Not wanting to lose the spotlight to their colleagues in the House, three Republican Senators – John Kyl, Mitch McConnell and Pat Roberts – were busy introducing the Preserving Access to Targeted, Individualized and Effective New Treatments and Services (PATIENTS) Act of 2009. Their bill would prohibit Medicare or Medicaid from using “comparative effectiveness research to deny coverage.”
In layman’s language, this means Medicare would be compelled to pay for useless treatments. This comes from the same claque that prevented Medicare from negotiating drug prices when Republicans controlled Congress and the drug benefit was being introduced.
The trio actually launched this idiotic piece of legislation with a straight face, not noticing it is the silliest thing to come along since Nancy Reagan’s astrologer told Ronnie when to make policy speeches. As Paul Krugman points out Thursday morning, there are four insane components to the Republican’s latest piece of garbage:
1. Republicans who rail against wasteful government spending are taking action to prevent the government from … reining in wasteful spending.
2. Politicians who warn that the burden of entitlements is killing the federal budget are stepping in to block the single most painless route to reducing the growth of entitlements.
3. They’re doing it in the name of avoiding “rationing of health care” but they’re specifically addressing taxpayer-funded care. If you want to go out and buy a medically useless treatment, Medicare won’t stop you.
4. These same politicians are opposed to expanding coverage because it’s evil for government to “ration care” by only paying for things that work; it is, however, virtuous to ration care by refusing to pay for any care at all.
“You’re assuming people watching CNN are thinking,” a staff member to a Republican Senator tells me this morning. “We’re simply trying to make the point that government-sponsored health care is a terrible idea.”
Trash talk was heard all over Capitol Hill Thursday and Friday.
Wednesday’s GOP talking point was warning about “inserting bureaucrats between you and your doctor,” and it was repeated at least a half-dozen times by interchangeable Republican faces popping up on cable news and C-SPAN.
Uhm, shouldn’t Republicans watch something besides Fox News occasionally? It is insurance company “bureaucrats” who keep inserting themselves between patients and doctors, denying coverage or treatment for people who are ill. Earlier this week Keith Olbermann treated us to the latest outrage: AIG, US Airways liability insurer, is telling a survivor of the airline’s Hudson River crash that she and her three year old daughter would not be covered for psychological counselling to deal with the on-going trauma of watching themselves almost die.
Yes, it’s that AIG. The one we own. One of us should tell AIG that even the Pentagon finally is treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
As for bureaucrats and medicine, I’ve had three grandparents and two parents covered by Medicare between the time they turned 65 and when they died – some in their late 80s and early 90s. Combined, they enjoyed 130+ years of Medicare and not once were any of them ever told by a “bureaucrat” they wouldn’t be covered for treating one ailment or another. They never waited to see a doctor nor did a “bureaucrat” dictate to their physicians which treatment to use or what medication to prescribe.
Oh, and by the way, dear Republicans: Not even the strongest proponents of a universal, single payer health care reform package is suggesting that doctors, nurses and other health professionals will work for the government. So why are you comparing them to postal workers and the Department of Motor Vehicles the way you did Thursday? Are you crazy, stupid or just plain liars trying to scare Harry and Louise into opposing health care reform one more time?
“OK, so likening a public plan to the DMV is an exaggeration. So what? The point is to stop this thing cold,” the Republican staffer admits reluctantly. “No one likes bureaucrats and everyone hates the Post Office and DMV. It’s a good ‘word picture’ that people who watch cable news can understand.”
So the answer to my question is: The GOP is happy lying to scare people while they try scoring a false point.
Paying Billions Already
What the viewers disparaged by the GOP don’t understand is they’re already paying for universal coverage, of sorts. An article published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine reports that we’re already spending $43-billion annually treating the 50-million uninsured Americans.
But care is an uneven hodgepodge of federal, state and local programmes, and much of the money is spent poorly or in the wrong place.
The report, co-authored by Linda Blumberg and John Holahan says, “Care provided in this way varies considerably by locale and does not amount to continuous, comprehensive care for the uninsured, nor do all the uninsured have access to such publicly subsidized services.
“Once everyone has health insurance coverage, either public or private, these funds can be redirected to help finance a new system that includes income-related subsidies for care provided in efficient health systems,” the article maintains.
Blumberg and Holahan call for a mandated public system, noting that research shows that without mandates, many people will remain uninsured because premiums will gobble up too much of their income – as much as 30%, according to the article, or about the same as rent or food.
Conceding that some federal subsidies will be needed, “most will go to the poorest and sickest – those who are most likely to enrol on a voluntary basis. Thus, a mandate will (also) bring healthier people and those with higher incomes into the system at a relatively low incremental cost, as compared with a voluntary approach with the added benefit of government financing redirected from the programs that currently cover uncompensated care.”
Whatever talking point the GOP rolls out today in its fight to keep America sick, remember that Republican staff people on the Hill admit all the party is trying to do is create scary “word pictures” to frighten the average cable news viewer. Republicans have always been good at twisting emotions and playing on fear. It’s past time for progressives to borrow a page from the Republican playbook and talk emotions, not just facts and figures.