W is for "Wellness"

by Greg Method

Howard Dean tried to kill me.

Okay, that didn't really happen, but believe it or not, I did dream that.

It wasn't too long after the former presidential candidate's infamous "scream" speech...you know, the one that wasn't really a big deal until every single television and radio network played it over and over again. I mean, heaven forbid a person actually tries to get people excited at a pep rally.

And I don't know about you, but I'd rather have a president who lets out an enthusiastic shriek while he's vigorously campaigning than a vice president who tells one of our own elected representatives to go fuck himself if he should dare question his crooked ties to a company that's profiting off our dead troops.

But unfortunately, the media killed the Dean campaign...well, that's a bit of an overstatement. The media killed it along with our tendency to not have an attention span longer than thirteen seconds when it comes to politics. We as a culture don't base who we vote for on issues and facts...we base it on oft-repeated ad soundbytes and whoever had the better zingers during the debates. And unfortunately, the media decides who is good and who is crazy. By repeating it over and over again, the media was telling us that they've decided that Howard Dean was "the crazy candidate," much as how they've decided that apparently the funniest movie scene in history was Jim Carrey lip-synching "I've got the power!"

Oh well. Dean's growlish call to arms had been so overplayed by the media that it had invaded my dreams; my subconscious, my own happy private place.

In the dream, I had found myself actually running against Gov. Dean. We had met up in private in Dean's hotel room to discuss some of our similarities and differences, hopefully to come to some kind of common ground. In a flow of abbreviated action and logic that only occurs in dreams, we soon started collaborating on a cohesive budget plan, working off Dean's laptop computer. Man, who the hell dreams of devising budget plans anyway??

Anyway, Dean and I were disagreeing on various points, and although I was trying to remain calm and considerate about it, it was becoming obvious that Dean was starting to get more and more agitated with each point I brought up. It was almost like discussing anything with a pro-Bush person.

It was clear by now that Dean was quite pissed at me, so I thought I would try to diffuse his visual rage.

"Maybe we should take a break," I suggested. "Wanna order some Chinese food?"

What happened next is the part that turned it from just a strange dream to a vivid nightmare. The look on Dean's face could only be described as temporary insanity. His cheeks were turning red, his eyes were tightly shut, and I believe he was even grimacing. He looked like he was channeling Sam Kinison, Yosemite Sam, and fourteen rageaholics all at once.

And apparently he had become so outraged, so dangerously livid, and so bottomlessly angry that he was becoming tongue-tied. The rage inside him was so great that it was getting in the way of his ability to actually form words correctly, as if he could only sputter out random syllables that sound approximately like what he was trying to say.

Still with that tightened look on his face, he exasperatedly stammered "Nigh...nese??"...as if he had never heard the word before and was trying it out for himself, or as if the very concept of enjoying dishes of chop suey out of small cartons while he was still mad at me was so alien to him.

At this point I started backing away from this potentially erupting volcano, hoping to make a discreet exit out of the hotel room. "Well...you know," I tried to say in some hope of reaching the human being that was still inside this living personification of madness.

Suddenly, Dean looks at me and shoots up to his feet. In a high-pitched, saliva-spraying squeal he shouts "NIGHNESE! NIGHNESE!!" And to further scare the shit out of me, he pulls out a small handgun from his pants pocket.

I turn and hurry my way to the door (or, whatever the proper synonym for "hurry" would be in a dream). All the while Dean chases after me, shooting and screaming "NIGHNESE! NIGHNESE!" repeatedly. I feel bullets whiz past my back, which tells me that he's not even aiming and is just shooting in my general direction hoping to hit anything.

I woke up soon afterward, at which point I made a mad dash to the bathroom. Howard Dean had successfully scared the piss out of me. As if the night couldn't get any weirder, on the way back to my bed I could have sworn I heard just one word whispered in the darkness..."Kerry."

Thankfully, Dean didn't in fact go on a crazy rampage, and my attempted murder was all a dream. But still, if I ever attend any of Dean's speaking engagements in the future, I'm bringing a bodyguard.

The reason I bring up the Deaniac is because he believed that changes need to be made to our health care system. When he was governor of Vermont, he was able to create a system in which 99 percent of the state's children under eighteen had health insurance and one third of the state's senior population had prescription drug benefits.

