Policy Failure!  Does Anyone Seriously Believe that a Deranged 21-Year-Old Male with an AR-15 is Any Less Dangerous than a Deranged 18-Year-Old with an AR-15?

By:

Dave Kingsley

Does Reaching the Age of 21 Signal Good Mental Health?

This headline appeared in the New York Times on Friday: “Angry Customer Is Charged with Killing a Food Courier.”  According to the article, the customer was angry because months earlier he was delivered less than adequate duck sauce with an order.  Having obsessed on the matter for a while, he decided to kill somebody, which he did.  He killed a hard-working immigrant with three children.  The shooter, Brian Hirsch of Queens, is 51 years old.

On October 1, 2017, a man hauled an arsenal of weaponry to the 32nd Floor of the Mandalay Bay – a Las Vegas Strip hotel.  From his perch above a crowd of innocent people he did not know, he carried out the largest mass shooting in the sordid history of U.S. mass shootings. This deranged individual fired more than 1000 rounds into a crowd enjoying themselves at a music festival.  Sixty innocent lives were wasted by this act of lunacy.  The shooter, Stephen Paddock from Mesquite, Nevada, was 64 years old.

This happened last week in Tulsa, Oklahoma:  A patient dissatisfied with his surgeon headed for the Natalie Medical Building on the Campus of the St. Francis Health System, picking up an AR-15 on the way.  He shot and killed his surgeon, one other physician, a receptionist, and another patient.  The shooter, Michael Lewis from Muskogee, Oklahoma, was 45 years old.

Even without any further discussion of the epidemiology of U.S.-style mass shootings carried out by infantile, narcissistic, lunatics, wouldn’t common sense tell us that we don’t cross some “good mental health magic line” at the age of 21?  Wouldn’t we understand that a population of 340 million people in a society becoming sicker and sicker without good access to mental health services includes a large number of people of all ages who become enamored with the thought of carrying out some horrific act of mass murder?

The Problem is Mental Health Combined with a Robust Gun Crazy Sub-population and the Venal Politician who Cater to Them.

Most people who spout toxic, perverse, theories about the 2nd Amendment are not crazy enough to pick up an assault rifle with a 40 round clip and head for some crowd – any crowd – and commence to kill people.  However, politicians, religious fanatics, libertarians, extremist Supreme Court justices, and other misguided individuals who fail to grasp the evolution of society vis a vis the U.S. Constitution are enabling dangerous people to act on their psychopathic need for attention.

Another factor underlying mass killing – including the 16,000+ gun-deaths per year – is the mass production and distribution of military weaponry and ammunition at the retail level.  I served a three-year hitch in the Marines from 1962 to 1965. As an “infantry weapons specialist” I had been to school on weapons that were typically in an infantry battalion armory at that time:  M-14 rifle, M-60 Machine Gun, 50-Caliber Machine Gun, and 45 caliber handgun.  Since my discharge, I have watched with horror as these, and even more powerful military weapons and ammo, began to flood civilian society.

After leaving the Marine Corps, I never owned or possessed a firearm of any type. Furthermore, I outgrew my infantile need to kill wildlife.  In my young adult life, I began to appreciate the beauty of ring-neck pheasants, deer, and all other forms of life in the wild and question human fascination with murdering other living things.

I’m not for gun control.  I’m an abolitionist.  There is absolutely no good reason for deadly weapons to be in the hands of civilians.  Let’s lock them all up in military arsenals.  These weapons are not for amusement, e.g., target practice.  Nor are they good for protection.  Gun owners are more likely to kill their loved ones, or people they fall out of love with, or themselves with a weapon than protect themselves from someone else.

Epidemiology of Diseases:  Agent (firearms), Hosts (crazy people), and Environment (Crazy Second Amendment Theories Spread by Media, Venal Politicians, Etc.).

The U.S. problem with “gun deaths” is not all that complicated from an epidemiological perspective.  We have agents which are increasingly powerful weaponry and ammo available to anyone who wants to buy it at various retail outlets.  We have mentally ill hosts who are susceptible to silly gun rights. And we have an environment comprised of wackadoodle theories spread by manufacturers and the gun crazies who promote their financial interests – many of which are elected politicians.

The spread of diseases through a society is simply a matter of human behavior and probability.  As agents and hosts proliferate in a favorable environment, a disease will worsen.  It will become extremely bad when enhanced by promoters of agents are left unchecked.  Even liberal politicians are given to hackneyed phrases, cliches, and bromides.  You might hear a politician of a liberal bent say, “I’m not against guns, heck I own one myself,” or “I don’t want to take away anyone guns,” or some such meaningless nonsense.

The President & Congress Owe Us More than Window Dressing & Bromides.

The overwhelming majority of Americans want to see a ban on assault rifles.  I don’t know why the President of the United States would speak to the Nation and say that he wants an assault weapons ban but will settle for a ban only pertaining to anyone under 21.  He didn’t mention hollow point ammunition.

Given the lack of respect for federal laws these days and the lack of bureaucratic enforcement of regulations, why would the President and Democrats think that background checks will stop the proliferation of assault rifles in the hands of lunatics – especially lunatics whose lunacy hasn’t really been noticed.  How many of the mass shooters would have been “red flagged?”

In effect, the Democratic Party and the President are signaling weakness and fecklessness.  The starting point of their position – their demands – are almost where the Republicans are on the issue right now.  There is not much room for forcing movement on the part of a party, the membership of which is mostly made up of wannabe autocrats, gun nuts, religious fanatics, extremist libertarians, neo-Nazi sympathizers, and cult-followers of Donald Trump.

