The Ultimate in Irony?

February 3, 2014

A stated primary purpose of the Affordable Care Act is to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable health insurance.

Over the past 2 years, we’ve watched and heard elected officials at various levels of government fabricate stories to try and convince us that having a government-legislated mandate which gives us access to affordable health insurance is bad.

The Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, NY is a “NYS Public Benefit Corporation.” As such, it serves as a regional healthcare referral center, mandated to provide high-quality advanced health services to the residents of the Hudson Valley and the surrounding area, regardless of their ability to pay. WMC also serves as an academic medical center involved in research and education that enables advanced care and prepares future generations of physicians.

According to a report published in April 2012 in The Journal News, the medical center spent $11.8 million in 2010 to compensate 44 executives, with Michael Israel, the CEO, at the top of the list at some $1.4 Million.

Now, in a Kafkaesque twist, this over-compensated CEO of a public benefit health care provider has proclaimed they will not accept any coverage plans offered through the NYS health care exchange! (The Journal News, February 2, 2014).

The Journal News has done an admirable job following and reporting on the perpetual shenanigans which seem to plague Westchester Medical Center. Yet, leadership at WMC seems to continue to ignore the reason they enjoy the benefits of public subsidies from the local, county, state and federal governments.

Here it is: the ultimate Catch-22:

1. You have insurance.

2. The Public Benefit Corporation which was created (and continues to exist) to, “manage a health care system which will provide health care services and health facilities for the benefit of the residents of the State and the County, including to persons in need of health care services who lack the ability to pay..” won’t accept your insurance.

Folks, you just can’t make this stuff up!

Our U.S. economy is still shaky. A payroll tax cut was enacted to help increase the spending power of middle-class Americans, and it is due to expire at the end of February.

Class action lawsuits and medical malpractice lawsuits have driven up costs across our health care system, and could potentially be ameliorated through comprehensive tort reform.

There are dozens – probably hundreds – of serious domestic issues that our Congress could be working on.

Instead, they are currently focused on contraception.

Let’s set the record straight: Members of Congress who seek to limit the availability of affordable birth control all enjoy contraception insurance as part of the government managed Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB).

This benefit has been in place since 1998, and it “…ensures that federal employees participating in FEHB have insurance coverage of FDA-approved prescription contraceptives and related services.”

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum told an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on February 10 that ‘insurance plans shouldn’t cover contraception services because birth control “costs a few dollars” and is only a “minor expense” for women.’

Good to know.

In my job – in my life – I am forced to prioritize my time and my efforts. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could spend all my time focused on minor issues that I think are “fun”?

That seems to be what our leaders in Congress are all about these days.

To paraphrase an old fable, “Rome is burning while our Congressional leaders are fiddling.”

We pay each and every member of Congress a base annual salary of $174,000, plus deluxe health care and pension benefits, and perks for things like travel and mail. There are various stipends for leadership roles as committee chairs, majority leader, minority leader, etc.

Most recent estimates of the total annual costs of our federal legislative body – Senate and House of Representatives — are in the $5 Billion range.

Now, some might point out that spending for the House and Senate, which includes salaries, mailings, and committee expenses, represents only .07 percent of total federal spending. The entire legislative branch includes additional expenses for the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Budget Office, the Library of Congress, and some other functions.

That seems like a really good deal — if we are getting focus on critical issues and real results.

There are some – including voters, political scientists and lawmakers themselves– who have said that the 112th Congress (which convened on January 3, 2011) was our worst ever.

The 2011 session began with a House vote to repeal President Obama’s health-care law and ended with a flip-flop over the 60-day tax-cut extender — with detours in between for the two parties to flirt with shutting down the government, jeopardize the nation’s credit and various assorted legislative mayhem.

As a citizen, a taxpayer and a voter, I don’t much care what political party a person claims as their own.

What I do care about is: When they run for public office and get elected, our representatives put aside their personal agendas and work for the best long-term interests of our country.

Is that too much to ask for?