An Open Letter to My Peers…And Congress

I am:

  • a business owner
  • a centrist Democrat
  • a woman (we are still the gender majority and statistically the greatest users of healthcare)
  • a Boomer (we too are a large number & statistically the ones who have the most to win/lose w/any reform)
  • a member of the middle class (ditto above)
  • self-insured (e.g. not through my business)

As you see, I represent a broad cross-section of those most impacted by any healthcare reform, and as a Centrist Democrat, I believe in fiscal responsibility while helping my fellow Americans who fall ill and/or die every day because they have no insurance.  Useful reform requires thinking and/both, not either/or.

I wish to speak directly to each constituency, member to member.

To my fellow business owners:

When we want to address a problem that only our company/industry is in a position to resolve, we would not ignore it – we would most likely take out a loan (or shall I say would like to if banks were lending…), and get to work on expanding what we must to take advantage of a window of opportunity.  We would carefully calculate the risk and determine that if we do it right, we will not only be able to pay back that loan, but make a profit. 

The “problem” that needs to be resolved here is that clearly the competition created between private insurers alone has not only not reduced customers’ costs, but continues to increase them, so that model has not worked in our market place.  Therefore a new model is called for.   Applying this business model to reform, the Feds would become an insurer so that we “customers” can then reap the benefits that such good ol’ American competition would generate with private insurers (because they are the only “industry” in a position to do so).  There will be an upfront cost – of course.  But using that as a reason for not doing it at all doesn’t make sense.  Doing it in a way that will ultimately pay back the “loan” and then remain solvent, does.

We say that compelling private companies to compete with the Federal Government is not fair competition, thus insurers will be placed at a huge and unAmerican disadvantage.  After all, without significant government subsidies, no insurer has attempted to provide coverages that compete with Medicare.  That said, however, this model has worked in other industries.  The best examples: public and private colleges/universities; what has compelled the US Post Office to work more effectively (or at least try…) has been the private company competition to it.  There is simply no well-thought reason this model cannot also work with health insurance. 

As for co-ops, those few in existence work so well because they are non-profits – like the government, they are not in it to make money, but simply put their earnings-above-expenses back into improving their services.  Therefore, isn’t that unfair competition to for-profits that must pay huge salaries and give shareholders returns on investment?  Either way, private industry will be competing with a not-for-profit entity of one sort or another, so in essence, co-ops would be equally “dangerous” as competitors.  Then, there is the icing on the co-op concept-as-misguided cake: the fact that the plan being considered right now would be in very few States/areas, and most likely would not be available to the majority of Americans in our lifetime.   There is another glaring flaw to the co-op concept, and that I’ve covered in “to my fellow self-insureds” below.

To my fellow Centrist Democrats (&  you, too, Republicans): 

Given the above formula, you disappoint me greatly by not seeing the fiscally responsible window of opportunity here to both improve competition/significantly lower insurance costs for us with a public option, and do so in a way that will pay for itself so any upfront costs are “repaid” and on-going costs offset.  That is both social and fiscal responsibility… which is what you purport to be all about.

To my fellow(?) women:

As the greatest users of healthcare, from child-bearing to the ever increasing incidence of breast cancer, we have the most to lose with reform that does not create real and significant competition – it is only such competition that will lower costs…that is capitalism…that is the American way and it works.  As I mentioned above, relying on insurance companies, even if you can purchase “across state lines”, to lower your costs as a result would be continuing to trust an industry that clearly does not have our ability to afford them at heart.  For example, they can simply congregate in states that have far less stringent laws for coverage, and then offer a lower premium…for less coverage – this is not a savings.  They will continue to do what they do now:  the two largest health insurers held half or more of all enrollments in 40 of the 42 states studied just last year by the American Medical Association.

Without an outside force keeping their prices in check, they have proven to us over almost a century that they will simply find ways around any lesser legislation, and we will continue to pay for it.

To my fellow Boomers:

All of the above in the “women” section, plus as we age we will be the major users of healthcare, and many of us have miles to go before we qualify for Medicare (the other “public option” of which we will happily avail ourselves).  That means years of exorbitant premiums, even if insurers can no longer drop us when we get sick or refuse to cover us with a pre-existing condition.  Great – we qualify – but we still can’t afford it….