The American people deserve better than that.  The Democrats and liberals blindly supporting them must realize that the little meaningless tweaks and their begging and pleading with the smarmy, nasty, bunch leading the Republican Party looks pathetic.  Hollow and ineffective reforms only solidifies and legitimizes a pathological system the likes of which I never thought I would see when I left the Marine Corps.

DEMOCRACY, CORPORATE FINANCE, & MEDICAL ETHICS

Nursing Home Companies are Making Money but are Not Telling Taxpayers the Truth About it.  Our Deductive Reasoning Skills Can Easily Reveal the Truth.

Welltower Corporation is a major player in the nursing home industry. Indeed, it is the dominant player.  The major share of its $4.72 billion in 2021 revenue is provided by U.S. federal and state governments – from the taxpayers of America.  Their business is senior housing real estate and medical care for people residing in their nursing home properties. 

The public has a right to expect that medical care is the overriding mission of corporations involved in tax funded nursing care. That is not how Welltower executives view their role in the privatized, publicly funded, healthcare system.  In their 2021 annual report they stated, Our primary objectives are to protect stockholder capital and enhance stockholder value. We seek to pay consistent cash dividends to stockholders and create opportunities to increase dividend payments to stockholders as a result of annual increases in net operating income and portfolio growth (https://welltower.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/2020-Annual-Report.pdf, p. 2, accessed 5/21/2022).

Welltower is one of the few nursing home companies listed on a public stock exchange.  As their annual reports and the value of their stock in the current market crash indicate, they are achieving their financial objectives.  As the Dow, S&P, and NASDAQ have tanked in the past few months, shares of publicly listed nursing home-related corporations are at, near, or above their value in late November when the markets began to sink at significant and at times precipitous rates. 

These are solid corporations loaded up with commercial real estate, the value of which is enhanced by guaranteed revenue through Medicare, Medicaid, and generous tax advantages – gratis the U.S. taxpayers.  This is the reason asset managers such as BlackRock and Vanguard have guided $billions of pension, sovereign wealth, and family office, funds, overseen by institutional investors, into asset-laden nursing home companies. As the markets fall, they are not moving money out of these equities and seeking a safer haven (In a blog post today, I provide an analysis of the stock performance of nursing home and other government-funded medical care corporations between the end of November 2021 and the end of May 2022).

The Big Lie from the Nursing Home Industry: “We Aren’t Making Enough Money to Provide Medically Ethical & Humane Care.”

Thousands of privately held corporations in the form of Limited Liability Corporations, Limited Partnerships, and other legal structures own from a few to a hundred or more nursing homes. Examples include, the privately held Pruitt chain, Diversicare, and several other substantial chains operating in various parts the United States.  Years of interviewing employees, families of patients, reading inspection reports and media accounts, have convinced me that medical care in these facilities is substandard to nonexistent.  Abuse and neglect are pervasive.  Most of the care is provided by medically nonqualified and extremely low paid nursing assistants.  Generally speaking, these are inhumane institutions. The thought of ever ending up in one is horrifying to most people.

Industry Prevarication & Misinformation about High Investor Returns

Although, evidence overwhelmingly suggests that investors are reaping huge returns from shoddy care, the American Health Care Association (AHCA) –  the major industry lobbying firm and industry propaganda arm in Washington and the 50 states – successfully promotes a big lie:  “provider net income is so low that they can’t treat patients humanely or pay higher salaries and wages.” On its face, that is absurd. But apparently it hasn’t dawned on legislators, bureaucrats, and the media that investors wouldn’t be investing in a venture with low returns while so many opportunities for high returns are available in the financial markets.

My colleague, professor Charlene Harrington, and I have debunked that argument as it pertains to publicly listed companies. We, like the rest of the public, have access to financial statements required by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).[1]  However, we do not have access to consolidated financial reports for privately held companies. We can’t see their income statements, balance sheets, or cash flow statements. Therefore it is very difficult to evaluate industry claims regarding earnings – difficult but not impossible.

Each of the approximately 13,000 facilities licensed to provide nursing care and certified to be reimbursed by Medicare and Medicaid are required to submit “cost reports, which include revenue, expenses, net income, and a host of other financial metrics.  With the exception of California, these CRs are difficult to obtain. But we have now gained access to every filed CR in the U.S.  Our analysis so far is telling us that the low net claim is a big lie; that fraud is rampant; and, that states are failing to audit the reports.

Low Risk, High Return Fueled by Government Funds with Little Financial Oversight: the Reality of Nursing Home Investing

As we pour over CRs – mostly in California, New York, North Carolina, and Kansa – we see reported net income as a fiction.  We have also come to believe that the low 2020 net of .5% claimed by AHCA and its hired propaganda accounting firm Clifton, Larson, and Allen (CLA) is scurrilous nonsense – unbecoming of the 8th largest accounting firm in the U.S.

 As one example, misinformation, if not outright fraud, is replete in the CRs of 25 Kansas facilities owned by Florida based private equity firm Windward Health Partners, LLC. Although the average net income reported by these facilities is 8.6% – far higher than the average claimed by AHCA & CLA – they are not reporting payments to their own property LLCs. Also, their chain goes goes by the name of Mission Health Communities. What they don’t note on their CR is that MHC is a related party – a management LLC set up as a company they own and are paying to manage their facilities. Hence their net is drastically lowered due to payments to other companies they own.

 Although Mission Health Communities is falsely noted as the owner of these facilities, it exists as the typical private equity squeeze forced on victim companies.  Mission Health Communities is paid a management fee but is, in reality, a separate LLC in the Windward Health Partners portfolio.  That payment, along with a lease payment to a property LLC, and perhaps other payments to Windward owned ancillary services such as therapy, are expensed on the income statement. In effect, these facilities are making payments to entities owned by their parent corporations and reducing their net income reported to the State of Kansas.

