Are Public Health Experts Wrong About Cholesterol, Too?

DrRich | May 30th, 2011 - 7:24 am

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Q: What’s the difference between a public health expert and an ax murderer?

A: Actually, there are two differences. The public health expert usually means well. And the public health expert has only metaphorical blood on his hands.

In a prior post DrRich related how public health experts, displaying every ounce of the overblown self-confidence traditionally enjoyed by the expert class operating within our Progressive institutions, have wreaked all manner of harm upon our society with their premature promotion of Low-Fat Diets, an action which, DrRich argued, is at least partly responsible for triggering our current epidemic of obesity (and therefore, according to some respected experts, global warming).

As if causing the rotundity of the American populace (and again, with less certainty, the impending destruction of our planet) was not enough, it is now beginning to appear as if another major public health initiative, an initiative with which we have all been pummeled mercilessly for over two decades, also may be based upon a faulty premise.

DrRich speaks, of course, of the long crusade which the experts have preached, and which we among the faithful have doggedly waged, against cholesterol. While nobody is talking about it, it is beginning to appear (to DrRich, at least) as if the fundamental hypothesis underlying our long war on cholesterol is far less solid than we have been assured.

DrRich is moved to describe his uneasiness with the cholesterol hypothesis at this time because, last week, yet another nail was driven into its coffin.

The Cholesterol Hypothesis

Our war on cholesterol is based on the cholesterol hypothesis, which states that an elevated cholesterol blood level is a major cause of atherosclerosis, and therefore of heart attacks, strokes and peripheral artery disease. The hypothesis goes on to describe two major species of blood cholesterol – LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol, which increases cardiovascular risk; and HDL cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol, which reduces cardiovascular risk.

According to the cholesterol hypothesis, the LDL cholesterol molecules deliver excess cholesterol to the lining of the arteries, where it gradually accumulates, leading to the buildup of the plaques that obstruct blood flow. HDL cholesterol represents cholesterol that has been removed from those plaques (so the higher the HDL level, the more cholesterol is being removed)

Therefore, it behooves every American to work assiduously to reduce our LDL cholesterol levels and increase our HDL cholesterol levels.

This, of course, has become more than merely a suggestion or recommendation. Under our new incipient universal healthcare paradigm, in which your suboptimal health habits directly affect the healthcare services which will be available to me, your failure to control your cholesterol and your subsequent utilization of precious healthcare resources amounts to attempted murder, and is therefore a grave crime against humanity.

The cholesterol hypothesis is based upon two observations gleaned from clinical research. First, that high LDL cholesterol levels are significantly associated with the risk of heart attack, &c. (and that high HDL cholesterol levels are associated with reduced risk); and second, that lowering LDL cholesterol levels (or increasing HDL cholesterol levels) with drug therapy lowers that risk.

It was this second observation that “clinched” the cholesterol hypothesis for the public health experts (and most doctors).  And this second observation is based virtually entirely on the statin drugs. Until the statin drugs were first developed – drugs that powerfully and reliably reduce cholesterol levels – it had never been convincingly demonstrated that lowering cholesterol levels actually did any good.

And so, according to the cholesterol hypothesis, every American is obligated to work to maintain “healthy” cholesterol levels. In general, we are urged to begin with diet and exercise, and if that does not work (and depending on the level of our cardiovascular risk) we are likely expected to begin on drug therapy.

But DrRich suggests (reluctantly, since by doing so he undoubtedly invites even more personal attacks against his intellect, honesty, personal appearance, parentage, &c.), that the cholesterol hypothesis may not be correct.

Evidence Against the Cholesterol Hypothesis

1) Despite several clinical trials showing that the kinds of lifestyle modifications which are officially  recommended for the reduction of cholesterol can in fact reduce LDL cholesterol levels, it has not been shown that such lifestyle-induced cholesterol reductions lead to improved clinical outcomes.

2) Early (pre-statin) cholesterol-lowering trials (using clofibrate, cholestyramine, and gemfibrozil) were unable to demonstrate that an improvement in cardiovascular mortality accompanies a reduction in cholesterol levels, and indeed, each of these studies showed an unexpected increase in non-cardiovascular mortality with the cholesterol-lowering drugs.

3) More recently, studies showed that adding the powerful non-statin cholesterol-lowering drug ezetimibe  to a statin drug not only failed to improve outcomes, but also (unexpectedly) may have led to more plaque growth than was seen with the statin alone. (Ezetimibe is marketed as Vytorin in those god-awful commercials comparing your Aunt Helen to a strawberry cheesecake.)

4) Just last week, the NIH prematurely halted a high-profile study (the AIM-HIGH trial) comparing statin to statin + niacin in patients with cardiovascular disease and low HDL levels. (This study was designed to show that increasing HDL levels with niacin would improve outcomes.)  The study was stopped 18 months ahead of schedule not only because it was determined to be extremely unlikely that the increase in HDL produced by niacin would improve outcomes, but also because of an unexpected increase in strokes among the patients receiving niacin.

5) Numerous trials using statin drugs have demonstrated that these drugs can reduce cardiovascular events and improve cardiovascular mortality – without an increase in non-cardiovascular mortality – in patients who have known heart disease or who are at increased risk for heart disease. However, the mechanism by which statins provide these benefits may have little or nothing to do with their cholesterol-lowering effects. (Statins have several mechanisms of action under which they can improve cardiovascular outcomes, including stabilizing plaques, improving endothelial function, reducing intravascular blood clotting, and reducing inflammation. Each of these mechanisms can directly and immediately reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke – more directly and immediately, one must concede, than by merely reducing cholesterol levels.) So, for instance, when statins are administered during acute coronary syndromes, their benefits are seen immediately – an effect not explained by the cholesterol hypothesis.  Further, the JUPITER trial showed convincingly that statins can improve outcomes even in patients with “normal” cholesterol levels, which is also not explained by the cholesterol hypothesis.

In summary, lowering cholesterol by any method other than statins has not been shown to significantly improve outcomes.  And evidence indicates that the chief benefit of statins may be imparted by the drugs’ non-cholesterol-lowering mechanisms.

