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Before He Gets Started…

By Brian | June 28, 2007 | Share on Facebook

Michael Moore’s newest documentary hype-machine, Sicko premieres this Friday. In the movie, Mr. Moore is going to tell us, through rather dramatic footage and hand-picked testimony from industry whistle-blowers that insurance companies are evil and exist only to screw over the American people. He was on The Daily Show tonight and told Jon Stewart that insurance companies are profit making businesses, and that the only way they can make a profit is by charging huge premiums and then not paying claims.

Well, before this turns into a “story with legs” and it becomes impossible to say anything about insurance that contradicts the movie, please allow me to share some of what I learned from five years of working in the insurance industry:

1) Insurance Companies Rarely Make Money Selling Insurance
Most of the time, insurance companies pay out slightly more in claims and operating expenses than they take in from premiums. Here are some facts:

The Insurance Information Institute:

Combined Ratio is the ratio of losses and associated expenses to premiums, reflecting the overall underwriting profitability of the company. If it’s below 100 (i.e., losses + expenses < premiums), then the company is making money from its insurance policies. If it’s more than 100 (losses + expenses > premiums), they’re losing money. You’ll note above that as of 2004, the industry average had remained above 100 since the 1970′s.

More sources:

The Motley Fool:
The industry’s average combined ratio in 2005 was 106.2%.

ISO:
In 1995, the industry average combined ratio of 106.3% was the “best combined ratio in seven years.”

Carinsurance.com (speaking about all Property/Casualty insurance, not just car insurance):
The 93.2% estimate for 2006, if accurate, would represent the industry’s best underwriting performance since the 93.3% combined ratio recorded 70 years earlier in 1936 [and only the second underwriting profit since 1978].
[UPDATE, as of 9/5/2015:  QuinStreet, Inc., owner of Carinsurance.com, contacted me and asked me to remove the link to their site, because it "may be several years old" and "may no longer be relevant to either you or our site."  I have no reason to deny their request, so I have complied]

So how do they make money? Glad you asked:

2) Insurance Companies Make Money Investing Their Premium Dollars While They’re Waiting to Pay Claims
This is called the “float.” Basically, the insurance is an excuse to hold onto your money and make a return on it, until you hurt yourself, crash your car, or damage your home, at which time the insurance company has to give the money back to you (plus, on average, a few dollars more). Note the second and fourth columns in the chart above. While losing 5-10% on their insurance policies, these companies make more than 10% on the cash their holding (in more recent years, this number is typically more like 15%). Here’s Wikipedia:

An insurer’s underwriting performance is measured in its combined ratio. The loss ratio (incurred losses and loss-adjustment expenses divided by net earned premium) is added to the expense ratio (underwriting expenses divided by net premium written) to determine the company’s combined ratio. The combined ratio is a reflection of the company’s overall underwriting profitability. A combined ratio of less than 100 percent indicates profitability, while anything over 100 indicates a loss.

Insurance companies also earn investment profits on “float”. “Float” or available reserve is the amount of money, at hand at any given moment, that an insurer has collected in insurance premiums but has not been paid out in claims. Insurers start investing insurance premiums as soon as they are collected and continue to earn interest on them until claims are paid out.

In the United States, the underwriting loss of property and casualty insurance companies was $142.3 billion in the five years ending 2003. But overall profit for the same period was $68.4 billion, as the result of float.

So you see, Mr. Moore, denying claims is not the “only way they make money.” In fact, it’s one of the worst ways…

3) Therefore, the Path to Profitability for Insurance Companies is in Writing and Keeping More Policies, Not in Paying Less Claims
This is the hard part for many people to understand, which is what Michael Moore is counting on in his movie. The Insurance Company’s biggest concern is that you go get insurance from someone else, not that the frequency and size of your claims. Of course, they’d prefer that you make less claims, but if you feel like they’ve screwed you over, you’ll go somewhere else, and some other company will get to invest your premium dollars instead of them.

