Al Franken: How Many Medical Bankruptcies Are There In Switzerland?

We stray into politics often at our peril but I had to share this clip of Sen. Franken kneecapping a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute conservative think tank. In what was supposed to be a hearing on the Medical Bankruptcy Fairness Act, Diana Furchtgott-Roth instead used her testimony to pillory against health care reform proposals not even being discussed. After Sen. Whitehouse asks her if she even read the bill at hand, Sen. Franken goes: “You said the way we’re going will increase bankruptcies…How many bankruptcies because of medical crises were there last year in Switzerland?”

<- Franken clip.

In the second clip, Sen. Whitehouse asks: “Did you actually read the bill that is the subject of today’s hearing?”

Here she uses the big “UC” – that less strict bankruptcy laws have the “unintended consequence” of encouraging more people to seek bankruptcy. Her solution to so many medical bankruptcies is then to make it harder to seek bankruptcy, rather than addressing the underlying over-inflated costs that drive consumers into medical bankruptcy in the first place.

Pharmaceutical companies like Eli Lilly, Merck and Novartis number among The Hudson Institute’s funders.

You can watch the entire session and read and search the transcript here on C-SPAN.

(Thanks to Dirk!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. bloggerX says:


  2. bhaughey says:

    Good work, Stuart Smalley.

  3. portishead69 says:


  4. ecwis says:

    Wht’s th pnt f ths pst?

    • Darklighter says:

      @ecwis: To enjoy the sight of an anti-consumer industry lobbyist getting a solid smackdown.

    • MJDeviant says:

      @ecwis: I believe, as the consumerist usually does, it is pointing towards an effort by major companies to either deny or lie about things, except she was caught and visually you can see her suffer where she thought it was going to be a simple stating of “facts”.

    • Darklighter says:

      @ecwis: Also, I think you meant “Wht’s th pnt f ths pst?”

    • katstermonster says:

      @ecwis: To make people like you hate Consumerist and leave. us. alone.

      • ecwis says:

        @katstermonster: This is probably the most reasonable answer. The site does have good consumer-related stories though (most of Phil’s posts are good) so I probably won’t leave yet.

        I don’t like when The Consumerist tries to provide commentary on politics. If I want to want to read amateurish commentary on politics, there are many other sites for that.

        • Trai_Dep says:

          @ecwis: That’s childish. Consumers are impacted by laws. Set by – wait for it – politicians. Politics is consumerism.

          • MostlyHarmless says:

            @Trai_Dep: Next thing you’ll tell me is that Politics is People.

          • Sudonum says:

            @Trai_Dep: You know, I may not always agree with your point of view, but I always enjoy reading your posts.

            This post is quite possible the most succinct and understated post I’ve ever read here.

            It also helps that I consumed half a bottle of cabernet, and several glasses of bourbons.

        • Darklighter says:

          @ecwis: You do realize that the protection of consumer rights is a political matter, right? And that Consumerist’s parent organization, Consumer’s Union, does engage in political activism to improve laws protecting those rights?

        • Skipweasel says:

          @ecwis: I think you’ll find that quite a lot of readers /do/ like it.

        • GuinevereRucker says:

          @ecwis: I tend to agree, especially when it seems the editors are biased one way or another. If I want biased political commentary, I just watch the news (but I don’t).

      • WiglyWorm must cease and decist says:

        @katstermonster: Careful, now. You may not agree with it, but disenting viewpoints are a very important thing to have.

        Without it, you run the risk of devolving in to “groupthink”, circled with only people who agree with you, it is very easy to lose site of reality as well as lose the good ideas that come from the opposite end of the spectrum.

      • DoktorGoku says:

        @katstermonster: One of the things I hate most about modern online communities is exactly what Wiglyworm says- that they end up being groups of people who all think the exact same way, and become more and more polarized after time. This makes them not a community, but a club.

        Reddit fell victim to this long ago, as did Digg, and Fark is doing the same. There are plenty of websites where that happens, and it’s sad, because it drives people away from the comments section. Nobody wants to post when it’s an “us and them” mentality.

    • Chongo says:

      @ecwis: regardless of anyones personal politics, you cannot deny that this woman and the companies that she serves are acting in this case, as anti consumer. Make it harder to declare bankruptcy instead of attacking the problem of insane medical costs? c’mon!

  5. JGKojak says:

    Al Franken is becoming my favorite Senator.

  6. Pink Puppet says:

    I love Al Franken. ♥ I hope he just keeps on being so awesome.

  7. Android8675 says:

    Minnesota should be proud.

    • halcyon22 says:

      @Android8675: We are.

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:


        Word. Given the choices of trusting a career politician, a comedian, or a professional wrestler…I would go with the comedian any day. And a wrestler before a politician in any event where a comedian isn’t available.

        • coren says:

          @YouDidWhatNow?: I heard Ventura did a decent job. True/false?

          • Porcelina says:

            @coren: I thought he did alright. He is very intelligent with an interesting set of ideals. A lot of people don’t like him because he calls religion a sham, says prostitution should be legal, gays should have equal rights, and pot should be legal. But those are exactly the reasons I like him.

          • Sudonum says:

            @coren: I love his take on torture;
            “You give me a waterboard, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I’ll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders.”

          • YouDidWhatNow? says:


            Yup. His actual governance was pretty middle of the road. Obviously he was a fairly controversial personality…but his actions in office were pretty moderate and he really didn’t mess anything up that I recall.

    • qcgallus says:

      @Android8675: I’m pretty proud.

    • consumerd says:

      @Android8675: @coren:

      I only heard one complaint coming from I think a single mother about cutting back benefits and his question was “where is dad?” Then again if he had to make the tough decisions I can respect him for that. It also means you have to take more personal responsibility for your actions as well instead of “blame someone else”.

      if I go and knock a girl up I should be responsible… not the government!

  8. Darklighter says:

    Dear Minnesota,

    You guys made the right choice (even if it took you a few extra months).


  9. MJDeviant says:

    That deer in the headlight look, brutal.

  10. jmurphy42 says:

    Senator Franken is really proving to be a breath of fresh air. The man has a talent for cutting through the political BS to get to the heart of the matter and inject some common sense.

    • ARP says:

      @jmurphy42: He’s also a huge policy wonk and intellectual. So, he actually reads the bills and can discuss policy. He’s not the person to mess with when you lie about what a bill does or does not do.