To my fellow Middle-Class:

The poor will be covered – the rich can afford designer care so they don’t care – we’re the ones who will be left to live with the final results of this legislation.  So, what will reduce our costs without sacrificing the levels of coverage we need to stay healthy…or survive a devastating illness?  We’ve said we don’t trust the government to do a plan right…do we really trust insurance companies more…?  With reforms to Medicare to bring its spending under control, it becomes an excellent model to replicate. Apparently even without those controls everyone on Medicare loves Medicare and the rest of us can’t wait to get on it… If Medicare is that effective, useful, needed, it is worthy of replicating for younger Americans as an alternative to private insurance for those who qualify (which, like Medicare, would hardly be “everyone” but in fact quite limited – enough to make a real difference without creating an unfair advantage).

There is only one way we will realize not just immediate but on-going cost reasonableness while not sacrificing our coverages.  We can have both – this is America – when we want the best approach badly enough, we make it happen.

To my fellow self-insureds:

You, like me, have most likely at some point had insurance through an employer prior to buying your own for whatever reason.  Back in 2000 when I worked for someone else, I was given a choice of diminished coverages for the same employee share cost, or increased costs for keeping the same coverages.  This trend has continued and worsened for those with employer provided coverage.  To quickly emphasize this with a real example: Dawn Smith is an aspiring writer living in Atlanta; four years ago, she was diagnosed with a rare, but treatable brain tumor; her doctors are ready to remove it, but they can’t because CIGNA refuses to pay for the surgery.  This is a battle happening right now.

We know that this is then magnified 100% when we pay the entire bill ourselves, and with no more guarantee than has Dawn that we will be covered when we need it the most.

I have seen my insurance bill rise by 33% over the past 1.5 years.  This is simply unacceptable.  Yet I have the lowest-cost insurance available to me here in Florida, and the bare minimum of coverage (“catastrophic” only).  Of the “cost-reducing” options being forwarded in lieu of a public option by some members of Congress, one is the ability for us to go across state lines – in reality, that would reduce my premium very little (I’ve checked) and “co-ops” would take years to develop to the point of efficacy – that’s only after the years it will take to get them up and running…the existing co-ops being used as models have taken as long as 20 years to get to the point where they are now the models to be emulated.  You truly want to wait 20 years? 

And as for cost, co-ops may have premium increases that are less than their competition’s, but that doesn’t make those increases necessarily affordable. Washington State’s Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound had annual increases for averaging 12.3 percent since 2000; they were 24.2 percent in 2003.

My fellow Centrist Dem’s/Biz Owners/Boomer Women/Self-Insureds, I ask you to consider my words to you peer-to-peer; they are long in coming and carefully thought out, I promise.  I have done my homework – do my own fact-finding rather than relying on pundits with a clearly self-serving motivation (ratings) on both sides of the issue.  I, like you, have the most to gain or lose if this is done…or not done…right.  I ask you to not only refuse to dismiss a public option, but insist on it. In fact, it is our only chance for reform that will be both meaningful and lasting.

RE: "An Open Letter to Obama" by Lou Pritchett

This letter, originally written to the NYTimes by businessman & author Lou Pritchett, but not printed there, has been recently picked up by bloggers in search of material to keep their base “mobilized” and as a result, email-forwarders…which is how I learned of it. 

So…here is my take in the hope of providing some needed perspective, on Mr. Pritchett & his letter.

On Mr. Pritchett’s “living legend” status:

Lou Pritchett did write a very successful book, and has made a fortune as a result, but that doesn’t make him the “living legend” he is purported to be.  By all accounts by the giants of commerce, the true legend of American innovation and business management is Peter Drucker, known as the “father of modern management” – to support this:

“The world knows he was the greatest management thinker of the last century,” Jack Welch, former chairman of General Electric Co. (GE ).

“(Drucker) was the creator and inventor of modern management,” said management guru Tom Peters. “In the early 1950s, nobody had a tool kit to manage these incredibly complex organizations that had gone out of control. Drucker was the first person to give us a handbook for that.”

