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Americans & Politics: Is The Bloom Off The Rose?

“There are few people who are not ashamed of their love affairs when the infatuation is over.”

– François, Duc De La Rochefoucauld

The end of an infatuation is always rather sad – we have many expressions for it, “the bloom is off the rose” comes to mind. Falling out of love is often a moment of maturity, a moment of coming out of an illusion – never wholly welcome.

We have had many decades of uncritical, wholesale adolescent-style adoration, heartbreak and hate towards our politicians. We have been capable of sustaining illusions and uncritical thought with support from a similarly dazzled media. This has been done for years on both sides of the aisle. This kind of idealism says that we have finally found the man (party) who will (choose one) solve our problems, understand us, have complete integrity, be able to function in a trustworthy and honest fashion. This idealism comforted us by putting some in black hats and some in white. The comforts of certainty, zeal and clarity, even if untrue, are hard to resist. How long we can sustain this with any one politician or party depends on the filter we have, and how much attention we are paying. This is how crushes are sustained, in romance and in politics.

There are signs on the ground that we are beginning to grow up. We are beginning to understand that the corruption, self-interest, special interests and spin exist symbiotically on both sides of the aisle. With the deeply personal debate on health care and its associated reform costs, our need for honesty and successful policy to save our country is suddenly more important to us than the comfort of bedtime stories. This is political maturity.

What are the signs of this? Take for example, the publics’ realization that our representatives have not read a bill in its entirety. This conversation did not even occur as little as ten years ago – we assumed a level of expertise by our elected officials, or we didn’t care, but somehow, and this is the point, the illusion was maintained. In retrospect, I would imagine few bills were ever read page by page – and that the fact that they are not now is nothing new. What is new is that we now care about this. What is new is that we now see that legislation has a direct impact upon us. What is new is that we realize this congressional neglect shelters corruption in the form of deals, earmarks and policy that the public would not support if there was transparency. And we now see that there is transparency not provided by a beneficent body of elected officials or trusted news sources, but rather there is transparency because of the internet. It is unprecedented that we can summon chapter and verse of any bill onto our own computer – almost in real time.

This is a game-changer.

We are now (as voters) in a position to demand that legislation (including I daresay health-care reform) occur in incremental, transparent, understandable terms that voting citizens can vet themselves. Not thousands of pages of nearly incomprehensible gobbledygook. Anything short of that has become unacceptable, in part because we are also now able to contact our representatives at a moments notice. In years to come, we will now look back and see the final lipstick-on-the-collar moment in our relationship with Congress as the ramming through of the unread, un-vetted Stimulus Package.

The bloom is off the rose. It’s time for a new kind of politics: a mature, unprecedented realism.

Politicians should dismiss the public as “not ready for this” at their own risk.

“When patterns are broken, new worlds can emerge.”

-Tuli Kupferberg

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*

Thoughts From The Official Twitter Reporter Of The Medblogger National Press Club Event

“The doctor will see you now.” I’m hoping to hear those golden words soon because I’m sitting in my primary care physician’s office on my day off from work. I’m lucky that I have a primary care physician who is still taking new patients. Did you know that a lot of primary care doctors are struggling to keep their doors open? That was just one of the issues that healthcare bloggers were talking about last week in Washington, D.C.

I was honored to receive an invitation to serve as the official Twitter Reporter for Better Health’s Putting Patients First event. The summit on healthcare reform took place last week at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. I sat under the Twitter Gallery sign (pictured above) during the conference. The experience was amazing, but I’d like to make two suggestions to the management of the National Press Club. First, please install more electric wall sockets in your building. There were no wall sockets to plug my computer into during the conference, so my battery almost went dead while I was tweeting. Next, please have Anderson Cooper onsite when I’m in the building. He’s hot.

I was happy to finally get to meet the people behind the blogs that I read everyday. I met Kim from Emergiblog, Dr. Wes, DrRich, Dr.Rob, Dr.Kevin, and Better Health contributors Dr. Alan Dappen, Valerie Tinley, NP and Dr. James Herndon. I sat in the Twitter Gallery with Kerri Morrone Sparling from Six Until Me , Dr. Edwin Leap, and Evan Falchuk from See First Blog. I also got to meet Lisa Emrich from Brass and Ivory, and Duncan Cross. I think Kim was a knockout in her new Calvin Klein suit. Note to Fox News: You need to hire Kim as one of your Sunday morning talking heads. She has a lot of good ideas about healthcare reform and she looked right at home at the National Press Club. She also comes complete with her own professional wardrobe.

