Archive for Rant
Even though I still consider myself a Texan, I don’t live there anymore. I certainly don’t have any children in Texas schools, so how and what the Texas Board of Education decides to teach the children of their state really shouldn’t concern me. It shouldn’t. But it does.
The practical reason, of course, is that textbooks created for the education system of Texas inevitably end up in school systems across the country. It’s such a huge market for textbooks that the major publishers are willing to bow to their wishes when revisions to history are requested, and the rest of the country can take it or leave it. This is not the first time Texas has skewed history for children all over the U.S.
This time, it seems, Thomas Jefferson was getting way too much credit for his role as a founding father. Writing the Declaration of Independence and most of the Constitution clearly just makes him a glory hog. The Texas board wants his responsibility in the creation of this country pared down a bit. That separation of church and state thing apparently still pisses them off.
On the other hand, there are some important figures of the past that the board feels are getting short-changed at the checkout stand of history. Confederate President Jefferson Davis is one of them. The Texas board feels that Jeff’s presidency should be treated more on an equal par with Abraham Lincoln’s. I mean, it’s only fair. He was a president, too.
Another much maligned, and unfairly disparaged character from the more recent past is Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy. The board feels he’s been poorly treated by historians, and would like to see his image rehabilitated a little. The fact that he was a demagogue, a drunk, and an unrepentant liar shouldn’t completely overshadow the possibility that there really may have been communists in the federal government. I mean, really. He could have been right.
There are over 100 such “adjustments” to the state curriculum by the board, and these aren’t even the most egregious. These are just the easiest to make fun of. And, I’m afraid that the impracticality of it is not what’s really gotten up my nose. I think it’s more emotional than that.
What has happened in Texas, again, is that a handful of appointed and elected political hacks with a social and political agenda have been empowered to second-guess and overrule the panel of professional educators charged with creating the social studies curriculum for the state’s school children. They have, once again, held the state up to national and international ridicule, but worse, they seek to cheat the children of Texas of an honest and unbiased education.
This board, without a single educator or historian among them, has chosen to rewrite history to suit themselves and their own narrow ideology. No one cares if they wish to go through life ill-prepared and ignorant. Clearly they don’t mind. But to impose systematic, state sponsored ignorance on an entire generation of school children is immoral.
Shame on them.
This small band of ideologues is being allowed to lead the next generation of Texans into intellectual bankruptcy. The parents of Texas expect and deserve better for their children. They need to stand up and demand it. Now. Before the books are printed.
Since the outset of the current healthcare reform debate in this country, a lot has been said on talk radio, cable news outlets, assorted print media, the blogosphere, and thousands of other internet outlets. Not to mention every corner drugstore and coffee shop in America. The available information ranges from “just the facts” to honest attempts at decoding government speak, from inadvertent misinformation to deliberate distortion, and from demagoguery to outright lies. There is no shortage of opinion to be found out there, and no shortage of people, on both sides of the argument, who are willing to twist the facts to represent their predetermined point of view. But how does one go about sifting through the fact and the fiction to arrive at an informed judgment?
It’s a good question. Another is how this new phenomenon—the ability to spread misleading information at rapid speed through chain e-mails, blogs, text-messaging and “tweets”—will affect the reform debate.
“What we’re seeing is a flood of viral content that distorts the Obama effort to reform health care,” says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, who codirects www.FactCheck.org, a website that examines questionable claims from all sides of the political spectrum. Today’s opposition tools are very different from those used against previous attempts at health care reform in the Clinton era. Then, the key means of attack available were television advertising and direct-mail campaigns, which were expensive and took time to organize.
“Extremists and people who are so locked into their own ideology that they’ll distort anything have been out there forever,” Jamieson says. “But they haven’t had a way to reach out to as many people as efficiently as they have now.”
To be fair to the opponents of health-care reform, the lies and exaggerations they’re spreading are not made up out of whole cloth—which makes the misinformation that much more credible. Instead, because opponents demand that everyone within earshot (or e-mail range) look, say, “at page 425 of the House bill!,” the lies take on a patina of credibility. Take the claim in one chain e-mail that the government will have electronic access to everyone’s bank account, implying that the Feds will rob you blind. The 1,017-page bill passed by the House Ways and Means Committee does call for electronic fund transfers—but from insurers to doctors and other providers. There is zero provision to include patients in any such system.
Here are several other myths about healthcare reform that just won’t die:
You’ll have no choice in the health benefits you receive.
The myth that a “health choices commissioner” will decide what benefits you get seems to have originated in a July 19 post at blog.flecksoflife.com, whose homepage features an image of Obama looking like Heath Ledger’s Joker. In fact, the House bill sets up a health-care exchange—essentially a list of private insurers and one government plan—where people who do not have health insurance through their employer or some other source (including small businesses) can shop for a plan, much as seniors shop for a drug plan under Medicare part D.
The government will indeed require that participating plans not refuse people with preexisting conditions and offer at least minimum coverage, just as it does now with employer-provided insurance plans and part D. The requirements will be floors, not ceilings, however, in that the feds will have no say in how generous private insurance can be.
Senior citizens seem to be a particular target for these liars. A lot of the mythology about health reform is designed to scare them, like another lie spread across the country: the president’s proposal will lead to cuts in the coverage seniors receive for prescription drugs. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said as much on July 21st when he claimed that the Democratic proposal would cause “millions of seniors to lose their coverage for prescription medicine.” In fact, health insurance reform will save seniors hundreds of dollars on their prescriptions because it cuts the cost of drugs by half, once they reach the Part D coverage gap. Moreover, it begins phasing in the end of the “donut hole.”
No chemo for older Medicare patients.
The threat that Medicare will give cancer patients over 70 only end-of-life counseling and not chemotherapy—as a nurse at a hospital told a roomful of chemo patients, including the uncle of a NEWSWEEK reporter—has zero basis in fact. It’s just a vicious form of the rationing scare. The House bill does not use the word “ration.” Nor does it call for cost-effectiveness research, much less implementation—the idea that “it isn’t cost-effective to give a 90-year-old a hip replacement.”
