Friday, February 26, 2010

Health Care Reform - What Summit? What Bi-Partisanship?


The president held his long and tedious health care summit yesterday but was he really a summit moderator when the only thing he endorsed was the Democrats position in the House and Senate bills? How does one negotiate when they start out saying this is what I want? The entire political sideshow was an attempt by the Obama White House to make the Republicans look bad while helping Democrats keep from getting routed in the fall elections.

A few weeks ago the White House did catch the Republicans off guard but this time it just might have backfired. For it was Republicans in the form of Lamar Alexander, Tom Coburn and Paul Ryan who provided calm, reasoned arguments on behalf of the GOP regarding fraud, waste, competition and cost reduction proposals that have not been considered by the Democrats. In fact the performance by Coburn and Ryan was so dominating they might have become new Republican stars.

By the end of the session it was clear the Republicans had many good proposals for change in health care and that they had the facts to back up their proposals. More important, they were making an effort to be bi-partisan even though the deck was stacked against them. It is not the Republicans fault there is no health care, not when the Democrats have the votes if they really wanted health care. The only current obstruction to health care is the division within the Democrats. Pelosi and Reid cannot control their own members and need a scapegoat for their incompetence as leaders of the majority party.

In their opening statements House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Leader Reid were apparently so disgusted with the whole affair they couldn't look at the Republican speakers during the session and refused to embrace the GOP ideas, even when other Democrats were saying the ideas made sense. In fact they raised only partisan issues and were more than a little defensive. It was as if they already planned on going ahead without the Republicans and would try and ram comprehensive health care with all the secret deals and payoffs down our throats.

In fact Pelosi showed such little regard for the outcome she had Charles Rangel make the closing statement for the Democrat majority the same day a House Ethics panel said Rangel violated many House ethics rules with tax fraud and other ethics violations. Rangel, Pelosi's Chairman of our tax writing committee, seemed to have forgotten to pay taxes on apartments he owns in NYC, foreign investments, made illegal use of campaign funds and who knows what else. What a slap in the face to America when you flaunt tax cheats in a national forum.

Before the conference even closed, Harry Reid was proven wrong when he started the conference saying there was no truth to the rumor the Democrats planned to use the highly controversial Reconciliation rule to force a vote by simple majority in the Senate. His own staff and White House staff were already hard at work planning on the Reconciliation vote before the Easter break, in just four weeks. So a Summit that starts with false statements and no indication of a spirit of compromise wound up giving the public all the more reason to question the leadership, or lack thereof, of the Democratic majority.

Why is it health care reform means many different things to different people? Maybe they people in Washington should get their terminology straight before they make wild claims and declarations. The whole discussion with health care centers on why the United States has the most expensive health care in the world yet gets treatment that ranks 37th out of 191 countries. A secondary issue is what to do about health care for the uninsured. This will increase the cost to government.

Thus any discussion of reforming health care should first be based on lowering the cost or upgrading the service. If a proposal does not generate either result forget it. Federal government policy must be based on several key factors. Does the federal government have the legal and Constitutional authority to address each aspect of the policy proposed? Is there enabling legislation clarifying the role of the federal government in the specific aspect of the issue? Has the federal government appropriated the money to pay for that aspect of the issue?

Once a proposal passes these first tests then another series of requirements must be met. Is the current method of implementing the proposal the best use of government resources and funds or is there a better way to do it more cost effective and resulting in better program efficiency. One must first question whether our entire health care system is the best way to keep Americans healthy. This has not been done in any of the legislative proposals.

For example, there are alternative treatments including ancient techniques using herbs, acupuncture, acupressure, massage and numerous others that have been proven successful over the years that are used for health maintenance. These would include disciplines like Yoga, Tai Chi, and herbology, many from ancient Far Eastern cultures. Many are not allowed under health insurance plans even though they are ways to lower all health costs with preventive maintenance to the body.

The cost of these treatments is a fraction of any Western Medical cost for examination and testing to find problems to treat. The cost of a CAT scan can run up to $6,000, an MRI can cost $3,500 and myocardial perfusion scans may cost $5,000 - 6,000. This is the cost of the machine doing it's thing. There are addition fees for the appointment, doctor's analysis, cost for the clinic or hospital and on and on. The use of such scans is exploding, perhaps as a way to protect doctors from malpractice suits. CAT scans alone have quadrupled over a ten year period, myocardial perfusion scans increased 40% the last three years..

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) did a study, which analyzed three years (2005-2007) of medical data from nearly 1 million adults aged 18 to 64, and found that such procedures are bombarding a significant number, about 4 million Americans, with potentially cancer-causing doses of radiation. Yet the tests are often used in situations where their value hasn’t been proven. The study showed there are 163 imaging procedures performed on every 1,000 people in America. This includes the CAT scan and myocardial perfusion scans (a nuclear stress test used to evaluate the heart) and MRI. The first two tests accounted for 21 percent of the total number of procedures undertaken by the one million people in the study but more than 75 percent of the total exposure to radiation. That means is has cost about $6,000 plus just to examine the patient through imaging before any diagnoses or treatment has been undertaken. No wonder health care costs so much.

Another major issue with health care cost is what is being done to bring new treatments into the health care system. Our Food and Drug Administration approves new drugs in America whether those drugs are natural or fabricated. Major pharmaceutical corporations control the approval of new drugs and have spent up to $50 million getting new drugs through the FDA process. The fees from these drug companies paid to FDA give it millions of dollars in revenues.

How can a small company possibly get approval for new drugs or treatments when the maze of tests and the requirements for data by FDA drive the cost into the millions of dollars? Better yet, how many cures for cancer and other diseases are not available in America because small businesses cannot afford the fees and the companies refuse to sell out to the major pharmaceutical companies trying to force them into selling or attempting takeovers. These predator practices are encouraged by FDA whose revenue is dependent on the large drug companies.

We have only begun to root out the corruption in health care within the government, within the health care industry, between pharmaceutical companies and doctors, hospitals and clinics (kickbacks), between investment houses and stock of the health care providers, and who knows what else. Billions of dollars in unnecessary costs and fraudulent billings may be involved and billions more in investment capital and the manipulation of stock may be underway. Don't we need to get rid of the waste, corruption and fraud before we spend another trillion dollars on a broken system?

When President Obama and the Democrats try and ram their bill down the throat of the public abusing the Reconciliation rule of Congress and formally try to protect the secret deals and payoffs they intend to make it will be the beginning of the end of the current leadership of the House and Senate. It will provide the foundation for the taxpayer revolt and it will finally demonstrate that our charismatic president may indeed have more sinister goals than knowing what is good for the public.


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