According to CRs submitted by Windward, Kansas taxpayers paid the company $103,403,493 in total 2020 revenue. Because of omitted information and opaqueness of the system, only company insiders know how much cash flowed out in the form of lease payments, management fees, and possible other ancillary services. The 25 facilities received an average of $249,063 in COVID relief payments. I say cash because these payments to itself is gravy for partners and limited partners in Windward Health Partners, LLC.

Democracy & Medical Ethics

The people of Kansas have no idea about how their tax dollars are flowing out of their state into investment firms like Skyway Capital Partners of Tampa Bay, Florida – the financial firm that has capitalized Windward Health Partners. That is not because Kansas residents are dumb. Rather they don’t know how government funds flow from facilities to parent corporations structured as private equity, LLCs, C and S corporations, and limited partnerships, because the system is designed to operate behind a veil of secrecy. For the most part, the Kansas legislature and state bureaucrats have been captured by the industry.

Employees at the Kansas Department of Aging & Disability Services are far more protective of industry financial secrecy than they are of the public’s right to know how their tax dollars are being utilized. The deck is stacked in favor of the industry. Getting substantive information from KDADS is like getting red meat out of a tiger cage.

Medical care is substandard in nursing homes across Kansas but shareholder value overrides medical ethics. Indeed, you will be hard pressed to find a physician around a nursing home at any given time. You will also be hard pressed to find more than a hand full of physicians who really give a damn about what goes on these institutions. The medical profession is silent, the bioethics profession is silent, and the voters are kept in the dark. That’s not how democracy is supposed to work.


[1]Kingsley D, Harrington C. (2021) “COVID-19 had little financial impact on publicly traded nursing home companies.) J Am Geriatr Soc. 2021;1–4. https://doi; Kingsley, D Harrington, C. “Financial and Quality Metrics of A Large, Publicly Traded U.S. Nursing Home Chain in the Age of Covid-19, International Journal of Health Services, 1-13, https://doi: 10.1177/00207314221077649.

Are Nursing Homes a Good Deal for Investors? Don’t Believe the Nursing Home Industry’s Propaganda: Look at How Their Stock is Doing as the Market Tanks.

By

Dave Kingsley

The Market has Tanked but Most Nursing Home Stock Made Significant Gains or is Holding Steady At or Near its High of Late November

According to the American Health Care Association (AHCA), the nursing home industry lobbying and propaganda organ, providers struggle to squeeze out a tiny profit from a very tough business. As anyone who reads this blog will surmise, I don’t believe that and have an abundance of evidence to debunk the “low margin/profit big lie.”

One place to look for evidence of the industry’s big lie is the network of stock exchanges and indexes: the NYSE, NASDAQ, DOW, and S&P 500. The performance of nursing home industry shares in relation to these exchanges and indexes are indications of how they are viewed by major investors such as BlackRock, Vanguard, Charles Schwab, and other asset managers for institutional investors such as pension, college endowment, sovereign wealth, and family office funds.

At the close of the market on Friday, May 20th, 2022, the value of assets on the NASDAQ had dropped by 30 percent from its high on November 29th, 2021. The DOW was down by 11%, and the S&P closed 16.2% lower. As the table below suggests, the stock of the small number of publicly traded nursing home corporations has overall fared very well in a market downturn of major proportions. Seven of the 10 corporations that are players in the nursing home industry have minor to very large increases in their share prices since November 29th.

Genesis corporation is no longer listed on a major exchange such as the NASDAQ. At one time, Genesis was the dominant player in the industry. Due to a private equity takeover and subsequent looting, its value (market cap) sank so low that it is now traded over the counter (OTC) as “penny stock” worth 10 cents a share. Hence, a drop from 22 cents a share in late November to 10 cents at the close on Friday, is a 55% drop that has little to do with the overall value of the industry.

COMPANYPRICE 11/29PRICE 5/20% CHANGE
BROOKDALE$6.30$5.48-13
ENSIGN GROUP$77.20$79.03+2.3
HEALTHPEAK$34.06$29.42-13.6
LTC PROPERTIES$31.91$37.28+16.8
NATIONAL HEALTH CARE$65.82$69.86+6.1
NATIONAL HEALTH INV.$52.29$55.78+6.6
SABRA$13.03$13.13+.76
VENTAS$49.12$56.52+15.1
WELLTOWER$82.04$88.11+7.4
GENESIS$0.22$0.10-55.0
CARETRUST$20.18$17.27-14.4

Did You Know?

By:

Dave Kingsley

  • On July 30, 1943, Marie-Louise Girard was the last woman guillotined in France.  Her crime:  assisting women with abortion.  Many of the women she was helping had been raped by Nazi occupiers.  A 1988 movie, Story of Women, dramatizes her life.

  • Between 1908 and the present time, approximately 400,000 U.S. residents have been forcibly sterilized by state and federal government bureaucracies.  The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of state sterilization laws in the 1927 case of Buck v. Bell, Superintendent 274 U.S. 200.  Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the majority opinion in which he stated the following: It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.  Three generations of imbeciles are enough.

    Buck v. Bell
    is still extant case law – it has never been overturned.  The state of Oregon carried out a state ordered sterilization in 1981.  Over the past few decades evidence of involuntary hysterectomies and tubal ligations carried out on ICE detainees and women prisoners in the California prison system has been consistently surfacing.
     
  • Louisiana House Bill 813, which has cleared the Louisiana House Committee on Criminal Justice by a vote of 7 to 2, defines abortion as homicide, which would carry a penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole.  Critics of the legislation have argued that the bill will even outlaw use of IUDs as a contraceptive.