The general claim that care will be rationed under health-care reform is less a lie and more of a non-disprovable projection (as is Howard Dean’s assertion that health-care reform will not lead to rationing, ever). What we can say is that there is de facto rationing under the current system, by both Medicare and private insurance. No plan covers everything, but coverage decisions “are now made in opaque ways by insurance companies,” says Dr. Donald Berwick of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was on Fox News last month saying that the president’s proposals would be paid for “on the backs of seniors through Medicare cuts.” That’s a lie. This refers to proposed decreases in Medicare increases. That is, spending is on track to reach $803 billion in 2019 from today’s $422 billion, and that would be dialed back.
Even the $560 billion in reductions (which would be spread over 10 years and come from reducing payments to private Medicare advantage plans, reducing annual increases in payments to hospitals and other providers, and improving care so seniors are not readmitted to a hospital) is misleading: the House bill also gives Medicare $340 billion more over a decade. The money would pay docs more for office visits, eliminate copays and deductibles for preventive care, and help close the “doughnut hole” in the Medicare drug benefit, explains Medicare expert Tricia Neuman of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
As the Alliance for Retired Americans points out, Medicare will benefit from cost-containment across the entire health care system. Furthermore, President Obama has proposed ending the wasteful overpayments currently given to private Medicare Advantage plans. That reform will help ensure that Medicare resources benefit all Medicare participants, and are not diverted to insurance companies.
Illegal immigrants will get free health insurance.
The House bill doesn’t give anyone free health care (though under a 1986 law illegals who can’t pay do get free emergency care now, courtesy of all us premium paying customers or of hospitals that have to eat the cost). Will they be eligible for subsidies to buy health insurance? The House bill says that “individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States” will not be allowed to receive subsidies.
The claim that taxpayers will wind up subsidizing health insurance for illegal immigrants has its origins in the defeat of an amendment, offered in July by Republican Rep. Dean Heller of Nevada, to require those enrolling in a public plan or seeking subsidies to purchase private insurance to have their citizenship verified. Flecksoflife.com claimed on July 19th that “HC [health care] will be provided 2 all non US citizens, illegal or otherwise.” Rep. Steve King of Iowa spread the claim in a USA Today op-ed on August 20th, calling the explicit prohibition on such coverage “functionally meaningless” absent mandatory citizenship checks, and it’s now gone viral. Can we say that none of the estimated 11.9 million illegal immigrants will ever wangle insurance subsidies through identity fraud, pretending to be a citizen? You can’t prove a negative, but experts say that Medicare—the closest thing to the proposals in the House bill—has no such problem.
Death panels will decide who lives.
When Sarah Palin writes that President Obama is going to set up “death panels” to decide whether her child with Down syndrome, or elderly parents, are going to live or die, she is spreading a lie. That’s a disgrace and she is not alone. On July 16th Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York and darling of the right, said on Fred Thompson’s radio show that “on page 425,” “Congress would make it mandatory…that every five years, people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner, how to decline nutrition.” But it was Sarah Palin who coined the term “death panels” in an August 7 Facebook post.
This lie springs from a provision in the House bill to have Medicare cover optional counseling on end-of-life care for any senior who requests it. This means that any patient, terminally ill or not, can request a special consultation with his or her physician about ventilators, feeding tubes, and other measures. Thus the House bill expands Medicare coverage, but without forcing anyone into end-of-life counseling.
The death-panels claim nevertheless got a new lease on life when Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives under George W. Bush, claimed in an August 18 Wall Street Journal op-ed that a 1997 workbook from the Department of Veterans Affairs pushes vets to “hurry up and die.” In fact, the thrust of the 51-page book, which the VA pulled from circulation in 2007, is letting “loved ones” and “health care providers” “know your wishes.” Readers are asked to decide what they believe, including that “life is sacred and has meaning, no matter what its quality,” and that “my life should be prolonged as long as it can…using any means possible.” But the workbook also asks if readers “believe there are some situations in which I would not want treatments to keep me alive.” Opponents of health-care reform have selectively cited this passage as evidence the government wants to kill the old and the sick.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) went on the House floor to state that the GOP opponents of health care reform “would not put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government.” The idea that the president and supporters of health insurance reform want to put people to death is an outrageous lie. As the Los Angeles Times noted on August 10th, “This has become one of the most misleading, inflammatory claims made in the health care debate, advanced repeatedly by conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Republican lawmakers working to stoke fears among seniors.”
In fact, as the Times notes, under the proposal, Medicare would start to cover voluntary doctor visits to discuss living wills and advance directives for care, which would be used only if a person becomes seriously ill and unable to make medical decisions. As is currently the practice, advance care decisions would still be made by the individual. There is nothing mandatory or coercive in the proposal, which was proposed initially by Republicans in Congress.
The government will set doctors’ wages.
This, too, seems to have originated on the Flecksoflife blog on July 19. But while page 127 of the House bill says that physicians who choose to accept patients in the public insurance plan would receive 5 percent more than Medicare pays for a given service, doctors can refuse to accept such patients, and, even if they participate in a public plan, they are not salaried employees of it any more than your doctor today is an employee of, say, Aetna. “Nobody is saying we want the doctors working for the government; that’s completely false,” says Amitabh Chandra, professor of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
To be sure, there are also honest and principled objections to health-care reform. Some oppose a requirement that everyone have health insurance as an erosion of individual liberty. That’s a debatable position, but an honest one. And many are simply scared out of their wits about what health-care reform will mean for them. But when fear and loathing hijack the brain, anything becomes believable—even that health-care reform is unconstitutional. To disprove that, check the commerce clause: Article I, Section 8.
So what are we supposed to do about it?
All across the country, the opponents of health care reform are spreading misinformation about almost all the proposals to improve health care coverage for Americans. We shouldn’t be surprised by that. The insurance companies, the right-wing radio hosts, the K-Street lobbyists and the Republican leadership who are spreading the misinformation have a vested interest in keeping the status quo. And they are willing to lie to protect industry profits.
