Thursday, August 27, 2009

Insurance Companies - Evil Incarnate

Let me be up front - I hate health insurance companies. They are the reason I quit practicing psychology. They are also the reason I work at the Library. I was self employed my whole life and always had health insurance. I was diagnosed with cancer in 2001, and my insurance did pay for my initial treatment. But when it came time to renew my policy, they increased the premium by so much that it was more than my income. My only hope was to find an employer that provided insurance. When you're recovering from cancer is not the best time to look for a job, and it took several months - during which I am paying the insurance premium using my savings. Finally, I found the job with the Library. The salary was significantly less than I was earning, but I had no choice. I love my job, but I think it was horrible that I was forced to make such a decision so late in my career.

I'm one of thousands, maybe millions, of Americans whose lives were damaged or destroyed by the practices of insurance companies. There are many that I know of right here in Natchez. You may be thinking there's probably another side to these stories. The only other side is greed. Let me give you just one example.

A few months ago, the U S Congress held a hearing on the practice of rescissions in the health insurance industry. I had never even heard of this before, and it is absolutely unbelievable.

This is practiced by all insurance companies in the individual market, which covers all those people who are not covered by their employers - including the economic engine of our country - the entrepreneurs who go into business for themselves. These individuals fill out an application, have it approved, pay their premiums, and assume they have health insurance. NOT!

Apparently, the companies do not even look at those applications - it would cost too much money to evaluate them. They wait until the policy holder makes a significant claim - and then they evaluate them - pouring over them looking for a reason to "rescind" the coverage. In other words, they take back the policy - as if you never had it. They even pay bonuses to employees who save the company the most money through rescissions.

Here's a little video clip of the Chairman of the Committee questioning the insurance executives of the largest companies in the country. Although it's all appalling, the most outrageous was when the Chairman asked them if they would agreed to discontinue with rescissions except in the case of fraud - and they all said no.

And here is another video clip from the same hearing - this one of a victim testifying before the Committee. If you're not crying and outraged after watching this, you are one cold hearted SOB.

By the way, this was not a partisan hearing. Both Democrats and Republicans were outraged after this hearing.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Town Hall Meeting Boring and Depressing

As I left the Town Hall meeting, I asked myself why in the world I went - and encouraged others to do the same. No good answer.

The first downer was discovering I had no Internet access, since I had planned on live blogging the event. No Internet in a Convention Center? What are those people thinking? No wonder Natchez has trouble competing. Memo to Walter Tipton: This is the 21st Century.

The good news was there was a good crowd there. Extra chairs had to be brought in - and there were still people standing. It's nice to know people are interested in health care reform and in their government. The bad news is these people were appallingly ignorant.

When a Democratic member of Congress has a town hall meeting, the opposition screams, interrupts, threatens, and even brings guns. We've all seen these mobs on TV. But when a Republican has a town hall, everyone is very polite. Does this tell you anything?

Senator Wicker's introductory remarks were predictable - straight out of the Republican play book. Unfortunately, most of it is not true. Is he just dumb - or does he know he's lying?

He starts by saying that "the greatest issue of our time" is the "government takeover of healthcare". He got a big round of applause. This was the big issue of the meeting. How horrible it would be for the federal government to run our health care. On the other hand, Medicare is wonderful and don't mess with it. Do none of these people see the contradiction in these two ideas?

Medicare is run by the federal government - it is even a single payor system. If you don't want a "government takeover of healthcare", then the first step is to abolish Medicare. Of course, they would never do that, because Medicare is hugely popular.

If you are truly concerned about Medicare and senior citizens, then check with the AARP, which supports health care reform and is trying to fight the lies meant to scare senior citizens. It very clearly states that health care reform:

  1. Is not socialized medicine.
  2. Does not mean rationed care.
  3. Will help - not hurt - Medicare.
  4. Is not too costly.
  5. Doesn't mean goverment makes life or death decisions
However, the health care reform legislation is NOT a "government takeover of healthcare". Quite the opposite. It is an effort to maintain our system of health care, which is currently in serious trouble.

