A quick solution for the national debt

I was just idly reading through the Wall Street Journal‘s Weekend Journal, a fine way to start a leisurely weekend morning and one of those niceties of life one cannot enjoy in front of a computer. Come on, folks, buy a newspaper for crying out loud.

In case you missed it, there are a few pages of Distinctive Properties & Estates for sale, and one of them might be just the thing for you. Skipping over the second home suggestions in the Turks and Caicos Islands ($9m and change) or New Zealand (Bay of Islands hotel, price on request) we find a comfy waterfront estate in Boca Raton, majestic views, $17,900,000, or a skier’s dream in Whitefish, MT for a mere $20m… or you might prefer urban living in the Big Apple in any of several condos with views for way under $25m.

I was particularly drawn to a shady Virginia estate overlooking the James River, where I learned to sail and to bum drinks from friendly millionaires (those were the days when a million was real money) sunning on their docks. It has garaging for 5 cars and a children’s stage on the lower level, and you can pick it up for a mere $4.8m, after which your children will no longer have to suffer with makeshift cardboard boxes for their theatricals.

Included in the 30-acre digs of a little piece of Garfield, MN heaven are a caretaker’s bungalow so you won’t have to worry about those professionally landscaped grounds going to pot, plus a couple of guesthouses for your friends who come to play midnight tennis on the lighted courts. That one’s a steal at $14.9m. Or maybe you’d be more interested in a fixer-upper in Los Angeles: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House, with separate staff quarters, can be yours for $15m and it is already “stabilized and awaiting future preservation.” Frank, whose designs were prone to have leaky roofs so caveat emptor, will surely bless you from the wherever-after of architectural geniuses.

Finally, mid-page, we learn that country superstar Alan Jackson’s pad (am I the only person who isn’t familiar with Alan’s oevre?) in Franklin, TN, is available for the first person to come up with $38m, and it has a bunch of rolling acres and a lot of two-story porches all of which “allude to the grand Southern plantations of years past.”

So here’s the deal. At the risk of being labeled a commie pinko redistribution of wealth fink, I am suggesting that we start a campaign of charitable giving to the national debt. It strikes me none of these prospective buyers and sellers (the above are only the tip of the golden iceberg) could possibly miss a couple million.  They would be honored at a grand ball, no crashers allowed, at the White House, possibly receiving a copy of Going Rogue, unless some Obama fan snuck in and wanted to choose Dreams From My Father. The point is, they would get a whole lot of honor and acclaim, and if a few thousand of these folks — even if it took two grand balls — each enlisted a hundred or so of their closest billionaire friends we could pay off the national debt and throw the leftovers into funding universal health care.

Since I am NOT a commie pinko anti-capitalist scum, I am only recommending this as a one-time event. You don’t pony up, you don’t get another chance at fame and feel-good glory. Then we all go back to our CA Prop-13-protected homes or our suburban underwater mortgages and life goes on.

Could anyone possibly argue with that?

Healthcare: Could We Get A Moral Commitment?

Is there a simple way to get universal healthcare in this country? In a word, yes. Or rather, in two words: moral commitment. If we were to make a moral commitment to what is, after all, only the fair, humane, equitable thing to do, author/reporter T. R. Reid told an audience at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club today, there would be no problem.

Reid, a reporter for the Washington Post, documentary film maker and NPR commentator, was in town to promote his new book, “The Healing of America: A Global Quest for a Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care .” In it he tells the story of his journey around the world in the company of a painful shoulder, consultations about which were his introduction to personal encounters with health care systems of every sort. He also met with government representatives and policy makers across several continents.  It is an informative and highly readable (no pun intended, that’s just an appropriate adjective) book.

Reid outlined the four primary models of health care currently in existence on our small planet, each with different versions of who pays and who provides. In Britain’s socialized medicine model, health care is the government’s job and it does both. A “mirror image” of this plan is that put into place in Germany shortly after the country was established in the late 18th century, a “National Health System” in which the providers — doctors, clinics, etc. — are private but the payer — government — is public. Workers are covered through their employers. One advantage to both, Reid points out, is that everyone buys into preventive care. He told of British ads asking passersby if their feet hurt, and urging them to visit a podiatrist right away if so; “It’s free.” Or commercials featuring a coughing “Mum” and giving a phone number to call so a nurse may visit. “It’s free.” Each is aimed at diagnosing other illnesses early, and/or preventing the spread of disease.

The Canadian Medicare (that’s where Lyndon Johnson got the name for our elder care) system now copied by Australia, Taiwan and others would have had Reid waiting an long as a year for consultation and treatment of his shoulder. Although he proclaimed his pain to be a very present issue, it was not seen as an urgent need to the primary care doctor he consulted. It is this often extensive wait for non-urgent care that is most criticized (especially by Americans) about the Canadian system. But Reid got a Canadian answer to that. “We Canadians,” he was told, “don’t mind waiting, as long as rich Canadians have to wait as long as poor Canadians.”

