“Hello, this is Congresswoman Judy Biggert. I’m calling to warn you about Medicare…”
How lucky am I? My Congresswoman, Judy Biggert was taking the time to call me personally about the dangers of Medicare. She called poor-little-old-me to ask if I wanted to join in on a conference call about health care reform.
She is so concerned. I was so honored.
But I was also surprised because she, as a Republican, and as a huge recipient of health care industry lobbying funds, has always voted against health care reform. She voted against every single version of health care legislation prior to this and every version of any legislation that is currently being offered…that I am aware of…in the House of Representatives. She was part of the Neoconservative Republicans, including Tobacco John Boehner who said that they wanted to destroy the President’s agenda and that killing health care reform would be his “Waterloo.”
Doesn’t have a really bi-partisan ring to it, does it?
I’ve heard Judy Biggert speak and read what she has written. I’m pretty sure that Judy Biggert couldn’t identify the date of Waterloo or who won if you gave her a 100-year margin of error.
She voted against SCHIPS, twice. That was the program to help parents of poor working-class families buy at least some minimal health care insurance for their children. It seemed a little callous to vote against a small amount of money to help poor families buy minimal premiums so that they could take their sick children to a doctor rather than the emergency room. Or take them to a doctor occasionally before they get sick.
She did, as I recall, vote for the Medicare Part D legislation, that gave $400 billion to the prescription drug industry to buy pills at top dollar for senior citizens. It helped seniors a little, except that between the time it was passed and the time it went into effect in 2003, a matter of only months, prescription drug prices went up an average of 26%. So much for the Part D 25% discount.
But I’ve noticed Judy always has a perfectly rational explanation for things, things like, say, voting to bomb innocent Iraqi children or killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. But we have taken care of that. Someone said that we now see to it that they have better health care than we do. But then they are not $12 trillion in debt after 8 years of George W. Bush and more years than that for Neoconservative Republican Congresswoman Judy Biggert.
Well, anyway, I couldn’t make the conference call. I knew that I would be busy recycling old aluminum cans that day…well, just about any day…to pay my medical bills.
She wanted me to know, she said, about the dangers to Medicare of passing health reform legislation. I was touched that she would call. Or she is touched? I had to find out.
I was not aware that Medicare was in grave danger, so I looked it up. It turns out that Medicare is completely solvent until about 2026, if nothing happens at all anywhere anytime by anyone. If the President’s reform plan is passed…any of the versions, House or Senate…Medicare is extended for another 9 years at least. So, the plan is to reduce costs and extend Medicare until something like 2035 before anyone has to worry about it’s being in trouble. By then, with health care costs stabilized, maybe we can do the same for Medicare.
So I thought maybe I should call Judy and tell her that she really doesn’t have to worry. And then I thought…no, she is my representative. She should already know this. So, if she does, why would she be calling me? It could only be that she doesn’t know….or that she is…how did George W. Bush put it…”dis-assembling.” I think he meant “dissembling,” lying. But would Judy Biggert call me to lie to me about Medicare? After all, you would only lie to someone whom you thought did not know the truth. So is she also calling me ignorant? That’s not nice.
Even if Medicare were in trouble, one way of insuring that it gets out of trouble would be to cut costs, because that is usually the problem. You may remember that some time ago our great President, George W Bush wanted to privatize everything, including Social Security and maybe even the bathrooms in the Senate. During his glorious tenure, he pushed something called Medicare Plus.
Its successor is something called Medicare Advantage. These are private health insurance plans that offer the same thing as Medicare in a single package, at a slightly higher price. The problem is that they are costing the government (your and me) at least 17% more. So Congress says that, because we have horrific costs in Medicare and a $12 trillion Bush Debt, people who now have those plans will simply go on regular Medicare. But they will also now have their prescription drug costs reduced.
One of the changes to Medicare that Judy may have wanted to talk to me about is the “donut hole.” Right now Americans pay part of the cost of prescription drugs and the government pays part. At one point, after the person has paid a certain amount, there is a gap where the person has to pay all of the cost of the drugs up to another amount where the government starts to pay part again. That gap, that “donut hole” is eliminated by the new version of Medicare and the government is now with you all the way through. We can assume also that there will now be efforts, which were not allowed under President Bush, to negotiate drug prices to bring them down to what the rest of the world pays.
