How the Texas Long Horns and the TCU Horned Frogs Saved Health Care Reform

I just finished watching clips from NBC’s Meet the Press, which featured Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) discussing the status of the “public option” in the health care reform debate. It wasn’t much of a debate, despite host David Gregory’s best effort to provoke something other than party-line blather from either senator.  He wasn’t having much success.

But then, seemingly out of nowhere, Sen. Schumer made a comment that snapped my attention to full alert. He compared the public plan competing against private health insurers with public and private colleges and universities.  (If you watch the clip, it comes right at 2:00 minutes.)  I had to back it up and watch it again to confirm I actually had heard him correctly.  Gregory didn’t catch it, which he should have; Sen. Hatch, if he caught the comment, either had no response, or was so close to dozing off, he just kept mumbling the same old script.  I couldn’t really tell.

Schumer’s statement was a new characterization; I hadn’t heard it before. I’m not sure he even recognized the significance of it.  But it is an intriguing way to look at the public option. And since my PhD is in Higher Education, this is something I actually know something about.

Every state in the country has private and public universities.  Take Texas, for example, where the idea of the public option is more anathema than the Long Horns losing to Oklahoma.  The University of Texas in Austin is a public university.  Texas Christian University (TCU) in Ft Worth, where I earned my Master of Divinity degree, is a private university.

Hook 'em Horns.  University of Texas Football

Hook 'em Horns. University of Texas Football

According to the prevailing dogma of Republican and Free Market devotees, the government should never be allowed to compete against free enterprise and the private market, because the government will always do it worse, waste vast amounts of money in the process and destroy competition, thereby threatening the American Way of Life.

Does the public university “system” in the country drive out the private schools by being too competitive for them to survive? They could in theory, because student tuition in the state schools is subsidized by taxpayer dollars (although that has been shrinking dramatically over the past twenty years–the states all too often are short on cash), attracting more students than the private schools. For example, UT is a lot bigger than TCU (50,000 vs 9,000!). But private colleges, which were the original American academic institutions (Harvard was founded in 1636), continue to compete and flourish, despite the apparent advantage the public schools have. The typical model for what we think of as a state college or university did not come into being until after 1862 with the passage of The Morrill Act.

TCU Frog Fountain and Campus

TCU Frog Fountain and Campus

There are a lot of reasons, but the one relevant to our discussion about health care is that federal financial aid creates portability and allows students to choose (in concept) to attend any school in the country. I have two degrees from private schools and two degrees from a public school. Why did I choose those schools? Because in each instance it offered the academic program I wanted to pursue. Federally funded financial aid guaranteed that I had a choice. That is higher education’s equivalent of a “public option.” (now this isn’t the place to argue about the issues in financial aid such as student loan debt, etc–it is beside the point for this discussion).

We come up with this formula, thanks to Sen. Schumer’s insight:

Federal F/A= Choice + Access + Desired University (public or private) + Academic Degree

So when we look at America’s higher education system, a combination of private and public institutions that arguably is the best in the world (granting it has its own imperfections and needs for reforms), which allow the schools to provide their services in a competitive but mutually beneficial market, and provides students (as consumers) a huge amount of choice, both in program and in cost, it is just plain wrong to say that “government” can’t do anything right and to assume that a public option would destroy competition in the health care market.  The success of higher education contradicts the assumption and renders it null.

We Horned Frogs are justifiably proud of our private Texas Christian University. But if I was a bettin’ man, I wouldn’t place a red-cent on a wager that a University of Texas grad, dead-set against the public plan in health care, would admit that his/her “government education” was inferior in any way, shape or form!

Therefore, applied to the Public Option, the formula becomes:

Federal Public Option= Choice + Access + Desired Coverage (public or private) + Appropriate Medical Care

Responses anyone?

TCU Horned Frog Mascot

TCU Horned Frog Mascot

Go Frogs!

Sniffer Report: Health Care Nuclear Option Radiation Detected

To my Dear Readers: Just wanted to let you know this is the first in a series of reports.

Here is my first Sniffer report in which I suggest I have detected indicators (radiation) that the opponents of health care reform are going to try to kill it.  I call it the “nuclear option,” an all out, once for all attack that will destroy any chance of true health reform being implemented, and to ensure that Universal Health Care never becomes a reality.   As I stated in my earlier post, I assumed the opponents would operate behind the scenes as they have always done.  So to provide myself a reasonable boundary against common every-day paranoia, I decided to search for evidence of what is not being revealed by sniffing for the presence of influence not being stated, which should have a distinct “odor.”  I can’t prove I’m right, of course, but I can look for the radiation being emitted as the nuclear weapon is assembled and prepared for deployment.

My exhibit “A” is this snippet from New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, posted on his blog on July 17:

Will the destructive center kill health care reform? It looks all too possible.

What’s especially galling is the hypocrisy of their claimed reason for delaying progress — concern about the fiscal burden. After all, in the past most of them have shown no concern at all for the nation’s long-term fiscal outlook.

