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“Socialized Medicine” – Can It Work One More Time?

Posted on | November 12, 2019 | 1 Comment

With excerpts from CODE BLUE: Inside the Medical Industrial Complex.

Mike Magee

In an interview that aired this week on Democracy at Work, Professor Richard Wolff asked me about the term “socialized medicine.” My response: Once our nation makes it through the Impeachment hearings, expect the Republican party to pull out the “golden oldies” when it comes to the health care debate.

Just this week, Trump (pro-Russian but not above using Red Scare tactics when necessary) found time to tweet, “These Democratic policy proposals … may go by different names, whether it’s single-payer or the so-called public option, but they’re all based on the totally same terrible idea: They want to raid Medicare to fund a thing called socialism.” At the same time, he continues to work diligently behind the scenes to destroy the Affordable Care Act including authorization of exploitative 364 day plans as “short term” and Medicaid work requirements designed primarily to destroy Medicaid outreach to our most vulnerable citizens.

Not exactly original. Way back in 1944, with Roosevelt elected to an unprecedented fourth term, supporters of a national health insurance program felt their moment had finally arrived. But then Roosevelt died suddenly, and Harry Truman was left to push for universal health insurance, a collective system of shared risk in which the high costs of the sick would be counterbalanced by the low costs of the healthy.

Studies at the time had confirmed and reconfirmed the weaknesses in the American health care system, in particular the fact that the poor and the aged, a rapidly increasing segment of the population, were especially vulnerable. Doctors and hospitals appeared to be inadequate, both in their numbers and in their distribution. Chronic disease was on the rise as soldiers arrived back home, and recent progress in new scientific treatments promoted by academicians of the day suggested that “disease could be eliminated” if only more research were funded.

Truman presented Congress with proposals for comprehensive national health reform. On November 19, 1945, he addressed Congress and had reason to believe his efforts would prevail. After all, weren’t taxpayers already funding the creation of national health plans for our vanquished enemies, Germany and Japan, through the Marshall Plan? Certainly they would support health care for our own citizens at home. But they met stiff resistance from the AMA, which labeled his call for national health insurance and the creation of a national medical board “socialized medicine.” To prevail, the organization teamed up with the Pharmaceuttical Manufacturers Association (now PhRMA) and enlisted the same PR agencies utilized by the tobacco industry to unleash a barrage of blistering warnings. The “Red Scare” worked like a charm leaving Truman to be satisfied with easily neutralized incremental changes.

As the decade wore on, a worsening chronic burden of disease in an increasingly aging American population kept the issue alive. The AMA responded by expanding its state and federal government relations budgets, and by organizing and launching the AMA Political Action Committee (AMPAC) in 1961. In this effort, they were not short on allies. Other provider organizations such as the American Hospital Association, the American Dental Association, and the American Nursing Home Association were equally nervous about allowing government to become their paymaster. Also lining up in opposition were the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Chamber of Commerce, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, and the Health Insurance Association of America.

To defeat legislation that would become Medicare, the AMA set out to generate thousands of “spontaneous” letters—notably from non-physicians—voicing opposition.  Their “trusted spokesperson” recruited in 1961 was a B-movie actor who had already made the transition to corporate spokesman, and who was also the son-in-law of an archconservative physician and Chicago-based AMA bigwig named Loyal Davis. The man in question, Ronald Reagan.

On the 78 LP record distributed by the AMA, in his most reassuring tones, Reagan fanned doctors’ families worst fears saying, “The doctor begins to lose freedom. . . . First you decide that the doctor can have so many patients. They are equally divided among the various doctors by the government. But then doctors aren’t equally divided geographically. So a doctor decides he wants to practice in one town, and the government has to say to him, you can’t live in that town. They already have enough doctors. You have to go someplace else. And from here it’s only a short step to dictating where he will go. . . . All of us can see what happens once you establish the precedent that the government can determine a man’s working place and his working methods, determine his employment. From here it’s a short step to all the rest of socialism, to determining his pay. And pretty soon your son won’t decide, when he’s in school, where he will go or what he will do for a living. He will wait for the government to tell him where he will go to work and what he will do.”

Of course, that was then and this is now. As we speak, strong majorities of American favor universal coverage, health care as a right, and protections for those with pre-existing conditions. In addition, Democratic presidential candidates all support expansion of a public insurance offering as at least an alternative to private health insurance.

Faced with the threat of a single payer, government run system, the AMA has come out in favor of strengthening the Affordable Care Act. They also have quietly resigned from the Medical Industry Complex (MIC) lobbying sham cabal, the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, stating they were leaving “to devote more time to advocating for these policies that will address current coverage gaps and dysfunction in our healthcare system.”

In the end, we’re fast approaching the point where politicians and medical leaders will have to choose. Do you side with patients or with MIC profiteers?

Health Declining in Rural America

Posted on | November 11, 2019 | No Comments

Day of Reckoning on Opioids: Pharmacy Chains

Posted on | November 8, 2019 | 2 Comments

Source: Washington Post

For those responsible for igniting the manmade opioid disaster, a day of reckoning is fast approaching. Of course Pharma is in the cross-hairs – notably Purdue Pharma, Cephalon, J&J, Endo Health Solutions and Actavis. Then come the wholesale drug distributors including AmerisourceBergen Corporation (NYSE:ABC), Cardinal Health, Inc. (NYSE:CAH) and McKesson Corporation (NYSE:MCK). Now giant retail conglomerates like CVS and Walgreen’s are also be caught in the snare.

