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Sun., March 30, 2014

Smart Bombs: Obama owns ACA’s failings – but not its triumphs

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank has made the perceptive observation that President Barack Obama owns all of health care now. Before the Affordable Care Act passed, people routinely complained about changing doctors, rising costs, bureaucracy, etc., but they didn’t have a particular politician to blame. Now they do, whether the Affordable Care Act is relevant or not.

My view is that this will only apply to blame. If there is cause for cheers, you can count on political and analytical skills to suddenly kick in. For instance, health care inflation has dropped to its lowest point in nearly 50 years. Thanks, Obama? Not so fast, say Republicans and analysts.

There are a host of reasons, among them: the economic slowdown, more generic drug offerings and an increase in outpatient care. Obamacare can’t take credit for all that. But costs at hospitals are cooling off because of changes in Medicare payments that were part of the Affordable Care Act. The law also has incentives that encourage bundled payments for services, which hold the line on costs better than fee-for-service.

But credit won’t be easy to come by, because recent surveys show that people don’t believe costs are being contained. The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll for March found that only 4 percent of Americans believed medical inflation had cooled, while nearly 60 percent thought costs had grown faster than usual in recent years.

So Obama better get used to all blame and no credit. It’s his reward for taking on an issue all previous presidents ducked.

The Wrong tree. Last December, Judy Camp of Okanogan County discovered a neglected, chained-up junkyard dog suffering in subzero temperatures. Previously, police had been called out, but they decided the owner supplied sufficient care to satisfy anti-cruelty laws.

The letter of the law provided cold comfort, so Camp took the Australian cattle dog home, and then to a veterinarian. The obese dog had scarring that might’ve been caused from its scrotum freezing to the ground. A deputy sheriff showed up at the pet clinic, and Camp tried to sneak the dog out a side door. When the deputy caught up with her, he said he took an elbow to the ribs in a scuffle.

On Friday, a jury acquitted Camp on charges of theft and lying to law enforcement, but she was convicted on an obstruction of justice count. Before the trial, she had purchased the dog from the owners, and the junkyard owners declined to press trespassing charges. But prosecutors went ahead anyway. She now faces a fine of up to $5,000 and a potential jail sentence of one year.

Assuming the deputy’s ribs have healed, who is the victim here? Tank, the dog, now has a loving owner and a comfortable home. His previous owners were paid. Camp is being called a hero, and rightly so. I understand that law enforcement can’t let people trespass and take pets willy-nilly, but prosecutors do have discretion.

The real crime is that it’s legal to treat a dog like this.

Confidence game. As the father of a bright girl, I read with consternation a recent article in Science magazine in which men and women have bought into the stereotype that males are superior at math.

As part of a study, job candidates were presented to employers looking for workers in math-based jobs. If only shown a photo, male and female employers selected the male candidates by a 2 to 1 margin. When the candidates had a chance to make a job pitch, the bias didn’t wane, because the female candidates would underestimate their ability and the male candidates would boast.

When shown each candidate’s actual math skills, the bias among employers dissipated somewhat, but males were still favored.

So the challenge for employers is to acknowledge this bias and put more weight on measurable information. The challenge for parents is to give your daughters permission to kick butt and be proud of it.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.

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