One sign of radiation is applying a delaying tactic.  The opponents want more time to not only maneuver, but to try to sway public opinion.  In this case they are desperate because they know 72% of Americans support health care reform that includes the public option.

Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report told ABC News on July 19,

“The deadline is artificial but it does reflect a reality and the reality is the longer this drags out, the less likely that the president will get exactly what he wants and all that he wants,” Rothenberg told ABC. “Look, there’s still a very good chance that we’re going to get a health care bill either later this year or a next year bill.”

“There’s going to be some sort of reform, I think most people believe, but in terms of the dramatic program, policy changes that the president wants, the longer this lasts the less likely that something dramatic is going to truly be passed and be signed,” he added.

Rothenberg, writing in his Report on July 16 stated,

Fundamentally, Republicans believe that while the Obama White House has been politically astute in promising that people happy with their current health care plan can keep it and that any new program won’t add to the deficit or require a major tax increase, the Obama plan will result in nothing less than government takeover of health care.

And Republicans think that time is on their side, which is why the Castellanos memo insists it is crucial for Republicans to slow down what it calls “the Obama experiment with our health.”

“Even voters who support a ‘public plan’ think Obama and Congress are moving too fast, with reckless speed, risking a huge part of our economy and our health care, when they don’t know what reform would really bring,” the memo says. “If we slow this sausage-making process down, we can defeat it, and advance real reform that will actually help.”

You can read the Republican Plan (all three pages of it) and come to your own conclusion about “reform that will actually help” by clicking here.  I thought the underlining was particularly helpful. . .

CNN reported on July 16, in an article titled “Real Battle Over Health Care About to Begin,” corroborates Krugman’s assertion:

Even some Democrats are up in arms over a recently unveiled health care reform bill in the House.

A leader of the conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats told CNN on Wednesday that he and other group members may vote to block the House Democrats’ health care bill from passing a key committee if they don’t get some of the changes they want.

Asked whether the Blue Dogs on the Energy and Commerce Committee are considering voting as a group against the bill if it remains unchanged, Ross replied, “absolutely.”

“We remain opposed to the current bill, and we continue to meet several times a day to decide how we’re going to proceed and what amendments we will be offering as Blue Dogs on the committees,” said Rep. Mike Ross, D-Arkansas.

Ross said the bill unveiled Tuesday by House Democratic leaders did not address concerns he and other conservative Democrats outlined in a letter late last week to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The conservative Democrats don’t believe the legislation contains sufficient reforms to control costs in the health care system and believe additional savings can be found.

CNN goes on to report that the Soft Drink Industry is planning ads to oppose the legislation:

Special interest groups are also affected.

Beverage companies are running a TV ad opposing one congressional proposal that would pay for reform, in part, with a soft-drink tax.

“This is no time for Congress to be adding a tax to the simple pleasures we all enjoy … like juice drinks and soda,” the announcer in the TV ad says. “Taxes never made anyone healthy.”

This next item comes from the Insurance & Financial Advisor Web News.  They quote Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, from an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on June 7, 2009:

“If you think the government can’t run General Motors, why would you think they can run health care?…[A government-sponsored insurance company is] just the first step toward a national health system,” he said according to a transcript of the program. “I mean, they will absolutely use that model… to destroy all the insurance companies and get to a national health system.”

And now, an introduction to Rick Scott, who is very publicly leading the charge against any form of Government subsidized health care and health care reform.  This is from Washington Post staff writer, Dan Eggen:

The television ads that began airing last week feature horror stories from Canada and the United Kingdom: Patients who allegedly suffered long waits for surgeries, couldn’t get the drugs they needed, or had to come to the United States for treatment.

“Before government rushes to overhaul health care, listen to those who already have government-run health care,” intones Rick Scott, founder of a group called Conservatives for Patients’ Rights. “Tell Congress to listen, too.”

Scott, a multimillionaire investor and controversial former hospital chief executive, has become an unlikely and prominent leader of the opposition to health-care reform plans that Congress is expected to take up later this year. While disorganized Republicans and major health-care companies wait for President Obama and Democratic leaders to reveal the details of their plan before criticizing it, Scott is using $5 million of his own money and up to $15 million more from supporters to try to build resistance to any government-run program.

The campaign is being coordinated by CRC Public Relations, the group that masterminded the “Swift boat” attacks against 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry, and is inspired by the “Harry and Louise” ads that helped torpedo health-care reform during the Clinton administration.

In this piece, from MSNBC/Associated Press, Rick Scott’s “Swift Boat” ad is mentioned as well as two more players, Art Pope and James Miller:

The ad with Shona Holmes — who says she borrowed and saved money for a crucial operation in the United States — exemplifies how groups are intent on bending the debate toward their agendas.

Its sponsor, Patients United Now, is an offshoot of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a privately funded, Washington-based conservative group that believes in limited government and cutting taxes. Among its directors are businessman and conservative activist Art Pope and James C. Miller, a top Reagan administration official.

