Monday, August 24, 2009

Dear Senator Snowe:

Despite the fact that you represent the State of Maine, about a three-hundreth of the American population, your position on the Senate Finance Committee gives you one sixth of the power to make the U.S. a healthier country by holding fast to a public option in health care reform.

Arguably because you are a Republican, your vote on the Senate Finance Committee has even more clout. Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat vying for most Blue Doggy Dem ever, and you could perhaps come to a conclusion that will make health care available to everyone.

You may be wondering why more Mainers and Americans are not banging on your doors about the public option. You may be wondering why small Maine papers are not editorializing in favor of the public option. You may be wondering why the loudest voices are the obstructionist shrieks of those who already have all the health care they need. Or perhaps you know what we all know.

Mainers and Americans are busy and confused. School is about to start and we need to get our kids sneakers and pencil boxes. The swine flu is a distant May memory and everyone's relatively healthy before the rush of vectors about to exchange zillions of viral RNA and DNA next week. Most wonder how to buy Christmas presents in this economy. For many health care has been a nagging worry for decades. The current drama is only a sideshow.

Our local sources of information are tasked with covering municipalities, crime and courts, not health insurance graft and greed. Because of this dearth of information, most of us are not conversant in health insurance shenanigans like the arbitrary formulary changes. That's when insurance companies decide they will no longer pay for particular prescriptions and ill people must change drugs or go without. Many have never heard of rescission, when the insurance companies simply drop customers because they have become too expensive to cover. Too few Americans are familiar with the facts surrounding other countries' methods of providing health care and of our true, less than stellar, status in the world's health care standards. Our infant mortality rate is worst than Cuba's.

The loudest obstructionist voices are those in fear. Some, like current Medicare recipients, are afraid they will lose care, some are afraid they will pay more taxes, and some are afraid, as the Bristol, Tenn. NPR interviewee said, of "minorities getting more benefits than they deserve." The unspoken racism implicit in many of the arguments against the public option must be addressed squarely, especially under the auspices of our first black president.

The most obstructionist sound, of course, is the unified chorus of insurance companies and drug manufacturers. The way we know that our inefficient, horribly broken and, for some, deadly system works for them is that they want no change at all. For them, increasing their bottom line this year trumps the health and lives of Mainers and other Americans. Even access to health insurance does not equate with health or even health care as an amazing article in the current Atlantic Monthly points out in painful detail.

For some, the debate itself has become obstructionist. When confronted with tea baggers bent on curtailing any education at town hall meetings or zealous health care advocates like myself running mini-seminars in the grocery store, at parties and in the local diner, too many people set their eyes toward the middle distance and sigh.

Senator Snowe, your independence is legendary. Please use it to find a way through this morass and ensure that no American's health is at risk because his or her family has inadequate access to care.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

More Bloggess Love

She just Twittered a link to this blog written by a couple octogenarian women called Margaret and Helen. Read it, love it.

Here's a little taste of their wisdom on the vast subject of Rush Limbaugh:

I am not giving Obama a free pass. I’m giving him a chance. He has four years to “make it or break it” as they say. And considering what George Bush did to it, breaking it is the least of our worries. Healthcare in the United State is broken. Our reputation around the globe is broken. The banks are broken. The tax system… the school systems… the environment - all broken. Someone needs to try and fix it. So why not Obama?

When George Bush was President I didn’t want him to fail. I wanted him to stop acting like an idiot. I wanted him to be honest and listen to the debate of the people. I didn’t expect him to act like a Democrat. I expected him to act like an American. And I expected him to at least try to keep his campaign promises. Instead what we got was a moron of a President who crawled up Dick Cheney’s ass and lived there for 8 years.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Marshall on Healthcare Loopy Loopiness

Another quick hit here, since I'm working on some LTEs and an op-ed. In case you don't compulsively check TPM, here's a good look at the complete insanity that has overtaken the debate about health care.

One thing I would like to know is why exactly are journalists so ill-equipped to report this nonsense? Aren't we charged with calling BS on BS?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Sullivan Reader Sees Through the Glass Darkly

Daily Disher and Atlantic Editor Andrew Sullivan does not identify the observant, cogent and alarmingly correct reader who sets us all straight about why we should feel anything close to surprise that the health care debate--among other things--has taken the sickening swerve that it has lately.

