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When I wrote this post about President-Elect Trump’s drain-the-swamp initiative, one of the things I wrote about was the Tomah VA hospital. This article provides more detail on the things that allegedly happened there.

The biggest thing that the Wisconsin Watchdog article talks about is the dentist that infected people with HIV and hepatitis C. What specifically caught my attention is the part where it says “the dentist in question knowingly did not follow VA standards for a year, between October 2015 and this October. A dental assistant blew the whistle on the misconduct. ‘He had a replacement dental assistant, and she noted this particular piece of instrument being used … He brought in his own burs and cleaned them with Virex solution, salt and a wipe, which is nothing we endorse,’ Brahm told the news site. ‘She reported it the next day, Oct. 20, to the dental chief who reported it to senior leadership. We took action Oct. 21.'”

Actually, it isn’t just that the Tomah VA doesn’t endorse what this dentist did. This article gives a more detailed account:

Earlier this week, officials said a dentist at the Tomah VA Medical Center improperly re-used his own dental equipment instead of using the sterilized, disposable tools as VA rules require.

“It was purposeful that he was violating VA regulations,” said Victoria Brahm, acting medical director at the Tomah VA Center in a press briefing earlier this week.

“During all of the orientation, he used our equipment. He used it appropriately, so it was very purposeful from what we found in our investigation that he knew exactly what he was doing, and preferred to use his own equipment against procedure.”

It’s clear that the VA hospital system is one of the biggest swamps of corruption that needs to be drained. Then there’s this:

A current employee who asked not be identified said Brahm “puts on a good face,” but the hospital is “still bad and full of drug abuse and employee abuse.”

“I have even spoken with the director about this and how veterans are harassed in Tomah due to the VA. All that has been said is, ‘There’s still work to be done.’ The same tag line that is always used,” the source said.

Hopefully, the Trump administration takes the VA corruption seriously. This needs to stop ASAP.

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Sen. John Barrasso is one of the experts on health care in the Senate. This past week, Sen. Barrasso delivered this speech on the Senate floor. The most important part of Sen. Barrasso’s speech came when he said “First of all, nobody is talking about taking people off of insurance without a replacement plan in place. We all understand that there needs to be a transition over time. People have already been hurt too much when they lost their insurance and when their rates went up because of Obamacare and the mandates, and the government saying they know better than families across the country. So we’ll be working to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone. That’s why we’re including transition period in a repeal bill that Congress passed last year and sent to the president’s desk. Our goal is to do no harm.”

Shortly thereafter, Sen. Barrasso said “Now, we can increase the use of health savings accounts. This will give more people the chance to actually control how they spend their own money on their health care. We can support innovative insurance plans that pay for prescription drugs that work the best for patients – not just the ones preferred by insurance companies.”

The Democrats, specifically Jonathan Gruber, have tried frightening people into thinking that Republicans want to throw 20,000,000 people off of health insurance. Sen. Barrasso’s speech indicates that Democrats are engaged in outright fearmongering.

Sen. Barrasso is a man of integrity. He’s also a health care expert. He’ll be the Republicans’ health care expert in the Senate. He already is.

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If I got paid $10 for each article I’ve read throughout the years that talked about Nancy Pelosi’s fundraising abilities, I’d be rich. This article mentions it again by saying “Few can match Pelosi as a fundraiser. She is herself the ninth wealthiest member of Congress, a resident of ‘billionaires’ row,’ and is tapped into the party’s most well-heeled donor networks and constituencies on the West Coast.”

Fundraising isn’t what’s holding the Democrats back. President Obama got it right in his final interview with Rolling Stone when he said “there is a cohort of working-class white voters that voted for me in sizable numbers, but that we’ve had trouble getting to vote for Democrats in midterm elections. In this election, [they] turned out in huge numbers for Trump. And I think that part of it has to do with our inability, our failure, to reach those voters effectively.”

There’s a pretty detectable pattern with elections. When President Obama’s name has been on the ballot, he’s won. When President Obama’s agenda is what people have voted on, he’s gotten a shellacking. This ties into Ms. Pelosi because she’s been a loyal foot-soldier for President Obama’s agenda. They’ve been connected at the hip policywise.