These observations suggest an alternate hypothesis.

The Bear Shit Hypothesis

If you are walking in the woods and you see bear droppings, your chances of being eaten by a bear are much higher than if there were no bear droppings. But if you take out your (legally registered) firearm and shoot the bear droppings, you have not improved your risk at all.

DrRich maintains that the totality of the data regarding cholesterol, as it exists today, is entirely consistent with the bear droppings hypothesis.  That is, elevated cholesterol levels may (and certainly do) indicate a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, but may not themselves be a causative factor.

Indeed, the bear shit hypothesis can explain the facts as we know them much better than the traditional cholesterol hypothesis. The bear droppings hypothesis can explain why treating cholesterol with any of several methods (aside from statins) fails to improve risk.  (While cholesterol is associated with atherosclerosis, it may not be a critical cause of atherosclerosis.)  Since discharging one’s firearm at bear droppings might awaken a sleeping bear, the bear droppings theory is also consistent with the fact that reducing cholesterol with virtually any drug save one of the statins may actually worsen outcomes (by creating sundry “unexpected” medical problems of one variety or another).

That is, unless you are using statins (which have several important therapeutic effects unrelated to reducing cholesterol, and which in high risk patients far outweigh – statistically speaking – any side effects these drugs have), treating cholesterol levels with drugs may turn out to be a bad idea.

The Bear Shit Hypothesis, being merely an hypothesis, may not be correct, either. But it seems to fit the existing clinical evidence at least as well as – and DrRich suggests, better than – the cholesterol hypothesis. And at least DrRich admits his hypothesis may not hold up at the end of the day, and does not insist that all his fellow citizens drop what they are doing and rearrange their entire lives to comport with its implications.

Where Does This Leave Public Health Experts?

For over 20 years, the cholesterol hypothesis has been presented to the public, with all the evangelical fervor employed by the global warming experts, as settled science.  There is clearly some muttering going on these days amongst the experts – in their private conclaves – about certain “anomalies” that have appeared in the clinical database over the past decade or so, anomalies which have muddied the nice, clear cholesterol hypothesis they have so forcefully promulgated for so many years. They are desperately trying to explain away these anomalies by subdividing LDL and HDL cholesterol into more and more complex “subspecies” that have “counter-intuitive” behaviors. (This latter effort has the benefit of being so mind-numbingly complex that nobody can follow it – which means that it is difficult to assert with any authority that it’s all folderal.)

In the meantime, because statins are effective at reducing cardiovascular mortality and morbidity, and because statins also (quite possibly as an unrelated side-effect) reduce cholesterol levels, the experts can continue to trumpet their cholesterol hypothesis to an unsuspecting public, with the caveat that statins ought to be the drug therapy which one should try first. They have not yet reached the point where they are willing to say that if statins are not tolerated, one should probably not attempt to reduce cholesterol levels with any of the non-statin drugs (i.e., with drugs that merely reduce cholesterol).

And so, for the second time we see that a massive public health campaign that has been whipped up by the expert class is likely to turn out to be a wrong-headed “experiment,” one which so far has been conducted on the entire population for more than two decades.  This time (and in distinction to the low-fat diet “experiment”) it appears that little widespread harm has been done. But this result is fortuitous, and is most likely related to the fact that statin drugs turn out to help prevent the rupture of atherosclerotic plaques by means apparently unrelated to their cholesterol-lowering abilities.

What will the experts do if the cholesterol hypothesis finally is proved to be mistaken? It is easy to predict. They will stick tenaciously to their cholesterol hypothesis until the last possible minute, then if and when they at last find it to be utterly unsupportable, they will simply move on to the next hypothesis as if the old one never existed.

For one thing we know with certainty about the expert class is that they are never chastened. Their low-fat diet dogma simply and smoothly elides into a Mediterranean diet mantra (a diet, as it happens, with plenty of fats). Their demands that “safe” trans fats be substituted for saturated fats in processed foods simply transforms, 10 years later,  into indignant demands that the trans fats be removed when it is discovered they are worse than saturated fats. The phrase “global warming” is simply dropped in favor of “climate change” when it is discovered that the planet actually has been cooling since the 1990s.  In no case is there an acknowledgement that their prior expert pronouncements have been both arbitrary and wrong, and much less is there ever an apology. Being experts, and thus by definition correct, they never, ever have anything to apologize for. They simply abandon the old dogma as needed, and seamlessly adopt the new one.

For when you’re an expert within our multiplicity of institutions for public improvement, history will always have begun 10 minutes ago.

Why People Think Obamacare Has Death Panels

DrRich | May 23rd, 2011 - 6:49 am

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In the epic debate that has played out recently between Shadowfax and DrRich over the transcendent implications of the IPAB (Independent Payment Advisory Board), Shadowfax accused DrRich of being one of those unsophisticates who refer to the IPAB  as a “death panel.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. DrRich does not use – has never used – the term “death panel” to refer to any of the multitude of expert commissions created by Obamacare, whose charge will be to dispassionately examine the scientific evidence in order to determine which patients will get what, when and how. These bodies, in fact, will be explicitly aiming to optimize the medical outcomes of the entire population (titrated to the amount of money we’re allowed to spend on healthcare), and not actively prescribing death for anyone.

Judging from the histories of governments which have adopted a collectivist philosophy, if death panels should appear on the scene they will not be aimed at determining which patients may live or die. That job, of course, will fall to the doctors at the bedside, who will offer or withhold medical services according to the dictates (i.e., “guidelines”) handed down by those sundry expert commissions. Rather, any death panels which eventually materialize will more likely be aimed at keeping those doctors themselves (and any other functionaries whose job is to do the bidding of the bureaucracy) in thrall.

So why has the term “death panel” caught on to such an extent that conservatives so often use it as shorthand to express what they see as the “sense” of Obamacare, and Progressives so often use it to accuse rational and mild-mannered critics of Obamacare (such as DrRich) of belonging to the Neanderthal persuasion?

While most would blame Sarah Palin for coming up with this unhelpful phraseology, it is DrRich’s view that President Obama himself must carry at least an equal part of the blame. If Progressives have not created death panels, they at least created the environment in which those words, when Ms. Palin first uttered them, immediately caught fire.

