Sufficient Scruples

Bioethics, healthcare policy, and related issues.

January 22, 2013

Blog for Choice Day 2013: Decimating Law to Eviscerate Women’s Rights Under the Law

by @ 8:20 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Provider Roles, Reproductive Ethics, Sex, Women's Issues

January 22: the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and a perennial high point in the continuing relentless fight for women’s rights. This year is the 40th anniversary of the decision that gave women their own bodies back, and it comes at a time when the autonomy conferred by that court decision, the simple fact of self-governance that ought not to require any ratification or authorization in the first place, is more embattled than it has been at any time since.

There’s much to say about this ugly time, the vicious, bitterly vicious, unrelenting backlash that since the Bush years has been ever more shameless in its naked hatred for women’s independence and, still worse, their sexuality. The truly fascist and deeply dishonest legislative assaults that have erupted in so many states over the past two years are as shocking as they are disheartening. And the creepy and untiring campaign to undermine, by every devious and indirect means, women’s access not only to abortion services, but contraception and all reproductive healthcare, including even breast cancer screenings, is both revelatory and repulsive.

But aside from the infuriating and burdensome details of this multi-front war on women and their bodies, what particularly strikes me is the pervasive bad faith that drives it. Abortion rights have always been threatened by attempts to undermine the laws which make it possible for women to exercise their inherent rights to control their own bodies and lives. But the new face of the war against them is not one of wrong-headed but above-board legislative controversy. It is a persistent and thoroughgoing attempt to turn the law itself against the majority of the citizens it governs – to use the law to make it impossible for law-abiding citizens to exercise the rights guaranteed them by that law.

Bans on funding for non-abortion related services, bans on the provision of factual information about abortion by healthcare providers to their own patients, prohibitions on the provision of abortion and reproductive health services through government programs relied on by women who have no other source of care, disingenuous regulations intended to make it impossible for women’s clinics to function for reasons unrelated to the quality of their services, and so many other restrictive and intrusive regulations, all are uses of the democratic process to make it a practical impossibility for women to exercise their own rights. And all of these are thoroughly and deliberately dishonest: they block factual information, and in some cases even stipulate falsehoods, to women seeking to make an informed choice about their own healthcare; they erect barriers and regulations addressing questions of funding, safety, or other ordinarily-reasonable aspects of healthcare provision for reasons entirely unrelated to their ostensible purposes and with the deliberate intention of making service to patients impossible; they malignantly distort the bedrock principle of medical ethics – informed consent – to harass, intimidate, and manipulate women seeking to make a free and informed choice about their own care, and drive them to a choice dictated by political and religious ideologues motivated by a deep-seated and gnawing hostility to those women themselves.

The enemies of women, having seen that orderly debate, under the framework of rights guaranteed by law, was not their friend in their war to take women’s lives into their own hands against those women’s wills, have adopted falsehood and bad faith as their weapons of choice. Nothing is now what it seems in this fight: informed consent is deception and manipulation; safety regulations are intended to prevent safe access to the services sought (and consequently drive women to seek unsafe alternatives, the rate of which is rising in the United States for the first time in decades); funds for services unrelated to abortion are banned out of nothing more than a virulent hostility to the organizations that provide the funded services because they also support women’s rights to abortion.

So much is at stake in the war against women. But the perversion of this war into a distortion of democracy itself, and the twisting of the law to undermine the law in the lives of one specific, hated, targeted sub-group of the population (the majority of that population, no less, but ever a despised and insecure majority) has broadened its scope, even beyond the lives, dreams, and freedom of more than half the country’s citizens. It has allowed a rabid and unhinged minority of religious berserkers, and the politicians they hold captive, to turn the nation against its own citizens.

It is said “when one is not free, none are free,” but that is truer than ever in the latest total-war assault on women by the religious right. They have adopted scorched-earth tactics against civilization itself – against the law that guarantees the freedom to live under the law, using the law’s defenses as weapons against those whom they defend. No nation can claim to be civilized which terrorizes and enslaves its female population. But the right wing has abandoned civilization even in form, not merely in substance, willingly gutting law itself when its guarantees of freedom thwarted their plans for domination.

What other rights remain, when the right to exercise one’s rights is denied?

February 1, 2012

Susan G. Komen Foundation: Cowardice and Hypocrisy

by @ 4:46 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, Disability Issues, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Provider Roles, Reproductive Ethics, Women's Issues

You’d think one of the most high-profile women’s health organizations in the country would steer clear of misogynist religious-right campaigns to curtail woman-centered healthcare. You’d be wrong.


August 26, 2011

The War on Women: Reality Optional

by @ 3:21 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, Child-Rearing, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Personhood, Reproductive Ethics, Sex, Theory, Women's Issues

Rick Santorum – humiliated in his last electoral bid, and trailing badly in the GOP primary polls – knows he needs to keep saying outrageous things to keep himself in the public eye. Plus which, he’s crazy, so saying outrageous things is never difficult for him.

He’s been in the news lately for making bizarre comparisons of gay marriage to beer, a cup of tea, and a paper napkin – all predicated upon the rather obvious but undeniable point that “it is what it is. Right? You can call it whatever you want, but it doesn’t change the character of what it is”. This is a claim on which Santorum congratulates himself by describing it as “sort of metaphysical”, but might otherwise be categorized as “sort of idiotic”. Apparently it means something to him, though, because he keeps saying it – most recently in a just-posted interview on the Iowa Independent Website: “It’s like going out and saying, ‘That tree is a car.’ Well, the tree’s not a car. A tree’s a tree. Marriage is marriage.” He goes on to spew a frothy mixture of crazy in a wide arc: gay marriage “minimizes what that bond means to society” (by letting people . . . form that bond . . .); “you’re gonna undermine religious liberty in this country” (his examples consist exclusively of the liberty to prevent other people from doing things); “we’ve created something that is not what it is” (so much for the tautological metaphysics).

But there’s a particular moment in the interview I want to highlight, because it captures so perfectly the ideological dishonesty, and complete divorce from reality, of the right-wing, and particularly the anti-choice movement.

If your position on abortion prevails and abortion is prohibited, Senator, what should the penalty be for a woman who obtains an abortion or a doctor who performs one?

Santorum: I don’t think there should be criminal penalties for a woman who obtains an abortion. I see women in this case as a victim. I see the person who is performing the abortion as doing the illegal act


June 4, 2011

Religious Right Victory: Child Rape and Paternity Rights for Rapist

by @ 4:41 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, Child-Rearing, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Provider Roles, Reproductive Ethics, Sex, Women's Issues

I missed this story when it first came out: a 10-year-old girl in Mexico became pregnant after being raped by her step-father. Abortion is legal with restrictions in Mexico City, but hardly at all outside the capital. In most areas of Mexico, including where this girl lives, abortion is illegal at any time beginning with conception; in her state there is a “rape exception” good only for the first 90 days of pregnancy. The girl is being held outside her home, in a state child-care facility, and it appears she or her mother were not even informed of the existence of even this limited right to abortion. Now it is long past time for that option, and of course there is no hope of her traveling to some state or country where she could get care at this date. It appears that she has no hope but undergo a full-term pregnancy against her will, and give birth, at the age of 10, to her rapist step-father’s child.

Note that these abortion laws: forced pregnancy from the time of conception (not the beginning of pregnancy itself); limited or no exceptions for cases of rape or incest; refusal of authorities to assist in obtaining abortion even when it is legal; state coercion and withholding of truthful information to manipulate women and girls out of exercising their legal right of choice; and general hostility to choice in all its forms, and collusion of state officials to impose forced pregnancy outside the bounds of the law, with impunity – are exactly the policies promoted and supported by the religious right in the United States. In Mexico, where the Catholic Church has much greater social and political power, they have been enacted and are in force.

So if you want to know what it looks like to live in the kind of country envisioned by “pro-life” forces in the US (though with a bit less Catholicism), this is exactly what it is: 10-year-old girls raped and subject to incest held in a locked ward by the state to force them to bear the child of their rapist, with virtually no legal rights to make their own choice in the matter, and what little legal rights they do have systematically withheld from them by force and deception, by the state itself. Every aspect of this case has been managed in such a way as to ensure that this girl – note again, 10 years old – is forced to do what the religious right and the culture of patriarchy have chosen for her life and her body: bear children under force and duress, through rape and incest, while held under guard as her rights and her body itself slip away from her control. Once more, these are exactly the laws the US religious right is campaigning for; this is exactly what they want and will get.

Let me make one final point: Recall again that it is the Mexican law that prescribes forced pregnancy for child-rape victims in that country. It is the Mexican Police who are holding this girl to prevent her from exercising the limited rights the law grants her. If she had come to a US Planned Parenthood clinic needing help in this case, she could have gotten an abortion; the US religious right demands that Planned Parenthood turn her over to the police. It is one of their main complaints against PP: that they provide healthcare on demand, rather than violating confidentiality and turning rape victims over to the state – and their families, which may include the rapists themselves. PP trusts women – even girls – to know whether they are willing to be pregnant or not; the religious right demands that they do so.

For Planned Parenthood, what a rape victim deserves is the power and the right to reclaim control of her body. For the religious right, what a rape victim deserves is to bear the rapist’s child. And the younger the better, apparently. They got what they wanted in this case. And they’re coming for more.

May 6, 2011

Who Let the Loons Loose?

by @ 11:35 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Personhood, Sex, Women's Issues

Amanda Marcotte (@AmandaMarcotte) asks on Twitter:

Why oh why is our country in the grips of a sex panic? I just don’t get it.

My response was:

Obama backlash was greenlight for all wingnuts; every hate/fear is now OK, unhidden, synergistic.

I’d like to de-Twitterize and unpack that a bit.


April 9, 2011

Demographic Trends are Choices on the Large Scale

by @ 11:55 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, Child-Rearing, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Reproductive Ethics, Sex, Women's Issues

Interesting comparison from the US Census Bureau:

Gravida Status - US Women, 1976 & 2004

The percentage of women who reach the end of their fertility with zero or one live-born child almost doubled over a recent 28-year period. The fraction who had 3 or more has been cut in half. These are remarkable trends. The fact that nulligravidity has almost doubled, to nearly 20% of women, is especially striking. Forty years ago, childlessness was almost always a product of circumstances; now, for at least about 10% of women and probably far more, it is a choice (i.e., childlessness has grown by 9% in that time; the maximum rate of biological infertility in 1976 – two years before the first “test tube baby” – was 10.2%, but surely at least some of that childlessness even then was chosen; today’s rate of actual biological infertility is likely lower still, thus, most likely, well under half the current nulligravidity rate of over 19% is due to true infertility, with the rest the product of women’s active decisions not to bear children although they could).

