Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Where are the DONKEYS on Health Care Reform?

We know where the Pubs are –no where-lost in time and space- But where are the Dems on Health Care reform? I recognize there is a lot of competition for the Health Care reform issue to get on the proverbial radar screen but it seems to me that progressive Democrats and Independents had better move without delay. We have only 9 months till the 06 elections and if these incumbent pols and hopefuls are reading the same polls I am the mainstream Dems are not saying enough about this issue either alone or as a minority party poised to become a majority.

One highly regarded health issues polling organization updated monthly-The Kaiser Family Foundation continues to report that, only after the war and the general economy, Americans say that health care is the most important problem for the Government to address. So why is it that the Dems aren’t yet feasting on this low hanging fruit?

Ironically the Dem party (DNC) is currently headed by a physician (Dr. Howard Dean) who is married to a physician who, when Governor of Vermont, made some tangible progress on Health care for Vermonters. That the kind of state where innovation can happen and Howard did it. Why we don’t hear much from him now on health care is a mystery?

The dethroned queen of US Health Care Reform Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) mismanaged her first lady assignment in 1993 and since then has been like so many once burned an incrementalist rather than an advocate of bold reform.

I came to realize over the past few years that the creative players in this arena were not national politicians from any party but rather governors, former governors and in one case a former state senator who happens to be my friend.

Anyway while we wait for the formal Democratic position on Health Care from Dr. Dean and company let me commend you to the following.

Just inaugurated Virginia Governor Tim Kaine who delivered the less than energizing Democratic response to the recent Bush State of the Union Address (SOTA) referenced his own efforts, as Lieutenant Governor in Virginia, to provide health care for nearly 140,000 children who were not covered 4 years ago. In the SOTA response Gov. Kaine referenced a fellow Democratic Governor’s work on Health Care. It seems that Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-Illinois)(say his name bla-GOYA-vich) believes that Health Care is a basic fundamental right and was successful in getting signed into law his landmark –first state in the nation- All KIDS plan that will provide every uninsured child in Illinois with affordable comprehensive health care coverage. In stark contrast to neighboring states this innovative Governor has also increased access to health care to not only children but Illinoisan Seniors through his “No Senior Left Behind” program and “I –Save Rx plan” the latter allowing Illinoisans to purchase american made pharmaceuticals from other countries for a fraction of the costs they would have to pay in the good ole US of A. Go Rod!

I proudly disclose that my favorite politician and friend is former State Senator from California John Vasconcellos who just retired from a legendary 38 year career in California state politics where he earned the title “Dean of the California State Legislature”. Perhaps known best nationally for his coverage by Gary Trudeau in the Doonesbury cartoon series because I guess his idea to promote legislation based on the concept of self-esteem seemed funny in the 1980s Well I wasn’t laughing then and I sure am not laughing now. John was and still is of course correct. A healthy self-esteem is indeed the basis for a healthy and vibrant society. After retirement last year John has launched a radical new vision of government know as his Politics of Trust Initiative which can be visited and explored on .While all the details of the Health component of this initiative are not yet constructed John assures me that Holistic Health will be it’s centralizing principle. John says, that “each of us arrives with an inherent capacity for wellness and self healing with support from Holistic Health modalities as needed. I’m personally helping John and invite you to also.

My final recommendation to you comes from the Beaver state of Oregon whose state invitation motto is “we like dreamers”. In a bold move former Governor Dr. John Kitzhaber, who having served as Oregon’s Governor between 1995 -2003, announced just last month that he would not make a re-run at the Oregon governorship but instead chose to devote his life to his passion- Health Care Reform. Launching The Archimedes Movement (“give me a lever and a place to stand and I can move the earth”) Another physician-politician, Dr. Kitzhaber made significant progress on Health Care while in office but his current rhetoric and plans are much bolder and visionary in scope and reflect a genuine sense of urgency. He calls health broadly defined as “the first rung on the ladder of opportunity –the cornerstone of a democratic society allowing people to fully participate to be productive and to take advantage of the opportunities of upward mobility that lie at the very heart of the American Dream”.