4) Everyone Who’s Ever Had a Claim Denied Feels Like They Were Screwed by Their Insurance Company
It’s an unavoidable fact of life. And yes, there are insurance companies out there (particularly small ones that don’t have access to the investment vehicles that the larger ones do) who think they can turn a profit by screwing over customers. But for the most part, insurance companies are setup to attract and retain customers. There are three groups:

Underwriters: These folks are basically lawyers. They write policies with very specific legalese language in them. The intent here is not to screw over the customer, per se, but to avoid a catastrophic loss on the policy. In other words, they write the policy with loopholes that prevent them from having to pay an exorbitant amount of money on a single claim or event. This is the closest thing to “screwing the customer” in the company.

Actuaries: The actuary is a number cruncher. He/She sifts through tons of experience data, and based on as much information as he/she can know about you, decides how much premium to charge for the policy, as written by the underwriter. If the actuary does his job, combined ratios stay within the normal range (i.e., right around 100%).

Claims Examiners: The claims examiner is the customer facing person. He/She is judged on his/her ability to maximize payment speed and hence, minimize loss administration expenses. Re-read that last sentence, because it’s important. The claims examiner does not get rewarded for paying smaller claims. He/She gets rewarded for paying claims quickly in order to avoid additional administration costs associated with dragging the process out. This is why a claims examiner on a homeowners claim will generally print you a check when he/she comes to visit your damaged home, or why a health insurance company will automatically pay a doctor a pre-set agreed upon price for a service. It’s all about keeping the customer happy and keeping costs down, so that you’ll stay with the company and they can continue to invest your dollars.

5) Doctors are Motivated by Profits Just as Much as Insurance Companies
A related point that Mr. Moore will make in his movie (and that he made on The Daily Show tonight) is that doctors need to “ask permission” from insurance company representatives before providing you with treatment. Setting aside for a second the fact that this is typically untrue (the company will usually quote a reimbursement rate – the doctor is always free to provide the service at that rate), it ignores the fact that without that kind of check, doctors would be heavily incented to run a full battery of tests on every patient they see, since they ultimately make more money the more procedures/tests they run. Instinctively, no one wants to tell a doctor he/she can’t do a test he/she wants to do, because instinctively we all want to believe that the doctor is ordering the test solely to benefit the patient. But the hard, cold fact is that doctors can be every bit as profit driven and/or corrupt as insurance companies. And if you think health care costs are rising today, imagine what it would be like if we did CAT Scans for the common cold.

I’m not saying I have answer to how this should work, but Mr. Moore’s suggestion that insurance companies “go away” is clearly not the silver bullet.

So, please enjoy the movie. I encourage you to see it. I will probably see it myself, although it might take me a while, owing to the need for a babysitter before I do. But please keep the above thoughts in mind while you watch, and remember – you heard it here first, before it became grossly unpopular to say it.

Topics: Money Talk, Movie Talk, Political Rantings | 6 Comments »

6 Responses to “Before He Gets Started…”

  1. Jeff Porten says at June 28th, 2007 at 11:57 am :
    Or you could download it immediately. A screener DVD was leaked onto the Internet weeks ago.

    A few thoughts:

    1) as with the iPhone, the “hype machine” surrounding Michael Moore is largely not of his own making, and is generated due to the newsworthiness of the man’s work. Yes, I know many people wish he’d just go away because he misstated some fact in minute 37 of Fahrenheit 911.

    2) the issue isn’t that “insurance companies are evil.” The issue is “the American medical system sucks rocks.” Or, if you prefer, that we rank 37th or so.

    3) Granted that I found your statistics surprising. That being said, the crucial number with insurance companies is the overhead cost–what percentage of money paid to insurers does not get spent on medical care? Is this number higher or lower than, say, in Canada?

    More to say, probably, but that can wait until I see the movie.

  2. Brian says at June 28th, 2007 at 4:38 pm :
    1) That’s nonsense. Moore’s a film maker. He should promote his work, and does so extremely effectively. There is nothing new or newsworthy about what he’s saying on the healthcare front. It’s news because of his celebrity status (just like when Spielberg does a WWII movie). Fahrenheit 911 contained more than just a few errors, but that was the point – be as inflamatory as possible just before the election. Popular zeitgeist at the time was that he was trying to sway the election. I always thought he was trying to generate as much buzz as he could for his movie.