      • katstermonster says:

        @ARP: The man is absolutely brilliant. Too bad he didn’t use that on his book titles, heh. Disclaimer: I’ve read parts of Lying Liars, and it was chock full of statistics and really good analysis.

    • redskull says:

      @jmurphy42: Is there some way we can clone Al Franken?

      • crymson777 says:

        @redskull: A lot?!?!?! :)

      • Darklighter says:

        @redskull: I suggest getting Rachel Maddow into the senate instead. Easier than cloning with similar end result (complete with endearingly nerdy glasses).

        • pwillow1 says:

          @Darklighter: Makes me think that we should picking members for Fantasy Congress. Like fantasy football/baseball/basketball teams.

          What public figures would you pick for the US Senate and House of Representatives?

          I agree about Rachel Maddow. And Keith Olbermann (though the latter would be a prolific pontificator for sure.)

          Jon Stewart. I would pay to watch him ask questions of witnesses who testified before any Senate subcommittee he served on.

          Who else? Hmmmm…. this is going to be my mental exercise/escape today. My Fantasy US Congress.

    • bohemian says:

      @jmurphy42: Anyone from the MN area already knows that Franken knows what he is talking about. He really got a hard time from right wing radio but the things they were crying about were irrelevant to his abilities and the job he is proving day after day that he can do it.

      I would love to get my hands on a Franken clone and run him against Thune for the other SD seat.

    • trujunglist says:


      He really is, and he’s going through with it just how I imagined it would work: no BS, just getting shit done that he (and his voters) want. I’ve read his books and I always thought that he had this thing that really works well in politics… what’s the word? Oh yeah… logic! He’s also well-to-do enough and has the right personality to avoid the shadier side of politics. And that’s why I think he is going to be one of the best senators in history. Read his books, especially The Truth (with jokes). It’s a little more serious than lying liars, but I think it elevates his discourse and really proves what kind of person he is. My dad bought me that book for X-mas (I had already read Lying Liars) and remarked that he would be a great politician.

    • H3ion says:

      @jmurphy42: I like Senator Franken as well, but don’t forget that he is a professional performer working on a different stage. It would be like making John Stewart a Senator.

      • katstermonster says:

        @H3ion: He’s getting shit done. That’s all that matters to me.

        And the other thing to remember is that Franken, Stewart, Colbert, etc…they really know their stuff. They do. As ARP mentioned, Franken is an intellectual and a policy wonk. He pays attention, he thinks hard, he knows his stuff. Entertainer or no, I’m thrilled to have that kind of approach to the law.

        And to be honest, the calm, rational approach he takes in this video is identical to everything else I’ve seen since he got elected. He’s not doing this for publicity or shock value.

      • shadowkahn says:

        @H3ion: What most people, and apparently you included, fail to realize is that ALL politicians are performers. Some, like Sen. Franken, are performers who have the depth of knowledge to back up their positions. And others, do not. Getting elected requires a certain level of performance skills. Unfortunately, it does not require any particular political intelligence or ethical fortitude, which is why it’s so refreshing when someone of Sen. Franken’s abilities and caliber manages to sneak into office.

        As to John Stewart, if he can get the job done and can do what the people need him to do, what’s wrong with him being a senator?

        I always find it funny that people question Franken’s ability as a senator based on his previous career as an actor/comedian, yet it seems no one questioned or remarks upon Reagan becoming president despite having had a previous career as a B-movie actor.

      • mythago says:

        @H3ion: O

      • coren says:

        @H3ion: I would vote for John Stewart. Senator Green Lantern would be fucking awesome.

        (sorry, IO9 moment there).

        I’d also vote for Jon Stewart, assuming his writers became his staffers.

  11. rhys1882 says:

    It’s amazing what happens when you actually get someone intelligent into the Senate instead of the same old fogeys who’ve been re-elected over and over for the past 30 years.

    • H3ion says:

      @rhys1882: Teddy Kennedy. Any other questions?

      • dadelus says:

        @H3ion: At what point did rhys1882 say ANYTHING in praise of Ted Kennedy? Strawman much?

        • H3ion says:

          @dadelus: I was pointing out that Teddy Kennedy is an example of an old fogey who was re-elected over and over for more than 30 years. Didn’t do too badly either. Fresh is not always the answer. Sometimes you need class and continuity. I’d say quite a bit in praise of Ted Kennedy. I think he became one hell of a Senator.

  12. Skankingmike says:

    We have the worst bankruptcy provisions ever since Bush destroyed it while in office.

    btw love the end of the last video. “mansion or castle” lol

    Go Franken your time in office is short.

  13. Cogito Ergo Bibo says:

    Damn. This makes me extra glad that Franken finally got seated. Leave it to a comedian to make excellent use of sarcasm. Don’t ever change, Senator. Don’t ever change.

  14. katstermonster says:

    Al Franken IS THE MAN.

  15. KLETCO says:

    This means I should tune into the Daily Show tonight.

  16. leastcmplicated says:

    i need to watch c-span more often, that was great :)

  17. MaxSmart32 says:

    I believe that “Senator Sheldon” you mean “Senator Whitehouse” from my adopted fair state of Rhode Island…

    • MaxSmart32 says:

      @MaxSmart32: Gah, I’m sorry, I broke the guidebook on comments…I realized after I posed it an email would have been more appropriate. My apologies to my Consumerist friends!

      • katstermonster says:

        @MaxSmart32: I think I speak for many when I say that you may have been the least offensive typo pointer-outer in the history of typos. You didn’t call any or all of the editors stupid or dense in the process, and you had the good sense to pay attention to the commenting rules. :) Heck, I don’t even do the latter. HAH.

  18. Vengefultacos says:

    Kind of a distinct contrast between the two videos: Franken’s quick swipe to the jugular, vs. “I don’t know how to do a proper video capture” dude who sounds like he just put down his bong long enough to make (to him) a profound condemnation of some industry shill.

  19. Tim says:

    It seems that the people this woman works for have taken a page from the wireless companies’ playbook.

    Complaint: “We pay too much money for text messages!”
    Response: “The United States has one of the most powerful wireless networks in the world.”

  20. veg-o-matic says:

    Franken was great as usual, but Sen. Whitehouse’s interaction with that woman was incredibly satisfying.

    It’s like when I sit down with a typical BS-er student to talk about how they only pretend to do work. And we have almost exactly the same conversation… And they usually get the exact same look on their faces.

