Seeking action on Medicare

The mailing had everything needed for the shock value: a worried-looking senior citizen juxtaposed over a stack of paper stamped “DENIED.” “Worried About Government Bureaucracy Restricting Your Medicare?” it asked. If the piece of paper could listen I would tell it that I’m not even counting on having Medicare when I get to that age, but I figured this may be a fun bit of research and exploration to do. “Okay, I’ll bite,” I thought.

The mailing came to both my wife Kim and I as two separate “families” and was paid for by the American Action Network (AAN). So my first question was obvious: who is the American Action Network? According to Wikipedia, the AAN is “a nonprofit issue advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. which promotes center-right public policy. It was established in 2010 by Fred Malek and Norm Coleman as a 501(c)(4) organization.” On their behalf, the AAN argues its “primary goal is to put our center-right ideas into action by engaging the hearts and minds of the American people and spurring them into active participation in our democracy.” So the heart must be the center and the mind must be right?

In essence, it’s a group similar to one I pointed out last week, Americans for Limited Government. AAN may have fancier digs and a larger mailing list and donor base, but they are just another of the thousands of issue advocacy groups orbiting around the capital region – one that has $1.7 million to spend on sending a piece that specifically asked me to, “Tell Congressman Andy Harris to Continue His Fight to Protect Your Medicare.” Since both Kim and I are registered as Republicans, I’m thinking the list was culled to specifically target GOP voters and it wouldn’t shock me if they also narrowed this mailing to only reach those over 50 (as Kim and I both are.) According to AAN, 61 districts in 27 states were targeted for the advocacy campaign, for a total cost (with print and digital ads) of $4.8 million.

To be specific, the mailing advocated the passage of two bills: H.R. 1190, which is better known as the Protect Seniors’ Access to Medicare Act of 2015, and H.R. 5122, which doesn’t have a fancy title but is intended “To prohibit further action on the proposed rule regarding testing of Medicare part B prescription drug models.” Harris (as well as every other Republican present, and 11 Democrats) voted for the former bill last year, but it’s been bottled up in the Senate.

H.R. 1190 has two purposes: one is the termination of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (or, in the words of Sarah Palin, the “death panels”) while the other cuts billions of dollars in spending on the Prevention and Public Health Fund over the next decade. But because Barack Obama isn’t going to agree with this anyway, it’s apparent that the bill will go nowhere in the Senate (they won’t even make it past the cloture vote.)

The second bill, H.R. 5122, would eliminate spending on a proposed rule, which is 33 pages to explain that the Department of Health and Human Services wants to try a new method of payment for certain drugs administered to Medicare patients as a trial program. The overall idea is to encourage the use of lower-priced drugs, since the authors of the rule contend the providers use more expensive medications to take advantage of a flat 6 percent reimbursement rate. As an experiment, the rate would go down to 2.5% plus a flat $16 additional reimbursement. After its introduction the bill has apparently sat in a desk drawer someplace because no vote has been taken on it.

Yet AAN objects to both bills, and ”calls on seniors to advocate for two key legislative priorities: (1) H.R. 5122, to prevent the Obama Administration from changing the Medicare Part B payment policy for treatments, and (2) H.R. 1190, to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). Both bills will block bureaucrats from imposing harmful changes to Medicare that could threaten seniors’ access to care.”

So I investigated further, and found a missive Coleman wrote last month about this and other issues. Among the things Coleman said:

Despite assurances that ObamaCare would be the end all, be all, for health care reform in America, we now know that it is simply collapsing in on itself.  Insurers are fleeing the system - premiums are increasing - and recent court rulings have undermined the credibility of the financial assumptions used by liberals to justify the creation of ObamaCare.

All this is true. Yet Coleman goes on:

In the end, America doesn’t need only to reform government.

We need to reform the notion that government is the solution to our problems or the key to our future prosperity.

Again, truer words have never been spoken. But the premise of the AAN mailing is that of protecting a government program by appealing to the beneficiaries. (A subsidiary site operated by AAN and promoted on the mailing makes this clear: DontCutOurMedicare.com.) If government isn’t the solution to our problem, one would think AAN would be looking to repeal Medicare entirely (over a relatively lengthy sunset period, of course) to truly reform the notion that Americans should depend on our government for health care or feel entitled to it. At the very most, the idea of Medicare should be no more than a state-level initiative – if the people of Maryland want a lavish senior care program, let them adopt it as their own. However, those in Delaware may feel differently.

