Daily Glean: Health care explained, but not in 60 seconds

With the, uh, loyal opposition still flogging various canards, including the ones about “government-controlled … ” yada yada in which President Obama’s health care reform is really some kind of sinister Stalinist plot concocted to kill us all with neglect, or worse — diminish shareholder value in private insurers! — MPR’s “Midday” interview Tuesday with Regina Herzlinger, senior fellow at the often-conservative Manhattan Institute was remarkably illuminating.

Herzlinger, a professor at Harvard’s Business School, is also the author of “Who Killed Health Care: America’s $2 Trillion Problem — and the Consumer-Driven Cure” and, despite a halting voice, was blunt in her disgust for the way large insurers are routinely gaming the system and thoroughly versed in how bona fide entrepreneurs in other countries — including small groups of nuns — have successfully competed to serve clients … at significantly lower costs than Americans are absorbing. Health care may be a textbook example of an issue that can never be adequately explained in a standard 60-second news report.

Has it really only been four solid months of “Will he?” or “Won’t he?stories? It seems more like four years. But Tuesday, Brett Favre — you’ve heard the name, right? — told the Vikings he would NOT be coming up to play this season. At least that was his absolutely definite, final decision Tuesday. But Chip Scroggins and Judd Zulgad, who pulled Favre D-Day duty for the Strib, just couldn’t resist dropping this graph into their story. “With Favre, however, there is never a complete conclusion. The NFL Network’s Steve Mariucci, who was an assistant on the Packers coaching staff in the 1990s and remains close to Favre, reported Favre will continue throwing and working out.” That is what every old jock does … who hates training camp.

It is interesting that the ESPN story on the Favre saga/fiasco, filed by former Stribber Kevin Seifert emphasizes the team begging Favre to reconsider a decision he actually made 10 days ago. Writes Seifert, “Instead of cutting their losses last week, the Vikings put on a full-court press that — from the outside, at least — made it look like they were begging. They believed Favre would eventually come around, and their continued pursuit deepened the hole they must now dig out of.”

A complicated tale, told by Janet Moore in the Strib, has a prominent U of M surgeon taking heat from Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, one of the key characters in the health care reform battle. Essentially, Grassley has targeted Dr. David Polly, head of Orthopaedic Surgery at the U, for conflicts of interest in regard to the $1.2 million … that’s MILLION … he collected in consultancy fees from Medtronic between 2003 and 2007. The U already has run its review of Polly’s situation and concluded a conflict existed. Now Medtronic is launching its own.

Moore notes, “The [U of M] committee ultimately determined that a conflict existed because Polly was the primary investigator in a study using a Medtronic bone-growth product in rats that was sponsored by a $446,000 Department of Defense grant — but at the same time was a paid company consultant.The 2007 study, which is just one of 96 peer-reviewed studies bearing Polly’s name, appears to have captured Grassley’s interest for a number of reasons. He claims Polly may have given inaccurate information to the review committee about the often-controversial Medtronic spine-mending product, which is called Infuse.” Bottom line? In the 21st century, gold is any cost you can slide into the health insurance system.

Chris Steller, over at The Minnesota Independent, has an amusing graphic tracking former Sen. Norm Coleman’s success with individual donors at different points in the interminable recount battle. There are all sorts of reasons why contributions might spike and fall over eight months, but Steller likes the one that suggests the death knell for individuals came with the inadvertent disclosure/breach of Coleman’s database on the Internet back in March. Which would mean what … that potential Coleman donors were embarrassed by their support?

Now it’s SuperValu that is reeling under debt accumulated during the bubble and shedding assets to raise cash. Chris Serres of the Strib reports that the Eden Prairie grocery behemoth is selling off 36 Albertsons supermarkets in Utah it picked up — on a highly leveraged deal — barely three years ago. Moreover, this may the first of several waves of scaling back. How dire is the picture? “The company could use the cash [from the Albertsons sale]. For the quarter ended June 20, Supervalu’s interest expense was $177 million, or nearly half its operating earnings of $362 million. Supervalu’s debt-to-capital ratio of 76 percent is much higher than rivals Kroger and Safeway, said Michelle Chang, a Morningstar analyst.

Erin Carlyle’s cover story in the latest City Pages is worth your time. There’s nothing too complicated about this one — even though Carlyle, or someone, makes a point of the “two dozen”  law enforcement sources and “1,200 arrest reports” she combed through to compile a list of the 10 worst … human … nuisances knocking around Minneapolis. These aren’t stone cold killers. Those guys are usually one (very bad) offense and gone. These are the chronics who keep the cops and every other enforcement agency busy — blowing taxpayer money — re-arresting them for drunkeness, brawling, vagrancy and all that other stuff that keeps suburbanites huddled away from the center city. Carlyle “profiles” the Top 10, which includes “King Listerine.”