As readers will recall, Ms. Palin first used the fateful words, “death panels” as the Obamacare legislation was being slowly and painfully shoved through a surprisingly reluctant Democrat Congress. And as a result she caused many of our more complacent legislators to abruptly bestir themselves into a higher state of arousal, if not outright agitation. Palin’s accusation caught more than a few of them utterly unawares, and embarrassingly flatfooted.

They felt, no doubt, like they were in that dream where you unaccountably find yourself naked in a crowd. But this time, rather than reaching to hide their sadly exposed nether parts, they reached instead for their pristine copies of the monstrous Obamacare legislation which had been laid before them, and which they famously (and understandably and logically) never read. One could almost pity them, desperately rifling through the 2700 virgin pages, muttering to themselves, “Death panels? This damned thing has death panels?”

But in fact, their initial instincts were correct as regarded the advisability of actually reading the legislation. There was in truth no reason for them to waste their time. DrRich has subsequently read large swatches of the thing, and he can assure one and all that it was not designed for reading, comprehensibility, or (for that matter) imparting any actual information of any sort.

And besides, Obamacare contained no death panels, so had they read the bill they would not have discovered any. (In their state of sudden and stark panic, however, our newly-aroused legislators quickly moved to strike the section the bill that provided for end-of-life counseling, which, of course, had nothing to do with death panels.)

The very notion of death panels seems to have many supporters of Obamacare nonplussed. How can someone as inarticulate and obviously illiterate as Sarah Palin get away with accusing our highly-educated healthcare reformers of setting up such a thing as death panels?  And even more perplexingly why did so many Americans believe her – even, apparently, hundreds of thousands of Americans who had been enlightened enough to vote for President Obama less than a year earlier?

DrRich thinks it is this: When Sarah Palin said, “death panels,” she was dropping one last, tiny crystal into a supersaturated solution. Her words took what had been an amorphous and even chaotic sense of unease about healthcare reform, and immediately crystallized it into an organized latticework of directed rage and fear. So the real question is not how Sarah Palin came to be savvy enough to know just the right words. (Progressives know that even a distinguished panel of monkeys, given enough time and enough typewriters, will eventually produce King Lear.) Rather, the real question is: What put the rabble in such a supersaturated state to begin with? Why did the absurd-on-its-face idea of “death panels” so resonate with them? What made those words galvanize their shapeless disquiet into a solid mass of resistance?

DrRich is very sorry to have to tell his friends of the Progressive persuasion the sad truth. For it was President Obama himself who created this circumstance. Sarah Palin may have first named the death panels, but before she ever thought of the phrase the President had already described them in detail.

During his first year in office, President Obama offered several homilies relating just what a “death panel” would look like. He described their function, how they would operate, and who they would target. Perhaps the most instructive example is the one he gave on ABC television during his June 24, 2009 National Town Hall meeting.

DrRich refers, of course, to the famous question put to him by the granddaughter of a 100-year-old woman who had received a pacemaker. The questioner pointed out that her grandmother had badly needed this pacemaker, but had been turned down by a doctor because of her age. A second doctor, noting the patient’s alertness, zest for life, and generally youthful “spirit,” went ahead and inserted the pacemaker despite her advanced age. Her symptoms resolved, and Grandma was still doing quite well 5 years later. The question for the President was: Under Obamacare, will an elderly person’s general state of health, and her “spirit,” be taken into account when making medical decisions – or will these decisions be made according to age only?

President Obama’s answer was clear. It is really not feasible, he indicated, to take “spirit” into account. We are going to make medical decisions based on objective evidence, and not subjective impressions. If the evidence shows that some form of treatment “is not necessarily going to improve care, then at least we can let the doctors know that – you know what? – maybe this isn’t going to help; maybe you’re better off not having the surgery, but taking the pain pill.”

DrRich will give President Obama the benefit of the doubt regarding his suggestion that a 100-year-old women who needs a pacemaker might be better off with a pain pill. Mr. Obama is not actually a doctor, and cannot be expected to understand that using a “pain pill” to treat an elderly woman who is lightheaded, dizzy, weak and possibly syncopal because of a slow heart rate might justifiably be considered a form of euthanasia rather than comfort care. DrRich does not believe the President was intentionally suggesting the old woman’s death should be actively hastened by means of a pain pill. Indeed, given that repeated falls from lightheadedness would likely have led to a hip fracture, a pain pill might eventually have been just the thing for granny had the pacemaker been withheld.

Still, President Obama’s clear and unflinching answer in this case tells us several important things. 1) Under Obamacare, there will be at least one panel, or commission, or body of some sort, that is going to examine the medical evidence on how effective a certain treatment is likely to be in a certain population of patients. 2) This, let’s call it a “panel,” will “let the doctors know” whether that treatment ought to be used in those patients. (“Letting the doctor know” is a euphemism for “guidelines,” which itself is a euphemism for legally-binding and ruthlessly enforced directives.) 3) “Subjective” measures ought not to influence these treatment recommendations. Non-objective parameters – such as the doctor’s medical experience, intuition, or personal knowledge of the patient; or the patient’s “spirit,” or will to live, or likelihood of tolerating and complying with with the proposed proposed treatment; or even extenuating circumstances that might increase or decrease the success of the proposed treatment – simply cannot be evaluated or controlled by expert panels, and thus must be discounted. 4) But since our government is a compassionate and caring one, and wishes to reduce unnecessary suffering, palliative care will be made available in the form of pain control, even while withholding potentially curative care.

What the American public accurately heard the President say was that we will have an omnipotent “panel,” acting at a distance and without any specific knowledge of particular cases, that will tell a doctor whether he/she can offer a particular therapy to a particular patient – or whether, instead, to offer a “pain pill.”  His description of this process, repeated with variations over the next several months in several venues, obviously made quite an impact on the people.  Of course, Mr. Obama is widely known to be a gifted communicator.

In any case, all that remained was for Sarah Palin to give the President’s panel a catchy name. And when she did, the American people knew exactly what she was talking about. They knew, because President Obama himself had been spelling it all out for them in plenty of detail for six months.

