Health Care Reform 2.0

In an emotional town hall in suburban Annandale, VA today, President Obama spoke with Americans who shared their nightmarish experiences with the existing health insurance industry.

In pledging his commitment to health care reform, Obama spoke favorably of the so-called public option, a government-sponsored health care plan that would operate in competition with private insurance.  Recent polls show an overwhelming number of Americans favor the public option when considering health care reform.

Public forums like the one the president held today have given Americans a high-profile way to air their troubles – and have distinguished Obama as a great “Listener In Chief.”
But at the risk of overplaying the dreaded empathy card, Obama is doing even more to highlight Americans’ agonizingly real problems with the cost, availability and quality of their health care.

The folks at Organizing for America, Obama’s grassroots political organizing arm,  have compiled an archive of personal stories from regular Americans who share their health care horrors.  Organized by city (there are a number of Albuquerque ones),  the archive chronicles real problems from real people, in their own voices. It’s a great outlet for people who want to talk about why our health care system is screaming for reform –  and a handy resource for those who still need convincing.

Check it out.

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The Arc of the Journal

arcEfforts to reform the nation’s ailing health system – or non-system as it were – are dominating news headlines.  Yet, if you rely on the Albuquerque Journal (the state and city’s “paper of record”), you’d probably have a rather skewed notion of the parameters of the health care debate.

Turns out I’m not the only one watching the Journal’s puzzling coverage of health care reform.

New Mexico Independent columnist Arthur Alpert aptly picks up on the Albuquerque Journal’s gaming of national health care news.  In a column published in today’s Independent, Alpert points out the common Journal editorial practices of using skewed headlines and reproducing only select parts of national stories.  Alpert carefully sources his column, providing multiple pieces of evidence to support his opinion.  Go check it out, it’s a good read.

Unfortunately for readers of the Albuquerque Journal, using questionable headlines and splicing stories aren’t the only ways editors game the paper’s health care coverage.  The nonexistent firewall between editorial content and news gathering at the Journal gives editors additional tools for foisting their political agenda on readers.

Let’s start with a recent editorial, and then trace the arc of coverage – both in the news section and on the editorial page.

In an editorial published on June 17, Journal editors expressed dismay over the Veteran’s Administration treatment of sick and wounded veterans.  This is not a new story.  For all the Bush Administration’s rhetoric of troop support, they really didn’t live up to their purported values when it came to funding the VA.

Yet, the Journal used this story to bash away at “government run health care.”  Here’s the closing line…

The rest of us might start worrying about the future under a “reformed” system of health care, if this is the best the federal government can provide to meet its obligation to veterans.

Veterans Deserve Safer Medical Procedures, Albuquerque Journal, June 17, 2009.  (You may need a subscription).

That line set the tone for the following nine days of opinions and “news” on the health care reform debate.

On June 21, two guest opinions appeared on the editorial page, one from Senator Jeff Bingaman, the other from Presbyterian Healthcare Services CEO Jim Hinton.  Each piece identified well-known problems with the current system, but both steered clear of what most Americans want to know more about – namely, the public insurance option.  It’s almost as if editors began to employ the old false equivalence trick by publishing Bingaman and Hinton opinions on the same day.

The shades of false equivalence found in Sunday’s editorial page became clearer in the June 22 “Up Front” opinion by sometime reporter and sometime columnist Winthrop Quigley.

Here are the money segments of the column…

Continue reading

Not Really Insuring Anything

gimmemoneyFor a long time, tobacco companies denied the fact that smoking actually increased the chances one could develop cancer, emphysema, lung disease and other sorts of upper respiratory afflictions.  Tobacco companies also spent the better part of two decades trying their best to convince the public and Congress that nicotine was not addictive.

Their public relations campaigns actually worked pretty well on Capitol Hill.

But, the truth about tobacco and its effects on the human body eventually reached a critical level of understanding and acceptance.  The consensus about tobacco is now so broad that Congress voted last week to bring tobacco under the auspices of federal regulation.  The truth was eventually undeniable.

Today’s health insurance companies are kind of where the tobacco companies were 15-20 years ago.  They’re becoming increasingly unpopular because of their profit model – a model that maximizes the collection of premiums and minimizes (sometimes through very dubious means) actual coverage of claims made by their customers.  Like the tobacco industry denials before them, the insurance industry has refused to cop to an open secret about their treatment of consumers.

That is, until now.

This morning’s LA Times describes in stark detail how three of the largest health insurance companies have been systematically denying coverage to patients that develop cancer or lymphoma.  They even deny coverage to women who get pregnant.  The three insurance companies (they’re the only three that have admitted to this practice) routinely pull the rug out from under their own customers when they are most vulnerable.

From the Times…

Continue reading

Obama and New Mexico’s Health Care Authority

It is clear Obama is going to move aggressively on health care reform, including it as a cornerstone of his economic recovery package. Kevin Sack, in his op-ed entitled, “Necessary Medicine?” in this Sunday’s New York Times, cites Obama himself:

To broaden support for his plan — whatever it ends up being — he [Obama] insisted last week that systematic improvements in health care would be essential to any lasting economic recovery.

“It’s not something that we can sort of put off because we’re in an emergency,” he said. “This is part of the emergency.”

Mr. Obama said his health plan would be “intimately woven into” his administration’s economic blueprint. And he directly confronted those who might ask how the country could afford a major expansion of health coverage in times of shrinking revenues and burgeoning deficits. “I ask a different question,” Mr. Obama said. “I ask how can we afford not to?”

The state of health care in New Mexico is, to paraphrase Civil Rights organizer Bob Moses, like a boat in the ocean with a hole in it. You have to stay afloat to fix the boat, and fix the boat to stay afloat. Continue reading

All About the Health Care

Ezra nails it.

U.S. budget deficits over the next 50 years, assuming no change in current policy, will absolutely explode. Not because of Social Security, not be cause of Medicare – because of health care. If there is not a concerted effort to address the booming cost of health care, then we can pretty much bet the country will go bankrupt.

Really, this isn’t an alarmist rant. It’s a fact.

McCain: Banking system model for health care reform

Paul Krugman reports on Senator McCain’s views on health care reform.

Here’s what McCain said this month in the magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries:

“Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.”

(Krugman link)

One would hope that provocative ideas like this will be thoroughly aired in the upcoming debates.

Pricing Americans Out

We’ve all felt a big financial squeeze over the past year. But, a recent study from the Commonwealth Fund crystalizes the role skyrocketing insurance costs play in the big squeeze.