more than 1,800 federal subsidy programs. Collectively, these programs amount to billions upon billions of dollars, spent on everything from speciality crops and healthy marriage promotion to tattoo removal, pre-school anger management courses and turkey hunting.

Wild federal subsidies have reaped two widespread negative consequences. First, they have turned state governments and non-profit organizations into federal agencies and contractors, respectively. Second, they have turned our tax revenue into a monstrous cookie jar for the unprofitable to cram their mitts and grab what they can.

Point being, the government has been redistributing our wealth for decades. Federal assistance programs have been growing exponentially since the 1960s, and the economic stimulus added rocket fuel to the blaze.

I propose a simple compromise: stop giving money away to failing industries, wild schemes and short-sighted bleeding hearts and put that money into health care reform.

Effective health care reform should focus on two fundamental principles. One, restructuring the market of health coverage for Americans who can afford it. Two, providing a viable public option for those who cannot.

I've already written on restructuring the private insurance industry, breaking free from the employer model, empowering individuals with an open, competitive and tax-incentivized insurance market.

For those who cannot work, or those who work and cannot afford coverage to provide them the care they need (those with chronic or catastrophic illnesses or injuries) a quality public option should exist.

But this public option should by managed state by state, with federal funding doled out according to each state's unique needs. As former Senator (and mechanical engineer) John Sununu (R) so eloquently argued, efficiency requires a 'short control loop'. "Your shower faucets are a short control loop. You turn on the cold faucet, the shower is cold. You turn on the hot faucet, the shower is hot. You fiddle with both faucets, and you take a shower. Now imagine your second-story bathroom has its shower faucets in the basement. That's a long control loop. You turn the water on, climb the steps and get in the shower. It's too cold. You wrap yourself in a towel, go down two flights of stairs dripping water all over the house, go back upstairs. It's too hot. You go back downstairs, etc."

Sununu's extended shower metaphor firmly applies to federal oversight. Washington should merely empower states to manager their own public health care options. The first step in doing so would be to streamline (i.e. do away with) Medicare and Medicaid as they currently exist. This frees up an incredible amount of funding right from the start.

Next, every state, after thoroughly examining their specific health care needs and petition Washington for the necessary funding. Once funds are dispersed, states are solely responsible for managing them, subject to petitions for subsequent increases. That is, instead of senators withdrawing a quarter million federal dollars for pre-school anger management, they might withdraw the same amount to provide an underserved region of their state with two qualified primary care physicians.

Which brings me to my next point. Qualified physicians.

In 2008, the average medical student graduated with more than $150 thousand in debt. The real cost of practicing medicine, including the outrageous expense of liability insurance, is steering an increasing number of brilliant students away from the medical profession. Those who remain are less likely to pursue fields which promise lower income (primary care) or greater liability (surgical specialties). And a nation cannot survive on dermatology alone.

Thus federal funding (in cooperation with tax-incentivized contributions from the private sector) would make public medical education free for those students smart enough and hardworking enough to make the cut. Students accepted into elite private institutions would also have the ability to petition for financial assistance. This assistance would be conditional upon things like practicing in underserved populations for a certain period, or achieving board certification in a given specialty.

Upon graduating debt free, these students will then have a decision to make. Public or private sector.

Freeing up the health insurance market for individuals will maintain the private sector of medicine. Physicians will have the ability to open a private practice, much like they do now, seeing a greater number of patients than current insurance networks permit.

I won't tackle tort reform here, but suffice it to say whatever measures need to be taken to make liability insurance as affordable for physicians as health insurance should be affordable for working Americans must be taken, period.

As for the public sector of medicine, here are the basics. Think of it as the public sector of law, a better-funded, better-managed Public Defender of Health. Physicians can opt to serve in either state-run or state-contracted medical offices and hospitals. The pay scale would be similar to those found in the military or among elected officials. These physicians would earn less than their private sector colleagues, but their income would not be taxable. Those working in state-run facilities would receive liability coverage, while those under contract would receive assistance to purchase their own.

Further, private sector specialists can be offered incentives to take on 'pro bono' cases, in the event that they are "the" physician to take on a rare or particularly troublesome ailment. These incentives would also be available in the event that private physicians simply want to help take the burden off of the public facilities.