Indeed, it seems to DrRich that, if not for President Obama’s having so carefully laid the groundwork,  Palin’s accusations of “death panels” would have fallen flat. It would have been regarded by most people as the absurdity that Progressives insist that it is, rather than the epiphany it turned out to be.

Progressives who strenuously object to its usage in reference to the expert commissions created by Obamcare can blame Sarah (or, for that matter, DrRich) if they want to – but by all rights they should actually be taking
up the matter with their dear leader, who is the chief source of the misapprehension, if misapprehension there be.

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Open Wide and Say Moo Now read the rest of the story!

DrRich explains it all in Open Wide and Say Moo! The Good Citizen’s Guide to Right Thoughts and Right Actions Under Obamacare

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Shadowfax Rips DrRich A New One

DrRich | May 12th, 2011 - 7:39 pm

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DrRich’s most recent post attempted to show how the creation of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) – the panel created by Obamacare that (as President Obama himself indicates) will be primarily responsible for reducing the cost of American healthcare -  nicely illustrates the Progressive mindset. That Progressive mindset, DrRich maintained, is reflected in the degree of power and breadth of control granted to the IPAB, in the coercive process under which the IPAB was created and its powers granted, and in attempts to bind future Congresses from amending those powers.

DrRich did not imagine that Progressives would like his formulation very much. But as always, DrRich offered his analysis in the hope of engaging readers – friend or foe – in a fruitful exchange of ideas.

And accordingly, DrRich is gratified that the venerable blogger Shadowfax has seen fit to offer a pointed (though to be sure, rather brutal) rebuttal. While the nature of his rebuttal does not exactly invite a civil exchange, DrRich (in the spirit of furthering understanding amongst our mutual readers) will attempt to reply in a collegial manner.

Anyone who has read Shadowfax’s post will know that it would be all too easy for a back and forth to descend into heaped vituperations. Shadowfax begins his presentation, after all, with a scathing ad hominem attack on DrRich’s person. He speculates as to whether DrRich is a confabulist or a conspiracy theorist, and proposes, as the qualities which define DrRich, only the following: “laziness, ignorance, misinformation, or untreated paranoid psychosis.” Along the way DrRich becomes also a partisan hack, deceitful, hysterical, and a purveyor of fluff.

For several reasons, DrRich will not respond in kind. First, when he joined his high school debating team in 1965, one of the first things DrRich learned is that when one has induced his opponent into an ad hominem attack, one has already won the debate. Second, by virtue of his original post on the IPAB, DrRich started it – and when one starts it, one invites and ought to expect a vigorous response. Third, DrRich does not take this ad hominem attack at all personally, so does not feel compelled to return the favor. DrRich comforts himself with the knowledge that Shadowfax does not know him personally, and is confident that if he did, he would be entirely won over (as is everyone) by DrRich’s charm, his joie de vivre, his incisive humor, his charisma, and above all, his humility. And finally, DrRich chooses to view this personal attack clinically, as doing so makes it plain that by its very nature, Shadowfax’s reply is itself entirely illustrative of the Progressive mindset. (In other words, Shadowfax has inadvertently succeeded in reinforcing DrRich’s chief message.)

DrRich will return to this latter point in a short while.

For the record, DrRich does not attribute any negative personality or motivational traits to Shadowfax, and indeed, chooses to believe that he is basically a nice person. (Even if he did not believe it, DrRich would not say so. DrRich notes that Shadowfax is the parent of three children, and he would hate to have those tykes see their Dad publicly subjected to personal insults – despite the fact that Shadowfax neglected to consider the fragile sensibilities of DrRich’s own young ones before publicly besmirching his intellect, motives and psychological health.)

To his credit, the bulk of Shadowfax’s rebuttal (after having dismissed DrRich’s person as being beneath contempt) has to do with matters of fact, or rather, with matters of interpretation of fact. For DrRich thinks he and Shadowfax are surprisingly close on the facts themselves. It is in interpreting the implications of those facts that the difference appears.

And here is where DrRich must diverge for a moment to re-introduce his Theory of Progressive Thought. He has explained this theory at some length in the past, and subsequently has further developed it on several occasions. In so doing, DrRich has explicitly insisted that it is just a theory.  It is a proposed framework for explaining the multitude of difficult-to-explain behaviors we have witnessed from Progressives during the last 120 years. In laying out this theory, DrRich has invited one and all to point out its weaknesses, and to suggest a better theory if they have one. Since DrRich himself does not like the implications of his Theory of Progressive Thought – given that Progressives are now running the show – he will, as he has said more than once, be delighted to abandon it for a better theory, should one come to his attention. But in order to be designated a “better” theory, it will have to explain real-world Progressive behaviors even more effectively than does DrRich’s.

Contrary to Shadowfax’s accusations, DrRich does not impute negative motives to Progressives. Indeed, fundamentally Progressives are motivated by a deep desire to achieve societal good. They are dedicated to achieving a society in which all people – whatever their disadvantages and limitations may be – will thrive equally, or as equally as possible. DrRich stipulates that this goal is inherently a good one.

Furthermore, Progressivism being a product of the Age of Reason, Progressives sincerely believe that such a goal is within the reach of mankind. It can be achieved by careful observation, analysis, and rational solutions systematically applied. And therefore it ought to be the goal – rather, it ought to be the duty – of mankind to strive to thus implement effective solutions to society’s problems. And so, Progressives believe that the goal of mankind ought to be to continually progress toward solutions to ALL society’s problems, and hence to strive unrelentingly for a “perfect” society.

And that’s the theory. Contrary to Shadowfax’s accusation, there is no imputation of evil motives in this theory. Indeed, Progressives, as a group, tend to be motivated primarily by compassion for their fellow humans – at least as a starting position.

Unfortunately for everyone, there are two major problems inherent in Progressive thought. First, the rational analyses and the carefully planned solutions to society’s ills which are prescribed by Progressivism are almost always beyond the ken of your average member of the great unwashed. So designing and implementing the Progressive program inevitably relies on a cadre of “specialists,” a class of elites who have the right stuff (the right intelligence, the right education, the right knowledge, the right motivation, &c.) to do the job.

