Archive for August, 2009

What health care reform?

At first I thought it was some clever ploy.

Orchestrated by those who understand the problem and the solution.

Here’s what we’ll do, they said.  We’ll float the idea of “single-payer”.   We’ll get the insurance companies, drug companies and other assorted political contributors to wail, moan and decry the takeover of health care by the inefficient socialists who run government.

We’ll repeat, over and over, that health care in the U.S. is half again as costly as any other civilized country, produces no better results, and fails to provide adequate care to one out of seven of its citizens.

We’ll wait for the insurance companies, right-wing broadcasters and their political base to wage class warfare by spending oodles on TV ads that encourage their constituents to wreak havoc at any meeting where the subject is raised.

We’ll bide our time.

Then, at the right moment, we’ll pretend to understand the righteousness of their arguments, the religious fervor behind their rantings…and cave in.

We’ll roll out the “public option” as a reasonable alternative to “single payer.”  They’ll smile broadly, be thankful they’ve convinced us, and congratulate themselves for bringing us to our knees.

That’s the way it was supposed to work.

So what happened?

We get a thousand page bill from the House and a bunch of works-in-progress from the Senate.  So, nobody knows what health care reform really means.  And, the don’t touch my Medicare, don’t kill my granny  folks can pick, choose and distort without fear of retribution.

We split the Democratic super-majority in two.

We get a president who, despite being a really nice guy, tries to convince folks that they shouldn’t worry about a health care reform bill that’s smoke and mirrors, subject to negotiation, amendment, and tailoring to suit every player in the health care industry, including veterinarians and psychic healers.

And so where are we now?

We get to enroll the fifty million uninsured with the very same insurance companies that manage the mess we call health care.  A financial bonanza.

We get to form local, non-profit co-ops that will negotiate with health care providers.  With the same, elegant success achieved by Blue Cross, Aetna, and Mutual of Omaha.  A been-there-done-that encore for those who, ignoring history, are sure to repeat it.

We get to watch the share of GNP spent on health care move ever upward.

We get to watch everything else get short-changed.

We get to see business as usual.

We get what we deserve.


I remember her when…

I drove the Help of Ojai bus this morning.  Pretty busy with regulars as well as a couple of new faces.  Brought a book with me just in case there was a big chunk of downtime.   There wasn’t.

First, I escorted two folks to Oak Tree House, the day care center for those who have dimmed a bit, and for others who just find the company at Oak Tree an improvement from the usual routine.  The House also gives caregivers a much needed break.

After grabbing some coffee at Java and Joes, I drove to At Home in Ojai, one of the senior board and care facilities in our aging metropolis.  At Home has gone through some changes.  My impression is that the current managers are caring, efficient and pleasant.

I knew who I was picking up.  But I was a little surprised to find her there.  I’d lost track of her in the last year or two.  Her house, the one that I used to find her at, was sold last year.  I’d assumed she’d gone to live with family, maybe moved out of the area.  Or worse.

The manifest said she would be in a wheelchair.  The last time I picked her up at her Green Street home she had a little trouble navigating.  But she didn’t use a walker or need the lift.  So a wheelchair was a bit of a shock, even for me.  Me, who spends most of Monday mornings folding/unfolding walkers and tying down wheelchairs so folks don’t get prematurely ejected from the bus.

I arrived At Home, lowered the lift, rang the doorbell, and told the aide who I was looking for.  We walked around the gate and up the neatly manicured, shady driveway.  “Don’t tell her she’s going to the doctor” the aide confided.  Not a good sign.

I spotted her, sitting outside in a wheelchair, next to a similarly seated woman of about the same age.  “Hi ladies, how are you today?” I said smiling.  “What do you mean?” her companion said.  I changed the subject and directed my attention to my old friend.  “I used to pick you up at your house on Green Street” I said, hoping to spark a glimmer of recognition.  “Green Street?”  We began our march to the bus.

While getting the chair fastened to the bus moorings, I continued our conversation, most of it one-way.  Seating myself behind the wheel, we began the ten minute drive to the doctor’s office.  I could have driven past her old house, but didn’t.  It was a long ten minutes.

I remember her when.  When she would have a clever comeback to something I’d say.  I remember how concerned she was about where Ojai was headed.  The loss of personal contact between elected officials and the rest of us.  Her gratitude for the bus rides, the companionship, the service to the community.  I remembered a bright, caring lady.

About an hour after dropping them at the doctor’s, I got a call that she was ready for the return trip.  We went through the same routine.   “How’d it go?” I asked while adjusting her seat belt.  She looked up at me and her eyes sharpened.  “How’d it go?” she said in a way that I knew meant “How do you think it went?  I’m stuck in this chair.  I’m old.  I’m forgetful.  I’m not in my own house.  What a way to live.”

It was another long ten minutes.


Trashing health care reform

I fell off the rowing machine.

First my mouth fell open, then the rest of me.  I stared at the professional looking TV ad warning me and all my really old friends that our Medicare benefits were about to be cancelled, our health put in the care of a postal clerk, and my dog put in charge of my end of life plan.  Good thing I don’t have a dog.

Don’t pay for health care reform on the backs of our seniors, the ad warns.  Faces of the elderly and the infirm stare out from the screen reminding us of what we owe them and how ungrateful we would be if we passed a bill rewarding those who are unwilling to buying health coverage the American way, from a caring, grateful group of health insurance companies. 

