My Health Care Opinion #9,722

This one is not going to be a rant against pharmaceuticals. Nor will it be call for compassion. Nor will it be an indictment against the stupidity of the public option.

When I listen to people argue about this, they are usually people who have their own perfectly fine health plans. Their employers provide them. They’ve never seen the inside of a public clinic. They have low co-pays for everything. They may have high premiums, but their health is genuinely in good hands.

I’m an educated person. I work about 50 hours a week in a non-manual job. I take care of my health both by diet and exercise.

Yet, I’m sitting here dialing an 800 number for independent health insurance so I can pay my monthly premium–on my credit card. I know full-well that I cannot afford this coverage. I also know that the first $5,000 of care I’m going to receive is also going to go on that credit card because it won’t be covered until I run through that deductible. So, over the course of my year, I’m going to spend $6,752 out-of-pocket–or on the grace of Visa–to give myself health insurance.

I tried to use my employer-provided health insurance but I ended up in a clinic where the doctor I was assigned to had left for greener pastures, the smell of vomit in the waiting room was so intense that my face turned green, and the 19-year-old technicians told me flatly that if I were to see a doctor I would not be able to have any lab work done or prescriptions written.

Considering that I am now entering my second stint in graduate school and I work pretty damn hard, I just wanted to put this out there. The health insurance problem is not a problem of the “poor” folks on welfare or the unemployed or the host of other categories I hear people making up to justify their desire to maintain the status quo.

On Identity & The Public Option

The problem is not those who think that health care is a privilege. No, they are so far out of my realm of comprehension that I wouldn’t even know what to say to someone who genuinely believed that to be true.

No, the problem lies with people who think health care is a responsibility.

It’s not.

It’s a right.

It is such a basic human right that I sit here cursing with every other word out of the sheer anger that we, as a nation, are so unbelievably selfish that we cannot see that it is not any one of our responsibilities to decide who should receive health care and who should not.

I have made no secret that I was not in favor of the public option. I’m not. I think it was a concession to begin with. However, it should have served as a good first step to a universal system.

Yet again, Democrats in Senate are so unbelievably spineless that they are unable to present to our President a bill that would increase the number of people covered by health care in our world.

I was deeply bothered on Sunday by a line from a play I saw: Can an entire nation lose its identity? It was a heartfelt moment in Palestine, New Mexico, at the culmination of a discourse on the muddling of identity.

We are so twisted in our views of who we are and what we do that we cannot even act for the common good of our own people.

And as I was driving home yesterday, I thought silently that I needed some sort of breakthrough. My frustration with my work is boiling over. The idea that I have 11th grade students who read and write five and six years below their grade level is taking its toll on me. Not because it’s difficult to correct, but because somewhere there has been such profound failure in our values that we leave so many people out in the cold.

We purposefully, literally leave people behind. We leave them to fail. We leave them to die. Without so much as a second glance.

Our identity is so deeply distorted in the cruelty to which we subject our neighbors. And so easily. With a stroke of a pen. With a deferment of funds. We make judgments. And we make condemnations.

A nation that was so filled with hope a year ago at this time seems to me  so badly off course.

And I came home yesterday afternoon and read a story in the Los Angeles Times. As always, it was simply what I needed to hear.

The words came from a man I used to work with: “It’s all about staying committed to the truth that we belong to each other.” It brought to mind the words I hold as a mantra. The words of Bobby Kennedy: “But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.”

It’s the simplest thought of all. And yet so very hard to live up to.

We seem to forget, again and again, that we are each other. We are the ones who are called to be the “better” for our neighbors.

So, yes, an entire nation can forget it’s identity. It can forget its simple foundation. A banding together by some rebel spirits against an oppressive government that was denying freedoms and stripping rights.

And we sit again. At another point in our history where our government is again denying basic rights. We need an answer. An identity. A commonality.

And a simple belief that we are one.

So, I lied…

I’m not a supporter of the public option in this national health care debate. In fact, I think it’s quite stupid.

I had simply hoped, as I said, that it would be a good first step. For some reason though, I fear that if it is passed, if it appears in this country, it will be the last step.

What do I support?