Slippery slope?

The group says it has spent nearly $1.8 million running the ad in Washington, D.C., and 11 states with senators on committees writing health care bills or ones seen as wavering. Patients United spokeswoman Amy Menefee says the ad is fair because giving government more control over health care would be a slippery slope toward increasing the federal role, and because some Democrats still favor government-only insurance.

Dominating the spending among opponents is Conservatives for Patients Rights, led and largely financed by Rick Scott, who was ousted as chief of the Columbia/HCA health care company during a fraud probe that ultimately saw the firm plead guilty to overbilling charges. Spokesman Brian Burgess says the group has spent over $4.5 million on TV ads that have run hundreds of times this year, mostly criticizing public health coverage.

Incidentally, The Canadian Broadcast Company (CBCnews.ca) ran this same AP story under the headline, “Canada Again Cast as Villain in U.S. Health Care Fight.

USAToday published an article, “Advertising Wars Escalate in Health Care Fight” that provides more details of the players entering the field in opposition to  reform in one respect or another:

This week’s entries have been the most pointed so far this year. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce ran a full-page ad in Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, opposing the employer mandate and public insurance plan. “Health care reform that punishes employers would be bad for the economy and jobs,” the ad warned.

The National Federation of Independent Business ran an ad in The Hill, a similar publication, and plans an Internet ad next week. “We need to make it really clear that a mandate will kill jobs,” spokeswoman Stephanie Cathcart said.

The GOP ad ran Wednesday on cable TV as ABC aired a town-hall-style meeting on health care from the White House. “When he says ‘government option,’ that means putting government bureaucrats in charge,” the ad intoned.

So far, insurers have kept their money on the sidelines. “It’s still early in the process,” says Robert Zirkelbach of America’s Health Insurance Plans. “We haven’t taken anything off the table.”

A group called Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, headed by former Columbia/HCA Healthcare executive Richard Scott, is launching a round of 30-second cable TV ads in 11 states next week. The ads target 14 senators who could help decide the fate of Obama’s public option. Scott’s group has spent more than $1 million a month since March, much of it his own money.

Last month, a group called Patients United Now joined the ad wars in opposition. It’s backed by Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group headed by political strategist Tim Phillips that claims more than 22,000 donors. One of its founders was David Koch of Koch Industries; two of its current directors are Art Pope, a North Carolina conservative activist and businessman, and James Miller, former budget director in the Reagan administration.

It’s clear a lot of people are ponying up a millions of dollars to oppose either the parts of health care reform that will affect their industry, or are in opposition to Universal Health Care.

Here is my Sniffer “Radiation Detected List” for this post:

  1. Blue Dog Democrats wanting to slow down the process or expressing “concern” over parts of the bill.  How much of that is genuine–the bills are massive documents–and how much of that is lobbying influence to give the opponents more time to prepare the Nuclear Option?
  2. The so-call advocacy groups, like Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, Patients United Now (backed by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity) are ramping up their ads to influence public opinion and have, in the “Shonna” ad,  even succeeded in really irritating the Canadians.  There appears to be LOTS of money coming from somewhere and it is likely from donors with big bucks who don’t want their identities ever revealed.
  3. Americans Against Food Taxes is not a grass roots organization, but a huge corporate consumer advocacy group encompassing virtually the entire Grocery Industry, their national associations , plus the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  To their credit, however, they list all their members on their web site.  Their combined lobbying influence is simply huge.
  4. But here’s the comment in this post that sent the Sniffer Radiation Detector into the alarm mode:

So far, insurers have kept their money on the sidelines. “It’s still early in the process,” says Robert Zirkelbach of America’s Health Insurance Plans. “We haven’t taken anything off the table.”

The words, “We haven’t taken anything off the table” sent chills up my spine and set off the Radiation Sniffer like a red alert on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.  Just what are they planning?

So what’s missing here?  Big Medicine.  And, yes, I’m aware the AMA has announced it is coming on board in support.  But should I say I’m just more than a bit skeptical about their sudden conversion.  Watch for the next post!

The Sniffer at Work.  Photo Credit: Smith Detection, Inc., U.K.

The Sniffer at Work. Photo Credit: Smith Detection, Inc., U.K.

Post Script:  Sen. Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader, was on NBC’s “Meet the Press” this morning.  The New York Times reported that he said:

Mr. McConnell declared that the United States already had the best health care in the world and did not need an approach that would have the country’s hospitals and doctors “working for the government.”

Here’s the actual quote from the Meet the Press transcript:

Let me, let me just tell you what I think, David, if I may, is flawed about the whole approach. They don’t seem to grant that we have the finest health care in the world now. We need to focus on the two problems that we have, cost and access, not sort of scrap the entire healthcare system of the United States.

Sen. McConnell–If you don’t have access to the finest health care in the world, then you don’t have the finest health care in the world, regardless of cost.