Posts Tagged 'Health Care reform'

Medicare, why that’s a whole different thing

I drove the bus yesterday.  A warm day filled with the sight of blazing blossoms, green hills and the sound of birds.  The morning after the passage of health care reform.  A day to be thankful for.

And then I bumped into Ralph.  Sitting in the Little House lobby in his usual personality-plus mode, I stopped for some banter.  The subject quickly turned to the health care reform bill.  “What did you think of what went on yesterday?”

With a touch of pique “Awful.  It’s going to cost a fortune.  And for what?”

Cloaking myself in my social justice mode, “Well, 32 million more people will have some insurance.  And folks won’t be cast into the void when they lose their jobs and can’t get coverage because they have cancer.”  Not good enough for Ralph.

Mike, another regular, was sitting close by and joined in.  “Wait til the tax man comes and takes whatever you have left to pay for this thing.  You’ll be singing a different tune.  This thing is a disaster.”

Knowing full-well they do,  I asked “You guys have Medicare?”

Ralph jumped, “Of course, but I pay for it.”

I asked, “And just how do you do that?”  A period of silence.

“Tell you what”, I said.  “You give up your Medicare benefits, take the money you save, and use it to buy Blue Cross coverage.”  Another period of silence.

“And, if you do that, I’ll march in the next Tea Party parade…with a big poster telling folks to shit-can health care reform.”  Permanent silence.

“Let’s have lunch.”

An Open Letter to Congressman Elton Gallegly

Dear Congressman Gallegly,

I realize that you will probably vote against the Health Care Reform bill.  However, I wanted you to know how much I think we need it…even if it is flawed.

As the only industrialized country in the world without a national health care program, as a nation whose health care costs are rising faster than those of other countries, as we are unable to demonstrate longer life or better health than they can, and as nearly 40 million of our citizens are without insurance protection, something is desperately needed.  Now, not later.

You should also know that you and your colleagues have squandered a historic opportunity to have been part of a united coalition to solve this health care crisis.  And, through placing political ambitions above the common good, have missed the chance to produce an even better solution than the one before us.

It is unfortunate that I, your other constituents and 40 million more Americans will be unable to point to you and say “He helped, he did his part.  Thank you Elton.”

Nevetheless, this bill will pass and you will have missed your chance.

Thank you.

The Real Evil of Health Care Reform

Another deadline looms.  Another opportunity to pass health care reform.  Another chance to blow it.  But after reading Saturday’s front page of the world’s greatest newspaper, the Ventura Star, maybe blowing it is in our best interests.

Dark Side of Health Reform  the banner screamed out at me.  Expecting to read something nefarious, like death panels, I plunged into the article by Tom Kisken.  It was indeed dark.  Dark and dastardly.  A “Tan Tax” for those who, like Congressman Boehner, can’t get enough UV rays from the sun and who seek out their fair share of melanomas from the hundred thousand or so tanning booths hiding within the dark recesses of our mini-malls and the back alleys of America.

Yes, Obama’s health care plan threatens to put the kabosh on tanning booths by putting a 10% tax on the services rendered by them.  Like cigarettes, the Democrats have found a steady source of income from the bronzers who just can’t kick the habit.  Tom goes on to tell us that the tax would raise $2.7 billion over the next ten years, assuming we all haven’t fried our skins naturally because of global warming, plastic bags and aliens from another planet who prematurely destroy our ozone layer.

Andrew Soto, a melanoma devotee, wasn’t impressed with the tax even if it is levied on an activity that might very well kill him.  I don’t think that’s cool, he said, noting that natural light can cause cancer too. Why don’t they charge everyone, because of the sun?  Good point, Andy.

And just in case that doesn’t convince you of how wrong-headed Obama’s health plan is, newsman Tom notes the economic pressures these salons already face because of the recession.  Many of them are run by small, independent entrepreneurs — husbands and wives or mothers and daughters…If the customer doesn’t want to pay a tax on tanning and they don’t come in, there’s another small business in California that will close, said Chris Talbot, co-owner of the CTZZZZ Ultimate Tan in Ventura.  And the bronzer will have to settle for sunning at the beach and smoking Camels.