It’s troubling to see that so many well-meaning citizens are listening to the lies and believing them. One has only to watch a handful of angry questioners at some televised town-hall meeting to know that some of these questioners are good people who are troubled by what they are hearing. They want to know the facts. But all too often, they are denied answers by the rabble that eschews the truth by shouting others down. The opponents of health care reform are pulling out all the stops to kill the reform that millions of Americans need to improve our health care. They’re spreading falsehoods and creating chaos. They know what they are doing.
All of us need to work together to break through the lies and shouts and slurs. We need to make sure that our friends and neighbors know the truth, and can separate the lies from the facts about health insurance reform. Educate yourself. Learn what is true and what it not. And when you hear someone spreading misinformation and lies, knowingly or unwittingly, don’t let it go unchallenged. Correct it. Do your part to set the record straight. There have been few times as important as now to stand up and speak the truth.
Would you kill a wheelchair-bound man for a million dollars? Probably not. But there are those who would. If you needed further proof that the health insurance industry is broken, and needs some new controls, here’s a perfect example of what’s wrong with it.
Ian Pearl is 37 years old, and he suffers from muscular dystrophy. He is confined to a wheelchair, and is hooked up to a breathing tube, but he refuses to just give up and die. He is insured by Guardian Insurance of New York, which pays for the one million dollars in care, each year, that it takes to keep Mr. Pearl alive. Most of that is for around the clock, in-home nursing care – for operation of his ventilator, hourly breathing treatments and continuous intravenous medication.
Ian Pearl has been fortunate, most of his life, to be covered under the Guardian small-business health plan his father bought through his remodeling company. Generous by modern standards, the health insurance plan covered home nursing, something most small-business plans do not cover today. In the state of New York, where Mr. Pearl’s business operates, 54 other employers offered the Guardian plan. Their policies covered nearly 500 employees and dependents, including two other severely ill people.
But Guardian grew weary of paying Mr. Pearl’s expenses, and decided to find a way to get out of its obligation. Legally barred from discriminating against individuals who submit large claims, they couldn’t simply cancel Mr. Pearl’s policy. Besides, that would just be wrong. Then someone at Guardian struck on the perfect answer. Instead of canceling Mr. Pearl’s policy, Guardian chose to cancel entire lines of coverage altogether, in whole states, to avoid paying high-cost claims like Mr. Pearl’s. In an e-mail, one Guardian company executive called high-cost patients such as Mr. Pearl “dogs” that the company should “get rid of.”
A Guardian spokesman said policies such as Mr. Pearl’s – which offered unlimited home nursing – had simply become too expensive for new small-business customers to buy, and that even Medicaid and Medicare do not cover 24-hour home nursing. His parents, Warren and Susan Pearl of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said their health insurance premiums had risen over the years to $3,700 a month. That’s $44,400 a year. Fortunately, they are in a position to pay these premiums.
A federal court ruled that the company’s actions were legal. The judge found that the company had not violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), because it canceled entire policy lines. The Pearls also claimed Guardian violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), but the judge found that only HHS can enforce that law and that private citizens cannot sue under it.
The Pearls appealed to HHS under the Bush administration and were told the agency could do nothing, Warren Pearl said. They petitioned again in a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on October 5th, with support from their congresswoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida Democrat, but have not heard back. So, on December 1st, barring an order by the federal Department of Health and Human Services, Mr. Pearl will lose his benefits.
The insurer also canceled similar policies in New Jersey and South Carolina, and earlier ceased offering any health plans in Colorado, but did not cancel all of the policies in every state in which they were offered, said John Fried, the Pearls’ attorney. The company took the action only against those plans where claims were highest, he said. In an e-mail to four other Guardian executives entered into evidence in the Pearls’ suit, company Vice President Tim Birely discussed how the company could “eliminate this entire block to get rid of the few dogs.” Wow. This reminds me of something I’ve heard before …. what is it? Oh yeah. Death Panels.
Guardian, a 150-year-old mutual company, reported profits of $437 million last year, a 50 percent increase over $292 million in 2007. It paid dividends of $723 million to shareholders and had $4.3 billion in capital reserves, according to its annual report. The company’s investment income totaled $1.5 billion that year, a small increase from the year earlier. They discontinued Ian Pearl’s coverage late last year, but were required by law to continue paying for his care for another year. Next year, without Mr. Pearl as a drag on their books, they will earn an extra one million dollars in profits.
Ian Pearl has Type II spinal muscular atrophy – which often kills victims in infancy. He grew to adulthood only to suffer respiratory arrest at 19. He has required a tracheal tube ever since. The Pearls moved to Fort Lauderdale 30 years ago because the humidity there is beneficial to their son. Warren Pearl has commuted back and forth from New York every weekend since to continue to operate his business. Ian became the first wheelchair-bound pupil to be mainstreamed in the Broward County elementary schools, and he was elected president of his high school class at University School of Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.
As a last resort, Ian would be admitted to a state hospital under Medicaid. But the Pearls consider that a death sentence. “Ian would be lucky, or unlucky, to survive more than a matter of weeks or months,” Mrs. Pearl said. “One-on-one skilled nursing is essential.” Her husband, 60, a wealthy businessman, said the couple have enough savings to pay for their son’s care for a few years, and after that, they could mortgage the family’s home.
This is capitalism at its finest. The free market at work. And a perfect example of why the health and well-being of Americans should not be a part of that equation. Profit will always be the priority.
“This is a matter of life and death for my son,” Warren Pearl said. “I have to have faith that HHS will enforce the law. This is attempted murder, as far as I’m concerned. They targeted us, they never expected to get caught. I believe that justice will prevail.”
I hope your faith is justifed, Mr. Pearl.
The Washington Times
The debate over whether or not the federal and/or state governments should mandate affordable access to medical care for all Americans has raged for at least 75 years. As a larger and larger segment of the population finds itself in the “have not” column when it comes to healthcare access, this debate is more critical than ever in our history. Passions erupt into angry exchanges on both sides of the argument. Accurate information sometimes gets little notice, while misinformation and deliberate lies gain traction simply because they get intense exposure.
All the heat and light encircling the debate make it difficult, even for an astute observer, to separate the reasonable from hyperbole, the right from the wrong. and the truth from the lies. But one thing has never been more true. If we don’t get it right this time, the consequences will be damaging for a long time to come.