In fact, the shift in total lifetime fertility over this period is markedly toward lower numbers at every level: the category of 4 or more children has declined by the greatest percentage, followed by the category of 3; the fraction of women with exactly 2 children has expanded markedly, but the fraction with just 1 has expanded more, and the fraction with 0 has increased most of all. Comparing the categories shows how pervasive the shift to smaller families has become: not only are more women not having children, but few are having very large families (the percentage of women with 4 or more children has plummeted, almost to the fraction of women who had none at all 40 years ago), and with 2 now being the most common choice, but 1 or 0 (combined) even more popular; essentially, most women who might have had 4 or 5 kids are now having 3 or 2, and those who might have had 3 or 2 are in many cases now having 1 or none. As has been widely reported, the overall fertility rate in the US now is about 2.0 – 2.1, which is just below the replacement rate; it has fluctuated at that level for over a decade and shows no signs of changing. (Hispanic women are the only ethnic group with higher fertility, and that is concentrated largely among recent immigrants.) This also is a choice – one that represents a remarkable shift from 100 years ago, when lifetime fertility was about 4 children per woman.

It’s interesting how sensitive to conditions the total fertility number is as well: within less than a generation, it dropped to about 2 during the Great Depression and through WWII, rose sharply to 3.7 during the Baby Boom, dropped to an all-time low well below 2 in the mid-70s, and has slowly risen to its current stable level just below replacement. Thus, average total fertility is capable of shifting, either up or down, by a factor of 2 in as little as 10 years, and has done so several times in the recent past. Women have always made choices about their fertility, but increasing economic security and more-reliable access to birth control has likely made those choices easier and more authentic. From this perspective, then, the currently stable average total fertility rate of 2 can be regarded as what economists would term a “revealed preference” – a choice women have made when they were free to make their own choices. (Another revealed preference: the percentage of women who remain in the workforce after having children has grown by a factor of almost 2 compared to 1976, and more since before then.)

This has many implications for the United States and the world, in terms of population levels, economic activity, demographic shifts affecting distributions by race, class, and age, and so on. But aside from those often-remarked consequences, what this shift, and its historical roots, tell us, is how far voluntary choices about fertility are part of people’s lives and their strategies for dealing with both reproductive and social opportunities. This shift – which parallels that in other developed countries – demonstrates that fewer children, greater control of reproduction, and greater participation in the external economy and other activities, are the life patterns that women (and their male partners) choose when circumstances allow it. (The only major upsurge in fertility in America in the last century was immediately after WWII, when young men who had been displaced by the war returned and began the reproductive lives that had been delayed for a period of years; the long-term trend has been downwards, and temporary upswings have generally been small.) And this in turn emphasizes how important that freedom is to people’s lives and the goals they hold for them.

The most obvious, and currently salient, lesson to be drawn from this, of course, has to do with the importance of effective and available family planning. Just a day after having narrowly avoided a shutdown of the entire US government over a dispute centered largely on continued funding of Title X – the nation’s only dedicated family-planning healthcare program – and the right-wing attack on reproductive healthcare in general, the recklessness of such policies, and their cost to people’s independence and well-being, can’t be overstated. But there are broader lessons as well: people care about and make active choices about their health and reproductive strategies, in huge numbers, and with surprising subtlety. The economy, demographics, and availability of equitable access to social opportunities such as jobs, education, and employment, have powerful consequences for how people live their lives and use their bodies – and the choices they make in response to circumstances demonstrate that the choices others make under other circumstances are not always free or welcome.

Map of countries by fertility rate

Average Fertility by Country

Given a chance, most women in developed countries around the world will choose to have 3 or fewer – often 2 or fewer – children in their lifetimes, and the rate drops predictably with improving conditions. Most women in non-developed countries, and even in affluent ones before the development of effective and available birth control, had many more (in most of central Africa today, it is an average of 5 – 8 liveborn children per woman, and even more total pregnancies including stillbirths; in Afghanistan it is 7). Clearly those choices were not voluntary for most of those women. They were not voluntary for most women in America less than 100 years – just a few generations – ago. Increased economic affluence and urbanization made having fewer children more desirable, but it was the development and availability of modern birth control that made it possible. To remove that access for some of the population now is not merely to endorse certain lifestyle choices or even to make them possible (women have always been perfectly free to have 4 or more children if they choose); it is to eliminate the choices others might make if they could, and constrain them by economic force to a life most of the country, and most of the world, has chosen to flee. It is to return some of the women of America to the conditions of life of 100 years ago, while the affluent continue the path to greater opportunity that was made possible by the economic and medical advances over that time.

March 30, 2011

Familiar Disinformation Assault on Planned Parenthood Now Building

by @ 3:15 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Provider Roles, Reproductive Ethics, Sex, Women's Issues

Right-wing sites are loudly touting yet another of their doctored videos and deceptive recordings to vilify Planned Parenthood – this time with an accusation so blatantly misconceived it hardly makes sense.

The anti-choice “Live-Action Blog” has prominently posted a short video clip of Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards explaining the impact of the GOP proposal to gut all Title X (federal reproductive healthcare) funding as well as any funds specifically for treatment at Planned Parenthood clinics. (This is the budget amendment to “defund Planned Parenthood” that has been much talked-about, but it is important to note that it kills all Title X funding entirely, as well as any other treatments at PP specifically from all other funding sources). As Richards notes, entirely correctly:

What’s gonna happen, if this bill becomes law, millions of women in this country are going to lose their healthcare access, not to abortion services, [but] to basic family planning, mammograms . . .

I don’t know what else she said, because they cut that off. The clip just repeats the word “mammograms, mammograms, mammograms” over and over – as if they’ve broken some kind of scandal in proving that the head of a women’s health service would be concerned with access to a basic and universally recommended women’s healthcare procedure.

The clip then goes on to include secretly-recorded conversations at a couple of dozen PP clinics in which . . . another scandal! . . . the receptionist confirms that Planned Parenthood doesn’t provide mammograms, but offers to refer the deceptive “patient” to a facility that does. They’ll even help you get an appointment and fill out the paperwork for a subsidy for the cost. This, the wingnut blogs are breathlessly screaming, is a immense “scam”.

So, these anti-choice “activists” have broken a really big expose of Planned Parenthood, right? (OK – if you couldn’t have guessed the answer to that without even reading the story, you haven’t been paying attention.)

They certainly think they have, or at least claim so: Live-Action blares “Planned Parenthood CEO’s False Mammogram Claim Exposed”; Left Coast Rebel claims that “Cecile Richard’s, CEO of Planned Parenthood, lied and did more to limit access to mammograms than defunding” (the latter part appears to be some convoluted argument that PP is actually denying women mammograms by referring them to facilities that provide mammograms – this is right-wing thinking on healthcare); the always-wrong Erick Erickson repeats that claim, asking “Does Supporting Planned Parenthood Increase The Risk of Breast Cancer?” (um, no – it increase your probability of being referred for a mammogram, at an appropriate facility); David Brody calls this “The Mammogram Scam”. And there’s more. Around the blogosphere, yet another coordinated Planned Parenthood “sting” is taking place, broadcasting false and just bizarrely distorted secret and misleadingly-edited tapes that mean almost the opposite of what they are twisted to say.

You have to ask: are the media going to fall for it again? Time after time, these false tapes have been dutifully repeated in the news without the slightest critical inspection (one of them was the reason for the “defund Planned Parenthood” bill – now another equally false one just happens to pop up claiming that the impact of that bill is actually evidence of a financial ripoff by Planned Parenthood itself). We can only hope this persistent and organized campaign of distortion and outright dishonesty will be recognized this time. (The Washington Post already failed.)

Let me make one point about this ridiculous “denying care” argument, before pointing out what the tape actually did say. Planned Parenthood clinics do not provide mammograms on-site; they do make referrals of patients requesting (or who have been recommended to receive) mammograms to other facilities that provide them. In some cases of these fake patients requesting them over the phone, they wound up having to call a couple of numbers to find a place where they could get a procedure that that Planned Parenthood clinic does not provide. The argument here is that it is apparently Planned Parenthood’s fault they didn’t provide instant access to a procedure a random caller requested from a facility that doesn’t offer it. On-site, some of these clinics (depending on the clinic and the state) apparently can help patients get mammograms elsewhere by providing referrals and forms to request funding from a state program that also subsidizes those procedures. The argument about this is apparently that PP is taking federal funding for mammogram services and using it merely to shunt patients off to some other facility where the procedure is funded some other way. This is nonsense in both cases, obviously. Every medical facility of every kind has a specific range of services it provides, and will refer patients to other facilities for other procedures; the fact that a given clinic does not have a specialized and expensive facility on-site, that only some of its patients need, and which requires a dedicated technician to operate, is hardly surprising and in no way unusual. As for Title X, it does provide funding for mammograms among many other things, and PP does get funding for some services under Title X, but obviously that funding is not for particular services they don’t provide, it is for the services they do provide. PP clinics do not get any funding for mammograms; what they get is Title X funding for the many other services that can be provided in an OB-GYN clinic, and which they do provide. In many cases they cooperate with cancer screening programs run by other facilities, including well-respected groups such as the Susan Komen Fund. There is no wasting of Title X funds on patients who get mammograms from X-ray facilities outside PP offices; and no denial or delay of care – if anything, the patients get mammograms faster and more readily, thanks to PP, because PP provides them with access to internists or OB-GYNs who recommend such screenings and provide referrals for them – exactly the services that the GOP is trying to kill off.

As to what the tape actually does show: Richards doesn’t say that Planned Parenthood provides mammograms; she doesn’t even mention Planned Parenthood in the edited clip they show. PP clinics do not provide mammograms for a very good reason: a mammogram, while routine, is a specialized radiological procedure that requires an X-ray suite and a trained technician. Most OB-GYN clinics don’t have an X-ray suite. They send women to X-ray facilities for that. (Your doctor doesn’t have a medical lab, either – they send your blood and urine to a specialized facility and get the results back by computer. This is standard.)

