Monday, July 13, 2009

A Long Post Where I Get All Political

I had a hard weekend.

Well it was good, in the sense that we got a lot done on our to-do list and spent a lot of quality time with the kids.

It was hard because I have this weight in my chest: it is sadness; it is disappointment; it is hopelessness; but above all, it is anger. It has kept me awake at night, tossing and turning. It is that feeling you get when you come face to face with the reality of our government and the way politics works, the way money and greed rule the world.

I don’t watch that much TV anymore, but on Fridays on PBS there are some great programs that showcase the only journalism worth watching. One of these is Bill Moyers’ Journal. I watched it on Friday. Here is a link to the show. Please watch it.

Moyers’ guest is Wendell Potter, an ex VP for Cigna (health insurance company). He is what you would call a whistle-blower: he left the company, as he tells it, because, after facing some of the realities of the health care system in the U.S., he could not in all consciousness continue performing his job. He now reports on what he has seen and what it is that big health insurance incorporations do.

One of the things that it most revolting to me about how industries like this work, is that they spend billions of dollars on lobbyists, on campaigns to get the right weasels into office, and on ads to attack bills that will hurt their bottom line: they spend ALL of this money so that they can continue denying claims, recising policy-holders who are too sick, and raising premiums and co-pays etc… in essence, spending as little as possible on their policy-holders in order to give more back to their investors. It is such a massive disconnect for me… the logic there: it seems irrational, immoral, incoherent, and just plain stupid.

How can whether or not we get the health care we need be about profit? How can whether you live or die be about money?

Some of what he talks about is not totally new or surprising, especially if you have seen Michael Moore’s documentary Sicko (and if you haven’t you should). But it is disheartening… to say the least, to hear an insider confirm many of the allegations Moore made (not to mention to hear him talk about how the industry tried to discredit Moore.)

I was so intrigued and outraged by what he recounts that I got on to Moyers’ webpage on PBS and read more and watched a previous episode (May 22nd) found here, where two medical doctors (Wolfe and Himmelstein) explain why they, and many health care providers, support what is called a “Single-payer” health care system. This is, in a word, a universal health care system under which all Americans are covered. (Hospitals and doctors remain private, but they only bill one entity—the government. Patients can go to any doctor or hospital they choose.) They claim this actually frees doctors to do what they do and what they should be doing: treating their patients.

Both episodes talk about the memos that are sent around Washington by lobbyists and such guiding people from the health insurance industry and even politicians (mostly Republicans) on what language to use that will most successfully frighten the American people into rejecting a universal health care system or even a public option. They use terms like “socialism” (very dirty word), “coercion,” “lack of choice,” “interminable waiting,” “rationing of care” etc. The worst part is that Americans fall for it every time: we are naïve and gullible to our own detriment.

One of the best lines from the Wendell Potter interview was that they scare you now by saying that you will have a government bureaucrat between you and your doctor, but right now you have a CEO between you and your doctor (who has his own 7 digit salary and his company’s profit in mind, NOT your medical needs). Ahh! The irony of it all!

Can you imagine not being able to call the fire department when your house was on fire because you could not pay for it? Can you imagine not being able to call the police because you were being robbed because you had not contracted their private services. Can you imagine not being able to get an education (even with the sad state of our educational system) because you couldn’t pay for it? Our tax dollars pay for so many social services it is asinine to say that health care should not be one of them.

I have insurance. I have great insurance. (Even so, having a baby costs us about $2000 out-of-pocket.) But once I am no longer eligible to teach, if I don’t have a job, with benefits, I will have to pay COBRA… which is about ¼ of my husband’s salary. If I am ever left insurance-less, I am… how can I put this delicately… totally up shit-creek. You see, I fall into that category of what they call the “uninsurable.” I had cancer at 28. Luckily I had insurance and my out-of-pocket was only a fraction of the total bill for: 5 surgeries, a year of treatment, numerous CT scans, MRIs, PET scans, Dr visits, biopsies, pain meds, IV antibiotics, etc. Even though I have been cancer-free for 6 years (yay!), once I am not covered, no one will want to cover me for a price I can afford to pay… if at all.

When you look at the statistics of how many Americans are uninsured or under-insured, or a step away from losing their insurance it is staggering. When you consider that and then look at what we pay for health care compared to other countries and then consider that our system is ranked one of the last among first world, industrialized nations—it is embarrassing and horrifying. When Drs. Wolfe and Himmelstein talk about how much money would be saved by adopting a single-payer national health care program, it is mind-blowing.