    2) No argument that the system is broken. I don’t know where you got your “37th” ranking (or what metrics that uses to come up with a rank), but I’m pretty sure that despite all of our complaints, people still come to the US for medical care from other countries more often than our citizens go elsewhere. Also, the best doctors/hospitals in the world are still found here. The issue, according to Moore, is not the poor (who are covered by the government) or the rich (who can afford top-notch insurance & care), but the middle class, who have sub-standard insurance/care and get lost in the broken system.

    I have no issue with any of this. My issue is with his contention that the solution to the whole thing is to get rid of the insurance companies and move to a federally funded/run system (like in Canada). As I said above, there is no silver bullet, but that doesn’t make for good movies…

    3) Hard to say, since most of the published data is Combined Ratio. Some Googling, as well as my memory in these matters, puts the loss ratio in the high 80s – low 90s, and the expense ratios were in the teens.

    I’ve never heard of a major discrepancy in financials between countries, but I really wouldn’t know for sure. That said, logic would dictate that a profit-driven entity (in the U.S.) would have more of an incentive to reduce expenses than a non-profit, government entity (in Canada).

  3. Jeff Porten says at June 30th, 2007 at 12:48 pm :
    That’s nonsense. Moore’s a film maker. He should promote his work, and does so extremely effectively.

    So, your premise (inferring here) is that the level of discussion that Moore’s films get in the popular culture is entirely due to his wizardlike control of spin, and not at all due to any inherent content in his films?

    Do you have a working theory as to why Moore was not nearly so important prior to Fahrenheit 911 then?

    There is nothing new or newsworthy about what he’s saying on the healthcare front. It’s news because of his celebrity status

    You appear to be missing the entire point of documentary filmmaking. There was nothing new about what Leni Riefenstahl said in Triumph of the Will; however, it was extremely newsworthy because of both how she said it, and whom she said it to by having them in her audience.

    Yes, there is very little that is new in terms of factual data in Fahrenheit, Sicko (we presume — neither of us having seen it), or for that matter An Inconvenient Truth. Anyone who is sufficiently well-read and informed can assemble this information for themselves. But the presentation is new in all three cases, and the audience is new in all three cases — and a hell of a lot larger than the self-selected minority who chose to be well-informed prior to release.

    Unfortunately, the percentage of the audience that is willing to dismiss the films out of hand, or watch them and then reject them as inconsistent with preconceived notions, also seems to be rather large.

    Fahrenheit 911 contained more than just a few errors, but that was the point – be as inflamatory as possible just before the election.

    My stomach churns at the prospect of reopening our Fahrenheit debate, but are we at least in agreement that there was far more that was true in that film than was untrue? Your argument here — and the supposition that the sole purpose of it was to be inflammatory — strikes me as having the intellectual rigor of rejecting the entire philosophical basis of the Constitution because it excluded women.

    The point you seem to be adhering to is that because something is inflammatory, it therefore cannot be true — or at the very least, it therefore is less important than something that is “reasonable”. This is bullshit, in my view; it ensures that sufficiently dangerous or outrageous issues in the public sphere cannot be discussed at all because they are ipso facto too divisive.

    It won’t come as news to you that I feel that “Bush lied our way into war” and “many Americans are needlessly sick and dying” are both arguments that are inflammatory because they damn well should be.

    I always thought he was trying to generate as much buzz as he could for his movie.

    Yes, it’s generally assumed that the best way to make sure your message is heard is to screen it in the basement for only a small group of people and swear them to secrecy. The first rule of Fight Club, after all.

    I don’t know where you got your “37th” ranking (or what metrics that uses to come up with a rank)

    Actually, neither do I. I’ve heard it repeated frequently without a citation. That being said, just as a test of Moore’s veracity: how much would you like to wager that, if Moore cites this in his film, he also cites his reference? I’m fairly comfortable I’ll win that bet.