In this last category, Walgreen’s and CVS are especially vulnerable since their wholesale operations acted as the inside distributor for their retail outlets. Walgreens supplied nearly 100% of their own sales of Oxycontin while CVS supplied more than half of their addictive output. Along the way, as distributors, they carried the liability of ignoring warning signs and government requirements to report unusually large purchases and irregularities in consumption, while bathing in the financial rewards.

For now enablers like the AMA have remained unscathed. They accepted into their Federation a new Pharma-funded  pain society which convinced the nation’s doctors that pain was the “5th vital sign”. The AMA also sold its Physician Masterfile Database to data miner IMS Health which allowed the opioid companies to target physicians through prescription profiling who were already sloppy prescribers. AMA sales of the data in 2006 alone brought in $44.5 million.

And let’s not forget a range of bottom feeders like Rudy Giuliani who Purdue Pharma hired to get Bush Administration officials to stand down in their planned prosecution of the company in 2004. Consider the lives that might have been saved had they failed.

But now, the sheer scale of the disaster has caught up with many, if not all of the Medical Industrial Complex offenders. Attorney Mike Moore is leading over 30 state attorney generals in litigation, as he did in the 90’s with tobacco companies. Purdue Pharma is pursuing bankruptcy with states and municipalities pursuing the kind of claw-back on hidden Purdue family money that is reminiscent of the Bernard Madoff affair.

Still and all, it’s pretty shocking that you can literally bring down your entire economy when a greedy profiteering group of health sectors decide to conspire and enable each other. No wonder a sizable portion of the nation is in favor of injecting a healthy dose of “good government” into the health care system. They’re not voting for socialism, they’re voting against conspiracy, collusion, death and the destruction of America’s economy.

How Far Will Republicans Go? If Past Is Prologue…

Posted on | November 7, 2019 | No Comments

Mike Magee

As Jeff Sessions appeals for Donald Trump’s support, and Michael Bloomberg positions to enter the Democratic Primary, with the Iowa caucuses fast approaching, the future of health care, let alone the Republican party, is playing out in full view. The unspoken question, “How far would Republican leaders go to win their own elections? Would they turn on each other? Would they turn on Trump? If past is prologue, this may be a bumpy ride.

Back in 1988, Vice President George Bush was not happy. Since he had announced for the Presidency, all anyone wanted to talk about was his role in Iran Contra. And as polls were revealing problems in Iowa, Bush decided to over rule his advisors and grant an interview to CBS’s career killer, Dan Rather. Why? Because Bush recognized him as a fellow Texan, and therefore a friend. He trusted him. Well, that was a mistake. It hadn’t gone well. The following day, when they asked fellow candidate for the Presidency, Bob Dole, about the performance, he wondered aloud if the vice-president couldn’t handle Rather, what was he going to do about Gorbachev?

Gorge Bush’s people were not amused. Their release, coming right before the Iowa Caucus, read in part, “Iowa Republicans must weigh Bob Dole’s record of cronyism and his history of mean-spiritedness carefully, before they decide whom to support as the Party’s nominee for President.” The release then went on to assert that Bob had “…showed his mean-spirited nature in 1976, when he nearly single-handedly brought the Republican national ticket down to defeat.” Just in case Bob was still self-composed, they insulted his wife as well, noting near the end that Dole’s public statements “…fails to mention that he and his wife are now millionaires, and had an income of $2.19 million from 1982 through 1986.”And for the icing on the cake, there were a few extra reference points including the fancy Watergate apartment complex, the warm weather condominium in Florida, and Elizabeth’s blind trust currently “under federal investigation”. That should do it, they predicted, as they handed the release off to the Iowa Register.

And it did do it. The Register reporter went right to Dole and asked if he believed Bush was behind the release. Dole responded, “Either George Bush is responsible for this kind of campaign…or he’s totally out of control…Maybe he isn’t in charge…Maybe he’s totally out of the loop.” Next stop, Clinton, Iowa, where the vice-president was campaigning. Bush was well-prepared for the question, having been prepped by aides, and armed with an answer that would ensure that Dole’s ire would last well into the New Hampshire primary that was only eight days after Iowa. Was he responsible for the offending release? Bush’s answer: “I don’t endorse it. But I don’t reject it.”

Bush didn’t win a single county in Iowa, but the next day he was in New Hampshire with a new-found focus. He could lose this thing. They took a two-prong approach. First, photo-op’s with the beloved Vice-President, followed by man-on-the-street campaigning across the state, with slugger friend Ted Williams in tow. Second, an attack ad designed to further infuriate an already severely upset Dole. The solution: “The Straddle Ad”. It couldn’t come soon enough. Dole had been working feverishly in the state. and made up 18 points in just three days and was still climbing. The weekend before the election, new poll numbers were released: Dole 32%, Bush 29%.