Of course these state medical facilities would be given to the same headaches as any other state-run office, and the free health care would cause long wait periods and other administrative headaches. But the quality of care and overall access would be far superior to what is available now, while preserving the rights of financially stable/successful Americans to pursue the best care their money can buy.

First and foremost, this would require Americans to reach some kind of agreement. Perhaps if we can't agree that health care is a right (I, for one, think that it isn't) we can agree that providing for the health and general wellbeing of American citizens is a compelling state interest, far more worthy of our tax dollars than the majority of things they are currently wasted on.
As George W. Bush once said, you are either with me or against me.
Bring it on.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

American Health Care Crisis: SOLVED

Tomorrow, I will unveil my proposal that will solve all that ails America's health care system, thus bringing light unto the world and, of course, making everyone quite cheery.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Obama to Have a Talk With Your Kids.

As Obama's approval rating continues to dwindle, and the health care debate further shreds his proposed Health Care Reform, it seems the President is looking for a clean start. Widespread dissention has shown that a majority of the American people are not interested in quietly surrendering health care to the Feds. Whatever your opinion of the Tea Party crowd is (I, for one, cannot stand them) they have made it abundantly clear to Obama and other Democrats that they will not be reasoned with.

In this case, it's a good thing.

And could explain why Obama will address every K-6 public school student across America next Tuesday. This document, provided by the United States Department of Education, suggests that the speech will focus on one thing: obedience.

During Obama's speech, teachers are encouraged to ask their students to ponder things, like, "What is the President trying to tell me? What specific job is he asking me to do?"

"Why is it important that we listen to the President and other elected officials?"

I suppose the answers to these questions could make for far quieter Town Hall meetings in the future. Or render them obsolete. If the American people learn how to listen and obey, there won't be any need for discussion.
Not that there is any real discussion going on currently.
This is a page right out of Saul Alinsky's playbook, utilizing education to shape young minds toward political ends. Of course this has been going on in public education for quite some time (see: social studies, history, biology, etc.) but never with direct involvement from the President of the United States. And never with such a blatant call to civil obedience.
It will be interesting to see how frequent these addresses to American children become, and which direction they take. More interesting will be how parents react or, more to the point, whether or not they are even aware it is happening.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Congressman Boldly Defies Pleas of Constituents

A video released by the Washington Times shows Representative Eric Massa, a New York Democrat in a predominantly Conservative district, saying to a riled Town Hall gathering, "I will adamantly vote against the interests of my district if I actually think what I'm doing is going to be helpful."

Repeatedly, concerned citizens in the crowd challenged Rep. Massa on his determination to pursue a single player system despite his district's majority opposition. Time and time again, even facing an 80/20 hypothetical majority against single payer, Rep. Massa rejected their pleas and stood firm. He will vote according to his own desires.

Not only does Massa appear to have no regard for the Constitution, his plain willingness to make the will of his constituents subordinate to his own bears more than a slight resemblence to socialist leadership.

I won't name names.

However, this is just the sort of thing that continues to drive HR 3200 into the ground and further divide the DNC.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Knee-Jerk Boycott of Whole Foods over Op-Ed.

I wondered if this would happen. Within days of John Mackey's thoughtful editorial in the Wall Street Journal, explaining his opposition to Obama's health care reform plan while offering a detailed free market alternative, customers are enraged and planning to boycott. An ABC News report provides some eye-opening quotes from former-Whole Foods customers.

One comment left on the Whole Foods online forum called the editorial a "slap in the face," and suggested that Mackey "...remember who butters your hearth-baked bread. Last time I checked it wasn't the insurance industry conservatives who made you a millionare a hundred times over."

I can only guess whether or not these angry former customers actually read the piece, at least further than the point where it expressed Mackey's problems with the Obama plan (or Obama, in general.)

One former patron said, ""While Mackey is worried about health care and stimulus spending, he doesn't seem too worried about expensive wars and tax breaks for the wealthy and big businesses such as his own that contribute to the deficit."

The ignorance runs thick among the growing mob, who seem unaware of Mackey's remarkable social conscience. In 2007, Mackey reduced his annual income to $1.00, began donating his company stock portfolio to charity and even created a $100,000 emergency fund for staff members who fall on hard times.

Another former Whole Foods customer said, "I think a CEO should take care that if he speaks about politics, that his beliefs reflect at least the majority of his clients."