    That being said, the I’m Feeling Lucky result on “american health care ranking:” the US is sixth out of sixth (in order: Germany, New Zealand, UK, Australia, Canada, US), with the highest per capita expenditures ($5,635, versus an average of $3,109). I suspect the methodology will be sufficiently explained in the 226K pdf.

    people still come to the US for medical care from other countries more often than our citizens go elsewhere

    You should be careful how you phrase that — if you reworded it, it would probably be true. With this wording, though, I’m not sure.

    Yes, it’s true that many of the world’s wealthiest people come here for the best health care available anywhere. I seem to recall the Shah of Iran paying $50,000 a day for his care. I have little doubt that American medical care, being as attuned as it is to market forces, will remain competitive in treating the world’s billionaires for decades to come.

    However, the question of whether more people come than leave is reliant upon medical tourism — and frankly, I’m not sure what those numbers are after the requisite five-minute Google search. But I wouldn’t be certain that you’re correct now, and I’m definitely not sanguine about your future prospects.

    (I’d also argue that American medical tourism is artificially depressed below what would be a rational level, precisely because 1) so many people erroneously believe that it doesn’t get any better than here; 2) so few Americans ever actually leave the country for any reason; and 3) the economic bar to entry into this market. You can externalize your medical costs, but it’s out of pocket to fly to Thailand.)

    Regardless: your argument is logically fallacious aside from these numbers. I’m sure we agree that some of the best restaurants in the world are in New York. That doesn’t therefore mean that all food served in New York is the best in the world, or that all New Yorkers have a healthy diet. Simply that for those who can afford to spend $1,000 on dinner, New York is a good place to be.

    the best doctors/hospitals in the world are still found here

    This time it’s your job to provide a citation for that fact, because I’m not going to accept it blindly. Last I heard, many of the world’s best doctors in many fields are leaving the country in order to pursue research that they can’t do here. Your turn to hit Google, my friend.

    is not the poor (who are covered by the government)

    LOL. Brian, go ask Sherry if the poor, who are covered by the government, get adequate medical care. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

    Remind me to share some anecdotes with you on this topic next time we’re offline; they’re not suitable for public consumption.

    but the middle class, who have sub-standard insurance/care and get lost in the broken system.

    You have a knack for saying things that make me realize just how badly you need to see Moore’s (and Gore’s) movies. In this case, a quote from Sicko I read yesterday which I instantly memorized: “You’re not falling through a crack in the system. Someone made that crack and is sweeping you towards it.”

    My issue is with his contention that the solution to the whole thing is to get rid of the insurance companies and move to a federally funded/run system (like in Canada).

    Well, again, perhaps the solution is for us to see the damn movie before dismissing that argument out of hand. I’m already fairly strongly in favor of that motion, so my personal intellectual obligation to reinforcing that belief is perhaps not as strong as yours, provided you want to claim that you’ve fairly considered other sides of the issue.

    I’ve never heard of a major discrepancy in financials between countries, but I really wouldn’t know for sure.

    Well, perhaps you should find out. Most of my background in this field came from attending a metric boatload of medical conferences through Plenarcast, where I heard all sorts of interesting statistics. From, you know, actual doctors and public health experts. My stats are a bit out of date, but I’m not familiar with a reversal in any trends.

    logic would dictate that a profit-driven entity (in the U.S.) would have more of an incentive to reduce expenses than a non-profit, government entity (in Canada).

    Oh, please. Run that one by Sherry. There are so many subsidies and cost-plus opportunities in the medical system that this one argument retroactively weakens everything else you have to say.

    Really — go ahead and read that Google link I cited. I’m about to do the same thing. Then we can proceed.

  4. Brian says at June 30th, 2007 at 12:55 pm :
    So, your premise (inferring here) is that the level of discussion that Moore’s films get in the popular culture is entirely due to his wizardlike control of spin, and not at all due to any inherent content in his films? Do you have a working theory as to why Moore was not nearly so important prior to Fahrenheit 911 then?