Senator Wicker acknowledges our health care system needs improvement. So did he and the Republicans try to work with the Democrats to come up with those improvements? Of course not. They don't care about the health care of the American people. All they care about is Republicans winning elections next year, and they realize their best chance is to defeat Obama on this big issue. As widely reported in the news, Republican Senator DeMint said:

"If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him."

Wicker does not want to make the current legislation better. No, he said several times that he wants to kill the current legislation and start over. If he and the Republicans are successful, then American is indeed in deep trouble.

PS If you look at who contributes to Senator Wicker's campaigns, the top industries are Finance & Insurance. Why am I not surprised?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Uncovering the truth

I was reading a detective novel today by James Lee Burke. His detective lives in New Iberia, Louisiana. The writer seems to have a little trouble with female characters though -- the ones in his book are two-dimensional figures who always want sex. I think life does not imitate art in this case. Anyway, I'm deep into this mystery when I get a mysterious e-mail of my own.

My father was a pathologist in Natchez, Mississippi, during the Civil Rights movement in the '60s. He was routinely called out to do autopsies after gruesome racially motivated killings. He used to talk about the cases to us kids, show us the murder slides, play the tapes of the trials where the white guys always got off, and so on.

Now the FBI is re-opening the cases. This is from the Natchez Democrat:

NATCHEZ — An FBI agent was in town Wednesday to do a little stone turning.

The agent, from the Hattiesburg office, is one of several federal agents working the recently re-opened Civil Rights case involving the 1967 death of Wharlest Jackson Sr.

And though FBI policy prevents agents from talking about their work, a press release from the agency said the goal in Jackson’s case and 42 others is to leave no stone unturned.

“We will explore every lead and every tip provided to us in our effort to bring closure to these cases,” said Frederick T. Brink, special agent in charge of the FBI in Mississippi.

“The FBI, together with our federal, state and local partners, will work diligently in these cases to uncover the truth, should it be hidden, and to bring to justice anyone who so heinously violates the rights of our citizens.”

Jackson, a black man, died when his truck exploded from a planted bomb. He had recently received a job promotion at Armstrong Tire. The new job was widely considered a “white man’s job.”

No arrests were ever made.

An investigator e-mailed me to see if I could give him any information about the unsolved murder of Clifton Walker. He wrote:

"Walker was driving home from the 3-11 shift at International Paper on Friday night, February 28, 1964, and was ambushed when he turned onto Poor House Road, which he always took as a shortcut off of 61 to Old 61. There was probably a mob of white men firing at the car to bring it to a halt and then several stood around the car and fired in at close range and blew his face apart."

If only I could reach back into time and bring back some of that information for the families of the victims who still have no details about what really happened. My father kept everything about his cases but now he's dead and all of his stuff -- well, who knows what happened to it?

It's frustrating to me to think that at one point in my life I had access to all the information the family would need, but now it's gone, and I can't help them.

Friday, August 21, 2009

There You Go Again, Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin, the health care expert, is continuing to share her wisdom. She writes on her Facebook page that the plan making its way through Congress will "inevitably" lead to health care rationing. Palin claims the president wants to enact a rationing system that would

"refuse to allocate medical resources to the elderly, the infirm, and the disabled who have less economic potential."

Lordy, lordy - what is this rationing business that Palin and others are using to scare people? Basically, it means fairly allocating portions of a scarce resource - usually according to some formula or rule. For example, rationing was used for many food items during World War II. Although no one liked it, few complained. It was recognized as necessary and for the most part was fair - and run by the government. Did they refuse rations to "the elderly, the infirm, and the disabled"? Of course not. Before rationing was instituted, only the wealthy could get the scarce commodities. Free market mentality!

