The Wide Applications of “Kill it to Save it”

New Orleans   Reading the desperate comments from President Trump and some of the hard-far-right-conservative Republican Senators on the eve of their “holiday” making the case that because they couldn’t agree on a new bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, then they should just repeal it all, give the existing situation a year to go, and try to come up with something down the road, brought one statement clearly to mind: “kill it to save it.” For me the resuscitation of this old Vietnam War justification for similar atrocities was easy because earlier on Wade’s World. I had interviewed Corey Dolgon, a professor at Stonehill College in Massachusetts about his new book, appropriately entitled, Kill It to Save It: An Autopsy of Capitalism’s Triumph Over Democracy.

In his book, Professor Dolgon argued that energy for change from the social movements of the 60’s dissipated from near misses and fatigue with the wind down of the Vietnam War under President Richard Nixon, but rather than the scorched earth war conceit of “kill it to save it” vanishing, instead it became a crushing weight, dominating institutions and policy in the United States. Dolgon revives attention to President Jimmy Carter’s “crisis of confidence” speech, but then watches Carter’s accurate analysis drift into the politics of destruction. You get the basic message Dolgon has to offer. He cites more modern examples from Katrina to the dismantling of higher and lower education regimes to extend his case and stretch forward his analysis. No doubt if I had been talking to Dolgon after the latest nihilist shots at the Affordable Care Act, he would have had a field day.

Peggy Noonan, the moderate conservative Republican and recent Pulitizer-prize winning columnist for the Wall Street Journal spits into the wind with an argument that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s threat to Republicans that he was going to have to start talking to Democrats since they couldn’t agree on how to repeal-and-replace Obamacare, should be recast as a promise. She makes a good point that something so “intimate,” in her words, as someone’s healthcare should in fact be a bipartisan project in the vein of Roosevelt’s efforts for Social Security and Johnson’s work to win Medicare, regardless of the Obama “going alone” model which passed the Affordable Care Act, but also devastated Democratic majorities in the House and Senate over time and, like or not, has left us in the situation we have now.

The cornerstone of her argument and that of anyone willing to be honest about it all is that Obamacare had flaws, huge ones, though we may all disagree on what and what. I’ve been harping on the failure to cap deductibles at a reasonable level, following the Massachusetts model, for years now, because it has blocked the participation of lower waged workers with technically qualifying plans, which are ridiculously unaffordable and offer minimal benefits. In fact they put lower waged workers in the same untenable situation described for rising seniors beneath the Medicare qualifying age under the mean-spirited Republican offer.

We could go on and on and even make good sense, but all of that would depend on reducing the polarity of politics, and for reasons good and bad, a terrible healthcare bill is a safer bet than one where all parties would agree.

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When National Healthcare is Not Mean, but Vindictive, Not Policy, but Politics

New Orleans  Healthcare is a huge part of the overall US economy and, arguably, of critical importance to every American. Regardless of the cliché, it is in fact a question of life and death. Yet we are watching a horror show spectacle of a White House that is clueless about anything but whether or not it can claim a “win,” and a Congress that is cunning and calculating without any field of vision that can see past 2018 and the midterm elections.

Meanwhile the public is treated to media coverage that, rather than focusing on the complexity of the bill and its evisceration of any semblance of public policy, treats the whole affair as if this were an extra innings baseball game and the only real issue was whether or not Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can get enough votes to pass the Senate version before the totally arbitrary deadline of July 4th. Well, perhaps not totally arbitrary, since McConnell is worried that when his caucus goes home for the recess their constituents will kick their asses so badly his whole secret legislative architecture will collapse.

Remember Kellyanne Conway, so discredited as a Trump aide that we’ve been spared her doublespeak recently. Well, she was back on this bill with the outrageous claim that no one can support, that, oh, no, there are no cuts to Medicaid in the Senate bill, which everyone knows is wrong. Good try, Kellyanne, now go hide out again, because this time there weren’t even any headlines following such an outrageous claim.

How about we look at how the Senate went from mean to downright vindictive? Their bill restored funding for what is known as “disproportionate share” money to hospitals. Pay attention in class now, friends, this is important. In places like Louisiana where I live we know a bit about “disproportionate share” payments because in their heyday they figured so prominently in statewide political scandals. Ever popular, former multi-term Governor Edwin Edwards did court and prison time on the issue of having unduly helped some friends get such money to build hospitals in poorly served and lower income areas of the state. Indeed, disproportionate share payments were designed to subsidize health care costs in lower income and ill-served areas originally in order to assure communities that these institutions could survive, because a “disproportionate share” of their patient base was poor. Obama’s Affordable Care Act flipped the script here. By assuring that everyone would have to get insurance and providing subsidies for lower income families and Medicaid expansion, disproportionate share payments would be phased out to pay for Obamacare. In fact now is the time when $43 billion would be reduced between 2018 and 2025.

What did the Senate do in their bill? They buckled to the lobbyists and restored these disproportionate share payments, but, now get this, only to states that had not expanded Medicaid coverage. This allows them to punish those states and their people by cutting the subsidies to Medicaid in their bill and rewarding the scofflaws by restoring the disproportionate share payments.

Now it’s politics that inflicts real pain and terrible consequences. Need a vote in Alaska or Maine, then sweeten the pot on opioid money even though states throughout the country are reeling under such a crisis. Take away support for mental health coverage, but throw some dollars out here and there to get a vote. Cutback money for the elderly poor on Medicaid, but kick the can down the road past 2018 so that you can keep the votes with a wink and a nod until the oldsters figure out the con.

None of this is good policy, and, frankly, I’ll be darned if I even understand how it is good politics, when all of these repeal bills are wildly unpopular in every poll of the American people. The public wants to live, not die, at the hands of government. Why isn’t that news everyone understands?

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