Adds Intel Corp. (INTC ) co-founder Andrew S. Grove: “Like many philosophers, he spoke in plain language that resonated with ordinary managers. Consequently, simple statements from him have influenced untold numbers of daily actions; they did mine over decades.”

Now, on to Pritchett’s fears:

You scare me because after months of exposure, I know nothing about you.

A simple search on Webcrawler brings up 3 pages in information on Obama the man, the Senator, the Pres, etc. – much more w/a basic Google search – and that doesn’t include two well published books he wrote about his life & beliefs, which no other modern President did prior to holding office – the only thing missing is an invitation to dinner…there is just as much, actually more, information about Obama as there is/has been for any other President, living or dead – so we all know no less, and in fact more, about Obama as we did other Presidents

You scare me because I do not know how you paid for your expensive Ivy League education and your upscale lifestyle and housing with no visible signs of support.

Go to http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/money.asp for all the information you want on how he paid for everything;

You scare me because you did not spend the formative years of youth growing up in America and culturally you are not an American

The first 6 years of his life (considered to be the most formative by any psychological standard) were spent in Hawaii; he spent 4 years (from age 7-11) in Indonesia, and the rest back in Hawaii – Hawaii is still a State in our Union last I heard…in comparison, John Quincy Adams spent 8 years in France & Russia with his father, Barry Goldwater was born in an AZ territory that at the time was not part of the US, & John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone Y there has still been no resolution as to whether that makes him a “natural born citizen”.

You scare me because you have never run a company or met a payroll.

Neither did Ronald Reagan…

You scare me because you have never had military experience, thus don’t understand it at its core.

Neither did Clinton (who the military loved…),  Roosevelt (FD) Hoover, Coolidge, Harding, Wilson, Taft, Cleveland, VanBuren, JQAdams, and John Adams, the man without whom we would not have attained American Independence when we did.

You scare me because you lack humility and ‘class’, always blaming others.

I’m guessing, then, that your fellow corporate CEO’s/CFO’s etc., like the Enron & Countrywide guys, also scare you, as they became famous for passing the blame and some of the classiest are now in prison or dead…

You scare me because for over half your life you have aligned yourself with radical extremists who hate America and you refuse to publicly denounce these radicals who wish to see America fail.

John Adams was considered a radical extremist by his fellow representatives in the Continental Congress, for having the audacity to insist on American Independence…

You scare me because you are a cheerleader for the ‘blame America’ crowd and deliver this message abroad. 

Humility, which includes admitting mistakes as Obama has done, is difficult for most of us, but here’s a few folks you’ll recognize who believe doing so is not only right, but expected by our highest power:
And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
(Matthew 23:12)
Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips.
(Proverbs 27:2)
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
(Matthew 5:5)
And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
(Matthew 23:12)

You scare me because you want to change America to a European style country where the government sector dominates instead of the private sector. 

In fact, the only Western European country that has a government dominating all commerce (socialism) is….none…Eastern European countries rely much more on the old socialist style left over from their communist days, but they too are quickly changing to a Western (starting in Western Europe) economic system, based in capitalism.  Having a government run healthcare system, as does England & Canada for instance, does not logically translate to all commerce being government run….

You scare me because you want to replace our health care system with a government controlled one. 

That’s funny!  Adding to the humor of this one is that many of those polled who are against any health care plan under government control are on…Medicare…a “socialist” government controlled health care plan…or happily took (or will take) advantage of the GI Bill that offered government stipends & “unemployment funds” – government run…

You scare me because you prefer ‘wind mills’ to responsibly capitalizing on our own vast oil, coal and shale reserves.. 

It surprises me that someone who is known for thinking progessively, changing the way corporate America operates and which even more ironically is about change management, is holding onto energy producing technologies developed in the late 19th Century.  Taking carbon from the ground, and ultimately placing it in the air, makes as much sense as smoking, or inhaling fumes from a burning building – this is why people can kill themselves by turning on the car in a closed space…and waiting… The virtue of these energy sources (oil/coal/shale) is none more than “it’s how we’ve always done it” which not only flies in the face of his corporate thinking, but shows an unfortunate desire to stick with “technology” founded during a time when they also used mercury and lead to “cure disease”…

You scare me because you want to kill the American capitalist goose that lays the golden egg which provides the highest standard of living in the world. 

