Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Comment on Congressman Paul Ryan's Budget Plan and, in particular, on his plan to eliminate Medicare

This post is completely unrelated to the reprographics business and industry. It will be my only "rant" of the day.

This (the following) “letter to the editor” appeared in the St Petersburg Times on April 18, 2011. (The author of this “letter to the editor” was responding to an article, “Government vs. Business” that appeared in the St Pete Times a couple of days prior.)

“Government's job is to protect citizens” (authored by Greg Neimi)

“Regardless of your political orientation, it is hard to argue with the proposition that the main reason for government is to protect the members of a society against the greed of their neighbors. Simply put, government exists because we are not content to live in a "survival of the fittest" jungle. Government protects each of us against those who are stronger, cleverer, greedier or simply meaner than we are.

The function of a business is exactly the opposite. It is to accumulate wealth either by creating it or taking it from others through trade. A business survives, in large part, by being bigger, richer, smarter or more ruthless than its competitors. It will resist any limit on those impulses that contribute to its own success.

That is why, when politicians brag that they can "run the government like a business," we should all beware. They are saying, in essence, that they can return us to the law of the jungle — the so-called state of nature, in which, as Thomas Hobbes observed, our lives would be "nasty, brutish, and short."”

While I don’t agree that the “main” reason for government is what the author stated it to be, I do believe that the reason he stated is certainly among the most important reasons, and I applaud the author for pointing out the basic difference between “running the government” vs. “running a business.” IMHO, he is totally “right on” with the remarks he made.

From a political-orientation perspective, I’m a conservative on “the size of government and on government spending”, I’m ultra-conservative when it comes to “defense,” but I tend towards the liberal-side of the spectrum when it comes to “education”, “social security” and “healthcare.” I also believe that lobbying has to be curtailed – that our elected officials should solely cater to, and vote on behalf of, their constituents rather than cater to, and put into motion bills that benefit, “corporations” and “organizations” (such as unions, etc.) I was horrified when the U.S. Supreme Court came out with a ruling that, quite basically, makes it possible for the rich and powerful to “buy” seats in the congress and senate. Our legislature is now for sale to “whoever has the most money to spend.” [It’s even worse than that (if it’s possible to be worse) in the state of Florida, where we now have a bunch of far-right, ultra-righteous, self-serving, ignorant, moron Republicans (hate to blame that on a “party, by the way) who’ve taken our state government hostage. That resulted from voter apathy.]

Well, to go on, I believe that it is the government’s responsibility to fund education. Without a well-educated (or, maybe I should say, without an “adequately-educated”) citizenry, the majority of our citizens would be ignorant and stupid and unproductive and incapable, and I certainly don’t see where that would best serve our interest as a nation/country. It is in everyone’s interest, I think, that we be an educated society. That’s why I’ve always felt that it should be a government obligation to fund public education. (If you want to go to private school, that’s your right, but you can pay for it.) To me, “public education” is a ‘basic need” and, therefore, a “public right.”

I feel exactly the same way about “healthcare”. I view healthcare as a “basic need” and, therefore, as a “basic right.” Every citizen in the U.S. should have government-provided healthcare. Paid for with our tax dollars. I am willing to pay my fair-share for the health care that less affluent citizens need. Our healthcare system in the U.S. is seriously broken. I laugh when I see the word “healthcare” in the names of companies that don’t provide any healthcare at all. Take, for example, UnitedHealth Group. UnitedHealth Group is NOT a healthcare company. UnitedHealth Group is an “insurance” company. And, it is an insurance company that is solely in business to achieve two objectives; a) to enrich the executives who run the company and b) to enrich the shareholders of the company. Any other conclusion – as to UnitedHealth Group’s objectives – is pure and utter bullshit.

So, going further, when I read, within the past couple of weeks, about the budget plan that Congressman Paul Ryan came up with, I was aghast at the elements of his idea for how the problem – of government spending for healthcare, in particular, government spending for Medicare – should be solved. His solution, a) continue Medicare for those currently getting Medicare and continue Medicare for anyone who now (or when the law passes) is 55 or older (they would be eligible for Medicare coverage when they reach 65) and, b) anyone not yet 55, well, they are “shit out of luck”, no Medicare for them. For them, the “government” will issue everyone a “voucher” that they can then use to pay towards the cost of health insurance from a private-sector health insurance company. Congressman Ryan, do you really have a full-deck upstairs? Your budget plan for how to deal with growing Medicare costs is totally uncaring, but worse, it is ignorant, moronic and – and, yes, just flat out stupid. Your plan shows an utterly infantile understanding as to how businesses in the private sector work (from a “pricing and profitability perspective”) and that you have a complete disregard for the “basic” rights of our country’s citizens. How in the world did you manage to get elected? Which insurance companies have managed to “buy” you? Let me be clear about this …..

