Landing the Health Care Reform Bill: It Feels Like Apollo 11 Redux

The voyage of the legislation to create a Health Care Reform Bill has all the

Sen. Harry Reid Launches Health Care Reform in U.S. Senate. Photo credit: C-Span

emotional elements of landing Apollo 11 on the Moon in July 1969.  Health Care reform has been a long, complex mission with an uncertain outcome.  Is it an overstatement to say that landing on the Moon and returning to Earth was an easier and safer endeavor than getting the Health Care Reform Bills passed, conferenced and onto the President’s desk for signature?

At this moment, it seems almost to be the case.

When Neil Armstrong took manual control of the lunar lander to find a safe spot to set down, a thousand different things could have gone wrong.  In fact, alarms were going off in the cockpit.

As the Eagle’s landing radar acquired the surface, several computer error alarms appeared. The first was a code 1202 alarm and even with their extensive training Armstrong or Aldrin were not aware of what this code meant. However, they promptly received word from CAPCOM in Houston that the alarms were not a concern. The 1202 and 1201 alarms were caused by a processing overflow in the lunar module computer. As described by Buzz Aldrin in the documentary In the Shadow of the Moon, the overflow condition was caused by his own counter-checklist choice of leaving the docking radar on during the landing process. Aldrin stated that he did so with the objective of facilitating re-docking with the CM should an abort become necessary, not realizing that it would cause the overflow condition.  Source: Wikipedia

Eagle Lunar Lander just seconds after separation, Apollo 11, July 1969, Photo: NASA

It’s one thing to read about it.  As we close this 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Landing, it really is much more satisfying to watch it.  This video is one continuous shot of approximately the final 10 minutes of the descent and landing, viewed from the right window of the LEM.  The audio is quite good, as well.  Watching it still stirs in me that sense of excitement I felt as a 16 year old kid glued to the TV set with my family.

[For a similar, but NASA produced video, click HERE.  This is the final approach, and included is an inset window that tracks the Lander’s progress crater by crater.  It provides a sense of perspective for the approach.]

Regarding the impending passage of the Senate bill and then the conference process, if you tend more toward the pessimistic side, you probably agree with Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic:

If your standard for comparison is your ideal health care reform, then of course this will be disappointing. Like every bill that’s moved through Congress, this one would leave millions uninsured even after full implementation–and leave millions with coverage facing substantial, although generally not crippling, financial burdens. It would introduce some reforms to the delivery system and, according to the official cost estimates, generate budget surpluses over time. But it’s not going to radically turn American health care into a paragon of cost efficiency.

If you tend more to the optimistic side, you probably agree with Paul Krugman of The New York Times:

Let me say that I get especially, um, annoyed at people who say that the plan isn’t really covering the uninsured, it’s just forcing them to buy insurance. That’s missing not just the community rating aspect, but even more important, it’s missing the subsidies. And we’re talking about big stuff: between Medicaid expansion and further support for families above the poverty line, we’re looking at around $200 billion a year a decade from now. Yes, a fraction of that will go to insurance industry profits. But the great bulk will go to making health care affordable.

So how anyone can call a plan to spend $200 billion a year on Americans in need a defeat for progressives is a mystery.

I wish there were a public option in there; I wish there were broader access to the exchanges; I wish the subsidies were even bigger. There’s lots of work to be done, work that may eventually culminate in a true, not simulated, single payer system. But even in this form, we’re looking at something that will make America a more just, more secure nation.

If you are a Republican or Tea Party Advocate, you are most likely hoping and praying the Health Care Reform bill will suffer the fate of the Soviet Luna 15 Lunar Lander Probe that was launched three days before Apollo 11:

Luna 15, launched only three days before the historic Apollo 11 mission to the Moon, was the third Soviet attempt to recover and bring lunar soil back to Earth. The spacecraft was capable of studying circumlunar space, the lunar gravitational field, and the chemical composition of lunar rocks… After completing 86 communications sessions and 52 orbits of the Moon at various inclinations and altitudes it began its descent. Astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin had already set foot on the Moon when Luna 15 fired its main retrorocket engine to initiate descent to the surface at 15:47 UT on 21 July 1969. Unfortunately, transmissions ceased only 4 minutes after deorbit at a calculated altitude of 3 kilometers. The spacecraft impacted the lunar surface on July 21, 1969. The spacecraft had probably crashed onto the side of a mountain.   Source: Wikipedia.

