Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Lesson In Dishonesty

A few days ago I received in the mail a four page color brochure (with photographs) helpfully entitled: "Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins answers your questions about the new health care law." Excellent! Answers are good, and I'm in favor of them. The return address was:

Congress of the United States
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Official Business

[ Update Dec 11, 2013 - You can view the Jenkins brochure here. ]

I presumed that Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins [2nd District, Kansas] wanted to brief me on the most important provisions of the recently passed bill, with particular emphasis on how they would affect my access to health care. A good thing, too, what with all the misinformation that's been swirling around a very heated political climate over the past year. Now that we have an actual law, a summary of its major points certainly seemed in order. I was eager to see it.

Opening the brochure, I learned that next year drug makers would face new fees, and that Medicare Advantage plans would begin to phase-out. In 2013 there will be new taxes on high income individuals and couples. There will also be higher taxes on "wages" and "unearned income," but it was not clear to what extent I would be affected by these. Also in that year, there will be a new excise tax on medical devices.

In 2014, said the brochure, pretty much everybody will be required to have health insurance, although there will be some subsidies for lower and middle-income people. Employers with more than 50 employees that don't provide adequate coverage will be fined. In that same year, the insurance industry will pay an annual fee of $8 billion, and even more in subsequent years. An independent Medicare board must submit recommendations to curb Medicare spending if costs rise faster than inflation.

In 2016 there will be a significant penalty for persons who don't carry adequate health coverage, and in 2018 an excise tax on higher cost health plans will take effect.

Yikes! Looks like I'm gonna get hammered by all the new taxes, fees, and requirements. I can't afford this, and neither can the country. At least, so says Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins.

But wait! Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins didn't actually tell me anything about what the new law does to promote my access to health care. A big oversight, don't you think, to fixate on just the law's costs, and say not a thing about its benefits? I mean, the legislation set out to address a particular set of widely acknowledged problems with health care delivery. To what extent does it succeed? In merely describing how the law will be paid for, Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins doesn't even acknowledge, let alone answer, the question.

If Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins really wanted to "answer my questions," if she truly had my interests in mind, she might have mentioned that within ninety days persons previously unable to purchase insurance due to pre-existing conditions will have access to high risk pools. She could have said that within six months, insurers will be prohibited from canceling coverage when the insured gets sick. Or that insurers will be prohibited from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. Or that lifetime caps on coverage will be abolished. All within six months! Here's a biggie that went unmentioned: In 2014, nobody can be denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions. Insurance exchanges will be available where persons without employer coverage can purchase insurance affordably. Business exchanges will appear in 2017.

Why didn't she tell me that, immediately or very soon, young adults will be able to stay on their parents' insurance plan until age 26? (Don't you think parents in Congresswoman Lynn Jenkens's district might like to know this?) Or that seniors will get rebates for "donut hole" gaps in Medicare prescription drug coverage? (Wouldn't that be of interest to her elderly constituents?) Or that insurance plans will be required to provide preventative care? She could have mentioned there will be a new appeals process for consumers. And medically under-served areas (of which Kansas, being a largely rural state, has many) will see increased benefits.

None of this—none of it—was in Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins's brochure. Why not? Can anybody really believe that Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins was making a good faith effort to answer the actual questions of her constituents? Of course not.

I can readily appreciate that, since Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins voted against the health care bill, she's not about to give it a glowing endorsement now. But that doesn't excuse her complete neglect of any information, particularly the most basic or useful facts, that might reflect favorably on the new law. Her brochure is transparent political propaganda, produced and mailed at taxpayer expense, while dishonestly posing as a sincere communication to her constituents.

Unfortunately, there is still an enraged segment of the citizenry that doesn't understand the essentials of the new law, and keeping them ignorant and angry works to the congresswoman's political advantage. All the better if she can poke the bear by tacitly suggesting that an oppressive government is simply sticking them with new taxes and obligations, the way big government always does.

Rather than actually answer actual questions, Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins would rather pander to the uninformed, posture for political gain, mislead and inflame, and in so-doing cynically abuse an important trust between representative and represented. She provides an object lesson in why today's political atmosphere is so poisonous and unproductive, and in how dysfunctional governance is perpetuated. She should be ashamed.

Copyright (C) 2010 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved