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Sunday, September 13, 2009

I’m a little late responding to the President’s speech to Congress but that’s what happens when annoying physical ailments slows one down. I’m trying to catch up.

As readers of this blog know, I am an Obama supporter. I supported him with money during the campaign and my wife worked the phones. Unless the Republicans slate Superman to run in the next election, I’ll probably vote for him again. And I am a supporter of the concept of healthcare reform - though I can’t imagine what kind of reform can be accomplished without something like a Medicare Part E. Medicare for everyone. Buy in for a premium based on age. With plenty of insurance companies ready to sell any needed Medicare supplement policies.

Having said all that, a comment or two on the big healthcare reform speech. It wasn’t a bad speech but it didn’t strike me as a game changer and for sure not the "greatest" speech that Obama has ever delivered - as some have described it. Any speech loses a little of its potential luster when "snippets" are released in advance - and then you hear those snippets verbalized. We know he’s reading from a TelePrompTer but when you’ve seen some of the phraseology in advance, it sounds a little contrived when you hear it being read back to you. I’d rather hear it for the first time from the President’s mouth and not have any advance leaks.

Anyway - I thought it got a little heavy as he tried to lay out the details - but he made up for it with his reference to the letter a dying Ted Kennedy had sent him and with his categorization of healthcare for all as a matter of morality - as a measure of who we are as a people. That part I applauded. And if regulation of the healthcare industry can be accomplished and they can be forced to accept people with pre-existing conditions and restrained from dropping people arbitrarily - I applaud that too - though I can’t see the industry accepting those restrictions without a battle,

Speaking of applause - as I noted here many moons ago after a State of the Union speech - I think the interruptions for standing applause during these joint sessions are close to silly. There’s nothing wrong with brief bursts of applause to show approval of a particular point - but multiple standing ovations? It almost comes across as contrived. The Republicans of course did not applaud or rise to their feet - except for the brief mention of malpractice insurance. The President didn’t even say what he might do about malpractice - but the word itself was enough to arouse the Republicans out of their stupor. I’ll have a word on that topic in a moment.

There was nothing unusual about the lack of applause from the Republicans. The Democrats act the same way when the president happens to be a Republican. But I must say that the Republicans that we were able to see on camera looked particularly dour - and some were obviously trying to insult the president with a "what bill" on one idiot’s lap and a bunch of others waving something - a Republican bill perhaps? Cut taxes as a cure for cancer?

And then we had the idiot yelling "you lie" when Obama was assuring us that illegal aliens would not benefit from his version of a healthcare bill. I’m sure a lot of people were thinking "good luck with that" - including me - but yelling "you lie" was far beyond the pale. Even in the House of Commons where insults are common - , when one member wants to call another a liar - even if it’s the Prime Minister, he will say something along the lines of "the honorable member is lying through his false teeth" - rather than just yell "you lie." But the Prime Minister is just the chief executive, not the head of state. No British politician would dream of yelling "you lie" during a speech by the Queen. We have no royalty of course, but the office of the President represents the symbolic head of state and should command the same measure of respect no matter who is in the White House.

The president wasn’t lying of course. His version of a final bill would specifically exclude undocumented workers from benefiting from tax supported programs - but come on - how are you going to enforce that? Even if you include a provision that proof of citizenship or legal residence is required - what will be asked for? Many illegals have phony social security numbers and other fraudulent documents. Are we going to ask for birth certificates? It gets pretty silly. Of course in countries that have national health programs - everyone who needs medical attention can get it - but this is the USA. We have to make it as complicated as possible.

I hold out little hope that any bill that gets signed into law will solve the problem of healthcare costing way too much and continuing to cost more year after year. The way things are being described at the moment - the executives at the nation’s health insurance companies must be having multiple orgasms at the prospect of every last American being forced to have insurance. It’s what they want. It’s what they are spending millions of dollars in television ads that purport to support "reform." Just listen to the ads from "America’s healthcare companies." And if they like it - it can’t be good for the rest of us.

If I sound cynical about the prospects for real change in healthcare, it’s because of alleged "reforms" that we’ve already seen that have done nothing for the consumers of healthcare. Changing malpractice laws for example - the magic words that brought Republican Representatives and Senators to life during the President’s speech. There was an editorial in the Chicago Tribune a few days ago lauding the fact that changes in malpractice laws have been enacted in Illinois and how money is being saved. The question of course is what money? What savings? For whom? There has been absolutely no change in the cost of healthcare for the average consumer. On the contrary, premium costs and deductibles have continued to rise since the changes were enacted in Illinois - as has the cost of pharmaceuticals. And speaking of pharmaceuticals , seniors who were conned into Medicare Part D are being promised that this convoluted program with its "donut hole" and other restrictions will be improved with healthcare reform. . Of course the geniuses who created this program totally ignored the real problem - which is the ridiculous cost of drugs - and instead of finding a way to drive those costs down, opted to play footsie with the insurance companies - handing them another boondoggle. Another reason why I have doubts that we’re going to get real reform.

Three years ago, I wrote about the way we are being ripped off by the pharmaceutical industry with a table of what we are paying for certain drugs and how much the actual ingredients of those drugs costs.. Do you take Lipitor? Three years ago, the average cost for 100 pills was $272.37 and the cost of the ingredients to make those 100 pills was $5.80 - a mark up of 4,696%!! And that’s a bargain compared to Prozac. Eleven cents for ingredients turns into $247.47 for a hundred tablets - a mark up of a whopping 224,973%!! No kidding, You do the math. Get out your trusty calculated and multiply .11 by 224,973%.. Yes I know there’s a lot more than the cost of ingredients that goes into the final retail cost of drug - but you can’t convince me that there isn’t something terribly wrong when the cost of the ingredients for a pill that costs $2.47 is .0011 cents!!!

And the administration tells us they’ve made a "deal" with Big Pharm?"

I hope all my doubts about real reform being enacted before I get to be too old and demented to care will be proved wrong - but I’m not holding my breath. It’s dangerous to one’s health.