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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The endorsement game: or how to keep the game well-rigged

As a candidate you get sent (or not sent as we shall see) various questionnaires and offers for interviews from different organizations looking to endorse (or at least "out" somebody) during the election.

Some of these organizations actually have some political clout, and others just want to appear to have it.

But the whole game is strangely devoid of any relationship to the stances of the candidates themselves, and as you play it, you discover that on many levels nobody actually cares what your position on issues is, because it is only your party identifier that matters.

Three cases in point:

1.  The Delaware AFL-CIO sent me a questionnaire and invited me to an interview.  I went.  I'm the only person running in my district who actually has had any union experience, and in fact I was a union president for six years.  Nobody else running in my district even bothered to fill out the questionnaire.  Many of my answers (as people who know me well will know) were far more pro-labor than my Libertarian party-identifier would suggest.  In my "interview," the one guy sitting there had (a) not read my questionnaire; (b) took ten minutes to find my questionnaire on his iPad; and (c) actually fell asleep twice in the middle of the interview (I know I talk too much sometimes, but really).  Then he told me that the AFL-CIO would hold its endorsement convention in two weeks and the he would contact me pro or con the Monday after.  That was a month ago; he never wrote, never communicated, and--naturally--the AFL-CIO did not endorse me.  The most truthful statement he made during the process was, "We don't discriminate by party, only position, but we'd probably never endorse a Libertarian."  (Oh, and despite rhetoric to the contrary, the Delaware AFL-CIO endorsed two candidates who never filled out a questionnaire.)

2.  The Delaware Campaign for Liberty represents itself as non-partisan, and explained that it hadn't sent me a questionnaire because third parties don't have primaries, and therefore they don't send out questionnaires to candidates who don't have primaries until closer to the general election.  Of course they DID send a questionnaire to my Democratic opponent, who (surprise, surprise) doesn't have a primary, either.  When I asked about this, I was told that on the day that Libertarians get more than "0.5%" of the vote they'd send me a survey.  The reality is that C4L in Delaware is only interested in electing "Liberty" Republicans, and its director sees the Libertarian Party as competition in that regard, so he really doesn't want my answers running alongside those of the GOP candidates.  Oh well.

3.  The Delaware State Education Association [DSEA] is a "big dog" in electoral politics.  This is not because DSEA actually impacts legislation [unfortunately, it rarely does], but because DSEA spends a lot of money trying to elect legislators who will vote their way, and keeps spending that money on them no matter how many times they vote against the interests of Delaware teachers.  Three examples:

(a) Bryan Townsend did not even get an interview in 2012 because Tony DeLucca was considered a "friendly incumbent" and got the nod; this year, after having championed DSEA's causes for two years, Senator Townsend was informed that both he and his primary opponent would be interviewed because he couldn't be declared a "friendly incumbent" based on his performance in the General Assembly; [he finally got the nod this week when white smoke was seen emerging Frederika Jenner's chimney, because apparently experience does matter ... if only a little];

(b) in the Sean Matthews-Dennis Williams primary, DSEA refused to interview and endorse anybody, even though Matthews is a dues-paying, politically active member of (you guessed it!) the DSEA;

and (c) in my own case, with four candidates running, at some point before cave men figured out how to round the edges off wheels to make them roll better, DSEA declared Joe Miro a "friendly incumbent," and they are sticking to that (with no interviews and no questionnaires for the other three candidates) despite the fact that at least two of the three have expressed views far more in keeping with those of the DSEA member teachers than the incumbent.  I've endorsed and campaigned for all the resolutions that the teachers passed at the last DSEA membership convention (and I'm the only one in the race who has done so), but I don't get a shot at the endorsement because, well, apparently your actual position on education simply does not matter to Frederika Jenner and her State leadership collective.

Upshot of all this?

Most of these organizations (at least at the State leadership level) are so tightly tied to maintaining the status quo that they don't actually provide more than lip service to the idea that the policy positions of the candidates matters.

It's the Delaware Way.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

My Editorial about Highmark that you can't quite read at Delaware Online

This was printed in today's paper, but somehow (I'm NOT speculating) it is not available in the online edition.