And although the Good Doctor never officially endorsed the proposal of universal health care (something this country desperately needs), he did say this in a June 2003 speech: "What we ought to be demanding as Democrats is what Harry Truman put in the 1948 Democratic Party platform: health insurance that covers everybody, just like they have in Germany, France, Costa Rica, Japan, Ireland, and Italy! Every single industrialized country on the face of the earth has health insurance for all of its people. Why can't we have what all those countries have?"

Well, my slightly homicidal friend, there is a very big reason why health insurance isn't made available for everyone or abolished outright...it's a business. And like every business, the insurance industry likes money. And take a wild guess who gets a cut of that money!

That's right, I'm going to be quoting some more numbers this month. Dollar amounts are according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and 2004 amounts are based on information released by the Federal Election Commission on July 5 of this year.

In 2000, the insurance industry donated $1,667,038 to Bushie Boy's campaign. That's over $1.1 million more than it gave to any other politician running for office that year (Gore only received one fifth of that amount!). And this year, the insurance scumbags have already contributed a whopping $2,696,863 to George's campaign, over $2.2 million more than it's given anyone else this year so far and ranking #11 on Bush's list of top contributing industries. And just for comparison, John Kerry has only received one sixth of that sum.

That means that just for his two election campaigns, Bush has received a concerning $4,363,901 from the insurance companies.

Now, those were just numbers from the true-blue evil insurance industry. HMOs are a little different, as they're lumped into the "health services" industry. The figures here are a little lighter, which is odd considering how many people belong to an HMO in this country. In 2000 the health services industry donated $264,158 to Bush's campaign (more than twice it gave to any other politician that year). This year so far, HMOs and health services have contributed $442,100 to the Bush/Cheney campaign (this time, almost three times more than it gave anyone else).

So for both 2000 and 2004, Bush has collected $706,258 from the HMO and health services industry. When you combine that with the other, real insurance industry, Bush has received a stunning $5,070,159 from the people who we give our hard-earned money to so they can tell us which doctors and dentists we have to go to and what surgery we can and can't have.

Now, you might be saying, "Greg, what do you care how much my HMO contributes to the Bush campaign?" Well, that's because with that money comes a deal. The insurance industry now has in the White House a defender, a savior, a hero...someone who will put the interests of your shady HMO over your own rights. I know that sounds a tad incredulous, maybe even cynical, but that's exactly how politics work.

And just so you can see that I'm not pulling this notion out of thin air, ever since the cool, calm John Edwards has stepped into the election picture, what have you heard out of the mouths of Bush and everyone on his team? Perhaps some knocks on "trial lawyers" and "frivolous medical lawsuits?" Actually, the lawsuit catchphrase has been heard out of Bush's mouth as early as 1998.

You see, these "frivolous lawsuits" usually refer to patients who sue their doctors for malpractice, or sometimes the HMOs that referred the patient to them. For some reason, Bush seems to think that this is the only problem plaguing health care right now.

This is what he said at a speech in Little Rock this January: "One of da majshure cost driversh in the delivery of health care are theshe junk and frivolush lawshoots. The rishk of frivolush litigashun drives doctorsh--and hear me out on this--they drive doctorsh to preschribe drugsh and prosheedoors that may not be nesheshairy, just to avoid lawshoots. That's called da defenshive practish of medishun."

First of all, I would really like to know which doctor he goes to, since I have never heard of a doctor pushing drugs onto a patient in lieu of vital surgery. "No, Mr. Webber, you don't need a bypass operation...just take these pills with Coke."

Bush wants to put a limit on how much a wronged patient can receive in a lawsuit. He has proposed a $250,000 cap for non-economic damages such as "pain and suffering." Yeah, he wants to limit how much justice one should receive. Bush claims that by limiting such damages, taxpayers will save anywhere between $60 billion to $108 billion in health care costs. The only problem with this is that all his information is based on a 1996 Stanford study that both the General Accounting Office and the Congressional Budget Office have deemed to be greatly inaccurate. The CBO itself said that there was "no evidence that restrictions on tort liability reduce medical spending."

Republicans like to use the phrase "frivolous lawsuits" as a way to show simpletons just how far we are from the health care that they remember...you know, that Andy of Mayberry country-bumpkin style of medicine when the town doctor doubled as the town barber. This is the ultra-rich party's very sneaky way to make it seem as if they're the party for the little people, because they're the ones who care about people suing the good ol' town doctor.

