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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Another Word for Freedom

May 8, 2010 at 6:19 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Last Friday’s beautiful spring weather caused me such giddy delight that I took a foolhardy risk and I mowed the lawn. The resulting severe bout of allergies put me almost completely out-of-action for most of this past week. I have been laid-low with snot-clogged head, nose, and chest and eyes watering like faucets. I teetered on the edge of severe illness from sinus & respiratory infections. But, at last, regular dosing with anti-histamines, nasal sprays, herbal teas, and other concoctions along with repeated positive self-affirmations re-enforcing good health have done the trick. I am well.

Hallelujah, I am saved! That is, saved from another run-in like the one I had this past winter, when my allergies brought on bronchitis, laryngitis, and near-pneumonia. I found myself in the unfortunate position of being forced to partake of this country’s “health-care system,” which is a draconian mess worthy of feature in a Charles Dickens’ novel.

How sad that our time has no equivalent to novelist Charles Dickens, who managed to so-effectively skewer the selfish cruelty of the dimbulb middle-class & aristocracy of Victorian-era Britain. While thoroughly entertaining his readers, Dickens was able to show how the British Empire was carried on the backs of the impoverished and mistreated masses and how unworthy the ruling class was of holding power. The popularity of his writings helped turn the tide against barbaric practices such as child-labor. Today’s updated Reaganite version of the Victorian-era begs to be savaged by a skilled lampoonist. Thank goodness we have Jon Stewart!

And I see that, while I have been down for the count, the greedy collection of nitwits that we Americans allow to rule our affairs continues to do their utmost to destroy civilization and the biosphere. The residual exhaustion of fighting illness all week leaves me in no mood to put-up with their shenanigans.

BP has blown a massive hole in the ocean floor which now spews unimaginable amounts of crude into the Gulf of Mexico. Ocean currents will carry the deadly goo around to the U.S. east coast and many other places on our globe. As usual, there are scandalous rumblings of slackened regulations in exchange for lined pockets. Here in America, we have become so used to this sort of graft that it barely brings our collective mind out of its coma long enough to become outraged. I wonder how much more environmental abuse can be absorbed before our ecosystem fails once and for all.

But hold on there! All is well. BP has stepped up to the plate and says they will bear the financial responsibility for the disaster. That is awfully nice of them, although I am surprised that there would even be a question about that. Quite frankly though, it looks to me like this clean-up is probably going to take a good bit more than even their latest quarterly profit of $6 billion will cover. If so, I say the U.S. government should confiscate all the assets of the company to use toward fixing this problem. And yes, they are a foreign company (BP = British Petroleum) but so what?

On Thursday the stock market plummeted frighteningly due to some sort of computerized trading problem. By now, anyone who does not realize that our entire financial system is one big, rigged casino would have to be completely brain-dead or Republican. Having lost my ass(ets) in the 2008 economic train-wreck, I have no stocks. As the old song says: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” So I am tempted to say… actually I think I will say: let the stockmarket go completely off the cliff. Maybe then all the high-rollers that attach such importance to it will all jump out of skyscraper windows. Then we can start working on fixing the real economy.

While I was recuperating, I watched the 2007 movie, Zodiak, about the infamous serial-killer of perhaps 37 victims in the 1960’s-1970’s. Zodiak was never caught. And he was no shirker, he put time into his work. He was not satisfied to merely commit murders over a large area of California & Nevada, he also created & mailed complex coded messages to police and newspapers, he staged a phone-in tv news program with renowned attorney Melvin Belli, and he even sewed himself an elaborate scary costume to wear.

What I ask about creatures like Zodiac, or the heads of companies like BP, or any of the other assorted monsters who ruin life on this planet for the rest of us, is: why? Why can you not put your time, talent, and energy into things that will make the world better for us? And for some mysterious reason, the past few decades have brought us more and more and more intelligent people who choose to put their energies into things that harm the rest of us. I do not understand it, but to them it is fun.

Take Karl Rove, for instance. His activities during this past decade were among those that finally convinced me that some people are just evil. But let us, for a few minutes imagine if a brilliant mind like Karl Rove concentrated on some project like getting food to hungry children, instead of just being a complete, destructive prick?

Let us continue to ask why many of our best minds have gone bad and imagine them turning to good. Then, perhaps, we will reshape reality to manifest a better world.

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Wall Street Gets the Goldmine & We Get the Shaft

April 23, 2010 at 1:49 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

In spite of my best efforts, America’s casino economy hums-along in its happy, fraudulent, and bonus-filled way. Meanwhile, the needs of the real economy and the hundreds of millions of citizens it supports are as ignored by the Washington crowd as coal mine safety.