The Bush camp put in a call to the state’s popular governor, John Sununu, who had been stumping for them. What could he do to help? The Governor had a favor he could call in from the state’s popular Channel 9.  A month earlier, he had treated the station to a highly publicized visit by the Vice-President, complete with pictures, hugs, and follow-up notes. They hadn’t forgotten, and at the Governor’s request, they said they’d be happy to free up air time for his new ad. That Sunday afternoon, it aired. The visuals were striking for the time. Dole faced off Dole isssue by issue until the grand finale – taxes. The voice over: “Bob Dole straddles, and he just won’t promise not to raise taxes. And you know what that means.” Driving home the point, the word “Straddles” fades into “Taxes – He can’t say no.”

The strategy more than delivered. That Tuesday, Bush scored a resounding victory with 38% of the vote to Dole’s 29% and Pat Robertson’s 9%. The Southern pastor would soon drop out, but Bob would battle on. The numbers were bad enough that evening, but the final personal affront was still to come. NBC’s Tom Brokaw was reporting the results live in New Hampshire. Bush had been declared the victor that evening, and was live on set with Tom, beaming and happy. Dole was in his hotel room, mic’d up and on camera. But there was no monitor to see Brokaw and Bush. Dole’s earpiece was not live when Brokaw asked Bush if he had anything he’d like to say to Bob? Bush’s congenial reply, “Naw, just wish him well. And meet him in the South.” Bob’s ear piece then comes live with Brokaw’s voice, “Senator? Any message for the Vice-President?” Dole, with eyes, narrow and dark, reminiscent of his mentor Dick Nixon, angrily replies, “Yeah. Stop lying about my record.”

By the end of the primaries, Bush had amassed 68% of the vote to Bob’s 19%.  Bush went on to soundly defeat Michael Dukakis, gaining 53% of the popular vote and 79% of the electoral vote. To accomplish this feat, Bush’s handlers employed a secret weapon – a relatively unknown Ohio native, who would later go on to create FOX News for Rupert Murdock. His name was Roger Ailes, who had created the “Senator Straddle Ad.”  Ailes encore was the now infamous Willie Horton ad that claimed that the Governor of Massachusetts allowed 1st Degree murders to have weekend passes from prison. Said the ad, “Horton fled, kidnapped a young couple, stabbing the man and repeatedly rapping his girl friend.” The ad ends with a confused looking Dukakis and the statement, “Weekend Prison Passes: Dukakis On Crime”. In commenting on the latest Ailes creation, Bush attack dog Lee Atwater said of Ailes,  “He has two speeds: attack and destroy.” As for the creator’s opinion on his own work at the time, he noted, “The only question is whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand or without it.”

Not surprisingly, when now President Bush returned to the White House, the Democrats, who controlled both houses of Congress, did not meet him with open arms. Bush had inherited a ballooning budget deficit exceeding $150 billion dollars a year. With not so much as an apology, he predictably turned to Bob Dole for help. What is remarkable is that Bob responded, apparently holding no grudge against his life long opponent. After all, this was the guy that Richard Nixon had turned to when he fired Bob as head of the Republican National Committee. This was the guy who Reagan chose over him as vice-president. And this was the guy who insulted his and Elizabeth’s integrity, and labeled him “Senator Straddle” and a tax offender. But at the end of the day, politics was politics, and he was a Republican, and somebody had to keep the country moving. And who knew what things might look like four or eight years from now. You never know.

Could Dole (and Nixon) Finally Bring An End To The Trump Nightmare?

Posted on | November 4, 2019 | No Comments

Mike Magee

Excerpted from Code Blue: Inside the Medical Industrial Complex early drafts.

As the country moves now at a full gallop toward an Impeachment trial of Donald Trump, inevitable comparisons arise to Richard Nixon and the Watergate era. But, beyond law breaking and enemy lists, the two men share little in common. No one understands this better than the man who delivered Nixon’s eulogy, Bob Dole.

Nixon, though deeply flawed, was a brilliant and innovative politician. His foreign policy expertise, as epitomized by the opening of relationships with China, are perhaps more widely recognized than his substantial domestic achievements, and especially his personal motivations in advancing groundbreaking environmental legislation, and proposing a fundamentally new approach to the delivery of health care in the United States.

Nixon grew up in an era of national financial collapse, dust bowls, disease, pestilence and war. He was born on January 9, 1913, in Yorba Linda, California, about 40 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Two years before he was born, the second of five boys to Quaker parents, the town had only 35 citizens, mostly farmers focused on orange and lemon groves. But in 1912, the Pacific Electric Railway connected to the town, effectively establishing efficient distribution to markets in Los Angeles. That same year, the Southern California Edison Company brought in electricity, and the Nixon’s Church – the Yorba Linda Friends Church – was built. But it would be another four years before the town had its first paved road.

An early photo in 1916 shows a well dressed, if austere, Nixon family – mother seated in long white dress with skirted baby, Donald, on her lap, and father Frank, older brother Harold, and a near 4 year old Richard, all standing at attention, with clean shirts and ties, staring directly at the camera.

Father Frank was a Methodist, but the shelter he rented soon after arriving in Whittier was a Quaker boarding house. It was only a short walk from there to the Whittier Friend’s Meeting House and an introduction to member, Hannah Milhous. Her family were prominent members of the Quaker community and relatively well-to-do. In time he would become a Quaker himself, be let go by Pacific Electric, but land on his feet as a foreman for one of the many citrus farms in the area.