So find out what a Libertarian thinks about State-enforced corporate monopolies:

It isn’t news that Delawareans pay higher health insurance premiums than most Americans, or that many families can’t access A. I. DuPont Children’s Hospital because of a feud between the doctors and insurance bureaucrats.

Some reformers dream of a single-payer health-care system, where taxes cover the costs, patients pay no premiums or co-pays, and the cost of medical care goes magically down.  A bill to enact stand-alone single-payer for Delaware is introduced—and ignored—in the General Assembly every year.

The reformers don’t understand that we already have a two-payer health insurance system in Delaware, and that second payer has no intention of losing its monopoly to the government.

Just over 50% of Delaware’s citizens receive health insurance via the government, through Medicaid, Medicare, Chips, or various military programs.  The remainder sits in the “private insurance market.”

Over 90% of this “market” dominated by a single entity:  Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware.

A 90% market share usually characterized as a monopoly, which generally means fewer choices, poorer service, and higher prices for consumer.

Pennsylvania Judge Patricia McInerny recently characterized Highmark of Delaware’s parent company as a “supposedly ‘non-profit’ corporation,” while ruling that Pennsylvania law was so vague Highmark could legally claim a $432 million profit as “incidental.”

Highmark’s empire includes major (if not monopoly) insurers in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia; the nation’s second-largest optometry chain; multiple dental plans; lucrative Medicare processing contracts and supplemental insurance policies; and investment in or ownership of urgent care centers and hospital chains.

Executive Vice President David O’Brien says that Highmark intends “to expand our footprint in the provider world,” meaning that the company plans to purchase hospitals, clinics, and medical practices.

Thus the insurance company paying your doctors could also be their employer.

In West Virginia, Highmark is the only company listed on the health insurance marketplace.  In Delaware it might as well be:  Highmark has acquired roughly 93% of all sign-ups.

In Pennsylvania Highmark purchased a hospital chain and fought a trade war with the University of Pennsylvania Medical Centers.  Among the casualties were thousands of Highmark customers who either lost coverage or had claims denied for visiting a competing hospital.

In Philadelphia, independent optometry shops allege that Highmark gives its subsidiaries preferential treatment in dealing with customers who have Highmark vision plans.

In a 2012 case heard by US District Court Judge Roy Flowers, Highmark admitted having paid varying rates to different providers for exactly the same services.

On entering Delaware, Highmark received $175 million in corporate welfare from our General Assembly.  Our State Insurance Commissioner wanted a gigantic company atop the Delaware market because “small health insurers have struggled to compete with large national insurers who have billions of dollars of capital and resources.”

MedExpress, a chain of urgent care centers in which the Highmark parent company has a $52 million (about 10%) investment stake, followed Highmark into Delaware.  Within months, locally owned competitors were informed that they had sixty days to meet new standards of operating and credentialing (designed by Highmark, and, coincidentally those of MedExpress) or they would cease being reimbursed for services at the standard rate.

One local doctor/owner who attempted to resist these changes alleges that his family’s insurance claims were denied in blanket fashion; thousands of dollars in payments to his clinic were unreasonably delayed, and his employees’ policies were abruptly audited—all in six months. Highmark and the State Insurance Commissioner contend that these acts were coincidence and routine.

The doctor has since sold his business to a national chain that does not accept Medicaid (as he did).

The strangest part of this story is that it doesn’t appear to be news in Delaware.  A recent inquiry to the Insurance Commissioner’s into Highmark’s status by a local citizen required almost two years to generate a one-paragraph dismissal.  None of our legislators or government leaders appear willing to talk about the Highmark monopoly on private health insurance, or the company’s reach into Medicare, vision plans, or dental insurance.

Nobody seems willing to draw the logical conclusion that Highmark’s premiums (already among the highest in the nation) are scheduled to go up another 5% in 2015, despite the parent company’s $4.4 Billion cash surplus, because monopolies foster profit taking, not competition.

One of the reasons I am running for State Representative is to bring this issue out into the open, and force our government to confront the question:  Is what’s good for Highmark really good for Delaware?