The fact is of course that Republicans don't care, since most of them can easily afford the best health care in the country. They just want to create an "us vs. them" illusion. You know, a "them scary lawyers are going to stop Dr. Feldman down the street from treating Old Widow Crenshaw" vibe.

I guess my problem with the "frivolous lawsuits" red herring is that Republicans don't address the real problem...that there are lots of really shitty doctors out there. Granted there probably are dishonest people out there who sue doctors for false malpractice claims, but you'll find cases like that no matter which industry is in question. The fact remains is that there are doctors out there who amputate the wrong feet, screw up plastic surgery, and frankly don't know what they're doing. Go ahead, ask Dana Carvey if his botched heart surgery was "frivolous."

I've said this before, but Republicans have a big problem accepting responsibility when things don't go their way. That's essentially the same ideology here; they're just projecting this onto another group. They feel that if a doctor screws up, they shouldn't be held accountable. Well, unfortunately in the Land of Reality, someone cutting open your body should be held accountable if they screw up. I mean, you're usually unconscious...it's not like you can stop it when it happens!

By blaming the health care problems we have today on "frivolous lawsuits," Bush and his party are essentially giving doctors a free pass, and I think that's simply irresponsible. Doctors are not God (and even if they were, so what??), they are humans. Humans of course make mistakes, but that also means that as humans they should be held responsible for their mistakes, no matter if some rich trouser stain in Texas thinks the mistake is "frivolous" or not.

What's really odd about Bush is that he's not against patients being allowed to sue per se; he just doesn't like them suing doctors. At a GOP debate in Des Moines in December 1999, Junior fully endorsed patients being allowed to sue HMOs. When specifically asked if he feels that patients should have that right, he said, "I do. A Texshush law sez if you've godda complaint with yer HMO and yer the payshunt, you can take yer complaint to what's called an Independent Review Organizashun. It's a group o' objective minded peoples that hear yer claim, that hear your cauze. If they deshide dat da HMO is wrong, an' da HMO ignores da finding, that then becomes a cauze o' action."

After all, shouldn't the patients have rights? Shouldn't they also have protection? Shouldn't they have some kind of "bill of rights?"

Well, Georgie thought so...or did he?

When it comes to health care, Bush's biggest boasting is about a prototypical "patients' bill of rights" law that Texas implemented while he was governor, and since 1999 he had been promising to create a similar bill for the whole nation. Actually, let me just double check something about the Texas bill....

At a presidential debate in St. Louis in October 2000, here is what Bush said of a patients' bill of rights. And just for emphasis, I'll de-Bushify this quote and present it in plain English: "In order to get something done on behalf of the people, you have to put partisanship aside. And that's what we did in my state. We've got one of the most advanced patients' bill of rights. It says, for example, that a woman doesn't have to go through a gatekeeper to go to her gynecologist. It says that you can't gag a doctor. The HMO or insurance company can't gag that doctor from giving you full advice. It allows patients to choose their own doctor if they want to. And you can sue an HMO for denying you proper coverage..."

He then goes on to explain the process that we've already covered. Okay, now based on this quote alone, one might think that Texas as a state had made leaps and bounds in the field of patient's rights, right?

But if we look at another quote from that same debate, George's credit to the Texas bill is slightly redirected: "If I'm the president, we're going to have emergency room care [and] what I've done in Texas..."

So within the same debate, we've gone from the Texas bill being something the state did to something he himself did, right? I mean, I'm not misreading that, am I? He is taking credit for Texas's patients' bill of rights, right?

As I did more digging, I found two notable quotes from Bush's own unfocused, rambling memoir A Charge to Keep, published in November 1999.

On page 195, Bushy brags (emphasis mine), "Thanks to the laws I signed, in Texas. HMOs are forbidden to enact 'gag clauses' that discourage doctors from discussing treatment options, insurance must pay for hospital emergency care, women can go directly to their gynecologist. Patients with lengthy, ongoing illnesses cannot be required to change doctors, and if cancer patients need treatment that is not provided within their network, their insurance must refer them to specialty hospitals and pay for that care."

And on page 238, he says (again, emph by moi), "I support medical savings accounts and patient protections in federal health care plans similar to the ones I signed in Texas."

So Bush is in fact taking credit for Texas's patients' bill of rights, called the Texas Patient Protection Act, even boasting that he signed it, right?

Well, the only problem with that is that he did not sign it!

The September 30, 2000 issue of the magazine The Economist reported that not only did Texas pass the act into law without Bush's support, but that at the time Texas had the worst public-health records in the country!