Gosh.  Who knew?  When I think of all the time I’ve spent writing about the importance of health care reform.  When I think of the facts, figures and the forty million that don’t have coverage.  When I think of all the CNN,  PBS and NPR health care programs I’ve absorbed.  When I realize the absurdity of those overly-detailed NY Times articles that laid out the issue clearly and, wink-wink, left little doubt as to the need for reform.  When I think of the seven agonizing hours that I spent watching Obama’s Health Care Summit.  What a waste.

Yes, it’s all laid out in a nutshell by the Star.  The Tan Tax is another example of our government run amok.  Balancing the outrageous costs of health care reform on the backs of those whose only crime is that they seek UV rays and a dark skin.  It’s a damn good thing I read the world’s greatest newspaper.

What’s the difference?

As most of you know, I start the day on my rowing machine.  It exercises just about every part of my body including some that I didn’t know I had.

There are two settings on the torture device.  One is resistance.  You spin a dial to increase or decrease the amount of “pull” you have to exert to get the thing moving.  The other setting is in my head.  It’s the one that tells your arms and legs how fast to move as you yank on the “oar” and slide the seat along the rail.  As I age, both settings are continually minimized.  Soon I’ll just be sitting there.  Sort of like health care reform.

Conveniently, today’s rowing coincided with Obama’s Health Care Summit.  CNN carried the thing.  It was preceded by a gaggle of talking heads predicting a general unraveling of the Summit, a return by the opposing parties to their respective corners and back-alley scheming that Shakespeare would have envied.

The TV screen is small and well removed from the rowing machine.  When the event began I had difficulty figuring out which suits contained Republicans and which housed Democrats.  For a time I confused Chris Dodd with John McCain as both are about as old as me and sport white hair.  The confusion cleared as McCain spent the better part of his time accusing Obama of a lack of transparency, partisan deal-making and a reluctance to involve Republicans in the legislative process.  I nearly jumped from the machine and cheered when Obama told McCain that the presidential campaign had ended more than a year ago.  The old guy sulked for most of the next five hours and focused on the things needed to rescue his endangered Senate re-election bid.

The Republicans came prepared.  They prominently displayed and caressed the 2,400 page Democratic proposal as though there were alien incantations residing in it.   Three doctors, now in Congress, buttressed the party’s medical credentials and encouraged more emphasis on combatting waste, fraud and abuse.  They repeatedly told Obama that the polls show that the public doesn’t want the Democrats’ plan.  They warned of financial catastrophe should the Democrats prevail.  You can’t trust the government, aka them, to run anything.  Junk what’s there.  Start over.  We’re here to help.

For their part, the Democrats regaled the crowd with horror stories about people who had no health care coverage.  How financial catastrophe was just around the corner if their version of reform failed to pass.  You can’t trust an insurance company.  We’re here to help.

Obama did most of the talking and repeated the things the two parties agreed on…and the things they didn’t.  Occasionally my eyes glazed over and I lost track of who was talking, what they were saying, and whether I agreed with them.

But it’s really very simple.  Never once did I hear a Republican tell a story about a constituent without health care insurance.  Never once did I hear a Democrat say that their proposal was too expensive.  And that’s  the real difference.

Health care reform imperils gun ownership!

It wasn’t enough that I had to deal with the Snow Queen, Joe the Plumber, Rush Limbaugh and other assorted microminds.  Now the gun owners have stepped up to the plate.

The Gun Owners of America  published a letter to its 300,000 members warning them that they stand to lose the right to bear arms if Harry Reid has his way with health care reform.  The organization, a sort of Three Stooges version of the NRA, is located in Virginia and boasts as its president, former California state senator H.L. (Bill) Richardson.  Here’s Bill’s website photo demonstrating the proper technique for suffocating pets…


Bill, writing on the president’s page, voices his infatuation with South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint.  You remember Jim.  He’s the guy who said…If we’re able to stop Obama on [health care reform], it will be his Waterloo. It will break him…

The Gun Guys, as noted in a Washington Examiner article, warn their members that the legislation will…most likely dump your gun-related health data into a government database. … This includes any firearms-related information your doctor has gleaned or any determination of post traumatic stress disorder or something similar, that can preclude you from owning firearms.