Well, you know that 30% or so that I lose from my paycheck every two weeks? I support taking a part of that, perhaps that part that is currently financing bombs and artillery, and creating a true nationalized, dare I say, socialized health care system.

What I want is for any person in the country (yes, even if they don’t “want” health coverage, weren’t born here, or a host other absurd exceptions) to be able to walk into a hospital, any hospital, and get care.

No, I don’t mind paying for someone who is unemployed to have coverage. I don’t mind paying for a college kid who chooses not to work. I don’t mind paying for a retired person who is living off of social security.

I pay for a lot of things that I do mind, so why not pay for something that I actually support.

And for people who feel that it’s not their responsibility to provide for the health coverage of other people, I feel sorry for you. I feel sorry that you don’t care at all for the 17-year-old kid who lies in intensive care, but whose parents can’t afford health insurance. But, no, no, that’s not who you’re talking about. I know. You’re talking about the people who don’t work and don’t try.

Well, guess what?  It’s not your place to judge, and they’re people, too. And if you think health care is any type of responsibility or privilege, then you and I simply do not agree.

It is the most basic of human rights. Not American rights. Human rights. And, I’m sorry if you can’t bear to part with your $100 shoes or that you feel that it’s your hard-earned money. Well, I work hard, too. And at the end of the day, I would rest a lot easier knowing I was working toward the common good.

So, I’m tired of the debate. I’m tired of talking about this. Public option or not in this bill, it doesn’t matter. It’s still wrong. All it says is that we need to keep working and working and working.

And while I may be tired of listening to inane banter about why people feel this is not their responsibility, I’m not tired of saying that it is. So, it’ll reappear in this blog from time to time, and my senators and congressmen/women will hear about it. Probably forever. They have for the past 14 years. Why would I stop now? I won’t. Not until it’s right.

But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.
-Robert F. Kennedy

Senate Finance Committee

This is not about my personal beliefs on “death panels.” This is about the fact that the Senate Finance Committee has yielded to lies spread by Sarah Palin. We cannot even begin to have a true discussion about health care until every issue is out on the table. When President Obama was elected to office, it signified a change in American politics. A change that showed that for once people were reading about the issues. They were understanding. They were engaging in lively debate based on fact.

Now, we’ve reverted to scare tactics and lies. And the worst part of all is that the lies are coming from someone who doesn’t even hold political office. The Senate Finance Committee made a major mistake. Not because they decided to remove end-of-life counseling from the national discussion.

No. They made a huge mistake because, yet again, they have succumbed to dirty politics, lies, and have shut down healthy debate in the name of unhealthy compromise. If, at the end of the day, end-of-life counseling was not covered under the public option, that would be fine. But to remove it simply because someone started screaming about Nazi Germany and death squads is a disgrace to the political process. If you say the American people don’t understand, then educate them. And re-educate them. And tell them again. Then, and only then, should any element of this debate be removed.

So, here are the members of the Senate Finance Committee. Contact them. Tell them what you support and don’t support. But most of all, tell them that democracy thrives on debate, not fear, and their actions were cowardly and grossly disappointing.

Matt Baucus, D-MT
511 Hart Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20510
(202) 224-2651(Office)
(202) 224-9412 (Fax)

Jay Rockefeller, D-WV
531 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC  20510
(202) 224-6472
(202) 224-7665 Main Fax

Kent Conrad, D-ND
530 Hart Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510-3403
Phone: (202) 224-2043
Fax: (202) 224-7776

Jeff Bingaman, D-NM
703 Hart Senate Office Bldg.
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
(202) 224-5521

John F. Kerry, D-MA
218 Russell Bldg.
Second Floor
Washington D.C. 20510
(202) 224-2742 – Phone
(202) 224-8525 – Fax

Blanche Lincoln, D-AK
355 Dirksen Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510-0404
Phone: (202)224-4843
Fax: (202)228-1371

Ron Wyden, D-OR
223 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-3703
Phone: (202) 224-5244
Fax: (202) 228-2717

Charles Schumer, D-NY
313 Hart Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-6542
Fax: (202) 228-3027

Debbie Stabenow, D-MI
133 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-4822

Maria Cantwell, D-WA
511 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
202-228-0514 – FAX

Bill Nelson, D-FL
United States Senate
716 Senate Hart Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: 202-224-5274
Fax: 202-228-2183