    Heh. heheh.

    Also: Franken addresses her as “Dr.” but she’s not a doctor.

    Also, scary facts: This individual was Chief Economist at the DoL under Bush and was Chief of Staff for his Council of Economic Advisors. So, she’s obviously known for her spot-on research skills.

    • PsiCop says:

      @veg-o-matic: I have to agree that Sen. Whitehouse’s question about whether she’d actually read the bill in consideration, was a much stronger and more instant indictment of Ms Furchtgott-Roth, than Sen. Franken’s questions.

  21. FaustianSlip says:

    And boom goes the dynamite.

    Incidentally, the title of that second video cracked me up.

  22. MostlyHarmless says:

    Looking at Franken makes me want to take Tina Fey, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Carey Greenberg-Berger and put each of them into a committee. They’ll be tearing down BS like you wouldn’t believe it.

  23. NeverLetMeDown says:

    We should absolutely address those “underlying over-inflated costs,” but doing so is going to require either price controls on doctors and hospitals, or reducing the volume of care consumed.

    We have two health care problems in this country:

    1. Too many people don’t have health care.
    2. We spend too much on health care.

    The proposed reforms take a shot at dealing with #1, but they don’t do anything about (and actually make worse) #2.

    • Bunnies_Attack! says:

      @NeverLetMeDown: 1. Too many people don’t have health care so skip out on their medical bills. This leads to 2. where the hospitals have to make up their losses by jacking up prices for people that DO have health care. Therefore, 1 begets 2.

      • carlos_the_dwarf says:


        The volume of uncompensated care does not even remotely begin to account for the rapid increases we’ve seen in health care spending. There have always been people unable to pay their bills, and therefore uncompensated care given. This is not a new or novel situation.

    • drjayphd says:

      @NeverLetMeDown: Who says you can’t address #1, then take a long, hard look at #2 and see what can be done once the fallout from #1’s settled? Don’t know if there would be the political will to do that, but health care in this country has so many issues that are so severe that you can’t expect to solve them all (or most of ’em) in one fell swoop.

  24. kaceetheconsumer says:

    It’s about time someone stood up to TEH STOOOPID. I’m so sick of bad studies and spurious correlations being used to justify bad policy (and to be fair, it’s not like the Dems are innocent of it either).

    Why is it that comedians do the best job of smacking down with the truth these days? Why can Stewart/Colbert find the video that contradicts the politicians who claim to have never said a given thing, but the “real” news networks don’t bother? Maybe the comedians are smarter than the average network talking-point parrot?

    • drjayphd says:

      @kaceetheconsumer: That, or they don’t have to worry about backlash. Their job is to make people laugh, and if they make us think, that’s an added bonus. The job title “comedian” doesn’t really carry as much gravitas as “politician”, so they can feel free to say whatever they want without being beholden to anyone.

      And as for the comment on a whole, enjoy the heart-click.

      • Duke_Newcombe-Making children and adults as fat as pigs says:

        @drjayphd: Part of the tradition of the court jester and clown–the only ones who could tell the truth without losing their heads.

  25. fredfreedom says:

    Furchgott-Roth, I’m guessing, is a spouse or other relation to Harold Furchgott-Roth, former FCC Commissioner, later another rightwing thinktanker, and overall out-of-touch lunatic who worships the free-market fairy dust. And to think THESE are the people the Republicans want as the face of their “movement?” Keep talking, lady, please please keep talking.

    • drjayphd says:

      @fredfreedom: If Furchgott-Roth and their ilk are one face of conservatism, while assclowns like Glenn Beck and Limbaugh are another… I’m afraid we won’t be seeing much in the way of substantial opposition for quite some time. Shame, because a healthy and reasoned debate is better than one side completely discrediting themselves.

  26. thisistobehelpful says:

    We should probably just start hiring celebrities as political officials from now on and start putting senators up for public humiliation as entertainment. I specifically request a lions vs congressmen weekly feature.

    • MostlyHarmless says:

      @thisistobehelpful: Oh God NO! Terrible idea!! What you mean is that we should start hiring late night political satirists to do so.

      Can you imagine the exchange between some testifying person and Kanye West?

      Or the post testimonial comments dished out by Jon or Kate? Fuck no.

    • Girtych says:

      @thisistobehelpful: NO.

      Let me rephrase that: FRAK NO.

      If my state’s governor, Schwarzenegger, is any indication, that is a horrid idea. He’s at the top of my shit-list for what he’s doing (and/or not doing) to put my educational career in danger.

      • thisistobehelpful says:

        @MostlyHarmless: True. I wouldn’t mind seeing a Senator Stewart.

      • thisistobehelpful says:

        @Girtych: Actually so far he’s pretty much done what the people have asked for in your state as long as he was generally in agreement with it which is what politicians are supposed to do. Sadly, it’s an indication that the people are kinda crap at asking for things that are good ideas sometimes and sometimes other people get in the way (Prop 8).

      • NeverLetMeDown says:


        Don’t blame the Governor for the fact that your fellow Californians don’t want to pay higher taxes.

  27. eurofun4u says:

    I do not know about you guys but the girl behind AL looks pretty healthy to me

  28. GRPeng says:

    We take Unintended Consequences very seriously.

  29. fs2k2isfun says:

    ts psts lk ths whch kp m frm bng bggr rdr f Cnsmrst. Lts lv th bltntly pltcl psts t th crzs t Dly Kz shll w?

    s n sd, l Frnkn s n lctn stlng tl.

    • misslisa says:

      @fs2k2isfun: funny, I always thought Bush in 2000 was the election-stealing tool.

    • Darklighter says:

      @fs2k2isfun: I’m sorry, was there something factually incorrect about what Senator Franken said? Do you believe that medical bankruptcy law is not an important consumer issue? Do you know what site you’re on?

      • MostlyHarmless says:

        @Darklighter: Though I have to agree with him in that people at daily kos do tend to get a bit nutty.

      • fs2k2isfun says:

        @Darklighter: Its an issue, sure, but tort reform is such a bigger deal than insurance related bankruptcy in my opinion. In addition, comparing the United States to Switzerland (or even France or Germany, as Sen. Franken does) is hardly a fair comparison.

