Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What can one little car do on The Health Train Express?

It seems a bit overwhelming, doesn't it? All the pontificating, posturing, analysis and input from people who really know little about caring for people.  Many are producing chaos, and dysfunctional behavior, much like the rest of our government. In an attempt to overcontrol our governments now compete with one another rather than caring for basic needs in the population.

Imagine how ludicrous, the state of Arizona has to protect it's southern border by itself, when the federal government can't or won't....Imagine the state of Virginia telling the federal government that what they propose with health care is unconstitutional.  The federal government suing a state government.  Impossible, you say....no it is REAL. 

It sounds like an impending civil war.  We worry more about what arab countries think about us, and how our European allies rate us in the world.  We allow slave labor in China to produce electronics cheaply for large computer companies.

Here is the story of ONE extra-ordinary American, as reported in the Star Tribune:

Twila Brase, founder of the St. Paul-based Citizens' Council on Health Care, blocks more public policy than she builds, but she has become a force to be reckoned with.


Twila Brase has no idea why a magazine named her one of America's 100 most powerful people in health care, and, frankly, neither do her critics.

"I find that hard to believe," said Peter Wyckoff, a longtime lobbyist for senior citizens who worked for a decade around Brase at the State Capitol. "She may be one of the 100 people most setting back health care reform."


The 51-year-old nurse turned activist is hardly a household name. Yet in Minnesota political circles, Brase, founder of the St. Paul-based Citizens' Council on Health Care, enjoys the reputation of a self-made libertarian lightning rod, an increasingly powerful free-market contrarian who blocks more public policy than she creates.

Among insiders, she is an acknowledged master of political theater, turning out raucous crowds for hearings and staging publicity stunts such as a recent "Obamacare" shredding party in the Capitol rotunda. She said she solicited no votes for Modern Healthcare magazine's 2009 list of "100 Most Powerful People in Healthcare."


"I don't know how I got in," she said. "And I may never get in again."

Tax records show that Brase works in a small office for $48,000 a year. Still, her name appears at No. 75 among the nation's health care movers and shakers. She shares billing with President Obama (No. 1), Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius (2) and pharmaceutical industry chief Billy Tauzin (39), and her rank of 75th places her ahead of the president of the American Medical Association, the president of the American Academy of Family Physicians and the president of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.

Brase opposes anything she thinks constricts individual freedom or invades privacy. That puts her at odds with many of the most popular concepts in modern health care: evidence-based medicine, electronic medical records, DNA databanks, doctor quality ratings.

"If government gets to control when and if you get health care," Brase said in an interview, "you no longer have liberty, and your right to life is controlled."

Brase knows this philosophy makes it difficult to build public policy. But anyone who thinks she doesn't affect the construction process is in for an attitude adjustment. A decade ago, she threw roadblocks in the way of a state medical database and a public health immunization policy. She opposed President Bill Clinton on health care in 1993 and opposes President Obama today.

She followed up the recent shredding party with a call for Gov. Tim Pawlenty to veto the Legislature's health care plan because it included too much government control.

Critics might say that Brase merely piggybacked on predictable politics. But as the DFL-controlled Legislature slogged through its session, trying to resolve the health care impasse with the governor, Brase counted a win.

"We don't get everything," she said. "But we stop something."

"She's managed to stop or water down some pretty important stuff," former state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm acknowledged. "She put real brakes on data collection and immunization policy." Malcolm does not think that it is a good thing. As the chief architect of Minnesota's health policy, she found Brase frustrating. In her current job advocating for health care for the disabled through the Courage Center, Malcolm says Brase's contention that the government has no role in health care defies reality.

Her concept

Brase's alternative to government-run health plans would be "medical sharing organizations," groups of individuals who band together by choice and pay collectively for the medical care of those who need it when they get sick.

Nor is she a big fan of private health insurance companies. Although she pays for an individual catastrophic care policy with a high deductible, she considers traditional health insurance wasteful. "I always pay cash," she said. "I negotiate prices."

On a recent visit to the dermatologist, Brase said, she got the doctor to do a $150 mole removal for 90 bucks.

Constructive alternative?

Her ability to negotiate with politicians and health care advocates has not been as successful.

"It's more what she's opposed to than what she's for," Malcolm said. "I never found Twila to be abrasive or disrespectful. But you could talk to her for hours and not make a dent."

Added Wyckoff: "She does not work very collaboratively with most advocates. The price of criticism is a constructive alternative. I don't think she has a constructive alternative."

Brase obviously disagrees.

"We're protecting the rights of citizens," she said. "We're protecting choices. People who describe me as a wing nut don't believe in the heritage of this country."

"She's tenacious," said Rep. Tom Emmer, the Republican gubernatorial candidate. "When people mock her for her views, she backs them up with facts. She's not going to take the spin. She's an asset to both sides."

"She represents what I believe," said shredding party-goer Karen Minar. "She speaks for regular people who go to work every day and pay their bills."

In November, she appeared at a business health care forum in Kentucky, sharing the dais with former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders and health care experts from Canada and the Harvard Business School.

This is heady stuff for a farm girl from southern Minnesota with a nursing degree from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn. Brase left nursing in 1994 after stints at St. Paul's Children's Hospital and in schools in St. Paul and Robbinsdale. She left to crusade against what she considered President Clinton's attempt to let government take over health care. She wasn't a political person, she said, just "true blue for freedom."

Brase's first volley came in an op-ed piece in the Star Tribune in 1994. She signed it as the head of a group that existed only in her head. After the op-ed ran, a sympathizer contacted her and said he wanted to join. "Good," Brase told him, "here's when we'll have the first meeting."

The first meeting blossomed into a six-member board chaired by businessman Martin Kellogg, president of a plastics company in Stillwater, who felt health care reform was too "institutionalized."

"She's very quick," Kellogg said. "She doesn't talk about what she doesn't know. She's a tool for no one."

Brase doesn't sell or rent the Citizens' Council's 12,000-member e-mail list. Meanwhile, her influence has grown a lot faster than her income.

"She became a larger force over the years," Wyckoff said.