Ms. Pelosi and President Obama complained that they just didn’t get their message out. That’s either outright denial or it’s spin. The thing that’s holding the Democrats back is their message. The Democrats’ message sounds elitist. With Obamacare, Democrats said that they knew what’s best for families. Then-Speaker Pelosi infamously said this:

TRANSLATION: You don’t need to know what’s in it. We know what’s best for you.

The Democrats’ losing streak in the House will continue, at minimum, for several more cycles. That’s partly due to their policies and partly due to their messenger. The history is clear. Nancy Pelosi is a control freak who doesn’t connect with white working class voters. She’s a San Francisco liberal elitist. That won’t work when populism is what the people are insisting on.

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This Miami Herald editorial is a fantastic example of the Agenda Media pretending to be thoughtful journalists and policy experts. I’ll be blunt. The Miami Herald is neither. They’re a pro-Obamacare cheerleader.

That was obvious when they said “On the one hand, Republicans in Congress want to scrap Obamacare, simple as that. On the other, Mr. Trump now says he wants to keep the part of the law that prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions. And he also likes the provision that allows parents to keep grown children on their policies until the age of 26.” It doesn’t require a rocket scientist to figure it out that some parts of the ACA are popular, even worthwhile. Likewise, it doesn’t require a rocket scientist to figure out that some provisions in the ACA are counterproductive.

For instance, the provision that provided for annual bailouts of insurance companies should’ve been a giant red flag that the ACA would bankrupt the insurance companies without that provision. Another provision eliminates risk as a factor for determining premiums. What idiot thinks it’s possible for insurance companies to sell health insurance to the 60-year-old guy who’s had 3 heart attacks at the same price as the 30-year-old guy whose biggest medical bill came when he scraped his knee on the playground when he was in fifth grade?

Here’s additional proof that the Miami Herald is pro-Democrat cheerleading mouthpiece:

Salvaging this and other essential provisions while scrapping Obamacare would be the legislative equivalent of squaring the circle. There is no clear path to “repeal and replace” because Republicans have never bothered to sit down with Democrats to figure out how to improve the law that everyone, including President Obama himself, concedes is far from perfect.

Actually, this isn’t that complicated. Here in Minnesota, we had a fantastic system until the ACA shredded that system. To keep premiums low and insured rates high while making sure that people with pre-existing conditions got insurance, Minnesota set up a high-risk pool. People with pre-existing conditions bought insurance that was subsidized on a sliding scale. The less you made, the more the insurance was subsidized.

In 2007, Minnesota’s effective insured rate was 96.5%. Because these high-risk people were separated from the healthier people, the healthier people’s health insurance premiums were significantly lower than they are today.

Then there’s this:

Its essential functions are working as intended. More than 16 million Americans have gained health insurance.

That’s true but misleading:

A new study by Jonathan Gruber, one of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) chief economic architects, suggests that roughly two-thirds of new Medicaid enrollees in 2014 were eligible for the program under previous state eligibility criteria—meaning that they were not made eligible by the ACA. If accurate, then a much smaller share of new Medicaid enrollees were made eligible for the program by the ACA than Washington experts commonly believe.

More people signed up because the application process got streamlined prior to the ACA’s passage. That’s proof that the Democrats’ fearmongering has already started. Republicans just need to do what’s right and things will work out fine for them.

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Donald Trump’s cabinet keeps getting more impressive. This morning, President-Elect Trump officially announced that he’s picked Rep. Tom Price to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to this WSJ article, “Mr. Trump on Tuesday also named Seema Verma, a consultant who helped Vice President-Elect Mike Pence negotiate a groundbreaking Medicaid deal with the Obama administration, as the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.”

Price brings instant credibility to Republicans’ efforts to repeal and replace the ACA. “Mr. Price, a 62-year-old former orthopedic surgeon, is one of several GOP physicians who sought to carve out a leading role in shaping the party’s health policy and, in particular, the party’s alternative vision to Democrats’ Affordable Care Act.”

