Consumer Power Report #214
It's ugly weather in Washington, DC today -- but last weekend, when Capitol Hill staffers were locked indoors in the final rush to vote on the Senate version of health care reform, it was the most beautiful weekend of the year. Outside, people ran and played with their dogs -- inside, bleary-eyed staffers gazed longingly through the windows, wishing they could be anywhere but inside the chambers of power.
But they did the work, and now the president gets the credit. He also gets to keep making all those fun promises he's made along the way toward getting this legislation passed -- particularly my favorite one, the "if you like things the way they are, don't worry" promise.
A White House journalist friend of mine, Mark Knoller, pointed out a few weeks ago that the president had stopped saying these lines in his speeches. But in remarks in Iowa City on Thursday, they were back again, like a long-missed old friend.
"All of the cynics and the naysayers will have to finally confront the reality of what this reform is and what it isn't," Obama said. "They will have to finally acknowledge that this isn't a government takeover of our health care system. They will see that if Americans like their doctor, they will keep their doctor. If people like their plan, they will keep their plan. No one will be able to take that away from you."
Of course, we know that's not true. Annenberg says it's not true. ABC News says it's not true. Every independent analyst says it's not true. And what's more, as the Associated Press reports today, it's already happening: "The health care overhaul will cost U.S. companies billions and make them more likely to drop prescription drug coverage for retirees because of a change in how the government subsidizes those benefits. In the first two days after the law was signed, three major companies -- Deere & Co., Caterpillar Inc. and Valero Energy -- said they expect to take a total hit of $265 million to account for smaller tax deductions in the future."
But it's springtime for Obama, and he's going to have some fun with this moment. We'll see soon enough if people actually expect him to tell them the truth.
IN THIS ISSUE:
A timely and well-done piece in The New York Times outlines a shift that has very little relation to President Barack Obama's reforms: the decline in private practice doctors as more and more move to salaried jobs. "As recently as 2005, more than two-thirds of medical practices were physician-owned -- a share that had been relatively constant for many years, the Medical Group Management Association says. But within three years, that share dropped below 50 percent, and analysts say the slide has continued."
SOURCE: NY Times
LET'S REMEMBER PREDICTIONS OVER LIFE EXPECTANCY
Many of the public advocates for national health care reform based their arguments on life expectancy: America doesn't compare well to the rest of the world on this point. Of course, death by disease doesn't do all that much to drive our national life expectancy down -- homicides and auto accidents do that. But if life expectancy were a function of access to free medical care regardless of its quality, one would have expected the USSR's life expectancy to do something other than crater. And it's always worth noting that American life expectancy at age 65 is actually higher than in Britain.
Libertarian (and Obama voter) Megan McArdle at the Atlantic Monthly had an excellent series of pieces this week rounding up the predictions made during the course of this political battle, many of them featuring pie-in-the-sky predictions about American life expectancy rates and "saving hundreds of thousands of lives." Lots of people say a lot of things to make a policy happen, but accountability tends to be in short supply when the outcomes become clear.
I'm sure you all remember that in the mid-1990s, the USDA decided to require that all cereals and grains be fortified with folic acid in an effort to prevent spina bifida and anencephaly. Then a few years ago, the National Center for Health Statistics published a study showing the levels of folic acid in the population were far above the levels needed to prevent birth defects (though the instances of those two birth defects didn't actually decline). Now a new study demonstrates that folates in overabundance could actually lead to a higher likelihood of asthma.
If there's one thing that's clear about Obama's reform package, it's that it wasn't, as he said, a "push back against the undue influence of special interests." Tim Carney, a longtime investigative reporter in Washington, DC and a friend of mine, has been all over the dominance in the reform process by the biggest special interest players:
"The health care bill Obama signed into law Tuesday is a triumph for the special interests. It will benefit the biggest businesses, and by injecting more government into the economy, it will permanently stimulate K Street. ... Taxpayers will subsidize drug makers even more. Employers will be forced to give prescription-drug insurance to workers. Generic versions of biologic drugs will be kept off the market for 12 years. States will be forced to subsidize drugs through Medicaid. Americans will still be prohibited from importing cheaper drugs from China. Medicare will continue overpaying for drugs."
A CNN poll from the weekend found 59 percent oppose the health care bill, only 39 percent favor it; 70 percent say the federal budget deficit will go up under the plan, while only 12 percent believe it will go down; 62 percent believe they'll pay more for medical care under the plan; and 56 percent say the bill creates "too much government involvement in the nation's health care system." No wonder the average poll approval of the American people for this bill since its passage is 40 percent -- this wasn't a bill made for them, and they know it.
Other links of interest: