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SEEING THE GLASS FIVE-SIXTHS FULL! The Senate health bill is a turkey. In the Times, Robert Pear doesn’t tell: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2009

A long-despised minority: Throughout history, we labyrinthitis sufferers have been ridiculed, reviled and despised. Why did the ancients make lepers live in the underground caves we see so plainly in Ben Hur? Simple! So pedestrians couldn’t see the deeper caves into which we had been hurled!

Ten years ago today: How do you get into the White House with no invitation? We’d have to say it’s the same old answer:

Practice, practice, practice! Go ahead: Just click here.

(Joking aside, we don’t know what happened at the White House, or at the earlier CBC event. We’ll wait for a formal report.)

Related question: How do you create a society whose opinion leaders want to talk about a golfer’s love life? Same damn answer! To wit:

On yesterday’s Morning Joe, we were pleased to see The New Yorker’s David Remnick refer back, disapprovingly, to similar crap from the Clinton years. In those days, opinion leaders talked about Bill Clinton’s love life (and then, about Naomi Wolf’s non-existent resemblance to Miss Lewinsky) as al Qaeda planned its attacks—as Glass-Steagall was getting repealed.

And so, a bit of history! Ten years ago this very day, the Washington Post (Ceci Connolly) and the New York Times (“Kit” Seelye) “accidentally” “misquoted” Candidate Gore about his high-profile hearings in the House concerning toxic waste sites in Toone, Tennessee and Love Canal. Having trashed Wolf for a good solid month, the fools were happy to move ahead to this new bungled topic.

The “misquotation” was definitively corrected on TV, through videotape, on that very first day. But so what? The Post and the Times both refused to correct, finally relenting six and nine days later. (In each newspaper, the grudging “correction” contained a new mistake about what Gore had said! In those days, the fools were prolific.) And who gave a sh*t about corrections anyway? The fools kept repeating the misquotation for more than two months, as they crafted a mocking, bogus paraphrase of what Gore had supposedly said. (More accurately: As they adopted this paraphrase from their RNC faxes.)

George Bush ended up in the White House. Career liberals and your “liberal journals” just sat there and took it.

Being very Serious People, they knew that they mustn’t complain.

Yesterday, Remnick said we have to stop clowning. We give him full credit for that correct statement. But to see Remnick play along with Chris Matthews ten years ago, you know what to do: See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/19/06.

Yesterday, we sat slack-jawed as Morning Joe’s pundit panel complained that the Salahis will do anything to get on TV. Such people will say “outrageous” things, Mad Money’s Jim Cramer averred.

Look who’s talking, the analysts cried. No one has agreed to say more outrageous things than that panel of pundits has. We would have sadly shaken our head—except we had labyrinthitis, and the room would have swum all around.

Truly, we live in a lunatic culture. Have you been able to train your eye such that you can see it?

SEEING THE GLASS FIVE-SIXTHS FULL: How broken is journalistic culture at the tippity-top? Consider Robert Pear’s news report in today’s New York Times—the newspaper’s top front-page story.

For what it’s worth, Pear’s report also seems to show the broken state of our “liberal” politics.

Pear reports on the CBO’s new projections concerning the Senate health bill. His report runs beneath a set of misleading headlines; we show those headlines below, along with Pear’s ambiguous opening paragraph. For now, we’ll highlight one lonely word in that opening graf:

PEAR (12/1/09): NO BIG COST RISE IN U.S. PREMIUMS IS SEEN IN STUDY

DATA ON HEALTH PLAN

Report by Budget Office Seen by Democrats as Lift for Bill

The Congressional Budget Office said Monday that the Senate health bill could significantly reduce costs for many people who buy health insurance on their own, and that it would not substantially change premiums for the vast numbers of Americans who receive coverage from large employers.

The headline writer, like Pear himself, stresses Democratic uplift concerning the new report. (Republican complaints get downplayed, although they’re brutally accurate.) But should anyone be happy with this CBO study, except perhaps for insurance companies? Look what happens a few grafs later, when Pear describes the CBO findings in a bit more detail:

PEAR: Before taking account of federal subsidies to help people buy insurance on their own, the budget office said the bill would tend to drive up premiums. But as a result of the subsidies, it said, most people in the individual insurance market would see their costs decline, compared with the costs expected under current law. The subsidies, a main feature of the bill, would cost the government nearly $450 billion in the next 10 years and would cover nearly two-thirds of premiums for people who receive them.

For most people who get health insurance through employers—five-sixths of the total market—the budget office concluded that there would be little change in their premiums relative to the amounts projected under current law.