    I think he’s a master at choosing topics that will resonate with the American people, and then presenting those topics in a way that will generate controversy. My theory on why Moore was not nearly so famous (I’d argue that he wasn’t and still isn’t important, but I assume famous is what you meant. I also assume we agree that these words are not synonyms) prior to Fahrenheit 9/11 was that he made a movie about the most controversial subject in American history, and released it right before a presidential election.

    The point you seem to be adhering to is that because something is inflammatory, it therefore cannot be true — or at the very least, it therefore is less important than something that is “reasonable”. This is bullshit, in my view; it ensures that sufficiently dangerous or outrageous issues in the public sphere cannot be discussed at all because they are ipso facto too divisive.

    Agreed – that’s bullshit. But that’s not my argument. My argument is that if you want something to be inflammatory, it often helps if some or all of it is not true. It’s entirely possible to make a movie about the sad state of our health care system without being inflammatory. Moore chooses not to do so and is very open about that point. You seem to be arguing on his behalf anyway, though…

    It won’t come as news to you that I feel that “Bush lied our way into war” and “many Americans are needlessly sick and dying” are both arguments that are inflammatory because they damn well should be.

    Both arguments are inflammatory. Put another way, they’d be less so. To wit: “The intelligence that led us to war in Iraq was faulty” and “Our healthcare system could be doing a better job of taking care of sick & dying patients.”

    Both topics are important because they damn well should be. Your decision to discuss them using inflammatory statements, IMHO, draws attention away from the facts and forces many people to choose sides before the debate begins, minimizing the chance that anything will actually change because of it.

    Yes, it’s generally assumed that the best way to make sure your message is heard is to screen it in the basement for only a small group of people and swear them to secrecy. The first rule of Fight Club, after all.

    I think we agree here. I’m not faulting Michael Moore for promoting his movie. He’s very good at it, and he should promote it as best he can. All I’m saying is that I know a little something about the insurance industry (and I do mean a little something – I’m far from an expert), and what I know is in direct opposition to the trailers & promotions I’ve seen for this movie. I’ve also seen enough of Moore & Gore to know that once a movie like this comes out, it becomes a full-fledged political position, and then talk about things like “Combined Ratios” and “Float” go from being interesting facts about the insurance industry to a defense of big business, Republicans, and George W. Bush.

    LOL. Brian, go ask Sherry if the poor, who are covered by the government, get adequate medical care. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

    Oooh…I’m going to enjoy this much more than I should. While you’re waiting, watch this.

    It’s a little long, so I’ll quote the relevant part for you here:

    Jon Stewart: The movie brought up something interesting, which is I think this country sort of takes care of the indigent and the rich. The real problem are the people that are doing well enough that they don’t qualify for government programs that really help them, but not so well that they can’t afford $60,000 for a ring finger.

    Michael Moore: Right. The film is really about the middle class who actually has insurance, and thinks that they’re covered and, you know, they like to brag to their friends, you know, “Yeah, I’ve got a job with benefits,” and then when they finally have something tragic happen to them, they find out that the insurance won’t cover them and they end up stuck with a big bill, and it’s now the number one cause of bankruptcy in the country – medical bills.

    You have a knack for saying things that make me realize just how badly you need to see Moore’s (and Gore’s) movies.

    Well, given that I was paraphrasing Michael Moore, I guess he needs to go see his movies as well…

    Really — go ahead and read that Google link I cited. I’m about to do the same thing. Then we can proceed.

    OK, I read it (for those following along, it’s Jeff Porten says at July 1st, 2007 at 5:42 pm :

    I’d argue that he wasn’t and still isn’t important

    Yeah, I’d disagree with you 100% on that one. Take it from a guy who was attempting to relay the information in Fahrenheit long before the movie came out — before it was released, we were all de facto batshit lunatics (despite the fact that we were, well, right). After the movie came out, we were still fringe, but there were a lot more of us, and you started to see our ideas much more often in the mainstream media instead of relegated to the blogs.