  • Aging prisoners have been the fastest growing demographic in the vast U.S. prison system. Human Rights Watch estimates that the age 65 or older inmate population grew an astonishing 94 times faster than the total sentenced prisoner population between 2007 and 2010. The older prison population increased by 63 percent, while the total prison population grew by 0.7 percent during the same period.
    Source: (https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/01/27/old-behind-bars/aging-prison-population-united-states).

Bioethics:  Institutionalization & the Rights of Humans to Control their Bodies.

By: Dave Kingsley

Involuntary Institutionalization & Human Rights, & Humane Treatment

Individuals institutionalized involuntarily in prisons, nursing homes, immigration detention centers, and juvenile facilities, are vulnerable to abusive, neglectful, and often deadly treatment.  These groups of U.S. residents are overwhelmingly institutionalized under conditions in which authorities, professionals, staffs, and other inmates control their daily routines and other living conditions. They may be subjected to psychotropic drugs, which deprive them of liberty and cause them mental and physical health problems, to violence from other inmates and staff, and medical procedures, which may occur with or without their consent.

In addition to forcible and invasive medical treatment, needed and even preventative medical care is often withheld.  As my previous blog post suggested, leading, establishment bioethicists have theorized – shamefully I might add – that withholding beneficial medical care from the elderly would have a positive effect on the U.S. economy by lowering government budgets. They conclude, therefore, that it is morally justified and medically ethical to intentionally shorten the lives of t elderly and disabled Americans.

The desire of religious and governmental institutions to exercise control over the bodies of human beings under their control has been a threat to human rights throughout history.  Power and control are fundamental principles underpinning forcible sterilization, involuntary psychotropic protocols, denial of birth control/abortion, and torturous incarceration.  Indeed, a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy or even to use contraceptives such as the “morning after” pill will probably be outlawed in the U.S. within a mere month or two by a Supreme Court, religious extremist, majority.

The elderly, women, ethnic minorities, immigrants, and impoverished classes are a threat to the power and economic interests of white (Euro-American) patriarchal ruling elites.  Therefore, as a ruse in protecting their power and economic domination, establishment elites have devised methods for undermining attempts by the powerless classes to organize and influence change in power relationships.

Criminalizing & Institutionalizing the Poor and Powerless is Profitable

Institutionalization, along with abusive and neglectful treatment of inmates, involve blunt instruments such as drugging, restraining, and hitting.  However, these conditions are facilitated by misfeasance and nonfeasance on the part of government agencies and legislators.  Furthermore, the efficiencies of these management techniques are compatible with privatization. Over the past century, industrialists have recognized opportunities in the commoditization of human bodies in nursing homes, ICE detention centers, prisons, juvenile facilities, and other institutions for the powerless.

Hence the real estate housing inmates and government funds for managing and controlling human bodies within four walls have proven to be quite lucrative.  Investors in prisons, ICE detentions centers, and nursing homes have become fabulously wealthy (or have added an extraordinary amount to their family wealth).  Given the corrupt nature of politics, shameless and blatant purchase of legislators’ approval for the ongoing atrocity of institutionalization for the sake of enriching the already rich, transforming inhumane institutions will be a heavy lift.  We must end them – not mend them through sham recommendations from commissions controlled by the power elite.

Leading Bioethicists Do Not Believe that the Elderly Have Equal Rights in the U.S. Medical Care System

By:

Dave Kingsley

Nursing Homes & COVID:  200,000 Fatalities in One Institutionalized Population

Last week, the U.S. officially recognized a COVID death toll of one million U.S. residents.  An estimated 200,000 or 20 percent of those deaths have occurred in nursing homes. At any given time, individuals in long-term care/skilled nursing institutions comprise approximately three-tenths of one percent of the U.S. population.  One would think that an investigation would be under way to determine how such a tragedy could occur in one institutionalized population and who is accountable.

There is no doubt that a huge proportion of these deaths were preventable.  However, due to neglect and greed of corporate providers, paid by taxpayers to care for patients in LTC/SKN facilities, and lax government regulation, COVID was allowed to sweep through institutions housing frail elderly and disabled Americans. This resulted in the largest mass fatality of an institutionalized population in the history of the United States.   

Appallingly, interest in accountability for this human rights atrocity on the part of politicians, the media, the medical professions, government agencies, or any other relevant interest group is nonexistent.  Even two commissions on nursing homes – one specifically charged with investigating COVID in LTC/SKN institutions and one under the auspices of the National Academies Science Engineering & Medicine (NASEM released a report barely a month ago) – ignored the issue of industry culpability.

The industry is culpable.  It was well-known that a novel virus was likely to make its way to the United States eventually.  For decades, scientists have been sounding alarms.  Asian countries learned from the SARS pandemic and issued guideline for protecting patients from raging viral pandemics.  Those guidelines were ignored by the U.S. nursing home industry.

Indifference to an unnecessary mass fatality event is occurring in a context of long-developing denigration of the worthiness and value of elderly and disabled Americans.  Religions and their leaders have been absent from and seemingly uninterested in the plight of institutionalized people needing nursing care. Indeed, many deplorable facilities are affiliated with major religious organizations.

And then there is the question of bioethics and decline of Enlightenment and Judeo-Christian ethics as they pertain to persons needing medical care.  Indeed, the current dominant bioethics movement supports withholding beneficial medical care from the elderly for the sake of the market economy and what they erroneously see as federal budgetary constraints.