        We have a much bigger country, both in terms of population and area. This makes the logistics and cost control of administering a government run system much more difficult. While in Switzerland one is never more than about 4 hours from any other point in the country, the same can’t be said of the US. A $100,000 piece of specialized medical equipment in Zurich might be adequate for all Swiss, but placing the same specialized equipment in Denver would not meed American’s health needs effectively. Even extrapolating for population, I doubt if you could place this equipment within every American’s 4 hour drive radius.

        I also enjoy paying comparatively much lower taxes and being a much friendlier environment towards business, especially small business.

        Also, the AP recently ran a good piece about how the insurance industry doesn’t make these “obscene” profits people (leftists in particular) love to rail against:

        I challenge any government run health care supporter to name a large-scale government entitlement program which has been administered underbudget and improved the status quo.

        • Duke_Newcombe-Making children and adults as fat as pigs says:

          @fs2k2isfun: I challenge any government run health care supporter to name a large-scale government entitlement program which has been administered underbudget and improved the status quo.

          The VA. Game. Set. Match.

          I think you err in basing your argument on the issues of population density, and the irrelevance of land mass. Canada would probably be the most apt comparison for our purposes. They have a good sized landmass (like us), but most of the population (85%) is located in the lower third of the nation (population density of about 9 people per square mile). The US has a population density of about 80 people for square mile. If populations were evenly distributed, yes, we’d have a resource issue as you state, but since, as in Canada, our major populations centers lie within 150 mile bands (for us, on our east, west, and southern borders), the “specialized equipment” argument falls a bit flat.

          Furthermore, the new story from the AP. They unfortunately allowed themselves to fall into the trap of equating inequity of percentage of profit with total profits in dollars. The health insurance industry making “only” 8.8% profit on billions of dollars still rake in more than an industry that makes 20% on millions. Quick…which would you rather have dropped on you–a bag of feathers, or a bag of bricks?

        • Darklighter says:

          @fs2k2isfun: Bullshit. Texas enacted tort reform laws in 2002. I’ll give you one guess how that turned out:

          A national report released Tuesday says that the health insurance premiums Texas families pay climbed nearly five times faster than their incomes this decade.
          And even though the average family’s health insurance premiums increased 91.6 percent between 2000 and 2009 – from $6,638 to $12,721 a year – families often got fewer benefits for their money, not more, according to the report by Families USA, a nonprofit consumer group based in Washington.

    • veg-o-matic says:

      @fs2k2isfun: It’s true. The Freepers’ discourse is so much more reasoned.

    • drjayphd says:

      @fs2k2isfun: WorldNetDaily’s editors are displeased you referred to a blogger as crazy and it wasn’t them.

    • redrolla says:

      @fs2k2isfun: You are not texting. Try using real English words!

  30. justinph says:

    Dear Rest of The United States:

    You’re welcome. We knew Al would be great.


  31. QADude says:

    OFMG! That was great!

    He really out her in her place. What a nice job, too. He spoke very calmly, professional and had some great facts to throw in her face. Well done.

  32. ferris209 says:

    I do wish Consumerist would stay away from political commentary. Irregardless it is here, so, why do so many of you actually believe that government run health care would be consumer friendly?

  33. cmdrsass says:

    It’s pretty silly to use Switzerland in this kind of comparison. It has fewer people than New York City (nearly all of them white) and a median annual household income of more than $80,000 USD. It comes across as grandstanding.

    • ecwis says:

      @cmdrsass: Thank you. This is just one of the many reasons his argument is very weak.

    • admiral_stabbin says:

      @cmdrsass: I have to imagine that was why he used France as a secondary example…

    • thezone says:

      @cmdrsass: @ecwis: The example is not weak. The US median household income is only $10K less than Switzerland. Switzerland has private medical insurance. Finally, in his example he used two other countries to hammer in the point that there are countries where their residents do not have to go bankrupt because of medical bills.

    • ogsoleysol says:

      @cmdrsass: Pray tell, what relevance does race have to this discussion?

      Additionally, median income alone tells you nothing other than the fact that roughly 50% of the population of Switzerland has an income of $80,000 USD or greater. For all you know, 51% of residents of Switzerland have an income of $80,000 USD and 49% have an income of $5 USD.

      • secret_curse says:

        @ogsoleysol: Different races can be predisposed to different conditions. For example, here’s a study showing that the rate of diabetes is higher in the US among racial minorities. So, if almost all of your citizens are similiar genetically it’s possible that your doctors will see the conditions they’re predisposed to very often and therefore be better at treating them. I don’t know any figures so racial homogeny might not have any bearing on the quality of care in an area, but I can see how it makes sense logically.

        Also, I’ve heard the argument that patients are more comfortable sharing symptoms with doctors who share their race. If your doctor gets better information, she can make a better diagnosis.

        Race can certainly be relevant to a healthcare discussion…

        • mythago says:

          @secret_curse: Did you really just argue that the Swiss have lower health-care costs than Americans because they’re all white?

          For those still deliberately missing the point, Tool Lady is saying that the solution to people going bankrupt from their medical costs is to make it harder for them to go bankrupt.

        • ogsoleysol says:

          @secret_curse: Again, I fail to see how this information about predisposition has any relevance to a discussion about medical bankruptcies.

        • Alys Brangwin can't stop the beat says:

          @secret_curse: Of course that has nothing to do with the fact that minorities typically live in areas that have little access to fresh produce or the cost is too high for them to purchase it with any regularity.

  34. carlos_the_dwarf says:

    How many medically related bankruptcies in Switzerland?

    I’ll bite, Al. My answer would be “more than zero” as the largest single contributor to medical bankruptcies is lost wages due to illness or injuries. I’m guessing the Swiss still get injured and sick.

    • Falcon5768 says:

      @carlos_the_dwarf: But the swiss also have single payer government provided healthcare.

      So does France

      So does Germany

      the point being this woman was trying to use the scare tactic of if you pass the public option and make us reform even MORE people will go bankrupt. Franken called her what she was, a greedy liar.

      • Darklighter says:

        @Falcon5768: Actually, Medical bills get huge, even with insurance:

        They concluded that 62.1 percent of the bankruptcies were medically related because the individuals either had more than $5,000 (or 10 percent of their pretax income) in medical bills, mortgaged their home to pay for medical bills, or lost significant income due to an illness. On average, medically bankrupt families had $17,943 in out-of-pocket expenses, including $26,971 for those who lacked insurance and $17,749 who had insurance at some point.