    I’m still proud that I’m on record on my blog, saying that Iraq was not a threat, before the first bomb was dropped. Do you happen to recall how many people listened to folks like me back then? The number still isn’t particularly high, but it’s substantively greater than it was. That started turning around when the movie came out. Moore is important for that message, just as Gore is for his.

    My argument is that if you want something to be inflammatory, it often helps if some or all of it is not true.

    Hogwash. How’s this: Christianity is a deluded mythology which has led many into thinking that the writing of syphilitics is the word of God. That’s entirely true, and I suspect, reasonably inflammatory.

    It’s the true things that are inflammatory. Hell, it’s the true things that will get you killed. More so if you’re not allowed to speak of such things in polite company.

    Both arguments are inflammatory. Put another way, they’d be less so. To wit: “The intelligence that led us to war in Iraq was faulty” and “Our healthcare system could be doing a better job of taking care of sick & dying patients.”

    Oh, come on. They taught you about not using the passive voice in high school, right? All you’re doing is hiding the subject of those sentences, because, horrors, someone might be offended by the statement that “the intelligence that led us into war was deliberately modified to reach the conclusion that Bush and Cheney told them to find.” The same passive restatements can be found in such classic political ass-covering statements as, “Mistakes were made,” and “I was only following orders.”

    Maybe I’m just thin-skinned after six years of being antiwar and being called treasonous, America-hating, and in support of terrorism. Maybe I’m merely appalled that your argument is that since I’m not being polite, that strikes you as ample justification to disregard the message. Personally, my only concern is whether my inflammatory statements are factual — which is a concern my opponents don’t share.

    draws attention away from the facts and forces many people to choose sides before the debate begins, minimizing the chance that anything will actually change because of it.

    Yes, a policy of conciliation and engaging the other side was extremely effective in 2004. It’s a wonder why the left doesn’t continue to take Republican advice and keep using it. (I’m referring to Frank Luntz here, not you.)

    I know a little something about the insurance industry (and I do mean a little something – I’m far from an expert), and what I know is in direct opposition to the trailers & promotions I’ve seen for this movie.

    I’m not foolish enough to engage with you on the specifics of what you said — I take as given that on that turf, you know more about this than I do. (It’s also why I want Sherry on board, because I’d like her to tell me where I have my head up my ass. Always helps to refine the argument.) But your argument seems to largely be smoke and mirrors — aren’t the relative public health outcomes the final arbiter of whether a system works? You can quote your 6% excess payments on health, I can quote the 25% overhead which seems to dwarf that — the final question is, who is healthier?

    I’ve also seen enough of Moore & Gore to know that once a movie like this comes out, it becomes a full-fledged political position, and then talk about things like “Combined Ratios” and “Float” go from being interesting facts about the insurance industry to a defense of big business, Republicans, and George W. Bush.

    You’re just having trouble distinguishing policy and politics. ‘Twas ever so. Ask me how many people gave a damn about throwweights and missile ranges in early 2003, even though such arguments were crucial to my political statement that Iraq was never a threat to us.

    Don’t you worry, such topics are still vitally important in the conference rooms where legislation is actually hammered out, and might even have some impact after the whole thing is bought and paid for by the lobbyists.

    Oooh…I’m going to enjoy this much more than I should. While you’re waiting, watch this.

    Hmmm. I’d already seen that clip, and I don’t see what you’re chortling about. Moore’s point, to me anyway, is that as with many political issues, most Americans don’t give a flying fig about anything that doesn’t affect them personally. The uninsured poor are already largely disenfranchised, so they can generally go screw themselves so far as the system is concerned. You want to effect positive change, you make the point to the middle class — that is, a huge block of voters — that no, they are in fact not securely protected from this looming issue, and the time for self-satisfied complacency is over.

    I mean, you don’t have to tell this shit to the poor. They already know. And frankly, the wealthy who will never have to worry about being bankrupted, or being denied access to quality medical care, even if paid for out of pocket — well, they’ll care or not as their consciences dictate.

    It should be noted as well, that Canada, who Michael Moore holds up in the above video clip as the model by which we should reform our system, came in fifth.