When he wrote this, we were in the thoes of the worst financial/economic melt-down since the Great Depression as a result of unregulated corporate shell games founded in greed that left millions losing their homes and jobs… and this is telling coming from a man who is a member of the 1% of the population for whom that goose lays those eggs (according to the most frequently used gauge of income distribution, the Gini coefficient, the top 1% of Americans take in 22% of all income, that figure was 7% in 1976; between 1967 & 2007, the lowest earners’ income increased approxmately 25%; the highest earners’ increased approximately 43%; the middle class fared the worst with an increase of approximately 24%).

The problem is not captalism, but captialism run amok, which is what Obama has stated clearly he wants to fix – this does not constitute elimination of it.

You scare me because you have begun to use ‘extortion’ tactics against certain banks and corporations. 

See “capalist goose” above

You scare me because your own political party shrinks from challenging you on your wild and irresponsible spending proposals.

Gee, didn’t we say this about the Republican party when they were in power…which is why they were ousted by a majority of the US electorate?

You scare me because you will not openly listen to or even consider opposing points of view from intelligent people. 

Not considering and not agreeing are two very different things…he clearly considers…unless you include in this group of intelligent people the “birthers” and the “tea-baggers” and then most of us tune out, too…  In fact opposing points of view are aired and considered regularly, which is why the HC reform package did not go through when Obama wanted it to, too much opposition from both the Republican & “Blue Dog” Democrat representatives, and if you follow the progress of the bill closely, you will see the numerous changes made to the bill as a result of listening to these opposing views

You scare me because you falsely believe that you are both omnipotent and omniscient.

You know, the saying goes that Caridiologists think they’re God, Neurologists and Bankers KNOW they’re God; from the economic facts before us with which we “common folk” must now live, it was in fact Pritchett’s fellow Corporate folks, particularly bankers & insurance company execs, who thought of themselves as God-like, making broad and dangerous decisions for us all, the price for which we all now pay dearly with our homes and incomes

You scare me because the media gives you a free pass on everything you do. 

I guess Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, The Free Republic, and the Washington Times, to name the 4 most recognizable outlets of the 34 most read/heard outlets (e.g. there’s many more on local levels, such as WGUL in Tampa Bay) don’t count as media…?

You scare me because you demonize and want to silence the Limbaughs, Hannitys, O’Relllys and Becks who offer opposing, conservative points of view. 

Wait…I thought the news media gives him a free pass?  And last I saw/heard, all of these individuals were soundly viewed/heard daily on their respective shows; Obama has spent little if any time speaking about these folks.

You scare me because you prefer controlling over governing. 

There is no such thing, as Republicans learned the hard way, as “controlling” much legislatively, particularly for the President – our Founding Fathers saw to that.  And Obama has a long way to go to match let alone surpass truly controlling behaviors like we see when health insurance companies refuse treatments just when folks need them, or cancel policies because a person has gotten an expensive diagnosis.

Finally, you scare me because if you serve a second term I will probably not feel safe in writing a similar letter in 8 years. 

Finally, given the flack he is receiving from the extreme right (see “non-existent conservative media sources” above) after just 8 months in office, if Obama wins a second term, Mr. Pritchett and folks who agree with him will know clearly that their notions are not sustainable, so will have no need to write something like this…again.

Lou Pritchett 
Terri Benincasa

Do We Owe Our Progeny an Apology?

According to some featured graduation speakers as reported by the Wall Street journal (& commented on by Rita Robinson of the Seattle Press -reprinted here), we most assuredly do:

“Is it necessary for baby boomers to apologize to younger generations for their excesses?

When I was reading The Boomer Blog, I found an article in The Wall Street Journal called “Boomers to This Year’s Grads: We Are Really, Really Sorry.”