The fourth model cited is the out-of-pocket model, which Reid illustrated with a story of climbing a mountain in Nepal to seek shoulder relief. At the top of the mountain, in an extremely simple one-room building with its four walls painted in four different colors, the doctor explained his payment was generally in whatever the patient could afford. Someone relatively well off might pay in funds, others in whatever they had. Many of the patients could pay only by painting the facility, the doctor said; they seldom had the same color of paint, and thus the many-hued room.

“We have them all,” Reid told a hushed audience: Native Americans and veterans have the British/NHS; over-65, the Canadian Medicare; working people, Germany’s system. But 40+ million Americans have medical care equivalent to Afghanistan or Angola, and tens of thousands of Americans die every year because they cannot afford medical care.

One audience member called Reid on that issue, saying hospitals were required to treat people who came to them, but he was not backing down. True, he replied, if someone is actively dying or about to give birth, hospitals cannot turn him or her away. But for cases (such as one cited at the beginning of The Healing of America) of lupus, or diabetes, or in countless other instances, the inability to pay for necessary care causes ongoing pain and death for thousands.

Other audience questions raised the illegal immigrant issue. In most countries, it simply would not be an issue, he said. Citing Britain as an example, he said “you get (care) whether you’re a citizen or not.” Reid also said the public option is a non-issue elsewhere, because “you don’t need it.” And he threw in another few illustrations that argue for reform: In Britain, you have to cover everyone, you have to pay every claim, and you have to pay every claim fast. In Switzerland, if a claim is not paid within five days, the next month’s premium is free. In Germany you have a choice of well over 100 insurance companies; if you don’t like one, you simply switch to another.

Having set out to answer the question of how other countries provide health care for all of their citizens, Reid said he then turned to the why. Why every other wealthy, industrialized, developed country in the world has universal coverage and the U.S. does not. Others have it, he said, because “they think it’s fairer, equitable, humane, just — and these are moral issues. Health care reflects a country’s moral values.”

It was clear that Reid, like most in his audience, sees the U.S. as having moral values. “If we had the political will,” he commented, “other countries could show us the way.”

But the author was pessimistic about the possibility of universal care coming out of the current reform efforts. Asked how it might somehow come to the U.S., he said it could well be the way Canada’s plan came about; “we might get it state by state.” The Californians listening might have taken heart. Twice that state has passed single payer plans, only to have them vetoed by their governor. Reid suggested that other states might also be ready to implement statewide health coverage.

As to his painful shoulder, its current status was not given. Presumably, it will be necessary to read the book to find out.

Pelosi Reaffirms Public Option, Insurance Reform; Healthcare "A Moral Imperative"

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, addressing a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Health Summit in San Francisco this morning about Obama’s health reform, stressed elements of the three House bills that might seem palatable to her audience: cost containment, IT design and integration with existing systems to create universal access to care. But she did not back down on a few other consistent statements such as the assertion that no bill will pass the House without a public option.

“We will invest in medical research and technology,” Pelosi said; and will incorporate elements such as electronic medical records for individuals to speed care.

It was clear there were mixed levels of support for reform in her audience. California Pacific Medical Center CEO Warren Browner MD, MPH drew muted chuckles and no boos with a throw-away comment that President Obama had “spent more time on choosing a dog” than on crafting a health policy. CPMC, a Sutter Health Affiliate, was presenting sponsor of the event.

Speaker Pelosi, though, hammered away at the primary intentions of reform: “improve quality, expand coverage and contain costs” while providing universal access to quality healthcare. “We will,” she said, focus on “quality, not quantity; wellness of the person not utilization (of facilities and technologies); value, not volume; and a commitment to prevention and wellness.”

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom addressed the gathering earlier, touting the success of his “Healthy San Francisco” universal coverage program now in its second year. An independent Kaiser Family Foundation poll recently showed Healthy San Francisco to have a 94% approval record, prompting City/County Department of Public Health Director Mitch Katz, MD to ask when any program of any sort had ever gotten a 94% approval record. Citing the need for protection of such elements as in-home services in an aging population, Newsom said the program’s success was attributable largely to partnerships with local hospitals, clinics and medical facilities (CPMC is one), specifically singling out Kaiser Permanente, which signed on in July. The program does not offer a national model, Newsom said, but has many elements a national plan could adopt. Healthy San Francisco includes things that might not get into a national bill but are favorites with wellness proponents: community organic gardens, city-funded salad bars in schools and an ad featuring a soda-equipped young boy admitting to “a drinking problem.” Another key to the program’s success, Newsom said, is its ultra-simple one-page enrollment form.

Pelosi insisted that the final bill will include “insurance reform: no refusal based on pre-existing conditions, no co-pay for prevention, no cut-offs.”

And the major themes were reiterated: “As President Obama has said, universal healthcare is a moral imperative,” she said; “we are the only country in the developed world without it. I say to those who would have us do a little bit, and another little bit, and another little bit — Lyndon Johnson settled for half a loaf; this is the other half of the loaf.”