Going on, the Examiner reports that the group warns…that new “wellness and prevention” programs that would permit employers to offer employees lower premiums for healthier lifestyles do  not include anything that would prohibit “rabidly anti-gun Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius from decreeing that ‘no guns’ is somehow healthier.”

The Gunners’ website also provides a sample letter that it asks members to send to the thirty-nine Republicans who voted against the bill.   One paragraph offers the following…the Senate legislation would mandate that doctors provide ‘gun-related health data’ to a government database…

But hope is eternal.  The website offers it to their besieged members by announcing…Can you spell R-E-C-A-L-L?  GOA is looking into which states are the best targets for recalls — and you can be sure that we will be pursuing this option aggressively, exposing the Senators who sold their vote.

I realize that truth is an unnecessary, to be avoided at all costs, component of the Gunner’s website.  But a few things should be mentioned.

First, although it probably would be an excellent idea, there is no provision for a government-run, unified medical records database in the current legislation.

Second, there are no guidelines for what constitutes a healthy lifestyle.  But, if I were king, I’d give extra credit to those homes without guns.

Finally, you can’t recall a U.S. Senator.  It would violate the Constitution.  But then, unless we’re talking about gun ownership, who reads the Constitution?

Other than that the Gun Guys had it pretty straight, including President Bill’s demo of pet suffocation, proving once again that we can get along quite nicely without guns.

It’s time.

OK, surprise, I didn’t read the Snow Queen’s book.  But I did pass it on the sale table at Costco last week while I was grazing on the food kiosk freebies.  So I guess I can call myself an expert.  Everyone else does.  But enough about the Wasilla Killa.  More important things are competing for my attention.

Like watching Meet the Press Sunday when Joe Lieberman answered David Gregory’s question “Tell me Joe, why don’t you support the public option?”  Without hesitation, Joe responded “It will add to the deficit, increase taxes and lead to a government takeover of health care.”  The camera panned to Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison who smiled broadly,  just like I did years ago when my son Steven hit a home run in Little League.  Sitting next to Kay, Senator Dianne Feinstein looked like my mother did when I nearly burned down the house next door.  That Joe, what a kick.

I clicked to Face the Nation just in time to see Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader,  point to a stool supporting the two foot high, fifteen pound health care reform bill and announce with a straight face “this will increase the deficit and put an end to free choice in health care.”  Omitting any mention of dead grandmothers or the hernia he developed lifting the bill, he mercifully left the stage.

Ignoring the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office’s finding that the bill would actually reduce the deficit, Mitch chose to take the opposite point of view.  That’s why our kids tell fibs, grow up to tell even bigger fibs and think it’s just the American way.  When Uncle Mitch, sworn to uphold the Constitution, can do it why can’t they?

But, again, there are more important things in life.  The Music Festival ran its annual Holiday Home Look-in last weekend.  Lots of women paid good bucks to walk through houses, browse through the owners’ most intimate possessions, and ooh and ahh.  I say “women” because of my intimate knowledge of the visitors.  I drove one of the shuttle busses that ferried folks to the homes.  My scientific survey found that 90% of the riders were females.  The only males on the bus looked like they’d rather be somewhere else, like a dark, smelly bar.  I fully sympathized.  But it was for a good cause.  The income supports the festival, the local economy, and public school music programs.  Plus it gives me something to do.

Driving home was a joy.  Beautiful, sunny and warm.  A reminder of why people live in California, even if it’s a financial basket case.  With the radio tuned to NPR, I wound up the Dennison Grade, passed the bucolic Black Mountain Ranch and wondered why all the cows seemed to be facing south.  Then I heard a cut from a Larry King show.

Joe the Plumber (who really isn’t a plumber) offered his insightful analysis of the Snow Queen’s masterpiece.  “So Joe, you liked the book?”  Joe, who didn’t read the book either, thought it was another good reason why the queen would make an excellent president.   “We’ve had enough smart experts in Washington trying to solve our problems.  It’s time we tried something different.”  Having failed the short-term memory test, I figured he also wouldn’t know why all the cows were facing south.

Yes, sure.  The reform bill is a mess.  We ought to fix the way we deliver care before we add 40 million more people to it.  We shouldn’t add a dime to the federal deficit.  We shouldn’t raise taxes when folks are out of work and the economy is on life support.  We shouldn’t restrict a person’s right to receive the care they want when they want it.  We shouldn’t take away any Medicare benefits from those who are used to getting them.  We shouldn’t…

But we should.  To wait is unacceptable.  To do nothing is unconscionable.

