Fred Wooden on Healthcare

Our healthcare system has become unsustainable. We can prop it up with short term fixes, but those will only postpone an inevitable collapse. We must take a more comprehensive approach.

But to understand why we need to change, why we are stuck here, it is helpful to review how it all came to be in the first place.

Here is a summary: 

– Employer-sponsored health insurance plans took off during WWII. Although wages were controlled, benefits such as health insurance were not, and so companies added health insurance as a way to attract workers.

– After the war, President Truman proposed a system of public health insurance. Although it was highly popular with the public, it was fiercely opposed by businesses and medical lobbying groups. Unfortunately, in order to avoid a costly political battle, many labor unions chose to campaign for employer-sponsored coverage instead of the public option. Thus, the idea of a public health insurance system ran out of political steam, and failed to pass into law.

In other words, despite broad public support for the idea, organizations used their influence to derail a system of national health insurance. Are we surprised that they still resist it? Add in the insurance carriers that grew up to serve this system, and we have a mighty array of ‘stakeholders’ invested in maintaining the status quo.

This thicket of stakeholders have not only hindered the development of a public health system in the U.S., but by their practices have actually increased the costs we all pay to see a doctor and fill our prescriptions. Healthcare in this country consumes a greater share of our GDP than of any other economy in the west.

Glib political statements only obscure this complex reality, and insure that nothing fundamental ever actually changes.

I believe that the answer is Medicare, a platform which is ripe for conversion into this nation’s first true common health insurance system.

The goal is to transform Medicare into something like Social Security. That is, it should be basic coverage just as SSI is basic income for retirees. Like SSI, Medicare parts A & B are far from complete, just as most people have additional retirement income, but the coverage Medicare provides is sufficient to meet basic needs.

Here is what I suggest should happen, in the following order:

  1. Enroll all children immediately, along with prenatal and obstetric care. This population is the healthiest and thus the least costly, but for families with low incomes, the cost of even routine care can be hard. Even broken bones and the like can be financially disastrous.
  2. Enroll all lower priority groups (5-8) of the VA in Medicare, including those not needing specialized care due to military service. Merge non-uniformed military and their families (clients of Tricare) into Medicare, leaving only those on active duty.
  3. Allow small businesses to enroll employees in Medicare Part C plans, paying an appropriate premium just like current health care insurance.
  4. Allow individual adults to enroll in Medicare for a premium that reflects the calculated cost of Parts A & B, with the option to choose part C and Part D.
  5. Medicaid & CHIP would be absorbed so that there would be no means tested program at all.

In this way, Medicare would evolve into the basic provider for everyone, and all the stakeholders would evolve with it. Insurance companies would still exist, but as supplements that handle specific  places and groups.

Yes, this would limit the profitable options of some individual businesses; however, the broader economic impact will be a net positive. Healthier citizens mean healthier families, workers, and communities. By assuring all have health insurance, the playing field is made more level, especially for new businesses. Far from being intrusive, as some might think, this program will go far in promoting the general welfare that the Constitution spoke of, and on which economies and societies thrive.

But what about the cost?

Private premiums would go down — the program would cover less. However, many of those dollars would now be filtered to Medicare, meaning only some net change for the less. We would save money by spending it more efficiently. Presently, Medicare spends far less than private insurance on overhead, which means more of that money is going towards the patients and the care they need.

The step-by-step development of my plan means that this efficiency is more likely to continue. Hospitals and doctors’ offices would be able to spend less. Under this plan, approximately $400B (over $1000 per person in the United States) would be saved from the inefficiency of our current system.

Is this enough?


Skyrocketing drug prices are another notable issue. The whole question of for-profit medicine is itself worth asking. But once we empower Medicare to be this nation’s public health system, the other issues become smaller and more possible to address.

We’ve been told for decades that introducing a comprehensive public health system in this country is impossible — a fantasy — but I’m here to tell you that it’s not. It is possible. With our voices, our work, and the will of the public behind us, we can bring about a change that can create a healthier society for all of us. — Fred Wooden

To read more of Fred’s official statements, visit

Fred Wooden on Climate Change and More

Fred Wooden on Climate Change and More

It’s real and we did it. All the environmental issues we face are the product of our industrial society. According to the EPA, over 65% of all greenhouse gases come from transportation, energy production, industry itself, and modern agriculture. Oil spills, poisoned water, air pollution – all of it –  are due to modern industrial life. The simplest answer would be to dismantle industrial society, but we need industrial society, as it gives us modern medicine, safe foods, sanitation, electricity, the internet and more. Hence the challenge.

How do we address the cost of industrial society without losing the manifest benefits of it?