Thus the rational solutions to society’s problems which are offered up by the Progressive program are inevitably to be provided by an enlightened corps of elites, and accordingly, it is the duty of the average citizen (i.e., the rest of us) to cooperate with these handed-down solutions, for the overriding benefit of the whole. Otherwise, the Progressive program cannot succeed.

This fact places Progressivism fundamentally at odds with the Great American Experiment, that is, with a system of government which at its core maximizes the autonomy of we individuals to do as we please, and which allows us to succeed or fail based on our own actions, to the extent that our actions do not infringe on the rights of others. Thus, there is a natural and unavoidable tension between the kind of broad, centrally planned solutions which Progressivism inevitably offers up, and the severely limited sort of central authority provided by our founders.

The second great problem with Progressivism is even more intractable. It is that the kind of societal solutions dreamed up by Progressives invariably require individuals to sacrifice their freedom of action, to one degree or another, for the sake of what the elite planners have determined will benefit the collective – and in so doing, Progressive solutions always seem to require a fundamental change in human nature. That is, the Progressive program requires individuals to subsume their own individual interests to the interest of the collective.

Such a change in human nature will never be forthcoming, and this fact, in the end, will always defeat Progressivism (though often not before a lot of damage is done). Inevitably, the recalcitrance of substantial proportions of the population to their brilliant solutions drives Progressives, once they have been in power for a while, to great frustration, and finally, to drastic repressive action. A history of collectivist governments during the past 100 years amply demonstrates this ugly fact.*

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* According to R.J. Rummel in his book Death by Government, during the 20th century the world’s governments killed four times as many of their own people, on purpose, as were killed in all wars combined.
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With this brief review of DrRich’s Theory of Progressive Thought (and its implications), let us now quickly visit the differences in how DrRich and Shadowfax view the facts as they pertain to the IPAB.

Is the IPAB designed to function as a dictatorial entity? Shadowfax argues that since it will not be utterly impossible for Congress to overturn the mandates handed down by the IPAB, it is therefore not dictatorial. And from a strict definition of the word he is correct. But DrRich holds that the language of the law (which, to halt the IPAB mandates on healthcare spending, requires a supermajority of the Senate to a) block those mandates, then b) come up with its own cost cutting scheme that will achieve equivalent results),  is meant to achieve for the IPAB at least near-dictatorial powers. Even Shadowfax allows this possibility: “The argument is that the IPAB becomes a de facto dictatorial board, because the bar is set too high to override its recommendations. We will see, I suppose.” This unelected panel* of experts will determine who gets what, when and how, and it will be exceedingly difficult (but admittedly not impossible) for Congress to have much to say about it. Therefore, Obamacare explicitly attempts to severely limit the prerogatives of the peoples’ representatives to control the ability of this unelected panel of experts to determine the medical destiny of Americans.

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* Contrary to Shadowfax’s unnecessarily gratuitous implication, DrRich has not referred to the multitudes of expert panels created by Obamacare as “death panels.” To do so would make DrRich seem as unsophisticated as Ms. Palin. Rather, DrRich has referred to them by the much more accurate name of GOD Panels (Government Operatives Deliberating).
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Is the IPAB designed to be an immutable panel? The plain language of the law very clearly attempts to render it exceedingly difficult (if not impossible) to change the IPAB provisions of Obamacare, thus revealing a wish on the part of its creators to render the IPAB an immutable entity. DrRich agrees with Shadowfax that, in truth, no Congress can actually bind all future Congresses down into perpetuity. But the language of the law clearly expresses a desire to do so. Shadowfax makes some sort of argument to the effect that the phrase “It shall be out of order” gives Congress a pathway to changing the IPAB provisions. And it is true that, under Roberts’ Rules, when a chairman declares some procedure to be “out of order,” there are provisions for appealing that ruling and rendering the thing back into order. But this provision is almost exclusively used to determine whether a member can speak or not. In contrast, the immutability language in Obamacare purports to create a LAW (rather than an ad hoc chairman’s ruling), which declares any action to alter the IPAB to be perpetually “out of order.” DrRich can find no parliamentary procedure addressing this remarkable and audacious circumstance.

In any case, even if the immutability language pertaining to IPAB turns out indeed to be something that can be by some manner overcome, as Shadowfax insists, that fact is not obvious. It has also escaped at least some U.S. Senators, who have interpreted the language the same way that DrRich has. And whatever the parliamentary options that may or may not come into play, the clear intent of the language in this provision is to greatly reduce the ability of future Congresses to alter the IPAB provision (if not actually render it immutable). Once again, this attempt is perfectly consistent with the all-consuming desire of Progressives to implement their expert-controlled programs with only minimal interference from the people (or the peoples’ representatives).

Does the IPAB already have the power to restrict private as well as government healthcare expenditures? Here, Shadowfax appears to concede the point, more or less, and adds that the idea “strikes me as a GOOD thing.”  DrRich has described in great detail how and why our Progressive healthcare reforms will inevitably restrict (and is already attempting to  restrict) the ability of individuals to pay for their own healthcare with their own money. And now, the IPAB (this very powerful and nearly-immutable panel of experts) has apparently been granted the authority to take charge of this important goal.

The bottom line, regarding these points of fact, is that DrRich and Shadowfax disagree less on the fact themselves than on the implications of those facts. We differ greatly on whether these features of the IPAB – dictatorial (or quasi-dictatorial) powers, immutability (or quasi-immutability), and the power to restrict private healthcare spending – are good things. Shadowfax explicitly believes that they are.

DrRich’s view, of course, is that these legislated features of the IPAB are perfectly consistent with, and even predicted by, his Theory of Progressive Thought. And that was indeed the whole point of his original post. Furthermore, based on the recent history of collectivist governments and where they invariably lead, DrRich does not believe this to be a good thing.

Before ending, DrRich must return to the ad hominem attack launched against him by Shadowfax which, DrRich submits, also perfectly reflects the Progressive mindset.