Our wise “leaders” in business, media, and government grasp at every straw, twisting statistics to fit the “prosperity is just around the corner” scenario they need to keep us from rising-up & demanding the rotten system really be changed. For instance, they blew their trumpets loudly to announce that, Heaven be praised!, 162,000 jobs were created in March. So the economy is on the mend and Wall Street can go back to handing-out bonuses. Sounds good… but whoa wait a minute!, it turns out that at least 150,000 jobs must be created every month just to absorb new people coming into the workforce (like all those eager young people and immigrants). Well, ok, that leaves 18,000 jobs to chip-away (for 361 years!) at that nasty 6.5 million “long-term unemployed” number. But, oh my gosh! 88,000 of those 162,000 jobs were temporary work, such as working on the U.S. Census. The truth is that real job growth is still going in reverse.

And that does not even address the fact that America’s jobs increasingly lack wages & accompanying benefits that allow workers to share in their nation’s prosperity. Livable pay, health insurance, retirement, and vacations are all things taken mostly for granted by our Capitalist elite, Socialist Europe, and in the “mixed-economy” days of post-Great Depression-pre-Ronald Reagan America. But they are vanishing quickly in this country. The only real solution I can see is a turn to Socialism or at least a return to its milder cousin, the “mixed-economy” of the 1930’s-1970’s, wherein government’s main job was to make sure the playing-field is kept level by keeping a tight rein on big-business and helping the common citizen to flourish.

Back in November, when this blog had almost no readership, I posted the essay, Bring Back the Red Menace!” Now, I wish to re-print it, with apologies to those who would debate finer distinctions between “Socialism” (an intermediate step between Capitalism and Communism) and “Communism” (the ultimate destination in the flight from Capitalism), I use the terms interchangeably.

Bring Back the Red Menace!

We Americans are brought-up to believe that genuine, vigorous competition is the life-blood of our great system. Vying against one-another for victory, with the winner taking all the spoils and the loser conceding any claim is what makes social Darwinism tick. And so it is drilled into our red, white, and blue brains from cradle to grave until it becomes second-nature to believe that non-winners deserve to have nothing. Gaining or losing it all motivates us to try our best. Striving against a rival makes us strong!

Who would deny that in the 1970’s, our domestic auto makers had become bloated, complacent, and inefficient. They were insensitive to and exploitative of their customers; building increasingly lower-quality and higher-priced products designed for “planned obsolescence.” They were improved by stiff competition from foreign car companies that gave customers an alternative. Likewise, the United States Postal Service was improved when other carriers appeared. I could fill pages with examples of industries and organizations that were increasingly out-of-touch with their market, all of which were raised-up by vying against tough, strong, viable opponents.

That lack of competition is exactly why a monopoly does not function well. There is no rival to keep said monopoly under control so sooner or later hubris, greed, and decadence set-in (note that this is why government regulation is used to control these tendencies in monopolies). In modern American, Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Obama-nomics, monopoly is a diseased thing that must be cured through competition. If the schools, the airlines, or the electric company can’t face the challenge, then that’s too bad because it’s sink or swim for everyone (except for banks and Wall Street tycoons).

And now I come to my point. And here I am relieved to know that no one actually reads this blog, so I will not be hounded by threats and cat-calls for the assertion I’m about to make: The worst thing that happened to the average American citizen in the past 100 years was the collapse of the Communistic Soviet Union. Why? Simply because we now have no competitor to which we can turn when we are abused by the monopoly known as American Capitalism. And so that monopoly becomes increasingly abusive of its captive customers.

Apparently, I am the only one to notice that there was only one span of time when conditions consistently improved for American workers and citizens: the years from 1920 until the mid-1980’s while the Soviet Union existed and, in the minds of America’s leaders, there was real danger of a (cue-up the scary music) Communistic revolution in America.

Before that window of time, laissez faire Capitalism was firmly in the saddle and there was very little progress in the treatment of the vast majority of the population. Things didn’t really begin to improve until the Great Depression of the 1930’s caused a large percentage of Americans to start considering the alternative economics of Communism/Socialism/Populism (all close cousins). This scared the bejesus out of our political and business rulers who then reluctantly agreed to allow a little of the wealth to be spread around. And for the next 50 years, more and more wealth got spread in America so that the people were kept happy and non-Communist.* Overall, things kept getting better all the time for Americans across the board: the old, the young, all races, both genders. The poverty level crept down a little at a time and literacy rates kept going up.

Then in the late 1980’s, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics fell-apart under the weight of its leaders’ corruption and greed. The threat by the Communist menace was over. Sure there were still a few other Communist nations around, but none of them posed a real threat to Capitalism. American Capitalism boasted of being the only superpower remaining on earth. And, immediately, (actually it had started a few years earlier when the Soviet collapse could be seen on the horizon) American Capitalism no longer had to try to keep our hearts and minds. The tide turned against the average American. And it’s been downhill for us ever since.

So today we Americans are seemingly stuck with a bloated, uncaring, inefficient, corrupt, wasteful, unfair, and unresponsive system that is typical of any monopoly. But we are not stuck! Having no competition allows Capitalism to dismiss the needs of the citizens. There is only one solution: We must pick-up the threat of Communist revolution off the ash heap of history and, at the very least, pretend to be considering it as a replacement for Capitalism. That will scare the elite into once again being willing to share some of our nation’s prosperity.