  1. Make the environmental costs of industry part of the profit/loss equation. The Triple Bottom line concept is key – financial, social and ecological. For generations, the ecological costs were ignored as ‘externalities,’ the side effects of industry such as mine tailings and smoke/water pollution. The Triple Bottom Line concept seeks to quantify the environmental costs of industry.  How can we do that?
    • Restore corporate taxes at least to the level before the new Tax Law, because those taxes are what we used to remediate the social and environmental costs of business.
    • Create positive incentives to reduce those taxes when corporations take responsibility for the externalities. That means: quantifying greenhouse gases and pollutants where each has a cost/price that is the cost of removing them. A company could reduce its taxes to the extent it reduced its environmental externalities.
    • The federal government would establish the costs, akin to establishing universal weights and measures as provided in The Constitution, which companies would then measure over time.  The greater the reduction in greenhouses gases, or pollutants, the more tax credit would be available. An optimal Triple Bottom Line would be a profit to the company, a living wage and benefits to workers, and a clean community around it. This system would be universal for all businesses so that all would play by the same rules. In this way, none would have financial advantage and thus all would be able to compete equally.
    • What about imports? Through trade agreements and, if necessary, environmental tariffs, we would make importing goods that did not address environmental costs more competitive with those that do, minimizing the temptation to outsource. (This is the situation that affects the second ‘bottom line’ that affects workers especially.)
    • Reparative actions – reforestation and watershed repair for example – would also be credited, but somewhat less so, as to encourage business to avoid polluting in the first place.  And government at all levels should have punitive powers when businesses cause measurable harm to people such as chemical dumping and oil spills, which should include the true cost of repair.  
  2. Federal law should support local and state policies that encourage stewardship of natural resources, such as public transportation reducing emissions, ordinances and laws limiting waste products and rewarding recycling, and land use policies that make it economical to preserve wetlands and other habitats.  

There is much more in the vast area of environmental issues, but these ideas would touch upon all aspects, I believe. But let me add that addressing these issues, of all the challenges facing America, could spark the next phase in industrial society, one that creates new ways of creating, using, and preserving natural resources. If we make it a challenge to be met more than a law to be obeyed, far from being an impossible burden, it could be the gateway to our next chapter as a nation. — Fred Wooden

Fred Wooden on Immigration

“Democrats believe immigration is not just a problem to be solved, it is a defining aspect of the American character and our shared history.”  Amen! But we have often been divided about immigration. We have barred and banned nations and regions, often on racial prejudices.

Two reasons explain why many migrate into the US unofficially: poverty and danger. When our laws prevent people because they are brown or poor or speak another language, they still find a way because Walls do not work.  No dam can stop a swollen river and no wall can prevent people from fleeing danger and poverty. Part of our immigration policy includes improving the health of our neighbor nations.  Here’s how we can do all of that:

1. Create truly equitable NAFTA and Central American Trade Agreements:   Not just to remedy American issues but to strengthen the economies and governments of those nations.  Endemic corruption creates poverty and the illegal drug trade, which is the sponsor of violence.  Making Mexico and Central America stronger economically and governmentally is good for the USA.

2. End our ‘War on Drugs’ Policy: which paradoxically has created a more violent illegal drug industry and with it greater corruption and violence in Mexico and Central America.  Focus on reducing demand in the USA and treating the issue as a health problem will in turn diminish the market and the drug trade.

3. Create a bold Customs and Border Agreement between Mexico, the USA and Canada:  This would not be a European Union agreement that allows anyone to live anywhere at will. It would exchange greater liberty to work and do business in the three nations for more accountable migration and a stronger border between Mexico and Central America.

4. A clear path to legal residence or citizenship for those already in the US: Mass deportation is impossible. We must deal with the people here. Three things seem clear:

Dreamers (DACA) should be able to remain. Whether as citizens or as Permanent Legal Residents, they should not be held responsible for their parents’ actions nor punished for them.

Document everyone. Not an amnesty but an accounting, with a legal guarantee that all who are documented will be treated fairly, and that deportations will focus on the most criminal and most risky, and only those people will be held in custody.

Create clear criteria for unauthorized immigrants in the future – from relocation, to temporary residents with possibility to renew, to permanent residents. Those relocated because of poverty or danger should be assisted by the USA to insure they have a solid chance to prosper in their home countries and remain there.

FWIW, There is much more to be done that this, but we must do this. Why?  Well, years ago I lived in Brooklyn with a view of the Statue of Liberty and memorized the great poem that ends,

“… Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless tempest tost to me…”

This is the American ideal at its best – to lift the lamp of hope.