Given the history of this bill—the promises made on its behalf—we think those paragraphs are astounding. Pear doesn’t seem to have noticed, as we see in that highlighted word.

What do those two paragraphs say? As best we can tell, they say this:

In the first paragraph, Pear says that premiums will tend to go up for people who buy insurance on their own. (Will the price of premiums “tend to go up” compared to the current price of premiums? Or compared to the projected price of premiums if there is no bill? At this point, Pear doesn’t say. Much later, he clarifies: According to the CBO study, “the average premium per person in the individual insurance market would be 10 percent to 13 percent higher than under current law.” That is, these prices will rise more than they would rise without any health reform bill!)

In the second paragraph, Pear discusses the effects of the bill on premium prices paid by employers. There will be little change in these premiums relative to the amounts projected under current law, he reports. Translation: The cost of these premiums will continue to rise, pretty much just as they will rise if there’s no bill at all.

Given the way health reform has been sold, this is an astonishing failure—an affirmation of the power of our corporate-run democracy. Pear shows no sign of noticing.

Why would these results represent a vast failure? Because health reform has always been sold as a way of reducing health costs, including the price of premiums. As a candidate, Barack Obama frequently said that he was going to pass “a plan that brings the typical family's premiums down by $2500.” (Was that compared to the current price of premiums? Or compared to the projected price of future premiums? As far as we know, Obama didn’t say—and people like Pear didn’t ask.)

Meanwhile, in the year since Obama’s election, discussion of health reform has always focused on the claim that health reform would “bend the cost curve”—would at least slow the rate at which health care costs are growing. This has always been a fuzzy claim. But the evocative claim is hard to reconcile with the outcome Pear describes, in which:

  1. For employers, premium costs continue to rise, just as if there were no bill.
  2. For people who buy their own insurance, premium costs rise even more than they would rise in the absence of a bill.

Where are premiums coming down? Where does health reform “bend the curve?” When it comes to the cost of premiums, Pear seems to say this: Nowhere! The costs of premiums will continue to rise as if there were no bill—at an even faster rate for those who buy their own insurance! Yet Pear shows no sign of understanding the fact that this represents the failure of health reform—that the following system will continue:

  1. Americans will continue paying higher and higher prices to insurers.
  2. Insurers will continue to kick back some of that money to incumbent politicians.

According to Pear, how would health reform affect this cycle? Not by reducing the cost of insurance, whether compared to current or to projected prices. This bill would only affect this cycle in the following way: Pols will funnel tax money to many people, thus lowering what they themselves have to pay for those premiums. The bloated cash flow to insurers continues. So do re-election rates for American pols.

A final point must of course be made about this spreading madness. Those rising costs occur against a baseline which is the laughing-stock of the world. At present, we spend two to three times what comparable nations spend on health care, on a per-person basis. In the past year, the mainstream press corps has made absolutely no attempt to explain why that situation exists. But then, neither have our hapless “liberal journals”—boot-licking, Potemkin news organizations which pretend to advance progressive frameworks.

Rates of coverage would increase under this bill, and that would be a good thing. But whatever happened to bending the curve—to reducing the costs of premiums? (To “bringing the typical family's premiums down by $2500?”) This goals are AWOL in this new study—but Pear doesn’t t seem to notice. We’ll therefore rewrite his opening paragraph, making a change in that one lonely word:

PEAR REWRITTEN: The Congressional Budget Office said Monday that the Senate health bill could significantly reduce costs for many people who buy health insurance on their own, BUT that it would not substantially change premiums for the vast numbers of Americans who receive coverage from large employers.

In our view, that’s an obvious “but,” not an “and.” At the tippity-top of the mainstream press, Pear doesn’t seem to have noticed.

In the liberal world, Potemkin news orgs will urge you to cheer these findings. So it goes in a world in which there is no progressive politics.

“Liberal journals” accepted the wars against Clinton and Gore. Today, they’ll urge you to cheer for this turkey. Your nation is the joke of the world. This morning, the laughter continues.

Lessons in how to bury the lede: Pear consigns his lede to paragraph 12. According to the CBO, the Senate bill will have the following non-effect on the price of premiums:

PEAR: In its report, the budget office compared estimates of premiums in 2016 under the new legislation and under current law. In either case, after seven years of inflation, premiums would be substantially higher than they are today.

Our baseline is the joke of the world. But so what? Whether the bill is passed or not, premiums will be “substantially higher than they are today.” That’s an inexpert way of presenting the outcome, but it helps convey the crashing failure of this “reform” bill.

Insurers stay rich—and so do incumbents. Why wasn’t that the nugget of Pear’s report? Readers! Must we tell?