Funny. Considering the great measures Whole Foods has taken to improve animal welfare through the Animal Compassion Foundation (which helps producers raise their animals naturally and humanely) and become more environmentally-friendly (The EPA confirmed Whole Foods is the second highest purchaser of green energy in the country), the millions of dollars donated to community charities every year (at least 5% of annual profits), the Whole Planet Foundation (which combats poverty in rural communities) one would think Mackey's beliefs certainly reflected those of his clients.

Additionally, Whole Foods pays 100% of health insurance premiums for all employees who work more than 30 hours a week.

John Mackey respects his patrons and all Americans enough to encourage the federal government to empower them, to establish and protect an affordable, competitive health care market that offers choice and inspires innovation. The kind of choice and innovation that built the remarkably socially-conscious Whole Foods Market.

Slap in the face, indeed.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Give War A Chance

With so many pressing issues at the forefront of American politics it is easy to forget some of the less immediate things, some of which should never be forgotten. While citizens grapple over health care reform and economic recovery, young men and women are on the other side of the world fighting to protect our right to do so.

My guess is the average American couldn't pick out Afghanistan on the map. I admit it would take a little poking around to do so myself. Yet nearly a decade ago, the Afghani Taliban regime, through their protection and support of Al Qaeda, declared war on the United States. We responded, and in cooperation with NATO dismantled the Taliban in short order. But, as the War on Terror has revealed over and over again, like shattered glass, a broken terrorist organization only scatters, their resolve ever sharpened. Thus the war rages on.

This year alone, 261 soldiers have died. Last year brought the deaths of 293, up from 232 in 2007. More soldiers died in Afghanistan in 2008 than in the first four years of the conflict combined.

If the average American can't pick out Afghanistan on the map, they likely also can't explain our current objectives there, or name the operation itself (Operation Enduring Freedom). How can it be that an ongoing war, started by the most horrific attack on US soil in the nation's history, be of such little consequence to the American people?

This lack of attention is nothing new. The prelude to the American invasion of Iraq quickly overshadowed our efforts in Afghanistan, which were reaping immediate and decisive results. As the case for war in Iraq became more contentious, further dividing an already fractured American people, the military efforts in Afghanistan continued unnoticed. And American soldiers continued to fall.

But Iraq is a whole other story.

On September 11, 2001, for the first time in more than half a century, since stories of Nazi atrocities found their way into our homes, since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor without mercy or cause, the American people were forced to look hard at themselves and their country and take stock of their blessings. To remember where they come from. For many young men and women the call of duty rang out loud and clear. And so they answered.

As much as these brave individuals deserve our utmost respect and gratitude, to an even greater extent they deserve our attention.

The most popular Post-9/11 slogan was, simply, Never Forget. But how much have we already forgotten? How much do we fail every day to ever know at all?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Republican Senator Murkowski Calls Out Sarah Palin


Though, given the relationship between these two, it is hard to assume Sen. Murkowski's motive was purely ideological. Either way, glad to see the GOP stand up against one of its own. Doesn't happen too often.

Whole Foods CEO A Corporate Fat Cat?

Who'd have thought this guy was a cold-hearted capitalist? Wonderful op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods. He reiterates the quiet alternative to ObamaCare, creating growth and competition in the private sector while using tax incentives to encourage voluntary donations into public programs.

Read Mackey's op-ed here.

For further insight into his ideas regarding the social responsibility of businesses in a free market economy, check out this 2005 debate between Mackey, Milton Friedman and TJ Rogers in Reason Magazine.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fat Fish in a Shrinking Barrel

Wow. Where to begin.

Sarah Palin took to Facebook recently to share some of her thoughts (or whatever you wish to call them) regarding Obama's proposed health care legislation. "The America I know and love," said Palin, "is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

If this scenario sounds more like an episode of the Twilight Zone than the legislation in question, that's because it is very similar to an episode of the Twilight Zone ("The Obsolete Man", original air date June 2, 1961) while it has no factual or even rational connection to the legislation. Worse than securing her position as the fat fish in a shrinking barrel in which many love to fire away, there is an even greater political danger in Palin's wacky proclamations.

She has thrown a red herring into the health care debate that liberals could only dream of. And it worked.

Now an alarming number of conservatives are riled up, railing against provisions that do not even exist. Meanwhile the clear and present dangers of the bill, the cost-cutting smoke and mirrors neatly tucked away, the overwhelming increase in spending (and subsequent necessary tax increases) and bureaucratic sprawl, and the considerable damage all of this will do to an a private health care sector that is poised for one hell of a collapse, are increasingly ignored.

