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Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Real Problems With U.S. Health Care

With Paul Ryan now on the GOP ticket and the Medicare/health care debate now even more volatile, consider this bit of folly when pondering government’s role in health care. Recently, while on the way to church, I made my typical Sunday morning stop at a local convenience store for my usual concoction comprised of coffee and cappuccino (which costs me only 63 cents). While in line to pay, the customer in front was purchasing several packs of cigarettes.

Being 43, and having not purchased a pack of cigarettes since my teenage years, I curiously scanned the prices displayed on the rack of smokes behind the register. Amazingly (to me), I noticed several brands were nearly $7 a pack. Of course, much of the cost of a pack of cigarettes is due to high taxes along with the Tobacco Masters Settlement Agreement.

Why did U.S. states sue Big Tobacco, and how do states justify the high taxes on tobacco products? Exactly: To “recover” their tobacco-related health care costs. The Medicaid lawsuits filed by the states eventually led to a multi-billion (hundreds of billions!) dollar settlement, which is still being paid out today.

Now we have cities like New York wanting to ban large sodas and buttered popcorn, again in the name of “health care costs.” Why do individual health care issues require a government solution? The answer, of course, is because government has so immersed itself into the health care industry. Isn’t it just like Big Government to decide that it needs to “fix” a problem that it caused in the first place?!

Most of the problems with U.S. health care come down to two issues, and of course, both are the result of Big Government. First of all, almost no one knows what anything really costs. Think about it. What does a routine check-up cost you? Fifty dollars? Twenty-five dollars? Zero? How much is your insurance company billed? What does it cost to have a baby delivered? How much is an x-ray? What is the true cost of your prescriptions? Who knows?!

Don’t feel bad—it’s not just patients who are cost ignorant; the doctors are, as well. Dr. David Belk, MD, notes in “TheTrue Cost of Healthcare” that, “unlike any other business in America, almost all of the financial transactions in healthcare are hidden from the providers as well as the patients. We order tests, procedures and medications to manage our patients, but very few doctors, or other healthcare providers, have any idea how much any of those things cost.”

As an indication of the mystery surrounding health care costs in the U.S., Belk highlights medications. “Anytime you go to a store (say, a grocery store),” Belk notes, “you expect to see all of the products being sold with their prices plainly displayed. When you go to the checkout, that's the price you expect to be charged. You also expect to be able to check the price of the same or a comparable product in competing stores so you can shop around. That's how the free market works.”

Now imagine your trip to the grocery store were more like a trip to the pharmacy. As Belk points out, “Imagine what it would be like if a grocery store never displayed the price of anything. And the price you're charged might be totally different from the price the next customer is charged for the same product. In fact, suppose you couldn't even pick your own groceries. A grocery list would be handed to you by a food expert and you’d be billed based on your particular ‘grocery plan.’ Eggs might cost you $5, the next person $10 and some poor guy who doesn’t have a grocery plan would have to pay $50 for the same carton. Don't even think about shopping around.”

The first issue with health care costs is a result of the second (and Belk’s analogy brings this out): the manner in which we purchase health care differs greatly from how Americans purchase any other item. About 90% of Americans with health insurance (about 87% of all Americans) have it through a Third Party Payer system—provided by their employer or the government. In other words, by-and-large, most Americans do not directly pay for their health care. It is this Third Party Payer system that has made us so ignorant of the true cost of our health care. According to FreedomWorks.org, in 2008 the average visit to the doctor cost $199. However, the patient only paid $28 of this cost. As FreedomWorks notes, “Most of us have simply no idea how much medical procedures or regular check-ups actually cost.”

This is not how we purchase homes, automobiles, gas, groceries, entertainment, or even other forms of insurance. As usual, when our free-markets falter, look no further than our government. In 1960, Americans paid over 55% of their medical care costs out of pocket, while the government covered just over 21% of such costs. According to the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) in 2010, for the health care system as a whole, Americans pay only 12% out of pocket. For hospital care, it is only 3%, while 97% is paid by a third party.

NCPA also notes that, “Prior to the advent of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, health care spending never exceeded 6 percent of gross domestic product. Today it is 17 percent.” Yet our politicians continue to preach how they intend—through some government action—to “bring down the cost of health care.” Americans, of course, are being duped. What most politicians really mean is that they want to lower the price paid by the patient (voters).

Such politicians never reveal that these lower costs inevitably mean higher taxes (or at least more debt) on a significant portion of Americans. One doesn’t reduce the cost of health care simply by legislating who pays for it. The free markets must be allowed to work in order for health care costs really to decline.