So Medicare is not going bankrupt. A lot of people say that but it is solvent until something like 2035 when this health care reform bill passes. Medicare is paid for 86% by premiums that we all kick in. According to the President and to Senator Coburn, a Republican, there are substantial ways to cut abuses of Medicare that will reduce costs dramatically. So that may give the plan another extension…maybe another ten years.
By that time, the Baby Boomers will have all passed through the system, which is what is causing all the concern right now. Once the Baby Boomers have been absorbed into the system and those costs have been planned and scheduled, costs should gradually subside in subsequent years. That, plus overall cost of health care delivery plus the elimination of abuse, and things like the addition of 100,000 new doctors into the medical delivery system will all help to slow the rate of costs in Medicare and make it more accessible.
So maybe Judy was calling to warn me of the danger to Medicare thinking that I was a part of the health insurance industry. She does have friends among the health insurers and I sympathize with them; no one wants to lose big amounts of money, in the billions. And I guess they will when Medicare Advantage is canceled.
On the other hand, that extra money to pay for Medicare Advantage does drive up the costs of Medicare, and while it is nice for some, Medicare Advantage is paid for not only by the premiums, but by government, that is, by all of us. The Medicare Advantage people get a little more, but the government pays more.
Judy’s phone call said that if I could not join in the conference call, she hoped that I would visit her web site so I paid a friendly visit. She has a page called, quaintly, “Judy’s Health Care Reform Bill.” I think it is actually one devised by all Republicans and, knowing a little about Judy’s work ethic, I’m really not too sure how much she actually had to do with it.
It starts off talking about protecting the Doctor-Patient relationship. I was glad to see that she wasn’t openly against that. She refers to “Our bill…” which she says upholds “the rights of individuals to receive medical services.” Wow. That’s great, Judy. I am happy that you will allow me to have the right to medical services, but doesn’t that right, at present… come, not from you, but from my health insurance company? If they say no, it is no. I assume it would stay that way.
Technically, Judy and her other Neocon colleagues don’t really have a bill. They refused to participate in any debate last year or this year. So the only bills passed out of the House are Democratic bills. Judy’s bill is nice looking, no typos, neatly arranged on the page…but essentially worthless. As were her efforts to prevent health care reform.
So, thanks, but no thanks. I already have the right to go to a doctor and he has the right to provide me with medical services. I am afraid that I will have to go with Nancy Pelosi or Barack Obama, both of whom have worked for health care reform before, voted in favor of health insurance for poor children, and voted against arbitrarily killing Iraqi babies, That “dissembling” thing keeps popping up in my mind. I guess I’ll go with those who have not voted every time against both current and prior health care legislation.
The next part says I can have health insurance through my employer. Well, God bless you, but I already have that and have the rights to it. No change there either, but thanks for reminding me.
The next point involves CER. Once again, the dissembling thing. Republicans voted against any comparative research results being put into any kind of health care reform. The reason is that some procedures that are better are also more expensive. So the Republican measures have always tried to eliminate CER. Now a “commission” as stated in Judy’s bill might be different. It might be made up of health insurance industry executives who could then say that a procedure is good but too expensive and so you die.
That’s how that could work. But a good idea would be that everyone contact their health insurance companies and tell them that Judy Biggert now supports CER and it is in her bill. In fact, that is a conference call I would like to hear.
The next part talks about lowering costs. And that is good and the ideas are good. They are all about instituting wellness programs. But, you know, does that really reduce the cost of an aspirin from $5.00 down to 5 cents when you get your hospital bill?
I mean I want to help lower costs by costing the insurance companies less. But I also want the insurance companies to pitch in a little. Let’s see how Judy treats that issue. No. Nothing. Nada. So there is a little tiny gap there because wellness programs will handle about 5% and cutting actual medical and surgical and hospital costs will be the other 95%.
