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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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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Sucking More & More

December 28, 2009 at 12:37 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

Any working American knows our economy has gradually sucked more and more at higher and higher levels for decades. And all the while, that increasing suck-level has been vastly ignored by our media, our politicians, and anyone who occupies the levels up from where the suck reaches. For instance, I remember about 15 years ago when I worked in Engineering & Product Development and our building had an experimental machine shop. Well, one day the bigwigs decided to eliminate that machine shop and farm-out the work to outside shops. The Engineers I worked with couldn’t have been less sympathetic toward what they called “blue-collar” workers losing their jobs. I warned them that someday the tide would probably rise to eliminate them and the idea was soundly hooted down as preposterous. Now, of course, we see Engineering and developmental work increasingly off-shored. In fact, many of those same Engineers and Chemists were downsized along with me about 9 years ago when the company moved to greener pastures (that is, where labor was cheaper and environmental standards not as strict).

Our habit of turning-away from the plight of our fellow-citizens who are in need is much like that old poem about Nazi Germany that talks about (paraphrasing) “When they came to get the Jews, I did nothing because I wasn’t Jewish. When they came to get the Catholics, I did nothing because I wasn’t Catholic. Finally, they came to get me and there was no one left to fight for me.” The lower-class 90% of the population better wake-up and realize it’s in their own best interest to stand-up for each other. Our ancestors learned this the hard way, as we are now doing. To a great extent, during the Great Depression until the 1970’s, the working class usually stuck together and won higher wages, paid vacations, sick leave time, holiday pay, overtime pay, reasonable work-week hours, and many other benefits that the plutocrats didn’t want to give.  Since the workers stopped sticking together there has been a steady erosion of all those work place improvements.

One of our greatest weapons is the ballot box.  It is time to turn all the Washington, D.C. politicians out of office (my apologies to the handful that are not slime). And a mild form of that is just what voters thought they were doing when they elected Obama. His campaign of “change” resonated with citizens who didn’t want to destroy the underpinnings of our Constitutional system but knew America’s “public servants” are now only serving the plutocrats. And his sell-out to those plutocrats and war machine betrayed their trust. Like me, most of them won’t vote Democrat again and they already know the Republicans are nuts, so they are ripe for a third party.

On a related note, in the last few days our corporate-owned rulers have decreed yet another give-away to their masters. I’m speaking of the mandatory insurance company subsidy that was passed into law as “healthcare reform.” Over the next few years, the cost of forced insurance purchase will destroy many a family’s budget. Those who are already financially sinking will drown and those who are barely keeping their heads above water will sink. In advance of this bill’s passage, concerned citizens, politicians, and media rightfully asked how people who couldn’t afford insurance in the first place were supposed to buy insurance when required by law. The politicians gave solemn assurance  that there would be government help for those who couldn’t afford insurance (much like they assured us after Katrina that New Orleans would promptly be rebuilt). And, amazingly, the questioners swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.

But most anyone who has had to ask for government help can tell you, the gov’t help will turn-out to be an off-putting maze of underfunded bullshit that will amount to near zero help. In the end, millions of Americans will have to choose between buying insurance to avoid fines or paying for their rent, groceries, and utilities. Worst of all, because of factors such as unaffordable co-payments and insurance company denials for treatment, these new insurance customers probably won’t see any real improvement in their access to healthcare. And all the while America’s “leaders” will continue to pour unimaginable money down the rat-hole of endless wars and more tax breaks for the ultra-rich. I believe there is a very good chance this healthcare “reform” (which isn’t) may become the issue that will finally ignite a citizens rebellion.

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Wow, Was I Wrong!

December 22, 2009 at 5:36 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I haven’t had health insurance in 9 years. The end of my coverage coincided with my downsizing out of a 20+ year career in the printing industry (another of the multitude of enterprises America no longer has within its  boarders). I still remember how ecstatic I was back in 1980, when I got that job; my first that not only paid well, but had fringe benefits like health insurance and a retirement pension. It was a real “grown-up” job like my parents had.

My excellent health has enabled me to go these 9 years without the wallet-draining help of the medical profession. I attribute my good health mostly to my long-standing belief in positive thinking and what used to be called “health foods.”  I don’t have the highest opinion of doctors. I really think they aren’t good for much beyond operating if you’ve got something like appendicitis or diagnosing an obvious condition like diabetes. Anything more complex and their attempts at a “cure” may be worse than the ailment.

But in spite of that, I know modern medicine has its place in civilized society.  I don’t forgo medical coverage out of choice, I would love to have it if I could squeeze it into my minuscule budget. Ah, the luxury of being able to take my sore throat  or aching foot to a physician and receive treatment…

(Excuse me, I was lost in reverie for a few moments) Delirious from the hope induced by Obama’s election, I truly thought America’s politicians were, at long last, ready to provide their citizens with universal access to health care.

Wow, was I wrong! And now, it looks like Americans not only won’t get universal coverage, their crazy government will try to force the poorest ones to buy insurance coverage, under threat of being branded as criminals and fined. Only the twitterpated mind of an insulated-from-reality Washington, D.C. multi-millionaire politician who gets perks like free haircuts (and free healthcare) could think that this is any kind of fix for the problem.

“Where in blue blazes are people who were too poor to buy insurance in the first place supposed to get money to buy insurance when they’re forced?” ask many sane Americans. “Don’t worry,” the multi-millionaire politicians assure us, “they can apply to the government for assistance to pay for their forced insurance.”

Well, as one of America’s many financially-ruined citizens I have first-hand frustrating experience with applying to the government for assistance. To cite two examples out of many: 1) so that my working, divorced daughter could go to college, she needed financial help with my granddaughter’s daycare. That took seven weeks of almost daily calling the social workers and, finally, in desperation a call to our state governor’s office hotline to get results. 2) I applied for heating energy assistance for this winter, which involves getting up about 3 am in order to stand in line in the freezing cold outside the application office to get one of 25 entrance tickets at about 8 am.

I was 17th in the heating assistance line that day, because some people camp out there all night. There were about 50 people in line, which means a lot of people turned away each day. My point is that there will be a lot of poor people spending a lot of their time going begging “hat in hand” to the bureaucrats in order to buy insurance.

I was once solidly middle-class and paid taxes for 37 years before being destroyed in the Great Recession. I was surprised at how confusing, uncaring, and inadequate our social safety net is. Pray that you don’t have to find out also.

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