Congress plans to cut $500 million from Medicare

Long waits for care

Cuts to vital tests

Seniors may lose their own doctors

Government decides if older patients are worth the cost

Congress could get better health care than the rest of us

Seniors have sacrificed enough

The one minute ad is brought to us courtesy of the 60 Plus Association.  Its national spokesman is Pat Boone.  The same Pat Boone who sang those homey country songs that epitomized the American Way.  Pat’s current bent is toward religious music and bashing Congress for the stimulus bills and taxation without representation.

60 Plus claims to be a non-partisan seniors advocacy group with a free enterprise, less government, less taxes approach to seniors issues.  Its non-partisan status is laughable given the evidence found on the Project Vote Smart  website displaying the ratings that 60 Plus assigns to members of Congress.

60 Plus is a principal beneficiary of the pharmaceutical industry.   As reported by Source Watch

…The 60 Plus Association describes itself as a “non-partisan seniors advocacy group with a free enterprise, less government, less taxes approach.” They list their main issues as the “death tax” (estate tax), energy, health care and Social Security.  However, a 2006 report in the AARP Bulletin called 60 Plus a front group for the pharmaceutical industry.

60 Plus supported a lawsuit by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America against the state of Maine (in a “friend of the court” brief) for daring to try to pass a law that will authentically reduce prices for Medicare drugs by allowing the state to buy in bulk directly from manufacturers. It has also joined a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission regarding campaign reform (specifically in support of soft money for issue ads).

…In the 2002 election campaigns, 60 Plus paid for issue ads on local radio and TV stations across the country saying that local Republican candidates “care for seniors” so much that they “passed a prescription drug bill” that “saved us from an inept government bureaucracy meddling with health plan benefits.”

Maybe I should get a dog.


Health Care Critters

I watered the olive trees yesterday.  My ritual includes turning on the water, grabbing drip system replacement parts, and checking the 1/2 inch line and emitters for leaks.  It’s been a really dry year.  Even drier for the critters who amuse themselves by chewing into the lines looking for water.  Can’t blame them, but that doesn’t stop me from screaming epithets as I struggle with the repairs.  On the other hand, it’s a little cathartic standing alone in the middle of the trees and saying whatever I like.

Sort of like the opponents of health care reform.  The only difference between them and me is that somebody can hear them.

After flooding my shirt and shoes with irrigation water, I plunked myself in front of the TV and watched Senator Chuck Grassley’s interview with the News Hour’s Judy Woodruff.  The senior senator and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee appeared to be wrestling with hemorrhoids as he grimaced while Judy stared at him with a “you don’t really mean that” look.

Senator Chuck has an admirable record of protecting the health of us Americans.  For example, in 2005, he received a 7 percent rating on the Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP) scorecard. He voted against 14 of 15 issues considered environmentally critical by the REP.  Showing that he is a man to be relied upon, in 2006 Grassley received a zero percent rating from the REP.  To be fair, he did co-sponsor a 2009 constitutional amendment to prohibit flag burning, undoubtedly intended to reduce air pollution.

But I digress.  So what did Senator Chuck say about the current effort at health care reform?

JUDY: Senator, you made it pretty clear you’re against the public option, the government plan to provide insurance to those people who don’t have it. Now, how strongly do you feel?

SEN. CHUCK: Well, first of all, the public plan you’re talking about is just one step towards a government takeover of our health care system, and I’m not going to go along with anything that rations health care. What we’ve got to do is make sure that people that don’t have health care have health care…And we’re going to provide this through the private health insurance system so that people have choices. People don’t want one plan. They want choices. And they ought to have choice. And that’s where we’re headed, and that’s why we don’t want a government takeover of health care.

JUDY: So do you think President Obama is — when he says he doesn’t believe that a public plan would lead to a government takeover, do you think he’s being deliberately misleading? Do you think he’s naive? I mean, how do you explain that?

SEN. CHUCK: Well, he hasn’t studied the reports and the think-tank papers that are out there that says, when you have a government-run plan — because the government is not a fair competitor. It’s not a competitor. The government is a predator.

JUDY: Senator, you said a minute ago you didn’t want to see something that would lead to rationing of health care. Some would argue — many would argue — we already have rationing, in that insurance companies make decisions about the care people can receive, the care people receive is based on what kind of coverage their employer provides them.

SEN. CHUCK: Well, OK. Well, let’s see — at least today, if you don’t like the insurance company you have, you can go get another insurance company. You’re not stuck like they are in England.

JUDY: One other thing, Senator. We are seeing a number of reports lately about citizens and some organized groups showing up in different congressional districts angry, accusatory, raising the temperature, and, in some cases, some ugly scenes out there around the country, and the expectation is this may get worse over the month of August. Do you worry that that sort of thing could make agreement here in Washington impossible?

SEN. CHUCK: No, not at all. Listen, what we’re doing here in Washington to redirect the health care system so more people get served, so we don’t have a government takeover, so that we cut costs, and not have more deficit spending, those are good principles. And if we do those things and they don’t meet the test of grassroots public opinion in America — remember, this is a democracy — we shouldn’t be doing them anyway. So I’m going to have 20 of these meetings throughout the state of Iowa. I invite Iowans to come in, and I want to listen to their opinions. I want to answer their questions.  And if what we’re talking about doing — and I’m against the Pelosi bill. I’m against the Kennedy bill. I hope I can be for a bipartisan bill. I won’t know until we get it developed. But if I can’t defend that, then we shouldn’t be doing it, or any plan, the Pelosi plan or the Kennedy plan or the Obama plan.

JUDY: Senator Charles Grassley, we appreciate your answering our questions. Thank you so much.

SEN. CHUCK: Thank you.




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