Almost invariably, once the Progressive elite have settled upon their scientifically-based, rational, centralized solution to some dire societal problem (such as healthcare reform), their thinking regarding the unwashed masses goes through a stereotypical evolution. At first they always believe (their proposed solution being so scientifically sound, so logical and so well-thought-out), that by delivering a carefully packaged explanation of their solution, the people will enter into paroxysms of delight.  When the people do not react as expected, and indeed express apprehension or anger at what is being proposed, the Progressives will tell themselves that they must not have explained their solution well enough (but what can one expect, after all, when dealing with the great unwashed?) – and then they will arrange to implement the solution anyway (using whatever machinations and maneuverings are necessary to pull it off), confident that once the teeming masses see the incredible benefits that will accrue to them when the program is actually under way, they will at last display those belated paroxysms of delight. But then, when the program is actually implemented and the people are still complaining about it – or more likely, making their complaints more than merely vocal – the Progressives will begin culling out some of the more prominent troublemakers among them and make examples of them. And if that fails to quell the complaints of the masses, the leaders of collectively-oriented governments have been known to move past disappointment and frustration and into a state of wrath – and this (again, DrRich is simply referring to history) is where the real atrocities have taken place.

The evolution of the Progressives’ frustration regarding the public’s acceptance of Obamacare has moved past the “we can educate them” phase, and past the “we’ll go ahead and implement it and then they’ll like it” phase. They will soon be looking for someone of whom to make an example.

Traditionally, they will diagnose such troublemakers as being either misinformed (stupid), motivated by bad intentions (evil), or mentally deficient (crazy). And (again, historically), the solution to which the dissenter is subjected depends on that diagnosis – typically a re-education camp, elimination, or commitment to a state-run mental institution.

DrRich simply notes that Shadowfax has reacted with distressing typicality to a loudmouth who is not going along with the program. He indicates that the only possible explanations for DrRich’s recalcitrance (since a logical objection is not a possibility) are “laziness, ignorance, misinformation, or untreated paranoid psychosis.” That is, DrRich must be stupid, evil or crazy. It only remains for Shadowfax to decide on which of these diagnoses is correct, so that the appropriate final solution can be prescribed.

DrRich stands by his original contention that the salient features of the IPAB, the manipulative and underhanded process which brought it to life, and now, the reaction of Progressives when they encounter people who complain about it, all perfectly reflect the Progressive mindset.

What Does the IPAB Tell Us About Progressives?

DrRich | May 9th, 2011 - 11:37 am

Podcast:

In the speech President Obama gave responding to Congressman Ryan’s budget plan (the one in which he lured Ryan to sit in the front row in order to be publicly pilloried), the President did something DrRich did not think he would do before the next election. He openly invoked, and openly embraced, the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) as the chief mechanism by which Obamacare will control the cost of American healthcare.

“IPAB” might be a new term to many Americans, but DrRich pointed his readers to this entity, within a few weeks of the passage of Obamacare, as the lynchpin (and a very scary lynchpin at that) of the whole enterprise.

Until President Obama’s recent “outing” of IPAB, however, this new board has been almost entirely ignored by most commentators. Since the President’s speech, of course, many have written about it, either to celebrate it or to castigate it. (Of all these commentaries, DrRich most highly recommends the analysis provided by Doug Perednia at the Road to Hellth. In fact, DrRich recommends Perednia in general, as he is regularly producing some of the most insightful commentary, anywhere, on health policy.)

DrRich does not wish to simply repeat here all the observations that have lately been made by others regarding the IPAB. Rather, he will emphasize three particular features of the IPAB, features which are remarkable indeed, and which will tell us something very important about our Progressive leaders.

Three Remarkable Features of the IPAB

1) It has dictatorial powers.

The IPAB is a 15-member board appointed by the President.  Section 3403 of the Obamacare legislation tells us that the purpose of this board is to “reduce the per capita rate of growth in Medicare spending,” a noble goal indeed. Furthermore, in a superficial reading of Section 3403, one might think of the IPAB as a sort of Mr. Rogers of healthcare – a mild-mannered, friendly, always-helpful, but ultimately undemanding agent for good. This is the impression imparted by the first few paragraphs of the Section, which paint the new entity as an “advisory” board, whose main task is to develop “proposals” and “advisory reports,” which “proposals” and “advisory reports” would solely consist of various “recommendations,” that ought to be “considered” for the purpose of cost reduction.

Indeed, one might get the impression that the main difference between the IPAB and DrRich (another Mr. Rogers-like, mild mannered and undemanding personage) is that the former is appointed by the President and has a travel budget.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The IPAB is actually all-powerful.

Once the Chief Actuary of CMS determines that the projected per capita growth rate for Medicare exceeds a certain target growth rate (which it inevitably will), the IPAB is required to submit a so-called “proposal” which will cut healthcare costs sufficiently to bring the growth rate back in line; which is to say, the IPAB will determine what will be paid for and what will not. Then, the Secretary of HHS is required to implement that “proposal” in its entirety, unless Congress acts to block implementation. However, Congress is hamstrung.  The representatives of the people are forbidden from taking any action “that would repeal or otherwise change the recommendations of the Board,” unless it replaces those “recommendations” with its own legislation that would cut healthcare spending to the same target level.

For all practical purposes, then, the cost-cutting “recommendations” which the IPAB would “propose” for “consideration” will be implemented nearly automatically, with the full authority of the Federal government.

And, for all practical purposes, the IPAB will become a new agency of the executive branch, with near-dictatorial authority to cut healthcare spending where and when and for whom it sees fit.

2) It will control all healthcare spending, not just Medicare spending.

A common accusation, heard these past few weeks from conservative commentators, is that the secret desire of the President and his supporters is to make it so that the IPAB will have these same dictatorial powers over not just Medicare, but over all healthcare spending – public or private. DrRich believes these conservative commentators are unnecessarily accusing the President of being conspiratorial. In truth, no conspiracy is necessary, as this result is already law.

DrRich recommends that these conspiracy theorists read the actual legislation. It is a bit difficult to sort out, but in fact the IPAB is already granted the authority to control private as well as public healthcare spending.  It got this authority in a suitably convoluted way.