Who Are The Uninsured?
Many on the political right are fond of pointing out that only a small portion of the uninsured in this country are legal residents of the United States; that, of the nearly 50 million people without health insurance, only about 17 million are U.S. citizens. Like many things the right is fond of pointing out, this is simply untrue. According to a study released in October 2008 by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a large majority of the uninsured (79%) are native or naturalized U.S. citizens.
Another favorite, but false, statistic is that most of the uninsured are the chronically unemployed, and those who are uninterested in working for a living, and pulling their own weight. The fact is that more than eight in ten of the uninsured are in working families—about 70% are from families with one or more full-time workers and 12% are from families with part-time workers. Only 19% of the uninsured are from families that have no connection to the workforce.
Also, about two-thirds of the uninsured are poor or near poor. These individuals are less likely to be offered employer-sponsored coverage or to be able to afford to purchase their own coverage. Those who are poor (below 100% of the poverty level) are about twice as likely to be uninsured as the entire nonelderly population (35% vs.17%). Were it not for the Medicaid program, many more of the poor would be uninsured. The near-poor (those with incomes between 100% and 199% of the poverty level) also run a high risk of being uninsured (29%), in part, because they are less likely to be eligible for Medicaid. Only 10% of the uninsured are from families at or above 400% of poverty.
Adults are more likely to be uninsured than children. Adults make up 70% of the nonelderly population, but 80% of the uninsured. Most low-income children qualify for Medicaid or SCHIP, but low-income adults under age 65 typically qualify for Medicaid only if they are disabled, pregnant, or have dependent children. Income eligibility levels are generally much lower for parents than for children.
Most importantly, the uninsured are people you know, maybe even love. They are the people you work with. The people you socialize with. They are your neighbors, and your friends, and your family. And if something isn’t done soon to address the problem, one of them could someday face the reality that their life cannot be saved because they don’t have the resources to afford healthcare.
‘The Public Option’
The public option has been called a lot of things; a government takeover of healthcare, socialized medicine, an intrusion into our doctor-patient relationships, and a safety net to assure that no American has to go bankrupt or die just because he or she doesn’t have health insurance. Opponents of reform like to cite polls that indicate Americans do not want a public option included in any eventual healthcare bill. If you listen carefully when they cite these studies, their source is almost always the Lewin Group, a consulting firm in Falls Church, Virginia. With the political battle over healthcare reform being waged largely with numbers, few number-crunchers have shaped the debate as much as the Lewin Group.
Most of their studies appear to point to certain doom for America if any form of public option is included in the reform bill. According to Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the second-ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, the Lewin Group is “well known as one of the most nonpartisan groups in the country.” Generally left unsaid amid all the citations is that the Lewin Group is wholly owned by UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation’s largest insurers. Does the term “conflict of interest” seem appropriate here?
More specifically, the Lewin Group is part of Ingenix, a UnitedHealth subsidiary that was accused by the New York attorney general and the American Medical Association, of helping insurers shift medical expenses to consumers by distributing skewed data. Ingenix supplied its parent company and other insurers with data that allegedly understated the “usual and customary” doctor fees that insurers use to determine how much they will reimburse consumers for out-of-network care. In January, UnitedHealth agreed to a $50 million settlement with the New York attorney general and a $350 million settlement with the AMA, covering conduct going back as far as 1994.
The Lewin Group, and other partisan “think tank” studies aside, when mainstream nonpartisan polling organizations ask the question, without using loaded phrases like “government takeover” and they include an accurate explanation of what it is, the American people strongly favor a public option by a 61% to 34% margin. Almost two to one. And they trust the president over the GOP by 47% to 31% to properly deal with healthcare reform.
A Question of Morality
By law, we have stacked the deck against the American healthcare consumer. Health insurance companies are exempt from antitrust laws, thus allowing insurers to establish near monopolies in most states. In Georgia, two companies – WellPoint and UnitedHealth Group – hold a 69 percent share of the market. The American Medical Association reports that 94 percent of insurance markets in more than 300 metropolitan areas are now highly concentrated. WellPoint runs Blue Cross-Blue Shield plans in 14 states. In Maine, for example, WellPoint controls 78% of the health insurance market. It dominates the market in Missouri, with 68% of the business, as well as in its home state of Indiana (60%), New Hampshire (51%), Kentucky (59%), Connecticut (55%), Virginia (50%), and Ohio (41%).
In addition, we have allowed insurers to “cherry pick” the youngest and healthiest Americans to insure, while rejecting those who are more likely to file a claim. If you are fortunate enough to have employer subsidized health insurance, and happen to suffer from a chronic ailment, if you lose your job or change jobs, qualifying for insurance coverage again can be impossible due to the “preexisting conditions” exclusion. If anything positive comes out of the current healthcare debate, outlawing the preexisting condition exclusion should be a top priority.
The United States is the only modern industrial democracy where the health and welfare of its citizens, and the life and death decisions connected to it, are just another bushel of free market commodities to be bought, sold, granted or denied based on the bottom line profits of a handful of large corporations. Uninsured citizens aside, Americans with health insurance die every day because a decision was reached, in some corporate office, that treating their condition was just too costly. Or, some pretense was used, based on a possible preexisting condition, to deny treatment. If you don’t believe this, read through a few transcripts of congressional hearings on healthcare. You will find it disturbing. Meanwhile, we worry and debate about government intrusion. In this country, in the 21st century, whether or not you live or die should not be contingent on how much money you have. It is immoral, plain and simple.
The ‘S’ Word
Providing an alternative, like a government sponsored insurance pool, immediately raises the dreaded ’s’ word. Socialism. As soon as the word socialism enters the discussion, rational debate disappears. We are so appalled by the prospect that we immediately forget the fact that, in most urban and suburban areas of this country, we long ago agreed to pool our resources, and fund through taxes, socialized police and fire protection, socialized street and bridge maintenance, socialized sewer and garbage removal, water systems, and on and on and on.
Our elderly are protected by a socialized medical and pension plan. Our veterans have access to excellent medical care through a socialized system of hospitals and doctors. By and large, most of these people are satisfied with the service they receive. We are already a hugely socialized democracy, and we haven’t completely collapsed as a society because of it.