Launched 3 days before Apollo 11, the USSR's unmanned Luna 15 crashed onto the Moon's surface just hours after the Eagle had safely landed with Armstrong & Aldrin on board.

I’ll give House Minority Leader, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) the final word…

Photo courtesy Politico.com & BlueStateDigital.com

No, I think I’ll give this Tea Party protester the final word.  Just like the rest of us loyal and patriotic Amurricans, life without spell-check is worse than…oh, wait, he spelled the word right.  In high school he clearly decided to protest which sections of Mrs. Dewey’s English classes were not patriotic enough, because he was getting this way-too-liberal education paid for through public taxation.  And those unacceptable sections happened to include homonyms and writing complete sentences.  I think his pointy hat needs to be cone not a tri-corner.

A Tea Party Protester: The Epitome of the Well-Educated American. Photo: ImageShack

Quinnipiac Poll: What the Republicans Failed to Mention About Health Care Reform

A Sniffer Report: The Quinnipiac House Health Care Bill PollThe Sniffer: Always on the Job to Sniff Out Anti-Healthcare Reform Radiation

During the Senate debate on the Health Care Reform Legislation,  the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a number of Republican senators referred to a op-ed piece by David Broder, Washington Post columnist, titled, “A Budget-buster in the making.”  In his column, Mr Broder quotes from a survey poll conducted by Quinnipiac University released on November 19, 2009.  Mr Broder, focusing on just one question, states:

It read: “President Obama has pledged that health insurance reform will not add to our federal budget deficit over the next decade. Do you think that President Obama will be able to keep his promise or do you think that any health care plan that Congress passes and President Obama signs will add to the federal budget deficit?”

The answer: Less than one-fifth of the voters — 19 percent of the sample — think he will keep his word. Nine of 10 Republicans and eight of 10 independents said that whatever passes will add to the torrent of red ink. By a margin of four to three, even Democrats agreed this is likely.

That fear contributed directly to the fact that, by a 16-point margin, the majority in this poll said they oppose the legislation moving through Congress.

Hmm, is that so, Mr Broder?  Well, I just happened to read the complete news release from the researchers at Qunnipiac, including all those boring tables and numbers, and I came away with a completely different conclusion.

In Mr. Broder’s defense, he cites the opening statement of the report correctly:

Three-quarters of American voters – 74 percent – like President Barack Obama as a person, but only 47 percent like most of his policies, and voters disapprove 51 – 35 percent of the health care overhaul passed by the House of Representatives which he has endorsed, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today.

Voters disapprove 53 – 41percent of President Obama’s handling of health care.

Perhaps, though, Mr. Broder only read those two paragraphs, because just two paragraphs later is this statement:

Voters favor 57 – 35 percent giving people the option of being covered by a government- run health insurance plan, the “public option.” Independent voters approve 55 – 39 percent. The overall approval is down from 61 – 34 percent in an October 8 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University. And they oppose two proposals to modify it:

* Allowing states to opt out of the public option is a bad idea, voters say 49 – 43 percent;

* Voters also oppose 47 – 38 percent the “trigger,” where the public option kicks in only if private insurance does not cover enough people.

Mr. Broder, as well as the distinguished Senators from the Republican Caucus, conveniently forgot to mention these results.  And some others, very important others, but we’ll get to those in a moment.

How should we parse these responses?  First of all, as an experienced researcher myself, the question is not very well written.  Not because of the content; it is a perfectly legitimate question to ask.  But the setup is too complex, and it borders on being a leading question.  It also should have been split into two questions:

  1. Do you think that President Obama will be able to keep his promise,
  2. Do you think that any health care plan that Congress passes and President Obama signs will add to the federal budget deficit?

Because of the way the question is phrased, we do not know to which of the two issues the respondent is answering.  Technically, the question should have been thrown out and the results not reported.

This assessment is strengthened in light of the next set of results.  In contrast to the results of the first question, the voters show considerable support for components of the health care reform.  By a margin of 55-37 percent, voters support the public option.  They oppose letting states opt out by 49-43 percent, and they oppose the “trigger” option by 47-38 percent.

Now, I don’t know about you, but these three items are among the most important in the entire health care reform legislation.  Couldn’t one, with some degree of confidence, say that from these results the American public generally supports key elements of the bills going through Congress?