* And contrary to what neo-conservative ideology teaches, in spite of having to share prosperity with the bottom 95% of the nation, there was still plenty of money for the upper 5% to stay very, very, very, rich.

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Hey, Democrats, Thanks for the Help!

March 25, 2010 at 11:21 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Obama, Pelosi, and their cadre have been tweeting, bleating, and otherwise hooting in triumph about passing the insurance company subsidy bill. Most certainly they must laugh uproariously and clink champagne glasses when over a private, sumptuous dinner in a fine Washington, D.C. restaurant one of their group facetiously calls it “reform.” The Republicans, who hate the hoi polloi as much as did the Victorian-era members of Britain’s House of Lords, are weeping & gnashing their teeth as if this corporate give-away is the second coming of Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward. The one thing both political parties have in common is their complete non-interest in, knowledge of, or concern for ordinary Americans, particularly the over 40,000,000 of us who have no health insurance.

Oh, by the way, the approaching reform is so wonderful that the White House and Congress have a provision in the bill that exempts them from participating. They will stick with the free, socialized medicine provided to them by the suckers known as the U.S. taxpayers.

Drug-addled Social Darwinist, Rush Limbaugh made an empty threat to move to Costa Rica because of the bill’s passage. Unlike the well-known comic, I am not so well-off that I think America’s health-care system is O.K. To the contrary, I have not had health insurance in over nine years; I lost it as a victim of corporate downsizing. Therefore, I have no choice of doctor nor worries about lengthy waits for treatment nor any of the other boogie men issues tossed into the so-called “health care debate.” Like a huge number of Americans, I simply do without visits to a doctor until health problems become severe enough to possibly be life-threatening, then I have someone take me to the emergency room for half a day of degrading, astronomically-overpriced, and begrudged care. Then I pay for it forever as best I can.

Let me make this clear: I do not have health insurance BECAUSE I CANNOT AFFORD IT. In the past decade I haven’t made more than $13,000 in a year. There are many frills, such as insurance that are not in my budget. At this income level, the extra cost of cheese on a hamburger is a luxury item. Many lame-brained ideas were tossed into the poop stew of the health-care “debate.” But I was most flabbergasted by the notion that people who do without insurance do so because, although they can afford it, they would rather spend the money on a trip to the Bahamas or the latest model Lamborghini. Therefore, the solution is to require everyone to buy insurance. This idea is so tremendously ridiculous that no sane person would buy into it, so of course it became the very linchpin of the “reform” bill.

When making pessimistic forecasts to my circle of family & friends (in which I include you), I often preface my opinion by saying “I hope I am wrong, but…” Well, I hope I am wrong, but this is what I think will be the results of this bill:
1) The poverty-stricken (who now include about half the nation) who comply & buy insurance will not go to the doctor BECAUSE THEY WILL HAVE NO MONEY LEFT TO PAY THE CO-PAYMENTS AND FEES demanded in order to obtain medical care.
2) The poverty-stricken will not take advantage of the government’s promise to help them pay for their insurance BECAUSE MOST OF THEM WORK AND CANNOT TAKE OFF WORK TO GO JUMP THROUGH WHATEVER HOOPS will be put in place in order to be eligible for help.
3) Those who don’t comply and buy insurance will be penalized and FURTHER MARGINALIZED. Just what they need. I can already see the withholding of tax refunds, garnishment of already low wages, threats of jail, and other ways to CLAMP-DOWN on these scofflaws.
4) Insured or not, THE POOR WILL BE PUSHED DEEPER INTO FINANCIAL RUIN as a result of either buying unusable insurance or paying harsh penalties for non-coverage.
5) Meanwhile, as the health-care and national economic crises continue to grow and grow, the insurance companies will rake-in RECORD PROFITS, Wall Street tycoons will get RECORD BONUSES, and the media will distract us with record amounts of dreck. In other words, it will be American business as usual.
6) And since they already “reformed” the system, CONGRESS WILL DO NOTHING ADDITIONAL to fix the problems, other than the aforementioned clamping-down on the scofflaws. Maybe they will bring back debtor’s prison.
7) President Obama and the Democrats who are celebrating now will be deservedly blamed for the resulting mess. After the upcoming revolution is over, OBAMA WILL BE REMEMBERED BY HISTORY AS THE ANTI-FDR. He looked at a citizenry struggling to stay above the depression flood-waters and then handed them an anvil.

And now the optimistic part of my essay: The Democrats, including my one-time favorite, Dennis Kucinich have sold us down the river one too many times. They offer no real solutions for the lower 90% of citizens. The Republicans are monsters who would slit their own grandmothers’ throats to grab more money and power. So, it is up to us to save this nation. Take a look at this website, Get Out Of Our House, that seeks independent candidates to replace all 435 Demoblican & Republicrat members of the House of Representatives. That is where we can find a chance for real change.

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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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