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.

What Are Boomers Worried About the Most?

This question was posed on centerarticles.com, asked of Boomers and all generations, for the purpose of researching our greatest worries in our lives right now.  Here’s mine.

As a Boomer, I have no worries in my own life, other than keeping my 89 y.o. mother as healthy as possible so she can have quality of life until she moves onto that big golf complex in the sky!

Where my greatest worry lies, is with my fellow Boomers, more specifically the “middle Boomers” as I have labeled those, like me, born in the middle of the procreation craze (so, born betw. approx. 1951 & 1958 – I’m 1954) – which is the greatest majority of us.

We are the ones most responsible for being irresponsible.  It was us, much moreso than the “leading edge” Boomers (1946-1950) or the “junior Boomers (1959-1964), who became “the man” we so reviled as youth (e.g. becoming the corporate boogy men we knew were running/ruining our world back then), became so materialistic and wasteful as to undo all the great changes we fought for (environmental primarily), parented by creating “latch-key kids” (yea, us), and made going into deep debt a normal way of living; forget saving, we’ve instead spent so far beyond our means that we as a generation encouraged- and lead corporately – much of the economic shenanigans that caused the melt-down.

Now, we can add to that our on-going status as the “silent majority” – allowing a minority of our vocal but misinformed generational counterparts to get away with mindlessly repeating what they hear on Fox News whether on health care reform or fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan – rather than using that great education for which we are known (yes, we are also the best educated generation ever in the history of this land…) to read, learn the facts for ourselves, and make an INFORMED decision based on real information, not spin (whether that’s from Fox News or CNN…they all spin).

We Boomers are still in charge….and that worries me.  We haven’t done a boffo job thus far, and don’t seem to be willing…or perhaps able, to see the error of our ways so we can fix what we’ve broken.

What worries me even more is that we have the power, the influence, and the sheer numbers to make a huge, positive difference in our country and world, and instead we use it to the detriment of both.

May my worries be short-lived.

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.