These are not just platitudes. Dr Kitzhaber presents solid plans based on sobering social,economic and political realities.For example he projects a shocking $65 trillion dollar unfunded Medicare entitlement when the baby boomers retire while our congress is preoccupied with a 5 trillion dollar Social Security gap. He correctly states that Health care is the fastest growing cost for individual families and businesses eroding wages thus posing a significant barrier to economic stability and growth. He predicts freightening implications for the stability of the US currency since health care is rapidly becoming the single major driver behind our exploding national debt. Unlike many others, Kitzhaber is not an incrementalist but rather, recognizing we are rapidly running out of time, is calling for a Revolution “not of violence but of vision, not of arms but of ideas”. “This is a pending crisis of huge proportions",he says, "that demands immediate serious and bipartisan attention of the United Stated Congress”. He offers Oregon as bottom up pressure on the nation on this issue now.

Here are Dr Kitzhaber’s #3 specific objectives

-to strip down our current system to its bare bones so that we all can see and understand its contradictions and inequities=illumination

-to offer a straightforward vision of what our system should look like. Among the issues Dr. Kitzhaber is interested in is the expensive technology dedicated unnecessarily to inevitable consequences of aging. The failure of the free enterprise model of US health care which is based on "categorical eligibility" rather than universal coverage. While he is not endorsing a Canadian style single payer system he is proposing more “public” Medicine like public education as a social good.

-to describe a direct action plans to spark the kind of national debate we so desperately need

I strongly urge you to visit his new website at for more details about this remarkable man and his vision.

I’ll close by saying “Go forth pols of all stripes. Your country is calling you right now. Affordable quality health care is important to all of us and our children and our grandchildren. We’re watching and waiting. Don’t even think of letting us down. That would simply be unacceptable" -ral


Blogger Cervantes said...

Unfortunately, even here in the People's Republic of Massachusetts we have only a half-hearted proposal from the Demlicans or Republicrats or whatever you call them, to impose a very small payroll tax on employers who don't cover their workers. Unfortunately there are all sorts of perverse incentives that are almost unavoidable when you try to set up these Rube Goldberg contraptions to get more people covered without making fundamental changes, and worst of all, the financing is regressive -- it comes out of low-wage workers' pay. By preserving the patchwork of private insurers, you keep the administrative waste in the system, and you don't get major bargaining power with the drug companies.

The Governor's proposal, and individual mandate, is even worse, if that is possible. Even with veto-proof majorities in both houses, the Demlicans are unable to move their proposal because, of course, the employers' lobby is too strong. Even the health care consumer organization Health Care for All won't go any further than to back the payroll tax -- probably because it's most important financial backers aren't consumers at all, but the Mass. Medical Society and other provider side entities. The people aren't organized, and don't put concentrated money into politics.

6:25 AM  
Anonymous Sheldon Samuels said...

You've done a really good job summarizing the politics of the health care reform dynamic. And you are right that Sen. Clinton appears to be "an incrementalist rather than an advocate of bold reform." While many of us would like to see 'bold reform', and I suspect Clinton is one, changing the largest [and most ancient] single government service may not be amenable to radical change. Indeed, the good 'parts' might be harmed. What is more likely to happen between now and the reconvening of a new Congress after elections, a period during which candidates from both parties will do more posturing than serious thinking, is the promotion of a collection of bandaids for gaping wounds. Some will make sense, and some will not. Each proposal, however, is the kernel of broader proposals and will need to be scrutinized, because each is an increment that will predispose the direction of change.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Blake said...

Cervantes- Sounds pretty grim in Massachusetts like it is in Pennsylvania where vested interests are so entrenched and where "disease care" and related industries probably accounts for a sizable portion of the State's GNP? Where is Ted Kennedy on all of this? I'm looking at the mavericks like Kitzhaber in maverick states like Oregon to lead the way.Thanks

10:25 AM  
Blogger Blake said...

Thanks Shel- you've been watching this scene for quite a while from a good vantage point so I really appreciate the input.Its hard for me to imagine that nibbling away at the edges of Health Care issue will get the job done quickly enough? Yet I understand the fear associated with wild swings which might potentially damage existing benefits too. We shall see.

10:34 AM  
Blogger BobbyG said...

I commend to you all a lengthy and incisive article by Professor Einer R. Elhauge, Director of Harvard's Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy:

"Allocating Health Care Morally"

The policy difficulties are legion. Those currently thriving financially off our "health care system" are not gonna give up their favored positions without a HUGE fight, and will do their best to keep the public bamboozled w/respect to just what is in society's aggregate interest.

11:29 AM  
Blogger Blake said...

Thanks bobbyg- for Prof Elhauge reference. I will print and read the paper.I agree with you about the huge fight with vested interests.But the public might be ahead of these greedy interests? and tired of getting, not only bamboozled, but royally screwed?

2:12 PM  

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