Health care reform…where are you?

I haven’t felt much like writing lately.  Some loved ones have been suffering and my attention has been focused on them.  I stare at my Samsung monitor, try to get up the energy to post a new blog, and then retreat to e-mail, a few worn out websites and solitaire.  Oh, and a glass or two of wine helps to pass the time.

My exercise routine has suffered too.  Half-heartedly I row and sometimes hop onto the treadmill.  Rowing requires two hands.  Treadmilling two feet.  The choices on early morning TV are limited and repetitive.  I often wonder how many times Direct TV can repeat a boring Sandra Bullock movie without a general public uprising.  But treadmilling leaves my hands free to click in the hope of finding something new and interesting.  Alas, my fingers tire before I can locate the holy grail.

CNN is no better.  Every positive event is qualified with a “but”.  Every negative event is highlighted, dissected and accompanied by predictions of more gloomy days to come.  Now I know how Dubya felt.  Hey, but that’s show biz.  This morning was no exception.

The perfectly coiffed Heidi Collins was doing her best to put a negative spin on the better-than-expected first-time jobless claims report.  Repeating the usual “yes, but can it continue?” caveat, she scanned the horizon for some depressing health care reform news.  Brianna Keilar appeared on the screen, standing outside the Capitol where left-over Tea Partyers were protesting the looming destruction of our perfect health care system.  “There are folks here who want to be heard.  They’re not happy.”   No kidding.   Brianna looked like a windblown high school cheerleader as she tried her best to top Heidi’s negativism.  But her heart wasn’t in it.  The Partyers were also uncharacteristically muted as evidenced by their tepid rants of “your granny is dead meat” and other debunked urban myths.

Moving to the current meat of the matter, Heidi asked Brianna “but do the Democrats have enough votes?” Obviously without a clue, Brianna focused on whether taxpayer dollars would pay for abortions.  This, the latest straw man standing between us and a revamped health care system.  I turned to Sandra Bullock for revitalization.

Apparently there are not yet enough good reasons to push this thing through Congress.  Alabama’s Senator Shelby, who looks suspiciously like Shelley Berman, had this warning for those who dare to tinker with the status quo.  President Obama’s plans amount to “the first step in destroying the best health care system the world has ever known.”  Really?

Putting aside the fact that 40 or 50 million of us can’t even participate in our current perfect system, the good Senator chooses to forget the essentials.  Forgets that we spend lots more for care that produces lots less.  But don’t just take my word for it.  Wade through an August Robert Wood Johnson report  entitled How Does the Quality of U.S. Health Care Compare Internationally.  Knowing full well that you won’t, here are the parts I liked.

—Among 19 countries included in a recent study of amenable mortality, the United States had the highest rate of deaths from conditions that could have been prevented or treated successfully. 

 —In the light of the fact that the United States spends twice as much per person on health care as its peers, those who question the value for money obtained in U.S. health expenditures are on a firm footing. 

 —In short, health reform can be seen as an opportunity to systematically improve quality of care, rather than as a threat to existing levels of quality.

So what’s the hold-up?  There are more Democrats in Congress than fleas on Paul’s dog, Chumba.  We threw the other guys out because they lacked any constructive ideas other than stopping Bill and Jim from getting married, and executing first-time flag burners.  We took the country back.   We said “We can do it.”

Where’s Sandra Bullock when you need her?


Olympia, you’re my hero

Olympia Snowe is my new hero.  Even if she is a Republican.  What a lady.  Looks like a normal human being.  Unpretentious, might even be a great Peace Corps candidate.  Or run a coffee shop like Java and Joe.  Bet she drives other Senate Finance Committee Republicans like Chuck Grassley and Jon Kyl up the wall.

You remember Senator Kyl, the second highest ranking Republican in the Senate.  A paragon of equal rights, his Phoenix office was besieged on October 6 by hordes of women who highlighted his sexist attitudes.  Like the comment he made about maternity coverage during a Finance Committee discussion. “I don’t need maternity care.”  To which Senator Debbie Stabenow responded “Maybe not, but your mother probably did.”