The Elderly & Human Rights in a Neoliberal Capitalist Society

As a highly visible extremist Catholic majority on the nine member U.S. Supreme Court “legislates” on human rights for a population of 340 million citizens, a small group of America’s most prominent and powerful bioethicists are engaged behind the scenes in a chilling, ageist movement – mostly in academic journals. Few Americans are aware of the proposals for “rationing” medical care concocted by Daniel Callahan of the prestigious Hasting Center on Bioethics, celebrity physician Zeke Emmanuel, and other well-known bioethicists.[1]

The underlying philosophical/ethical, foundation of these physicians’-academicians’ rationale is a toxic, perverse, combination of utilitarianism and neoliberal economics rather than a profound and humane theoretical framework calling for reinforcement of universal human rights based on Enlightenment values and ethics.  The essence of their reasoning is that the U.S. cannot afford all the medical care needed by the U.S. population, therefore some needed care should be directed away from the elderly to young populations who are of more value to society, i.e., from the less productive to the more productive.

A review of the literature clearly exposes two unexamined and flawed premises of this horrifying philosophical/ethical position: (1) the U.S. economic system cannot absorb the cost of needed medical care for all citizens, and (2) the elderly are not as worthy as younger cohorts.  Proponents argue from these premises to the conclusion that it is OK to shorten the lives of elderly Americans for the sake of reducing costs.

Integral to their position is the concept of a “decent minimum level of medical care.”[2]  Schneiderman defines a decent level of medical care as:

“…a level of medical care that enables a person to acquire an education, seek or hold a job, or raise a family.  Or, if the person, because of impaired health, is unable to meet any of these goals, to attain a reasonable level of function within the person’s limits and respectful of the person’s dignity, as well as a reasonable level of comfort, whether it be from pain or other forms of suffering.”[3]

This statement clearly expresses an opinion contrary to humanistic ethics that grew out of the Enlightenment and formed the philosophical underpinnings of liberal democracy. The bioethicists in this movement have a perspective of human beings through the lens of bioethical utilitarianism in which their right to medical care is reduced to their worth in a radical free-market economic system.  As Schneiderman states: “Without the support of society, the individual would not prosper; in return, I argue, the individual has a duty to recognize society’s needs for productive citizenry.”[4]  He proceeds to claim that “The success of the society depends on the productivity and contributions of its individual members.”[5]

The Context of Rationing Bioethics

As prior quotes suggest, a powerful group of bioethicists are valuing humans for the purposes of medical care based on their value to the economic system.  Without operationalizing “productivity” and “contribution,” they presuppose a declining value of aging human beings because of less engagement in and usefulness to the economic sector of society. Wisdom, life experience, leadership ability, and other contributions needed by an enlightened, democratic society are not only discounted, but given no worth whatsoever. 

As Zeke Emmanuel, the most famous bioethicist in the U.S., wrote in the Atlantic, it is best to die by 75 because life is not worth living past that age and all productivity and contributions cease.[6] Dr. Emmanuel equates “living too long” with living beyond our 75th birthday.  He claims that longevity “robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world.”  That it “transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and most importantly remember us.  Dr. Emmanuel believes we are, after age 75, “no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.

Culling the Herd:  Let the Old Die

At some point in U.S. history, elders were no longer seen as important to the survival of the family, community, and nation.  That sociology and history – the history of transformation of valued elders to useless, dependent old people – has been covered elsewhere.  In radical free market economic systems, individuals not needed are vulnerable.  Public policy tends to reflect the power of industrialists and the economic values guiding politicians.

It has not been uncommon for media personalities to suggest that people dying in nursing homes were probably near death anyway.  So, not a big loss.  As Bill O’Reilly on FOX put it, “they had one foot in the grave any way.”  Some suggested that diseases “cull the herd,” and who better to go than old people. 

In a country as wealthy and advanced as the United States, there is absolutely no reason to deny health care to citizens and other residents based on their worthiness as human beings.  There should be no place in a humane society for “deserving” and “undeserving” people in need of medical care.  Medical ethics require nothing less than deference to physician-patient decisions about needed, beneficial, care.  Unfortunately, in the privatized system now dominating U.S. medicine, the needs of shareholders and executives take precedence over people with medical needs.


[1] See e.g., Daniel Callahan (2009) Taming the Beloved Beast.  Princeton University Press; Lawrence J. Schneiderman (2011) “Rationing Just Medical Care,” American Journal of Bioethics, Volume 11, Number 7, 7-14.; Norman Daniels (2013) “Global Aging and the Allocation of Health Care Across the Life Span” American Journal of Bioethics, American Journal of Bioethics, Volume 13, 2013, 1-2.

[2] Schneiderman, ibid, page 8.

[3] Schneiderman, ibid, page 8.

[4] Schneiderman, Ibid, page 8.

[5] Schneiderman, Ibid, page 8.

[6] Ezekiel J. Emmanuel (2014) “Why I Hope to Die at 75,” The Atlantic, October,2014 Issue. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/10/why-i-hope-to-die-at-75/379329/.

Medicaid is a Disgrace

By:

Dave Kingsley

The Medicaid Program Has Roots in Segregation & Racial Hatred

Among economically wealthy and technologically advanced countries in the world, Medicaid is a medical system unique to the United States.  The program was conceived and forced on the American people by segregationists in the Democratic Party during the Johnson Administration.  Segregationist Congressman Wilbur Mills, powerful chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee in the 1950s and 60s, was able to hold President Johnson’s Medicare legislation hostage until he agreed to a poverty medical care system which gave states considerable power over administration of programming and qualifying criteria.

