Not Owning Up to the Ownership Society

Health Care

Tony Snow is, by all accounts, a likable guy who is gravely ill, and I have no personal animosity toward him. But what Daniel Gross writes about him in Slate is aggravating.

Snow has also been a chief spokesman for the Bush administration’s domestic agenda, forced to argue continually that the typical American is doing just fine, and bravely pushing the unpopular elements of Bush’s vaunted “ownership society”: privatizing social security, eliminating defined-benefit pensions in favor of 401(k)s; and replacing insurance with health savings accounts, high-deductible policies, and other consumer-driven health-care initiatives.

And yet Snow’s own life in many ways symbolizes the downside of the ownership society—and suggests how much a government role in health and retirement benefits is necessary.

For one thing, Snow never bothered to establish a 401k account, and he gets no pension from Fox News. He’ll get a pension through AFTRA (a union) and Social Security, and whatever he might have squirreled away to live on after retirement. And the “squirreled away” part can’t be much.

Snow admitted to feeling pinched on his salary of $168,000, which is about 3.5 times the median U.S. income. “We took out a loan when I came to the White House, and that loan is now gone,” he said. “So I’m going to have to pay the bills.”

And then there’s his cancer treatment. He’s getting regular CAT scans and MRIs and chemotherapy. Daniel Gross writes,

But such treatment is enormously expensive and only available to people who have good insurance—like the kind taxpayers fund for public employees such as Snow. If Snow had owned his own benefits, or approached health care as a consumer, as the administration wants people to do, he’d certainly be singing a different tune. Had Snow stashed a few thousand dollars in a health savings account, which is one of the administration’s chief proposals to reduce the rising number of the uninsured, he likely wouldn’t have enough cash to afford chemotherapy. According to the Census Bureau, there were 47 million Americans without insurance in 2006, up from 41.2 million in 2001, when Bush entered office. Were any of them to be afflicted with cancer as Snow has been, they’d be largely out of luck—unable to pay the bills for all those scans and chemo doses, and unable to find an insurer willing to cover such a pre-existing condition.

One wonders if this ever flickers through Tony Snow’s mind.

Of course, when it comes to health care, Republicans generally seem a tad out of the loop. Today’s Wall Street Journal has an editorial that begins this way (emphasis added):

As Congress returns, so does the health-care debate, including an important intramural squabble among Republicans. To wit, what is the better way to move to an individual based insurance system — via a tax credit, or a tax deduction?

That’s the extent of the Republican debate?

We think the tax deduction has the better argument, especially as a matter of tax policy. Tax credit proponents tout their reform as “budget neutral,” meaning that it neither raises nor lowers overall federal revenues. But that masks the enormous shift in the tax burden that it would require, including a big tax increase on large portions of the middle class.

Congress’s Joint Tax Committee has estimated that, among families earning adjusted gross income of $75,000 a year, more would lose more tax benefits than they’d gain under the tax credit by 2009. By 2018, some 60.7 million filers — or two-thirds of today’s taxpayers — would face a net tax increase. Most of those happen to be Republican voters.

Meanwhile, the “refundable” tax credit would require some $800 billion over 10 years in new health-care spending for those who don’t pay any income taxes. In other words, a “universal” tax credit would mean a major redistribution of wealth from middle- and upper-middle-income families to subsidize health care for lower earners. Once embedded in the tax code, this would become a new “entitlement” that would be nearly impossible to repeal.

The horror.

WSJ doesn’t like the tax credit idea because, as it’s currently being proposed, the credit would go even to people who pay no income taxes at all. And this would amoun to “a government handout to buy individual insurance.”

The real argument for the tax credit idea is political — namely, that it can be called “universal” and thus claim to cover all Americans the way a government-run system would. Senators DeMint and Coburn believe this is a better strategy to counter HillaryCare and its variations. But we think they’re selling short the appeal of the deduction to most tax-paying voters.

HillaryCare = all non-rightie health care reform proposals, whether they even remotely resemble the former First Lady’s 1993 plan or not.

The Treasury Department estimates the Bush proposal would add at least five million Americans to the ranks of the insured, and that’s before the tax change led to a far more robust and affordable individual insurance market than we have currently.

Ooo, five million. That only leaves us, what? 42 million to go? And will the “more robust” individual insurance market sell insurance to people who can’t get it now because they have pre-existing conditions?

Here’s another article about “innovative” health care proposals, from Forbes, which include such breakthrough ideas as “greater transparency.” It’s all band-aids, in other words. Here’s the best part:

Duke Law School professor Clark C. Havighurst, believes that consumers are given the choice “between a Lexus, Mercedes or BMW” in health coverage. “You don’t have the choice of buying coverage that isn’t outlandishly expensive,” giving people an incentive to find lower cost health plans. “The old managed competition idea from the Clinton years is still a pretty good one,” he says.

Do these people live on the same planet we do, I wonder?

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  1. moonbat  •  Sep 5, 2007 @6:36 am

    One wonders if this ever flickers through Tony Snow’s mind.