I’m 64 years old, and, per “Congressman Ryan’s plan for Medicare”, I’ll get Medicare. So, I should have no concern about what Congressman Ryan is proposing, right? But, I do have a huge concern; my concern is for “all U.S. citizens”, regardless of their age. If our country really wants to control the cost of Medicare, Medicare should be expanded to cover every citizen. And, then, healthcare costs can be controlled by a team of managers whose job it is to hard-line negotiate costs (doctors’ services, lab tests, hospital stays, prescription medicine, clinic visits) across the board. That’s exactly what “health insurance” companies do “for” their policyholders. (“For”, hmmm, healthcare companies don’t actually negotiate costs for their policyholders, they do that because it creates the profit they pay to their executives and shareholders.) The main difference, between my plan and Congressman Ryan’s plan, is that, with my plan, health “insurance” companies would cease to exist. The money (in compensation and profits) that they, the healthcare insurance companies, are sucking out of the current healthcare system would be put to use in providing “actual” healthcare! Many people say that “government” cannot responsibly and effectively manage a national healthcare system. That’s bullshit. The government can do that. All it has to do is to hire very dedicated, very smart, very productive people to run the national healthcare system. From a “management and administration” perspective, it is ludicrous to think that a team of “government” people can’t do for a government healthcare system agency what a team of people currently does at a large private-sector healthcare insurance company.

Further, and this is to Congressman Ryan; if you really want to solve government spending for healthcare, you don’t “best” do that by short-changing our citizens; you do that by cutting out costs that are completely unnecessary (such as eliminating health “insurance” companies, altogether, meaning, cut out the total expense that they add to the healthcare system), you do that by ridding fraud from the healthcare system, and you do that by hard-line-cost-negotiating with prescription drug companies, doctors, private-sector hospital companies, private-sector lab test companies, private-sector clinics, etc. That’s what healthcare insurance companies do, and, if you think government employees charged with that same responsibility can’t do that, well, then you have no faith, no trust, in your fellow citizens. You seem to want to direct money to the private-sector healthcare insurance industry. Why is that? What have you received from that industry, from lobbyists in that industry, from companies involved in that industry? Is it because they funded your election to public office? Is it because they will continue to fund your future election races? If our country ends up with the “voucher” system your budget plan evidently proposes for Medicare, are you aware that the cost of healthcare insurance will end up being so ridiculously high that those vouchers will prove next to worthless? Are you so ignorant that you are not aware that private-sector healthcare insurance companies operate in an oligopoly? (That’s basically a “monopoly” by few.) If you think that healthcare insurance companies will decrease the cost of healthcare insurance because huge numbers of people are added to their premium rolls, then I have zero trust and faith that you have a full-deck upstairs. Private-sector healthcare insurance companies are currently pillaging their subscribers; it will grow even worse if Medicare is discontinued. Until I become eligible for Medicare coverage (next February, when I become 65), I have to have private healthcare insurance. The monthly premium cost I pay (for my wife and myself) is $2,228.55. That’s a ridiculously high cost. My monthly social security check (which I have not yet started and don’t plan on starting for a while) would not cover the cost of my current private-sector healthcare insurance premium. I’m a relatively affluent person, so I can actually afford to pay the healthcare insurance premiums I’ve been stuck with. But, if I were not, and most people are not, do you “have a clue” as to how financially devastating your Medicare proposal would be on the finances of senior citizens (and on the finances of citizens long after them), who, ten years from now, would have otherwise been eligible for Medicare? Do you really think that our country’s private-sector health insurance companies have a conscience? Do you think that private-sector health insurance companies won’t take advantage of their position (and the fact that there would eventually be no competition from the government, which would be the case once the Medicare system is completely done away with)? Do you believe that private-sector healthcare insurance companies “compete” with one another on the basis of price? If you do ‘believe’ any of those things, then you are completely and utterly naïve! When I ran a private sector company, we got our “cost increase notices”, annually, from the healthcare insurance companies we alternated using. The “alternating” of who we used each year was, quite basically, a game that the healthcare insurance companies play with their customers. They fully realize that, in order to give an appearance that there’s competition, they have to trade customers, sometimes every year. But, perhaps since you never ran a company, you don’t have a clue how that works. Don’t get me wrong, Congressman Ryan; I don’t think that you’re an idiot or a moron. You are probably a very upstanding guy and a very nice guy, and you’re certainly an upstanding citizen for taking the time to participate in the government of our country. I think, however, that you are completely misguided in your thinking about how to control the cost of government and how to deal with “basic rights” that citizens of our country deserve to have and that government should provide. I’ve paid a ton of income tax in my lifetime. I look at that as “my fair share” contribution – the price we pay, the price I pay and am willing to pay - for having a great country. I urge you not to pass laws that will, eventually, financially devastate the lives of most of, the vast majority of, the population of our great country.

Was that a long enough post?

I’m going to print this post and send it to Congressman Ryan and to President Obama.

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