So the definition of “center-right” seems to be the same sore subject that millions of Donald Trump voters used as their excuse to vote against the “establishment.” While they have selected a deeply flawed vessel to amplify their message, it seems those frustrated voters are looking more for the “right” than the “center,” since all the center seems to be is the maintenance of a failed status quo.

On the other hand, one can argue that their objection is not about government involvement, but instead only a complaint about the originator of the idea. They don’t seem to have the same issues with the Medicare Part D program enacted under Republican President George W. Bush – which is, in some respects, similar to the pilot program H.R. 5122 seeks to defund because Part D tends to reward the usage of less expensive medication. It’s still the federal government subsidizing health care, but it was done in the name of a centrist ”compassionate conservatism” instead of the leftward ”fundamental change to America.”

To me, it’s very ironic that a group which wants to back away from the idea that our government is a solution sends out a directive to appeal to our very conservative representative to maintain a costly government entitlement program. Even more so, those who complain “don’t touch our Medicare” would be the first to object to expanding eligibility to cover those over 50 years of age, in part because it’s Hillary Clinton’s idea. (Trump seems to favor the Medicare status quo with a few tweaks, which may explain why much of the AAN target audience is his support base.)

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is figuring out where they got $4.8 million for the campaign. We have a few clues, but the backers of this group aren’t being very public about it. So if they were looking for exposure, I suppose this piece is added value to them. But I must say: the “center” of their “center-right” really comes out with this one, particularly if you consider the center as our current situation – a President pulling to the left and Congress mildly countering to the right. Then again, to AAN we are only a “democracy” anyway, so at the moment the people want largesse from the public treasury, with AAN’s large donors perhaps trying to preserve their cut of the proceeds.

While those on the Left, such as writer Igor Volsky, celebrated Medicare as a success and believe the issue is settled, I happen to think those Volsky cites who argued against the concept when it was first proposed over 50 years ago were proven correct. Volsky also quotes an exchange between then-Congressman Mike Pence and journalist Andrea Mitchell:

Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) explained his opposition to a new public health care option by arguing that Medicare spending has exceeded actuarial estimates from 1965. As Andrea Mitchell pointed out, somewhat jokingly, “I don’t know if you want to go back to Indiana and campaign against Medicare.”

Obviously those on the center-right don’t want to, so it’s going to take decades of re-education on the concepts of liberty and personal responsibility to counter the effects of the entitlement mentality society we live in today. Some may consider Medicare a success and wish it saved, but to achieve the rightsizing of government we need it’s clear Newt Gingrich was correct: Medicare does need to “wither on the vine.” Given the sheer number of insurance companies that now cater to the senior market, the problem Medicare was created to “solve” can easily be addressed by the private sector.

WCRC meeting – January 2012

It was one of those meeting where we had a featured speaker, but someone else stole the show. That’s not to show any disrespect to Cathy Keim, who ably represented Election Integrity Maryland, but a testament to the hot-button issue of the day.

With the meeting conducted by Second Vice-President Marc Kilmer in Larry Dodd’s absence, the meeting had a little bit of a different feel to it. Maybe it was the new year. Regardless, we went through the usual preludes and club business, also taking a moment to thank Ann Suthowski for her handling of the club’s Christmas Party last month before turning over the meeting to Cathy for her presentation.

She introduced her group, Election Integrity Maryland, as a nonpartisan watchdog group which was an offshoot of the True the Vote organization based in Texas.

In essence, what she had to share was startling – but not surprising. There’s no question that those who favor common sense steps like photo voter ID, proof of citizenship, tightened registration rules, the elimination of same-day registration, and a shorter early voting period are accused of fomenting disenfranchisement at best, and racism, homophobia, bigotry, and the remaining laundry list of liberal insults which normally follow once they can’t stand on the facts. And they can’t, instead trying to portray this as a “GOP war on voting.”

On the contrary, a Rasmussen Poll found 82% favor voter ID, no decrease in turnout has been reported in states requiring voter ID, and laws to safeguard against a mass registration dump on the eve of the election (in order to make it more likely fraudulent registrations are allowed) make it easier on legitimate voters to be registered.

