Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bobby Jindal: Mr. E.D.D.

Governor Bobby Jindal has great numbers sense. He is a wiz with budgets. But, as good as he is with numbers, Jindal is equally poor at making the connection between the numbers in budgets and the people that those budgets impact.

There might be a name for Jindal's inability to "feel the pain" of those whom his policies adversely impact — usually the poor and underserved, but increasingly middle-class and working families — as he clings to his commitment not to raise taxes in the face of rising human need and a shrinking state revenue base.

Might Jindal suffer from "empathy deficit disorder" (EDD)? It would explain a lot about the former boy wonder's policy initiatives as he pursues his national political aspirations while running the State of Louisiana. It also portends a bad ending for his relationship with the voters of this state — unless he undergoes a metamorphosis.

Psychotherapist Douglas LaBier, PhD, described the disorder in a 2007 column in the Washington Post. “People who suffer from EDD are unable to step outside themselves and tune in to what other people experience,” LaBier wrote.

Since the day he took office in January 2008, Jindal has been all about taking care of the well-to-do. It started with a $10 million token of his gratitude to a heavy hitter in Southeast Louisiana. The state later ponied up another $4 million for the project.

When Jindal gave $50 million for a California company to buy a bankrupt chicken plant in Union Parish, word has it that the state’s intent was to help banks on the hook at the plant, not the chicken ranchers in the area who provided ‘stock’ to the plant (or even the hundreds of undocumented workers who live in Union Parish, apparently connected in some way to the operation of the chicken plant).

He helped fund a new ConAgra plant in northeast Louisiana which set that company up in direct competition with a Louisiana firm that had long been in the same line of work and had sought funding for a similar project in the New Iberia area.

And while Jindal and his cabinet secretaries demand accountability out of departments and agencies dealing with human need, it turns out that there’s not much resembling a paper trail on the money that’s been flying out of the Department of Economic Development as incentives to companies to locate here.

And, therein lies the rub. Jindal’s enthusiasm for helping those who don’t need help is matched only by his disdain for helping those that do.

It should be clear to most observers that Jindal’s policies here are predicated on advancing his national political ambitions; What’s good for Louisiana comes in second on a good day. Clearly, running for president is an expensive operation and Jindal’s fund raising trips across the country (ostensibly to help his re-election bid) are designed to help him build a national financial base.

Psychotherapist LaBier: “EDD develops when people focus too much on acquiring power, status and money for themselves at the expense of developing those healthy relationships.” He wrote about EDD again this year in PsychologyToday.

Louisiana remains a poor state. With federal disaster recovery dollars dwindling, our per capita income is once again falling. Human need is rising. Jindal is running for president and can’t afford to be bothered by the needs of the little people. No where is that more clear than his administration's all-out assault on implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Politics Over People

Two weeks ago, the Louisiana Department of Insurance told a reporter from the Baton Rouge Advocate that the department was “in great shape” and “ready” for the first steps of implementing the Affordable Care Act. Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon told the paper that “his department has formed an ad hoc committee with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration to coordinate the implementation of the new rules.

 The first deadline in 90 days requires the state to have a high-risk pool for those who currently can’t get insurance. The state has had its high-risk pool in place for 15 years.”

Ten days later, Jindal’s Department of Health & Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine was impersonating a constitutional lawyer in front of a Louisiana House committee, urging them to approve a referendum on an amendment to the state constitution which would (in theory) give Louisiana residents the ability to “opt out” of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Levine, who is not a lawyer, told the rapt members of the House Insurance Committee that “They [the feds] don’t have the power to make you buy something,” meaning Levine believes the sole power to impose compulsory purchasing resides in the states with their power to force people to buy car insurance.

By the beginning of this week, Donelon had changed his tune on the high-risk pools, which are designed to provide access to insurance coverage to those adults who have been denied coverage by private insurance companies due to pre-existing conditions.

