By Denise Tessier
Winthrop Quigley has done it again: He has managed to get a sensible health care piece in the Albuquerque Journal.
Judging from the headline, “Health-Care Reform Act Assailed,” one initially might think the article at the top of the Business page (D6) on April 29 was yet another Journal attack on “Obamacare”. (On April 12, the Journal ran — in its print version at least — a full page of letters that used the derisively-loaded term “Obamacare” in headline-size type three times: “Curing What Ails Us: Obamacare is a magic potion. Obamacare is a poison pill. Obamacare has divided opinion like little else.”)
Unlike that Letters page (and other instances where the opposition-coined phrase ObamaCare is part of a headline, even when absent from the story), the Business page reportage by Quigley used the legislation’s proper name, Affordable Care Act of 2010, and concisely spelled out where America is today in terms of health care policy – including the flaws of the ACA.
Granted, the story was facilitated by the fact that a national advocate for a single-payer health system had spoken at the New Mexico Public Health Association convention in Albuquerque. Still, Quigley’s attendance and coverage ensured that talk made it to readers’ ears as the advocate had laid it out, leading with this:
Congress caved into corporate interests last year to enact a health care policy that will leave millions of Americans without insurance, do nothing to rein in rising costs and put everyone at the mercy of an unfair, for-profit system, a national advocate for a single-payer system said in Albuquerque.
The story continues by quoting Margaret Flowers, a pediatrician who left the practice of medicine in 2007 to work on health policy reform:
“We need a system. . . We don’t have a system. We don’t allocate resources in a rational way. We ration care in the cruelest way, the ability of the patient to pay.”
The reasons for the ACA’s shortfalls are covered in this story:
Corporate interests, abetted by corporate-controlled media, kept a single-payer solution from being discussed during the debate that led to the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, Flowers said, adding that the evidence shows such a system provides better patient care at a lower cost than an insurance-based, for-profit payment system.
The looming problems posed by ACA are covered:
Medicare and Medicaid are victims of out-of-control costs that ACA will only make worse, she said. The law will raise costs with new insurance exchanges, more regulations on insurance companies and an increased role for the Internal Revenue service, which will have to enforce mandatory coverage rules scheduled to take effect in 2014, Flowers said.
And the story brings the lack of a viable health care policy into the economic debate:
If corporations paid taxes on operations they move off shore revenues will be more than enough to fund those programs, Flowers said. “Austerity measures are not necessary,” she said.
With a well-organized speaker like Flowers, this is the kind of story that writes itself, in skillful hands. And Quigley has shown his skills repeatedly in covering health care.
Whether or not you agree with his analytical columns, he has consistently brought to Journal readers an intelligent take on the national debate and its implications for New Mexico. As early as 2008, he explained why attempts at health reform have failed year after year. (The answer: “Too many people can say ‘no.’” )
In a January UpFront column, he countered Cal Thomas’ revival of the death panel canard. In another column in March, he introduced readers to national medical administrator Don Berwick, whose Senate confirmation was being held up in Congress. “Republicans have decided to make (Berwick) the fall guy for a health care law they don’t like,” Quigley wrote, concluding:
The weakness of so-called Obamacare is that it is designed to use the existing insurance system to direct patients into a dangerous, expensive and ineffective health care delivery system. Berwick has spent a career finding ways to create a safe, affordable and effective system. That he won’t have a chance to put his insights into practice at CMS is politics at its worst.
An apparently well-informed retired foreign service officer responded with a letter to Business Outlook applauding the column, adding a supporting personal anecdote about Berwick.
Then, a month ago, in “Germany Has Better Health System ,” he countered House speaker John Boehner’s so-called defense of “the best health care system in the world,” with this:
The United States does not have the best health care system in the world. It doesn’t even have a system, if by “system” we mean a deliberate structure designed to ensure optimum health for all who use it. It is instead a collection of vendors pushing as many goods and services as possible onto patients who are largely ignorant both of the price and of the utility of the goods and services they receive.
I can certainly understand why people everywhere on the political continuum from far left to far right might have a problem with the health finance overhaul enacted a year ago this month. Opposing it out of love for the existing system is real proof that love is blind.
Years ago, before the Journal carried columnist Leonard Pitts, I read Pitts’ weekly dispatches as they came into the Journal system from the syndicate and was convinced he would win a Pulitzer some day. (And eventually, he did.)
I feel the same way reading Quigley’s columns – columns that are delivered in addition to regular informed news reportage on business, banking , jobs, insurance and the economy – whether it’s his poignant look back at the Great Depression (“Hard Times Bring Moral Choices”), or his look back at the Vietnam War on the occasion of Robert McNamara’s death, or his insight into the Charter Bank closure (“Charter: A Case of Regulators Run Amok” ). Consider, too, his explanation for the rampant corruption scandals in New Mexico (and elsewhere) as the simple lack of good protection systems we frailty-prone human beings need.
While a frustrating mixture of news and analysis regularly is offered on the Journal’s national news pages, good work also appears in the paper, and I offer Quigley’s stories as convincing examples of just that.