We have rationing in health care right now! You think you can get whatever health care your doctor thinks you need? No chance in hell - unless you're extremely wealthy and pay out of your pocket. Right now, some insurance clerk without a medical degree decides if they'll pay or not - and they will nitpick you to death - literally. As a patient and former health care provider, I can tell you it is extremely difficult to convince one of these clerks (who frequently cannot even spell or pronounce the disorder) that a treatment is necessary.

Insurance companies are in business to make money - period. During the hard times, they just keep racking in the dough. If they're losing money, do they have to tighten their belts like the rest of us? Hell no, they just deny more claims. There is not a single health insurance company in the country losing money right now.

You hear opponents of health care reform talking about "tort reform" - which refers to lawsuits against doctors - and it does need to be addressed. However, there's one area you never hear mentioned - and it's far more important. Do you know if your child dies because a health insurance company denies coverage, you can't sue them? That's right. No matter how good your case, you have no recourse to the courts. You can complain to your State Insurance Commissioner - but let's face it - a cash strapped insurance commission can't begin to compete with a multibillion dollar insurance company. When's the last time you heard a state get anything from an insurance company? Probably never.

There are thousands of horror stories of health insurance companies denying care right now. And there's nothing you can do about it - except support reform that requires fairness.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Thanks, Sarah Palin

Thanks to the blatant lies told by Sarah Palin (as outlined in my previous post) America's senior citizens are now going to have one less benefit. Palin's "death panels" lie has been spread around the country and has been picked up by some other Republicans who really should know better.

Thank heavens some Republicans are still acting honorably. For example, Alaska's senior Senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski, said this week that Palin and other critics were not helping the GOP by throwing out false claims.
"Quite honestly, I'm so offended at that terminology, because it absolutely isn't" (in the bill). "There is no reason to gin up fear in the American public by saying things that are not included in the bill."

No matter how many news organizations or members of Congress say it isn't true, those rabble rousers at the town hall meetings keep saying it. Finally, Senator Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said his Committee would drop the provision from consideration. Sarah Palin - you are so powerful!

Now, let's look at what that provision would have provided for seniors - that they've now lost thanks to Palin and her unthinking, nonreading followers.

In 1990 the Supreme Court handed down a decision (Cruzan v MO DoH) requiring clear and convincing evidence for end of life decisions. Congress wanted to be sure people knew how to state their wishes in a way that would stand up in court. So they introduced legislation requiring health care providers paid by Medicare and Medicaid to inform patients about their rights.

There was hollering then about "pulling the plug on grandma" by some right wing fanatics, but the legislation had broad bipartison support, and it easily passed.

Right after that, you may have noted that hospitals and other providers started handing out paperwork outlining your rights. Although that was nice, Congress really wanted doctors to be able to talk to their patients about their rights - if the patients requested it.

The so called "death panel" language in this year's bill was simply to authorize payments to doctors for those sessions - since doctors don't generally provide services for free.

Now here's the best part. The 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug Bill that became law contained the exact same provision. Did the Republicans scream "death panel" then? Uh, no - they voted for it - 204 Republican House members and 42 Republican Senators. Talk about hypocrisy!

As a column in Time magazine says:

"So either Republicans were for death panels in 2003 before turning against them now--or they're lying about end-of-life counseling in order to frighten the bejeezus out of their fellow citizens and defeat health reform by any means necessary."

It is truly disgusting that Republicans would knowingly lie and distort and try to scare people - for purely political reasons. In the meantime, 47 million Americans have no health insurance and 22,000 Americans die every year because of that. Thanks, Sarah Palin.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Government is Taking Over Health Care!

How many times have you heard that (or some variation) recently? But ask them what they mean and you get some really crazy answers.

For example, Sarah Palin recently said

". . . my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

I thinks it's truly amazing that someone who ran for Vice President of the United States would tell such a blatant lie. The only purpose is to scare people who may not know any better. For verification, read the bill (page 425) or read this Fact Check - or know that AARP is taking out ads to counteract these lies.