This past summer, Price told an interviewer “We think it’s important that Washington not be in charge of health care. The problem that I have with Obamacare is that its premise is that Washington knows best.”

Price likely will get lots of criticism from Democrats during his confirmation hearing because he’s written legislation that would repeal and replace Obamacare. Dr. Price won’t have a problem with these criticisms and will likely have some sharp responses to the Democrats’ criticism.

It’s difficult to see Price not getting confirmed. He’s the chairman of the House Budget Committee. He’s the former chair of the House Study Committee, too. In announcing the pick, Donald Trump issued this statement:

“Chairman Price, a renowned physician, has earned a reputation for being a tireless problem solver and the go-to expert on healthcare policy, making him the ideal choice to serve in this capacity,” Trump said in making the announcement official early Tuesday. He added that Price “is exceptionally qualified to shepherd our commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare and bring affordable and accessible healthcare to every American.”

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In Part I, I wrote that Jonathan Gruber was fearmongering by insisting that 20,000,000 Americans would lose their health insurance if the ACA was repealed. Specifically, Dr. Gruber said “Twenty million Americans have gained insurance coverage, and millions more would be covered if recalcitrant states had fully embraced the law rather than resisting out of pure partisan politics.”

Betsy McCaughey disputes the notion that 20,000,000 people would lose their health insurance if the ACA was repealed in this op-ed. She explained “Sixteen million of those who gained coverage are enrolled in Medicaid, the public program for low-income residents. Obamacare allowed states to expand who could sign up for Medicaid, with the federal government covering the tab. Repeal could result in less federal funding. But no one is pushing to abolish the nation’s health safety net. And states that just expanded Medicaid are unlikely to do a 180 and shrink it. The 16 million are likely safe.”

Now that that myth is debunked, it’s time to disprove other claims Dr. Gruber made. For instance, he said this:

Republicans would like to pretend that they can therefore preserve the first leg while getting rid of the other two, as witnessed by Trump’s recent statements praising the insurance protections in the law. But this cannot be done. If you tell insurance companies that they can’t discriminate and allow individuals to wait until they are sick to buy insurance, then insurance companies will lose money. Insurers will rightly be afraid that individuals will wait until they are sick to show up to buy insurance, and as a result insurers will either exit the market or charge very high prices to protect themselves.

Actually, Republicans don’t have to go that direction. Minnesota’s high risk pool prevented Dr. Gruber’s scenario. Rather than implementing a mandate, Minnesota simply subsidized people with pre-existing conditions when they bought health insurance. The insurance companies got paid and they didn’t have to worry about Dr. Gruber’s scenario.

McCaughey asks and answers another important question:

Will people with pre-existing conditions lose out?

No. All the GOP replacement plans protect them but not through the cynical, coercive scheme that Obamacare used.

Obama forced two groups of people into the same insurance pool: the healthy and the chronically ill. Healthy people would pay premiums but never meet their sky high deductibles. Instead, their premiums would foot huge medical bills for the chronically ill, who consume 10 times as much medical care. Healthy people saw it was a scam. They refused to sign up, despite the penalty.
Obamacare architect Ezekiel Emanuel says forcing the healthy to enroll is essential.

Sorry. There’s a fairer way. Trump would allow insurers to charge ill people more then subsidize these ‘high risk’ customers with taxpayer dollars. That spreads the cost fairly over the whole population, instead of burdening people in the individual market.

Voilà, premiums and deductibles will drop fast for people in the individual market.

This is the key:

Healthy people would pay premiums but never meet their sky high deductibles. Instead, their premiums would foot huge medical bills for the chronically ill, who consume 10 times as much medical care. Healthy people saw it was a scam. They refused to sign up, despite the penalty.

The architects of the ACA are scrambling to protect their ‘accomplishment’ rather than considering doing what’s right. The important point in this is asking a simple question: why should we trust the people who told us that we could keep our plans and our doctors if we liked them? They’ve lied before. It’s foolish to think that they suddenly became honest now that they’re leaving office.

