Health Care Reform Will Help Everybody

August 5, 2010 at 1:36 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

by Barbara O’Brien, guest blogger

Many Americans assume the new health care reform act will benefit mostly the poor and uninsured and hurt everyone else, according to polls. As Matt Yglesias wrote, “Basically, people see this as a bill that will take resources from people who have health insurance and give it to people who don’t have health insurance.” Those who still oppose the reform say that people ought to pay for their own health care.

We all believe in the virtues of hard work and self-reliance, but these days it’s a fantasy to think that anyone but the mega-wealthy will not, sooner or later, depend on help from others to pay medical bills. And that’s true no matter how hard you work, how much you love America, or how diligently you take care of yourself. The cost of medical care has so skyrocketed that breaking an arm or leg could cost as much as a new car. And if you get cancer or heart disease — which can happen even to people who live healthy lifestyles — forget about it. The disease will not only clean you out; it will leave a whopping debt for your survivors to pay.

And the truth is, we all pay for other peoples’ health care whether we know it or not. When people can’t pay their medical bills, the cost of their health care gets added to everyone else’s bills and insurance premiums. When poor people use emergency rooms as a doctor of last resort, their care is not “free.” You pay for it.

Another common fantasy about medical care is that the “free market” provides incentives for medical companies to develop innovative new drugs and treatments for disease without government subsidy. It’s true that private enterprise is very good at developing profitable health care products. But not all medical care can be made profitable.

For years, the U.S. government has been funding medical research that the big private companies don’t want to do because there is too much cost for the potential profit. This is especially true for diseases that are rare and expensive to treat. An example of a recent advance made possible by government grants include new guidelines for malignant pleural mesothelioma treatment developed by Sloan-Kettering mesothelioma cancer researchers. Another is a blood screening test developed by mesothelioma doctors like thoracic surgeon Dr. David Sugarbaker. The health reform act provides for more dollars for such research, from which even many of the tea party protesters will benefit.

The biggest fantasy of all was that people who had insurance didn’t have to worry about health care costs. But the fact is that in recent years millions of Americans have been bankrupted by medical costs, and three-quarters of the medically bankrupt had health insurance. And yes, insurance companies even dumped hard-working, law-abiding patriots. But the health care reform act will put an end to that, and now America’s hard-working, law-abiding patriots are more financially secure, whether they like it or not.

(Barbara Hoetsu O’Brien is a journalist and student of Zen Buddhism currently living in the greater New York City area. She has a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri. More of her writings can be read at The Mahablog.com )

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Senator: Start Doing Your Job!

March 9, 2010 at 12:23 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )


Here is a map showing how the cancer of unemployment has swept our nation over the past couple years. Sadly, in spite of this devastation, the members of Congress still have their jobs.

Consumer bankruptcies continue to rise. (Yours truly will soon be joining their ranks.)

Here is more news on the unemployment front.

A young lady came to our door this afternoon. She was a volunteer for the “Working America” organization, which is helping the AFL-CIO unions canvass the neighborhoods. They are mounting a letter-writing campaign for citizens to send letters to Working America which they will forward en masse to Republican Senator, George Voinovich, expressing support for jobs programs in place of continued bail-outs for the fat-cats. Myrtle & I told her we email the Whitehouse & Congress most every week, but we’d be happy to compose & print a letter which she could put into Working America’s mass mailing campaign. I implore you to write to your public servants (that is what they are, although they have forgotten it!) at the links provided on this blog roll.

In case you want to join their letter-writing campaign, Working America’s address is:
815 16th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20006

Here’s the text of the letter I sent them:

Senator Voinovich,

Nine years ago, [colonelgirdle] was downsized from his good job of 22 years. We put everything we had into a small business that went under in the economic crash early last year. (See the attached letter that has a reprint of our blog, “Then the Financial Tsunami Hit.”) We are struggling to hold onto what little we have left. Are we angry that our government takes money from people like us and bails-out BIG corporations and also gives incentives to send our good jobs to other countries? You bet!

At this point most everyone we know is in financial trouble. They’ve lost their jobs, businesses, and homes. Those who are lucky enough to still have a job have had their pay and work hours cut. They can’t afford to heat their homes, health-care, or educational costs. In short, America is in BIG, BIG TROUBLE. Soon people like us may be forced out of our homes and where are we going to go? Maybe onto YOUR FRONT LAWN.

We remind you that you are a public servant. So it’s time for you to do your job! We want:
Leftover bank bail-out money to be used for restoring Main Street’s economy.
Repair & expansion of our nation’s infrastructure.
Help in establishing alternate energy sources & green jobs.
Assistance to our local & state governments that are struggling to maintain services.
Additional funds for social programs to help the working poor & unemployed.
Cuts in out-of-control military spending & investigation of war profiteering.
EXTENSIONS IN UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS AND ADDITIONAL JOB TRAINING PROGRAMS.