        • Darklighter says:

          @Darklighter: I think the commenting system ate half that post. The gist: Switzerland does not have a single-payer system. As noted above, out of pocket expenses in the US resulting in medical bankruptcy are high enough to be severely problematic even without factoring in lost wages.

      • carlos_the_dwarf says:


        “But the swiss also have single payer government provided healthcare.”

        Irrelevant. The largest single contributor to medical bankruptcies is lost wages due to illness or injuries. If I’m a ballet dancer and my feet get bitten off by a shark, it doesn’t matter who pays my medical bills. It could be the taxpayers or my rich uncle Frank. If it renders me unable to work, then I can still go bankrupt do to not being able to pay my mortgage. Lost wages, not direct medical bills, are the biggest cause of medically-related bankruptcy.

        Franken was trying to be cute with a “gotcha” question that implies then nobody in Switzerland has a medically related bankruptcy. I’m unfamiliar with Swiss bankruptcy law, but if he’s using it for an analogy that fits the US, he’s very wrong.

        • ARP says:

          @carlos_the_dwarf: You act as if they’re completely separate when, they’re close to the same. If you’re spending money on medical bills, you have less money for household expenses. So, if you lose your job, paying your household expenses and your medical bills out of savings, unemployment, etc. is that much more difficult and is more likely to drive you into bankruptcy.

        • newfenoix says:

          @carlos_the_dwarf: You need to do some research on the Swiss system. They DON’T HAVE medical bills over there. The US is the ONLY nation in the western world that has health care for profit. Which is the MAJOR ISSUE.

      • pwillow1 says:

        @Falcon5768: Wrong! The Swiss, Germans and French DO NOT HAVE single-payer healthcare. Which is why Sen. Franken was citing those particular countries to ask his questions regarding medical bankruptcy.

        France has a combination of public and private healthcare coverage for its citizens. Much like the US.

        So does Germany.

        So does Switzerland.

        • gmuller says:

          @pwillow1: Actually Falcon, France and Germany definitely have predominantly public-provided insurance mechanisms. I believe the number is some where in the range of 75% and 85% of coverage provided by the state in either country. Its the vast majority anyway. Private Insurance is at a premium.

          The Swiss have a private system, but you’re mandated to carry insurance by the state. The state provides you with a list of insurers to select from. The state pays for it if you can’t afford to (or subsidizes it). This is a state system in all but name. Why? Because the state has to put you on the list. You have to be in bed with the state to some degree before you can be an insurer. This of course leads to the problem we have today: if you put the regulators and the providers into the same boat, they will work out terms which are most agreeable to EACHOTHER…and not who they provide for.

          Franken is citing these countries because its easy to do so in this situation. It doesn’t matter that the comparison is apples to oranges.

          • pwillow1 says:

            @gmuller: You’re wrong. Franken WAS comparing apples to apples.

            Germany and Switzerland has a healthcare system that utilizes private, nonprofit or for-profit health insurers which are tightly regulated by the government. (Source: NY Times.)

            I have a German friend who has health insurance provided through his employer. His contribution to his health insurance coverage is based on his salary. (A couple of years ago he paid about 300 euros a month towards his coverage.) And he also has co-pays for doctor visits.

            If he were to become unemployed, his healthcare premiums would be paid by the government.

            France has a public healthcare system that is funded through a combination of employer contributions and tax revenues. It is analogous to Social Security. It covers 80 percent of the population.

            Most French are also covered with supplementary individual health insurance which is either provided by employers or can be purchased.

            Franken brought up those three countries, France, Germany and Switzerland, for a specific reason: because their healthcare reimbursement systems are analogous to the healthcare reimbursement system that is being proposed for the US.

            Thanks for playing!

            • jwinston2 says:


              How is the German and France system working out these days?

              Here let me help you out: “In countries [such] as France, where the financing of the system is through the public taxes, you have political decisions to take, and you wait from time to time, and so they have great deficits.” source:[]

              How long do you think you can run a deficit? Indefinitely?

              FYI the president of Switzerland just stated in that interview that Switzerland does not equal France/Germany in regards to healthcare reimbursements. The more you know, right?

      • TWinter says:


        The health care debate would be much easier to tolerate if people on both sides didn’t spew false info about foreign countries.

        Switzerland and Germany DO NOT have single payer systems!!!

        Switzerland has a completely privatized but HEAVILY regulated health insurance system. The Swiss mandate that everyone has health insurance and the government provides subsidies for the poor to buy it.

        Germany has both a highly regulated non-profit insurance sector in which there are several hundred non-profit insurance companies, many connected to industries or trades and a for-profit system that the wealthy can buy into if they want.

        I have no idea how the French system works.

    • PunditGuy says:


      … One of the problems we have in America is that many people — it’s a huge number of people — go bankrupt because of medical bills; some studies say 700,000 people a year. How many people in Switzerland go bankrupt because of medical bills?

      Nobody. Doesn’t happen. It would be a huge scandal if it happens.


    • Alys Brangwin can't stop the beat says:

      @carlos_the_dwarf: And when they get injured and sick, their government doesn’t abandon them. The social benefits for Europeans are unheard of in the United States. You’ll get a portion of your old salary while you’re out of work, so you’re not going into bankruptcy and homelessness.

  35. consumerd says:

    To Minnesota: Be proud of Mr. Franken, he is getting one right here!

  36. consumerd says:

    I hope the RI residents are proud of their representative as well.

    Go get them and call them to the carpet!

  37. BeyondtheTech says:

    Al Franken is awesome, but I didn’t notice he was even speaking for the first two and a half minutes because of the woman in the background.

    All kidding aside, I love it when someone does a reality check on the affluent and oblivious.

    • deep.thought says:

      @BeyondtheTech: +10, no kidding aside.

      If I were Franken, I would have said “I’m sorry, your argument makes no sense, because did you see this captivating lady behind me? Clearly you did not.”

  38. The_Legend says:

    Thank you citizens of Minnesota. You elected Al to represent your great state, but he sees the big picture and represents America. I wish we had more like him.

  39. ftk says:

    Very awesome.

  40. gmuller says:

    Franken cherrypicks a completely irrelevant comparison, then complains that the testifier is cherrypicking. Awesome. Also cool to see how many people are easily swayed by surface level analyses of medically related bankruptcies. How many were there in countries that don’t require its citizens to pay the costs directly? That’s a ridiculous question.