What Richards does say, correctly, is that the GOP cuts to women’s healthcare will prevent vast numbers of women from getting basic care, including mammograms, from many sources or providers. The GOP proposal cuts all funding for Title X, which does fund mammograms (at X-ray facilities, not gynecological clinics, because mammograms involve X-rays, therefore they’re done at X-ray facilities . . . am I going too fast for you, right-wingers?), and will have a considerable impact on the availability of mammograms, as well as other forms of care, for women nationwide.

Richards was pointing out the impact of this vicious bill on women’s healthcare across the board, not just in respect of her own organization, and she did so honestly and perfectly correctly. The anti-woman contingent couldn’t be bothered to understand what she was saying, or provide the context of the question she was answering, or even the full sentence in which she answered it, before whipping up another howling storm of falsehood and deception.

[UPDATE: Title X funds “breast and cervical cancer screening according to nationally recognized standards of care”, which in practice means manual breast exams for individual patients during office visits, and referral for mammograms for patients with a positive manual screen. It does not appear to fund routine mammograms, though their Web site is so vague it is hard to tell exactly how it works.]

March 23, 2011

Conservatives on Healthcare: Wanting it NotBoth Ways

by @ 5:08 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics


Conservative politicians often seem to me to be in [a] web of contradiction. On the one hand, they laud the consequences of generous public subsidies for the consumption of health care services and darkly warn of the perils of rationing. Then on the other hand, they insist that the projected rate of increase in government health care spending is far too high. Which is it?

– Matt Yglesias

Yes – and add to that the simply dishonest obliviousness to market-based rationing that makes the US healthcare system worst among developed nations in total-population average outcomes for many aspects of care, and the weird categorical thinking that makes government-paid care somehow bad or immoral and private-paid care good or virtuous, for exactly the same care from the same providers, and you have an entire political wing that is simply cognitively incompetent to make policy decisions.

A phenomenon that is not restricted to healthcare, it might also be noted.

March 14, 2011

More Ghoulish Posturing in a Vegetative-State Case

by @ 4:03 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, Child-Rearing, Disability Issues, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Provider Roles

The “Baby Joseph” case has been making the rounds of the right-wing press for some time, and is now in the mainstream press due to a confluence of right-wing hype and a predictably distorted Canada-vs.-US angle. As always, bad cases make good press releases, and rational standards of care suffer.


October 1, 2010

“Duh” Headline of the Day: Patients Without Doctors Will Need Doctors

by @ 2:05 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Provider Roles

The Association of American Medical Colleges released a report yesterday that reaches a fairly obvious conclusion: increased healthcare coverage through Obamacare and the Baby Boomers’ entering Medicare will result in an increased demand for physician services, and thus worsen the current imbalance between providers and patients.

The U.S. healthcare reform law will worsen a shortage of physicians as millions of newly insured patients seek care, the Association of American Medical Colleges said on Thursday.

The group’s Center for Workforce Studies released new estimates that showed shortages would be 50 percent worse in 2015 than forecast.

“While previous projections showed a baseline shortage of 39,600 doctors in 2015, current estimates bring that number closer to 63,000, with a worsening of shortages through 2025,” the group said in a statement.

“The United States already was struggling with a critical physician shortage and the problem will only be exacerbated as 32 million Americans acquire health care coverage, and an additional 36 million people enter Medicare.”

To their credit, they are not positioning this as a criticism of the increase in access to healthcare, rather as an indication of the need for more trained physicians. But Reuters of course found a way to point blame (“Health reform to worsen doctor shortage”), and already the wingnut blogs are piling on.

Hot Air:

the [healthcare reform] bill will have a big impact on an expected shortage of physicians over the next few years — by amplifying it . . . The artificial cap on reimbursements — a form of price-fixing — will be the main culprit.

Note of course that the actual press release explicitly cites the relative projected growth of the patient and physician populations – a straightforward mathematical ratio – and says nothing at all about reimbursement caps; it also cites both Medicare eligibility – a demographic phenomenon – and the health bill as the sources of that growth. (And, of course, the bill does not specify a global cap on reimbursments, contractual provider payment maximums are not “price fixing”, and the for-profit insurance industry universally specifies maximum reimbursements in its contracts already. But mere conceptual confusion and knee-jerk wrongheadedness are only the ordinary level of stupidity at that blog. And Conservative Reading Comprehension Disorder, of course, rages on.)

This projected shift in provider/patient ratios is an obvious – and remediable – result of providing more access to healthcare to tens of millions of people who now have little or none. Of course there’s going to be more demand for doctors if a bunch of people who don’t have access to one suddenly have a means of getting access. What is striking is that the right sees this as a reason not to provide that access.

The implicit – and at times explicit – conclusion drawn from the fact that more patients means a need for more doctors is that we should not provide access for more patients. The right’s actual, quite literal, reaction to the possibility that they might have to wait longer to see their doctors is to keep other people from seeing doctors, reducing the size of the patient pool rather than increasing the size of the provider pool, literally demanding that others should suffer for the right’s personal convenience. It staggers me that these nasty creeps are even listened to, let alone taken in any way seriously, on healthcare or any subject that touches people’s vital needs.

September 23, 2010

Republican Anti-Choice Assholes Reduce General Healthcare Availability . . . Again

by @ 12:51 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Provider Roles, Reproductive Ethics, Sex, Women's Issues

Today the wingers are hugging themselves over the fact that the New Jersey state legislature failed to override Gov. Christie’s veto of family-planning funding for low-income women in that state. The funding reduction particularly targets services provided by Planned Parenthood – the nation’s largest single non-governmental provider of reproductive healthcare to the poor. Naturally, this was trumpeted as an attack on “Planned Parenthood’s abortion business” – a claim as false as it is stupid. Not only were the funds in question earmarked for services that have nothing to do with abortion, but they provide no indirect support of abortion, and the clinic that was affected does not provide abortions! What the Republicans did manage to do was shut down basic and necessary reproductive healthcare services – of virtually all kinds except abortion – for thousands of low-income patients, while crowing about their non-existent and deliberately disengenuous anti-choice “coup”.

First, Planned Parenthood does not have an “abortion business”. (They’re a non-profit – they aren’t a business at all.) Abortions (just 3% of PP’s annual clinical visits, nationwide) are provided by PP at rates generally below cost – they are subsidized by donations. (This – and their non-profit status – defeats the lie that PP is making a “profit” on abortion services.) Funding for other services is also heavily subsidized, and also in part paid for under government aid programs for healthcare for low-income people – typically Medicaid or SCHIP. That is, low-income patients who qualify for subsidized care can get that care at PP – while many for-profit providers simply refuse to take such patients at all – and PP is reimbursed, just like any clinic, under the appropriate plan. Those fees pay only for the services rendered, at the government-mandated rates, which are so low that, again, most mainstream providers simply refuse to accept them or the patients that are thereby covered. PP makes up the difference from its donation revenue – the government payments are so low they not only do not fund other PP activities, they don’t even fund the activities they nominally are supposed to pay for. (This defeats the lie that low-income healthcare reimbursement subsidizes abortion services.)

All this can easily be verified by looking at PP’s publicly-posted annual reports, which clearly show that a large portion of its clinical costs are subsidized by donations (24% of all revenue, in 2007) – no source of fee income for clinical services, whether abortion-related or not, government or private, is sufficient to actually pay for those services; all such fee income is used up in costs of the care itself, and then some.

But beyond this, the actual effect of the funding cut, as mentioned above, is to force closure of a clinic that did not provide abortions. The entire dishonest grandstanding really targeted ordinary healthcare and reproductive health services for low-income patients, largely women but some men. It had nothing – financially, practically, or even geographically – to do with Planned Parenthood’s abortion services, or the availability of abortion in New Jersey in general. But anti-choice ideology was a convenient stalking horse for the GOP’s anti-woman, anti-healthcare, anti-sex hatred, and it worked perfectly in this case.

What Planned Parenthood of Southern New Jersey actually does do – and which is no longer available from the clinic that is shutting down – includes, among other things:

Women’s Reproductive Healthcare:

  • All methods of contraception, prescriptive and non-prescriptive
  • Complete GYN physical exam
  • Treatment for many GYN problems
  • Laboratory screening
  • Cancer screening (Pap test, breast self exam)
  • Testing and treatment for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
  • Emergency Contraception
  • Colposcopy & cryotherapy
  • Pregnancy testing & counseling
  • Pre-Natal Care
  • Gardasil  (HPV vaccine) 
  • HIV testing & counseling
  • Hepatitis B vaccine
  • Vasectomy


Male Services (25 and under)

  • Condoms / Contraceptive Education
  • Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) screening & treatment
  • HIV Testing & Counseling
  • Health Screening


Pre-natal care plays an important role in providing a comprehensive package of medical and health support services for the pregnant woman. Pre-natal care promotes optimum health, prevents disease and provides a mechanism to manage potential problems and can have a long lasting positive effect upon the family. At PPSNJ, we provide the following pre-natal services: 

  • Medical exams
  • Laboratory services
  • WIC Program
  • Pregnancy support and education
  • Nutrition education
  • Adolescent parenting support groups
  • Delivery at Cooper University Hospital or other referral


[C]omprehensive, age appropriate sexuality education and training for pre-adolescents, teens, families, schools, community groups, faith-based settings, other social service organizations and healthcare providers. 

  • Workshops and Professional Training
  • Speakers and classroom presentations
  • Curriculum Development
  • Teen Programs
  • Fathers Group

None of that is available now, at one of their primary locations, thanks to the “pro-life” assholes of the Republican party. Their ideology is made clear by the fact that the elimination of this funding not only has no affect on the funding of abortions (see above), but in fact directly impacts a clinic that does not even provide abortions. What it does eliminate is a local source of low-cost healthcare for the financially needy population, most of it focused on reproductive health and pre-natal services. That was their target, and that was their effect. The abortion nonsense – aside from being an outright lie – was a red herring.