Sincerely,

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Late Night Ramblings

March 6, 2010 at 10:42 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

by Colonel Girdle

Dayton, Ohio, 3:30 a.m.

Since I could not sleep because of worry, I got online to find-out how to apply for a job with the U.S. Census. I have applied for job after job, even the ones that would probably not pay enough for me live. So that means I’ll have to work at two crappy jobs… or maybe three. I know people who are already doing that. Once upon a time, I was middle-class. I had worked my way through college and then, with 22 years of hard work, had made my way up into management at one of Dayton’s many solid, large companies. Then one day nine years ago, I was downsized along with hundreds of my co-workers. The company went away to greener pastures of cheaper labor/fewer regulations, and also there went my insurance, vacation, & retirement; all casualties of the only developed nation that ties everything to a person’s job.

Since that day, I have worked at jobs far worse than the crummy ones I had in my youth. For just one example, for about a month I was a subcontractor (that is like an employee, but they are not responsible for anything bad that happens to you) for a company that “recycled” the boiling-hot oil from restaurant deep fryers. I would pull the greasy van up to the back door, trundle a 200 lb. filtering machine on tiny wheels down the slippery ramp and into the building. There I vacuumed the 350 degree oil from the fryer so it could circulate through the filtering machine while I used putty knife & steel wool to scour char off the scortching cooker (all the while praying I wouldn’t get badly scalded), shoot the oil back into the fryer, then head to the next location. By the end of the day I was covered with reeking sour oil & sweat and could hardly stand-up because the bottom of my shoes were slick as snot.

In between the crummy jobs I owned a few small businesses. I sold natural pain cream at a flea market, I had a janitorial company where I did 90% of the janitoring, I sold used CD’s & DVD’s at a flea market. If any of those things were once a good way to make money, they sure aren’t now. Myrtle helped me with these, as best she could, while working at her own jobs.

I wound-up working in a convenience store and from that experience my desperation gave me the really awful idea that taking all our remaining assets and buying a store was a good idea. Blinded by love, Myrtle went down that bumpy road with me. I will not go into further detail recounting that four-year-disaster and the constant 100 hour workweeks we put in. Memory of it brings on a sort of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Suffice it to say that it was not too big to fail. It went belly-up during the late 2008-early 2009 crash with nary a peep from the Bush nor Obama Administrations.

As a result, I am more broke than I have ever been in my life. Actually, I’m far, far into the negative net worth zone. At first, I still hoped to find a way to dig myself out of debt. But I soon learned that was the impossible dream when, for instance, the credit card company I had for 15 years lent a helping hand by increasing my interest rate to 29.99% – when I had never missed a payment. Now they are getting 0%, since I’ll be filing for bankruptcy (guilt-free I might add) just as soon as I can finish the paperwork. I am far from alone in my struggles. My circle of friends & family recommend good bankruptcy lawyers the way we used to recommend good restaurants. People I know who used to “have it made” are sinking and everyone under them is drowning or already drowned. I personally know (and try to help) people who have taken to living in basements, cars, and tents! (By the way – See our “Friends” link to A Voice for the Commonwealth)

Being poor wasn’t a huge adjustment. Myrtle and I had never been big-spenders. We did not believe in materialism. We’ve never had a desire for trendy clothes or the latest electronic gadget. Instead, we put our spare time, money, and energy into charity work and enjoyed the simple things in life. However, I was used to paying the bills and having money left-over. Now buying a cheap bottle of shampoo is a financial decision that requires thought.

Our system will collapse, probably soon, from its own crushing weight. Every time I see, hear, or read about the latest actions of our business-government “leaders,” I derive comfort from knowing I am speeding that collapse along: My lack of spending denies money to the military-industrial-entertainment-healthcare complex and I’m too poor to pay taxes to the rotten government it owns.

But I don’t mean to sound bitter.

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Financially Naked

January 13, 2010 at 6:47 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

Amid the chaos generated during this year’s healthcare reform debate, all the attention focused on those lacking health insurance. I heard nothing about those who have insurance coverage and still find themselves financially naked when in need of health care. Recently, a family friend recounted the following experience that I believe resonates throughout America’s working class:

Our friend, I shall call her Maya, has worked 30 years as a secretary for a county legal agency. Her gross income was once in the mid-thirty-thousands but during this past year budget cuts have forced her to endure two pay cuts totaling 20%, along with a forced furlough without pay of 4 hours per week. From her plummeting income, she pays $250 per month out of her paycheck for health insurance. She is divorced and she and her 8 year-old daughter live in a comfortable but small suburban home.

