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Neil McLaughlin, Managing Editor
Neil McLaughlin, Managing Editor

No solutions here


By Neil McLaughlin
Posted: November 28, 2011 - 12:01 am ET
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  • Vendors nowadays offer their customers services that they invariably label “solutions.” The American political establishment, especially Congress, peddles solutions that are in reality, problems—huge ones.

    That became painfully evident to healthcare professionals and just about everyone else with the failure of the wildly misnamed supercommittee to reach a deficit-reduction deal. Now providers are left facing Medicare cuts, including a 27% whack to physician payments, as well as a raft of painful reductions in discretionary health spending. They and the rest of the country face another year of political bickering and fiscal uncertainty.

    What brought us to this point was the hijacking of the national agenda by a determined minority of ideological zealots. While the rest of the country thought the immediate problem was a moribund economy, our lawmakers set up a fiscal booby trap focused ostensibly on the long-term deficit problem. This is despite the fact that the government has been paying record low interest rates for borrowing. At a time when the economy needed a transfusion, the solons prescribed bleeding the patient.

    After the deficit deal collapsed, the Premier healthcare alliance issued a statement saying in part: “Rather than move toward blunt, across-the-board cuts to Medicare, Premier believes there are better solutions to controlling healthcare spending, including measures that will accelerate savings through delivery system reforms.”

    Pending a solution to the governing problems of this country, such a view is too reasonable.

  • Our politicians can escape accountability because so many Americans have the attention span of a gnat and history is their least favorite subject.

    That was brought to mind by a Nov. 17 Washington Post story on GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. The article noted that a think tank founded by Gingrich—the Center for Health Transformation—had collected at least $37 million over the past eight years from major healthcare companies and industry groups. The paper said the center, which opened in 2003, brought in dues of as much as $200,000 annually from insurers and healthcare firms, offering them access to Gingrich.

    An interesting aspect of the story was that the center had advocated for a requirement that people earning more than $50,000 a year buy health insurance or post a bond. The mandate was part of an “Insure All Americans” plan that had been posted on its website.

    Such a stance is at odds with Gingrich's current campaign declarations. He says he is “completely opposed to the Obamacare mandate on individuals.”

    The Post quoted Gingrich as characterizing his previous support for an individual mandate as a response to President Bill Clinton's health reform plan, which was more government-focused. He has since turned against the mandate.

    The former speaker is hardly alone in this regard. Lots of his colleagues seem to have forgotten, perhaps conveniently, that in the late 1980s and 1990s they backed reform schemes based on private insurance exchanges and individual mandates. That was the Republican and conservative alternative to Democratic proposals. Many big name GOP lawmakers co-sponsored such legislation, including some who are still in Congress and inveighing against “Obamacare.”

    Gingrich is a historian and retains enough memory to recall his earlier positions. Perhaps he can tutor his campaign counterparts on the history leading up to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Or maybe—if they read up on the subject—the voters can provide a solution.


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