Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Speaker Huebsch's Truthiness Problem

Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch’s response to the Wisconsin Senate’s universal healthcare proposal suffers from what TV comic Steven Colbert calls truthiness- substituting what you want the facts to be for what the facts are!

In a very terse press release Huebsch states:

Assembly Republicans are committed to helping Wisconsin families’ access affordable health care. The health care plan being proposed by Senate Democrats imposes a massive job-killing tax increase to give state government $15.2 billion dollars to fund a politician-run health care program. Creating another government health care entity and paying for it with the largest tax increase in state history is the wrong approach to health care reform.

Assembly Republicans will continue to pursue their Patients First health care agenda which trusts families and doctors, not politicians and government bureaucrats, to make important health care decisions.

Here are just a few of the inaccuracies in Huebsch’s statement:

1) Assembly Republicans have not been “committed to helping Wisconsin’s families access affordable healthcare.” In the early 1980’s Wisconsin’s healthcare costs were below the national average. One of Republican Governor Thompson’s first initiatives was to eliminate Wisconsin’s Hospital Rate-Setting Commission. The result: soaring healthcare costs well above the national average. Throughout the mid and late 1990’s when Republicans controlled the legislature and the executive branch, they did nothing to increase access to healthcare or to control costs which increased at three times the rate of inflation.

2) Healthcare costs in Wisconsin are among the highest in the nation. They are a major obstacle to economic growth, unlike Wisconsin’s business taxes which are amongst the lowest in the nation. Toyota recently announced it was building a new automobile plant in Ontario! Why? Because Canada has single payer health care system which makes it significantly cheaper ($1500 per vehicle) to produce cars in Canada than in the United States. Soaring private healthcare costs are the real job killer. By next year, the average Fortune 500 company will spend more on health care than it earns in net income, according to Steve Burd, the head of Safeway. Mr. Burd and other executives have formed the Coalition to Advance Healthcare Reform, a corporate constituency for national health reforms. Even the Business Rountable has endorsed universal healthcare! The "Healthy Wisconsin" Reform Plan is projected to reduce costs by $1.3 billion a year, stimulating economic growth!

3) No healthcare system costs as much as our and delivers so little. We are paying Cadillac prices (16% of the total GDP) for a Yugo system (37th ranked). The U.S. now spends more than $7,000 per person on medical care, far more than other nations, yet our infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate and longevity are among the worst in the industrialized world. An American woman is 50 percent more likely to die in childbirth in the U.S. than in Europe. An American mother has almost three times the risk of losing a child as a mother in the Czech Republic. Children born in Costa Rica today are expected to live longer than their American counterparts. If we had a child mortality rate was as good as France, Germany and Italy, we would save 12,000 children a year. The financial burden of paying for these second rate results is undermining Wisconsin business’ competitiveness.

4) Neither families nor doctors run the current healthcare system. Private insurance companies whose goal is maximizing profits not the health of patients and large healthcare systems dominate the healthcare marketplace in Wisconsin. The highly concentrated (oligopolized) market allows healthcare companies to drive up prices and secure monopoly profits while insurers profit from denying patients medical services.

5) Our private healthcare system is the most bureaucratic in the world. We spend more than 31% of all healthcare dollars on administrative costs, more than twice the rate of Canada. The "Healthy Wisconsin" Reform Plan is projected to save more than a billion dollars per year by cutting excessive insurance company profits and administrative costs, reducing administrative overhead at hospitals and doctor’s offices, encouraging prevention, and discouraging inappropriate use of emergency rooms.

Speaker Huebsch’s response to the "Healthy Wisconsin" Reform Plan reads like a Republican National Committee manifesto. The citizens of this state deserve more than tired sound bites. Huebsch and his colleagues in the assembly need to decide whether they will support the people and businesses of Wisconsin who want access to affordable healthcare or the special interest groups who profit from our bureaucratic and inefficient healthcare system

1 comment:

Roger Bybee said...

A Yugo-quality system at Cadillac prices: Michael Rosen describes our appalling health system very precisely.

In Wisconsin, we are particularly hard-hit: Expansion Management--a publication aimed at the Corporate Masters of the Universe who decide which plant stays open and which new one opens up--lists Wisconsin as tied for 3rd highest insurance premiums. This is a deadly blow to Wisconsin's economic competitiveness. As Republican businessman Jack Lohman put it, "Free-market medicine is killing our free-market businesses."

Yet the prospect of fundamental reform like the Healthy Wisconsin plan that passed the State Senate sends shivers down the spines of the private insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. The private insurance companies would be rendered largely irrelevant in Wisconsin under this plan, and if they choose to enter the market at all, they will be tightly regulated. Similarly, the major drug companies know that a plan like Healthy Wisconsin will lead to the government using its bargaining power to negotiate fair prices for drugs for Wisconsin citizens.

So the cries of outrage from politicians like Mike Huebsch, who are sponsored by the campaign donations of the health insurance-drug-medical complex, are quite predictable.

But it is disappointing to see some Democrats, mostly at the national level, fighting to keep insurance companies deeply involved in our healthcare. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden is one of the worst offenders.

At the state level, we have State Rep. Robert Ziegelbauer bizarrely declaring, "This really is an ideological battle going on in our society. Do we want Soviet-style central planning, or do we trust individuals to make their own health care decisions. It's really that simple.(Manitowoc Herald-Times, 3/6/07)

What Wyden and Ziegelbauer don't grasp are the following points:
a) The private insurance industry has swallowed healthcare, like a giant Anaconda snake devouring smaller prey. The Anaconda must get fed before anything reaches further into the system, hence the astronomical bureaucratic costs and dismal outcomes of US healthcare. If anyone is issuing Soviet-style dictates to doctors and patients, it is the private insurers seeking the maximum profit.

b) The single-payer model championed in Michael Moore's new movie has been a great success in diverse societies, from Canada to France to Taiwan. At half the cost, citizens of these societies are permitted to see their doctor more often, remain in the hospital until they recover enough to go home, and are generally far more healthy.

c) In a single-payer system like Canada or France's, doctors remain in private practice and hospitals remain in the hands of private non-profits. There is no government takeover of healthcare; the big change is the elimination of the parasitic and utterly useless insurance industry.

d) Contrary to what defenders of the status quo claim (and even some reformers like SEIU PResident Andy Stern, Ron Pollack of Families USA and Prof. Jacob Hacker), Americans are ready to embrace the single-payer alternative. Here's what Business Week concluded 5/16/05 in reviewing its poll results:"67% of all Americans think it's a good idea to guarantee healthcare for all US citizens, as Canada and Britain do, with just 27% dissenting."

More recently, the Medical Society of Minnesota surveyed its membership, with the results released in March, 2007. An overwhelming 64% of Minnesota doctors preferred enactment of a single-payer system.

In response to popular sentiment, the private insurers, drug companies, and their allies have already showered $5 million on the presidential candidates of both parties, with the aim of maintaining a highly profitable status quo.

But the prairie fire of revolt for a single-payer health system may soon be raging out of control.