And you know Chuck Grassley.  He’s the guy who warned folks attending one of his August town hall meetings that the government would “pull the plug on grandma.”

On Monday Chuck and Olympia were sharing a bagel in the Senate dining room and talking about the upcoming vote on the Committee’s health care reform proposal. It was a serious discussion as evidenced by Chuck’s picking up the tab for the bagel…including double cream cheese.

Chuck:  Ya know, Oly, you gotta stick with us on this one.  We’re depending on you.  We’re all gonna blow it off and sink the Obama ship of state.

Oly:  But Chuck, we gotta do something to fix this health care mess.  How long can we ignore the public?

Chuck:  Ignore?  Why, after I told them granny was dead on arrival, and Jon promised them a million Mexicans crossing the border for liposuction, that bill is a goner.

Oly:  But Chuck, you know none of that is true.

Chuck:  That’s politics.

Oly:  But Chuck, how long can we keep being in hock to the insurance companies and the druggies?  Surely, we’ve milked that one for all it’s worth.

Chuck:  Wait til you see the report that the insurance guys bought from Price Waterhouse.  It says that everyone’s premiums will double because they have to cover those deadbeats who don’t have their overpriced insurance.

Oly:  But, Chuck, what does Price Waterhouse know about health care?  And didn’t the Congressional Budget Office say the bill would actually reduce the cost of care?

Chuck:  Everyone trusts Price Waterhouse.  They do that Oscars crap.  Nobody knows or trusts the CBO guys.  They all look like Mr. Peepers.

Oly:  But Chuck, won’t everybody realize that if the insurance guys say they can’t hack it without doubling everyone’s premiums, that we might as well jump right into a single payor system that really can control costs?

Chuck:  Are you kidding?  If they’ll believe the story about granny and the Mexicans, they’ll never figure this one out.  At least not until I’m on full pension with terrific health benefits.

Oly:  But Chuck, I was always taught to be honest and do what’s in the best interests of the country and my constituents.

Chuck:  Seems pretty restrictive.

Oly:  Well Chuck.  This has been really informative.  I think I know what to do.

Chuck:  Atta girl, Oly.  We knew we could count on you.

Oly:  Thanks for the bagel.  By the way, you shoulda let me pay for my half.

olympia snowe

And the Advantage goes to…

Yesterday was Yom Kippur.  The day of atonement.  Most of it was spent in our local Ojai synagogue, enumerating my sins, asking forgiveness, fasting, and thinking about food.  My pledge to be less critical, think before I speak, and to remember the guy without feet before I complain about my tight shoes lasted about twenty minutes following the close of services at sundown.

My resolutions were further tested this afternoon when I visited the Times website and saw this screaming banner…Senate Panel Rejects Pair of Public Options in Health Plan.

The article made a special note that the Finance Committee had just completed a three day weekend because of Yom Kippur.  With the exception of Chuck Shumer and Ron Wyden, my presumption is that 21 of the 23 committee members were somewhere else on Monday, other than in shul.

Those 21 folks were spared nine hours of exposure to sin talk, making the world a better place and being my brother’s keeper.  All without the benefit of food and water.  Please, no offense to my Christian brethren is intended.

So, perhaps they should be excused for trampling the only thing that will keep insurance moguls from making an even bigger fortune at taxpayer expense…while simultaneously failing to control the ever-spiraling cost of health care.

Not to be left out of the party, our congressman, Elton Gallegly, posted an article in today’s Ventura Star.  Headlined Pelosi’s Healthcare Plan Cuts Medicare ,  Elton devotes a quarter page to extolling the benefits of the Medicare Advantage program and the crisis that will befall the elderly if the subsidies provided to it by us taxpayers are reduced.  A pretty interesting position for a guy who voted against the expansion of the State Childrens Health Program, protected pharmaceutical companies by rejecting the government’s request to negotiate Medicare drug prices, and voted against repealing the restrictions on stem cell research.

What is Medicare Advantage?  And to whose advantage is it?

—It’s a program designed by Congress to help reduce the cost of care to the elderly.  It provides benefits, like reduced co-pays, not offered under the standard Medicare program.  Other benefits vary by plan and can include things like dental care and drug benefits.