These are among the quotes in the article:

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, 60 years old, told the graduating class of Butler University last month that boomers have been ‘self-absorbed, self-indulgent and all too often just plain selfish.’

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, 55, told Grinnell College graduates in Iowa that his was ‘the grasshopper generation, eating through just about everything like hungry locusts.’

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, at 44 barely a boomer himself, told seniors at Colorado College that the national creed of one generation standing on the shoulders of the next was at risk ‘because our generation has not been faithful enough to our grandparents’ example.’

The article said the collective advice of the speakers for the class of 2009: Don’t be like us.

What do you think of these apologies?”

I’m glad to hear ’em – and my hope is we’ve just begun, at last, to recognize the damage we’ve done as a generation over the last 25 years, when we started with such promise.  Remember when we fought against “the man” and all his excesses, his polluting ways, his corporate greed, and his disdain for anything but his own bottom line?  So we changed the world for the better w/civil rights, environmental controls, and the uncovering of corporate shenanigans?  We were good!  Then we went bad….

Robin goes on to say that Gen Y/X experience their share of excesses, so it’s not just us…but gee, who raised them?  She states that there were/are those of our parents’ generation who have as well lived lives of excess….in contrast to ours, they were in the minority – and it was not a generational past-time to live beyond their means & consider themselves worthy only if they had more things, as it was ours.

Finally she says: “I know boomers who are environmentalists and live a simple lifestyle. Not all boomers practiced instant gratification.”  Yep… all three of them.

Then, there’s this from Harry Dent of the Miami based HSDent research firm as reported in the Newark Star Ledger, about how Boomers are the prime cause of this recession (as he predicted would be the case back in the ’80’s) – but this time for the opposite reason of the apology:

“Q: You said years ago that the spending habits of the Baby Boomers will eventually cause the economy to crash. Why?

A: This Baby Boomer generation is massive — the largest we’ve seen in a couple hundred years, probably since the American Revolution. They’ve been entering the work force, getting married, raising families, buying houses and earning more money since the early ’80s.

…We said 20 years ago, “Hey, there will be an end to this.” They’ll peak in their spending cycle after they buy houses, raise their kids, get them into college and all that good stuff.

Now, they’re just doing predictable things as they age. In other words, they’ll become savers, not spenders. They don’t need a bigger house. They don’t need more cars. The kids are gone. That’s what happening. They’re going to spend less and the economy’s going to get slower and slower.”

To Mr. Dent I say…”yeah…right…apparently you’ve not been keeping up with your fellow Boomers spending habits…”  We may down-size some things like our home space (although many are actually up-sizing as they “retire in place” and make room for children and/or parents to move in w/them), but we are not down-sizing our willingness to spend for things that keep us feeling good about ourselves. From ultra-expensive “cosmeceuticals” to high-end vacations, our penchant for instant gratification and determination to halt the aging process will well make up for any “savings” we embrace in other areas. 

And please prove me wrong, my fellow Boomers, but once this econonic crisis passes, and our portfolios make a come-back, too many of us will go back to our old ways.  We will be the first generation to leave less for our children (inheritance) than we spent on ourselves.

But all is not lost, says she who has so far filled this post with a quite curmudgeonly “bad Boomers!” diatribe.

I always have faith in my generation, it is faith in ourselves that I fear we lack.  We still don’t recognize the enormous power (for good or ill) we wield (lost track of that once we moved from our youth to becoming “the man” in adulthood), and the immense changes for the better of which we are capable if we put our collective will to it.

If we make driving small, fuel efficient cars the thing to do, they will sell like pork-barrel projects in Washington!  If we make it a priority to hold our legislators accountable for their behavior, we will have far better government leadership.  As the current corporate leadership, if we move from an emphasis on gluttony to one of benevolent leadership (as we demanded of those in this same position in our youth), we will change the face of corporate America.

So, Boomers, as has been the case for the past 40 years, the proverbial ball is in our court.  Will we use our collective might to fix what’s wrong today, and leave a legacy perhaps not equal to but near that of our parents’, or will be continue to ignore our power and by doing so remain destructive?

You tell me.