Frank and Hannah were married on June 2, 1908, and one year later had their first boy, Harold. With help from his father-in-law, he bought a ten acre citrus farm 15 miles away in Yorba Linda. Along his travels, Frank had become a skilled carpenter, and wise with a buck. After a bit of research, he bought a house kit and had it shipped to Yorba Linda on the new Pacific Electric Line that ran through the little junction of a town, and then created the family home with his own two hands.

It was in this lovely and charming little house that Richard, the second son, was born on January 9, 1913. Three quarters of a century later, the house would be refurbished by The Richard Nixon Foundation in anticipation of the arrival of the Nixon Presidential Library. The National Park Service describes the carefully refurbished house with its original furnishings as: “The one and one-half story, white clapboard siding house has a low-pitched gable roof.  A long dormer on the north side lights a small second-floor bedroom.  The front elevation features a projecting gable-roofed entry.  There is a small flat-roofed addition on the back.”

Richard Nixon himself, in his opening to his memoirs years later stated with some drama and exaggeration, in a manner that evoked Abe Lincoln’s log cabin,  “I was born in the house my father built.” This narrative was further reinforced by Nixon’s comments about his early life including, “We were poor, but the glory of it was we didn’t know it.” and “The only reason we were able to make a go of it is because my mother and dad had five boys and we all worked in the store.”

In short, the family got by, and in those early years had their third and fourth children, Donald in 1914, and Arthur in 1918. By 1919, they lost the farm, moved to Whittier, and with the help of a $5,000 dollar loan from Hannah’s parents, opened a gas station. Soon the mechanically gifted Frank was selling auto accessories and repairing automobiles as well, and the gas station gained a grocery. Frank added meat and butcher services, and the now “general store” gained  “meeting place” status in Whittier. Profits were enough to allow Frank to build a new home for his family next door.

From then on, the family was financially stable and geographically fixed. Frank and Hannah had a reputation for integrity, a willingness to extend credit, and a strong spirit of non-discrimination. Frank continued to love a good debate and had strong feelings about politics (conservative, anti-socialist) and loved discussing the Bible. He taught Sunday school with a fervor. They fit in to the community and their children were thriving, especially their second son. He had an uncanny ability to absorb knowledge and memorize passages, and was extremely musical. For a brief period, Hannah had him live 200 miles away with her sister, Jane Beeson, a graduate of the Indiana Conservatory of Music. When Richard returned at age 12, he was able to play a wide range of classical music by memory on both the piano and violin. Life was good.

All that changed in July of 1925 when Richard’s little brother, Arthur, took sick with headaches, stiffness, confusion and eventually loss of consciousness. Within one month, on August 10, 1925, Arthur, age 7, was dead of tubercular meningitis. Members of the family dealt with this tragedy differently. Mother and father leaned on religion with the family now spending most of Sunday at Church, attending occasional weekday meetings, and exploring the healing services of several well-known evangelists in the area. Richard, age 12, took his brother’s death hardest. As he later recalled, “For weeks after Arthur’s funeral there was not a day that I did not think about him and cry. For the first time I learned what death was like and what it meant.” His mother remembered the transition of her serious second son, later saying, “Now his need to succeed became even stronger.”

Not so for his older brother, Harold. He seemed to have limited interest in church, and as a 17 year old, focused on girls, his social life, and tinkering with a Model-T car. His parents became alarmed that he was heading down the wrong trail. Their solution, now middle class or more, was to send the boy to a boarding school on the other side of the country, ten miles south of the Massachusetts – Vermont border. The school was called Mount Hermon School for Boys, and the headmaster was the fire-breathing evangelist, Dwight L. Moody. But unlike other schools of this type, it specifically reached out to include children who were not privileged including blacks and Native Americans.

If the intent was to give their eldest son “a dose of religion”, however, the effort was cut short, when their son was shipped back west just 6 months after enrolling. It was April, 1927, and Harold had developed a nasty chest cold which officials at the school thought might be tuberculosis.They were correct.

There was debate inside the family of what to do next. Frank rejected public facilities, uninterested in being dependent on the government. Harold pretty much ignored the diagnosis and pursued a number of jobs and interests. But Hannah, one year later, seeing her eldest son slipping away, convinced him to move with her to Prescott, Arizona, a fresh air community that had a reputation for being able to heal people with respiratory ailments. To support the effort and maintain her own sanity, she took in a number of respiratory patients as boarders and cared for them as well. Once a month, Frank, with Richard and Donald in tow, made the 400-mile journey for a weekend visit. And life marched on.

In 1928 and 1929, Richard was able to spend the summers with his older brother in Prescott. And in May, 1930, his youngest brother, Edward, was born. Their lives at this point were all about logistics. Richard had enrolled in Whittier Union High School, close to home, and helped run the family store. He focused heavily on his studies and became a champion debater. On graduation, he enrolled in the Quaker tradition Whittier College, interested in his studies, student politics and the future. As he had stated in an 8th grade essay shortly after the death of his little brother, he believed he would ultimately go to Columbia law school and then enter politics with a goal of being “of some good to the people.”