—All Advantage plans are run by private companies, e.g. Aetna, Humana, Cigna.  They are generally paid a fixed monthly payment for each Medicare enrollee.

—Services under these plans are usually offered through a limited panel of providers, ala PPOs and HMOs but can also include Private Fee for Service.

—About 20% of Medicare enrollees are in Advantage plans.

—There is evidence that the plans have fewer hospital admissions and shorter lengths of stay.

—Currently, Advantage costs us taxpayers 14% more than standard Medicare.  About $10 billion per year.  So much for cost savings.

So to whose advantage are such plans?  Well, they provide better benefits than standard Medicare, so they can be of advantage to us old folks.  And they are profitable for the insurance companies, so they like ’em too.

So who’s to complain?  For one thing, me.  I pay for those sweetened benefits and insurance company profits through my contributions to the Medicare Trust Fund.  A fund that is about to go belly up without some kind of action.  Any kind of special treatment given to one class of beneficiaries eats into what’s available to me.  Me, one of the other 80% of old folks not enrolled in Advantage programs.

Now I don’t begrudge folks from picking one of those Advantage plans.  What I do object to is paying more for their choice.  And that’s what the argument is all about.  Max and his Finance Committee cronies, along with Nancy and her minions, want to reduce the special treatment given to Advantage folks in order to level the playing field and help pay for enrolling the other 50 million folks in this country who have zero health care coverage.

So why does Elton write these dumb, misleading articles?  Why does he predict that a holocaust will befall Advantage members and then conveniently ignore the other 80% of us…not to speak of the other 50 million have-nots.   First, he didn’t fast yesterday.  But more importantly, it’s another way of raising the hackles of old folks.  Folks who can go to tea parties and help defeat any kind of meaningful health care reform.  Folks who can help maintain the status quo and enrich the insurance companies.  Folks who care more about what they’ve got instead of what others don’t.

Ok, so I complained.  I promise to do better next year.


Eat some worms

Nobody likes me,
Everybody hates me!
I’m gonna eat some worms.

I listened to NPR this morning.  Scott Simon and Juan Williams were schmoozing about the world’s problems.  Particular emphasis was placed on Obama’s popularity numbers, his botched health care reform initiative, the continuing economic uncertainty, and the looming quagmire in Afghanistan.  There was more.

Jabs at the rising unemployment rate, the falloff in car sales after the end of the cash for clunkers program, and the California fires rounded out the ten minute segment.  The only thing missing was the cover-up of Obama’s involvement in the Octomom adventure and his apparent fathering of at least half of the eighteen, soon to be nineteen, Duggar children.

Seven months in the Oval Office and all the problems of the last decade are his.  Nicely tied up with a red ribbon.   George who?

Then I made the mistake of visiting the NY Times on the web.  The lead editorial  shouted at me…

As is the case with so many economic indicators these days, the only good thing to say about the August jobs report is that it could have been worse.


Adding to my anxiety, Charles Blow’s Prince of Dispassion  piece, anticipating Obama’s next foray into resuscitating health care reform, offered the following depression producing observation…

Let’s hope someone among these Ivy League oracles will convince the president to come down from his cloud and speak to the Costco constituency. As we witnessed during his presidential campaign, he can have a hard time speaking to everyday people in everyday language.

His opponents don’t have that problem. Death panels. Death books. Taxpayer dollars for abortion. Kill Grandma. Take away choice. Is some of this rhetoric blatantly silly? Yes. But, also brilliantly simple.

Conservatives speak in bumper stickers. Obama speaks in thesis statements. In fact, he sometimes seems constitutionally incapable of concision.

With friends like these, there’s not much point in visiting Fox-TV, the National Review or Pat Boone.  Rush Limbaugh can kick back and laugh his drug-laden ass off.

This mind-numbing assault took me back to last evening.  We had a delightful dinner at Kathy and John’s home.  Yummy toast spread with god-knows-what, shrimp with a mysterious coating that begged you to have just one more, and great wine.  In the middle of that Kathy, a flaming liberal with family ties to Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Hubert Humphrey, rose to her full five foot height and proclaimed…

I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it any more.  Who does he think he is?  He promised us.  He said he wouldn’t let us down.  He said he was the tooth fairy.  I’m pissed, crushed and up to here with him.  The fascist!

And then we had dessert.





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