The Big Difference Between Town Halls of 2009 and Today

NEW BLOG PHOTO_edited- 3One teeny, tiny thing missing from news coverage and punditry about Republicans and the their difficulties with the First Amendment at town halls is the matter of … actual, real facts.

Every news report about GOP representatives meeting constituents — in a public place, not check-writers at swank lawn parties — makes a point of comparing this eruption to what occurred over Obamacare in 2009. And yeah, it looks about the same. Pretty angry people, packed into an auditorium shrieking at some schlub who always looks like he/she’d rather be somewhere else. Like at a swank lawn party with polite people telling him/her how much they love them.

To date though I haven’t heard anyone dare say that while one group actually knows what they’re talking about the other was operating on ginned-up hysteria over set of unknowns and laughable misinformation. Specifically with regards to Obamacare, the program exists. That is what people in my country call a “fact.” People today know what it does and what it doesn’t. When they scream at some Congressman, most of who have been ranting and voting to repeal the law outright for seven years, they are operating on a foundation of factual reality.

Not so in 2009 when the other raging horde was bellowing about “death panels” and “socialism” and, my personal favorite, “the gubmint getting in between me and my doctor”, without ever acknowledging that some gargantuan, wealthier-than-God-himself insurance company was already in between them and their doctor sucking up so much space and air no piddly “gubmint” was ever going seriously compete for their health care dollar, (if they weren’t already on Medicaid). It was (yet another) fascinating explosion of viral, know-nothing conservatism. Not, you understand, that folks who know nothing and fear everything a smarty pants black liberal thinks is a good idea don’t have the right to rant and holler, too.

Today though, the people doing the yelling actually know quite a lot. They know how Obamacare works, at least for them. They also know for an absolute fact the people they’re yelling at did nothing to set it up or get it right and everything to sabotage it … without bothering even for minute to think hard enough to devise a replacement over the course of seven long years. They also know, off topic, that Donald Trump has not released his taxes, that he has a weird fondness for Vladimir Putin, that the Russians hacked into our election system and that our immigration system is still a mess, mainly because the same guys who they’re screaming at about Obamacare, have resisted every plan to improve immigration policy too, even the one George W. Bush tossed up.

There’s also the question of who whipped each group into its respective frenzy? True, 2009 liberals saw the Koch brothers behind every red-faced, “I don’t need no damned Obamacare, I got the emergency room” ranter. As though the Kochs themselves were robo-calling Red America warning them about some heinous gubmint plan to kill granny rather than treat her bunions.

The reality of that era was the match that lit the fuse to the crowds of 2009 came from their everyday, go-to source for entertainment and information — talk radio, FoxNews and fact-free websites, this being before we used phrases like “fake news.” As is their wont, the crowds of 2009 listened to and ingested hour after hour of fact-free, rabble-rousing bullshit and then went roaring off into the night to rant about “death panels” and “socialism” at the guy/gal standing on the stage, often in the precise words as their intellectual mentors on TV and radio.

There is no qualitative comparison to what the Jason Chaffetz (that oily little bleep), Mitch McConnell and Tom Emmer are hearing today. Town hall combatants today know that killing off Obamacare completely means no more coverage for pre-existing conditions. And, big issue here, that whacking the individual mandate means you, Mr./Ms. Republican representative of “the people” then have no way to pay for everything else. (Of course let’s remember that to 30% of America The Affordable Care Act is not so bad, but Obamacare, now that is the friggin’ devil’s work).

Point being, the difference between 2017 and 2009 is a yawning chasm between empirical reality and flat-out, fact-free partisan hysteria.

I repeat: There is little-to-no comparison of the level of factual literacy in the two eruptions.

Not that anyone in the press wants to say that too loudly.



Learning To Lose With MnSure

Bunyan_woodpeckerIn case you haven’t heard, Republicans hate health insurance exchanges like MnSure. While the conservative Heritage Foundation developed the approach, conservative leaders like Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich and Orrin Hatch endorsed it, and conservative standard bearer Mitt Romney pioneered it, contemporary conservatives have come to despise it since it was adopted by President Obama.

Conservatives now prefer to allow insurance companies to compete across state lines governed by federal regulations, instead of the current system of state-by-state regulation of insurance products.  But there isn’t sufficient political support to enact the conservatives’ preferred interstate competition approach.

I feel my conservative friends’ pain, because my preferred approach also doesn’t have enough political support to become law, and I also don’t love insurance exchanges like MnSure.  I’d much rather have a single payer system — the system that delivers the best care and value in other industrialized nations — than this competitive private sector exchange model.  However, since there wasn’t sufficient political support for my first choice, my fallback preference was to authorize a “public option”—a Medicare-for-All — competing against private options to test which model is more efficient and effective.

But alas, after a long, fair and considered congressional debate, I lost on both my first and second choices.  Now I and all Americans have to accept the private competitive exchange model that prevailed in the democratic arena.

Memo to my Republican friends:  That’s how losing works in a democracy.  You have to accept the outcome of the democratic process, and move on like an adult.