As for Harold, he continued to decline, as his fellow boarders in Prescott, one by one, died under his mother’s loving care. He was back in Whittier when, on March 7, 1933, he presented his mother a new mixer for her forty-eighth birthday. He then bid farewell, and died.

The family grieved, and one could argue, Nixon fought on, in support of the aggrieved family to whom fate had been unkind, for the rest of his life. His brother was now gone, and even with the Depression, his parents’ business was flourishing. He earned a scholarship to Duke Law School, and predictably, studiously mastered the material.

He took and passed the California bar in September, 1937, joining a local Whittier firm. One year later, his personal life began to look up. He had always enjoyed music, and in college had performed and enjoyed theater. Most believe the young lawyer was lonely and looking for company. He found it in the local production of a George S. Kaufman play, “The Dark Tower”. It was billed as a mystery comedy.  Nixon played the role of playwright Barry Jones who in the print materials of the day was described as “a faintly collegiate, eager blushing youth of twenty-four”. Playing opposite him was a local school teacher from Whittier Union High School named Thelma Catherine Ryan, but everyone called her Pat. That was because she was born on St. Patrick’s Day and from birth her Catholic father called her “Patty-babe”. In any case, she inhabited the role of Daphne Martin, described as “a tall, dark, sullen beauty of twenty wearing a dress of great chic and an air of permanent resentment.” In the play, Daphne dumps Barry for her true love, but not before she performs the song “Stormy Weather” with Barry accompanying her on piano.

Looking for a short term means of support, she was attractive enough to earn a Screen Test in Los Angeles, and interested enough to act as an extra for RKO and MGM. But like many women of her day, she was unwilling to advance by taking roles on the “casting couch” and steered clear of the Industry. She graduated with honors from USC, was certified and began to teach high school in 1937.

She never liked Whittier much and would routinely decamp to Los Angeles, to her brothers’ place each weekend. After she met, and in time made peace with Richard, he began to ferry her back and forth to the city on weekends. In time, she met his parents and liked Hannah enough to help her meet her quota of pies each week which were sold in their general store. Two years after the courtship began, after she had herself become a Quaker, they were married on June 21, 1940, with the president of Whittier College, where Nixon had been a trustee for the past three years, presiding over the ceremony.

Over the first few years of married life, he began his move toward politics and elected office. This goal quietly collided with a growing self awareness that he was different, not your typical back-slapper or “yes” man. As one biographer described his behavior in those early years, “…his heart and his thoughts…were always for those who had little, who struggled, who had been short changed. To some degree, he identified with them as one who, though favored with high intelligence and opportunity, had known the sorrow of family tragedy and the loneliness of isolation and chronic insecurity.”

His new wife arrested much of that loneliness and insecurity, and that’s all he needed to move forward. His first breakthrough came when he was elected as an assistant city attorney for his hometown, Whittier. This was 1938, the mid-term elections with FDR in firm control, but with the President still reeling from the Court Packing case and the battle over Social Security. These topics became the core of Nixon’s “Speech” on the local lunch and dinner circuit. At the ripe age of twenty-eight, he eyed the State Assembly as his next goal post, but in the mean time, he positioned himself to be successfully elected as president of the local Young Republicans and as the leader of a new business collaborative governing nine local regions, the Association of Northern Orange County Cities.

As Nixon and his young wife looked for an opening to pursue national office, the war spread in Europe. In late 1941, he received a call from a former classmate at Duke asking if he’d be interested in a job in Washington. He’d be working in the Office of Price Administration (OPA), the FDR organization designed to harness America’s precious material supplies (especially rubber and metals) to create the necessary war supplies. As a couple, they became ultra-focused on service after December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor. On January 9, 1942, Dick and Pat Nixon arrived in Washington, D.C.

His organizational talents allowed him to rise fast, earning him a promotion by March, 1942. As summer approached, Nixon knew he needed to enter the fighting forces. This was a deliberate decision and one that Pat supported. He was protected from the draft, at least on two count’s. First, his employment by the OPA made him an “essential employee” of the Federal Government and thus immune from the draft. Second, as the Quaker child of Quaker parents, he was eligible as a conscientious objector for deferment. Inherently idealistic and patriotic, and with an eye toward his future political narrative, he chose neither route. Instead, he joined the Navy.

He ended up on a Pacific island that was MacArthur’s first step toward reclaiming control of the South Pacific, on his way to the Philippines and ultimately to an invasion of Japan itself. By late 1944, he was reunited with Pat after being shipped back to the states to become the base administrative officer at Alameda Naval Air Station, and then on to Philadelphia, and from there to Maryland, where he focused on the details of closing out contractual agreements with war suppliers. By January 1, 1946, he officially ended his military career as a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy.

Though the Red Scare was not yet scarlet, Nixon sensed an opportunity in the waiting. The current reality was that sixteen of the twenty-five Congressional seats in his home state of California were held by Democrats. Nixon felt that that was about to shift. Back on the West Coast, Nixon threw himself into the Congressional campaign, optimistic and renewed, as Pat gave birth to their first child, Trisha, on February 21, 1946. He won and was sworn in on January 2, 1947.

