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A number of you have told me that you don’t look forward to reading the column on your computer screen. That’s not necessary if you have a printer. Print out the column and take it with you to the breakfast table or wherever else you choose to read printed material. (You can also call up past columns in case you missed them.)
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March 18, 2010
Was the timing coincidental? Or was it a Bloomberg News Service effort to influence public opinion at a time of intense public focus on President Obama’s all-out push to win prompt Congressional approval of his trillion-dollar plan to make fundamental changes in America’s medical care system?
In any case, the nearly two pages of coverage in last Sunday’s World-Herald began with these prominent front-page headlines:
“A cancer patient’s wife chronicles his end-of-life treatment: seven years, six hospitals, four insurers, three oncologists, one surgeon—and a $618,616 medical bill.”
This was followed by this headline: “They clung to hope—at a great cost.”
On an inside page, in the 10th paragraph of the story, you had the first suggestion that medical insurance provided by her employers allowed the couple to fight the cancer “with a series of expensive last chances.” It wasn’t until the 75th paragraph that you learned how the current medical insurance system—which Obama wants so obsessively to change—left the husband and wife responsible for only $9,468 of a seven-year total cost which started out at $618,616 and was reduced to $254,176 “after insurers negotiated with the medical providers.”
There is, as I recall, an old saying that I’ve heard some of my lawyer friends use: “Hard cases make bad law.” I don’t know whether you would describe the case of cancer patient Terence Foley and his wife Amanda Bennett as a “hard case,” except perhaps in terms of needlessly prolonged suffering and emotional distress. But it is certainly an unusual case to be used—if that was Bloomberg News Services intent—as an indictment of the current system of financing medical care in this country.
A case in which insurance companies paid 96% of the cost of the extreme measures taken to prolong the husband’s life hardly fits the image of greedy insurance companies which Obama is currently painting.
* * *
Speaking of “hard cases making bad law,” a New York Times story recently said that in town-hall-style meetings along Obama’s campaign trail, the president spotlights stories of named individuals who have had problems receiving or continuing their medical insurance coverage (like an 6-year-old hemophiliac boy whose family nearly lost their coverage when costs of treatment approached a $1 million lifetime policy cap).
There are, of course, millions of cases every year where people do not have horror stories to report in regard to their health insurance coverage. Most of the news coverage concentrates on the “hard cases,” in keeping with the old adage that bad news gets the most attention, whether in news coverage or in conversation with friends and family.
In concentrating on exceptional “hard cases” the president pretty obviously seeks to leave the impression that they are typical of what he sees as the shortcomings of private health insurance coverage.
Incidentally, the president would have made a stronger case in his town hall speech in Grand Junction, Colorado if he had not cited a family that had “nearly lost” their private health insurance coverage.
* * *
Now about those out-of-control Toyota-made cars which take off at high speeds, terrifying their drivers and in at least one case resulting in death.
Has it occurred to any of the terrified drivers that they might slow or stop the car if they pump the brakes, turn off the ignition and put the gearshift into neutral?
That question was put recently to James Sikes, who said his Toyota Prius took off suddenly when he was driving on a California highway. Sikes said he was so busy steering the speeding vehicle that he didn’t feel he could free his right hand to turn off the ignition and put the gearshift into neutral.
The best solution, of course, is for Toyota to really and reliably fix the dangerous vehicles so they don’t speed out of control. But until that assurance can be honestly given to Toyota owners, the best advice might be simply to stop driving Toyotas or for drivers to try the brake-pumping, ignition turn-off gearshift-into-neutral solution.
* * *
My compliments to the Nebraska legislators who supported two recent legislative decisions:
--Committee approval of a two-year freeze on construction of new hospitals.
--Rejection of a proposed constitutional amendment that would have lowered the number of petition signatures required to put measures on the ballot.