What haunted me the most were Bill Moyers’ closing words, the entire commentary can be found here:

“[…] It's happening to health care as well. Even the pro-business magazine THE ECONOMIST says America has the worst system in the developed world, controlled by executives who are not held to account and investors whose primary goal is raising share price and increasing profit – while wasting $450 billion dollars in redundant administrative costs and leaving nearly 50 million uninsured.

Enter "the select few who actually get it done." Three out of four of the big health care firms lobbying on Capitol Hill have former members of Congress or government staff members on the payroll – more than 350 of them – and they’re all fighting hard to prevent a public plan, at a rate in excess of $1.4 million a day.

Health care policy has become insider heaven. Even Nancy-Ann DeParle, the White House health reform director, served on the boards of several major health care corporations.

President Obama has pushed hard for a public option but many fear he’s wavering, and just this week his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel – the insider del tutti insiders – indicated that a public plan just might be negotiable, ready for reengineering, no doubt, by “the select few who actually get it done.”

That’s how it works. And it works that way because we let it. The game goes on and the insiders keep dealing themselves winning hands. Nothing will change – nothing – until the money lenders are tossed out of the temple, the ATM’s are wrested from the marble halls, and we tear down the sign they’ve placed on government – the one that reads, ‘For Sale.’”

After watching these programs, I did the only thing I could do on a Friday night at 10:00. I sent an email to President Obama. I urged him to do the right thing for our country: support universal health care. It is not just the moral choice, the ethical choice, the financially- sound choice, the logical choice, the humane choice… it is the ONLY choice.

The people that cut and color your hair, the people that serve you at your favorite restaurant, the people that take care of your kids while you work, the people who wash your clothes at the dry-cleaners, the people who scrub your toilet and mow your lawn. They all… WE all elect public officials to do what is in OUR interest, not the interest of Wall Street, not the interest of Washington. When will we be dealt a winning hand?

In one of the interviews, one of the guests quotes Winston Churchill who said something to the effect that “you can always count on Americans to do the right thing… after they have exhausted every possible alternative.” How long will it take to do the right thing?

Read another commentary here by Mrs. G. at the Women’s Colony.


Danielle said...

Wow, I don't know what to say really. I agree. I wish there was something more I could do about it. It's an outrage.

mosey along said...

Great call to action, whether you intended it that way or not. I'm Canadian by birth and although the Canadian healthcare system isn't perfect by any means, it at least guarantees basic care for every person whether you can pay or not. The lobbyists and HMO's are definitely the "bad guys" in this issue - protecting their own interests and pocketbooks.

Recently the union-sponsored healthcare at my husband's work was busted and we now pay $4000 a year more that we did previously. We're "lucky" in that we can absorb it to a certain extent, but not everyone could.

Universal healthcare isn't just a political issue, it's human rights.

Anonymous said...

Fact- you are more likely to die with Universal Health Care-

Annje said...

Fact- That is precisely the message that the health insurance industry is trying to spread. If you believe it you are naive. You are actually much more likely to die with no health care at all.

I haven't checked it out yet, but newsflavor sounds like a very credible source.

Anonymous said...

Yea- hopefully once the government runs our healthcare getting cancer treatment will be like getting a visa because they do such a great job with running their offices.

I guess also it will be so much better once we absorb 50 million illegal immigrants into our healthcare system and you and I pay for them and get equal treatment. I'm sure it's going to improve the immigration problem too.

Here are some more reliable non-liberal charged resources for you to check out:

Naive is not seeking out information beyond what the liberal media wants everyone to believe. Go talk to a few educated doctors and see what they think. I have.

Annje said...

Gov't won't be "running" health care--just paying for it... like they don't run your fire station or police depts.

Have you tried getting treatment for cancer with an HMO? I have. I don't want companies whose only interest in profit, deciding if I get care and what that care looks like.

How did I know you were going to give me

Did you see what the doctors on the Bill Moyers link said... or are you not really interested in seeking opinions beyond the conservative media?

Anonymous said...

Yea the government is going to fork over all the money, pay for everybody, and not have any say in it.

Guess who Mr. Potter the ex Cigna employee works for now? The radical left Center for Media and Democracy, an organization that Moyers endorses and financially supports. Talk about an undisclosed conflict of interest! I'm sure money had nothing to do with him leaving Cigna and he is just blowing the whistle for free. It's out of the kindness of his own heart that he is sharing how bad the situation is and how much we need government control.

Saudi Arabia has free healthcare and are sitting on "gold" but why do the people from there fly here on private jets to get healthcare for their children? (I know of at least 3 families right now here at our Children's Hospital getting life saving treatment).