The GOP hates women, hates the poor, and hates people who make their own decisions about sex and reproduction. Today they’ve eliminated healthcare for thousands of them, while having absolutely no impact on abortion, although banking on and claiming a political payoff for anti-choice ideology as a means to that end.

More of their standard, repulsive, dishonest and hateful same.

August 6, 2010

Gay Marriage and Abortion Rights: Parallels?

by @ 4:09 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, General, Global/Community Health, Reproductive Ethics, Sex, Women's Issues

The recent federal-court decision invalidating California’s ban on gay marriages was of course welcome and long overdue. And there’s a lot of commentary from across the political spectrum predicting that it will be upheld at the Supreme Court level, given Justice Kennedy’s authorship of both major recent groundbreaking decisions favoring equality for gays (Romer, invalidating an exception to equal-rights statutes in the case of gays, and Lawrence, invalidating the criminalization of gay sex), and his status as inevitable swing vote on discrimination issues. So – while nothing is yet assured – this is a watershed, and very hopeful, moment for the cause of equality.

The question it raises, however, is what kind of backlash this will trigger. One likely possibility is an attempt to push through a Constitutional amendment imposing discrimination nationwide. Although that possibility concerned me greatly, I am – with fingers crossed – hopeful that such a movement would be unavailing. By the time any such plan could gain traction, there will have been several years’ worth of experience with gay marriage, and increasing experience of life under a national-level Supreme Court decision for equality, tending to reduce the panic over the supposed consequences of gay marriages. The political winds have shifted, also; it’s true that the GOP is somewhat resurgent, but the grounds for debate are now dominated by economic issues, and the religious-right/teabag movement is proving more and more of a liability for the GOP. I suspect the homophobic firestorm the GOP deliberately stoked in 1996, which created gay marriage as a political issue for their base, will not be possible in 2012. And, too, Constitutional amendments over controversial issues are hard to pass, and this one is unlikely to have enough momentum to overcome the inevitable decline of the homophobic movement as the reality of gay marriage proves their crazy ranting is just pointless. So I suspect there will be an attempt to pass the first-ever Constitutional amendment creating a new form of discrimination, but it will fizzle out.

However, I just read speculation elsewhere that gay marriage will become “another Roe v. Wade” – that is, a cultural flashpoint issue that will polarize society and give the right wing something to agitate about forever. That is no reason to oppose equality, of course, but it is a daunting prospect nonetheless. And that commenter was surely right that the (presumptive) institution of equality by the Supreme Court, and the failure of legislative or Constitutional processes to maintain discrimination, will energize the right wing and serve as a focus of grievance for them for the forseeable future. And yet, as I think about it, it occurs to me that this outcome may not be as destructive as it would seem, and could even have an upside. I suspect that the wingnuts will indeed agitate interminably over gay equality, and this will have two consequences: (1) it will further marginalize the religious right, and (2) it could conceivably bolster support for abortion rights as well.

The argument for the first possibility above is obvious. As gay marriages become more and more commonplace, and as disinformation about priests being forced to perform gay marriages, or children being “indoctrinated” in schools, are disproven by everyday experience, the disingenuous fearmongering that drives the hate movement will be undermined. The haters will simply serve to highlight the unhinged and bigoted streak that infects the Republican party and, as Sarah Palin is quickly becoming, and Sharron Angle already has become, will be an albatross around the neck that the GOP will eventually be glad to be rid of.

The argument toward a pro-autonomy rebound is less intuitive, but not implausible, I think. The idea that gay marriage will galvanize conservatives like abortion did is likely true. The parallels between the issues are strong: each is a cause celebre’ for the religious right, grounded on religious visions of morality, driven by a deep-seated revulsion to sex, and centering on a despised group whose claims to equality and autonomy the religious right hates and resents.  And the campaigns waged by the right against autonomy and self-determination in both cases are again similar: bizarre predictions of the consequences of allowing people to make their own decisions, Biblical injunctions against equality and non-patriarchal sex, deliberate lies and disinformation about the implications of freedom in each case, hateful moralistic judgmentalism, simply deluded scientific disinformation, and a manipulative pretended concern “for the children”, all of it as grossly distorted and dishonest as it is possible to be. As wingnut hot-button issues, they do have much in common.

It is that close parallel that, I think, spells (indirect, and uncertain) good news for the pro-choice position. The campaign against equality for gays is very similar to the campaign against self-determination for women. The basic idea at the bottom of both campaigns – that one particularly backward and restrictive religious view of how people should live their lives should be made mandatory for everyone, by law – is the same, and the attempt to regulate sexual behavior that they disapprove of is likewise a common central element in both campaigns. The gay-marriage controversy brings this to the fore because that issue is clearly solely driven by sex-based animus, but the same elements are at work in the abortion issue. And so, as the gay marriage controversy is exposed as the panicky, lunatic hatefest that it is, all other attempts to restrict the rights of autonomous adults to make their own decisions in areas reflecting on their sex lives will be simultaneously undercut. To the extent it becomes obvious that “gay marriage” is a wholly invented controversy based on ludicrous and bizarre apprehensions about other people’s sex lives, and the characterizations of its proponents and participants were absurdly false and fantastical, and its presence in the community is not a threat or a curse, and the claims and predictions made about it were false and invented, it will become that much easier to see how those same distortions have driven the anti-choice campaign in the same ways. And, most of all, the more it becomes obvious that the anti-gay-marriage people are simply hateful and barely sane, and that their movement is a product of their religiously-inspired reactionism, and that they are the same people who are driving the anti-choice campaign, the true nature of that project will become more obvious as well.

The bottom line is, letting the wingnuts discredit themselves over gay marriage can only work to the advantage of the pro-choice community (and related progressive movements). It will be an ugly and hateful process, but a necessary cleansing, and possibly a road to a better day in the future.

April 5, 2010

Physician, Do Not Heal Thyself

by @ 3:08 PM. Filed under Autonomy, General, Global/Community Health, Provider Roles

The New York Times today has an interesting profile of Dr. Desiree Pardi, a palliative-care specialist in New York who was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 30s, and refused palliative care – while still working in palliative care professionally – during her prolonged and painful death.

Dr. Pardi had gone into the field because she thought her experience as a patient would make her a better doctor. Now she came face to face with all the ambiguities of death, and of her profession.

She remembered patients who complained to her that she did not know them well enough to recognize that they were stronger than she had thought. Now she discovered that she felt the same way about her own doctors. “I think they underestimated me,” she said in an interview last summer.

She came to question the advice she had been giving. She thought about quitting. “I just decided I have to believe in what I’m saying,” she said.

It’s tempting to see her treatment choices – demanding extensive low-probability and experimental treatments – as being in some way hypocrtical for someone who had made a point of encouraging others not to continue with therapeutic treatments near death. At times she was quoted expressing anger at doctors who recommended palliative care or hospice, and at times she is described by others as being “in denial” about her own condition – much in keeping with her own attitudes toward palliative care and patients’ beliefs, as seen from her professional perspective. The article at times seem to imply that there is in fact a contradiction there.

But I think, and I think most people in the field would agree, that there is no tension between active therapy and palliative care – that both are available options that different people will choose for different reasons, or even that a given patient will choose under differing circumstances. The idea that some patients would reject palliative care is hardly new; the fact that one such patient would turn out to be a palliative care specialist is merely a coincidence, ironic at most, and hardly that. (Nobody claims that palliative care is right for everybody.)

From that perspective, I was a bit annoyed with this article, because it seems to imply that there really is something wrong in the way Dr. Pardi practiced as a physician, or worse, that there is something wrong with palliative care – that it “underestimates” patients, that it is something that palliative care workers try to impose on others but reject for themselves, or even that it is the sort of “death panel” that the insane right wing keeps conjuring up. Also annoying is the tone attributed to Dr. Pardi herself (she was dead when the article was written): that palliative care was in fact something to be avoided; that she herself questioned whether it was right for her to offer it to her own patients. It’s not clear how authentic this is, but I hope Dr. Pardi was not as much “in denial” about her own profession – let alone her health status – as the article seems to imply; if not, the problem then is not that there is something wrong with palliative care, but that a doctor in that field had not thought deeply enough about what is right with it before it became an issue for her personally.

The meaning of the piece for me was that people’s personal choices are unique and not always predictable, and that this is the reason patients must be allowed to choose the terms of their own treatment. (Dr. Pardi – an MD/PhD with extensive experience – chose to allow her husband to be the point of contact with her own caregivers, and never knew the extent of her own disease, though she was adamant in her choices about how aggressively to treat it.) There is a reminder here of the degree to which aggressive treatment might serve some patients’ needs (Dr. Pardi’s final course took barely a year and a half from her last remission to her death, but it is likely that she extended that period somewhat by refusing palliative-only care and insisting on a high-calorie diet) – though that hardly renders palliative care unnecessary, or argues for returning to the days when painful aggressive treatment was the only option available.

April 2, 2010

“Do No Good”

by @ 1:53 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Provider Roles, Theory

Dr. Jack Cassell, in Florida, is getting press today for the cranky, obnoxious note he posted on his office door:

Dr. Jerk

The text reads: 

If you voted for Obama . . .
seek Urologic care

Changes to your healthcare
begin right now
not in four years

He apparently also fills his waiting room with anti-Obama literature, signs about what “the morons in Washington have done to your healthcare” (NB: nothing has changed about any of his patients’ healthcare; he is the only one who has done anything so far), and explicit instructions on who they should vote for.

In response to concerns that he might be politicizing his care just a tad, he argues “I’m not turning anybody away — that would be unethical. But if they read the sign and turn the other way, so be it.” So of course he’s not actually doing anything to make patients feel uncomfortable by explicitly telling them to leave his practice because he disapproves of their politics; they just happen to choose to seek another doctor for reasons unrelated to his behavior or his treatment of them.

There’s been commentary over whether this infringes any laws or principles of medical ethics. His supporters claim he is justified in behaving this way because doctors, like everyone, have a right of free speech. There’s a lot to be said about that – most notably that the whole point to medical ethics is that professional practice and the professional relationship impose standards more stringent than those  incumbent on ordinary citizens. Simply having a right of free speech does not justify acting like a jerk toward your patients; the treatment relationship is one-sided, predicated upon the doctor’s commitment to service of the patients’ needs, not their approval of the patients’ politics; admission as a professional is predicated upon acceptance of those standards, and a willingness to put one’s personal inclinations aside in the professional arena.