That depends.  When asked if the respondents supported the House version of the bill, the split was 51-35 percent oppose, but 14 percent gave no answer.  The strongest opposition was expressed by whites, over 55 years of age, making more than $100,000, and describing themselves as conservative, and born again Christian evangelicals.   The strongest support came from African-Americans, in the 18-34 year old age range, with incomes less than $50,000 per year, describing themselves as liberal. (No data for Black religious preference was listed.)

As for President Obama’s support of the House bill, the attitude of most Americans toward him appears not to be much affected.  The category “no difference” runs consistently in the 40-50 percent range, with the obvious exception of those who identify themselves as Republican.  Since the percent of people who look favorably upon the president for his support of the House bill averages roughly 30 percent, adding it  to those whose attitude has not changed, we can’t draw too many conclusions, because the ones claiming no difference may be overall positive or negative.

The respondents, however, contradict themselves.  The next four questions all have to do with core concepts of health care legislation: the public option, states having the authority to opt out of the federal plan, the passage of a “trigger” provision that would  activate under a set of conditions where not enough people were covered by an established date, and whether or not Congress should pass the legislation this year.  On all four items, the responses are solidly positive.

But one issue they do not contradict themselves is their opinion of the Republicans and their behavior regarding the health care reform legislation.

While this survey has bad news for the President, the news for Republicans is worse:

Voters say 45 – 36 percent, including 40 – 37 percent among independents, that Obama is better able to handle health care than congressional Republicans. In October, it was 47 – 31 percent in the President’s favor.

Voters also say 59 – 29 percent that Republicans are not making a good faith effort to work with Obama and the Democrats on health care.

As one might expect, neither Mr. Broder nor the Republicans, reading the same industry-supplied script they’ve been parroting for months, mentioned anything about this part of the survey.  In the spirit of fairness, the voters aren’t all that favorably disposed to the Democrats either, but  out of Pres. Obama (45-36% over the GOP), Democrats (36-55%) and Republicans (31-58%) , the GOP  comes out dead last.

The quest for universal health care continues, strongly braving the winds of opposition blowing at hurricane strength.  The storm may increase, but the gale will not deter us.  All storms blow themselves out.  America will have universal health care.  A new blessing of Liberty will be enshrined in the Great American Experiment.

We All Deserve Health Care

The Numbers of a Miracle: 220-215

One step closer.  Not done, but one step closer.  Plenty of  opposition still left.  The Sniffer will remain vigilant.  AHIP, PhRMA, Big Medicine, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Anti-Reform PACs and Astroturfers.  Probably not their best day.

The House of Representatives voted, 220-215, and the Affordable Health Care for America Act, H.R. 3962, passed.

Universal Health Care took its closest step to being a reality in the history of  the nation.  We stand at the threshold of being a  healthier people.  Those determined individuals who through choice or calling have dedicated their lives to being healers today were honored.  Yes, honored.  A doctor, a nurse, an aide, a therapist of any stripe, even the chaplain, administrator, clerk, or support staff.  Even those in Big Medicine who dedicate their lives to creating the best medical care possible, despite the the greed that has held them hostage.  Today they were given a new legitimacy, not in what they do, they’ve always had that.  Yes, I know there are those who take advantage of the trust they’ve been given, or reach a point of compassion fatigue where they lose their edge. And make mistakes.  But that is not the point.

Tonight we celebrate the majority, who work and work and work that the sick and injured are given the chance to have their lives back, or to be given a life for the very first time.  Tonight, in America, the healers have a new identity.  Or nearly so.  Like the subtle change from night to twilight, that just perceivable shift from sky black to the dimming of the stars, the new dawn of medical vitality is just over the horizon.

The Caregivers’ dawn is rising.  America the healthy will soon rise right along with them.

Dawn with Star Pike Pictures UK

Dawn with Star. Image Courtesy: http://www.pikepictures.co.uk/prints

Sniffer Report: AHIP Pushed the Button and…

The Sniffer

The Sniffer

e=mc2 (Excessive-influence = moola x congressional-greed squared)

America’s Health Insurance Plans pushed the button on their “nuclear option” bomb to blast health care reform into oblivion.  The safety was released, the countdown went to zero, and “click!”

This is what AHIP and Big Medicine wanted to hear:

bravo_test_s atomic mushroom cloud(Click on the photo)

Instead they heard this, from the President of the United States:

In fact, the insurance industry is rolling out the big guns and breaking open their massive war chest – to marshal their forces for one last fight to save the status quo. They’re filling the airwaves with deceptive and dishonest ads. They’re flooding Capitol Hill with lobbyists and campaign contributions. And they’re funding studies designed to mislead the American people.