If you decide to protect your home with flood insurance, State Farm or Allstate will be happy to sell you a policy. Unless, of course, you live some place that actually stands a reasonable chance of flooding, like the Florida coast or the Ohio River Valley. Then, your only option for flood insurance is the federal government. The free market won’t touch it.
If you live in a fire-prone area, or an earthquake prone part of this country, your only choice for fire or earthquake insurance is often a state run insurance pool. Virtually all states require that automobile drivers carry liability insurance against potential accidents. Most states also have a state run insurance pool for high-risk drivers who are unable to purchase coverage anywhere else. And the last time I checked, State Farm, Allstate, Geico, Progressive and AAA are all doing just fine, precisely because they are protected from writing high-risk coverage.
So, the federal government is happy to be in the flood insurance business because it protects the profits of private insurance companies. Under the guise of protecting competition, they are equally unwilling to intervene in the health insurance business for the same reason; the protection of corporate profits. The health and welfare of the American people is a secondary consideration.
In any case, there is no competition. Most Americans who have health insurance get it through employer subsidized plans, and therefore don’t get to “shop” for coverage. They get what their employer decides it can afford to offer. While health insurance costs are theoretically regulated, health insurers seem able to manipulate rates, deductibles, copayments, restrictions, and exclusions with impunity, unlike their counterparts in the home and auto insurance fields. They also appear able to lower reimbursements to medical facilities and professionals at will. In short, they are a government protected, unrestricted monopoly against which the healthcare consumer stands no chance of prevailing. Only our elected legislators have the power to influence the outcome, and they seem to have been bought and paid for long ago.
What Do We Do?
It’s a good question. It may well be that the outcome has already been written, and that all the current Sturm und Drang is strictly theater. But, on the off chance that right can still prevail, I urge anyone who feels that every American deserves to have access to quality and affordable medical care, regardless of economic station, to find out who your senators are. Find out who your congressman is. Write them. Email them. Fax them. Telephone their offices. Call and email the White House.
Until we know for certain that the issue is resolved, for good or bad, we should not stop trying to make our voices heard.
It has been clear for a long time that there is no statement, no deed, no effort by President Obama that the Republicans would applaud, or even acknowledge as worthwhile. But last week they cheered, en masse, America’s loss of it’s Olympic bid just because they saw it as an embarrassment to Obama. Today, they booed our President’s award of the Nobel Prize for Peace.
At what point do you just call it unAmerican? Unpatriotic? Shameful? These people are an embarrassment to this country.
Will Rogers was fond of saying, “I belong to no organized party. I’m a Democrat.” I don’t know whether to take heart from the fact that the Democrats’ current lack of focus and direction is not a new phenomenon, or to be discouraged by the fact that they’ve been this undisciplined for at least eighty years. It doesn’t much matter, I guess.
What does matter is that the Democratic Party is setting the stage to squander, once more, an opportunity to pass the first real healthcare reform legislation since 1965. If this comes to pass, and reform fails yet again, history demonstrates that it will be another generation or more before the window opens again. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands more Americans will die simply due to lack of access to adequate healthcare. Nearly forty-five thousand lives a year will continue to be lost until we finally do something about it. And it will not be the fault of the Republicans.
The Republican Party, as an institution, has never favored healthcare reform. It doesn’t view healthcare as a right, and therefore sees no role in it for government. They managed to get it removed from Franklin Roosevelt’s original Social Security legislation in 1935. They defeated it again, in the late 1940s, when Harry Truman urged congress to mandate healthcare for all Americans. Finally, in 1965, Medicare and Medicaid were signed into law, and it was generally believed that they were just the first step to universal health coverage. The political and fiscal toll of Vietnam, however, squashed that possibility.
For twenty of the next twenty-four years, the Executive Branch was helmed by Republicans, and serious healthcare reform was not raised again until 1993, when Bill Clinton was elected President. The Republicans, along with their traditional allies, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and the American Medical Association, mustered all the money, pressure, propaganda, misinformation, half-truths, lies, and demagoguery they could bring to bear. Fear triumphed over reason, and healthcare reform was smothered in its crib. Lost for another sixteen years.
It was in this atmosphere, and with this history, that the Democratic Party sallied forth in 2009 on a quixotic quest to rally bipartisan support for major healthcare reform. In control of both houses of Congress, and the Executive Branch for the first time in fourteen years, and without the need for Republican votes, they have all but slain healthcare reform on the altar of bipartisanship. And it was completely unnecessary.
Because the Republicans see killing healthcare reform as crucial to embarrassing, and hopefully crippling, President Obama, there is no healthcare bill that will garner Republican support, even if they know for a certainty that it’s the best thing for America. Everything is secondary to diminishing Obama. Add to this the fact that most Republicans, like many Democrats, are financially beholden to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, there is no reason for anyone to expect Republican votes in favor of any healthcare reform that is not fully supported by the healthcare industry.
Everyone knew this, or should have known it, at the outset. The only thing achieved by catering to Republican demands was delay. Delay that gave opponents of reform time to raise the time-honored specters of “socialized medicine” and “government intrusion” and a few new ones, like “death panels.” And while all the typical Republican sleight-of-hand and fear mongering certainly hasn’t helped to advance the debate, it will not ultimately be what guts reform. The Democrats will accomplish this all by themselves.
Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He has also accepted approximately 3.5 million dollars from insurance and other health industry contributors, almost three and a half times the amount accepted by the average senator. With the help of a handful of “Blue Dog” Democrats, his committee will be responsible for producing a healthcare reform bill that is little more than a huge gift basket to the healthcare industry. The elected senators and congressmen who are most opposed to real reform, Democrat or Republican, are the ones who have taken the most money from the industries that would be affected by it. Pardon my cynicism for seeing a connection.
The bill about to emerge from the Senate Finance Committee will leave millions of Americans still uninsured. It will subsidize some low income Americans, but not nearly everyone who cannot afford coverage. It will not include a public option for those who do not have and cannot afford coverage on the open market. It will not address the cost of premiums, or deductibles, or copayments, or care, or medications. The bill, in its present form, will not protect Americans with “preexisting conditions” and it will leave the insurance and pharmaceutical industries to continue business as usual at the expense of the American people.