I'll go one better. In the October 18, 2000 Boston Globe, the paper's analysis of the aforementioned St. Louis debate reported that in 1995 Bush in fact vetoed a patients' bill of rights! Yeah, he was against this bill of rights that he since thoroughly wiped his ass with!

And even more disturbing, Bush was against the very provisions that he would later brag about throughout his first campaign! He said that such provisions as monitoring health maintenance organizations, liberal emergency room access, the "gag clause," and patients being allowed to sue HMOs were "too costly to business!" It would be another two years before a bipartisan, veto-proof majority in the Texas Legislature would pass the act into law, and even then Bush refused to sign it himself because he was so adamantly against the right to sue HMOs!

A Charge to Keep claimed that Bush vetoed the original act because the "bill had a host of mandates and regulations not directly related to patient care." It then went on to explain that Bush offered a variety of "new" suggestions, which just coincidentally were some of the very provisions he was against such as the "gag clause."

Why exactly then would Bush later (and I guess now as well) claim to have been the champion of this bill of rights? Well, in August 2000 the Associated Press reported that the Texas law, and the article did make significant mention of the fact that Bush did not sign it, was being looked upon by the American Medical Association as a model for a possible national patients' bill of rights. So it seems that Bush wanted credit for this once it was even suggested, about two years later, mind you, that a national policy might be based on it.

So let's see if I got this straight: Bush was against something that many other people were in favor of, the thing happened regardless of Bush's wishes, the thing turned out to be quite beneficial and popular, and afterward Bush claimed to have supported the idea from the very beginning despite evidence otherwise. Hmm...does that sound familiar at all? Perhaps like a certain commission you may have been hearing about...?

I hate to pull out an old chestnut, but it does seem as if Bush was in favor of a patients' bill of rights, but only after he vetoed it. It's almost as if he...oh, come on, you know what I want to say...both words begin with an "F"....

So for the last three years, Bush has been claiming that he wants to pass a national patients' bill of rights, but of course for some reason it's now Congress's fault that it's not getting done...you know, Congress, which is currently controlled by the Republicans.

Maybe, just maybe, it's really not getting done because Bush didn't want it in the first place...not for his homestate (you know, Connecticut), and not for his kingdom.

Actually, what Bush does want is Congress to pass what he calls "medical liability reform," in which there would actually be a ceiling on the amount a wronged patient could receive from their health care provider. Sheesh, some supporter of patients' rights, eh?

It's no surprise Bush defends the health community instead of the actual patients. In 2000 the entire non-pharmaceutical, non-product health industry (that is, every aspect from doctors to ambulance drivers to the guys who build defibrillators) contributed $4,182,608 to Bush's first campaign (you know, the first one he lost), more than three times it gave to any other politician. This year already, that same industry has given $8,527,909 to Bush, two-and-a-half times more than given to anyone else. That's a whopping total of $12,710,517 from the people who actually treat us (shit, over $5 million of that came from health professionals alone, as in doctors and nurses, who rank #6 on Bush's list of top contributing job sectors!). Who do you think Bush is going to care more about, someone who had the wrong lung operated on or the doctors who paid $4.1 million to help him steal the election? Geez, decisions, decisions....

His reasoning is that it's because of "frivolous lawsuits" and the like that health care is so expensive nowadays. This March CBS reported Bush saying, "For the sake of good health care, for the sake of job creation, for the sake of expanding--an expanding economy, we need medical liability reform now." Boy, any other hyperboles you want to throw in there, Junior? He also forgot to mention that God and Santa Claus would want it, too. Man, what a dildoe.

I guess that kind of reasoning works on some people. Not me. As I said, there's a very simple reason why health care costs are so high. They're all businesses, and businesses like profits. It's the American way. What, did you really think an HMO is taking you on because they sympathize with your struggle and want to help out a fellow American? Please...save that shit for the next Disney documentary on the country's spirit.

Like I said, Bush won't condemn the health insurance industry or blame the companies for their own high costs because he's received over $5 million from them. It's the same reason why he won't condemn alcohol, tobacco, or fast food...yet he will preach about who should and shouldn't marry.