    What’s with the second video? The C-span content is worthless, and the commentary by “whoever that was” is absolutely inane.

    • thezone says:

      @gmuller: Well the Swiss have to pay for their health care. It’s mandated. The government subsidizes the people who cannot afford it. Since they have to buy private insurance your argument doesn’t make much sense.

      • SacraBos says:

        @thezone: Exactly why it’s cherry picked. The cost of health care/insurance is never counted as contributing toward a bankruptcy. Here in the US, there are people who do not pay for the medical care (indigents, etc), and they also do not have medical bankruptcies either…

        • thezone says:

          @SacraBos: I have to disagree with you. It’s not that these other countries don’t count medical bills as contributing toward a bankruptcy. It’s because the other systems have safeguards to ensure the situation never arises. That is wholly different from just not counting something.

          Franken’s point is other countries have safeguards in place to ensure that people do not have to go bankrupt because they are sick. We don’t have these types of safeguards in place. Switzerland, Germany and France all have different insurance systems in place. But they all manage to protect the consumer better than ours.

    • mythago says:

      @gmuller: When you’re done being mad at the liberals, why don’t you go back and see what Ms. No Bankruptcies was actually saying?

    • veg-o-matic says:

      @gmuller: Zurrr.. what?

      You do realize both videos’ content was C-SPAN, yes? What makes the content of the second one worthless? Poor filming, sure, but worthless content? Commentary by “whoever that was” does not negate the fact that Crazypants McTangent was there, she exists, and she was testifying before a Senate committee, and was utterly full of shit.

      Are you arguing that all of C-SPAN is worthless? Would you rather not have video access to all legislative activities?

      Do elaborate.

  41. QuesoHusker says:

    He almost makes up for the fact that MN also gave us Michelle Bachmann.

    • drjayphd says:

      @QuesoHusker: How much longer will she last, though? Can we just leave the gerrymandering to the singles bar? (Thank you, Dick Valentine…)

      • ninjatoddler says:

        @drjayphd: The suburb she’s from are the brainwashed zombie kind. I think she’ll have yet another term or more if permitted in office. Never underestimate stupidity and the fools who worship it.

  42. rachaeljean says:

    This is the 2nd time I’ve heard of Sen. Franken doing something awesome since reaching office – the first being that rape bill that was mentioned on The Daily Show a week back or so.

    I have to say I was mighty skeptical about his election… but he is turnout out to be a pretty cool politician. Keep it up!

    • Cogito Ergo Bibo says:

      @rachaeljean: Don’t forget his ability to draw a map of all the states in the United States freehand! Okay, it doesn’t save lives, but it’s pretty awesome.

  43. pwillow1 says:

    Al Franken is my new favorite US Senator.

    I’m also really happy with Florida congressman Alan Grayson (FL-8) who has lately been in the news a lot. (Catch some videos of him on YouTube and prepare to be impressed.)

    Grayson is knife-sharp and, like Franken, graduated with honors from Harvard College. Grayson went on to get his JD from Harvard Law School.

    The education, the brains… they show!

  44. theblackdog says:

    @craptastico: There’s a rule in the comment code that says “No ‘Why is this on Consumerist?’ or ‘Slow news day?’ posts in the comments”

    • ecwis says:

      @theblackdog_HalloweenHaunting: I wasn’t asking that. I was legitimately wondering if this post was consumer-related in any way. Chongo pointed out one possible connection.

      @Chongo: You claim that the woman is anti-consumer since she suggests making bankruptcy harder to declare but I don’t that is necessarily bad for consumer. It’s good for deadbeat consumers but those unpaid costs go to the good consumer who pay their debts.

      Just to note, I, along with most Americans, believe that health-care should be reformed to deal with exclusions due to pre-existing conditions and such but many do not want a public option. We can reform health-care without replacing it with a socialized plan.

      • Duke_Newcombe-Making children and adults as fat as pigs says:

        @ecwis: We can reform health-care without replacing it with a socialized plan.

        Obligatory “oh noooooes!! Teh SOCIALISM!!!111ELEVEN!” injection. Check.

      • ugly says:

        @ecwis: Your assertion that making bankruptcy difficult is good for good consumers is a point I’d like to address.

        Can you please back up that claim? Is bankruptcy even possible without the extension of credit? Credit is by it’s very nature a relationship between a borrower and a lender. IF we were in a free market, presumably the borrow and the lender are ‘equals’ in the relationship. The possibility of non-payment (due to bankruptcy or whatnot) would then be a factor in the relationship.

        My problem is that you draw a connection between delinquent borrower and a non-delinquent borrower. I fail to see the connection. Could you elaborate?

        It seems like you want regulation from the government to protect one side of that relationship, but not the other. How is that fair to ANY consumer, here I define the consumer as the borrow.

        • ecwis says:

          @ugly: Bankruptcies prevent companies from collecting their debt. They have to collect the money somehow so they raise the rates of the people who actually pay their bills.

          How is bankruptcy good for non-delinquent borrowers?

          @Darklighter: Responsible consumers should have at very least, a catastrophic health policy. I have one which is just over $50 a month and will pay for practically everything after the $5,000 deductible. Most bankruptcies are likely for debts exceeding $5,000 so if everyone would get catastrophic coverage, they would have no reason to declare bankruptcy.

          I realize that some people have difficulty getting coverage so we should work to reform that instead of replacing it with a single-payer system.

          • Darklighter says:

            @ecwis: That’s absurd, and it reeks of blaming the victim.

          • Trai_Dep says:

            @ecwis: Catastrophic insurance is a great concept, until it’s needed and the company finds enough exclusions, recisions and pre-existing conditions to – wait for it – drive the claimant into personal bankruptcy.
            But THANKS for the years of payments, suckers!

      • Darklighter says:

        @ecwis: Medical expenses are the single most common cause of consumer bankruptcy in the United States, and it has nothing to do with “good consumers” or “deadbeat consumers”, and everything to do with the skyrocketing costs of health care.

      • owenl1998 says:

        @ecwis – typical (being blunt) ignorant response by someone who is too brainwashed to look at data and information.

        Here’s a question for you in line with Senator Franken’s. How many countries in the world with single payer health care systems – whether accompanied by private options or not – would REMOVE the single payer option if they could?

        The answer – as above – is zero. There are MANY reasons for that but they boil down to the cold hard FACT that single payer is more cost-effective. And, as Al Franken alludes to in the video, it is in fact JUST as effective at delivering quality care by any level-playing field statistical measure you care to pick.