The good thing is that we live in a democracy so as Thomas Jefferson put it "people get the government they deserve" we will know that when our children die waiting in line we can thank ourselves for being so smart and ruining our country that our ancestors WORKED so hard for. People in the US have no clue how fine a balance we run between the comfortable lives we have (even our "poor") and other nations that live in poverty that we can't even fathom.

Anonymous said...

Oh yea- and while we die waiting in line for treatment our Senators and House of Representatives will be well taken care of with their private healthcare that they will retain under the current Obama plan. I guess the plan is so great that they don't want it.

mosey along said...

Private healthcare will still exist side by side with universal healthcare. Those that can afford to pay for it have that option.

And the rest of the majority of the population will be able to get reliable healthcare they can afford, rather than the nothing at all they get under the current system.

Sounds win-win to me.

Anonymous said...

Note on page 19:

“Individual health insurance coverage that is not grandfathered health insurance coverage under subsection (a) may only be offered on or after the first day of Y1 as an Exchange-participating health benefits plan.”

Therefore, unless you keep your old individual health insurance plan forever, any plan you buy in the future you’ll have to buy through the government “exchange” system or no insurance will be available.

=GOVERNMENT RUN oh but I'm sure they will be fair and not stack the favor in their own plan

Anyone in support of National Healthcare should be proactive and start calculating your QALY-

Annje said...

Why do you think you are going to be more likely to die in line? Do you know that is the language the insurance industry is promoting? You are going to believe the companies who made record profits this past year and who are spending billions now on lobbying to scare the public. There are no facts behind that fear. People die in every kind of health care system. I'd bet that people die now in line in this country or die thinking they can't even get in line.

People with money, including the Saudi families you mention and MJ Fox can pay to get medical treatment anywhere in the world. What people with money do is not the issue,it is the people with out the resources to buy health insurance. There are U.S. citizens who probably can't get the kind of health care those Saudi families are getting here because they have no way to pay for it. How can one of the richest countries in the world leave 50 million + of its citizens without any kind of healthcare?

Of course the Senators and Congress are going to be taken care of under any plan... but they are not doing their job in taking care of their voters. I bet if they had to scramble to cover themselves and their families they would be singing a different tune. I bet you would too for that matter.

I haven't read the details of Obama's plan, but from what I have heard it won't work. First, it seems like they are going to mandate that all Americans buy some kind of plan, the public option is just one of the possibities. What will happen is that the public option won't be able to turn anyone down like the private companies do. All of the sickest, the people with pre-existing health conditions will find their way there and the program won't be sustainable. The private health insurance companies who always manage to stay in the game, will be getting millions of new customers, they will be making a killing.

The current system doesn't work and I am not for Obama's plan, I want something more revolutionary.

QALY? sounds like a fear tactic. What kind of price do you think the current health insurance industry puts on people? How much are you worth to them? The financial industry puts a value on you too.. . does that bother you?

mosey along said...

I agree with you Annje... the current plan as proposed by Obama doesn't go nearly far enough. I'm hoping that any step in the right direction will lead to more radical changes although maybe I'm kidding myself.

Anonymous said...


I have been fortunate enough to have excellent insurance and also blessed to not have to use it beyond an annual physicals.
But as a Christian (and I have a sense that maybe organized religion isn't your thing so this is not meant to be an assault on you, just an explanation of my internal process), I do feel a responsibility to care for the poor, THE SICK, and the needy. This is why I strongly advocate for a single-payer system.

Thanks for pointing out the ever intelligent bill moyers show on blurb. I watched his show last friday and on the friday with the former cigna employee. It is clear that fiscally, morally, and ethically, a single-payer system is the action to take.

Also, in browsing your blog a bit, I wanted to wish you well on finishing the dissertation. I remember the emotional hell while my husband was writing his. It's so worth it at the end so keep going.


p.s. i would have put my name/url, but let's face it, there's some hostile writers here to whom i'd rather not give access to my family blog!

Annje said...


Thanks for visiting and for your comment. You are right that organized religion is not my thing, but I highly respect your point of view and your thought process in getting there. I have actually wondered, to myself and aloud, why more Christians have not taken that stance on health care. It seems to be way more consistent with the message of Christ, if you will, than the "every 'man' for himself" position that the religious right, in conjunction with the GOP has seemingly taken.

Thank you also for leaving a name and I completely understand (perhaps even more so now after posting on such a hot-button topic) the hesitation to leave a link.