Back in April, I told you how much Bush receives from the industries that right now cause the biggest health problems. Just for the sake of having up-to-the-minute figures, as of July the evil tobacco industry has given Bush $248,070 for both his 2000 and 2004 campaigns, while the fun-yet-reckless beer and wine companies have given the yokel $1,096,358 for his two campaigns. I already made this point in April, but how can a person possibly believe a president's health care promises when he's received almost $1.3 million from two industries that exist to keep us in poor health?

According to the New York Times on March 22, 2000, when specifically asked what he thought of a potential Supreme Court ruling that would have required the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco as a "harmful and addictive drug," a Bush spokeswoman said that he "had never answered that question and was not prepared to do so today." If he really cares about our health, then why wouldn't he have an opinion on this? In fact, at the same time, he wanted Congress to pass laws that barred tobacco sales to minors. As noble as a cause as that is, despite it being a tad too late, notice that Bush didn't have a problem with tobacco sales in general, just sales to minors.

I'm going to shift gears a bit now, moving from minors to seniors. Perhaps one of the biggest health care-related issues in the last few years has been prescription drug coverage under Medicare. Ever since his first losing presidential campaign, Bush had been wanting to do what many other Republicans wanted to do: reduce the government's responsibility in making sure seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare get their medication and not get screwed on the prices. The solution? Privatize Medicare and pass the savings onto you!

There's always a danger when the government decides to release a federally funded thing into the private sector. By then many citizens would have become dependent on it, and the companies that could now profit off it fully realize that. By privatizing anything, the government is suddenly creating a retail market for it.

Throughout 2000, Bush claimed that his plan to privatize Medicare drug costs would benefit all seniors, as they would supposedly receive money back from their prescriptions after a "deal" was found. Well, the trouble is that's not exactly true. In its October 11, 2000 issue, the Boston Globe needed to correct Bush on a little exchange he had with Al Gore....

Describing Bush's Medicare plan, Al said, "A married man, seventy years old, with income of $25,000 a year, under Bush's plan would not get one penny for four to five years."

Bush responded, "I cannot let this go by. Under my plan, the man gets immediate help with prescription drugs." Notice that he doesn't quote any actual numbers...sounds familiar.

The Boston Globe reported that this hypothetical man, if he did have a $25,000-per-year salary, would in fact not get immediate help because his income would have exceeded past the federal poverty level by 75 percent. Actually, he wouldn't receive any relief until his prescription bills went over $6,000 for that year.

But that was then. Let's fast-forward ahead three years to late November 2003. Bush was hoping to bulldoze through Congress a bill to privatize Medicare drug costs. He gave the Senate this several-hundred-paged bill, there called the "Prescription Drug Coverage and Medicare Improvement Act of 2003" (S.1), and then told them they must vote on it in four days. Yeah, the Senate only had just four days after receiving this monster-sized bill before they had to vote on it. I can't get through a Stephen King novella in four days!

The outline of Bush's bill was this: Starting in 2006, a senior Medicare recipient will have to pay $35 per month for the plan. After searching for and finding the best drug price, Medicare will then pay for 75 percent of the medication costs, paying no more than $2,250 per year. The problem with this whole set-up is that Medicare will only pay on average no more than $187.50 per month. When you factor in that a senior will have to pay $35 just to use this service, then in the end Medicare is only paying $152.50 per month...and I know there are many seniors who will need way more than that to cover the costs of their prescriptions. One study shows that a senior won't even receive a benefit until they've paid at least $3,600! And before 2006, the plan is to allow seniors the option to purchase a discount card that could give them anywhere between 10 to 25 percent off drug costs...like it's a frickin' Bakers Square "frequent pie eater" card or something.

So in short, a senior will have to pay a monthly subscription fee in order to get an amount back that in most cases will not result in a discount for them. It's essentially the medicine version of Columbia House's record club.

Before the November 25 vote was due, I wrote to one of my state's senators, the smarmy Republican Mike DeWine. I said, "I trust that you are not planning to vote for this bill. I say this because I know that you, as a senator of our fine state, would not quickly rush a bill to approval before meticulously reading it, going through every sentence of it with a fine-tooth comb. And since this was a very hefty bill, I know that you could not have possibly read and completely understood this whole thing in just four days' time, correct?" I then mentioned that Ohio's 1.5 million senior citizens shouldn't have their health coverage put in jeopardy just because a large bill wasn't fully understood.

Surprisingly, I did get a response back. But perhaps not surprisingly, it was just one of those "I didn't actually read your letter but here is a stock response selected by my secretary after doing a quick keyword search of your original question" form letters.