It’s smoke and mirrors. It’s bogus. And it’s all too familiar. Every time we get close to passing reform, the insurance companies produce these phony studies as a prescription and say, “Take one of these, and call us in a decade.” Well, not this time. The fact is, the insurance industry is making this last-ditch effort to stop reform even as costs continue to rise and our health care dollars continue to be poured into their profits, bonuses, and administrative costs that do nothing to make us healthy – that often actually go toward figuring out how to avoid covering people. And they’re earning these profits and bonuses while enjoying a privileged exception from our anti-trust laws, a matter that Congress is rightfully reviewing.

Don’t think for one second that AHIP has conceded or surrendered.  As the bills move through the process of being reconciled, the intensity of the pressure on Congress and YOU and ME, will intensify into a political nuclear storm, the likes of which we have never seen.  The days before the final votes in the Senate and the House will be filled with a Big Medicine-financed noise that would turn an Orc to stone.

President Obama, however, did not stop there:

Last November, the American people went to the polls in historic numbers and demanded change. They wanted a change in our policies; but they also sought a change in our politics: a politics that too often has fallen prey to the lobbyists and the special interests; that has fostered division and sustained the status quo. Passing health insurance reform is a great test of this proposition. Yes, it will make a profound and positive difference in the lives of the American people. But it also now represents something more: whether or not we as a nation are capable of tackling our toughest challenges, if we can serve the national interest despite the unrelenting efforts of the special interests; if we can still do big things in America.

I repeat here what I posted on August 15, 2009:

There are times in the history of a nation, that certain reforms, regardless of the opposition, and, yes, even despite the fears of some must be overcome and guaranteed for all as part of the Common Good.  One of those times was the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery.  One of those times was the ratification of the 19th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States granting women the right to vote.  One of those times was Brown v. The Board of Education decision of the United States Supreme Court that revolutionized equality in education for all U. S. citizens.  Many more could be mentioned.

Now is the time for health care to be added to those moments of sublime national change, to join those great reforms, cast as the finest, hardest steel into our Nation of Laws as an inalienable right and an eternal Blessing of Liberty.


Sniffer Report: The Countdown to Annihilate Health Care Reform is Running

The Sniffer: Big Medicine's Atomic Radiation Detected!

The Sniffer: Big Medicine's Atomic Radiation Detected! Credit: Smith Detection, UK

Update: The Senate Finance Committee voted 14-9 today, 13 Oct, (Olympia Snowe, R-ME, was the sole Republican to vote with the Democratic majority) to pass the Health Care Reform Legislation they have been working on since January.

************

For years Big Medicine–led by America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP)–has been planning to obliterate the next attempt at health care reform.  I call it their “nuclear option.”

For the past year I’ve been sleuthing between the lines of the great media Sturm und Drang over health care reform legislation for clues to what AHIP was up to, which turned out to be far easier than I ever imagined. I assumed that they were trying to surreptitiously maneuver their anti-health reform nuclear device into position.  Only it wasn’t very surreptitious.  They were clumsy, overplayed their hand, their corporate brow becoming sweatier by the week.  So, today, AHIP released a study that was supposed to turn us all to stone.  Or something like that.  It had to be outrageously expensive to commission. Therefore the anticipated effect should have been just as extreme, reasserting their ascendancy over all things health care related.  MSNBC reported:

The study commissioned by America’s Health Insurance Plans marked a shift in strategy by the industry, which had been working for months behind the scenes to help shape health care legislation. With the Senate panel set to vote on legislation the industry fears could result in a loss of revenue, the insurers went on the attack, in dramatic fashion.

Maybe MSNBC can’t say AHIP’s plan has come apart at the seams, is in disarray, and the attack is a panic attack, but I can.  I’m writing political commentary.  AHIP should have called PhRMA and asked for a few semi’s filled with tranquilizers sent over to their headquarters.  But then AHIP would have to exercise rescission on itself for a pre-existing condition, a psychiatric anxiety disorder.  Or else, raise the rates on themselves so high for filing a claim that no one in AHIP could afford their own insurance.  To my way of thinking that leaves the Big Wigs of AHIP with the sole option of chewing on their fingernails.

Despite hundreds of millions of our health care dollars spent on lobbying and advertising by AHIP–the money we pay for the health insurance that is supposed to cover our medical costs–the wave of public sentiment, including many progressive politicians, for universal health care, a public option, and a right to medical care has grown higher and stronger.  It has begun to crest, a powerful rolling tube of determination racing toward the shore.