Robert Menendez, D-NJ
528 Senate Hart Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
202.228.2197 fax

Thomas Carper, D-DE
United States Senate
513 Hart Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-2441
Fax: (202) 228-2190

Chuck Grassley, R-IA
135 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-1501
(202) 224-3744 (O)
(202) 224-6020 (F)

Orrin Hatch, R-UT
104 Hart Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Tel: (202) 224-5251
Fax: (202) 224-6331

Olympia Snowe, R-ME
154 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-5344
Toll Free: (800) 432-1599
Fax: (202) 224-1946

John Kyl, R-AZ
730 Hart Senate Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Phone: (202) 224-4521
Fax: (202) 224-2207

Jim Bunning, R-KY
316 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Main: 202.224.4343
Fax: 202.228.1373

Mike Crapo, R-ID
239 Dirksen Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510

Pat Roberts, R-KS
109 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-1605
Phone: (202) 224-4774
Fax: (202) 224-3514

John Ensign, R-NV
119 Russell Senate Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Phone: (202) 224-6244
Fax: (202) 228-2193
TTY: (202) 228-3364

Mike Enzi, R-WY
379A Senate Russell Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Main: (202) 224-3424
Fax: (202) 228-0359
Toll free: (888) 250-1879

John Cornyn, R-TX
517 Hart Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510
Main: 202-224-2934
Fax: 202-228-2856

On Health Care

A single-payer plan would be a plan like Medicare for all, or the kind of plan that they have in Canada, where basically government is the only person — is the only entity that pays for all health care.  Everybody has a government-paid-for plan, even though in, depending on which country, the doctors are still private or the hospitals might still be private.  In some countries, the doctors work for the government and the hospitals are owned by the government.  But the point is, is that government pays for everything, like Medicare for all.  That is a single-payer plan.

via Obama’s healthcare townhall transcript — remarks, audience questions | Top of the Ticket | Los Angeles Times.

The first letter I ever wrote about health care was in 1996. It was addressed to Senator Diane Feinstein. I was 13, and working on a letter writing campaign with my father to help prevent the closure of LAC-USC Medical Center. I was able to convince my teacher to get my entire class to write letters.

When I taught high school in South L.A., the closure of the King-Drew Medical Center was imminent. I taught that, too. My math students looked at budgets. My journalism students read news articles. And I wrote more letters.

I have not dedicated my life to public health like my father has, but watching him for my entire life, I have seen and understood the importance of it. Living with sick family members, I have felt the pain of inflated drug prices and ridiculous add-on elements such as oxygen tanks and ambulance rides.  I have struggled finding insurance during two periods of unemployment.

I fully support a single-payer system. Not because I am a socialist, but because it is the right thing to do. Health care should not be another capitalized opportunity to further stratify an already-segregated society.

When I hear someone like Sarah Palin say “death squad” and all of her cronies supporting her absurd claims, I am literally sickened. Not because it’s an absurd attempt to slander a plan that doesn’t even fully cover the needs of all Americans. I am sickened because her description of someone deciding whether or not her Down’s Syndrome child is a productive member of society, is exactly, exactly what the current system does every single day.

A stratified system is a death squad by its nature.

It decides who gets quality care and who gets less-than quality or no care.

It decides who gets to see a doctor and who does not.

It decides who benefits from technological advances in medicine and who does not.

It decides who gets preventive care and who does not.

It decides who gets to live and die.

And for those who get to live, it gets to decide the quality of life received.

So, that death panel that gets to sit around and decide who lives and who dies? Take a look at our current system. Looks like a death panel to me.

And for the record, panels are common. Diseases require specialization. And specialization often requires multiple levels of care. And multiple levels of care require discussions. So, before you start spewing your Republican, capitalistic venom all over the country, take a look at all successful hospitals.

I have said before that I think the core of our problem lies in the drug companies, and I still believe that. They run health care in this country. The only way to get past that is with true, full government regulation.

Socialization. Fair. Humane. Whatever you want to call it. That’s what we need. We need a not-for-profit system which has one goal and one goal alone: to keep people healthy and provide for an equitable quality of life for all Americans.

I commend President Obama for trying to push through the public option. I really do.

