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Healthcare Reform: If You Can't Afford to Pay Anything Else, at Least Try Paying Attention

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We take you now to the executive meeting of a major laundry detergent manufacturer. The problem the company had was its product image had grown stale. It needed an infusion of energy, to simulate consumer interest.

"Look here, it really is completely new and improved!"

The corporate CEO then asks the president of the marketing division, "Well, what's 'new' about it, what's 'improved'?"

"You know J. B., those little blue granules that were sprinkled through the blend? They're bluer. And just look at the box. That white comet tail that raced through our logo . . . Just look at the end of the tail . . . See here, it's wider!"

The CEO compares a sample of the older detergent blend with the new, and then he holds the old box alongside the new one. "Great job! It is new and improved!"

That is exactly what is going on in the United States Senate relative to the efforts to reform the country's healthcare delivery scheme. And what frightens me more than I'm able to convey is the possibility that, what President Obama will sign in an overblown ceremony on the East Lawn will be naught but some close reflection of laundry detergent new and improved. And the brief ceremony speech will go something like this. "I'm proud to announce this morning that America has made a great step forward on the path to providing all Americans with quality healthcare. I want to thank the members of congress for working together, in a true spirit of bi-partisanship; especially House Minority Leader Boehner, and Senate Minority Leader McConnell for their help, getting this bill passed."

En route to that horror lies another. Actually, it's the one that makes the other probable.

A couple of acquaintances happened on the topic, healthcare reform and the powerful interests arrayed against anything notable actually changing. When I introduced the fact of the heavy-hitting insurance and AMA (Only 20% of licensed physicians are members, by the way.) lobbies, and my plea for a larger citizen involvement, if at the very least everyone become adequately informed of what we genuinely have right now, as opposed to what the lobbyists want us to believe we have, I was counseled by one, "Well Ed, we can only pray."

Prayer, as with any form of meditation, has been shown to have some emotional and psychological benefits for the individual doing the praying. But praying has not in the entire history of humankind been shown to bend history's arc toward justice, as the late Martin Luther King, Jr. proposed. What always bent the arc was force of arms, the threat of same, or ballots, beneath which has ever been the alternative: force of arms; Theodore Roosevelt's "big stick." It has always been the social application of Newton's First Law of Motion: "Every object in a state of uniform motions tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it."

Not even in the Christian Bible will be found the notion that prayer alone is, or intended to be, sufficient. If God helps at all, God only helps those whose primary effort is to help him- or herself. Whether it was the independence of the nation from England, the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, equal rights in the workplace or housing . . . Praying was the least effective, the most useless, of all possible tactics. Indeed, that the subjects merely pray for some change is the one tool that will most fit the goals of the tyrant, and it is the one tactic most deserving of condemnation. No! It's the gathering of armies and the shedding of copious quantities of blood, and assembling noisily, threateningly in the streets, and organized massing of very angry constituencies . . . Those are the things that have bent the arc.

But first of all, however, must come anger that is justified, and the implied threat that that anger might turn to uncontrolled rage. Absent that anger and rage, nothing good will happen. Nothing good ever has.

Concerning healthcare, that means at least investing the time and energy to grasp the outline of the fundamentals - the industry vernacular, the comparative expense ratios, private for-profit versus Medicare, the definition of rescission and the propensity of private insurers to pursue it, private for-profit premium costs, whether employer paid or not, the burden to the employer and the impact on that employer's competitiveness, the costs of doing nothing, . . . that sort of thing.

The natural companion to having sufficient and accurate knowledge to ponder the situation and alternatives to it is the will to stand up on behalf of change. That does not require that everyone rise up in cacophonous demonstrations, although that would absolutely guarantee that notice by our elected representatives would be taken. It does require, however, that we actively engage each other informatively in the discussion.      

Currently, 11 Democratic senators have either announced their opposition to any inclusion of the "public option" (also known as "government option"), or have said they are leaning toward opposition: Max Baucus (MT), Ben Nelson (NE), Ron Wyden (OR), Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln (AR), Mary Landrieu (LA), Tom Carper (DE), and Diane Feinstein (CA).

First understand the definition of "value," and how a thing obtains - "obtains," not "has" -  value. Value increases the commercial worth to the next-in-line consumer so that that next-in-line buyer will pay more for the item than he or she would otherwise be willing to pay. Value is the consequence, the product, of labor. Some work must be applied to the raw, un-amended stock, and it is that work that enhances value. A simple analogy will hopefully be helpful. A lone tree in the middle of a forest has only potential value, not realized value. It is every application of labor to that tree that adds value; the log becomes milled stock that becomes framing material or stock for furniture that ultimately secures from the consuming public incrementally more than that person would have paid for just the tree.

Medicare is the healthcare delivery program that enables primarily those past 65, without restriction or other delineation, to visit any physician they choose for the wide array of care and therapies they need. Medicare's administrative overhead, decade in-decade out, ranges in the 5-7% range. On the other hand, while the for-profit, private health insurance company does all it can to screen - whether group coverage or individual - out and separate itself from those who might fall victim to an expensive malady, it's decade in-decade out administrative overhead rarely dips below 30%; more than FOUR TIMES as much as discrimination-free Medicare. (What's more! Those older than 65 also compose the population of consumers who most frequently consume the most expensive care!) Perhaps the most relevant question imaginable: Specifically what does the for-profit, private health insurance company add to the delivery of healthcare that commensurately adds healthcare value for the individual, and that justifies their continued participation in the scheme?

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An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."
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