Fred Wooden On Gun Violence

Over 33,000 people a year die from gun violence in America: 1000 times more than the soldiers who died in combat in 2017, 500 times as many police officers who died from gunfire in 2017. Surely we can do better.

As a Democrat I share the party’s statement: “We can respect the rights of responsible gun owners while keeping our communities safe.” I also believe that we need universal background checks without exceptions for gun shows and private sales. We, and even the nonpartisan League of Women Voters support banning military grade weapons, like AR-15s and equivalents. We all say we need to study gun violence as a public health issue, which is not possible now.

Some gun rights advocates see these as a slippery slope but I disagree. No right in the Constitution is absolute and all of them come with responsibilities, including the right to keep and bear arms. Other reasonable ideas I support that would reduce gun violence are:

  1. Red Flag Laws. Most gun deaths take place in homes, either as suicides or domestic violence. Judges should be able to impound firearms of those with substance abuse, domestic abuse or dangerous mental health issues.

  2. User Licensing.  Like a driver’s license which ensures people can use a car safely, a gun user’s license would indicate someone who has been educated and trained in the use of firearms and include the necessary background check as well. Though voluntary, user licensing would have positive incentives to encourage responsible use.

  3. Liability Insurance.  Having a firearm in a home or office statistically raises the risk of injury and death. We should require gun owners to take responsibility by having liability coverage for the added risk. And we should end the legal immunity of gun manufacturers as well.

  4. Youth and firearms. No one under 21 should be able to purchase or own firearms. And only those 16 or above should be able to hold a user’s license.  Like driver education, firearm safety should be taught beforehand by trained teachers.

  5. Illegal arms trafficking.  The source of many firearms used in crimes, these weapons move secretly across state lines due to wide variations in state law.  Having clear national standards about gun sales would lower the rate of illegal trafficking.


The Business of Politics

If you asked me what has made politics so bad in the last twenty years, I would answer, the “Business of Politics.” Once you’re a candidate, it finds you:  I get email from direct mail firms, job requests from field managers, questionnaires from PACS, and this morning a pamphlet from a cable company about how to “reach my audience.”

Experts in the future will dissect how it came to be, but all I know is: win or lose, lots of people still make lots of money. The direct mail firms, the pollsters, the cable companies, the campaign managers, the cable news channels, the websites, etc, etc. Like stock brokers who make a commission whether you buy or sell, gain or lose, the Business of Politics wins, no matter who wins or loses. And that, I believe, is what is corrupting our politics.

In the Business of Politics, a vicious cycle exists that requires vast sums of money for someone to get elected: over $1M per House candidate, $10M per Senate candidate and $1B for presidential candidate. There is no way a candidate can raise that from constituents, so they are driven to get money from PACS, where wealth bundles its money anonymously, and dangles it in front of candidates who need it to pay staff, and advertise, and so on.

No wonder citizens have given up on politics; they are no more than market share, demographics, and audiences.  The “Business of Politics” has bought out democracy itself.  

How to change this?  Pass laws!  

Not this Congress.  We need a new one.  And that takes two ingredients.

  1. Candidates who are willing to risk failure by not doing the “Business of Politics”
  2. Voters who are willing to vote for those that take such risks

I am such a candidate. I got into this race to be that candidate, knowing it would reduce my chance of success. But I also believe I can get elected for less than $1M, that I do not need more money than any individual person can legally give (which is $2700). I believe there are 3000, even 5000 people in my district who are willing to give $50 or $100 to support such a candidate. I am also betting that you will vote for someone who walks this talk.

I also believe that it is worth it, because this is how we defeat the “Business of Politics.” If we succeed, it will send a shock wave of hope to others who want to believe that we can have a better Congress, that we can have Representatives that actually represent the people, not the money, that we can still be a democracy.

I believe I can help make this happen.  But I know that only you can make it happen.  

John Lennon and Love over Fear

While working on this week’s sermon, and pondering why we seem so divided these days, I stumbled, by accident or grace, upon these words from John Lennon:

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance…”

As someone who is anxious by nature, very susceptible to fear, I can attest to the ‘pull back from life.’ There are lots of reasons to fear. But there is no future in fear. So I choose to love, to trust, to believe in life despite the fear. It is a conscious and daily choice.

America is a place that was created from a vision of a future, one of equality and democracy, of liberty and justice. Fear will not get us there. Only love can do that. We have to love our country into the future – love it and love its people, love its strengths and its weaknesses, love its best and worst moments.

We have reasons to fear, without doubt. But as it says somewhere ‘love casts out fear.’ Choose love. At bottom, before everything else, that is my politics, to choose love.