Nebraskans who would make it easier to have a popular vote on any piece of legislation or any proposed constitutional amendment continue to ignore a basic principle of representative government: Too-easy access to the ballot can bog a state down—look at California—in a welter of “vote of the people” decisions which bypass the legislative process, which can produce more deliberation and less emotional, more rational policy-making.
Also ignored is the fact that in a majority of states, constitutional amendments can’t be put on the ballot by the petition process.
In neighboring Iowa, for example, a proposed constitutional amendment must have the approval of both houses of the Iowa legislature in two consecutive legislative sessions before it goes to the voters.
Requiring state approval of hospital building plans would not be breaking new statutory ground in Nebraska.
Nebraska until 1997 required that hospitals seek a “certificate of need” from state government before proceeding with construction.
Although the legislation which advanced from the Health and Human Services Committee last week is prompted by a specific controversy over construction of a second hospital in Kearney, as I see it, a “certificate of need” might well be considered as a requirement for hospital construction anywhere in the state, including certainly in the Omaha area.
Perhaps we need all the hospitals and clinics that are being built in the Omaha metropolitan area. But should there be some way for the public to be assured that such construction is not expensive duplication of facilities and benefits the public primarily, with the interests of the hospital and clinic builders secondary to that overall public interest?
* * *
Is there no price that President Obama isn’t willing to pay for helping Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gain public support to help him and them push the “ObamaCare” medical reform bill through Congress?
The president postponed his planned trip to Indonesia and Australia—the purpose of which has not yet been made clear to the public. The trip had been scheduled to coincide with the spring vacation break when his two grade-school daughters would be free to travel with the president, presumably along with his wife and his mother-in-law.
Now the family won’t be able to travel with him on his trip when he leaves March 21.
Is being president tough duty or not? Imagine having to deprive your children of a trip to Indonesia and Australia, sort of a second act to the European trip on which Obama took his family to Moscow and the Vatican.
Is it that the president doesn’t see enough of his family when he is in Washington spending his nights at the White House? Or is it that the president think it’s proper to give his family, including his children and mother-in-law, the benefits of foreign travel which would be the envy of millions of families, including those who pay the taxes to finance the president’s trips abroad?
* * *
Let’s close with a one-question quiz for sports page readers. The question: Which collegiate sport in Nebraska is given the most coverage (or over-coverage) when the coverage is compared with the popularity of the sport?
No, it’s not the Nebraska Cornhusker football team. The Huskers receive massive coverage, but there is a massive statewide interest in the Huskers.
The answer to today’s quiz is what might be called a slam-dunk—or, more appropriately, a shot into an open hockey net.
The most extensively covered collegiate sport in Nebraska in relation to its popularity is University of Nebraska at Omaha Mavericks hockey.
For just one example, before their recent trip to Big Rapids, Michigan to play a series with a team from a school named Ferris State, the Mavericks received front-page attention in The World-Herald sports section three consecutive days, including a page-dominating color picture one day.
The Mavericks lost two straight to Ferris State. It marked the fifth straight year that the Mavs ended a season by being swept out of the second round of the league playoffs.
The reporter assigned to cover Maverick hockey wrote: “For fans who make a comment about those nights when there are ‘only’ 6,000 or so people at a University of Nebraska at Omaha home game, they need to look at the attendance figure (862) on Friday” in the Ferris State arena.
Okay, let’s look at that 862 person turnout in relation to the estimated 10,200 or so population of Big Rapids, Michigan. A crowd of 862 would be the equivalent of 8% of Big Rapids population.
The UNO Mavericks play in a city with an estimated population of around 440,000. If the Mavericks drew the same proportion of their home city’s population (8%) as did the Ferris State Bulldogs for the opening of their series with the Mavericks, it would be a turn-away crowd at the Qwest Center arena in Omaha.
Even that capacious arena couldn’t hold a crowd 35,200 fans—which would be the Omaha eight-percent-of-population equivalent of the 862 persons who turned out for the Mavericks first game in Big Rapids, Michigan last week.
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