Donelon told a reporter for Politico, “On the surface, it appears to me to be a no-brainer. We can’t afford this.”

Donelon is completely wrong; the Federal government is putting up the money and in 2014 the need for the high risk pools will disappear when the pre-exising condition exclusion is outlawed under the terms of the Affordable Care Act.

So, Jindal has brought Donelon back into the Republican fold and the state’s attempt to block or otherwise forestall the implementation of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act is now a solid front, including Democratic Attorney General Buddy Caldwell who is apparently getting his marching orders from Jindal and his legal advice from the Sons of the Confederacy.

At What Cost to Louisiana?

So, what has the Jindal campaign/administration decided it has to fight?

Here are benefits that the Affordable Care Act will bring to Louisiana — if Jindal can find it in his heart to let it.

First, health reform will provide immediate access to quality, affordable health insurance for as many as 95,881 uninsured Louisianians who are unable to obtain health insurance because of a pre-existing condition.

Second, health reform will ensure that the 894,000 uninsured Louisianians and 214,000 Louisianians who purchase health insurance through the individual market have access to affordable health insurance options through state-based health insurance Exchanges. By reforming the insurance market and forcing insurance companies to compete for business through the Exchange, health reform will reduce family health insurance premiums by $1,770 - $2,530 for the same benefits.

In addition, 558,000 Louisianians will receive premium tax credits to help make health insurance even more affordable.

During the first five years that the health insurance Exchange is operational, Louisianians will receive $9 billion in premium and cost-sharing tax credits to further reduce the cost of health insurance.

Finally, health reform will open access to Medicaid for 482,028 newly eligible Louisianians, by expanding eligibility to non-elderly parents, childless adults, children and pregnant women with income up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

And, last week, the IRS mailed notices to almost 60,000 Louisiana businesses informing them of the tax breaks they can receive if they cover a portion of the cost of health insurance for their employees.

Fixing What Ails Us

Louisiana suffers from exceptionally high rates of chronic disease and high rates of death from those treatable diseases. Those death rates are a function of the lack of access to affordable medical care.

The Affordable Care Act, by extending tax credits to businesses and individuals, by expanding Medicaid eligibility, and by reforming the rules under which the health insurance industry has operated, makes major strides in removing barriers to affordable care in our state.

Yet, Jindal — as the child of a public employee and as a public employee for nearly all of his adult life — has had access to that care throughout his life. He apparently cannot fathom that anyone not have access to the kind of care that he takes for granted. Thus, he can't bring himself to take any measure to respond to the need that he does not see or understand.

That is a failure of empathy.

The fact that his political ambitions prevent him from responding to the human need in the state in any way that resembles a display of decency is what elevates Jindal’s lack of empathy to problem level. It is what sets him apart.

It could cause his downfall.


Doug said...

As the author of the article on "empathy deficit disorder" that you quoted, I agree with your critique of Jindal's actions. It's a sign of our times, unfortunately, re the attempt by many politicians and others to deny our interconnection and mutual responsibilities in today's world. Some months ago I also wrote on my blog Progressive Impact about the criticism heaved at Obama when he spoke of "empathy" as a criteria for Supreme Court justice: I see he's avoiding that word this time around unfortunately!
Doug LaBier

Hiram said...

No wonder Sen. Elbert Lee Guillory left you,(the party of Disappointment!!!)I have been following the Democrats in Louisiana .All that One could perceive is the Democratic are more concerned with complaining about everything that is wrong.The whole time accepting gifts and the implementation of programs that make matters much worse. So I leave you with this; Are going to become part of the solution, or remain the largest cause of the problems...What happened to the days of Proud Americans? To day all I see are disgruntled ,confused ......well .....U.S. citizens!!!!!!! It is obvious you have not earned your freedom ,but had someone else earn it for you. Without the struggles and overcoming oppression,you could not possibly fathom the principles of liberty,and Freedom.

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