(See this column on American Thinker.)

Copyright 2012, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Constitutional Chaos From the Left

Recently my wife’s uncle, Roger Fitzpatrick, made a run for Congress in the new 9th district in northeast Georgia. The focus of Roger’s campaign was the Constitution. (How sad that that need be the case!) As he saw it, many of the problems currently facing the U.S. are a result of an abandonment of our founding documents. We were very close to the campaign, as my wife Michelle was Roger’s unofficial campaign manager.

Though Roger lost in the primary, his effect on the race was significant. After his late entry into the race, much of the focus of the debates and forums in which the three candidates (Roger, Doug Collins, and Martha Zoller) participated centered around the Constitution.

Never has a focus on our Constitution been more necessary and appropriate. Several recent events highlight this.

First of all, there is Boston mayor Thomas Menino. Practicing his version of “tolerance” and completely ignoring the First Amendment, Menino threatened Chick-fil-A after its president Dan Cathy declared his support for traditional (biblical) marriage. The threat wasn’t personal. Menino stated that, “If they need licenses in the city, it will be very difficult—unless they open up their policies.” What’s more, Menino also penned a letter to Cathy, urging him to forego plans to open a restaurant in Boston. “There is no place for discrimination along Boston's Freedom Trail and no place for your company alongside it,” he wrote.

Not recognizing the hypocrisy and Constitutional disregard, Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel, along with a Chicago Alderman, doubled down on Menino’s threats. Alderman Proco Joe Moreno stated that due to Cathy’s comments, he would not allow Chick-fil-A to open a location in his ward. Emanuel backed up Moreno by announcing that “Chick-fil-A’s values are not Chicago values. They’re not respectful of our residents, our neighbors and our family members. And if you’re gonna be part of the Chicago community, you should reflect Chicago values.”

Completing the “tolerance trio” was San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. Lee tweeted “Closest #ChickFilA to San Francisco is 40 miles away & I strongly recommend that they not try to come any closer.”

Then there’s Senator Harry Reid. Last week, in an interview with the eagerly complicit Huffington Post, Reid claimed that about a month earlier, a Bain investor called him and told him that Romney didn’t pay any taxes for 10 years, and that was the reason behind Romney’s refusal to release further tax returns.

Reid shamelessly added that, “You guys have said his wealth is $250 million—Not a chance in the world. It's a lot more than that. I mean, you do pretty well if you don't pay taxes for 10 years when you're making millions and millions of dollars.”

A couple of days later, Reid took his accusations to the Senate floor. There he boldly declared that, “the word is out that [Romney] hasn't paid any taxes for 10 years. Let him prove that he has paid taxes, because he hasn't. We already know that from one partial tax return that he gave us, he has money hidden in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and a Swiss bank account.” In other words, the presumption of innocence and due process be damned; “Dingy Harry” put the accusation out there, and now it is up to Romney to prove it isn’t true.

Now we have another wicked maniac with a gun, killing innocent Americans. After the shootings at the Sikh temple on Sunday in Wisconsin, liberal pundit Jay Bookman of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution declared that, “the tragedy in the Wisconsin case is compounded by the fact that its victims were gathering in a place of peaceful worship, and were apparently targeted because of their faith...Hate crimes that target groups have a much longer list of victims than do acts of blind, random violence such as that in Aurora.”

Bookman concluded that, “the Wisconsin shooting should serve as a caution to those in public life who stoop to targeting religious or ethnic groups in their irresponsible rhetoric, and who by doing so validate the anger, fear and resentment that apparently motivated this tragedy.”

Of course the implication here is that the shootings in Wisconsin are more tragic than those in Colorado because the Wisconsin gunman was acting out of “hate” (another term liberals have hijacked and turned into a “snarl-word”). Also, another implication, just as Obama made after the Gabby Giffords shootings, is that we (conservatives) need to tone down our “dangerous” rhetoric.

It is this kind of thinking that led to “hate-crime” legislation, which is nothing more than criminalizing thought and speech. What a dangerous slope this places us on, because, of course, many liberals would love nothing more than to criminalize words such as those spoken by Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy.

All too often, today’s liberals are engaging in willful ignorance or blatant disregard when it comes to our founding documents. I’m not just talking about your run-of-the-mill liberal neighbor with his “Hope and Change” bumper sticker, or even prominent liberal talking heads. When we have the highest ranking democrat in Congress, and a Mayor who was formerly the U.S. President’s Chief of Staff, along with other leading liberal politicians, so blinded by their “progressive” political agenda that the U.S. Constitution is an after-thought, where are we as a nation headed?!