When considering the young congressman’s subsequent rapid rise to Vice-President in just eight years, most point reflexively to Nixon’s role on Joe McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee. While he attempted to hide the fact, Nixon had worked aggressively behind the scenes to gain an appointment to this committee. And while Nixon did receive broad public exposure in his pursuit of government official, Alger Hiss, who, though not convicted as a spy, was ultimately imprisoned on charges of perjury, his equally significant achievement, in the eyes of Republicans during this period, was in rolling back the power of unions.

Nixon recognized the opportunity and seized it early, becoming one of the major authors of what would become known as the Taft-Hartley Act. It was a huge win for business leaders, like the ones who had supported the young Congressman’s campaign for California’s 12th District. And his participation and success, so soon after his arrival, did not go unnoticed. He made certain of that by authoring the July, 1947, Congressional Record report titled, “The Truth About The New Labor Law”. He also actively debated the issue on the stump, including one noteworthy session in front of 150 steel miners in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. His opponent – a young freshman congressman from Massachusetts, John F, Kennedy.

In 1950 he jumped to the Senate, winning by a 20% margin statewide. That year, he also found time to campaign aggressively for other Republican candidates who would remember his generosity in the future. Between the two elections, his second daughter, Julie was born. Life was good.

The rest – his two terms as vice-president, his loss to JFK, and his subsequent rise  to the Presidency eight years later – as they say, is history. And among his range of domestic objectives, national health care loomed large.

Nixon hadn’t created Medicare, but he now had the responsibility to manage it. By then, LBJ’s open-ended commitment to America’s hospitals, doctors, insurers and patients was on a downward financial management trajectory. On July 10, 1969, the President released an HEW report from the mild mannered HEW secretary, Robert Finch, which declared that the program’s budget deficits were “much greater than I had realized. We face a massive crisis in health care costs.” Nixon had no intention of taking out the popular program at this point. It was already the “third rail” of American politics. His only option was to contain costs.

He turned to Edgar Kaiser, son of Henry Kaiser, founder of Kaiser-Permanente, for advise. In a February, 1971 tape, Nixon is heard explaining the HMO idea to his aids as a way to control Medicare costs. He says, “This is a private enterprise one. The reason he can do it – I had Edgar Kaiser in here to talk about it and I went into it in some depth – the reason he can do it is all the incentives are towards less medical care.”

At the time, Senator Ted Kennedy was already pushing hard for universal health care. The Democratic Party had always felt that Medicare and Medicaid were only a step on the way to a one payor, universal system. HMO’s were part of the political push back of the Administration. Nixon was consciously aware that you couldn’t oppose something with nothing, and he had to win a second term or it was all for naught. But, in addition to those two realities, he would not, could not, abandon what he saw as an obligation to his family – especially his mother, Arthur and Harold.

He said as much in a conversation with Charles Hoffman, the president of the American Medical Association, in the Oval Office in September of 1972. He explained his interest in a health care plan this way, “My older brother had tuberculosis. He contracted it when he was 17 and he died when he was 22. For five years my parents, now they earned enough, but they borrowed, they sold property. They did everything. They put him in hospitals. They took him to Arizona for two years. He stayed in a very expensive hospital and then he finally died. But I know what it did to that family. Because my father and mother were very proud people. They wouldn’t put him in the public health ‘line’. They wanted to pay it all themselves. But I think the rest of their lives they owed money. You remember that’s what they did then. They put them to bed. It didn’t work.”

In meeting the needs, Nixon was attempting to protect what was good about American health care while expanding coverage and efficiency in tandem. For 1972, his goals were expansive. He called it CHIP – the Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan. For the first time, it required employers to provide health care coverage with a defined menu of benefits. If you couldn’t find private coverage, a government plan would be available to you, without income limits or special qualifications. At the same time, HMO type programs would be pushed and importantly, made available to Medicare and Medicaid subscribers.

Four days before the election, on November 3, 1972, he took time in a radio address to spell out his intentions.“No American family should be denied access to adequate medical care because of inability to pay. The most important health proposal not acted on by the 92nd Congress was my program for helping people pay for care. One of the clearest choices in the 1972 presidential election is a choice between the comprehensive health insurance plan which is a private plan that I have just described and our opponents plan for a medical system which is paid for by the taxpayers and controlled by the federal government.”

On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court ruled that Nixon had to release the White House tapes. This doomed his health care initiatives and toppled his Presidency. Republicans and Democrats alike would continue to resurface his ideas, in various shapes and sizes, over the next four decades. They looked to expose a sweet spot – where private insurance and universal coverage might coexist in harmony. His efforts in this area were clearly as much for Arthur and Harold, as they were for his fellow citizens in 1972.

On April 27, 1994, in Yorba Linda, California, in front of the reconstructed house that Frank built, Bob Dole delivered the eulogy that Richard Nixon had hoped for all his life. At the final two word sentence, “How American.”, Dole broke down in tears, crying for his fallen hero, and perhaps for himself, and what might have been for them both.

On January 17, 2018, Bob Dole, now self-muted truth-teller, was once more close to tears as a very different President, Donald Trump, presented him with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor with these words intended to seal Dole’s lips forever, “Bob, you are a friend, you are a patriot, a hero, a leader and today you have become a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal.”