These things may not be as sexy as an imaginary death panel, but for the thinking conservative they should loom as a far more ominous threat. A threat that Sarah Palin either chooses to ignore or fails to see, which seems characteristic of her relentless supporters.

Palin's Facebook page is full of their posted wisdom:

"Thank you Sarah Palin. At last we have someone who speaks for the people!"

"No weapon formed against you shall prosper......rock on!"

And my personal favorite...

"PALIN/LIMBAUGH 2012??!!!"

Sometimes I get the impression these Republicans are profoundly confused, and perhaps believe they're only following some kind of elaborate reality television program. Does Sarah Palin reflect the Republican Party or does the Republican Party merely reflect Sarah Palin? I can only hope the latter is true, and temporarily so. We're all a little hungover after the Bush Administration, after all (see: the Presidential Nomination of John McCain).

But so long as Sarah Palin remains at the forefront of Republican politics, tossing red herrings into already complex policy discussions, the Republican voice in Washington may grow louder, as it also grows benign.

Monday, August 10, 2009

How To Become Famous in North Korea

Entrepreneurship is often the savior of a down economy. The explosion of new media has not only created new opportunities for entrepreneurs, but a new breed of entrepreneurs who peddle, well, absolutely nothing. Nothing more than themselves. The internet and reality television have changed the very nature of both marketing and celebrity. Before America could fully accept how Paris Hilton achieved widespread relevance (book deals, television shows, etc.) we were left to wonder where Perez Hilton came from and how his opinions could so drastically alter the course of Miss California's career, and influence the national discussion on the definition of marriage (in addition to book deals, television shows, etc.).

Despite the current boom of blogger celebrities, for millions in the blogosphere the prize remains elusive. However, recent events in North Korea have paved the fastlane for two fortunate unknown journalists. No blog necessary. Right now, Laura Ling and Euna Lee are fielding six figure offers for interviews and million dollar book deals, the fruits of a four month self-inflicted misadventure in Pyongyang. The stakes are high, but for anyone seeking celebrity status there appears to be no quicker way. After closely examining their story, I believe I have uncovered the formula.

Behave Stupidly In A Foreign Socialist Nation
Upon returning to the United States, Laura and Euna were greeted as heroes, beacons of hope and a uniquely American brand of courage. Held as political prisoners for 140 days by one of the world's last remaining freak despots, they were ultimately rescued from 12 years of hard labor and returned safely to their families and their freedom.

But the question remains: why were Laura and Euna in North Korea to begin with?

Working for Al Gore, of course. The two women were on assignment for Gore's little-known Current TV, covering refugees crossing the border between North Korea into China. However, what few press credentials they have between them are meager, to say the least. Laura Ling is younger sister to Lisa Ling, former co-host of ABC's "The View", and had done only minor reporting for Current TV prior to her capture. Euna Lee, on the other hand, had no journalistic experience whatsoever. This could explain why Laura and Euna took it upon themselves to cross casually into one of the most dangerous and isolated countries on earth. As Laura tweeted upon landing in the Seoul airport, "Hoping my kimchee breath will ward off all danger." Further, Rev. Chun Ki-won of the Seoul-based Durihana Mission warned them not to venture into North Korea. "I told them very clearly not to go to the border," he said.

Thus their error was not one of ignorance (which would still be inexcusable for any news outlet worth its salt) but of plain stupidity.

Perhaps in a healthier economy the American people would make a bigger deal out of their return home. The lack of attention suggests that people realize they have far more important things to focus on. However, what bothers me isn't that their story is receiving insufficient coverage, but that the nature of the coverage is so celebratory, as though the United States has claimed some sort of victory.

The only winners here, in this order, are: Laura Ling and Euna Lee, Bill Clinton and, last but certainly not least, North Korea (honorable mentions go out to the highest bidding talk shows and publishers). For Laura Ling and Euna Lee, their act of stupidity not only thrust them into the middle of a major international conflict, it may well have 'made' their careers as journalists or, at the very least, public figures (a far more lucrative profession these days).