DeWiner told "me" that "I agree that Congress must protect the health of our seniors and ensure that they are not forced into poverty by the rising costs of prescription drugs [actually, I never said that, so I don't know exactly how he's agreeing with me]...Seniors can choose to remain in the traditional fee-for-service program or they can choose to receive comprehensive coverage in a new HMO or PPO plan." So the alternative Bush is offering is to force seniors to join HMOs??

Somewhere in his press release-like conclusion, DeWeiner said, "Seniors have a choice among health insurance plans and can choose the plan that is best for them. These choices and options create competition and result in better benefits and lower costs for seniors to help them meet premium and deductible costs." It should be noted that DeWine voted against adding prescription drugs to Medicare in 2000.

The major flaw in this logic is that there is absolutely no language anywhere in the bill regulating the actual drug costs themselves. A pharmaceutical company would be free to charge whatever they'd like. As I keep saying, it's all business. If you want a health industry that cares more about treating people than profits, then you're in the wrong country.

For some reason, the Senate passed this, and Bush spent the rest of November doing what I can only describe as "shifty behavior." He called members of the House of Representatives in the middle of the night to ask for their support on the House bill. I guess he thought most of them would be in a drunken stupor like he usually is late at night.

The House passed it by the narrowest of margins, and Bush signed the "Medicare Prescription Drug Modernization Act" in early December of last year, saying that "our government is finally bringing prescription drug coverage to the seniors of America." Yeah, and passing the profits along to the pharmaceutical companies.

On the day of the signing, CNN reported on two curious provisions of the act that otherwise went largely unnoticed by the press. The act will take subsidies, as in taxes forcibly taken from you and me, and give them to insurance companies so they can compete with Medicare. The hope is that seniors will join these companies' so-called managed-care plans, which are ones that prevent patients from seeing certain kinds of health specialists.

CNN also reported that the law will only allow drugs to be imported from Canada if they have already been approved by our country's FDA. Otherwise, we're screwed.

This is an important provision because prescription drugs and...well, everything else is cheaper in Canada, but recently the government has been trying to prevent people from buying their medication from the Great White North. The "official" reason is that the drugs up there haven't been approved by our FDA, so therefore they must be harmful to us...you know, because their Vicodin and Prozac is just so toxic that it's killing off Canadians one by one.

Shit, we import Canadian Pez and potato chips here without any problem, not to mention foods and products from numerous other countries with better health care, so how come drugs are suddenly a problem? How come Canadian medication has become as scarce as Cuban cigars?

The actual cost of this prescription drug plan ballooned considerably, despite Bush's pledge to not sign any law with a ten-year cost exceeding $400 billion. At the December 3 signing, it was reported that the act would only cost $396 billion (what a coincidence that it was that close, eh?). By the end of January of this year, it had jumped up to costing $534 billion. In fact, the conservative research group the Heritage Foundation estimated that the law would end up costing $625 billion!

"There's not a single discount card issued yet, and the price went up by over 30 percent," said Illinois's Democratic Representative Rahm Emanuel in the Boston Globe. "It's a total, arrogant disregard to taxpayer dollars and to seniors."

Even more troubling was the suspicion throughout Washington that the White House, particularly the Health and Human Services Department, knew all along that the costs were going to skyrocket past $400 billion. A June 2003 document by the Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services actually quoted a cost of $551 billion.

This past March it was revealed that Richard S. Foster, the aforementioned center's chief actuary, was threatened that he would lose his job if he mentioned the center's high cost estimate to any lawmaker.

The Knight Ridder newspaper conglomerate reprinted a portion of a June 26 e-mail from Foster: "This whole episode which has now gone on for three weeks has been pretty nightmarish. I'm perhaps no longer in grave danger of being fired, but there remains a strong likelihood that I will have to resign in protest of the withholding of important technical information from key policy makers for political reasons."

In light of this news, needless to say many members of Congress were pissed. According to the Washington Post, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle joined other Democrats and Republicans in demanding a second vote, as the original vote was made "under false pretenses."

This whole mess prompted the House Ways and Means Committee to investigate the matter. According to the March 31 San Jose Mercury News, Douglas Badger, a health-policy assistant, was prohibited by the White House from testifying in front of the committee about the plan's cost estimates! And in April the Associated Press reported that Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson refused to share the administration's original cost estimates, saying that...well, "Democrats have no right to review administration estimates."

What would the White House have to hide?