This clear-eyed writer argues that Sullivan still sees the U.S. with immigrants' eyes, optimistic and grateful, and scolds him slightly for being subject to dismay as the populists turn out not to act for the people.

An excerpt:
I don't blame you. You came to America after the rise of Reagan. Most of your life in America, you have lived under different Republican presidents who placated these folks with platitudes and campaign rhetoric. The one period when the populist right didn't feel they had a fellow traveler in charge was when Bill Clinton was elected (thanks to the reactionaries splitting their votes). You remember, no doubt, the level of crazy Clinton had to defuse and dodge, and this was a man who had the advantage of being a Southern bubba who has dealt which such people all his life.

The whole thing is worth a read. In fact, despite the complaints of some of my more purist lefty friends, I nearly always find Sullivan's Atlantic work and his blog worth reading. I'm also grateful that this smart reader explains some of my own occasional, and up 'til now semi-mysterious, consternation with Sullivan.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Local Business Shows NFIB the Door

Today, while visiting Jane Hall, the Eyeglass Frame Fashionista of Damariscotta, I learned why we will never be able to afford health care for all in this country. A certain visitor to Jane's office told us in no uncertain terms that the rich have never and will never pay any taxes. Could that really be the difference? Could it be that the members of the Public Option contingent think Americans are law-abiding and will do their civic duty, while the No Health Care For Brown People crowd believe the rich are so powerful they are above the law?

Jane's a friend from when I lived in Tenants Harbor. Interrupting our catch-up chat, a representative of the NFIB arrived in her stacked heels, swishy petal skirt and big hair. She carried a clipboard and it was clear from the garish smile that she was selling something.

Jane, sharply observant as ever, said in her slightly gravely voice, "Aaaannnd, you are obviously on a mission." NFIB Woman sat herself down and said, "Yes, I'm on a mission to save this country from falling apart." She pulled out an application form and said she was from the NFIB, as soon as she got the letters out of her mouth, Jane leaned back and said, "No, thank-you."

At that, the NFIB lady leaned in. "Now would you mind telling me why?" Jane politely said she had been a member before and the membership did not offer what she expected. NFIB Woman persisted, explaining that her organization was dedicated to "making sure Americans have health care that we can all afford." She went on to say that proposals with "universal health care" would cost small businesses too much money. Jane shook her head and explained that she favored universal health care and that we had to have it regardless of the costs.

They volleyed back and forth a bit while I wondered why this gal had not left at the first sign of resistance. Clearly she was a rookie activist. Persuasion is possible only if there are openings. Jane left no room for doubt. This woman should have taken her minimal lumps and left. She didn't. She persisted. I stayed mum as long as I could, but when she started mouthing the FOX News line that runs, If they can't even run the Cash for Clunkers program, how can they run health care?, I had to say that I knew where that logic had originated and it was hardly logical.

Then came the middle bits, predictable and mundane, especially since the fearmongering perpetrated by the insurance industry has become all but rote. Things shifted when I asked NFIB Woman woman for actual information. Her claim was that we could not afford health care for all, but when I asked her whether she knew how the interstate highway system and the biggest school construction projects in this country's history were funded during the middle of the 20th century. She had no idea. Then, since I was not confident that she would know who was president in the 1950s, I asked her what the income tax rate for the richest Americans was under Republican President Dwight Eisenhower. She said she did not know. When I told her 91 percent, she looked dismayed. Then I asked her what the highest rate was today. Unsurprisingly, she had no idea. When I told her 35 percent, I added that I paid at least 28 percent and I am an underemployed teacher.

She said she paid 30-something, and I asked her whether it was right that the uber-wealthy, I think I called them gazillionaires, paid four percent more than she did when they made thousands and thousands times more than she.

Then she took her most surprising stance. By this time she had stood up and tottered on her six-inch wooden heels. "Rich people won't pay their taxes," she said. "Pardon, me," I said. "The rich never pay their taxes," she reiterated. Stunned, I said, "Well, in that case we have a much bigger problem than health care."