But aside from that, what strikes me about this situation is the general attitude it reveals. Not only does this doctor fail in the face of any of the above standards, but it seems obvious he simply conceives of medical practice as something that does not in fact entail the authority of such standards or commitments. Doctoring is apparently a job, to him – something he can do if and as he chooses, and which does not impose on him any obligations he does not happen to want to meet. He is – to all appearances – essentially the doctor in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, who joins with the amoral capitalist runaways to form a free-market society founded on hard money and ethical egoism. Being a doctor does not require him to do anything for anyone if he doesn’t feel like it, and it doesn’t require him to accept as a patient – or even keep as a patient anyone he has already accepted – who does not personally agree with him on any matter of his choosing.

What I fear, but perceive, is that this attitude is becoming more widespread. Doctoring is just a job, it seems, in the minds of more and more doctors, and in the minds of the right-wingers who are so afraid that Obama is going to destroy healthcare by making it less capitalist. (As usual, facts are of no moment to the right-wing panic apparatus: it is this doctor himself who is “changing” healthcare for his patients – his own sign says so  – but he still manages to blame it on Obama. And it is this doctor who has made healthcare hostile and unwelcoming for his own patients – he is, not a death panel exactly, but a one-man jerk panel to his personal caseload – but they deserve it, he seems to think, because they voted wrong.) Whatever the consequences of Obamacare, I fear that it will be simply impossible to destroy medicine in the US because there will be no medical profession left to destroy – just a bunch of entitled, self-absorbed jobsworths whining about how much less they like their jobs now that the glamor and remuneration has started to fade and they’re left with nothing more than providing better care to more people, which is such an imposition.

Democratic Congressmember Alan Grayson, who represents that district, was notorious for (accurately) characterizing the Republicans’ healthcare policy as “Die quickly”. He notes about Dr. Cassell: “Maybe he thinks the Hippocratic Oath says, ‘Do no good.'” That’s about the size of it.

January 13, 2010

How Can We Make It Clearer? When Will Anyone Notice?

by @ 4:33 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics

This is staggering:

Industrialized countries ranked by health expenditures vs. life expectancy - US is worst.

Health Expenditures vs. Life Expectancy

(See link for larger version.)

The graph is a ranking of industrialized countries by per-capita healthcare expenditures. The average figure is $2,986/year; Finland and Spain come in a little below that, and Australia and Sweden are a little above. Canada spends about $1,000 more per person per year than the major-nations average; free-wheeling Switzerland is about $1,400 above average.

See that lone, single red figure wa-a-a-a-a-y up in the left-hand corner? That’s the US. Our per-capita healthcare expenditures, at $7,290/year (!), are more than 240% of the average of all those nations together (actually, more than 260% of the average of all those nations other than the US, which comes to only $2,771/year if you leave the US out of it). And note that those expenditures, in the US, are for only 85% or less of the population; for every other country on the graph except Mexico, that figure covers every permanent resident of the country without exception.

Now look on the right-hand column: the same nations are ranked by average life expectancy. This is a crude, but still useful, indicator of what we’re getting for our healthcare costs. (Crude, because simple measures like sanitation and nutrition can contribute a great deal more to life expectancy than high-tech medical care. But the whole point is that better medical care produces longer and better lives, at the margin at least, and there is good evidence that this is true. So this is not a bad way to scale things out for quick and easy comprehension.) Implicitly, this graph establishes a relationship: assuming all things are equal, average healthcare expenditures should produce average life expectancies (which you could quantify as a numerical ratio, though that would be taking the thing rather too literally). In fact, that is almost exactly what the UK achieves ($2,992/year for about 79.1 years lifespan). About two-thirds of the countries on the list do better than that: their life expectancies, relative to average, are greater than would be expected given their healthcare costs relative to average. (This is indicated by the lines sloping up to the right on the graph. The slopes are not precisely indicative, because the right-side scale range does not match the left-side scale – the ranges should have been correllated better. But a positive or negative slope indicates an above- or below-average ratio, respectively.) A relatively small number of countries do worse.

Whether above or below average, the deviations tend to fall into a small range – note that most of the lines up, and down, are roughly parallel. All except one, of course: the US, as usual, is completely alone in its breathtakingly negative ratio of cost to life-expectancy benefit. That screaming red line plunging down the graph from off-the-charts high expenses to below-average benefits has no peer among any industrialized country: nowhere in the world does any country get such an incredibly below-average relative return for its healthcare expenses (and in fact below average in absolute terms compared to all other countries). The US, with per-capita healthcare expenses 260% highher than its peers, actually averages a total life expectancy almost 1.5% lower. (Only one other country, Denmark, manages to achieve above-average expenditures and below-average life expectancy; their expenditures are still less than half ours and their life expectancy is higher).

Note finally the width of the lines, which indicates average number of doctors’ visits provided per year by each country: the fat lines are 12 or more; the medium lines are 4 to 8; the US comes in at an average number of visits per year per person that rounds off most closely to . . . zero. (Note also that of the 4 countries that average effectively 0 visits per year, two of them are the only two on the graph that do not provide universal coverage.) Not only does every other country on this list except Mexico manage to provide universal healthcare coverage at vastly lower expense than the US, not only do 2/3 of them achieve greater life expectancies than the US, not only do 2/3 of them achieve an above-average ratio between relative expenditure and relative life expectancy, but over 80% of them provide an average of at least 4, and in some cases 12 or more, covered visits per person per year for their entire populations.

Note in passing, too, that the only other nation that can’t afford to provide universal health coverage is Mexico, which spends less than 30% of the average among these nations on healthcare and is still getting a vastly greater bang for its its bucks than is the US.

The utter, abject failure of the US’s profit-sucking healthcare morass is made as stark here as it has ever been. Basically, we’re spending over $4,300 per year for every covered person for nothing whatsoever, and giving up over a year of average life expectancy as our reward – while leaving tens of millions of people with no coverage whatsoever for most or all of their needs! It would be almost impossible to have a healthcare system worse than this, other than one with even less protections for patients than the US already has.

As Ezra Klein notes:

consider this: If we spent what Canada spends per person, our deficit problem would go away entirely. And Canada’s per-person average is in a country where everybody is fully covered and so has full access to care. America’s is in a country with 47 million uninsured, and so many people skimp on needed care. So the comparison is actually unfair to Canada. . . .

This is serious pitchforks-and-torches stuff, if only people really understood it. I continue to believe, however, that the improbable size of the disparity is a barrier to understanding. People just don’t believe these numbers. America may not be the best, but we’re not supposed to be the worst by such a large margin.

Oh, yes, we are. The system is designed to suck money out and deny care. It’s working perfectly. But why do we have a system designed to do that?


There are some problems with the above graph, which I somewhat glossed over in the original post. DanM alludes to them in his comment below. It’s just as well to clarify some of these points.

First, the graph is somewhat misleading because it seems to position life expectancy as a direct function of healthcare spending: a certain amount of money buys you a certain number of years of life, and the slope of the line from one axis to the other describes the mathematical relationship between them. That is the inevitable broad-brush interpretation of the data, that is true (the whole point is that there is a link between the two factors, otherwise there’d be no point graphing them – and indeed the relation is clearly non-random as even a casual inspection of the graph shows) – but the line-graph format makes it much too literal.

Second, the scales of the axes are distorted. There is most obviously the fact that neither the expenditures axis, on the left, nor the lifespan axis, on the right, start at zero. The actual spread between high and low values on both axes is thus exaggerated, especially for lifespan. Also, the data ranges shown for each bear a very different relationship to the total range for data of each type: the top and bottom entries for healthcare expenditures span about 90% of the value of the top end of the scale, or about 80% if you exclude the US; the top and bottom entries for life expectancy span only about 12% of that range. If the two axes were scaled similarly, the right-hand values would all cluster into a tight knot and the blue lines would converge from high and low on the left into that small range, diminishing the impression of a clear correlation between the two values which is created by spreading the lifespan values out so much.

In addition, setting the average values of the two scales at the same vertical level is an arbitrary decision that reinforces the implicit message that the two are correlated. (A ratio between healthcare spending and lifespan that matches the dollars/years ratio of those average values will be a horizontal line at any level on the graph – thus those countries doing better on a dollars/years basis will have lines that slope up, and others will have lines that slope down.) Again, this is not unreasonable as a way of displaying this data, but it requires as an organizing assumption that the implicit correlation illustrated by the graph is in fact true – which puts the cart before the horse.

Finally, as Dan notes, there are other factors influencing lifespan, and implying that it is a direct function of healthcare expenditure, as this graph seems to do, is much too crude.

Nate Silver, brilliant statistical interpreter at “538“, recasts the same data in this fashion (click graph for larger version):

Healthcare Expenditure vs. Life Expectancy Scatterplot

Healthcare Expenditure vs. Life Expectancy Scatterplot

This graph is much fairer in certain ways. By removing the horizontal lines, it removes the visual implication of a direct mathematical function linking the two data sets. By graphing the data as a scatterplot on two orthogonal axes, it allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions without dictating a relationship in the design of the graph. Silver also takes the obvious steps of scaling the axes fairly and accurately, starting a zero for each.

However, this graph also supports the basic point made in the original version: there is an obvious trendline through the data set, and the US is an extreme outlier that falls insanely far below that trend. (To see how far, hold a ruler against your screen, paralleling the slope roughly marked out from the origin through the data cluster running up to the right – about where Canada falls out. Continue that line up to the right until it is directly above the red “USA” below. It should run off the graph up to somewhere in the third paragraph above the graph. That’s where the US should be, given what we spend (on only a fraction of our population). If you want it in numerical terms (and again taking the implied correlation rather too literally), US citizens who actually have access to healthcare should live more than 193 years, on average, if we were spending that money as effectively as most other countries do. From the reverse perspective, given the below-average life expectancy we get for our healthcare dollars, we could spend at least $4,000 per person per year less than we do  and still achieve our current quality outcome, if we were merely as efficient in our expenditures as, say, Denmark. That $4,000 – more than the average amount other industrialized nations spend per person in total – is the amount we are throwing away on our for-profit healthcare system, for no benefit whatsoever to ourselves.