Every blogger expressed their personal viewpoint about healthcare reform at the conference. The bloggers were not told what to say, and I was not told what to tweet, or what comments to make before, during, or after the conference. We came to D.C. to add our voices to the healthcare debate. No, I didn’t agree with everything that I heard during the conference. I thought a lot of the information presented by the keynote speakers was bunk. I’m in favor of a public option healthcare reform bill, and I don’t like the disinformation being spread via partisan politics about this important issue. I get infuriated when members of Congress from both sides of the aisle play partisan politics while my patients languish in a healthcare system that’s literally killing them. I’m really very frustrated, and I’m just like everyone else in this country that wants to give our politicians a good swift kick in the butt. What gives me hope is seeing good people from both sides of this debate coming together at a healthcare blogger conference in Washington, D.C. Healthcare providers truly want to put patients first.

*This blog post was originally published at Nurse Ratched's Place*

Congressman Paul Ryan’s Speech To Medical Bloggers At The National Press Club

Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI)

Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI)

*** Congressman Paul Ryan addressed the crowd at Better Health’s “Healthcare Reform: Putting Patients First” event. This is a transcript of his speech: ***

This event is a landmark in how we get discussion and debate going in the 21st century.  We are communicating with the grass roots, with medical bloggers here in this room and across the country.

Let me tell you this: I don’t want government interfering in the relationship between doctors and patients…and I don’t want insurance companies interfering either!  I want a vibrant health care market that lets patients choose the health care options that are right for them and their loved ones.  I want a free market democracy that puts patients first.  We can have this, and I’ll say something more about that in a minute.

Right now Congress is rushing through a health care overhaul that goes in the opposite direction.  It’s important to analyze the relative financial costs and benefits of these proposals, but our greater challenge is not the dollars and cents.  It goes to the issue of continuing the tradition of excellent health care that medical practitioners now provide.  It’s about the equal dignity of each human person…and the future of America as a free society.  The American character, and the principles of freedom & democracy which protect & preserve it, may be lost beyond recovery if Congress chooses the wrong path on health care reform—the path down which I believe the Obama Administration seems determined to lead our country.

Public health has always been a government priority.  Our Constitution’s Framers saw every individual as having a “right of personal security” which includes being protected against acts that may harm personal health.  This right is part of the natural right to life, and it is government’s very purpose to secure our natural rights to live, to be free, and to pursue happiness.

Now here is where believers in big government make their big mistake.  The right of each person to protection of health does not imply that government must provide health care.  The right to have food in order to live doesn’t require government to own the farms and raise the crops.  Government’s obligation is normally met by establishing the conditions for free markets to thrive.  Societies with economic freedom almost always have a growing abundance of goods and services at affordable costs for the largest number.  When free markets seem to be failing to meet this test – and I’d argue today’s health care delivery is an example – government should not supply the need itself.  It should correct its own interventions and liberate choice and competition.

We know from survey after survey that a vast majority of Americans are personally satisfied with the quality of their own health care.  The problem is really with health care delivery, which is growing too costly and leaving many people without coverage.  The proponents of government-run health care claim there are only two alternatives: either enact their plan or do nothing.  This is false. Government bureaucracy is not the answer to insurance company bureaucracy.

An authentic solution to the problem of affordability should be guided by the principles of moral and political freedom… respect doctor and patient privacy…restrain spending…and channel the energy of our free market system, not dry it up.   There is no lack of sensible alternative solutions proposed by Republicans to put patients first. Senators Coburn and Burr, and Congressman Nunes and I have offered one, called “The Patients’ Choice Act.”  It’s an example of how to eliminate government-driven market distortions that exclude many from affordable health care delivery.  More uninsured Americans can be covered by spending current dollars more wisely and efficiently than by throwing trillions more at the problem.  Our health care delivery alternatives are based on timeless American moral and political truths.