Nine hours later, I still wonder if she understands the gravity of her claim. I reminded her that our ancestors had left 17th century England to escape the corruption and injustice of the aristocracy and asked if she was essentially saying that our situation is now the same. She looked blank and began to blather about how we should "respect each other's point of view." You know, the argument that there is no analysis or truth, just opinion.

Going over the top, I broke Godwins Law and brought up the Holocaust. I said, "Umm. The Holocaust was wrong. Some things are just wrong. Not obeying the law is wrong. [The gazillionaire scofflaws] would be in trouble." To my chagrin, she persisted with, "Rich people have never paid taxes and never will." I said, "Maybe as long as they and their corporations can get you to do their bidding." I told her the most honorable thing she could do with her time was stop shilling for the insurance companies.

By this point I had already recommended Thomas Franks', "What's the Matter with Kansas," to learn how members of the protected upper class get others to vote in opposition to their best interests. She looked at me as if I was recommending Kafka. It made me wonder if she had ever read a non-fiction book in her life.

I had already suggested that she got her talking points from Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. She demurred saying, "No. I got [the Cash for Clunkers example] from the radio." Oy.

In her parting paragraph she again beseeched me to acknowledge her right to her opinion. As she backed toward the door, she said, "No matter what our opinions, we should respect each other's point of view."

Jane and I gave her crickets.

Grrr. Wonder what her salary is and whether she has health insurance.

Chekov on Doctors

The only difference between doctors and lawyers is that lawyers merely rob you, whereas doctors rob you and kill you, too.
(Anton Chekhov)

I don't mean you Drs. Webb and Love, of course. Your practice is unique and beautiful in its simplicity and personal nature. Can anyone tell I have to go to the doctor's today?

It's Your Health Care, Stupid

Much as I hate to address anyone as "Stupid," the uncivil disobedience at Congresspeople's town meetings grates me, especially since, as Josh Marshall points out, a plurality of those complaining are beneficiaries of--and mostly happy with--our country's single payer health care system, Medicare. Remember? The one the Republicans have sworn to dismantle.

A few weeks ago I was booed at a regional school budget meeting for pointing out that local property taxes in both real dollars and relative to property values have declined in my lifetime. This meeting took place the same day that activists and protesters gathered in Portland to make some noise for the Public Option--a guarantee that whatever health care solution our legislators craft health care will be available for all, regardless of ability to pay.

When I stood up to speak at the microphone that afternoon, I was all kinds of conflicted. As a reporter, one never, ever, ever insinuates oneself in the story. At this meeting I was liveblogging for this blog. Not strictly a reporter, I was attempting to capture it for others who did not attend. Somehow this gave me the proximity I needed to think it o.k. to stand and explain that those who were really interested in their wallets should be in Portland rallying for the Public Option as opposed to piling on with the sadly misguided Governor Baldacci in attempts to balance the state budget on school children's and teachers' backs.

At the time I only used my own experience of health insurance premiums rising in double-digit percentages all of my teaching career. Today a gracious commenter on TPMDC gave me the numbers I lacked that day.

Unknowncitizen tells his story:
My compulsory health insurance is funded through an employer contribution of SEVEN NINETY FIVE/hr, that's over $16K/year. Add medicare taxes, out of pocket medical costs and my family spends more than $20k. I get invoiced out at higher and higher rates because of the spiraling cost of health insurance (while my salary remains flat), all the while competing with and often losing work to companies who don't offer health insurance, but have a wide pool of desperate layed (sic) off workers to choose from.

We barely ever have a sniffle, yet are shaken down for almost $60 a day; more than food, more than housing, more than anything.

And these buffoons in the audience are yelling "what's wrong with profit?".

How do they get these stooges to repeat that crap? I along with a whole boatload of regular working stiffs are getting flat out scammed. There is simply no kinder description of it, it's thievery through deception, conspiracy and truth concealment. And my fellow Americans are sticking up for the health insurance profiteers.

Unknowncitizen's story is ubiquitous, yet at least he has health care. The real tragedy of course is that the continued success of this shakedown keeps the self-employed, underemployed and workers whose employers cannot afford to offer benefits out of the system entirely. Why should insurance companies change when they can get employers to hand over thousands of dollars a year covering essentially healthy families and, with further sleight of hand, get those who benefit from federal health care to go out and shill for them?