Despite all this controversy, Bush adamantly supports the law. At this year's State of the Union he said, "I signed this measure proudly, and any attempts to limit the choices of our seniors or to take away their prescription drug coverage under Medicare will meet my veto." So in other words, after pledging that he would not sign a bill that would be too costly, he has now decided to stand by it as is instead of calling on Congress to change it.

If Bush was really interested in our health care, then why, exactly, would he still support a law that will become a cost burden on the taxpayers, not really benefit the majority of those it's intended for, and put seniors at the mercy of HMOs and pharmaceutical companies?

I think you know by now where I'm going with this. Bush loves it when people have to buy medicine. In 2000 the pharmaceutical and health products industry, as in things a patient buys on their own, donated $499,283 to the Bush campaign. And so far, for this year's campaign, they have given Bush $844,349, over three times more than they've given anyone else. That's a concerning total of $1,343,632 from the folks we buy our pills from.

It goes much deeper than that. In April Bush named the drug company Medco to be one of the first Medicare drug card providers. Well, the Associated Press reported that a few weeks later, the company helped put up $100,000 to throw a Bush campaign fundraiser (big surprise here: Tommy Thompson was the speaker there), and in 2003 Medco paid approximately $8 million in lobbying expenses, more than any other medical-related company save Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

And in May the Washington Post did a story on the administration's bizarre new television ads about the drug plan. The spots were set up to look like news reports on your local evening news, detailing the supposed benefits of Bush's plan. Well, the problem was that these spots neglected to mention that they were in fact ads, refusing to identify themselves as paid for by the Department of Health and Human Services. The General Accounting Office concluded that since many viewers would be fooled by these ads, the administration violated two federal laws by putting these on the air! The GAO even went as far as to say that the White House's ads were nothing short of deceptive "propaganda."

Remind me again how this prescription drug plan was going to help people? I ask because all I see are seniors being taken advantage of, lies about the costs, and trickery in hopes to fool the average TV-watching American moron.

"Medicare is one of the most important contributions to seniors' health care ever enacted" (Associated Press, 3/1/00).

"Medicare is an enduring commitment of our country" (CNN, 9/5/00).

"I believe more should be done to protect today's Medicare beneficiaries and to support the Medicare system" ("Restore $21 Billion" press release, 9/5/00).

All throughout 2000 Bush kept praising the Medicare system, yet now it's clear that he's trying to do everything in his power to dismantle it. He wants Medicare to be in the hands of the corporations, not the government. He set absolutely no mandates to regulate retail pricing of prescription drugs, yet he believes that his plan will still deliver lower costs to seniors. I don't know if that's naive optimism or reckless ignorance.

In the end, until this country actually grows the balls to accept the idea of universal health care, what it all comes down to is how many people have health coverage. In June, John Kerry came under some minor fire for releasing a campaign ad in which he says that in 2002 43 million Americans didn't have health care. Kerry critics stress that 43 million Americans didn't have health insurance rather than just "health care."

Hmm, it's interesting that such a point is made, because I seem to recall Bush blurring the two himself. Gosh, it's almost like in October 2000 he said, "One thing about insurance, that's a Washington term. The question is, are people getting health care?"

So when Kerry says that 43 million Americans didn't have health care, he's using Bush's own terminology and classification, and Republicans still have a problem with his data! Geez, it's like if "Opposite Day" became a debating tactic!

This month, the Census Bureau released updated figures on the numbers of insured and uninsured Americans. Here are those numbers, according to our own government, covering Bush's entire term up to 2003 and, just for comparison, Clinton's second term....

YearTotal InsuredPercentage of
Insured
Total UninsuredPercentage of
Uninsured
1997 225,646,000 83.9 43,448,000 16.1
1998 227,462,000 83.7 44,281,000 16.3
1999 236,576,000 85.5 40,228,000 14.5
2000 239,714,000 85.8 39,804,000 14.2
2001 240,875,000 85.4 41,207,000 14.6
2002 242,360,000 84.8 43,574,000 15.2
2003 243,320,000 84.4 44,961,000 15.6

Granted with each passing year the actual number of insured people does increase, it's the percentage of the population that we need to look at. With the exception of the span between 1997 and 1998, during Clinton's second term the percentage of the population with health insurance increased steadily, almost reaching 86 percent at the end of his term (the first time in the last decade the percentage got that high)! Since Bush took office, the percentage of the population with insurance has dropped consistently, with 2003's percentage matching the alltime low in the last sixteen years.