It must be acknowledged that that correlation has not been subjected to statistical analysis, but the basic point is that the original graph, though its designers made some questionable choices, was not as bad as all that.

Hat Tip: to Andrew Gelman at Columbia, who did the original re-analysis from which Silver took his own version.

December 14, 2009

Fetus Christmas-Tree Ornaments . . . . (Oy vey! . . .)

by @ 8:29 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, Child-Rearing, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Personhood, Reproductive Ethics, Sex, Theory, Women's Issues

The latest entry in the “creepy personified fetus” category: the “Feti” – weird/cutesy Christmas-tree ornaments shaped like tiny embryos at about the 6-8 week stage (bulbous head, no digits, visible tail). As is usual with this genre, they sport adult-appropriate personal characteristics, including clothes, personal possessions, and in one case a moustache. You can buy Santa fetuses, “happy” fetuses, candy-cane-carrying fetuses, and an “Adam Lambert” fetus displaying a punk hairdo and clutching a Star of David – a cultural mishmash that I refuse to attempt to understand.

Happy Fetus

Happy Fetus

Feto Incognito

Feto Incognito

Adam Lambert Embryo

Adam Lambert Embryo

The purveyor of the site insists that “Feti is just for fun, no political statements being made here.” I’m tempted to believe that in her case, but the thing still strikes me as weird,  and indicative of a mindset that is worth noting.

The vendor suggests these are intended as gifts for expectant parents, as appropriate additions to the “Baby’s First _____” category of remembrances. (Exactly how, I’m not sure: “Baby’s First Disembodied Hanging on a Christmas Tree”?) In that vein, they play off the very common and understandable practice of many expectant parents in personifying their fetus as it develops – talking to it, playing music, naming it before it is born, and so on. They also seem to accept as a cultural commonplace the fetishizing – literally, in this case! – and personifying of the fetus that is a mainstay of anti-choice propaganda. (Anti-choicers often wear gold-plated fetal-footprint jewelry, and they are forever trying to force abortion patients to look at pictures or sonograms of the fetus.)

I don’t know if the anti-choice movement has so far succeeded in turning the fetus into a fetish object that you can now literally market them to the general public as holiday ornaments, or if the common desire to see fetuses as sort of reverse-extensions of babies simply makes this a natural marketing move, like Cabbage Patch dolls or those weird Anne Geddes photographs of babies in flower petals, and the right wing has merely piggybacked off that common emotional trope for their own purposes. The former would scare me a bit, the latter is merely infuriating. Either way, this sort of thing leaves me with a creepy feeling.

I’m happy for people to be happy about their pregnancies, and to embue their future offspring with emotional valence or even a somewhat overgrandiose sense of promise or accomplishment. In the same way that all parents think their kids are smart and talented, and I wouldn’t quarrel with that, expectant parents can and should go ga-ga over the cute little buns in their respective ovens. There is no point, in the case of people’s emotional experience of the events in their lives, to go around insisting to them “you know it has no functional higher nervous system, right?” . . . “that’s not a ‘person’ you’re carrying, in any meaningful sense of the term – just wanted to let you know” . . . “don’t get too close to it – there’s about a 1-in-12 chance you’ll lose the pregnancy”. But when it comes to law and policy-making, clear distinctions do have to be made – and at that point, the conflict between stark reality and parents’ expectations may be uncomfortable.

Regardless of parental beliefs, not all kids are smart or talented, and thus some won’t make it into selective academic or sports or art programs. And regardless of the fervent, desperately dishonest myth-making of the anti-choice right, the early fetus is not a person and does not make moral claims on a woman’s body and life sufficient to override her autonomy. It is unfortunate to have to disappoint people emotionally invested in believing otherwise, but it is far worse to make policy based on wishful thinking in defiance of the truth.

By all means, have yourself a merry little Christmas, and hang a smiling Adam Lambert Jewish punk fetus upon the highest bough. But let’s keep the “personified fetus” myth firmly in its place when we go to making important decisions about real issues in real people’s lives.

November 13, 2009

Insurance Companies: Greatest Profits Lie in Blocking Access Reform

by @ 3:17 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Provider Roles, Theory

Goldman Sachs has just issued a helpful report for the insurance industry, identifying the profit potential for them in various likely outcomes of the current healthcare access reform initiative. Their conclusion: the best thing for the insurance companies is no reform at all, followed by the weakest possible reform; the worst thing for them is real reform with universal access and a publicly-backed plan option.

In other words: the current disaster of a system is the one that provides the greatest possible profit potential to the insurance industry; any effort at increasing access to care is against that industry’s interests, and a robust and successful reform effort is the worst possible thing from an industry whose profits are entirely dependent on charging the highest possible premiums and delivering the least possible care.

The Senate Finance Committee bill, which Goldman’s analysts conclude is the version most likely to survive the legislative process, is described as the “base” scenario. Under that legislation (which did not include a public plan) the earnings per share for the top five insurers would grow an estimated five percent from 2010 through 2019. And yet, the “variance with current valuation” — essentially, what the value of the stock is on the market — is projected to drop four percent.

Things are much worse, Goldman estimates, for legislation that resembles what was considered and (to a certain extent) passed by the House of Representatives. This is, the firm deems, the “bear case” scenario — in which earnings per share for the top five insurers would decline an estimated one percent from 2010 through 2019 and the variance with current valuation is projected to be negative 36 percent.

What the firm sees as the best path forward for the private insurance industry’s bottom line is, to be blunt, inaction.

The study’s authors advise that if no reform is passed, earnings per share would grow an estimated ten percent from 2010 through 2019, and the value of the stock would rise an estimated 59 percent during that time period.

The next best thing for the insurance industry would be if the legislation passed by the Senate Finance Committee is watered down significantly.

Coincidentally, no doubt, the report arrives from Goldman Sachs – recipient of uncountable billions in public bailout dollars for their executives’ bonuses, from the Obama administration – just as the healthcare access reform plan being pursued right now by that same administration is nearing its final legislative conflict. Goldman helpfully notes in a disclaimer that the firm “does and seeks to do business with companies covered in its research reports.”

All you have to do to see how utterly repulsive the healthcare insurance industry is is to simply watch how they talk about their own business. It is impossible to be disgusted enough by an industry that – uniquely in the industrialized world – treats people’s bodies, health, and lives as saleable commodities in a free market in misery.

November 9, 2009

Terrorist Crusade Parades Itself Openly – Who Will Care?

by @ 6:43 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Personhood, Provider Roles, Reproductive Ethics, Sex, Theory, Women's Issues

The AP reports that Scott Roeder, the terrorist who killed Dr. George Tiller, publicly and in cold blood, last May, has openly confessed to the crime and justified it with the usual religious-radical gibberish about “unborn children”. In the article, he explicitly equates fetuses with independently-living persons and claims that killing to prevent abortion is justified if at least one forced pregnancy results; he encourages others to perform similar terroristic murders, and states he intends to base his legal defense on an argument for a religious-political justification for murder. None of this is new, except possibly that he has stated all this on record now.  It confirms what we knew about him, anyway.

The real question is whether those who are so agitated about real or imagined terrorism of other kinds (especially by Muslims), and who have been so complacently accepting of anti-woman terrorism in the US for decades, will condemn or even acknowledge an open statement of Christian religious-terrorist ideology in the case of yet another anti-choice fanatic.

Just this week we’ve seen a terrible mass murder committed by a Muslim military officer who was apparently distraught over the war in Afghanistan and his possible deployment. Literally before the bodies were cool, various right-wingers jumped in to denounce “Muslim terrorism” and to cite vague links between the suspect and Al Qaeda (he visited a mosque which was also visited by someone who knew someone who was connected with Al Qaeda); however, it is not clear that the apparent perpetrator’s motives were intended for a political end at all – as opposed to merely an outburst of personal anxiety – and there is little to suggest that it was terrorism in any reasonable sense. The murders of doctors by anti-choicers, beyond any question, are defined by the features of terrorism found in most of the commonly-used definitions: they are acts of violence committed against civilians for the purpose of inciting fear in other, third-party individuals, to promote a particular political end. We heard nothing of this at the time of Dr. Tiller’s death (nor of any of the previous murders and other acts of violence); will we hear it acknowledged now that the terrorist has so openly proclaimed his murderous religious ideology?

Anti-choice terrorism is intended to prevent women from exercising a legal and moral right involving their bodily health and autonomy, by terrorizing those women and their healthcare providers – it is violence intended not merely against its chosen (often random) targets, but to terrorize and thus paralyze a larger group, to further the religious and political ideology of the perpetrators and their vast army of supporters and admirers within the religious right. Yet it has never been acknowledged as such, and the large subculture on the right wing who have made a profession of terrorism scare-mongering have never acknowledged the persistent anti-choice terrorism ongoing in the US. (Nor has the FBI: fake anthrax attacks had been staged on almost 700 abortion clinics in the US in the days before 9/11 – not one of them resulted in an arrest, or any obvious urgency about the issue, and they were not treated as domestic terrorism. One person was charged with terrorism for fake anthrax attacks on clinics in the wake of 9/11 and the Congress anthrax mail attacks – the first and only such charge in the entire history of anti-choice terrorism. None of the anti-choice murderers, including Roeder, have been charged as terrorists.)

Now we have an admitted terrorist openly advocating further political killings to promote his religious obsessions. If Roeder were a Muslim and his targets were not women and their healthcare providers, the shrieking loons of the right would be off their heads screaming about his crime, his religious beliefs, his unrepentant stance, his advocacy and rationalization of violence, and his links to other extremists with similar religious and political beliefs. Will we see even the slightest acknowledgment of Christian anti-choice religious terrorism and its dangers in this blatant case?

November 7, 2009

Historical Juncture Turned into Anti-Woman Hatefest by Congressional Republicans, With Democrats Lighting the Torches

by @ 9:38 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Personhood, Provider Roles, Reproductive Ethics, Sex, Theory, Women's Issues

At this moment, debate is proceeding on the House votes on the landmark healthcare bill. I haven’t blogged about it, because, frankly, it was overwhelming and I didn’t know what I could say that would help. (The Democrats’ stealth approach to bill-crafting, while possibly politically astute, made it hard to get a clear handle on the thing, too.) This will be, without question, one of the most important legislative events of my lifetime; if the bill passes the Senate and is finally voted into law in a reasonably intact form, it will be the most significant development in American history that I will see. More importantly, it will be – largely, though not entirely – an end to crippling insecurity and lifelong anxiety for hundreds of millions, and of irremediable pain and suffering for tens of millions who now live in the only affluent country that permits its business class to sell life itself for profit.