This is just one of many, many examples of our supposed leaders telling lies or misrepresenting the facts - just to scare people. Unfortunately, it's working - and it may kill health reform again. For over a hundred years, brave Presidents (Republican and Democratic) have been trying - without success - to achieve universal health coverage - ie, health care for all Americans.

Why do these efforts at universal coverage fail? Is it because Americans don't want everyone to have health insurance? Of course not. Everytime a President has proposed health care reform, the public has been overwhelmingly supportive - until the opponents bring out their big guns.

There are businesses who are making a lot of money on the current system, and they are willing to spend a lot of money to make sure it doesn't change. They say they want reform but then do everything they can to prevent it from happening. Who are these businesses? Insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and for profit hospitals and nursing homes - and the lobbyists and members of Congress that they support with millions and millions of dollars.

Just about every other American would benefit from health care reform - but many of the people who would benefit are screaming the loudest. Health care is a very complicated business, and the vast majority of Americans don't understand how it works. So when they hear some frightening sound bite from some immoral politician, they get scared.

If you know what's good for you, you won't believe anything politicians say or any ads about health care. We used to depend on the media for unbiased coverage - but not any more. And the Internet, where many people get their news, is much worse. Check it out for yourself using unbiased sources. I recommend, which is a totally nonpartisan, unbiased organization that regularly checks out political bull.

Your life, or that of a loved one, will depend on the outcome of this legislation - so you'd better pay attention.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Do Americans Have a Right to Health Care?

We are the only country in the industrialized world that doesn't have universal health care - and many developing countries that are far worse off than we are provide it.

First, let's make clear what universal health care is. It simply means all citizens have health care., and the only way to accomplish it is through government action - passing a law if you're a democracy. What is covered and how it is delivered varies immensely from country to country.

We should be able to agree that every American deserves a right to health care - that America should have universal health care - and then argue over what and how. Unfortunately, that is a right that Americans do not have - but practically everybody else in the civilized world does. We have a right to a gun, but not a doctor to fix us after we're shot. That needs to be changed. It absolutely amazes me that there are people who do not agree American's should have that right.

During the Presidential Debates, someone asked the question: "Do you believe Americans have a right to health care?" McCain danced all over the place and never answered the question, whereas Obama simply said "Yes". I think that was a defining moment of the campaign. The next time you hear someone ranting about socialized medicine or government controlled health care, just ask them this simple question. If they say "yes", then you can go on to have a productive discussion on the what and how. If they don't answer the question directly, just walk away - they're not worth your time. By the way, very few people are courageous or honest enough to directly say "no" - but that's what they mean.

Now, what will be covered, how it will be delivered, how it will be paid for, and other crucial issues are legitimate areas of discussion and argument. I'll be making some of those arguments in the days to come.

Monday, August 03, 2009

A chance for a second childhood

I wrote this post for my blog but thought I'd put it here too because I am so excited about coming to visit Natchez again after 30 years away. Elizabeth

I grew up in Natchez, Mississippi, and loved it. We moved away when I was 12, and my mother and I were devastated. During the last visit I had with my mother before she died, she told me that the years she spent in Natchez were the happiest of her life.

Here we are at the pageant, a show that the natives put on during the spring pilgimage when tourists could go through the antebellum homes. That's me, my mother and my brother Mike near the picnic. I love the fact that everyone has '60s hair even though we are wearing Civil War clothes.

Thanks to the wonder of Facebook and blogging, I have finally found some of my old pals in Natchez. I've decided to go visit next spring during the pilgrimage and wallow in memories for a solid week.

I've rediscovered some of my friends from Montebello School who are pictured below.

People gripe about Facebook and computers so much -- but they have given me a part of my life back that had seemed closed to me. It's opened up a road and led me back to friends that I thought I'd forever left behind.