Those who paid attention to the remarkable process that brought us our new and transformational healthcare system might recall that the Senate bill, which ultimately became law of the land, was never designed to be actually implemented. It was designed solely to assure 60 votes in the Senate, after which the Joint Conference with the House was to meld the House Bill and the Senate Bill into a workable law.

As part of the negotiations to gain those original 60 votes in the Senate, five or six Democrat Senators went behind closed doors to cobble together a list of amendments to the original Senate Bill – the so-called Manager’s Amendments. It is in the Manager’s Amendments that one can find such famous niceties as the bribes paid to Nebraska in order to obtain an extra vote. But the Manager’s Amendments (which, contrary to the expectations of the actual Managers, are now part of our new healthcare law) contained lots of other stuff as well.

One of the more interesting parts of the Manager’s Amendments (Section 10320) is entitled, “Expansion Of The Scope Of, And Additional Improvements To, The Independent Medicare Advisory Board.” (The original language in Section 3403 did not actually create something called an IPAB – it created an IMAB. The Manager’s Amendments re-christened it as the IPAB, as explained below.)

Section 10320 (which can be found way down on page 2210 of the new law) grants the IPAB (beginning in 2015) the authority to limit all healthcare expenditures, that is, all healthcare expenditures, and not just expenditures by Medicare or government-run programs.

To emphasize this expanded authority, Section 10320 changes the name of the “Independent Medicare Advisory Board” (created in Section 3403) to the “Independent Payment Advisory Board.” It directs the IPAB, at least every two years, to “submit to Congress and the President recommendations to slow the growth in national health expenditures” for private (non-Federal) healthcare programs. Furthermore, it designates that these “recommendations” may be implemented by the Secretary of HHS or other Federal agencies “administratively” (that is, without the interference of Congress).

The justification for this expansion of the IPAB’s authority is that controlling private healthcare expenditures will directly impact Medicare, since the “target” Medicare growth rate which the IPAB is charged with achieving will be determined by overall healthcare expenditures. Therefore, it is necessary to control those private expenditures. More practically, if Medicare patients (who are subjected to arbitrary cost-cutting measures) see their younger counterparts enjoying less restricted healthcare, we old farts are likely to become inconveniently rowdy.

Once the Managers had devised enough paybacks in the Managers’ Amendments to get the needed 60 votes, and the law finally passed in the Senate, President Obama and his Congressional allies, Mr. Reid and Ms. Pelosi, determined that allowing the new law to go to Joint Conference would be counterproductive (in particular, they would undoubtedly have lost Section 10302 if the House Democrats ever saw it). So the entire Congress was coerced into voting on the bill as passed by the Senate – including all the Managers’ Amendments – under the reasoning that passing the law right then was a manifest emergency.  And Congress, like the rest of us, could find out what was in it after it became law.

We are likely to hear grumbling from even some House Democrats as the real implications of the IPAB become more apparent to the public, since the House Democrats really didn’t get an opportunity to vote on (or read) this provision, except as part of an “all or nothing” healthcare reform bill.

Whatever. While the IPAB may begin by only controlling the cost of Medicare, it already has the authority to control all healthcare spending, including private spending. That’s you, dear reader. No further legislative action is needed.

3) It is an immutable entity.

Section 3403, the section that creates the IPAB and spells out its functions, contains some remarkable language that, DrRich suspects, has never been seen before in American legislative history. To wit:

“It shall not be in order in the Senate or the House of Representatives to consider any bill, resolution, amendment, or conference report that would repeal or otherwise change this subsection.”

So, the astounding truth, dear reader, is that the IPAB and all its designated dictatorial functions are in force for perpetuity. Our Congress has passed legislation that purports to bind all future Congresses from altering it in any way.

We can surmise from this fact that those who wrote this law must consider the IPAB to be very, very important. Of course, we know this because President Obama said so just the other week. However, what many Americans may not yet realize is that the IPAB provision of Obamacare must necessarily be not only the most important feature of our new healthcare system, but also the most important legislative provision ever written. We know this because no other provision has ever received such extraordinary protections from any future alterations whatsoever.

DrRich asks his readers to bask in the utter audacity of our current crop of leaders, leaders who are so sure they know what’s best for us that they were willing to engage in all manner of legislative legerdemain to pass Obamacare, not only against the apparent expressed will of the people, but also (as it turns out) against the objections any future American Congress may have that is sent to Washington by those people.

Not even our Constitution itself – a document that attempted to establish a government for all time – was as audacious as this. For the Constitution, at least, provided a mechanism for its own alteration.

As DrRich racked his brain to think of the last time a law was promulgated with such audacity – not with the audacity of hope, but the audacity of perpetuity – he initially drew a blank. Even monarchs who purported to reign under Divine Right understood that future monarchs, who would also rule under the same God-given right, might thus alter any laws they made.

DrRich believes we need to go all the way back to Moses, coming down from Mt. Sinai and holding aloft his awesome Tablets filled with divine writ, to find a law or set of laws that, from the moment they were written, were decreed to remain in force for ever and ever.

Only God has ever tried this before.

What Does This Tell Us About Progressives?

DrRich has gone on at some length about the Progressive program and the Progressive mindset. The creation of the IPAB, its configuration, and the manner in which it was created, simply reflects that program and that mindset.

Progressives are dedicated to “progressing” to a perfect society, and they know just how to achieve it. Unfortunately, a whole bunch of people – not merely right-wingers and a few Republicans, but most of the masses – just don’t see it their way. Specifically, the Progressive program requires individuals to subsume their own individual interests to the overriding interests of the collective – and human nature just doesn’t function that way.

Thus, the Progressive program inevitably relies on a cadre of elites – those who have dedicated themselves to furthering the Progressive program – to set things up the right way for the rest of us, while manipulating we in the teeming masses to let them. And the rest of us, once the correct programs and systems are in place, will at last understand that it was all for our own good. (Those of us who still don’t get it, to extrapolate from the actions of various collectivist governments of the past century, will either have to be re-educated or eliminated.)

The IPAB would serve as an ideal poster child for the Progressive program. It is an all-powerful commission of experts, appointed by Progressive leaders, which will make decisions based on only the “best” available data (and they are the determinants of what is “best”), that deeply affects the lives of every individual American, whatever the decisions might be that individuals would have made for themselves.