The strategies of Big Medicine, on the other hand, have been not at all as successful as they believed their money and influence should be.  They are angry; they are frustrated.  No one, they believe, has the right to interfere with their carefully crafted system that keeps the people at the top fabulously wealthy while the common rabble who pay them grow less and less healthy, creating desperation for medical care at any price those at the top choose to charge.  No one!  It must be stopped regardless of the consequences.

Today, instead of stunned submission, they got unbridled derision.

As reported by the Associated Press, the new report was immediately blasted for its conspicuous conspicuousness:

Questions about the technical soundness of the industry analysis by the PricewaterhouseCoopers firm was a big part of the discussion Monday. The release of the study late Sunday on the eve of the federal Columbus Day holiday had Democrats crying foul.

“The misleading and harmful claims made by the profit-driven insurance companies are politicking for corporate gain at its worst,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

You can read AHIP’s defense of the report by their spokesperson, Nancy Ignagni, who was interviewed by the News Hour’s Margaret Warner, by clicking here.  I watched the interview.  Nancy looked very grim and used lots of insurance jargon as a way to sound quite peckish and put-out with all of us mere peons who immediately recognized this report was the biggest crock of bantha poodoo since George the 43rd declared “Mission Accomplished” in, what was it, 1383.

Courtesy Getty Images

Courtesy Getty Images

Nevertheless, it is zero hour.  The anti-health care reform atomic bomb is in position.  AHIP has its finger on the button.  They will not be trifled with.  The so-called “report” (undoubtedly a work of fiction so cleverly devised it would make Dan Brown envious) is the start of the count-down clock.

Make no mistake about it.  AHIP will push that button.  Only the will of the American People, demanding from the President and the Congress no compromise on the establishment of Universal Health Care will determine whether or not the bomb goes off.

bravo_test_s atomic mushroom cloud

Amputating the Finger to Save the Ring

There are many ways to do things wrong.  A couple of weeks ago I woke up with my left hand seriously swollen.  It was a reasonably good reproduction of the hand of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Boy.  I headed to the Urgent Care Center to have it looked at.  The first thing out of the nurse’s mouth was, “We’re going to have to cut off your wedding ring.  If it cuts off the circulation anymore, you could lose your finger.”

Cutting off my wedding ring had not been part of the plan.  Although it was very tight, my ring finger didn’t hurt, and I just assumed the doctor would give me something to get rid of the swelling, my hand would return to its normal size, and I’d go my merry way.  Besides, having been married some thirty-two years, I’d guess that easily around twenty years had gone by since I’d even been able to get the ring off.

The decision actually was pretty easy to make.  Gold rings can be repaired and dead fingers can’t.  Within minutes, the nurse and her CNA were sawing away at my ring with a special device designed to cut the metal and not my finger.

Once the ring was sliced through, then came the hard part. Pulling the ring over my hyper-sized fleshy knuckle proved to be the painful part of the process.  As they say, see illustration below:

David's Swollen Hand and Ring Finger

David's Swollen Hand and Ring Finger

Within a few hours, my hand returned to its normal size and I retain a healthy ring finger.  My wedding ring can be repaired, as well.

But as I said in my lede, there are wrong ways to do things.  That happened today in the Senate Finance Committee when two different amendments for a public health plan, supported strongly by at least 65% of Americans according to recent national NYT/CBS poll, were defeated by a combination of Republicans (who have spent zillions of dollars as well as bazillions of hours trying to either wound to kill health care reform) and a group of Democrats (who, in the Senate, are referred to I think as Donkey Blue Dung Beetles).

Here’s my analogy.  The public option is the “ring finger” in the health care reform hand.  It is essential since people hands have had five fingers for a long time.  The ring finger, however, has become controlled by Big Medicine, and they have come up with this outrageous lie that their ring is soooooooo important and big, that the public plan ring finger should be amputated.  See illustration below:

Gigantic Engagement Ring. Credit: www.lovetoknow.com

Gigantic Engagement Ring. Credit: http://www.lovetoknow.com

Yep, save the ring; amputate the finger.  We won’t be able to  wear it on the hand, so we’ll just have to wear it like a crown, to remind us daily that Big Medicine is King/Queen of American Health Care.

Thanks, Max.  You’re doin’ a heckava job there making sure the American health care disaster is complete success.  Heckava job.