Letter from Langdon: Medicare Helps People; What’s So Diabolical About That?

For people who have been on individual health-insurance plans, Medicare is tremendously effective and affordable. So why do some members of Congress want to "improve" it by turning it over to profit-driven corporations?

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Obamacare was almost my hero.

After healthcare reforms and being busted for over-charging me, Anthem gave me not a refund but a host of wellness visits as repayment (just like Medicare always has, every year). Then the next thing to happen was that Anthem rates shot up, supposedly because of Obamacare mandates.

Last time I bought Blue Cross/Blue Shield health insurance it cost $850/month with $5,000 deductible. On top of that, my dependent high school student grandson Ryan’s insurance was another $125 with the same deductible.

These days Uncle Sam has Ryan’s back– he’s in the Army now– and I’m on Medicare B, D, and F, with what amounts to about a $2,200 deductible at a total cost of $150/month. The $700 per month I save more than covers the deductible…in less than four months. So with eight months still left the year, I save another $4,200. And I get free wellness visits.

Anthem wasn’t all bad. I got a flu shot from them. But Medicare did the same thing this year, plus a 20-cent per gallon fuel saver credit when I got the vaccination at the HyVee grocery store pharmacy.

Free gas!

For all the good it delivers, Medicare gets labeled as bad, and some very powerful people want to “reform” it. How did that happen? It starts with the supposedly awful idea that government can deliver something of value directly to the people. Medicare’s detractors would rather have number-crunching, money-wringing, soulless corporations do that for us.

But then, wasn’t that the original purpose of government, delivering Power to the People?

So when a friend showed me an article in Forbes about broken health care in Missouri, I thought to myself “Wow. Finally someone sees it“.

It turns out the article was an op-ed submitted to Forbes by a not-for-profit think tank, the Show-me Institute, founded (and funded) by billionaire Rex Sinquefield of St Louis.

Everybody in Missouri knows the tyrannosaurus Rex of PAC spending in Missouri, Mr. Sinquefield. He is the billionaire founder (one at least) of the Standard and Poors financial index. Rex’s big thing is dropping manna from heaven on anti-tax, anti-public-education, anti-public-health-care conservative state political candidates he favors. Those who he dislikes are generally Democrats, but occasionally an even-handed Republican earns the ire of Rex, whose goal is to replace the Missouri state income tax with regressive sales taxes on everything.

Sinquefield has been quoted saying he supports Donald Trump’s fiscal policies on taxes but not much else of his sometimes conflicted agenda.

The Forbes article addresses limited competition in Missouri healthcare insurance markets like the fact that some plans aren’t available in rural parts of Missouri — like where I live. Plans that are available have some of the highest premiums in the state.

There’s a shocker.

Obviously Obamacare isn’t working for the middle class in Missouri. But for most people it seems to work just fine, because the insurance is more affordable for them. That’s kind of the way Medicare works. The wealthier Medicare recipients are, the more they pay, and we can all go virtually anywhere for treatment, with the advantage of negotiated prices.

Of course, my state Legislature turned down increased federal funding for Medicaid rather than buckling to over-reaching Obama mandates for public health. It’s worth noting, however, that no one serving in the state legislature relies on Medicaid for their own healthcare.

So here I am, a retirement-aged self-employed farmer who for nearly 50 years has thrown money down the rat hole of private health insurance, but who now experiences the best thing ever in a government healthcare program even as I continue to pay into it today.

I sure hope Congress doesn’t fix this.

The biggest problem with Obamacare has been the name. Congressional majorities headed by people like Senator Mitch McConnell decided to deprive the president of anything close to an accomplishment. So they attack everything tied to him while refusing to help get the bugs out. So here’s my suggestion for what to do about Obamacare:

Change the name back to the Affordable Care Act and fix it.

We saw this in agriculture, too, with the EPA and their Waters of the US (WOTUS) rules. While election-minded conservatives fought Eemocratic candidates over WOTUS by claiming President Obama should change the rules, it was and still is in fact the job of Congress to pass bills into law for such things. On the one hand, they dislike executive orders that bypass Congress, while on the other they demand just that when they alone have the power to change the law and the way EPA enforces it.

But that would require going on record with their votes.

If President-elect Trump has the full majority of Congress backing him along with the clear will of the people, their version of clean water in the U.S. can be reality.

Early optimism among farm groups that the new president will fix what they say is wrong with agriculture are similar. The current farm bill was two years late in the making. That wasn’t Obama’s fault, Congress does that work…and not very well, according to profit-stressed farmers and ranchers who’ve seen prices of beef, dairy, and crops (like wheat, feed grains, and oil seeds) fall to less than what they cost to produce.

Congress has had too many chances to fix dairy profits, and it’s not the fault of presidents that it hasn’t. The big problem has been corporate lobbying and budget-cutters who attach no priority or value to family-farm agriculture but see corporate food’s desire for cheap imported supplies as a goldmine in political contributions. That’s been a failing of Congress for decades as first poultry, and then pork, were corporatized and integrated into monopolies of meat that reach international scope. Dairy is headed the same direction. Beef production isn’t far behind. Integrated livestock feeders and patent-wielding corporate owners of expensive seeds and pesticides responsible for much of Corn Belt farmers missing profits show little remorse.

Will President Trump fix that? Conservative clubs of farmers, the big producer groups, think he will. But the president has no more power over these issues than Congress grants him. He can only write a budget proposal and, if he chooses, sign bills into laws.

This is largely the same Congress that wrote the last farm bill and ignored WOTUS responsibilities by cussing, but not discussing, the problem.

If Trump and a majority can fix the problem, and that’s a big if, then the new majority in Congress will be made up of moderate Republicans and Democrats. That’s because moderates are the only ones in Congress who would vote to fund farm-bill fixes.

Interestingly, current thinking on farm profitability lays with a form of insurance that crop and livestock growers would buy from private insurers who would collect government subsidies on their losses.

It’s odd that no one has called it Obamacare for farms — yet.

Maybe Trumpcare sounds better.

But what about the people, you ask? When it comes to actually fixing our biggest problems, President Trump’s best chances of making America great again might rest with people who voted against him.

Richard Oswald is a fifth-generation farmer and president of the Missouri Farmers Union.

 

 

Topics: Ag and TradeHealth
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