Meanwhile, more and more people each year have gone uninsured under Bush. From 1998 to the end of Clinton's term, the number of uninsured citizens dropped by an average of 1.5 million people per year. Once Bush wormed his way in, the number has increased each year by almost the exact same margin! Likewise, in Clinton's term since 1998, the percentage of the population without insurance dropped considerably each year. In Bush's term, the percentage is climbing quickly.

Of course fewer and fewer people are getting health insurance...the prices continue to rise. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the cost of private health insurance rose 10.9 percent in 2001, then rose again by 12.9 percent in 2002, and then again by 13.9 percent last year. And because Bush is a slave to the pharmaceutical industry and has refused to regulate prescription drug costs, it's only going to get more and more costly.

But there is perhaps another, decidedly scarier reason why Bush refuses to pay any real attention to the field of medicine...Bush is the darling of the funeral services industry! In 2000 the funeral industry gave Bush $38,950, almost three times more than it gave to anyone else that year. And so far this year, the funeral companies have contributed $49,400 to his campaign, over four times more than any other politician has received. That's a disturbing total of $88,350 from the companies that benefit the most from our poor health; the companies that depend on us not getting any better.

Speaking of death, here's a chilling example of just how much more Bush considers the drug industry's interests before our own: This April, the Houston Chronicle reported on a 2003 study by the FDA to examine possible links between children taking antidepressant drugs and suicide attempts. Dr. Andrew Mosholder, a leading FDA scientist, concluded last winter that "children who took the drugs were twice as likely to be involved in serious suicide-related behavior as those who did not."

So what did the FDA do with this report? Simple. They buried it.

Yeah, really! The FDA decided to order a new study for this summer, while also forbidding Mosholder from sharing his information. In fact, this past March the FDA reported that "no conclusive scientific evidence existed on the link between antidepressants and potentially suicidal behavior by children."

That's how much the administration cares about our health. Because antidepressants were the second-highest selling class of drugs sold last year, just behind painkillers, the FDA decided to not announce a possible link to them and child suicides!

I really hope that bit of news has outraged you as much as it did me, because frankly I find that to be sickening.

Now let's look at John Kerry. I think one of the reasons I like Kerry is because he tells it like it is. He's not afraid to say something like: "The story of people struggling for health care is the story of so many Americans. But it's not the story of senators and members of Congress, because we give ourselves great health care and you get the bill. Your family's health care is just as important as any politician's in Washington, D.C. When I'm president, America will stop being the only advanced nation which fails to understand that health care is not a privilege for the wealthy, the connected, and the elected. It is a right for all Americans."

Right on!

Republicans have been bitching and moaning for months that we need to stop living in the past of the 1960s by reliving Kerry's war record...and start living in the past of the 1990s by reliving Kerry's Senate record. Okay, let's.

Kerry voted in favor of exploring new Medicare insurance premiums (6/24/97), against a ban on human cloning for medical research (2/11/98), in favor of increasing restrictions on the sale and regulation of tobacco (6/17/98), against limiting self-employed individuals from deducting their health insurance cost on their income taxes (7/13/99), in favor of allowing Medicare to cover prescription drug costs (6/22/00), in favor of allowing patients to sue HMOs with no cap on economic damages and a $5 million cap on punitive damages (6/29/01), and in favor of importing prescription drugs from Canada with minimal interference from the FDA (7/31/02).

Bush, meanwhile, wouldn't even sign his own state's patients' bill of rights. He would later let his administration's health policies be determined by a depressing total of $20,557,086 in campaign contributions from various industries.

I think it's pretty clear who is the better man when it comes to health care...the man who cares more about people than kickbacks.

Well, I gotta go. I ordered some Chinese food and the delivery boy just rang the doorbe--oh no! It's Howard Dean!

Is there another doctor in the house??

--Greg

Contribution figures according to OpenSecrets.org


Quote of the Month

"The fact that Bush wasted twenty-seven minutes that day--not only the seven minutes reading to kids but twenty more at a photo op afterward--was, in my view, the most outrageous thing a president has done since Franklin Roosevelt tried to pack the Supreme Court...Bush choked at the most important moment a president could have."
Bill Maher

Link of the Month
MoveOn PAC's Vote For Change Tour
Join the Boss, the Chicks, and the R.E.M.mers to help take back the White House!