Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Note to politicians: Grandstanding on important policy issues does not win votes.

All press is not good press.  Especially when people get distracted from what the primary issues are.

In tonight's Capitol Confidential post there is a report that is headlined: "Therapists want to get paid, Tedisco sees 'War on Women.'"

The headline I would like to see is: "Children go without important therapy as NYS decimates Early Intervention Program."

A parallel example recently was the announced closure of O.D.Heck.  This announcement generated conversation about the plight of union jobs.  What got lost in the shuffle was the important human rights policy of de-institutionalization and the very real fact that there are problems with maintaining appropriate standards of care when we warehouse people who have disabilities.

How do concerns with the early intervention program degrade into a headline about the 'war on women"  and grandstanding on some cause du jour???  The cheapening and coarsening of our policy discourse in this way moves us farther away from being able to solve real problems.

It is true that most of the early intervention providers are small woman-owned businesses.  However, conflating the early intervention program as an opportunity for some political haymaking with 'war on women' statements is farcical.  Similarly, showboating your position on restoring OPWDD funding does not have anything to do with the early intervention program.

In many ways this kind of coverage makes me glad that I missed the rally today.  I would have been there trying to raise awareness about the malfeasance that destroyed the program and suddenly I would have been in front of a couple politicians who make statements that sound like raw opportunism.

I will give the politicians a chance for a pass - because it is always possible that they were appropriately on-message about the real concern and a reporter simply focuses on some bizarre aspect of the message that doesn't quite fit.  Maybe writing about the 'war on women' generates blog hits?  If this reporter accurately reflected the tone and content of political participation today then we clearly have a problem.

Here is what we need to stay on message about and this is what we need to see reported:  As a society we make decisions and choices about what degree of social safety netting we will provide with vulnerable populations.  It is reasonable to have debates about how much netting we put down.  A question that we need to answer is - 'how robust of an early intervention program do we need and how robust of an early intervention program can we afford?'

Specifically, we should have debates about who should be in the program.  We may come to decide that we can't have the largest program because we just can't or don't want to afford it.  Maybe only children with certain levels of developmental delay or only those with severe diagnoses should be seen in the program.  Then we can refer other families to private providers or other resources.  That is a reasonable debate to have.

It is also reasonable to look for ways to distribute the costs fairly.  It is absolutely reasonable to enact cost sharing and to put some of those costs into the private insurance market where they rightly belong.

What is incorrect is to leave the program as-is and pretend that we can have unending and balooning entitlements.  It is also incorrect to be afraid to have that conversation and then control the cost and size of the program by back-door manipulation of insurance payments to providers.  Then the bureaucrats hide in their offices in Albany and release statements that 'it is the insurance company's fault for not paying.'  That is the most disingenuous set of statements I have heard lately.  The government was fully informed and advised of the municipal inability with medical billing - and they took it on anyway and the result was absolutely predictable.

Then as people scream about the end of the program, we have opportunistic pols talking about the 'war on women.'

This is how we are failing.  We need to elect better representatives, and then we have to encourage and enable them to have the correct conversations.  We have to eliminate their culture of pandering and grandstanding.  Then we can try to learn how to have real policy debates and make some real progress on our challenges.

Based on the reporting about politician's statements that I am seeing coming out of the 'rally' today - it seems that we still have a long way to go.


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