Tag Archives: Parker Griffith

Fake Medicaid or No Medicaid? Don’t Buy It

Governor Bentley has persisted in failing to offer hope for the uninsured poor in Alabama, through a Medicaid Expansion or otherwise. Behind the scenes, various insiders are passing rumors not to worry—he really will do it… after the primary. Or after the general election. If the rumors are true, the plan is to apply for a “private option” style Medicaid waiver similar to programs in Arkansas and a handful of other states, and he is making people wait for his personal political interests, without regard to their present needs. If the rumors are not true, one can imagine he might benefit from public perception that he is simultaneously accepting and declining the Expansion.

One of the candidates in the Democratic Primary, Parker Griffith, got supporters by promising to expand Medicaid. Now he has revealed his grand idea: private option Medicaid, the same type of program Governor Bentley is/is not planning.

Except it isn’t such a grand idea.

Private option Medicaid is Fake Medicaid. One writer called it “Conservatives’ Awful New Medicaid Ploy”—and it isn’t even conservative. It is just a way to siphon off federal and eventually state money into private pockets, away from providing needed healthcare. Instead of simply directly adding people to the existing state Medicaid program, to be funded mostly by federal money and with generally about 3% overhead, it uses those funds to purchase private insurance at significantly higher overhead and for profit. It’s a skillful bit of flim-flammery to convince conservatives that this is anything but a scam and liberals that it is the only choice—fake Medicaid or none.

These “new” – what scam is ever really new?—programs don’t just eat up healthcare funds.  They have to limit health services to turn a profit. How?

By charging people with no money premiums and/or co-pays, so they will be discouraged from applying at all or seeking care if they do. You may think $35 a month for a household premium isn’t much—if you do, you aren’t likely poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. Even $3 can mean the difference between filling a prescription and skipping it.

By adding “wellness programs” of no proven cost-savings, an additional time charge for workers without sick leave. See page xix of a large analysis on workplace wellness programs by Rand: “[w]e estimate the average annual difference to be $157, but the change is not statistically significant.” This doesn’t mean $157 isn’t significant—it means the $157 “difference” is most likely due to chance instead of a difference and could just as easily be a $157 loss.

By charging a fine for coming to the ER for a non-emergency, instead of making sure all patients have 24-7 access to primary care and developing better ways to triage and redirect patients to appropriate settings. By charging $50 for the crime of being sick enough to be admitted to the hospital.

Already, just a few months in, Arkansas is finding out how much this fake Medicaid is going to cost them.  Are we really looking to follow their footsteps? If you haven’t read Confessions of an Economic Hitman, I highly recommend it. I suspect we are currently the target of the same strategy used to bring developing countries into debt, except this time it is on our own soil.

Both Bentley and Griffith were practicing doctors. I find it hard to believe they are completely unaware of the harm a private option Medicaid could do to patients and our state’s economy. Even so, it may be worth your time to tell them.

For those who have decided the fake option is better than nothing, it might not be so. Once people get their Medicaid cards, they will no longer be able to visit free clinics, get charity care, or apply for patient assistance programs for medicines. I am not sure how to predict whether on balance more people will be better off. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that a good many people will be actively harmed. Sometimes a false front for a good thing is actually far worse than nothing.

Fortunately, there is no reason to believe the choice is between fake Medicaid and nothing. We have more options. We can support candidates who are supporting the real Medicaid Expansion. Democrats could consider taking a look at Kevin Bass in the primary. Those who are determined to support Griffith could put pressure on him to drop the fake Medicaid idea. Republicans could put Bentley on the spot, and decide not to support someone who is/is not doing—hasn’t done— anything specific to address un-insurance and its economic damage to hospitals around the state. You can speak up against wasting funds in a fake program.

In that same vein, there’s no real reason we need to keep putting ourselves in the position of choosing between only two parties, between private insurance and nothing, or between all manner of pretend reforms and nothing. Some of you reading this are donating substantial sums or time to a lose-lose game. Are you getting what you’ve paid for?


Filed under Alabama Politics, Bad solutions for the uninsured, Medicaid

Parker Griffith’s Selective Memory

Just got back from a day at the annual MASA (Medical Association of the State of Alabama) meeting in Huntsville.  I’ll have more overall impressions later, but I had to post this before going to sleep tonight, while it is still fresh in my memory (you’ll see why in a minute).

The last session before dinner was a panel of 3 physicians, including none other than our friend Congressman Parker Griffith.  He was speaking about healthcare reform, with the usual rhetoric.  When I saw he was on the panel, I realized I’d have a chance to ask him a question, so I had several minutes to decide how best to word it.  You know, it is an art, because politicians are good at turning questions around to suit themselves.

So when the time came, I got up and was last in a line of only 4 physicians to come to the microphone with questions.  The tone of voice you should imagine me using is very sweet and sincere.  I introduced myself as a general pediatrician and the physician coordinator of North Alabama Healthcare for All, a Chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program.  Then I made a little joke about being MASA’s token liberal, which got a laugh.  I said to Parker that I had enjoyed meeting him and talking to him several times.  I reminded him of a meeting lasting over an hour that we had a little over a year ago at his Huntsville office with me, 5 other physicians and a couple of other single payer advocates.  I recalled for him that he had said he thought universal single payer coverage was the best idea and that we would eventually get it, but it just wasn’t practical politically right now.  We had asked him if he would be willing to sign HR 676, the Conyers single payer bill, and he said he wouldn’t– because he didn’t feel like he had enough influence yet in Congress where it would make any difference to the bill passing.  After reminding him of this conversation, I said that I was not naive and realized politicians do often say things they don’t mean, because they want us to like them.  But if he really had meant it, my question to him was  “What would have to change to make it safe for you and other conservatives to publicly admit they support single payer?” 

I noticed he was turning a little red as I was talking!  His response was “selective memory is an interesting thing.”  Then he proceeded to say that he had actually told us that if our country had “grown up” with single payer, we probably wouldn’t change it.  He said he had told us he was for universal access but that he wouldn’t support Conyers’ bill because that would be socialized medicine.

So I did make one short response, reminding him that there were 5 other doctors in the room who had the same selective memory.  Parker responded with a soliloquy about the problem in healthcare being insufficient numbers of providers, which is a true problem but not related.  Then Rep. Price spoke up and rescued Parker, and I sat down.

After the session, I thought maybe I’d be getting some glares from my colleagues, but far from it!  I can’t tell you how many people came up and congratulated me on my question, and said it was obvious to them all that I was telling the truth about what Parker had said.  I even got hugs, and I was invited to speak at a fund-raiser for a Republican opponent of Parker (had to graciously decline).  Apparently, the poor man has alienated so many docs in his conservative base that no one spoke up in his defense. 

Anyway, I was grateful at the warm, friendly reception I was given as a public liberal by my MASA friends.  They know we disagree on some issues, but we are able to enjoy each other’s company and conversation.  And they know that, whatever our disagreements, the bottom line is that we all care about our patients.  At the physician level, I really do believe there is hope for an honest dialogue and will continue to work towards that end.

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Filed under Healthcare reform