Yet, no matter such egregious Constitutional errors, come November at least 40% of Americans will vote for the party behind this nonsense. There’s no way around it: America needs a constitutional revival (along with a spiritual one).

Copyright 2012, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World

The Dumbest Word in the English Language

There was a significant statement made in the media recently that was probably missed by most, due to the evil events in Aurora, Colorado. Well, that, along with the fact that it was on MSNBC.

Recently liberal mouthpiece Frank Rich was on the Rachel Maddow show, and the subject was Mitt Romney and his tax returns. First, a video of Mitt’s wife Ann Romney on ABC news was shown. Mrs. Romney was defending her husband and his tax returns, noting that he is a very generous man, and that, among other things, as a couple they donate 10% of their income to their church every year.

Rich then pointed out that, “The Mormon Church was one of the single biggest bankrollers of some of the most homophobic stuff that went on in Proposition 8 (the California ballot measure that defined marriage as a union of one man and one woman) in California.”  In his best conspiratorial tone Rich next asked, “So did any of that (Romney) money go there?”

In other words, Romney and his church are homophobes because they supported traditional (biblical) marriage (along with a solid majority of Californians, along with a significant majority of Americans in 31 other states that have placed traditional marriage on a ballot).

I submit to you that there is no dumber word in the English language than “homophobe” (and its derivatives).

The word was coined by psychologist and gay activist George Weinberg in his 1972 book Society and the Healthy Homosexual. The book was published one year prior to when the American Psychiatric Association, with a vote of 5,834 to 3,810, removed  homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The word became an important tool for homosexual activists and their allies. Weinberg gave them a “medical” phobia with which to attack their opponents.

Weinberg defined the word as “the dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals,” adding “It was a fear of homosexuals which seemed to be associated with a fear of contagion, a fear of reducing the things one fought for—home and family. It was a religious fear and it had led to great brutality as fear always does.”

Merriam-Webster defines it as “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals.” One problem I have with the word is that it makes no sense etymologically. “Homo,” from the Greek, means “the same” and “phobia,” from the Greek, means “fear.” So literally, homophobia means fear of the same.

However, my greatest complaint with the term does not stem from its etymological shortcomings. The English language, like most languages, is in constant flux and is full of silly words. The biggest problem with homophobia and its variations is that they have become “snarl” words—words that, when used, are intended to induce a negative response. Such words commonly appeal to people's emotions rather than their reasoning.

That was exactly Frank Rich’s intention—to paint an extremely negative picture of the Mormon Church and of Romney, to a very friendly audience, arousing their emotions against Romney and all those who see homosexuality differently than he does. In fact, nearly every time that I have heard “homophobe” uttered, or seen it written, it has been as a snarl word.

Other words, such as “racist,” “sexist,” and so on, can be used in a similar manner. Yet most all of us have seen or heard, whether firsthand or not, real racism and sexism in practice. On the other hand, almost exclusively those labeled as “homophobe” have a biblical conviction against homosexual behavior, and nothing more. They have no “irrational fear” of homosexuals, or a “dread of being in close quarters” with them.

A friend, language expert, and fellow Christian, Dr. Danny Evans, notes that the common use of homophobe is a “completely erroneous use of the word. Most of us know that a phobia is a fear of certain things or situations. It's interesting that those who oppose homosexuality are categorized as ‘homophobic,’ especially since fear has nothing to do with the opposition to homosexuality. From a Christian viewpoint, homosexuality is not feared, but rather opposed based on the biblical explanation of it. We love people, no matter what their sexual preferences may be. It is the sin we despise.”

As I have already noted (here and last week), every state in the U.S. that has put same-sex marriage before its electorate has seen it soundly rejected (an average of 67% to 33%). Three more U.S. states have referendums on the ballot this November: Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington. No doubt that, in each of these states, homosexuals and their supporters have been, and will continue, screaming “homophobia!” in an attempt to demonize their opponents.

.As Jonah Goldberg editorialized in December of 2008, “It's often lost on gay-rights groups that they and their allies are the aggressors in the culture war. Indeed, they admit to being the ‘forces of change’ and the ‘agents of progress.’ They proudly want to rewrite tradition and overturn laws. But whenever they're challenged democratically and peaceably, they instantly complain of being victims of entrenched bigots, even as they adopt the very tactics they abhor.”

Unquestionably, one of the things homosexuals “abhor” is the name calling. If they want to make their case intelligently and peacefully, it is time for the word “homophobia” to become “anachronistic.” (Look it up.)

(See this column on American Thinker.) (See a previous version of this column here.) 

Copyright 2012, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World