The problem is that’s not what I voted for. Someone rightly referred to Obama’s support of the single-payer system in the past. A system that he wrote extensively about. I voted for that.

At the same time, I fully support progress. I think a public option is an excellent step in the right direction.

An excellent first step.

I just don’t think we should rest until a universal plan is the final step and all people are cared for exactly the same way.

You should not be able to use money to make your physical quality of living better simply because capitalism says you can.

We need to stop. It’s enough that education and jobs and opportunities are determined by wealth. More than enough. And conservatives should rest in that knowledge.

But, I say no. You cannot, must not continue to make health care something that can be bought.

Your life is no more precious than mine.

Why I'm Not Impressed with the Seniors' Drug Agreement

So as part of the health care reform I expect Congress to enact this year, Medicare beneficiaries whose spending falls within this gap will now receive a discount on prescription drugs of at least 50 percent from the negotiated price their plan pays.  It’s a reform that will make prescription drugs more affordable for millions of seniors, and restore a measure of fairness to Medicare Part D.    It’s a reflection of the importance of this single step for America’s seniors that it has earned the support of AARP, which has been fighting for years to address this anomaly in the system on behalf of older Americans.  AARP is committed, as I am, to achieving health care reform by the end of this year.  And I’m committed to continuing to work with AARP to ensure that any reforms we pursue are carried out in a way that protects America’s seniors, who know as well as anyone what’s wrong with our health care system and why it’s badly in need of reform.
Our goal — our imperative — is to reduce the punishing inflation in health care costs while improving patient care.  And to do that we’re going to have to work together to root out waste and inefficiencies that may pad the bottom line of the insurance industry, but add nothing to the health of our nation.   To that end, the pharmaceutical industry has committed to reduce its draw on the health care system by $80 billion over the next 10 years as part of overall health care reform.

The White House – Blog Post – A Significant Breakthrough to Assist Our Seniors.

I am highly disappointed to read the provisions of this portion of the health care “reform” that was announced today.

What President Obama understands as outlined in several things he’s written, most notably “The Audacity of Hope”, is that true drug reform in this country is only going to come through stringent regulations placed on the pharmaceutical companies. While I understand that these companies have a wealth of power because they have a wealth of income, it’s really time to take a stand. It’s time for a politician to stand up against Pfizer, Bristol Myers, Procter & Gamble, Amgen and all of their counterparts. It’s time for someone to have the courage to say that these band-aid fixes simply aren’t enough.

The drug companies get off so easy with this agreement they have made.

First, a majority of seniors don’t even use Medicare D. For a variety of reasons, Medicare D has just not caught on. They either don’t understand it, have alternate coverage or can’t afford it. So, the total percentage of the American population who are benefiting from this agreement is probably minuscule.

Second, drugs that are most popular with seniors are also popular with other age groups. So, the chances are that these pharmaceutical companies are going to make plenty of money off the same drugs without even considering those prescriptions filled by seniors. Meanwhile, they get to look like the good guys while shipping off these 50% checks to Medicare. So, now they have a few good years where they get to say “remember when we gave you 50%??” Heck, it might last for the whole Obama administration. Bad, bad move, Mr. President.

Third, as a person who lived with an elderly uncle, delivered prescriptions to my great-grandmother, and has grandparents who all had various prescriptions to fill, I can tell you for certain that a half price discount is not nearly enough to make the extremely over-inflated drugs affordable. In the case of my grandparents, you can’t tell me that reducing their monthly prescription needs from $900 to $450 is going to help. Guess what? They don’t have the $450 either.

We are again at the root of many of the major problems in this country: corporate greed.

Health care and medicine are not the places to make a profit. Not at the cost of someone’s life. Next time you pick up a prescription, note the full price. The last prescription, I picked up for myself had a sticker price of $472. I paid $32, but I will tell you without a shadow of a doubt that even working full time, there’s no way I would have been able to pay half price for those antibiotics.

The true, true reform is going to lie in standing up to these pharmaceutical companies, providing public financing and requiring them to sell drugs AT-COST to the American people. So all people, not just seniors, can benefit from a true reform agreement that does not penalize people for illness, genetic defects, terminal illness, or accidents.

Until that moment, I will not be impressed. I will not rally behind this “reform.” And, I will not say this is progress.