Nine months ago, her daughter was helping wash dishes when a glass broke and gashed her hand in a one inch line from just under the little finger into the palm. It was bleeding “like a fountain,” so Maya wrapped a dishtowel around the wound and rushed her daughter to the nearby “urgent care” facility.

Once there, Maya wrote a check for the required $75 co-pay before her daughter could begin the 45 minute wait for treatment. Maya adds the detail that she didn’t actually have the $75 dollars in her checking account but hoped to borrow the money and get it into the bank before the check arrived for payment. Anyway, after 45 minutes a nurse took Maya & the little girl into a room for treatment. The nurse relieved the bloody hand of its towel, rinsed it with water, quickly wrapped the hand in gauze, and told Maya that the hand needed stitches. However, to Maya’s surprise, the urgent care does not do stitches, so the girl need to be taken across town to the childrens’ hospital. No part of the $75 co-pay was refunded.

So Maya set off to the hospital emergency room, where she was made to pay another $100 co-pay up-front before treatment. Then began a 6 hour wait until her daughter got 5 stitches.

Later, the hospital bills arrived. Maya’s share of the expenses after the co-pays came to $540.62!!! It took her 9 months to finish paying these bills.

Someone, I forget who, pointed-out that Americans don’t need health insurance they need health care. In its present form, health insurance coverage very often is of little or no actual help. Fifty percent of bankruptcies are caused by medical bills and 68% of those bankruptcies are people with medical insurance. Many times I take solace from those fact when I become frightened of having no health insurance.

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Then the Financial Tsunami Hit

December 17, 2009 at 10:23 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

For three years I owned and operated a mini-market/gas station in a Cincinnati, Ohio suburb. I bought an already existing store using all the assets I had, including my 401K funds, after being down-sized from my middle-management career of 22 years (in one of the many industries which the U.S. can no longer keep onshore). Things went along fairly well and the business grew as I acquired a large clientele  of regular customers from the local construction companies,  other business owners, and the Ford plant. My girlfriend and I worked 90+ hour workweeks and, along with help from a few part-time employees, we operated 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. In other words, I was a real practitioner of the kind of free-enterprise capitalism that our windbag politicians and business leaders praise to the heavens while making sure it doesn’t apply to them.

In the spring of 2008, I went to the county “economic development board” asking for advice about expanding my business. And because his office is in the same shopping center as my store, I walked over to Representative John Boehner’s (remember him? the Republican House Majority, now Minority, Leader) office to ask for help. I asked the bureaucrats whether grants or tax breaks were available to help me hire employees, buy equipment, etc. No, no such thing available. Their only advice was to go to the Small Business Administration.

So I called the SBA. I won’t go into details other than that they sent-out someone to take a look at my store and see if he had any words of wisdom. He was the former head of Ford’s truck and ambulance division and knew nothing I could discern about small businesses in general nor especially the retail store business. So back I went to the county development board. After a few lengthy consultations, I was steered to a Vice President of Lending at a local branch of one of our nations larger banks (I won’t tell you which one, but their initials are PNC). In cooperation with that very nice VP, my girlfriend and I hashed-out a business plan and jumped through a multitude of hoops necessary to secure a relatively paltry SBA loan of $75,000.

Meanwhile, I realize now that throughout the spring & summer business had started to go sour. We were close-enough to our customers that many of them confided their troubles: they were losing their jobs, they were losing their homes, their own small businesses were taking on water like Katrina. We finished-up our paperwork with the bank and awaited an answer.The V.P. anticipated no problem as I had A-1 credit, very little debt, and a good plan for growing the business.

Then the financial tsunami hit. Suddenly, Americans were informed the banks were bust and Wall Street toppled! Fed chief Ben Bernanke and his bankster buddies told us it was our money or our lives: we could either pony-up nearly a trillion dollars or our economy would eat lead. My business flow slowed to a trickle, people who are terrified don’t go out shopping. In the midst of all this it was announced that the bank I had asked for money was using its government bailout to buy the bank where I had my business accounts (National City). I didn’t think badly about that arrangement, until during that same time my business loan was turned-down. The nice V.P. confided that “we just aren’t loaning to anyone right now. Come back in the spring and you can probably get it then.”

We hung-on for five months after that. The store died a slow death. People without jobs to go to don’t buy near as much gasoline and candy. I let the employees go after the New Year holiday. In late February, I contacted the bank V.P. but was turned-down again. I heard on the news that the credit markets were still frozen. A few weeks later, I put up the sign that said “Out of Business.” I didn’t get much out of the used equipment because so many businesses have gone belly-up that there’s a glut on the market (part of that real free-enterprise again). I’m not embarrassed about my story because now most everyone is either financially ruined or close to it. And our so-called “leaders” don’t really seem to know or care about fixing it because the Dow Jones Average is going up again. I’m unemployed, broke, and waiting/praying/working for the revolution that seems inevitable.

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