    Hell, I’d be perfectly happy if he’d quoted New Zealand instead, but I’m guessing there’s a “Belgian endive” political effect to such things.

  5. Brian says at July 4th, 2007 at 10:11 pm :
    After the movie came out, we were still fringe, but there were a lot more of us, and you started to see our ideas much more often in the mainstream media instead of relegated to the blogs.

    OK, I’ll grant you that he was important to the “bashing Bush” cause. I’ll resist the temptation to get back into the Fahrenheit 9/11 debate, saying only that so many things in the movie have been deemed false and/or misleading that even Michael Moore has acknowledged many of them (see this site). The movie was a commercial success and a political failure, in that it did wonders for Moore’s celebrity, and horrible things for his credibility. Witness the pre-emptive strikes against Sicko (like mine) as proof of that…

    Oh, come on. They taught you about not using the passive voice in high school, right? All you’re doing is hiding the subject of those sentences, because, horrors, someone might be offended by the statement that “the intelligence that led us into war was deliberately modified to reach the conclusion that Bush and Cheney told them to find.” The same passive restatements can be found in such classic political ass-covering statements as, “Mistakes were made,” and “I was only following orders.”

    You don’t like passive voice? Fine, I’ll try again: “The Bush Administration relied on faulty intelligence in deciding to go to war in Iraq” and “Patients in the United States would be better off if our healthcare system was improved.” Both true statements, neither of them inflammatory, and both fine openings to a rational discussion of the respective issues.

    Your restatement of my first quote is not only unprovable and inflammatory, it’s been refuted by just about every principle involved (including George Tenet in his recent book, in which he says “At the time, I believed in my heart that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.”) Face it – people get more riled up when you say “Bush lied!” then when you say “Bush was wrong!” and so “Bush lied” has become the de facto “truth.” If we were willing to seriously discuss “Bush was wrong,” then we could have meaningful intelligence reform in the country. But that just won’t do…

    Maybe I’m merely appalled that your argument is that since I’m not being polite, that strikes you as ample justification to disregard the message. . . . Yes, a policy of conciliation and engaging the other side was extremely effective in 2004. It’s a wonder why the left doesn’t continue to take Republican advice and keep using it. (I’m referring to Frank Luntz here, not you.)

    This isn’t about polite vs. impolite, it’s about factual vs. emotional. I’m guessing that you’d agree with any of my four statements above if provided without context, but when put next to your more inflammatory versions, they move from true to polite, and then very quickly to “disregarding the message.” It’s all a game to keep the anger level high, lest the other side be seen as something less than evil incarnate.

    And as for Frank Luntz, Arianna Huffington over-reacted in a major way. All Luntz said was the Democrats should grow a spine, and start talking about what they are GOING TO DO, as opposed to complaining about what BUSH HAS DONE. You’ve said the same thing on your blog several times (here, here, and here, for instance).

    Hmmm. I’d already seen that clip, and I don’t see what you’re chortling about. Moore’s point, to me anyway, is that as with many political issues, most Americans don’t give a flying fig about anything that doesn’t affect them personally. The uninsured poor are already largely disenfranchised, so they can generally go screw themselves so far as the system is concerned.

    No, that’s what you want Moore’s point to have been about, but that’s not what he said. Stewart said, “the movie suggests that the poor and the rich are well taken care of and the middle class is screwed.” Moore said, “Yes, that’s right.” It doesn’t get more black & white than that. I’m not suggesting that Medicare/Medicaid are flawless systems (not by any means), but the medical care our government provides to those who can’t afford it is on par, if not better, than the medical care provided by most other countries. The problem, of course, is that we don’t provide it to everyone.

    Oh, and as for New Zealand, check this out. Note the similar problems they’re having in a country who’s population is the size of Kentucky – rising health care costs, the emergence of a two-tiered health care system, forced cuts in spending, etc.

    This is not an easy problem to solve. Canada hasn’t solved it, neither has New Zealand. And I’ll go out on a limb here, and predict that Michael Moore hasn’t solved it either…

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