The bill on offer is far from optimal. It locks in the profiteering on death and misery that the vast majority of the country is burdened with, and is needlessly complicated and limited in what it offers to the rest. It deliberately cripples its own modest offering by restricting it only to those whom the profiteers have absolutely refused to serve at any price, prohibiting the rest of the country from accessing healthcare organized on any saner and more humane basis. But worst of all, the bill is being held hostage by the insane and vicious anti-choice army that infests the right wing and has wholly captured the Republican party. And, too predictably, the omnipresent contingent of grandstanding asshole Democrats is giving them exactly what they want, as they always do.

Right now, the “Stupak amendment” is being debated: an amendment that will prohibit any person enrolling in the government-backed “healthcare exchange” – which is to say, the poorest and most desperate, who are the only ones eligibel to enroll in that plan – from being offered a full range of healthcare services in cases of unwanted pregnancy. For those people, the “public options” will be forced pregnancy, death in childbirth, or an abortion that she likely can’t afford and the right-wing terrorists have likely made unavailable anyway. The Republican House caucus has already stated explicitly that they will refuse to vote for the healthcare bill in any form. But they – with their unconscionable Democratic allies – are holding up the bill to demand the anti-choice amendment in a bill they will not support even if they get it. And enough Democrats are equally indifferent to women’s lives and women’s needs to help them do it.

Democratic women are putting up a good fight – and their male allies deserve thanks, too. The Republicans have shrunk from merely legislative misogyny to outright thuggery, as they so commonly do. Michele Bachman led crowds of right wingers through the Congressional office buildings earlier today, invading offices and screaming at people to, in her words, “scare” them away from supporting women and healthcare for all. House Republicans staged an organized disruption on the floor today, systematically interrupting Democratic women as they spoke in favor of women’s interests and full healthcare coverage. The healthcare debate is being conducted the same way the Florida recount was in 2000: in the face of Republican assaults and intimidation, and without regard for the truth or significance of the actual substantive issue.

I have little to say about the whole thing. I feel helpless – particularly frustrating in the face of an issue so central to my personal and professional concerns – and am waiting as on election night for the outcome of votes that will – with great good luck – mean so much to so many, and move American one huge step closer to the decency and commitment to humanity that has been so sadly lacking in so much of our history. I can only wait and hope, like everyone else. In the meantime, there is an organized, vicious, and relentless minority that is fiercely dedicated to their own hostility to any notion of a decent regard for others, and to the freedom of others to live their own lives unconstrained by that minority’s backward and reactionary values. They are fighting – in the most literal sense – right now to keep tens of millions of people at the mercy of any illness they may suffer, to keep hundreds of millions at the mercy of an insurance system that rivals only those reactionaries themselves in its hostility to the needs of the people they nominally serve, and to keep every woman in America at the mercy of the nasty and bitter men who despise them and their bodies.

I can’t stand watching this unfold. And I can’t say, can’t express even fractionally, how much, how gut-wrenchingly much, I hate and revile these disgusting creeps.

UPDATE: Rayne at Firedoglake reports “Stupak Amendment Passes: 64 Dems Ask for Primary Opponents“. That’s exactly how I feel about it. I had already promised myself that I would contribute to the primary opponents of any misogynist Democrats; I’m saddened, and shocked, that there are so many of them. I will certainly target all that I can afford to. Read the rest of the post; it’s exactly right.

UPDATE: The final bill has passed, 220 – 215. Exactly one Republican voted in favor – 39 Democrats voted to withhold healthcare from over 40 million Americans. This is a great – but very partial – victory. There still remains the Senate bill – which will be a far tougher fight, with looser rules and a larger percentage of heartless and misogynist Democrats in the mix – followed by the conference committee and the final vote. The Republicans and reactionaries will do everything they can to destroy other people’s hopes for a decent life, and their control over their own bodies and life plans – the rioting, disruption, demagoguery and thuggery seen today are just a taste of what is coming. And this step, momentous as it is, comes bitterly. The discussion in the followup post at Firedoglake captures it perfectly; as one commenter put it: “It’s like winning a huge battle, but half of your friends were killed or wounded.”

UPDATE: I’ve added the reference to Democrats in the headline. I didn’t make it clear above that Bart Stupak, who led the charge to destroy healthcare reform for over 300 million Americans if they didn’t let him destroy autonomy for 150 million female Americans, is a Democrat. Along with 63 other misogynist traitors, he put the people’s party against 51% of the people, to indulge their personal medieval religious obsessions. Fuck him and all of them.

UPDATE: Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns, and Money gets the power dynamic exactly right: “Certainly, there are many potential criticisms of how Democratic leadership has dealt with health care, although when you actually care about expanding access to health care it’s hard to negotiate with the Stupaks of the world who don’t, but want to use other people’s progressive impulses to attack women.”

November 2, 2009

Religious Rightist Renounces All Icky Healthcare, Achieves Purity

by @ 5:16 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, Child-Rearing, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Provider Roles, Reproductive Ethics, Sex, Women's Issues

A former healthcare clinic administrator in Texas today announced that she had quit her job, joined a far-right anti-healthcare group, and dedicated herself to harassing other women to prevent them from receiving surgery and other forms of “icky” healthcare, after seeing a video of an appendectomy that she didn’t like.

I just thought I can’t do this anymore, and it was just like a flash that hit me and I thought that’s it,” said Jonhson. . . .

Johnson said she was told to bring in more women who wanted [icky procedures], something the Episcopalian church goer recently became convicted about.

“I feel so pure in heart (since leaving). I don’t have this guilt, I don’t have this burden on me anymore that’s how I know this conversion was a spiritual conversion.”

Johnson reports that she is likewise convicted about gall bladder removals, most forms of cancer surgery, and liposuction, although she does not criticize the decisions several of her friends have made to have such procedures, because “that’s different”. She is semi-convicted about breast implants, believing they are the work of the Whore of Babylon but also something you could understand that a woman needs sometimes. She justifies these distinctions with random Bible quotes and references to her own idiosyncratic feelings, which she cannot coherently articulate but is happy to impose on others by law.

This otherwise trivial story about one small-town individual’s weird religious hangups was trumpeted by the religious right as a stunning victory over the right of other people to make healthcare choices they don’t like, claiming other people’s healthcare was now “in meltdown mode” and “total disarray”. Every healthcare clinic in the country, including the one that has now hired a new director, went about its business as usual.

October 11, 2009

National Coming-Out Day

by @ 2:21 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, Child-Rearing, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, LGBTQ Issues, Reproductive Ethics, Theory, Women's Issues

Today is National Coming-Out Day (one day after President Obama promised yet again to repeal the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy and work toward fuller equality for all people, and yet again did nothing tangible about it).

I don’t have much to say about that, except to offer support and the wish that the homophobia that infects our society, among other lingering forms of discrimination and prejudice, will soon fade, and “coming out” can be the act of celebration and affirmation that it should be, rather than an act of courage and risk-taking in the face of dangers that should not be allowed  to exist.

I’ll note, by way of parochial hyper-focus, that the pressures and threats that impede coming out and living openly in one’s chosen orientation have health consequences as well as many other harmful impacts; they cause stress and depression, create barriers to healthcare access, often result in abusive or discriminatory treatment in emergency care, and not infrequently result in violence. And of course the pervasive legal discrimination LGBTQ people face, in particular regarding health insurance, visitation and decision-making rights for gay couples, and barriers to assisted fertility and adoption, are also health and family-rearing issues as well as being rank discrimination in the basic sense.

Ending homophobia for reasons of good health is an odd and circumlocutory approach to the problem, but it’s one reason among many. Simple moral necessity is a better one. It’s long past time.

September 23, 2009

Misogynist Grandstanding: A Right-Wing Perennial

by @ 3:27 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, Child-Rearing, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Personhood, Provider Roles, Reproductive Ethics, Sex, Theory

There is a considerable component of right-wing blather, on healthcare and other topics, that is not seriously intended from the outset. To be sure, actual right-wing policy proposals are often offensive and addle-headed – withholding healthcare from women for religious reasons, or prohibiting factual information on contraception for teens are too-familiar examples – but often enough the most outrageous statements the wingnuts make are intended only to generate controversy. The ensuing agitation inflames the right-wing base constituency and feeds their self-aggrandizing notion of themselves as “under siege”, while the attention the controversy gins up raises the wingers’ profile and generates book sales and speaking fees. Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, and their cretinous ilk have made a profession of making factual claims that are indefensible in morals or truth, then evading responsibility by claiming they were joking; nominally more respectable right-wing pundits are not above the tactic, either. (George Will’s incompetent blundering into the issue of global warming continued long after his lack of knowledge had been thoroughly exposed in his own paper; the incident did him no harm among his target readership, for whom truth is an incidental feature of their reading material.)

For this reason, I felt less shock than merely tired recognition at this week’s reports from the right-wing “Value Voters” conference, in particular the much-remarked insanity of anti-choice provocateur Lila Rose’s demand that abortions be “done in the public square” (“maybe then we might hear angels singing as we ponder the glory of conception”*). Of course it’s idiotic, outrageous, and unhinged; of course it’s meaningless as a serious policy proposal. But it was never intended to be otherwise. It was intended to do exactly what it did – get more attention for a serial attention-seeker whose stock in trade is saying provocative things on video so she can enjoy the reaction, as well as create yet another controversy to make anti-choice theater seem important by generating press.

But it’s worth taking a moment, not to combat this nonsense as if it was to be taken seriously, nor even to condemn the continual offensiveness and provocation of the anti-choice movement (a singularly unlikely complaint, since without that the anti-choice movement wouldn’t even exist), but to note the ways in which anti-choicers choose to offend.