Segregationists from states such as Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia and other states of the deep South saw poverty medicine for which people would have to prove to a state agency that they were eligible, as a means for keeping poor people – especially poor African Americans – from receiving health care. In the 1960s, the segregationist South was still the agricultural South which relied on cheap labor.  Furthermore, intense Jim Crow hatred of Southern African American citizens was incompatible with anything that might raise their status above a level of serfdom and humanize them. (See Jill Quadagno One Nation: Why the U.S Has No National Health Insurance, 2005, pp. 13-14; Gerard Boychuk, National Health Insurance in the United States and Canada:  Race, Territory, and the Roots of Difference, 2008, pp. 59-79; my chapter “Implementation of Medicaid-Funded Long-Term Care:  The Impact of Prior History on the Development of the Nursing Home Industry,” in Max Skidmore & Biko Koenig, Anti-Poverty Measures in America, 2019).

Medicaid is means-tested.  Americans must prove that they are impoverished to qualify.  This characteristic of the program has made state agencies and their bureaucrats the gateway to medical care for poor people who are required to experience the humiliating process of proving that they are too poor to get health care without government welfare.  One’s poverty must be so deep that only the poorest of the poor can qualify. In most states, the program is stigmatizing as legislatures and bureaucracies pile on humiliating barriers such as “proof of looking for work,” drug testing, and other criteria that should have nothing to do with receiving needed medical care.

Funding for Long-term & Skilled Nursing (Nursing Homes)

It is often said that placing nursing home funding in Medicaid for individuals unable to self-pay the daily rate in most facilities – or have spent down their life savings until they are impoverished – was an afterthought – that there was no purpose or rationale to making it a Medicaid program.  That was the position taken by Bruce Vladeck in his excellent but now outdated history of the system. (Unloving Care: The Nursing Home Tragedy, 1980).  I don’t believe that. 

It is my opinion that legislators like Mills and Senator Kerr from Oklahoma could foresee the major real estate industry that nursing home care would spawn.  Privatization (corporatization) was well on it way when Congressman Mill and Senator Kerr conceived and were able to get the Kerr-Mills medical program for seniors through congress in 1960.  It was also means-tested and was the precursor to Medicaid.  Nursing homes care was an integral component of Kerr-Mills.  Kerr had ties to the nursing home industry and Mills was an ardent believer in utilizing government funds and tax codes for incentivizing private economic expansion (as opposed to expansion of government, non-profit growth).

Medicaid has Become a Perverse Toxic Program that Enriches Investors & Corporate Executives

In December 2021, the Center for Medicaid & Medicare Services announced that Medicaid expenditures had reached $671 billion.  A large proportion of these funds reimburse corporations for nursing home care, which is mostly substandard and despicable.  Revenue for the industry includes not only the ample reimbursement member companies receive for patient care but also all of the capital gains from real estate which derives value from a license to operate a nursing home.

Although states and the federal government tolerate and even facilitate a veil of secrecy regarding finance and the flow of capital through lending institutions and from reimbursement, enough evidence can be found to suggest that substandard care is enriching corporations and executives.  For instance, Welltower, a major Real Estate Investment Trust and operator of nursing homes paid its CEO $20 million in 2020.  Investors in publicly listed nursing home related corporations have received high earnings during COVID.  Stock of the publicly listed corporations in the business has continued to increase while the markets have been decreasing.

A huge amount of capital flowing through the Medicaid system isn’t reinvested in a better health care system.  It is pocketed.  Much of what is pocketed can’t be seen because the government allows investors in privately held companies hide their finances.

Another Commission to Study the Nursing Home System Isn’t the Answer

People who are appointed to prestigious commissions to study the nursing home system aren’t given to speaking truth to power.  Indeed, appointing a group of academics and other professionals to a commission sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences and important foundations will not solve the problem we all have, i.e., dread of ever being in a nursing home.

It is very risky for most people on a commission to tell the truth, which is that the medical system in the United States is driven by greed.  Money in politics is resulting in domination of government bureaucracies and legislators by the very people who need to be regulated.  Money is power and has become an increasing factor in U.S. politics. 

Recommendations to tweak this that or the other thing in a system so corrupt and inefficient that nothing less than total transformation will change much of anything will likely only reinforce that system. Recommendations to increase staffing will be resisted by the industry and frustrate advocates, unions, and the public because any change will be window dressing.

I don’t want to see a recommendation for “more transparency.”  I want the privately held companies to open their books and provide the same information that publicly listed companies provide to the Securities and Exchange Commission.  The truth of the matter is that the nursing home industry, indeed the entire health care industry, has become financialized.  Taxpayers are not receiving the increase in productivity and quality that matches the tax dollars they are forced to pay for their own care.

Don’t Believe the Propaganda: The Nursing Home Industry is Doing Very Well – Even in a Down Market

By:

Dave Kingsley

Stocks Have Been Dropping Rapidly Since the End of November – But Not in the Nursing Home Business. Why?

The nursing home industry has a well-funded, highly effective, lobbying-propaganda arm that has been effective in convincing the public that providers are not paid enough to provide decent, medically ethical care. That is a lie. The evidence is overwhelming that the industry’s hardship pleas are merely a propaganda effort at squeezing ever more money out of the taxpayers without providing a correlative improvement in care.

The stock market is one of the many sources of evidence supporting my claim that the nursing home industry is doing just fine during these economic uncertain times. Although the the Dow, S&P, and NASDAQ have dropped precipitously since the end of November, stock prices of the major players in the nursing home industry have held their own or have made major upward swings. For instance, the Ensign Group stock increased by nearly 10% during the same period that the DOW fell 7%, the S&P dropped 10%, and the NASDAQ declined by 17%.