She writes, “Since the grunge era, King, 49, has been doing the same things over and over: getting drunk, shoplifting, panhandling, trespassing, and pissing in public. Often, he does more than one of those activities at a time. In April 1992, when he was 31, King got his first arrest for swiping a bottle of mouthwash from F.W. Woolworth’s department store on Seventh and Nicollet. Since then, he’s been arrested at Target downtown for shoplifting Listerine—27 percent alcohol content. And he’s been picked up drunk, smelling as often of mouthwash as he does of Kamchatka vodka, apparently his drink of choice when he’s flush.” But when it’s all said and done, will these 10 together cost taxpayers more than Tom Petters? Whatever, they smell worse.

The twisty tale of the Metro Gang Strike Force spins out a new subplot with Randy Furst’s story in the Strib about an “excellent” rating the beleaguered drug and gang task force gave the now-defunct squad. The complaint comes from Ramsey County sheriff, Bob Fletcher — who has taken his hits for defending the Strike Force … until he didn’t — has good reasons to claim he got bad advice on this matter. Furst reports, the “rating was not based on an audit, but mostly on a series of “yes” and “no” questions asked of Strike Force Commander Ron Ryan, Assistant Commander Jim Heimerl and Office Manager Cindy Gehlsen.” And that ought to be good enough, right. I mean, isn’t this how Wall Street rates stocks?

WCCO-TV’s Jason DeRusha aimed his “Good Question” bit at racial profiling, or at least the unreliability of your average racial description — in the context of the Henry Louis Gates arrest in Boston. When survey subjects can’t identify colleague Amelia Santaniello’s race correctly, he wonders what kind of accuracy law enforcement gets from descriptions drawn from fleeting views of suspects? Says DeRusha, ” … researchers have identified a serious problem with people identifying faces of other races. Roy Malpass, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, has published widely on the cross-race effect. He’s suggested that people tend to make about 50 percent more errors when they’re asked to remember faces of people from other races.”

Meanwhile, over at the PiPress, Joe Soucheray, predictably riled by the whole Gates kerfuffle — Joe’s all about those blue-collar cops — reverses the lens on President Obama and suggests to his readers that the Prez is engaging in his own form of racial profiling by inviting a cop — blue-collar guys cops, just like Joe — over to the White House for a … beer. Point being? What if the cop doesn’t like beer? What if Sgt. James Crowley, who arrested Henry Louis Gates, is a Cosmo kind of guy? Sooch digs for mock outrage. “We even know the brand of beers. Newsgathering institutions have become, unfortunately, essentially useless when it comes to reading 1,000-page health care bills and divining the preposterous money-grab scam behind cap-and-trade, but they are still capable of extracting a menu from the White House mess. Budweiser for President Barack Obama. Blue Moon for Sgt. James Crowley.”

MPR’s Euen Kerr has a brief item about hometown movie heroes Joel and Ethan Coen, never confused with Hollywood’s most attention-seeking players, agreeing to a September visit to the Walker Art Center to kick off a retrospective of all their films. (They’ll be out promoting “A Serious Man,” shot in the Twin Cities last fall.) A ticket for the night will set you back $100, and yes, of course, this means a screening of “The Big Lebowski.” Calmer than you are.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Tim Walker on 07/29/2009 - 10:23 am.

    Kudos, Brian, for coming up with the perfect description for Joe’s column today: “Sooch digs for mock outrage.”

    I couldn’t pin down the feeling I got while reading … er, scanning … today’s column, but you nailed it.

    Actually, “Sooch digs for mock outrage” could apply to the vast majority of his coulmns.

    I look forward to Ruben’s take on the Gates affair, which no doubt I will read fully, and not just scan.

  2. Submitted by Duke Powell on 07/29/2009 - 03:24 pm.

    I am “acquianted” with several of those individuals and they are examples of those on GAMC, the health-care payment program that Gov Pawlenty unalloted. Guys like this cost the state an average of $1000/month in health care costs alone.

  3. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 07/29/2009 - 04:35 pm.

    Has Soucheray read the 1,000 page bill, or just repeated what his fellow conservative media blowhards are saying? Does he even know there’s more than one bill?

  4. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 07/29/2009 - 09:32 pm.

    Brian, did you totally miss her vehement disgust for the public option? She’s not playing to win, she’s playing to obfuscate. I’m betting that if you READ a transcript of that interview, you might be startled to note all the propagandistic tropes she used.

    For starters, what are the odds of the special interests controlled U.S. Congress ever enacting the tight regulations that control Swiss business entities? Did you notice that her examples were ALL from Switzerland?

    Her sloppiest moment, for me, was when she said that “health care” now outstrips “porn” as a search term. Utterly false. Google Trends shows that if you assign a value of 1 to “porn,” “health care” by comparison only rates a .04 value. Not relevant to the health care debate, but indicative of the factually twisted approach she used throughout the hour.

    Her “facts” on Medicare administrative costs were 180° removed from any stats I’ve ever seen. Her sole purpose was to muddy the waters and create doubt in the minds of public options supporters.

    Really, I expect more from you. The last resort of the morally bankrupt is to attack themselves, but in a way that still lets them win.

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