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After Donald Trump’s victory, there’s been a noticeable outbreak of bipartisanship from red-state Democratic senators.

For instance, “North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) is ready to work with Republicans on legislation to invest in ‘clean coal’ technologies. More broadly, she says she’s willing to work across the aisle on regulatory reform. ‘My priority is standing up for North Dakota, not party politics. The reason I’m in the U.S. Senate is to work with Republicans and Democrats to get things done,’ she told The Hill in a statement.”

Meanwhile, “Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) hopes to work with Republicans to reduce the deficit, clean up Washington by stopping former lawmakers from becoming lobbyists and passing legislation to improve service at the Department of Veterans Affairs, a major Trump talking point during the campaign.”

Before you think the Democratic Party has changed into a principled political party, don’t. There’s an explanation for their sudden ‘appreciation’ for bipartisanship:

While outgoing Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) didn’t want Democrats to work with vulnerable Republicans ahead of the 2016 elections, his heir apparent Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is signaling a willingness to let his members do what they need to do to survive in the next Congress.

TRANSLATION: Sen. Schumer has seen the 2018 electoral map. It frightens him. He’s willing to momentarily retreat if it’ll prevent a bloodbath for Senate Democrats.

The thing for Republicans to highlight is whether this cooperation leads to bills getting to President Trump’s desk for his signature. If Sen. Tester works with President Trump on the deficit but doesn’t work with Sen. Heitkamp on regulatory reform and on repealing Obamacare, then we know that Democrats are playing procedural games.

The litmus test for Republicans should be whether Democrats will work with President Trump on Obamacare’s replacement. If there aren’t blocks of Democrats willing to repeal and replace the ACA, then it’ll be clear that Democrats aren’t really interested in productive bipartisanship.

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The minute that Donald Trump and the Republicans set their sights on repealing the ACA, the Democratic fearmongering machine jumped into operation. This morning, the NY Daily News published this op-ed written by ACA architect Jonathan Gruber.

The opening paragraph of Dr. Gruber’s op-ed says “The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, has provided security for millions of Americans who used to live in fear of being unable to cover their medical expenses. Twenty million Americans have gained insurance coverage, and millions more would be covered if recalcitrant states had fully embraced the law rather than resisting out of pure partisan politics.”

It’s time to explode that myth.

Here in Minnesota, families are considering the option of not buying health insurance because their premiums plus deductibles would exceed $50,000 this year. They’re considering this option because their premiums alone will be $40,000 in 2017. The myth that Dr. Gruber is propagating is that the Affordable Care Act is affordable. It isn’t affordable. It’s anything but affordable. It’s a rip-off.

Betsy McCaughey’s article explains why the 20,000,000 figure is the crown jewel of the left’s fearmongering. In her op-ed, she wrote “Will 20 million lose coverage? Not even close. Sixteen million of those who gained coverage are enrolled in Medicaid, the public program for low-income residents. Obamacare allowed states to expand who could sign up for Medicaid, with the federal government covering the tab. Repeal could result in less federal funding. But no one is pushing to abolish the nation’s health safety net. And states that just expanded Medicaid are unlikely to do a 180 and shrink it. The 16 million are likely safe.”

Now that that myth has been exploded, it’s time to understand that replacing the ACA gives people the opportunity to replace it with something better. Minnesota’s high risk pool helped people with pre-existing conditions get affordable health care. There’s no reason for states not to implement high risk pools.

Then Dr. Gruber’s demagoguery shined through:

To do so, the ACA set up a “three legged stool”: banning discrimination by insurance companies; creating an individual mandate to bring the healthy into the insurance pool; and providing subsidies to make health insurance affordable.

The problem Republicans face is that the first leg is highly popular, the second leg is unpopular, and the third leg involves federal spending which the Republicans would rather direct to tax cuts for the wealthy.