For Bill Clinton, the clean slate has received a fresh coat of polish. Yet, at what cost? The official word on Clinton's visit to North Korea is that it was a private, strictly humanitarian effort, with no connection to the the United States Government or the Obama Administration. However, according to Daniel Sneider, associate director of of research at Stanford University's Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Clinton's arrival in Pyongyang was merely the icing on the cake. "[Clinton] didn't go to negotiate this, he went to reap the fruits of the negotiation," Sneider said.

But congratulations are certainly in order for President Obama, who once again was able to navigate through controversial matters and accomplish his goals indirectly, without his name attached.

However, the true winners are North Korea and, more directly, Kim Jong Il. Not only did he enjoy the honor of capturing, trying and sentencing two United States citizens, under threat of a horrific twelve year sentence, he was able to extend the United States a kind gesture by staying his own misguided hand. Further, the private nature of Clinton's visit has kept a tight lid on the details of their negotiations, which many believe could have catastrophic implications regarding our ongoing nuclear tug-of-war. After all, we kind of owe him one.

So what can we take away from this international clusterfuck? The Clinton Administration has still got it -- Al Gore sets 'em up and Slick Willy knocks em down. President Obama can put off dealing with North Korea for a little while longer. Meanwhile a couple of bumbling so-called journalists can consider their celebrity tickets officially punched.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Discussions abound regarding American health care reform, and most hinge on one fundamental question: should we or should we not implement socialized medicine? Both extremes of the political spectrum are out in full force, consciously or unconsciously employing misdirection in an attempt to disprove one another, rather than arguing in favor of their own points (assuming they have any to begin with).

Liberals continue to hammer home Obama's statement that his plan only offers a public option, which will compete with private insurance and encourage lower costs, greater efficiency and happier, healthier Americans.

Conservatives argue that Obama's public option is nothing more than a Trojan horse, a giant step toward socialized health care, and ultimately a socialist America.

Here's the problem: Neither side is correct, nor can they hope to be correct. Regardless of the favored solution, both arguments are fundamentally and irreparably flawed from the get-go. This has never been uncommon in American politics, which could explain why the recent town hall meetings have gone so disastrously awry. Perhaps White House deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina, summed it up best when he told Democratic Senators, "If you get hit, we will punch back twice as hard."

Once again, it has come to this. It was barely 150 years ago that Congressman Preston Brooks beat Senator Charles Sumner on the House floor with a wooden cane over a speech regarding slavery. Now stories are flooding in from across the nation of town hall meetings quickly degenerating into violent, uproarious mobs.

But let's suppose we can remove violence and vitriol from political discussions and get down to business. Conservatives oppose the so-called public option on its own merit as an un-American federal encroachment on the free health care market. Thing is, the American health care market is not even close to free and hasn't been since the Great Depression. As the late, great Milton Friedman points out in this eye-opening 2001 article, federally-imposed wage and price controls forced businesses to offer employer health benefits as an incentive to workers. Employers kept these medical benefits off the books long enough that when the IRS finally caught on, the sluggish wheel of industry could not be turned back. This ultimately led to the tax-exemption of employer benefits we enjoy today (which makes individual health insurance inaccessible and unaffordable and has created a monster of the insurance industry).

Partially-socialized health care took root in 1965 with the advent of Medicare and Medicaid and today operates as a virtual black hole for tax revenue (like any good social program).

The third-party payer system is hardly a free market. A free health care market would arguably require an even greater overhaul of the current system in both the public and private sectors. To suggest that preventing the passage of Obama's proposed health care plan somehow preserves our freedom is either ignorant or naive or both.

On the other hand, liberals who argue that the public option would be just that, an option, are only kidding themselves. As Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute points out, the idea that the federal government has any incentive, or is in any position to compete with private insurance companies is laughable. By manipulating its own cost while driving private companies into financial and economical ruin, the public option would likely become the only tenable source for health care coverage. The network tactics used by private insurers to encourage physician involvement will look like child's play compared to awesome, unbridled power of the United States Government.

And anyone who openly supports socialized medicine also stands to be sorely disappointed as the audacious hope for ObamaCare fades a little more each day. Which is to say that no matter where you stand in the American health care debate, you will lose. It is as quintessentially lose/lose as any important issue that has ever faced the American people (see: slavery, abortion, energy, Vietnam, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, etc.)

With this in mind, I am surprised that Town Hall violence hasn't escalated more quickly. But there is certainly time for that, as the health care debate has no apparent end in sight.