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September 17, 2014

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Blogosphere all in a tizzy over bartering for health care idea

Image

Steve Marcus

A man in a chicken costume pickets before a UNLV College Republicans event at UNLV on Tuesday, April 20, 2010. The protest was in reference to U.S. Senate candidate Sue Lowden’s suggestion that patients barter with their doctors for health care. The College Republicans endorsed Lowden at the event.

Video on Lowden health care bartering proposal

Sue Lowden

Sue Lowden

Sun Coverage

Sue Lowden’s campaign for U.S. Senate has hit a crisis this week.

The Republican front-runner to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reiterated a much-ridiculed idea she floated recently that consumers should “barter” for health care.

Now those comments have gone viral — in Internet lexicon — becoming the subject of withering blog attacks and YouTube videos.

Here’s what she said on the Reno TV show “Nevada Newsmakers”: “You know, before we all started having health care, in the olden days our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor; they would say ‘I’ll paint your house.’ I mean, that’s the old days of what people would do to get health care with your doctors. Doctors are very sympathetic people. I’m not backing down from that system.”

It was an attack ad that wrote itself — short, humorous and filled with visual imagery, including chickens and house painters.

Bartering — trading a good or service for another good or service — is alive and well on websites such as craigslist, and as the Lowden campaign pointed out, in doctors’ offices across Nevada and the country.

Still, that would seem to be more of a symptom of the nation’s health care problems, not a potential solution, as Lowden spokesman Robert Uithoven acknowledged Wednesday.

Lowden, a wealthy casino owner, risks seeming out of touch, which would be a damaging development because Republicans planned on using that line of attack on Reid.

“Her whole argument is that Reid is out of touch,” said David Damore, UNLV political scientist.

Jennifer Duffy, analyst with the Cook Political Report, said Lowden’s comments are defensible but badly framed. “It doesn’t strike me as a difficult thing to push back on, yet Democrats have been feasting on this for almost two weeks,” she said.

The pushback, if tardy, has begun.

Uithoven said, “If people want to see Sue Lowden’s plan, it’s been on the website since November, when Harry Reid was using Nevada taxpayer dollars to bribe other senators to support his health care plan Nevadans didn’t want.” Uithoven was referring to deals Reid engineered to help the home states of senators in return for their votes for the health care legislation. The deals were later rescinded.

Lowden’s health care plan, aside from her offhand suggestions about bartering, includes tort reform to make it harder to sue doctors for medical malpractice; allowing consumers to buy health insurance across state lines; and proposals making it easier for small businesses and individuals to buy health insurance.

Her website appears to have been invaded, if results from a poll on the site are a guide. It asks the question, “Do you think government-run health care will improve the quality of our care?” As of late Wednesday, a surprising 60 percent, or more than 13,000 respondents, said “Yes.”

Also surprising, Lowden’s chief Republican opponents — Danny Tarkanian, John Chachas and Sharron Angle — haven’t tried to leverage Lowden’s comments.

Duffy said such an attack wouldn’t play that well in a Republican primary. Damore said he suspects the other candidates are preserving their resources in advance of the June 8 primary.

Uithoven said he looked forward to a full discussion of health care during the campaign: “We’re happy to debate Harry Reid about his vision for health care reform against our vision of health care reform,” he said.

“He hasn’t been here much in the past 30 years, and we’re happy to bring him around to doctors who are also small businessmen and businesswomen and have them explain to Reid how they negotiate lower prices to avoid insurance hassles and government-run health care.”

What the blogosphere is saying about Sue Lowden

Steve Benen of Washington Monthly: It’s a permanent credibility-killer ... Remember, the health care debate lasted a very long time. Lowden, who has been running for the Senate for nearly as long, has had plenty of time to carefully craft her message on health care policy. This is what she’s come up with. Better yet, after becoming the subject of ridicule last week, Lowden had a chance to clarify this into a position that’s less preposterous. Instead, she made it worse.

I’m trying to imagine how Lowden thinks this should work. Treating a mundane ailment — say, a sore throat — can cost a chicken. But how, exactly, does she imagine families pay for more serious treatments? What should Nevadans expect to bring to the doctor in exchange for an MRI exam? Or an emergency appendectomy? Or chemotherapy? Should the senior citizen who just had hip-replacement surgery offer to start painting the doctor’s house?

The Economist: It’s not clear how far Ms. Lowden wants to take this idea of widening the barter economy, but it could have far-reaching ramifications, not just for health care reform but for financial-sector reform as well. For example, payment in kind would eliminate many of the risky innovations that led to the financial crisis. It would be virtually impossible to structure a chicken-based CDO; sure, you could find buyers for the breast tranche easily enough, but who would take all those necks and feet? Leverage rules become much less necessary when you can only hedge with items that actually exist; it’s hard to imagine the notional value of chicken-based hedges greatly exceeding the number of actual chickens on the planet. And all this could be accomplished without any new taxes.

Liberal political blog Firedoglake: Like most Americans, I don’t have any chickens at home, nor do I have much other items of value that a doctor would be likely to take in lieu of cash. I suppose I could buy a chicken, but at that point, you’re just adding a step, really. I’m thinking a KFC Double Down might even yield a full surgery as opposed to what you could get from an uncooked chicken, but what do I know, I’m not running for Senate. I think the general consensus from the non-crazy portion of the electorate is that we’ve advanced from the time when we bartered for goods, and that has generally been a societal positive ...This will reach a tipping point if Lowden’s Republican rivals start using it against her.

Ben Smith of Capitol Hill’s Politico: When Sue Lowden ... first made the case for paying doctors with chickens, rather than checks from the insurance company, it drew the obvious immediate mockery ...Somewhat to my surprise, however, this isn’t a gaffe: It’s a policy statement. Lowden’s communications director is defending barter in a statement to Greg Sargent, and the campaign is also circulating a long background document that aims to put some substance behind the barter plan. Most of the substance of the document is on the broader subject of negotiating with doctors, not the narrower one of livestock exchange, so it’s not entirely on point.

L.A. Times blogger Richard Metzger: Wanna see your doctor but have no money? No problem, just bring your doctor a chicken! Don’t have the dosh for smokes? Trade the local shop for some pocket lint! Want a new car? Bring in those comics and baseball cards! What is this woman thinking?

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