Wellness is a swell idea, Judy. So is ice cream for everyone. But I am more concerned about cutting those costs that take place after I get cancer or get hit by a truck. Let’s try to work on getting those costs down.
The next part of Judy’s plan is about flexibility and control of health insurance for low-income families. The idea here is that we want to give “flexibility” to low income families. Judy’s bill would take them off government programs and let them use their public support (I hope that means money) to join a cost-effective private plan.
You know, Judy, I would be a little worried that my “current public support” might not be enough to pay for my “private plan.” Then I would have no health insurance at all, which has really, when you think of it, been the Republican plan. See, as a poor person, I’d have flexibility but no plan. Medicare had something similar before called Medicare Plus. Companies simply walked away, leaving many seniors without health care. Millions of them. I am surprised Judy didn’t consider that when writing her bill.
Public-private partnerships. Judy and her friends want to establish a partnership between the NIH, the government’s National Institutes of Health and biotech companies, pharmaceutical companies and others. It sounds good on the surface, but I don’t think so. We already have cooperation between all the groups in medicine. I think Judy should take a long, hard look at how the Republicans have advanced the interests of their private industry campaign contributors at the expense of the public. This would provide a guaranteed method for pharmaceutical companies and biotech companies to advance their for-profit ventures at the expense of the American people.
Small business Health Options Program. Small business would get the opportunity to aggregate under groups that would negotiate better rates so they could be part of organizations the size of big corporations. This is a good idea. It was a good idea in 1993 when the Republicans first shot it down. It has been a good idea every Republican year since then. It needed nothing to pass it but a lively interest on the part of Neocons in helping small business succeed.
Of course the Republicans had to take sides. They decided to simply tell small business that they were on their side, but supported the giant health insurance companies. There was no reason that the National Association of Roofing Contractors or the National Association of Independent Swaddling Clothes Retailers could not have had a collective health insurance rate as good as that given to a large corporation. No reason at all. But it would have cost health insurance companies money that they were now taking off the top in higher premiums from individuals.
So, now that the have come up with a plan, finally having barely enough members of Congress not paid off by the health insurance industry, the Republicans are joining in. Well, good for them. A day late and thousands of dollars short, but…welcome. We need merely to remember the history, so that it does not happen again. The Republicans, and Judy, were in total control of the House and Senate in parts of the Clinton Administration and most of the Bush Administration. But they did not submit any legislation that would have helped small business with soaring health insurance costs.
Next provision is for state innovation programs. This part essentially says that if you do not accept the Democratic bills, and you adopt this bill, which has a tiny fraction of the effectiveness of the Democratic bill, that you can organize your own state program. Thirteen or so states already have. There’s nothing that is stopping them now.
Dependent children can stay on their parents health insurance through age 26, as in the Democratic plan.
Finally they encourage health savings accounts. Do you have a savings account? Statistically, most people don’t. They don’t because the overwhelming number of people have no savings. And that is even more true now after the Neocon-Bush Great Recession. The health savings account sounds good. But the problem with it is that, first, you need savings. Not many people have savings in the numbers needed to handle medical expenses.
The idea is pretty simple. You save for health care expenses and it can be tax deductible. You buy a policy with a higher deductible. You pay your own expenses up to the deductible amount and then the insurance plan kicks in. Sounds good. The trouble is that the fix is in. The health insurance companies keep moving the goal posts. Each year the same deductible costs more. Or each year you need to buy a policy with a higher deductible and you therefore need more in your health care savings account. It is the same problem sliced up in a different direction.
The bottom line is this. If Judy is calling out of the goodness of her heart to tell me about the problems with universal health care and its tragic effects on Medicare, well, bless her heart. But there are only two conclusions.
First, she doesn’t have the faintest, foggiest, frickin, notion of what she’s talking about. And given her record, that would not surprise me in the least.
Or, second, she is working for the health care industry. And if she is, and if her fellow Neoconservative friends are as well, in some national campaign, she deserves not merely to be voted out of office. Given the number of people with unbelievably sad and often disastrous experiences with health insurance companies these days, she should literally be taken from her office, tarred and feathered and run out of Washington on a rail.