A New Can Of Worms
04 June 2004
 
This Will Have Trigg Foaming at the Mouth...

The Sun Times says:

"House Speaker Michael Madigan on Thursday called lawmakers back to the Capitol next week to advance legislation to fix a snafu in state law that prevents President Bush from being on the November ballot."

Snafu?
 
Of All the Stupid Things To Say

You can't make this stuff up
03 June 2004
 
Not A Lot of the Big Things Got Done

The budget is one thing, but there are a whole host of big, controversial issues that weren't addressed

The State Journal Register lists the issues. Gambling expansion, med malpractice and education reform were all issues that are still left unresolved. Of those medical malpractice is probably the most important. And I think it is the issue most likely to be unresolved:


"Contention swirled throughout the spring around the issue of skyrocketing malpractice insurance rates, with medical and insurance groups engaging in finger-pointing with trial lawyers, and vice versa.

"They just don't like each other," said Sen. John Cullerton, D-Chicago.

Cullerton said everyone involved needs to scale back their demands in order to get legislation with broad enough support to pass, but he's not optimistic that will happen.

"I don't know if the Republicans care if we pass anything," Cullerton said. "For political reasons, they might want to blame the Democrats for not getting anything passed."


Cullerton is right to say that both of these sides don't like other. But, if he thinks this is an issue in which lawmakers and lawmakers come together to work some grand compromise as is the norm in Springfield, he is sorely mistaken.

First, medical malpractice reform is a national and a state issue. This means that battle lines and talking points are being drawn from experiences at the national level. That kind of divisiveness is alien to Illinois.

Second, this issue is being driven by the grass roots. I remember one legislative staffer telling me in January that medical trade associations feared grassroots involvement. That would hinder their ability to cut a deal. It has. Doctors are powerful grassroots lobbyists. They can lobby one on one with patients and many of them our de facto community leaders. Both at the national and state level they have won the intelectual debate, the evidence supports their contention that large jury awards in recent years have been the primary drivers of premium costs.

While this is a political issue that will help the republicans -- it could swing a seat or two in their direction -- from my interactions with them I can say that they would rather have reform.
01 June 2004
 
Medicare Cover-Up?

Deroy Murdock has an excellent piece on a possible administration cover-up on the true costs of the Medicare Modernization Act.

I know it's tough in an election year, but this cries out for investigation. The whole MMA -- while I support aspects of it -- was handled in a very unseemingly way. I know that's how politics works sometimes -- remember the House vote being left open for hours -- but lieing is uncalled for.

Using bad numbers leads to bad public policy. Using bad numbers for poltical reasons is worse.
 
They Said it Better than I

Today's Chicago Tribune editorial addresses my point on the need to become more savvy consumers:

"In a broader sense, the new drug card is likely to be something of a shock to seniors who've grown comfortable with Medicare's simple, one-size-fits-all program. Not true of the drug discount card, nor of the new prescription drug benefit that will be rolled out in 2006. They're designed to encourage private competition, and to ostensibly reward those who take the time to comparison shop."

They also state:

"The cards should help some seniors struggling with high drug prices. But there's far more at stake here. The point of these cards is not only to provide crucial discounts, but to push drug companies to compete harder on price.There are early signs that some drug companies are offering deeper discounts than normal, as an enticement for seniors to sign up. That's not just good business, it's smart politics, since the move to legalize drug reimportation from Canada and elsewhere is gaining steam in Congress.

That price competition, if it develops, may prove to be the most valuable lasting benefit of the drug discount card. If it proves that drug companies can offer deeper discounts than ever before and still thrive, the card will be a success."


One question I haven't seen answer to is, "How many seniors will have to participate on the margin to spur more price competition?" Many times a few savvy consumers, grocery store coupon clippers is one example, can have a big impact on prices for the rest of us.
 
Medicare Drug Cards Begin Today

The prescription drug cards become active today.

Seniors can begin signing up for the new drug card, however there seems to be a lot of carping. Some of it, I think, is simply the result of change. We are asking seniors to become better consumers of prescription drugs. It will be an interesting, but necessary, experiment.

To bring down healthcare costs consumers are going to have to become more savvy. Older generations -- those above 50 -- are going to have a lot of issues with that. Because they vote in higher numbers, the nation's leadership is going to have to be firm with them. It will be interesting to see if they are up to the task.

Those of us who are younger, those of us didn't go through the years of big pensions plans, unionization etc. are going to have an easier time. We are more use to making these kinds of decisions because we had to become more savvy consumers of financial services such as 401K's -- not to mention the changes in techonology in the last decade alone.

One of the things we often miss, because policymakers focus on economics, is the cultural dimensions of policy. My generation trusts free markets much more so then the generation ingrained during the 50's through the 80's. The older generation may intellectually comprehend the triumph of the market and the failure of public goods, but that doesn't mean they "get" every aspect of how it affects their lives.

I've run into this in my meetings with editorial boards. They intellectually understand that markets work better up to and until their benefits package will change. "Well why would I want to change the way we do benefits? I'm getting a great deal?"

The fact that current system is unstainable falls by the wayside when you begin to talk about transferring health plan tax breaks to employees from employers, mention health savings accounts and other specific ideas.

I'm learning that it will take more than intellectual arguments to win the healthcare debate.




31 May 2004
 
Flavored Coffee, Flavored Liquor and Big Flavored Tobacco

Jacob Sullum of Reason warns us that a bi-partisan group of do-gooders in Congress are trying to protect us from ourselves, again.

Newsflash: Caffeine is a gateway drug...

Funny, I somehow got that backward.
30 May 2004
 
Things Are Moving Fast in Springfield

Before I can even get my column on tort reform pointing to Sen. President Jones and Sen. Silverstein as the bad guys, Jones decides to let tort reform go to the floor. The thinking on the democrats side is that since caps on pain and suffering will be held unconstitutional let it pass.

I'm more circumspect, however. State courts, like the Supreme court, follow elections. Caps were held unconstitutional on some fairly flimsy grounds in Illinois. Just as President Bush thought the Supremes would handle campaign finance reform, the dems. in Illinois may be to clever by half. Judges don't like being fall guys for the politicians.

As it will eventually say in my weekly column in Coles County, the intellectual arguement has been won on tort reform. It's just a matter of which side as the political strength.

Then there is this gem from
Gov. Bolshevik

:

"'I oppose caps philosophically,' Blagojevich said. 'I believe the decision on those kinds of matters ought to be left to the juries as a fundamental constitutional principle in our democracy.'"

What could he be possibly be talking about? The tort system comes from the common law, not the constitution. There is not constitutional princple at stake -- oh, yeah he got a "C" in constitutional law.

Predicition: If Blagojevich vetos tort reform there will be a Republican Senate next January.

Alas, he did reject expanding the sales taxes to cover non carbonated drinks. That was a no brainer.

Finally, a 2 percent across the board cut on all items not including healthcare, education and public safety are being considered -- an idea floated by Rep. Leader Tom Cross. Across the board cuts are always better than tax hikes, so this is worth supporting. However, you are throwing out the baby with the bath water. People will point to the successful and popular programs as execuse why you can't make all the cuts. By elimenating poorly performing programs you support efficient govt. and defend yourself against attacks that you are wrecking popular and good programs.

Everything that isn't part of the govt. priorities (healthcare, public safety and education) should be on the table and should be scrutinized.

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