The good news for Republicans in all of this is that they should retake control of one or more branches of the government, and rightfully so. The American people gave the Democrats large majorities in both houses, and the presidency, because the Republicans under George Bush and Dick Cheney had forfeited their right to govern. They had, as Americans saw it, done such a poor job that it was time to give the other side an opportunity to show what they could do.
When Republicans were in charge, they did what they wanted. All the whining and crying from Democrats didn’t even slow them down. Their attitude was, “We won. We’re the majority. Shut up and sit down.”
If the Democratic majority, with a Democratic president, cannot come together to produce the cornerstone legislation that was promised to the American people, and that a large majority of Americans still want and expect, then they will forfeit their right to govern. And they cannot blame the Republicans for the failure of healthcare reform. The Republicans were doing what they always do. Anyone who was surprised by it is a fool. It is up to the Democrats to ignore Republicans and do what they know is right. So far, they haven’t shown a willingness to do that. And if they can’t fix it, they will pay the price.
With almost all Republican legislators, with any inclination toward statesmanship, having retired or planning to retire, who, in the Republican party, elected or not, will find the strength of character and the political courage to wrest control of the party from the clutches of the lunatic fringe and bring the debate, on the conservative side, back into the mainstream of what used to pass for civilized politics? The survival of a robust two party system depends on someone stepping up and risking his or her career.
While the Republican party is currently owned and operated by the four-man partnership of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity, there are legions of “junior partners” scattered throughout radio, television, and the blogosphere who follow them closely and repeat the day’s mantra with zeal and purpose. It is clear, however, that the CEO and President is Limbaugh himself. The agenda has less to do with improving the lot of the Republican party, or the American people, than it does with improving the ratings of the partnership. By keeping their listeners angry, fearful, and suspicious, ratings stay high and their positions as hate merchants to the far right remain secure.
Anyone who doubts Limbaugh’s power need only look at the handful of elected and appointed officials who dared disagree with him. On January 28, 2009, Republican Congressman Phil Gingrey of Georgia had to take back his comments of the previous day, which mildly defended the Republican leadership against charges from Limbaugh that they were being too meek in dealing with the Democratic agenda. His statement of apology was filled with sycophantic praise for Limbaugh aimed at soothing the great one’s ruffled feathers, and assuring “grassroots conservatives” that he is one of them.
Then, on February 25th, Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina commented in an interview that “anyone who wants the president to fail is an idiot, because it means we’re all in trouble.” While he did not apologize directly for his sin, he tap danced vigorously, and later that same day, issued a statement pretending that he had not known of Rush Limbaugh’s publicly declared hope that Obama would fail. He, as we would later learn, had bigger issues to apologize for.
Only three days later, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele opined on CNN that Rush was just an entertainer. “Incendiary” and “ugly,” for sure, but still only an entertainer. Two days later Steele, hat in hand, completely retracted his remarks in a telephone interview. It was an abject, embarrassing, on-air boot licking that sent Steele back to his post with his testes in a cigar box. And so the list goes on. Now, no elected Republican dares to cross one of the self-appointed guardians of true conservatism.
Sometime, within the next few weeks, we should see Bill O’Reilly revive his annual campaign against the bogus, but crowd-pleasing, war on Christmas. There is no war on Christmas but O’Reilly, who operates from the No Fact Zone, has never let that hamper his yearly rage against the “secular progressive agenda” whose main goal is to remove Christmas, Christianity, and spirituality from the public square. He rails against retailers who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” and points to this as evidence of a vast secular conspiracy to kill Christmas. He knows this is not the case, of course, but it’s something to keep his followers outraged and distrustful throughout, what is supposed to be, a season of love and peace. You can’t let those anger muscles atrophy over the holiday season.
The trend toward “Happy Holidays” by retailers is simply the beloved free market at work. It is strictly a financial decision aimed at possibly broadening the holiday message to include all those folks who don’t celebrate Christmas. They’re trying to add to the Christmas honey pot, not kill it. They’d be insane to try to kill the one cash cow they have traditionally counted on for one-third to one-half of their yearly revenue.
The real zealots, who protest exposure to any religious symbols anywhere; Christmas trees, stars of David, crosses, and even Santa Claus, have always been there. They are not new. They are not a threat to religion or spirituality. And they are not the reason O’Reilly wages his yearly tilt at the secular progressive windmill. It’s just one of many a red herring in the fish tote of radical right broadcasting. They continually stoke the fear that something is about to be taken away from their loyal flock, and especially threatened are God and the Christian way of life. These people are cynical and deliberate vendors of anger, unrest, and hate that may one day turn into violence – for which they will shirk any culpability.
The idea that God and Christianity are endangered species in this country would be almost laughable if the Limbaugh “partnership” and its many allies didn’t keep the fear and anger attached to it so agitated. God has never been more omnipresent in American life, particularly in politics. We are the most religious of the western democracies, and over 76% of Americans identify themselves as Christians. There is no other modern industrial country on the planet where election to public office depends, not only on a public declaration of a belief in God, but an absolute oath that you are a Christian.
As often as it is repeated, as widely accepted as the idea is, and as much as some in our society want it to be true, The United States of America was not founded as a Christian nation, rooted in the Holy Bible. and based on Judaeo-Christian theology. It simply isn’t true, and this development in American politics goes against one of the most important tenets set down by the founders in the Constitution; No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
The freedom to believe in and worship God is not in danger in this country. The freedom to believe in a non-Christian god or gods, or to believe in no god at all, is what is in danger. The founding fathers didn’t care if you sought spiritual comfort in the Holy Bible, the Torah, the Koran, or a John Deere manual. It has no bearing on one’s worth as a human being or one’s fitness for public office. God and Christianity are only under attack in the minds of some members of the fundamentalist Christian right, and those who would seek to keep them angry and afraid.
I know. I’ll report to the stake, matches in hand, as soon as I’ve finished writing this post.