With our domestic and foreign policy now in shambles, and Dole’s beloved Congress attempting to reassert itself as a third and independent branch of government to bring to heel an unhinged chief executive, does Bob Dole have one last act?  How better to honor his brilliant but deeply flawed and beloved Republican colleague then to find the inner strength to paraphrase his final two words of the Nixon eulogy, but this time, of Trump, say loud and clear, “How Un-American!”

The Day After Medicare Passed.

Posted on | October 31, 2019 | No Comments

The Signing of Medicare, July 30, 1965. Independence, Missouri.

Mike Magee

As Democratic candidates continue to debate how best to accomplish universal health coverage and variations of Medicare-for-all, it is useful to recall that the battle for the original Medicare didn’t end with the signing ceremony. The following account is excerpted from CODE BLUE: Inside the Medical Industrial Complex.

July 30, 1965, was a day for celebration. It was Johnson’s choice to celebrate it in Independence, Missouri, with Harry and Bess Truman at his side. In his remarks, LBJ said, “It was really Harry Truman of Missouri who planted the seeds of compassion and duty which have today flowered into care for the sick and serenity for the fearful…Many men can make many proposals. Many men can draft many laws. But few… have the courage to stake reputation, and position, and the effort of a lifetime upon a cause when there are so few that share it….Perhaps you alone, President Truman – perhaps you alone can fully know how grateful I am for this day.” Truman, ever modest, relied, “You have done me a great honor in coming here today. You have made me a very, very happy man.”

As Johnson flew home that day, he certainly knew that the success of Medicare was by no means assured. The Administration had only 11 months before the program would go live. President Truman had his Medicare card, but none of the other 19 million recipients did. The scope of the communications and public education challenge had no precedent. Johnson gathered his troops and told the Health, Education and Welfare Secretary John Gardner, “If you miscalculate we’re going to look like the worst kind of damned fools.”

As difficult as it would be to create the systems that would support the new national program, LBJ was even more concerned about two other challenges – doctors threatening to boycott the program and Southerners threatening to resist the ordered de-segregation of their local hospitals.

Part of the reason that Southern legislators had fought tooth and nail to avoid Federal control of health insurance payments for the care of the aging population was that they knew that if Washington paid the bill that Washington would set the rules. Across the South, hospitals continued to maintain segregated rest rooms and segregated floors and wards designed to separate black and white populations. The passage of the Civil Rights Act in July, 1964, had sent a clear warning. Title VI of the bill stated, “No person in the United States shall, on the grounds of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, denied benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any program receiving federal assistance.” After formal review by the Justice Department, then HEW Secretary Anthony Celebrezze had informed the Senate that, “The matter has been explored by the Department’s legal staff…I am advised, therefore, that the new hospital insurance program will be subject to the requirements of Title VI.”

As a result, all hospitals, as they applied for their federal Medicare certification, had to prove that they no longer segregated patients. Johnson took no chances, deploying 1000 federal inspectors across the country to ensure that the letter of the law was being implemented. Even with this, 10 months after Medicare had been signed into law, and a month or two before launch date, half the hospitals inspected in 12 southern states were still non-compliant. Johnson called a special Cabinet meeting and then directed Vice-President Humphrey to communicate with every mayor in the non-compliant Southern cities and simply, one way or another, get the job done. By May 23, 1966, all hospitals were compliant except in four southern states – Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. By July, they were clearly heading in the right direction, though 320 hospital had not yet completed the conversions. Though some would still lag behind on the day Medicare went live on July 1, 1966, all would soon comply.

At the same time the Administration was waging that war, they were focusing on herding in non-compliant physicians. Johnson saw this challenge as one only he could address.  As the Senate was closing in on final approval of Medicare, in early June, 1965, AMA president James Appel called the White House to request a meeting with the President. The meeting was scheduled on June 29th, the very day that the Senate would vote their final approval of the Bill. When the delegation arrived with Dr. Appel in the lead, Johnson began by reading them verbatim from the proposed Bill: “Nothing in this title  shall be construed to authorize any Federal officer or employee to exercise any supervision or control over the practice of medicine or the manner in which medical services are provided”. He then reviewed the use of Blue Cross and private insurance “intermediaries” to administer the program thus keeping government at arm’s length. He spent the next half of the meeting “hugging” the doctors, thanking them for their service, day and night, to patients “like his daddy”; expressing respect and gratitude for their devoted and selfless service; and finally asking whether they’d he able to help him round up some doctors to address the pressing needs of the Vietnam people that he had observed first hand.

The response was unconditional from the doctors. They were at the President and the nation’s service. Johnson then immediately pivoted, calling for “a couple of reporters”, who arrived quickly on cue. Johnson praised the doctors and their leaders by name, and the reporters not surprisingly, wanted to know what the AMA intended to do about Medicare. Would they support it? Johnson interrupted, visibly shocked by the question. “These men are going to get doctors to go to Vietnam where they might get killed…Medicare is the law of the land. Of course they’ll support the law of the land. Tell him, you tell him.”, he said pointing at Appel. Appel, confirmed their support, stating modestly, “We are, after all, law abiding citizens.”