While insurance exchanges like MnSure were far from my preferred option, there are things I like about them.  For the first time, they require products to be directly comparable, so that a lightly informed consumer like me can actually do apples-to-apples shopping, or silver plan-to-silver plan shopping.

That represents a significant improvement that will reshape the marketplace in a somewhat more consumer-friendly way. With private and non-profit insurers required to create directly comparable products, insurers now know that many consumers are going to buy the more affordable apple over the comparatively expensive apple.  That puts consumer demand pressure on insurers to offer the most affordable apple possible, just as airlines have constant demand pressure to offer the most affordable ticket to New York City via online marketplaces like Kayak, Orbitz and Travelocity.

Whether we’re talking about Kayak or MnSure, the widespread availability and use of the Internet makes this kind of comparison shopping possible.  Social media and advertising guru Simon Mainwaring is among those those who have written about how the Internet changes modern marketplaces:

“More than ever before, consumers have the ability to unify their voices and coalesce their buying power to influence corporate behaviors.”

So far, this type of “coalesced buying power” is showing promise.  In Minnesota’s competitive exchange, we are seeing among the lowest premium prices in the nation.  That’s a tribute to Minnesota’s non-profit health insurance companies, the state health care model that Republican Governor Arne Carlson significantly shaped and the exchange model that Republicans developed, supported and pioneered.

In life and in policy making, sometimes we don’t get our first choice, or even our second choice.   Liberals like me certainly didn’t get our first or second choice in the 2010 federal health reform debate.  But that doesn’t mean that some good can’t come from the third choice, if we’re adult enough to give it a chance, instead of working overtime to sabotage it.

So my conservative friends, on the launch day for MnSure, join me in belting out those healing Stephen Stills lyrics:  “If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.”

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured in Politics in Minnesota’s Best of the Blogs.

Visions from the Ghost of Minnesota Past: The 95,000 Minnesotans Saved By Mark Dayton

If you want a glimpse of what Minnesota would have been like if conservative gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer had defeated Mark Dayton in 2010, our neighbor to the west, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard, is showing us.  Since it’s the Christmas season, think of Daugaard as akin to Jacob Marley’s ghost from Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, introducing us to the Ghost of Minnesota Past.

To prove to his Republican base just how much he hates Obamacare, Governor Daugaard has refused to accept $11 billion in federal money to extend health care coverage to about 48,000 uninsured South Dakotans.   Daugaard is taking the same position championed by Minnesota’s former Governor Tim Pawlenty, Emmer, and Dickens’ character Ebenezeer Scrooge, who turned a blind eye to Tiny Tim’s medical plight. Continue reading

Minnesota Health System Needs Obamacare Too

On a weekly basis, Garrison Keillor reminds Minnesotans that we are above average.  But we didn’t need him to tell us that.  We’re a pretty innately smug bunch when it comes to our state.  Call it “Minnesota Exceptionalism.”

We’re especially smug about our health care system.  Therefore, some of us were not all that sure we needed Obamacare’s private health insurance mandate, which is presently the only politically feasible way of improving health insurance coverage and banning pre-existing condition restrictions.

But we do.

It is true that Minnesota is better off than the rest of the nation. Nine percent of Minnesotans lack health insurance coverage, and that’s much better than the nation as a whole, where 16% are uninsured.

We can rest assured that we aren’t suffering nearly as much as many other states, such as Texas (27% uninsured), Mississippi (24% uninsured), Louisiana (22% uninsured), Nevada (22% uninsured), and Oklahoma (22% uninsured). These GOP strongholds are suffering more at the hand of the GOP’s shameless health reform stonewalling than we are.

But let’s not delude our exceptional selves.  Minnesota needs the private insurance mandate too.   After all, using the same kind of health insurance mandate the Supreme Court just upheld, Massachusets has a much better record than Minnesota.  Under ArneCare in Minnesota, we have 9% uninsured, which is better than average.   But under ObamneyCare in Massachusetts, they have only 5% uninsured.

Moreover, we self-congratulatory Minnesotans should never forget that in the shadows of Minnesota’s overall 9% uninsured rate are pockets of much deeper health care despair. For instance, more than a quarter (27%) of low income adult Minnesotans are uninsured. That’s a little bit of Texas in our midst.

No, 9% is not good enough. That’s 463,100 of our Minnesota friends, neighbors, and coworkers who are just one metastasized cell or black ice sheet away from a mountain of medical bills, and the bankruptcy that so often goes with it.

That’s 463,100 Minnesotans delaying medical care until medical care becomes much more expensive, and often much less effective.

That’s 463,100 Minnesotans who obviously don’t stop getting hurt or ill, and therefore are forced to shift their enormous medical expenses to the rest of us, which in turn forces more of us to drop our own coverage.

That’s 463,100 Minnesotans — the population of Rochester, Duluth, St. Cloud, Eagan, Plymouth, Lino Lakes, Willmar and Ramsey, combined.

That can’t be ignored.  Minnesota needs the insurance mandate, and the rest of Obamacare too.  So thank you Heritage Foundation, Newt Gingrich, Don Nickles, Mitt Romney and, now, John Roberts for giving it to us.

– Loveland

Note:  This post also was featured as a “best of the best” on Minnpost’s Blog Cabin feature.