High risk pools essentially end insurance companies denying people with pre-existing conditions coverage, thus eliminating that part of Dr. Gruber’s argument. The individual mandate hasn’t worked. Young people are paying the penalty rather than buying insurance policies they can’t afford. As for the part about “Republicans would rather direct to tax cuts for the wealthy”, that isn’t worth responding to other than saying that it’s a contemptible statement that isn’t based in anything other than fearmongering.

There’s more myth-busting to come in Part II. Check back for that later today. Think of it as McCaughey vs. Gruber, Round 2:

In this interview, incoming Chair of the Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee, nailed it when she was asked by the AP reporter if there will be a special session. Sen. Benson replied “I am less hopeful today than I was even a couple of days ago. We’re just not hearing anything from the governor that indicates he’s interested in the bigger picture in health care. There needs to be some understanding from the governor’s office that he wants to change things going forward. If we get that, I think we go a long way to opening the door to a special session.”

I wrote this post to highlight Gov. Dayton’s unseriousness in fixing Minnesota’s health care system. It wasn’t that long ago that Minnesota had the best health care and health insurance systems in the United States. That isn’t true anymore. Rather than fixing the problems are having, Gov. Dayton has chosen to criticize Republicans, saying “We’re running out of time. Quit dilly-dallying and get to work, and decide whether you are going to support my proposal, which is ready to go, and is viable, or you don’t want to do it.”

First, Republicans have agreed that there needs to be a rebate system for this year to help people who don’t qualify for the federal subsidies. That’s the entirety of Gov. Dayton’s plan. Gov. Dayton’s plan doesn’t do anything to fix anything for the long-term. If that isn’t fixed, Minnesotans will be faced with a bigger crisis this time next year. This isn’t a matter of Republicans “dilly-dallying around.” It’s a matter of whether Gov. Dayton will stop pretending the ACA is a solid health care system. It isn’t.

Q: How much can the Legislature really do before the changes from the federal level become clear?
A: We have to put some solid things in place. I think we have to look at a reinsurance program (to help insurers pay for high-cost patients). How do we improve choice of competitiveness? I don’t know if we’ve already gone too far. Can the individual market recover?

Thanks to Minnesota’s reinsurance program, Minnesotans with pre-existing conditions could get health insurance at a reasonable price. It isn’t coincidental that health insurance premiums have skyrocketed since it was eliminated.

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I normally don’t talk about the things posted in the comments sections of articles but I’m making an exception in this instance because the comment uses one of the Democrats’ frequent talking points. The subject of the LTE is a bailout of insurance companies by the Obama administration. The comment, though, starts by saying “Most of the world has affordable health care, but not the USA, the wealthiest nation in the world. … Yes, there are issues with the ACA, but it could be fixed, but I guess these same groups have no souls or compassion…just that evil selfishness that cares nothing for anyone else.”

First, the ACA isn’t affordable. That’s why voters rejected Democrats on Nov. 8. It’s a major reason why Mrs. Clinton was defeated. It’s the biggest reason why Democrats didn’t regain their majority in the US Senate. It’s why Republicans flipped the Minnesota Senate. It’s why people are calling for a special session. Next, while there are a few worthwhile features in the ACA, the fundamental principles that it was built on aren’t sustainable. That’s why the ACA was written to include a bailout for insurance companies. The administration anticipated that the insurance companies would lose money. The insurance companies anticipated that, too. That’s why they insisted on writing that provision into the bill before they’d support it.

Third, the US had the best health care system in the world prior to implementing the ACA. A whopping 85% of people who had insurance were happy with their plan. That’s why people were furious when Obama’s promise of keeping their doctor was broken. Some improvements were needed. Specifically, we needed to make sure people with pre-existing conditions could buy reasonably priced health insurance. Minnesota had a fantastic system with MCHA. Minnesota’s effective insured rate prior to Obamacare was 96.5%.

Fourth and most importantly, prior to the ACA, Minnesotans could actually afford to use their health care. What person can afford $3,300 a month premiums, then pay $13,000 in deductibles before the insurance company spends a penny? That’s the system that Democrats gave us. That isn’t affordable health care. That’s expensive, drive-you-to-bankruptcy health care.

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