The stability (see discussion of volatility below) and steady upward trend of stock overall in the public-funded long-term care/skilled nursing business suggests that the industry is not subject to the vicissitudes of the overall “market economy.” That is indeed the case because it is an industry that is not part of a market economy. The corporations in the nursing home industry listed on a public exchange are not capitalist enterprises. They are a growing part of the U.S. economy that is a partnership between government and corporations in which corporations have steadily gained the upper hand over government.

The characteristics of the government-corporation partnership – otherwise known as corporatism or statism – is guaranteed revenue, a restricted market, i.e. no competitive market in which prices are negotiated. Nursing home corporations are reimbursed for their costs plus adjustments for inflation. Furthermore, the underlying source of revenue is derived from commercial real estate, i.e., the facilities in which patients are maintained with minimal care.

The power of the industry over its government partner has allowed for financial machinations and accounting maneuvers that hide a significant portion of gains in revenue, operating margins, and, most importantly, cash flow from facilities to parent corporations. States are responsible for auditing cost reports submitted by facilities for the purpose of determining daily Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates. The auditing and financial oversight of cost reports are weak – allowing extremely flawed cost reports to pass audit review.

The lucrative nature of commercial real estate with a generous government guarantee of producing revenue plus a stable stream of government funds into medical services have not gone unnoticed by institutional investors such as BlackRock and Vanguard. The overwhelming voting shares in nursing home industry corporations are owned by these asset managers. Hence, pension funds, college endowments, and other large pools of capital have been invested in multi-billion dollar corporations that are setting the trends in long-term/skilled nursing care in the U.S.

Volatility is a Big Deal in the Markets: It Tells Us a Lot About the Past & Future of a Company.

Stocks have been mostly trending down in the past few months due to supply chain crisis, oil price fluctuations, conflict in the Ukraine, inflation hysteria, and uncertainties related to COVID. The market has also been highly volatile, which means stock prices are swinging widely in price. I won’t go into great detail about the technical aspects of volatility. Suffice it to say that a volatility of 1 means that the stock doesn’t move up and down much but a volatility of 0 means it never fluctuates – a theoretical situation that doesn’t happen.

Stock may trend up over time but it will tick down and up on the way up. If it swings widely that suggests that it is far more speculative and traders are buying and selling it at a rather rapid pace. For instance, stocks listed on the NASDAQ with recent IPOs tend to be more volatile because they tend to be risky tech stocks back by venture capitalists willing to take a chance on the next big thing.

Stock of a corporation with a guaranteed market in which competition is restricted and earnings are robust will increase over time with only minor day-to-day fluctuations. That is what is noticeable about the stock in corporations comprising the nursing home industry. Not all of its members have increased their stock price over the past few months, but even the few that have lost ground have not seen the kind of downward swings seen across the board on the Dow, S&P, and NASDAQ.

Liz Fowler – New Top CMS Official – Is Too Deeply Enmeshed with the Medical-Industrial Complex

By:

Dave Kingsley

The Industry-Government Revolving Door

I remember a trip to the White House in 2012 with a group sponsored by the Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare. The purpose of the trip was to lobby against proposed cuts in SS and MC – two highly successful and popular government programs (funded mostly by the beneficiaries of the programs). President Obama had earlier almost caved into Republican demands for devastating cuts in both programs. Subsequently, the President appointed a commission (The Simpson-Bowls Commission) loaded with budget cutters and deficit hawks intent on recommending deep cuts to the programs.

We were in a room with all of the top Obama White House staff, which included Liz Fowler. At the time, I had not heard of Ms. Fowler. It didn’t take long for me to learn that she was President Obama’s point person on the Affordable Care Act. The route to that job, I soon learned, was from a John Hopkins PhD in Health Care Policy & Management, through the major health insurance company WellPoint, and then to the Senate Finance Committee under Chairman Max Baucus – a staging point for moving from government service to a high paid job lobbying – a revolving door between the Senate and K-Street.

It is my belief that Senator Baucus “put” Liz Fowler in the White House to insure that President Obama did the right thing vis a vis industry in the design of a health care program that would funnel enormous amounts of business to private insurers and pharmaceutical corporations. Indeed, she left the White House soon after passage of the law for a job with Johnson & Johnson – a major corporate beneficiary of Obamacare.

Liz Fowler’s Move Back to Government

Liz Fowler’s bio (posted by CMS) conveniently excised her first career at WellPoint (https://www.cms.gov/about-cms/leadership/center-medicare-medicaid-innovation). Furthermore, it says nothing about her years with J&J after leaving the Obama White House. It is interesting to note that the bio says, “She also played a key role drafting the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act (MMA).” My question is, “Was she working for WellPoint at the time?” The MMA propelled the Republican mission of privatizing Medicare forward at a breathtaking pace. It also included a new prescription drug plan (Part D) in which government negotiation of drug prices with major pharmaceutical companies was disallowed.

Ms. Fowler’s new job at CMS is not insignificant. Indeed, as Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMS Innovation Center), she will have a say over the kinds of innovation in care we need to see in delivery of medical services in nursing homes, hospitals, and clinics. Financial innovation in the nursing home industry has been vast in the past 40 years while innovation in care for patients has been practically nil.

Advocates Need to Seek Liz Fowler’s Removal from CMS

Taxpayers deserve to be represented by government officials who best represent their interests. Innovation in government funded healthcare will require a considerable amount of financial innovation that is fair to patients and taxpayers, availability of data, and transparency. Let’s take the big one: negotiation of drug prices. The excessive costs of pharmaceuticals reflects a toxic, perverse, symbiotic relationship between government and industry. That is not capitalism – it is statism – a necessarily corrupt and debauched form of economics.