Johnson then left the doctors with his ace health policy leader, Wilbur Cohen, with instructions to work out the details with the AMA. With a pledge in hand to not “interfere with the patient-physician relationship”, and confirmation of cost plus reimbursement for the doctors and inclusion of hospital doctors under Part B, as well as some adjustments to disease specific areas, the AMA left with what they needed – an explanation to their more conservative members for their willingness to cooperate with the Administration on this heinous new law.

At the September AMA House of Delegates meeting, The AMA top exec proclaimed, “I think it is fair to say that (we)…succeeded in bringing about at the White House level a series of ‘improving amendments’ which…should allay the fears of the profession.” No doubt the successful laying down of arms by the organization who had been fully engaged, for two decades, in preventing exactly what they were now endorsing, owes much of its explanation to President Johnson’s skill, commitment, and above all, persistence. As an example of the final trait, consider the telegram Johnson sent to the AMA president, after having secured their support, timed to arrive dramatically at the AMA’s National Convention gathering in Chicago. One week before the actual launch of the program on July 1, 1966, the message read:

“ON JULY 1 THE MEDICARE PROGRAM WILL BECOME A REALITY…PERHAPS NEVER – EXCEPT IN MOBILIZING FOR WAR – HAS THIS GOVERNMENT MADE SUCH EXTENSIVE PREPARATIONS FOR AN UNDERTAKING…WE SHALL CONTINUE TO SEEK YOUR COUNSEL IN THE MONTHS AHEAD – AND WE SHALL BE AVAILABLE TO EVERY DOCTOR AND EVERY HOSPITAL OFFICER TO DEAL WITH ANY PROBLEM THAT ARISES.”(60)

The implementation was not perfect, but considering the size of the challenge, amazingly smooth. There were no major organized doctor protests or hold-outs. And physicians like my father soon came to appreciate Medicare as a highly reliable payor, which, in the years to come, in general, would deliver much better payment across the board then private insurers did. Further, as my mother and father aged, and moved from the provider to the consumer ranks, they found Medicare enrollment to be a great relief, highly responsive to their needs, and with none of the “trickery” that they had been employed over the years by private payers attempting to limit their outlays in response to legitimate claims of enrollees in an attempt to maximize their profits.

Compassionate Capitalists Debate “Medicare-For-All.”

Posted on | October 17, 2019 | No Comments

Mike Magee

As this week’s Democratic debate well-illustrated, the issue of “Medicare-for-all” still ignites passion and was actively contested by 12 compassionate capitalists. By now, strong majorities of Americans support access to health services as a right, universal coverage, and protections against discriminatory expulsion from coverage due to prior conditions. How we get there, and how we pay for it remains controversial.

If there is a face for a “compassionate capitalist”, many would drop in the wise visage of Warren Buffett who famously declared “Medical costs are the tapeworm of American economic competitiveness.”

Others have stated it differently while agreeing with results of the 2018 Bloomberg health efficiency index placing the U.S. dead last. The problem is systemic and nearly everyone knows it by now. Legendary Princeton health economist Uwe Reinhardt said as much declaring  “At international health care conferences, arguing that a certain proposed policy would drive some country’s system closer to the U.S. model usually is the kiss of death.”

If most experts are there, where is the rest of the American public when it comes to a fundamental reboot of our inequitable and wasteful system focused on cure over care and profit over just about everything else?

The quick answer is, “They’re moving left at a pretty fast clip.”  That’s the underlying message in a 2019 poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The report stated that “Medicare-for-all starts with net favorability rating of +14 percentage points (56% who favor it, minus 42% who oppose it). This jumps to +45 percentage points when people hear the argument that this type of plan would guarantee health insurance as a right for all Americans.”

And this included growing Republican support. Look at these numbers:

  • 77 percent of the public, including most Republican (69%), favor allowing people between the ages of 50 to 64 to buy health insurance through Medicare;
  • 75 percent, including most Republicans (64%), favor allowing people who aren’t covered by their employer to buy insurance through their state’s Medicaid program;
  • 74 percent, including nearly half of Republicans (47%), favor a national government plan like Medicare that is open to anyone, but also would allow people to keep the coverage they have if they want to; and
  • 56 percent, including nearly a quarter of Republicans (23%), favor a national plan called Medicare-for-all in which all Americans would get their insurance through a single government plan.

What are the concerns?

First, cost in the form of higher taxes. Most want to be assured that there will be substantial front end savings with universal coverage. That means simplifying insurance billing so that we no longer have 16 people employed for every physician in America.

Second, efficiency. Americans need to be reassured that universal coverage will not fundamentally undermine basic access to essential services.

Third, lower drug costs. People have grown tired of their politicians protecting well-heeled donors. They want action.

What would break the log jam in currently drugged-up America?

First, outlaw direct-to-consumer advertising like every other developed nation in the world. The days of creating a drug market and then selling into it need to come to an end.

Second, reference pricing of pharmaceuticals like Canada and European nations do. Set our prices so they come in line with the rest of the world.

Third, don’t buy the innovation argument from a medical-industrial complex that has over-promised and under-delivered while padding executives pockets. Trust me – American innovation can stand on its own two feet without systematically breaking the financial backs of average American families.

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