      • Chongo says:

        @ecwis: I know this is a little late but just in case you ever come back to this… I have always believed, and really cannot be detered in any way, that its better to let 10 guilty men go then to imprison 1 innocent. I think this logic in my case can also be extended to this situation. IMO

  45. Laura Northrup says:

  46. t0ph says:

    I just filed a medical bankruptcy…$100k + in medical bills in 1 freaking year. I was and am still uninsured. It is a relief to be done with it and to be able to start all over but jesus does it suck.

    Btw I am healthy now, I just needed emergency surgery and hospitalizations.

  47. savdavid says:

    Dr. Clown? He did a wonderful job on this bought ho for industry. Kudos, AL!

  48. SacraBos says:

    The problem is that she’s right, and Franken is right. It will increase bankruptcies due to the force purchase of health insurance, job losses and increased taxation. However, it will not be due to medical costs, so will no longer be classified a “medical bankruptcy”. And of course, Franken does not even want to address survivability issues of other similar health insurance states, so shuts that one down rather than address it. So he scores big brownie points with the left, and by the time we realize she was right, it’s too late.

    Once again, the shell game of “health insurance” vs “health care” clouds the issue, and too many people can’t tell the difference. Instead of health care bankrupting us individually, we’ll be saddled with health insurance that will bankrupt us collectively.

    Our problem is we have too much insurance, hell, it’s not even “insurance” – it’s a health warranty. If we had lifetime irrevocable warranties on our cars and homes, we couldn’t afford those policies either. Why should health be different?

    • Chocotanya says:

      @SacraBos: why do you think the “forced purchase” of private health insurance is the only option? The countries Franken was comparing to have (like Canada) government-provided health care, I believe.

      • SacraBos says:

        @Chocotanya: The current bills mandate this, and even the “public option” is purchased government provided insurance, with possible various levels of assistance.

        1) I.e. it’s been legislated that it can’t occur and will be attributed so some other cause of bankruptcy. It’s just blame-shifting.
        2) Then they will see cost increases. That $900billion (current estimate, assuming no “Cash-For-Clunkers effect) is going to come from somewhere.
        3) How we pay for health insurance (including co-pay amounts, if any, allowed amounts paid to physicians, availability and wait times for physicians) can definately affect the ability to screen for cancer and other ailments.
        4) You don’t get it. We don’t run car insurance like health insurance (i.e every oil change, tire rotation, door ding, engine service, etc all for a $20 co-pay) because it’s not cost effective. Running every single health care dollar through the gauntlet of health insurance isn’t cost effective, either. Do the math: How much do you pay for health care + insurance vs. how much your doctor is paid for health care. I ran the math for this using someone elses actual costs vs. Obama’s health insurance estimates, and by switching to a major medical and paying most things out of pocket – he saves a minimum of $4000/year up to about $8000. I understand plenty. The Democrats are right that health insurance is part of the problem, but more of it isn’t the right answer.

    • thezone says:


      1. Franken specifically mentions Switzerland where everyone is mandated to purchase medical insurance. Those who cannot afford it are supplemented by the state (like medicaid) so everyone can be covered. Therefore, health insurance should not force people into bankruptcy.

      2. The majority of the public will not see a tax increase.

      3. Factcheck already debunked the cancer survival rates issue. In the US we have a proven system of screenings that root out many more cases of survivable cancers like prostate cancer. Because we change how we pay for our health insurance will not affect out ability to screen for cancer. Therefore, the differences in survival rates are moot.

      4. If you can’t understand why there should be a difference between health insurance and car insurance I’m not sure you can be helped. Car insurance is very easy since a car’s monetary value is easily identified. Our lives don’t have the same monetary value. We aren’t like horses that should be put down because treating us is too expensive.

  49. MrEvil says:

    Mad props to Senator Franken for asking the tough questions. Yeah, he may have been a comedy writer, but the man has his finger on the pulse of America better than many of the other 99 senators. Its about time we had someone asking these lines of questions that question these SIG’s justifications for the way they run their business and why they want things to stay the way they are.

    Franken’s books are pretty funny too. My favorite is Rush Limbaugh is a big fat idiot (and other observations).

  50. Mr.Duke says:

    What is the tax rate to pay for Switzerland’s health care?

  51. Mackinstyle says:

    Franken is what we (I’m Canadian, but still) need a whole lot more of in the months and years to come.

  52. DoktorGoku says:

    @Trai_Dep: Somebody thinking that something shouldn’t be on a website vs. others thinking that something should be on a website IS a dissenting viewpoint, however.

  53. DoktorGoku says:

    @theblackdog_HalloweenHaunting: Exactly. There used to be a lot of it prior to the rule.

    • Ferris152 says:

      @DoktorGoku: I’ve been reading Consumerist for years and that’s been a rule for a long time. It’s still a rule on all of the sites that remain under the Gawker umbrella.

  54. SgtBeavis says:

    I’m not a supporter of Sen. Franken but I certainly respect his intelligence ability to debate. If you go in front of that guy, you’d better be prepared.

    That lady brought didn’t even bring a knife to a gunfight. She brought a toothpick. Her entire strategy was to simply deflect away from and ignore the issue at hand. How stupid can you be.

  55. DoktorGoku says:

    @katstermonster: There’s no tone in internet comments. Given that I see the very thing you typed out repeatedly, over and over, in so many sites every day (especially the ones I mentioned), it’s hard to know when one person is joking- especially when I’m also seeing what I discussed on this very website, with certain posters dogpiling on others. One of dogpilers, who happens to be in this very thread, apparently thinks it’s appropriate in intelligent discussion to call another poster a “rotten slug of a human”- and that’s just one example.

    That said, your joke gave me an excellent chance to point out the very issue I feel is the greatest downside to Web 2.0- which is a lot more exciting than the research I’m doing right now (Bulk Laxatives vs. Mineral oil enemas for relief of post-op constipation).

    Thus, I get relief from studying poop relief by using your joke to point out a philosophical flaw in internet communities!

    See? Communities are awesome!