The manner in which the IPAB was created is a model for the Progressives. It involved manipulating the body of government that the Progressives find most problematic – the Congress, the voice of the people – and entirely marginalizing it.

The immutability of the IPAB is also a Progressive dream. Congress was manipulated into creating an all-powerful entity which it (the voice of the people) is enjoined from ever altering, down into perpetuity.  The IPAB is forever within the control of the executive branch, which the Progressives, of course, intend to hang on to at all costs.  (And, if lost, is relatively easy to regain.)

The fact that President Obama has at last brought the IPAB out of the closet, and has deemed it to be ready for public scrutiny, indicates that he is confident that the people will not understand the profound nature of what has been accomplished by the establishment of such an entity, or if they understand, will still be indifferent about it.

DrRich dearly hopes the President is wrong about this.

___

A well-known Progressive blogger has taken issue with this post – and with DrRich.  See DrRich’s reply to said well-known blogger, here.

The Key To the Obama-Ryan Kerfuffle

DrRich | May 2nd, 2011 - 6:05 am

Podcast:

When Congressman Ryan released the House Republican budget plan a few weeks ago, he made it clear that he believed his proposal would engender a vigorous reaction from the Progressive leadership of our government. He further expressed the hope that such a reaction would at last engage both sides in a real debate about how to reduce our crushing federal deficit, which is growing fast enough to promise societal disintegration within a generation or two.

So when President Obama subsequently announced that he was giving a speech that would articulate a meaningful response to the Ryan proposal, and invited Congressman Ryan and some of his Republican confederates to attend, the Republicans respectfully showed up and sat in their designated front row seats, expecting, they said, to hear the President lay out some common ground for tough but necessary negotiations on reducing our debt.

Of course, that is not what happened. The President’s tone was righteous, accusatory, uncompromising. He ripped Ryan and colleagues each a new one, accusing them of attempting to “end Medicare as we know it,” and of trying to balance the federal budget by throwing old people under the bus, and depriving them of their God-given right to healthcare. While I am President, he indicated, the Republicans will never succeed in their efforts to break the social compact we have made with our elderly citizens. Never! (And through the whole speech, there the hapless Republicans sat, fidgeting with increasing discomfort and dismay – the self-satisfied perpetrators of this dastardly plan, the unfeeling tools of the wealthy and special interests – right there in the front row.)

After the speech, Congressman Ryan described himself as supremely disappointed by the President’s words and his tone. Ryan clearly felt he and his Republican friends had been set up by the President’s invitation, and had been maneuvered into attending their own lynching.

DrRich is disappointed, too – not by the President’s speech (which DrRich could easily have written for him) – but by Ryan’s apparent surprise. It occurs to DrRich that members of the President’s opposition simply do not understand where he is coming from, or how to deal with him. This is a very scary thought.

President Obama’s response to Ryan’s budget plan was not offered as an opening position for negotiations. It was, instead, an impassioned statement of First Principles, principles that define the difference between good and evil. There will be no compromise on first principles, no compromise with evil, no negotiations, no taking of prisoners.

This firm, uncompromising and immediate response (with the evil-doers sitting just a few feet away) came from the same President who deliberated for months after commanders in the field begged for an immediate infusion of more troops in Afghanistan, who equivocated for two years over the closing of Guantanamo, who waffled, also for years, on where to try captured terrorists and who should try them, and who allowed the tax rates for 2011 to remain unresolved until the last days of 2010. But this time he was sure of his position, and he was sure of it instantaneously and instinctively, as a matter of principle. His position on this matter is a reflection of his very core.

And what was it about Ryan’s plan that suddenly turned President Obama’s spine to titanium? It was this: Ryan’s plan would require at least some of the elderly to pay for some of their own healthcare.

The Ryan plan, in outline, is to convert the Medicare program to a voucher system, and allow the elderly to purchase their own health insurance from a pool of choices. Ryan has specified that the poor and the sick would receive full healthcare coverage – better coverage (he insists) than they are getting today. But well-to-do elderly Americans would have to carry at least some of their own weight, and to get the coverage they need would have to add their own funds to their federal vouchers. (An oft-ignored point is that anybody currently 55 or over would never be subject to Ryan’s new system, but would continue to receive Medicare as it is today.)

DrRich chooses to ignore for now the fact that the health insurance industry will never go for such a plan, since it requires them to operate under their current, utterly broken business model, and that therefore Ryan’s plan is a non-starter.  It is still an honest and principled attempt at a solution.

Ryan’s plan has the virtue of recognizing the fact that we cannot afford to purchase with public funds all healthcare for all individuals. That’s what is causing our federal debt to skyrocket to catastrophic proportions. And, recognizing that fact, his plan would require some elderly Americans, the ones who can afford it, to contribute their own funds to their healthcare coverage.

Require the rich to pay more. Isn’t this what President Obama has been saying all along?

So why is the President so adamantly opposed to such a thing?

This whole Obama-Ryan kerfuffle is simply a graphic illustration of a point DrRich has made many, many times before. Any Progressive healthcare system, at the end of the day, must attempt to centralize all healthcare decisions, and thus to direct ALL healthcare spending, and therefore, will have to restrict individuals from spending their own money (and making important decisions) on their own healthcare. DrRich has explained why this kind of restriction will be fundamental to Progressive healthcare reform, and he has described some of the steps our government has already taken to implement such restrictions. It is likely true that Progressives will have to make a few minor compromises here and there in order to advance the program as a whole (perhaps, for instance, allowing people to buy their own “alternative medicine” products). But they can never compromise to the extent that the Ryan plan would require.

Obama’s impassioned speech neatly reflects this fundamental precept. For the Ryan plan, or any plan, to not only allow but also require people to contribute to their own healthcare is a mortal sin under the Progressive program. And anyone who advances such a plan is anathema, and must be dealt with harshly. Just as Obama dealt with Ryan.

We are only a tiny step away from having any proposal such as Ryan’s being labeled as hate speech. Heck, after the President’s performance, we may be there already.