Yet there are still rampant examples of the system being tampered with. As a recent example, in the New Hampshire primary, filmmaker James O’Keefe enlisted volunteers who entered and asked for ballots representing voters who had recently died to prove a point, carefully not representing themselves as the deceased voter. Because New Hampshire doesn’t ask for a photo ID, there was little chance a person who actually wanted to misrepresent himself as a voter couldn’t get away with it.

Cathy also outlined the Secretary of State Project, which is a 527 organization devoted to electing the chief elections official in each state where that post controls the balloting. Its biggest success was in Minnesota, where their Secretary of State (elected with backing from the SoS Project) conducted the 2008 recount that cost Republican Norm Coleman a U.S. Senate seat, given instead to Sen. Al Franken. Prior to that election, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who was elected in 2006, ended a ballot reconciliation program and refused to investigate claims of registration fraud.

Some of the more immediate goals of Election Integrity Maryland are to assure accurate voter rolls, promote an active citizenry with an interest in the voting system, conduct poll watcher training (for anyone, regardless of affiliation), and work on legislative measures which promote a clean and fair election. Along with the poll watcher training, they also seek volunteers to sift through the voter registration database and help eliminate duplicates or people registered at phony addresses. On a national level, they are also assisting with verification of signatures in the Wisconsin recall, since some have stated they signed petitions dozens of times. Election Integrity Maryland is a 501(c)(4) group so it can be involved in political activities.

All in all, Cathy put together a nice and informative presentation. But Joe Holloway rose to speak, and that’s when things got very interesting.

Joe stated up front that he “needed to see some friendly faces.” He and three other Republicans on County Council had come under withering criticism for their proper vote to hold off on building Bennett Middle School until the county was on more solid fiscal footing. Fellow County Council member Bob Culver, who was also at the meeting, said “I’ve never been spoken to like I have over this (Bennett Middle School) issue.” He had opined that we should explore the cost of remodeling the existing building instead.

Yet Holloway was clear on his intentions. “Bennett Middle School will be built,” said Joe, “but we want it done right.” However, he listened to four members of County Council and reluctantly agreed to hold a special meeting to reconsider the subject. (That meeting, held earlier today, is the subject of this update to a previous post.)

Holloway wasn’t as quick to approve the school, though, because a lot of the “new” financial information they were presented was based on a number of assumptions which he was determined to challenge.

And what impact would a new school have on county finances? Well, Holloway believed that around 80% of what we have bonded are education-related projects, and Joe also reminded us the new school would affect both the capital and operating budgets, since we pay millions in debt service annually out of the operating fund.

One questioner reminded us of the prospect of having to adopt teacher pensions at a county level, and another wondered if it was simply a tactic to have the revenue cap removed. But former County Executive candidate Joe Ollinger challenged Holloway to name a figure he could live with. Regardless of the figure, Bob Culver bluntly assessed that “we’re going to have to raise taxes.”

But Central Committee member John Palmer would have none of it. “I’m disappointed that County Council can’t move a Republican agenda,” he said. He’ll certainly be disheartened by today’s vote.

Speaking of the Central Committee, Dave Parker reminded us of the upcoming Lincoln Day Dinner, but also predicted rough times were ahead for the county. “It’s going to be worse than Martin O’Malley is telling us,” said Parker, and County Council is being “snookered” by those who would “misuse political power.”

However, Parker had some better news as he was promoting the Republican message both in a PAC-14 forum which featured Democratic Central Committee member Harry Basehart in a discussion of the differences between the two parties, and a regular point-counterpoint feature in the Daily Times leading up to the election. (I’m not the only self-promoter here.)

Mark McIver spoke on behalf of Congressman Andy Harris, who was unopposed in the primary and would use the advantage given to him by redistricting to help other GOP causes and candidates. “Andy wants to build the party,” McIver said. Mark also announced Andy had become a lifetime member of the WCRC.

A pair of relatively new faces were present as well, as Donnie Scholl and Charles Landherr stopped in to represent Dan Bongino’s campaign, which is promoting itself around the region. Bongino was a guest at our June meeting last year.

Finally, we had nominations for our 2012 slate of officers, and unless someone steps up to challenge that slate at our February 27 meeting, that group of five holdovers and two new participants will be the 2012 cadre of officers for the WCRC.

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