    • katstermonster says:

      @DoktorGoku: On some level, I stand by what I said. It seems that in this case, ecwis really did just want to know the connection between this and consumer cases, and I’m fine with that. But there are people who comment for the sole purpose of being jerks. If an article doesn’t interest me, I skip over it, and others can do the same. If people don’t like the content, they can take it up with the editors. I’m all for dissenting viewpoints, given that they are expressed with my two favorite things: logic and facts. Sure, we tend to dogpile around here, but more often than not, it’s for the sheer stupidity of HOW a viewpoint is expressed, not the viewpoint itself.

  56. DoktorGoku says:

    @katstermonster: Generally speaking, agreed!

  57. BabyFirefly says:

    I love you, Consumerist, you’re my favorite blog, but must you do politics?

    • mythago says:

      @BabyFirefly: I keep seeing this argument and not getting it. Consumerist is about consumer issues. Sometimes those will involve political issues. If a company is pressuring the CPSC to relax safety standards for consumer products, should Consumerist STFU because it’s “politics”?

      The article is not about how we should have a single-payer health care system. It’s about how a shill for the kind of companies that vie for the Golden Poo award is an ignorant liar who can only spew talking points.

    • ninjatoddler says:

      @jedthehumanoid: Good question. Should we propose a nationwide manhunt to find out the identity of the “hometown hottie” sitting behind Senator Franken?

  58. donovanr says:

    Franken rocks. I thought he was going to be a blowhard but wow. On the other hand the second video ends with a voice over of a two year old. What the heck was that? I think the consumerist editors dropped the ball on that one.

  59. bravo369 says:

    it’s sad and i really feel disappointed as an american that people out there are against the health care reform. any way you look at it, people are dying because they can’t pay. people are going bankrupt in order to get better. People are choosing which finger to reattach. insurance cut people left and right once they get sick but had no problems taking money for 20 years when they were healthy. it baffles me that people out there actually want to keep this system and say it is working.

  60. humphrmi says:

    I like Sen. Franken, and I like how he’s holding the special interests’ feet to the fire.

    However, he’s not entirely honest when he talks about the Swiss health care system. In at least one video, he’s mentioned that the Swiss system does not have a public option, is entirely private, with no taxpayer funding.

    That’s not entirely true. The Swiss system mandates employer coverage and requires insurance companies to cover people at rates that do not consider existing health conditions. All well and good, a sick 40 year old pays the same premium as a healthy 40 year old, and coverage is mandatory.

    But the Swiss government backstops the risk. True, they don’t have a public option per se, but Swiss taxpayers definitely underwrite the policies.

    And here’s the kicker for all the pitchfork-and-torch bank haters out there – guess where the largest percentage of Swiss tax revenues come from?

  61. ElizabethD says:

    Franken seems incredibly well educated on the subject. He comes off here like a more polished Barney Frank — surgical when he strikes, merciless yet icily polite. Bravo!

    And W00T for my Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. He was a prosecutor and RI’s attorney general, and he certainly sounded like a lawyer when he addressed that incredibly snobbish “expert.” (Her lockjaw patrician accent did her no favors. And what was that … thing… she was wearing? It undercut her gravity like whoa.)

  62. Jage says:

    The woman has a point, cancer survival rates are higher in America.

  63. PickyParents says:

    Franken is quickly becoming my hero.

    To think he barely squeaked into office…I’m sure “the other guy” wouldn’t have been have as effective as he’s been.

    (Also, as a Michigan resident, I’m damn proud of Senator Carl Levin too!)

  64. Meathamper says:

    Al Franken, one of the few senators that genuinely care for his people. Good on him.

  65. Major-General says:

    @ecwis: Agreed.

  66. jedthehumanoid says:

    Blh blh blh. Th mst mprtnt qstn y ll sm t hv frgttn bt s: wh’s th htt sttng bhnd Sntr Frnkn?

  67. coren says:

    Cn jst sy tht Whths s fckng wsm nm fr pltcn?

  68. enealio says:

    I am so glad that Franken is doing a great job. I was nervous at first about him being a senator, but he’s kicking butt. Unfortunately, since nature likes to balance herself out, we also have Michele Bachmann, the Wackjob from District 6.

  69. akronharry says:

    Better than the Bass-O-Matic

  70. dave731 says:

    Ok Consumerist and readers I have one question for you REALLY?

    I have some other amazing facts for you:

    -There are very few drowning deaths in the Death Valley

    -Downhill Skiing accidents in Cuba are at an all time low

    -Heat stroke deaths are very low in Anchorage in January

    Senator Frankin is engaging in the simplistic “I can win this argument with other facts that seem related.” argument. Yes there may be 0 bankruptcys in Switzerland due to medical bills but what is their effective tax rate? Immigration policy? I doubt if you can just cross the border and become Swiss.
    I am just pointing out that if Sen Frankin were a Comcast or Best Buy Exec using such a lame argument, most of the comments would roast him well done.
    As a Minnesotan I apologize for “electing” this guy.

    • From the cubicle of PGibbons says:

      @dave731: At least Franken was elected.

    • dave731 says:

      @dave731: Well if you read up on it, it was a very close election that was decided in court — sound familiar — with all kinds of strange circumstances like 135 ballots for Frankin found in the trunk of an election judges car after the election.

  71. TandJ says:

    I am concerned where some people may think that the lack of medical bankruptcies in Switzerland is due only to a loving government. Each person becomes individually responsible for buying health coverage and thus meets up to 90% of the cost of medical care.

    Basic health insurance is compulsory, not optional until you get sick. Premiums average 8% of income. Deductibles and out of pocket expenses apply and average $1,350 per year.

    Monthly premiums for adults age 26 and over average $322. Children’s premiums average $76 per month.

    With everyone insured, hospitals and doctors will not have to double and triple the price of a service to be able to cover the uninsured (freeloaders) who do not take responsibility for their own coverage.

  72. NickelMD says:

    Al Franken is the BEST. SENATOR. EVAR.

    He makes me want to move the Minnesota.

  73. evilhapposai says:

    No they may not have many medical bankruptcy cases senator but before you pat yourself on the back perhaps you should look at the economy there. Very high taxes, inflation, gas prices, cost of living etc. Switzerland’s economy is falling apart. Hell, just look a few aricles down from this one on Consumerist. Switzerland now has the world’s most expensive Big Mac!

    There are many other factors that put them into a economical mess but none the less medical contributes. Just having to pay for the bills of those that do not contribute taxes is hard enough. (Swiss unemployment is 4.1%, USA is %9.8. You do the math)

  74. danno5-0 says:

    You can put a suit and a tie on a turd, but $hit is still $hit!