Nursing home innovation will require major changes in operations that will humanize treatment and raise standards of medical ethics – which are sorely lacking at this time. Those innovations will reduce the amount of excess capital flowing from treatment facilities to investors.

Much needed innovations include data collection processes that provide valid and reliable data for evaluating the effectiveness of industry’s utilization of tax dollars versus excessive investor extraction of taxpayer provided capital. Also, data will be of no use to advocates, scholars, and the public in general if it is not readily accessible. That is not the case now, which is inexcusable in a super-wealthy country with unlimited resources for providing something as simple as a sophisticated, easily accessed, data system.

Unless Ms. Fowler has had an epiphany and a conversion experience, she does not, as a top official, belong in an agency taxpayers and program beneficiaries depend on for regulation, patient protection, and systems for monitoring provider activity. The tactic of corporate shills in government is the “tweak,” which typically changes little and reinforces corrupt, inhumane, and costly programs. The U.S. healthcare system is a disgrace and an embarrassment because of a corrupt relationship between industry and government the likes of which have never seen in U.S. history. It is time to stop thinking that the system can be transformed or even improved while the revolving door continues to revolve.

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What Does Ageism in the Media Look Like? Michelle Cottle’s Article re “The Villages” in the New York Times Today – That’s What It Looks Like.

By:

Dave Kingsley

The Villages Is Not a Place I Want to Be in Elderhood. No One I Know Wants to Be There Either.

Michelle Cottle, a member of the New York Times editorial board, has demonstrated the type of dangerous stereotypes regarding so-called “Baby Boomers” that recur frequently in mainstream media. In her article today with the blaring headline “The Nihilism of The Golden Years,” she generalizes from attitudes and behavior of a few elderly residents of a senior housing and entertainment enclave in Florida to a group of people born between 1946 and 1964 that now comprises most of the 65+ population in the United States.

I’ve seen a documentary on the Villages and am frankly somewhat embarrassed for my fellow elderly Americans who choose a second childhood over a life of productivity, societal contributions, and family and community leadership. If that is indeed a fair statement about the people who choose to move there in their retirement years. I’ve never been to the Villages, so all I know is what I’ve heard, seen in the media, and learned from the documentary.

Ms. Cottle presents the residents of The Villages as hedonistic and politically oriented toward Trump’s MAGA movement. Two-thirds of a full two page spread was filled with photojournalism displaying golf courses, golf carts, dancing to “Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville,” and MAGA demonstrations. This may or may not fairly describe the people living in The Villages, but the article drags the entire group of 65+ Americans into the negativism she focuses on people living there. For instance, toward the end Ms. Cottle writes, “Big Government is eyed with skepticism, even as the aging populace commands an increasing larger chunk of the federal budget for programs such as Social Security and Medicare.”

That article also states that “Baby boomers long accustomed to setting the agenda are being eased out of their slot atop the sociopolitical ladder – especially conservative white boomers.” According to Ms. Cottle, the underlying problem, in the final analysis, are aging Americans: …the community is a distillation of the cultural crosscurrents at play in an America that is simultaneously graying and diversifying.” I don’t think I need to tell the readers of this blog post how many ugly stereotypes and ill informed generalizations are included in these types of statements.

Scapegoating the Elderly

“Isms,” whether they be racism, sexism, ageism, or any other type of ism such as those against sexual orientation, and religion, are dehumanizing and damaging to the victims of stereotyping. In many cases they are dangerous and can lead to physical harm – indeed often do. A psychological boundary is placed around groups of individuals who are themselves often very diverse and then misinformation is used to scapegoat them. For instance, an aging population or the elderly in general are not causing an increase in the cost of government. That is well accepted in the literature. I have debunked that myth in my own research. I would be happy to supply a list of references to support that.

Not one bit of Social Security is “on budget.” Approximately two-thirds of all Medicare expenditures are paid into the program through payroll taxes, premiums, and other out of pocket expenses. Traditional Medicare and Social Security have administrative costs equal to 1.5% and .9% of revenue respectively. So Ms. Cottle is ill informed and misinforming her readers. These two programs are a model of government run retirement and medical programs. If that doesn’t remain as such, it won’t be the fault of the beneficiaries.

“The Nihilism of The Golden Years” Does Not Represent the 65+ Population of the U.S.

The 65+ population is comprised of veterans, poor people, middle class people, people who have worked hard throughout their lives, and on and on and on when we talk about 70 million Americans 65 years of age or older. They have raised families, robbed banks, worked for corporations at a variety of levels. Some have made a fortune, some are living in dire poverty, some are struggling to live on pensions and Social Security. The variety of people 65 or older is so diverse that it would take a book or volumes to describe it. What we all have in common are needs for healthcare, housing, and basic other living necessities.

Turning a group of people born in an 18 year span of time into a “thing” with negative characteristics is a form of human thinking that has led to more human tragedy and suffering than any other mental disposition characteristic of homo sapiens. It is one reason that we can institutionalize elderly people in subhuman nursing homes and mistreat them. They are seen as a “silver tsunami,” a disaster, a problem. What else are we going to do with them?

Attitudes Need Work in The United States

At Kansas University Medical School, I taught class after class of marvelous graduate students headed into health care professions. I designed and validated an attitudinal survey to measure their attitude toward the elderly. In the next few blog posts, I will report some results from that survey and write about the need to change the way we think of aging. Here is a hint at the findings from my survey: To the item “In the next 20 years, the 65+ population will have the greatest impact on health care costs,” only 12 of 100 of the students responded strongly disagree or disagree. Two were uncertain and the rest either agreed or strongly agreed. This is false and scapegoating. It should concern us.