In essence, we believe that the dollars and decisions should flow through the individual patient, not from the government.  I want to see a market where providers truly compete against each other for our business as consumers and patients – not a bureaucratized system where health care providers vie for government favor as patients wait in line. Read more »

Political Victory On Healthcare Reform Trumps Careful Analysis

At, the Department of Health and Human Services publishes data on the “Health Care Status Quo.”

It reads a bit like what would happen if you took the Dartmouth Atlas of Healthcare and buried it in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary.

The front page of now has a map of the 50 states where you can click and read about the “current status of health care and the need for reform.”

(I should add that DC is included in the map, too.  But as of the time of posting the link doesn’t seem to work).

It lists a grab-bag of categories of information on each state.  But no matter what the data shows in a state, the HHS report always concludes the same thing.   Fifty times out of fifty:

[Insert state name here] families simply can’t afford the status quo and deserve better. President Obama is committed to working with Congress to pass health reform this year that reduces costs for families, businesses and government; protects people’s choice of doctors, hospitals and health plans; and assures affordable, quality health care for all Americans.

A good example are the reports for Massachusetts and Texas- two very different states with very different data.

  • 25% of Texans are uninsured, while only 2.6% of “Massachusettsans” are.
  • Overall “quality of care” in Texas is “Weak,” while in Massachusetts it is “Strong.”
  • The percentage of people with employer-based coverage in Texas dropped from 57% to 50% from 2000 to 2007, but held steady at 72% in Massachusetts
  • 20% of Texans reported not visiting a doctor due to high costs, but only 7% of Massachusetts residents did, and “this has significantly improved since 2007.”
  • Average premiums for health insurance are about 5% cheaper in Texas, even though the market is described as being less competitive than Massachusetts
  • 27% of middle income Massachusetts families spend more than 10% of their earnings on health care, compared to 17% in Texas

What’s going on?  The HHS doesn’t seem terribly interested in exploring it.  It just says it wants some kind of unspecified health care reform, this year.

I suppose this is the way the political process works.  Make the case there is a serious problem, and seek support to do something – anything – about it, now.  As Secretary Sebelius put it:  “we cannot wait to pass reform that protects what’s good about health care and fixes what’s broken.“  I don’t think anyone really knows what this means, but maybe that’s the point.

It’s a strategy for a political victory, but not for real, needed reform of our system.

*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*

Is Chris Matthews Mean?

val-chris-matthewsLast year I attended a benefit to support Alzheimer’s research. Many important political figures were in attendance, and I was able to interview Senator Mark Warner, and hobnob with Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi. I was most moved by my interview with Patty Smith – a young victim of early onset Alzheimer’s who vowed to speak out about her disease for as long as she was able to do so.

I had hoped to also get an interview with Hardball host, Chris Matthews – since his mom passed away from Alzheimer’s and he was keynoting the gala. Unfortunately, he didn’t have time for me – instead giving me his business card for follow up, noting that the email on the card had been changed and the phone number was to MSNBC’s general line (no he didn’t offer me any alternative means to contact him).

Today I decided to attend his book signing event at the National Press Club. My husband looked sideways at me, saying “Why are you going to cover Chris Matthews again? Wasn’t he mean to you before?”

“Oh, honey. I don’t think he was mean exactly. He’s a very busy celebrity and didn’t have time for an interview, that’s all.”

“Well, I thought he blew you off pretty quickly. It wasn’t polite. Mark Warner was very kind.”

I shrugged and picked up my laptop to live blog the event on Twitter (you can see it by searching #npcmatthews).

Chris said some humorous things during his talk, which I jubilantly Tweeted. Of course, I didn’t agree with some of what he said – but Tweeted it accurately. At the end of the presentation he invited all those who had purchased his book to come forward for a signing.

I waited about 20 minutes in line and finally got to the table. I introduced myself as Dr. Val – a full time blogger and volunteer at Walter Reed.

Chris said, “Oh, so you might be one of the ‘good ones.'”

I chuckled nervously.

“Make sure you say nice things about me on your blog! Tell everyone I’m nice, not mean.” He shouted loudly in front of the crowd.

As he handed me the book back I opened it to the page where he had signed, just to see what he’d written.

Amusingly it said simply:

“To Dr. Bell. Best Regards, Chris Matthews.”

So what’s your verdict? Is Chris Matthews mean?

Anyone want a book?


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