GUEST COMMENTARY: Elected officials must suffer consequences of their legislation

Monday, August 29, 2011 | 5:34 p.m. CDT; updated 6:25 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 29, 2011

Last week, the Tulsa World reported on statements made by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., after the legislator said he believes that government programs like Medicare are to blame for the nation's rapidly rising health care costs, and that Medicare has worsened the medical system.

According to the World's article, Coburn stated that before Medicare, “communities worked together to make sure that most people received needed medical attention” while acknowledging that some “people received poor care — or no care,” and that “doctors and hospitals often went unpaid for their efforts, or accepted baked goods or chickens in partial payment.”

If Coburn is nostalgic for such a system, then let us pay him and the rest of Congress with chickens.

When Congress was debating Paul Ryan’s plan to turn Medicare into a voucher system, very little mention was made that Congress’ health care would not be affected. The average 72 percent subsidy that taxpayers provide to pay for Congress’ health insurance was also rarely mentioned.

Congress can blithely ignore the harm their legislation inflicts on the general public because a majority of our elected representatives have no skin in the game.

When Congress debated changes to Social Security, they did not discuss modifying their extremely generous pension plan where taxpayers pay 80 percent of congressional benefits.

Tea partier Rick Scott became governor of Florida in January. Since Scott took office, Florida has eliminated 1,300 public employees' jobs with plans to terminate another 3,100 positions.

For new public employees, the retirement age will increase three to five years depending on position, and pension vesting will take an extra two years. There have been substantial cuts in education.

State college tuition costs have increased by 8 percent. A program that provides medical care to low-income children has lost $13 million in funding.

Medicaid payments rates have been reduced by 12 percent and 6.5 percent to hospitals and nursing homes, respectively.

Even with a $3.7 billion deficit for the year, and the second-highest rate of people without health insurance, Florida did not find it necessary to accept money from the federal government and rejected about $54 million to fund various medical and wellness programs.

Nevertheless, Florida has managed to shield its high-ranking officials from the pain caused by its draconian cuts in spending and its refusal to accept federal money.

Gov. Scott, and about 32,000 of these high-ranking officials pay only $30 per month ($360 per year) for health insurance to cover themselves and their families. This subsidy costs Floridians an extra $15.6 million to $57.6 million per year.

Florida’s other 144,000 employees pay $180 per month to cover themselves and their families, so the $32,000-a-year administrative assistant pays six times more for health insurance than the governor, whose salary would be over $132,000 if he accepted pay. (Scott, a multimillionaire, agreed to forgo a paycheck from Florida.)

Retired employees get no subsidy and pay $1,243 per month for health insurance.

As the preceding illustrates, our elected officials seem to have no problem avoiding the consequences of their legislative endeavors.

To prevent further abuses of power, taxpayers must insist on the following from their representatives:

  • No medical benefits or health insurance benefits can be granted or funded by elected officials unless the same benefits are granted to the general public.
  • Any pension benefits elected officials grant to themselves must also be granted to the general public.
  • If the pension benefits to public employees are reduced, then the pension benefits of elected officials shall be reduced by an equivalent amount

Elected officials must learn to live with the consequences of their decisions for their constituents.

Otherwise, we can always implement Sen. Coburn’s suggestion and provide Congress with a chicken in every paycheck.

Joseph Sparks is a master's candidate in MU's School of Journalism. He is planning a career in public relations.

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James Krewson August 30, 2011 | 5:19 a.m.

The reason people like Paul Ryan and Rick Scott were elected was to do exactly what they promised, that is, reduce the size and scope of government. Instead of pointing fingers at Congress' and Scott's health plan, why don't you and your Democrat buddies get together and get enough votes next time so that you can continue to bankrupt this country. My guess is, the American public is finally awake to the fraud that has been perpetrated by the Democrats and realize that we have to cut back in order to avoid financial ruin. We simply DO NOT HAVE THE MONEY ANYMORE TO FUND EVERYTHING WE WANT! COMPRENDE?

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking August 30, 2011 | 7:51 a.m.

"government programs like Medicare are to blame for the nation's rapidly rising health care costs"

Actually, there are a lot of providers that will not take Medicare patients because their payments are capped by the government.

The cost of health care is largely independent of how it is paid for. It is so expensive because of technology, new drugs and treatments, specialization from the lowest to the highest paid providers, defensive medicine, patient expectations, and on and on. Whether we wind up with a single payer system, private insurance pools and exchanges, or some hybrid of the above, we're still going to have some of the most expensive health care in the world.

Many of the factors that make it expensive are not things that would be popular (or even practiccal) for the government to mess with. Be careful what you wish for.


(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 30, 2011 | 9:44 a.m.

MarkF: The cost of health care is largely independent of how it is paid for.

It's been my observation that the cost of "something" is a direct function of how much money is made available to purchase it. Example: The claim that college tuition has, in part, rapidly increased as even more money for scholarships has become available.

So, if more health care money is made available, the cost goes up.

(I recognize I changed the question a said "How it's paid for" while I'm discussing "How much is available to pay for it". Any thoughts?)

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle August 30, 2011 | 10:25 a.m.

25% of US healthcare costs are from the cost control system we use. It was developed for Medicare by Ross Perot's company, EDS, in the '70s.

We could save a *lot* of money by scrapping it, but most people seem completely mesmerized by the siren song of means testing and cost control mechanisms.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking August 30, 2011 | 5:59 p.m.

Michael WIliiams wrote:

"So, if more health care money is made available, the cost goes up."

I'd think there's more health care available - technology and drugs and procedures - all requiring more and more complex systems and training, that do it. The payer has to tag along (or deny payment somehow).

Derrick, could you explain further? Are you talking about our current medical coding system?


(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 30, 2011 | 6:24 p.m.


It's confusing to sort out where each health care dollar goes. Of course, EVERY health care dollar eventually ends up paying someone's salary...somewhere down the road....all the way to the guy cleaning windows at Merck and Co. I suspect the reason sophisticated instruments like MRI and the like are so expensive is because there are relatively few of why every F-22 fighter costs many millions of dollars (lots of R&D, lots of parts, lots of salaries, and not many planes).

I'm also aware that R&D for new drugs is extraordinarily time- and money-expensive....with a not-very-long patent protection. But, again, this is a "total involved salary" issue.

And, as you stated, there is "defensive medicine".

Nonetheless, there is still a disconnect within me about why a relatively simple procedure at the out-patient clinic of a hospital should cost many thousands of dollars.

Further, I object that when you tell a provider you have no insurance...or poor insurance...the bill gets reduced. Why? Does the expense of the procedure/examination change just because my insurance is crappy? How in the world are the two linked? Why does the expense go up if I have insurance? Somebody needs to 'splain this to me.
As stated, price has a lot to do with the availability of the money.

(Report Comment)

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