So, that brings me back to my original question. While Limbaugh, Beck, O’Reilly, and Hannity, the self-appointed Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, carry on in the proud tradition of Father Coughlin, Joseph McCarthy, Cleon Skousen, and the John Birchers, where is our modern day Joseph Welch, or Ed Murrow, or William F. Buckley, Jr? Who will rise up to call these demagogues out, to label them for what they are, and tell rank-in-file Republicans and conservatives that these men preach false values and seek to capitalize on manufactured fears? The party can well afford to lose the 10% on the lunatic fringe that this would cost them, and they’d be better for it. They could then begin again to attract the millions of Americans lost to the Ind and Dem columns as a result of surrendering the party to its most extreme elements.
Frank Schaeffer recently said, “A village cannot reorganize village life to suit the village idiot.” In this case, Limbaugh, Beck, et al. is the village idiot, and the Republicans have completely rearranged the party agenda to accommodate them. It’s as if the Democrats were bending over backward to please Lyndon LaRouche. If someone doesn’t step forward soon to strip Limbaugh and his partners of their control, the Party of Lincoln will continue to shrink until it is a tiny, all white, all southern, shadow of its former self. And that would be a tragedy for the American political system.
When I was about ten years old, I was having a conversation with my grandfather about all the wondrous places I would visit when I grew up. I talked, in particular, about Australia and told him that I might even move there. Other than kangaroos and koalas, I’m sure I knew nothing about Australia. But, I was gonna live there.
He thought about this for a moment, as he sucked on his pipe. We sat in a wooden park bench type swing that hung by two chains from the ceiling of his front porch. This is where he came every afternoon to smoke his pipe and to heckle passersby on the sidewalk. Finally, after he’d analyzed my announcement over a few draws on the pipe, he said, “Mike,” (back then I was still called Mike) “you’re a Texan.”
“I know.” I said, wondering what this had to do with our discussion. “Well,” he continued, “you’re a Texan and there’s not a goddamn thing you can do about it.” He puffed on the pipe a little more. “Now, you can go to Australia if you want to. And you can even stay there. Live there for the rest of your life. But if you do, and even if you live to be a hundred, when somebody asks you where home is, you’ll still say Texas.” He could see that I didn’t really understand. “Now, I can’t tell you why that’s true,” he said, “only that it is.”
Well, Bampa was right. At first glance, it doesn’t make much sense that he was right. Thirty-four of my sixty years have been spent in California. My personal history has been written mostly outside of Texas. But my tribal history, my ancestral history, going all the way back to 1836, is in Texas. Almost all of the places in this world that I revere are in Texas. When I meet another Texan, in any part of the world, we are instantly kindred. And when asked where I’m from, I still say “Texas.” And so, in that light, my grandfather wasn’t really the whacked-out old coot that I thought he was on that day, fifty years ago.
Texans, in exile or not, take Texas personally. We indulge in unearned glory when a fellow Texan accomplishes something good, or when some great event takes place in Texas. More so, I think, than citizens of other states, and I’m no exception. When we’re dismissed by the uninformed as crackers and rednecks, I hasten to point out that Texas has produced Nobel laureates, presidents, astronauts, renowned writers and thinkers, musicians and composers, scientists and statesmen. And, of course, the multiple Super Bowl winning Dallas Cowboys. I name names. I cite dates. And I point out these things as if they are somehow proof that I’m not a redneck. Insecurity anyone?
Conversely, when some uncommonly abhorrent thing happens in Texas, or is committed by a Texan, we all feel the weight of it. In 1963, when Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy, there was outrage and despair throughout the country and the world. But nowhere was the pain more sharply felt than in Texas. It is a stain on our legacy that will live as long as the heroics at the Alamo.
In 1998, when James Byrd, Jr. was dragged to his death by chains behind a pickup truck in Jasper, Texas, we again found ourselves in the same ugly spotlight. That this could happen at the dawn of the twenty-first century was a shock. That it happened in the United States was a national humiliation. That it had taken place in Texas made my heart ache.
Now, there are a handful of preachers, none from Texas as far as I know, praying for the death of Barack Obama. These are men of God, ordained ministers in the Southern Baptist Convention praying for, and urging their congregations to pray for, The President of the United States to “get brain cancer and die, and go to hell.” These loathsome appeals are being echoed from pockets of the lunatic fringe everywhere, some even from Texas.
I confess that I am not a “person of faith” and I’m certainly no biblical scholar. But I’ve still got a few snippets of vacation bible school floating around on some small island of my brain, and I’m pretty sure this is not the kind of divine intervention Jesus would have led his congregation to pray for. And I have to ask, how is this different from any fatwa, issued by any ayatollah, that calls for a death as retribution for sins against Islam? Why is radical Christianity less scary to us than radical Islam?
Meanwhile, on the steps of the capitol in Austin, several hundred people gathered to assail the president as a socialist, a communist, a nazi and worse, and to demand that Texas secede from the United States. As their justification, they perverted the U.S. Constitution and the Holy Bible into a twisted and unintelligible rationalization that should make Texans and Christians everywhere cringe. While I know it appears that I’m conflating these two issues, I realize they are separate. It does seem, however, that they encompass many, though not all, of the same people.
I guess my question about all of this is; where is the outrage? Why aren’t we disgusted, or at least angry. Remember 2003, when Natalie Maines told a concert audience that she was “embarrassed” by George W. Bush? We were shocked, revolted, and appalled. This was the President of the United States she was talking about, and you just don’t do that! Never mind that an entire cottage industry had sprung up, during the previous presidency, dedicated solely to the hourly bashing of the democratically elected president.
We held rallies. We burned tapes and CDs. We flooded radio stations with phone calls and threatened boycotts. We bombarded the Dixie Chicks with hate mail and death threats. We unleashed the demagogues of right wing talk radio to smite them down, and we would be satisfied with nothing less than the de facto end of their careers. We hadn’t seen so much shit hit the fan since John Lennon compared the Beatles to Christ! And we would not rest easy until we had taken their livelihood away from them. Then, we heaved a collective sigh of relief, and basked in the glow of a job well done. The irony here, of course, is it only took another year or two before most of us were embarrassed by George W. Bush.