    You provided the answer in your previous post about Bush:

    I’m sure many of them are not consciously aware of their own contradictions. They’ve poured their lives into building and defending the box they live in, and now the defense is just reflex. It feels right to them, of course, so it must be right. They can’t see how nonsensical they are.

    I can’t even imagine the contortions, blindspots, hypocrisies and tiny boxes a PR flack like Snow must live with.

    It’s easy to lampoon the Republicans as narrow minded ninnies when it comes to health care, but the Democrats aren’t much better. They lack the courage to confront the Republicans in any meaningful way. To my knowledge, only Dennis Kucinich has come out unabashedly for single payer.

  2. Donna  •  Sep 5, 2007 @6:51 am

    As long as the profit-making insurance industry is the middleman in health care, all of these plans legislate that tax dollars subsidize that insurance industry.

    For a perspective, consider what it would mean to suddenly legislate that the insurance industry be the middleman in our funding mechanisms for national roads and bridges infrastructure.

  3. erinyes  •  Sep 5, 2007 @7:56 am

    My wife got a nasty cut on her foot recently.I took her to our local emergency room where she got treatment by a nurse practioner. The wound required 18 stiches, she never saw a doctor. Since she is extremely hard-headed, she, against my better judgement and pleading, returned to work the next day.
    Her wound is now infected, and she will miss at least one week of work while recuperating.
    The bill from the emergency room arrived. The cost of having a nurse practioner stitch up her cut is $1,400.00. Luckily, we will only have to pay a $100.00 deductible.
    She went to her primary doctor yesterday for a follow-up.The doctor was from another country. She asked my wife if she was attended to by a surgeon. The answer was no. The doctor remarked that in her country, a surgeon would have been involved.
    Last year, one of our cats ate a bunch of wire. We took kitty to the vet, after 3 visits and a nearly dead cat, I asked the vet to x-ray the poor critter. The vet found the wire, opened up the cat and removed the wire. the cost was $1,000.00. I like the cat, but if she eats more wire, she is on her own.
    Don’t even get me started on dentistry. Our dental plan sucks.
    Being that we are both in our early 50’s, the dental work we got in years past is failing. She had 3 root canals last year at $800.00 a pop. She has a tooth that is bugging her now, and I have one myself.Most likely root canals again.
    Things like root canals, major car repairs, etc., tend to go on the visa card where thay stay until they have been at least partially payed off.
    I wish I made the money Tony Snow makes.
    There is no way I could stand in front of the whole world like he does and lie with a straight face, not for all the money in the treasury.
    It’s really “interesting” that we can find 10 billion per month to fight an unnecessary war, but cannot fund universal health care.
    It is also strange that higher education is getting so expensive that is will soon be out of reach for many. Without an educated healthy population we might as well kiss our standing in the world good-bye.

  4. Bonnie  •  Sep 5, 2007 @11:46 am

    I work for the Federal Government and have the health care as a result. However, all Feds are not equal. Every year we get to choose from about 20 or 30 different plans. If we are happy with what we have, we keep it. If not, we change. I am a GS-8, which is a low grade; thus, in reality my choices are smaller because I cannot afford many of the plans. For most of my career, I have had Kaiser Permanente. They are good if you don’t have a chronic health problem as I have or if you don’t have cancer. I have a friend who died of liver cancer because Kaiser didn’t diagnose it soon enough. Right now, I have two very bad knees; but, Kaiser doesn’t do knee surgery on fat ladies. While I am overweight, this has occurred mostly during the time that my knees became a problem in 2000, I ask my doctor how they expect me to lose weight when every step I take is so very painful. Also, I just spent the last four months with a bone spur in my right foot. Kaiser has only provided me with pain meds. Additionally, I am not totally sedentary as I do deep water running three times a week. This is the only thing that keeps me walking. Since I am in my last year before I retire, I plan to leave Kaiser in order to find a knee doctor who will want to see me walk again without pain. Yes, what I have is better than people who do not have any health insurance; but, I just wanted to show that even all Federal employees do not get the kind of health care that Tony Snow has.

  5. Virginia  •  Sep 5, 2007 @1:17 pm

    Bonnie – Open season is coming up in November. You should do some research and see if there is a better option for you. You might be better off in a fee-for-service plan like APWU low option, which costs less than Kaiser.

    Look at the OPM.GOV website or get the guide published by Washington Consumer Checkbook magazine.

  6. Bonnie  •  Sep 5, 2007 @6:19 pm

    Thanks, Virginia; but, I have been through 30 open seasons. I spend a lot of time looking at all options and it wears me out. This will be my last open season and I will be looking for whatever I plan to carry over into my retirement in spring of 2008. It definitely won’t be Kaiser.

  7. Kevin Hayden  •  Sep 6, 2007 @3:36 am

    I’m waiting for Snow to be hospitalized in an ICU with his cancer. Then I’ll go in with a lawyer and demand to know if it’s legal to jaywalk on a red light.

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