What does it mean to imagine – even if only to create offense – that women should be forced to have their abortions in public? As crazed as the suggestion is, it is not as extreme, from the right-wing perspective, as it would seem from any decent point of view. Mandatory public display of intimate gynecological procedures in order to diminish the legal availability of those procedures is nothing more than the literal instantiation of the basic presuppositions of the anti-choice movement in general:

As with so much anti-choice agitation, women simply disappear from this invasive and offensive scheme as persons to be taken seriously in their own right. Healthcare is granted near-sacrosanct status as regards privacy, discretion, and the centrality of the needs and interests of the patient, but a woman seeking abortion must expose herself, legs splayed in stirrups, vagina dilated, instruments inserted, “in the public square” – her needs and interests, in fact her basic humanity as a person deserving of consideration and dignity, carry no weight against the creepy, invasive perversions of the sex-obsessive misogynists. The abortion debate is structured, logically, as a conflict between women’s autonomy and the religious imperatives of the anti-choice right wing, but here there is no recognition of autonomy interests at play in any way – women not only may not control their bodies or reproductive options, but may even be forced into invasive and degrading displays deliberately intended to undermine their own autonomy, as a condition of (temporarily) accessing such options. As always, women simply don’t count. Whatever protections and privileges the typical moral person might command in undertaking their own purposes in their own life simply vanish if that person is a woman seeking control over her reproduction.

But this familiar moral blindness is not accidental, and it is not merely the hyperbolic implication of a deliberately provocative suggestion. Stupid, crazy, and nasty as they may be, the right wing is not completely incapable of recognizing moral humanity, even in those they despise. The right wing gradually learned not to use racial slurs; today it would unthinkable for them to suggest that people of color should be paraded “in the public square” even as a tactic to undermine their rights, and wingers fall over themselves denying the racism in their racist policies. The gay-rights movement, embattled as it was, made remarkable progress in the space of about 35 years; today, the conservative position on gay rights extols accommodations (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; civil unions) that would have been grand liberal victories just a few years previously. Yet after thousands of years of patriarchy, women command no such deference. Even as a joke or a provocation, there are things that are not said about minorities and gays – things the public would reject in disgust. There seems to be nothing the right wing won’t say about women – there seem to be no abuses or humiliations that are beyond the pale, no degradations or invasions that are unthinkable, whether or not they seem likely as policy.

Vacating medical confidentiality to publicize abortions for the explicit purpose of humiliating women by generating disgust at their bodies, healthcare, and reproductive choices?  The only part of that scenario the right wing objects to is the abortion. All the rest is merely the rights, interests, and choices of women. Nothing at all, really.

* I am not making this up.

September 19, 2009

The Right Wing on Healthcare: Stupidity or Lies – the Eternal Conundrum

by @ 10:04 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, Autonomy, Child-Rearing, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Provider Roles, Reproductive Ethics, Sex, Theory, Women's Issues

Apparently, tea-baggers protesting healthcare reform have adopted the slogan “Keep your laws off my body”. This is what passes for wit on the right-wing: people who are presumably largely anti-choice have appropriated a pro-choice slogan for their own purposes.

Mind-bogglingly, they claim they are not merely poking fun by making progressive symbols retrogressive, but are adopting the tools and techniques of left-wing activism for purposes that they regard as similar in motivation and intention. Adam Brandon, press secretary for the tea-bagger organization, claimed:

If we had been alive back in the 1960s, we would have been on the freedom bus rides. It was an issue of individual liberty. We’re trying to borrow some from the civil rights movement.

Right. Freedom Riders:

Freedom Rider Freedom Rider

But that wasn’t my main point. I wanted to note just that one slogan: “Keep your laws off my body”.

It seems undeniable that the vast majority of tea-baggers would strongly oppose the liberty that slogan advocates. Surely their Congressional enablers do. But with the characteristic ignorance and lack of shame that makes it possible for right-wingers to say any of the things they say, they’ve co-opted words they don’t believe in into a context in which they don’t even make sense.

Unlike the issue of abortion rights – wherein the same noisy faction that opposes healthcare for others also aggressively campaigns to prohibit women from controlling their own bodies, and to force them to undergo pregnancy and childbirth against their will – the proposed plan for universal healthcare access doesn’t impose any unwanted procedure on anyone’s body. The access plan incorporates no specific treatments at all – it is a funding mechanism, not a treatment regimen, still less a mandatory one.

Naturally, of course, the wingers who oppose both abortion and healthcare in general, while demanding “keep your laws off my body”, also oppose abortion funding under any healthcare plan that is passed: that’s right, they insist that the healthcare plan they oppose because it would impose laws on their body must also be crafted so as to assist them in imposing laws on other people’s bodies. But more fundamentally, it is the characteristic right-wing solipsism and sheer imperviousness to fact that makes this absurdity possible: their aversion to healthcare means other people can’t have any, and their valorization of unplanned pregnancy means other women must have them; laws that have nothing to do with actually imposing upon people’s bodies are opposed with liberal slogans regarding bodily freedom, while the liberal demand for bodily freedom is opposed by people who spout that same slogan.

As always, the interpretive question here is whether these people are simply mind-bogglingly stupid, or deliberately dishonest. And as always, it’s hard to tell the difference in their cases.

April 27, 2009

Luckily, For-Profit Healthcare is Perfect . . .

by @ 1:10 PM. Filed under Access to Healthcare, General, Global/Community Health, Healthcare Politics, Theory

Among the many distortions and intellectual dishonesties that plague right-wing pontificating about healthcare ethics and  policy is the constant pointing to (often hypothetical) drawbacks of policies they oppose as proof that those policies are unworkable or immoral, while exactly the same problem exists with the policies they do approve. In particular, opposition to universal healthcare often takes the form of nit-picking any possible barrier or difficulty that such programs would encounter without the slightest acknowledgment that the market-rationed for-profit system the US now has simply ignores its own gross deficiencies as if they didn’t exist – as if simply leaving people out of the system is not a problem, while having trouble treating everybody within a larger system is a fatal flaw.

The most egregious example of such falsehoods is the claim that universal healthcare will be “rationed” (meaning that no such system will pay for every imaginable treatment); for market fetishists, denying care outright to tens of millions of people is not rationing, and forcing hundreds of millions into overpriced insurance plans that ban entire categories of patients from enrollment, prohibit vast swaths of basic treatments, and then deny reimbursement for treatments they have actually contracted to cover is also not rationing, but creating a system that serves vastly larger numbers of patients more completely is rationing. But that’s just one well-worn delusion. They are nothing if not creative in coming up with new ones.

Today’s meme is that old bugaboo, the “doctor shortage“. (Some of us can remember times – more than one – when it was a “doctor glut“, and the right-wing economists who feared that, as well.) The right wing is just beside itself with worry that, under a scheme of universal healthcare, there simply won’t be enough doctors to go around. (Leading, of course, to . . . healthcare rationing!) Instapundit is convinced the problem is we don’t pay them enough. David Bernstein at Volokh thinks we should educate them less, so they’d have less school debt. Dr. Helen is convinced that the administrative hassles of healthcare are “going to get a whole lot worse with more government intervention” – apparently she believes that reducing the 30% overhead of for-profit insurance company administration would be offset by providing more and better healthcare to hundreds of millions of people, and figures that’s a bad thing. (It goes without saying that none of them thinks we should just subsidize doctors’ education and let them pay it back with service, so as to attract more people who actually care about practicing medicine and aren’t in it for the highest dollar. As Instapundit would say, “Naah, that wouldn’t make sense!”)

But, aside from the complete inability of of market worshippers to care or consider whether not rationing healthcare by profit margin would in any way improve the ability of people to actually get healthcare, there is in this case the gross hypocrisy of simply ignoring the entire question how this issue plays out in the market-rationed system these people all favor. (Remember that the problems the market doesn’t care about are not problems for the market; they’re only problems for systems that actually care about people’s needs, and thus are uniquely guilty for failing to solve problems that marketeers just don’t bother with in the first place.)

How is it the near-term supply of doctors is insufficient for a national healthcare system, but not insufficient for the market-rationed system we currently have? We’re talking about essentially the same number of doctors and the same number of potential patients – so if there aren’t enough doctors to go around under a system in which everybody has equal access to care, why is that not a problem now? Why haven’t the right-wingers who are so very, very (sincerely, no doubt) concerned that not everybody will be able to see a doctor immediately, when they actually have a right to do so, not concerned that not everybody can see a doctor at all, now, when they simply can’t afford to?

The answer, of course, is that they don’t care in the slightest whether or not people get the healthcare they need (especially those who have proven themselves unworthy by being unable to afford it). And they don’t really care whether there are enough doctors to staff a universal-access system, except to the extent that a potential shortage can be used as an argument against initiating such a system. If the actual impact of a supply/demand imbalance – the fact that some people can’t get access to a healthcare provider – mattered to them as a problem in itself, it would matter much more now, where some people have no access at all and most people are trapped in the hugely oppressive and constraining for-profit health insurance morass, than it would within some hypothetical future system which provides access to everybody, possibly with longer waiting times. But, again, the complete refusal of the market-rationed system to even attempt to do anything about the most helpless and desperate people trapped under it is of no consequence whatsoever, because if you’re ideologically wedded to profit-maximization for healthcare providers, you’re ideologically indifferent to actual healthcare for patients as a goal in its own right. But the idea of the great unwashed flooding your for-profit system and taking up the time and attention of the doctors you paid for, dammit, is both a real inconvenience (to you) and a moral offense (to the principle of purchased entitlement in a market environment).

April 9, 2008

Chicken Petard: Have It Your Way

by @ 11:54 AM. Filed under Biotechnology, General, Global/Community Health, Medical Science, Personhood, Research Issues, Theory

I really loathe PETA, for lots of good reasons.

But that can take many forms, one of which is mocking, in appropriately childish fashion, PETA’s own tactic for pressuring corporate chicken-torturers [sic]. They have a Web sign-generator site in which they encourage people to post comments about Kentucky Fried Chicken’s practice of, as they put it “tortur[ing] chickens for profit”. Whatever the hell that’s about, it interests me far less than the fact that PETA, as a group, is offensive and abusive to real people, whom I care about far more than the animal fetish-objects that are their sole obsession. So if we’re going to make little signs about cruelty and inappropriate moral priorities, well, let’s get our inappropriate priorities straight, first:

Make your own!


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