So, now that we have members of a mainstream Christian religion praying for the death of the president, and angry mobs threatening violence, if necessary, to gain independence for Texas as a sovereign republic, where is our outrage? The strongest response I’ve seen from the Southern Baptist Convention only says that this kind of thinking is outside the mainstream of their beliefs. That’s really good to know, but it’s hardly a condemnation, and the governor of Texas has embraced the right wing secessionist loons for fear of losing their votes. Where is our anger, or at the very least, our embarrassment?
If you’re a Baptist, you should be embarrassed by these people. If you’re a Christian, you should be embarrassed by these people. If you are a person of any faith, you should be embarrassed by these people. If you’re a person of conscience, if you’re a proud citizen of Texas, or of this country, or the world, you should be embarrassed by these people!
So, yes, Bampa turned out to be right. I’m a Texan, and there’s not a goddamn thing I can do about it.
But I have to tell you, as a Texan, I’m embarrassed.
The noise, and the half-truths, and the lies have taken a toll on healthcare reform. The provision for medicare to reimbuse for the cost of creating a living will, or other end-of-life counseling, has been removed from the draft under consideration by the U.S. Senate soley because of the lies that twisted it into something it was not, a secret plan to kill off old people and the disabled in order to save medicare dollars.
Opponents of healthcare reform, on the right, deliberately and knowingly lied and misrepresented this provision in order to stoke fear and anger and opposition in the elderly and their families. None of them actually believe the bullshit they’ve been spreading, which makes their part in this even more despicable. It might be less offensive if they did believe it. At least then we could assume that they were just stupid, but too many of them have gone on record in the past, in support of advance directives and living wills, for us to genuinely believe that they are now afraid of the “possible consequences” of such documents.
In April of last year, then Governor Sarah Palin declared Healthcare Decisions Day in Alaska specifically for healthcare providers, nursing homes, hospice facilities, and doctors, to raise awareness in their elderly patients of the great benefits of having an advance directive on healthcare. She extolled the virtues of living wills, and urged everyone to avail themselves of this opportunity to learn more about them. You can even download the Alaska Advance Directive forms from the state website. Does Alaska have its own Death Panel?
Earlier this year, Newt Gingrich wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post praising the many benefits of advance directives for the elderly, noting that the most expensive care people generally receive was at the end of their lives, and that only by having a living will could patients be certain they would not receive medical measures that they did not want. He even estimated, in his article, that this could save medicare as much as 33 billion dollars a year. You think he was also including the savings realized by the involuntary “offing” of your grandmother?
Now, of course, what Saint Sarah of Wasilla was promoting last year has somehow morphed into government “death panels” and a part of a healthcare system that is “downright evil.” And former Speaker of the House, the Newt, has decided that we cannot be expected to “trust the government” just to pay for your doctor’s time without also coercing him to kill you for the greater good. These people will say whatever they think will get them the most press coverage, and the most mileage with their base, regardless of the truth, and regardless of whether or not they even believe what they’re saying. It makes Palin’s admonition to the press to “stop makin’ things up” even more ludicrous than we already knew it was.
I still have great hope for this country, and the prospect that we will acheive meaningful healthcare reform in this administration, but it will only happen if the congress and the administration finally give up the idea of bipartisan support. The negotiators for the Republicans, like Chuck Grassley, are not bargaining in good faith. They are only involved to slow down the process, and eventually kill it. They are not going to vote for any bill, regardless of how many of their watered down ideas are included in it. So we may as well move on without them.
Besides, when, over the previous eight years, did the Republicans give a damn about bipartisan support for anything they did. They did what they wanted. They were proud of it. And they did not apologize for the fact that it was one-sided rule. I think it’s time the Democrats took a page from that book.
If we want to be charitable, about the best we can say is that we are uninformed. A huge majority of Americans, whether they are for it or against it, cannot describe what is actually in the health care reform bill now being considered by the congress. Most Americans, who are fortunate enough to have a health care plan, cannot describe what it covers and does not cover. But many of them are certain that, whatever it is, Obama and the Democratic socialists in Washington want to take it away from them.
Many Americans, who currently receive some form of government subsidized or administered health care, and seem to be very happy with it, don’t want the government involved in any way with their health care program. A surprising percentage of Americans don’t know that Medicare and Medicaid are government run health care programs.
Add to this the fact that a huge number of Americans also believe that health care reform, under the Democrats, will include provisions for euthanizing our elderly. Again, all anyone has to do to find the truth is read the amendment in question which, by the way, was authored and introduced by a Republican. It simply includes payment to physicians for consultation regarding a living will, and end of life care. Medicare does not currently pay for this consultation. The amendment’s only purpose is to enable more people to have this conversation with their doctors if they choose to.
So, we as a nation have whipped ourselves into a frenzy, assailing and defending a health care reform bill that we don’t know anything about, except what we have chosen to accept from the rumor mill, and from the all-too-partisan cheerleaders on both sides, as truth. Are we really that stupid?
Maybe. But it smells a lot like lazy to me.
You may read Sec. 1233. Advance Care Planning Consultation, as well as the rest of the health care bill by clicking HERE.
But you probably won’t.
If you believe, I mean truly believe, that the President of the United States was born on foreign soil; that any version of any healthcare reform bill that is now, or ever has been, under consideration by the United States Congress includes provisions for euthanasia of the elderly; that the current democratically elected government of this country bears any resemblance to the nazi regime of the Third Reich; that the current democratically elected government of this country is drafting secret plans to come and take your guns away – then you are in the lunatic fringe of political and social thought in this country, and you should get comfortable with that label.
If you are so frightened by legitimate and vigorous debate of the issues facing this country that you feel the answer is to shut down the debate altogether, and simply not allow all voices to be heard, then you are undemocratic, unAmerican, and undeserving of the freedoms and the liberties that this country affords you. If you would rather see the government of this country fail and collapse, than be allowed to implement policies with which you disagree, then you are not fighting the “enemy within,” you are the “enemy within,” and you are a danger to this country.
And, by the way, if you truly believe all of the above, then someone should come and take your guns away, because you’re too fucking crazy to own one.
Is it just me, or is Rush Limbaugh a bigger, fatter, more insane, lying blowhard than I even thought he was?