8/31/2009

Why Isn't This the End of the Two Party System?

George Washington, in one of the greatest speeches ever delivered, his "Farewell Address", predicted our current state of affairs with the two party system.
"However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion."
Indeed an entire section of his speech is devoted to warning us of the danger of political parties to the democratic process. Certainly, we have become a nation of only two parties whose interests are almost indistinguishable today. As Bill Moyers has pointed out, both the Democratic and Republican parties are owned by corporations. It is the interest of those corporations that drive our legislation and not the good of our people. The Health care debate is sparkling proof of that. Corporations have funded "community organizers" who have deluded the ignorant and simple into actively working against their own best interests! Of course, real reform was never an option at all. The Blue Dog Democrats have been bought lock, stock and barrel by the insurance concerns to make sure no real reform passes. They have tripped all over themselves trying to walk the line of obstructing reform without getting caught with their hands in the cookie jar. For Republicans whose entire party is owned by corporate interests it was never any question.

All around the Internet people both Democrat and Republican are steaming mad. Not just about health care reform but rather about the impotence of their party. Sure, there are a few "third parties" out there but most are single issue parties or extremist fringe parties.

Yet, we see the two big players beginning to shake loose at the seams. The left Democrats have become disillusioned with a party that is for the most part, indistinguishable from its opposition once elected. The Moderate Republicans are fleeing a party that has been taken over by corporations and the extremists they manipulate like so many puppets. Republicans in areas outside the deep south actually bear little relationship to their party that is increasingly controlled by crazed secessionists - eerily reminiscent of the Democrats on the eve of the Civil War.

In essence our two parties are strangely similar on the "big" issues. It is only the hot button issues where they can mobilize the masses and give them a sense of mattering where the parties differ. Although it appears the health care debate offers vastly different plans, in reality they do not. The truly revolutionary plan never made it to discussion. That would have been a Universal health care system with a single payer like most civilized nations. In its place we have a "public option" which, honestly, is looking like a long shot because the Democrats owned by the insurers are dead set against it. President Obama has already made deals with the pharmaceutical industry that gives away any bargaining power for lower drug prices. In reality, the "reform" will be minor and will probably leave the corporate sponsors of our two parties in a better position - which is what was intended in the first place, despite all the Sturm und Drang of the masses that give us an illusion of mattering.

So, where are the new parties? Where are the vibrant parties made up of those on the Left who believe in a more kind and caring government and those in the center who believe in a balance between social services and private enterprise? Why are we simply sitting around complaining about how Obama sold out the base to be "bipartisan"? Why do I hear Republican friends bemoan how their party has been hijacked by lunatics and religious extremists (nee terrorists)?

Perhaps it's time for people in the center and on the left to begin organizing opposition to the Democratic and Republican Parties. After all, if they truly are shrinking to the extremist core on one side and the corporate core on the other, shouldn't there be room to dethrone them? Shouldn't we heed Washington's advice?

How much more interesting and responsive to see a government made up of even half a dozen vibrant parties each responding not to corporate interests but to their constituents. Could we even imagine a Congress where coalitions would be needed to pass legislation rather then "bipartisanship" which is simply code for doing the bidding of corporations?

Then again, as President Washington warned us, the power and influence of our two parties might be too much to break. After all, we're so scared of the "other guy" getting into office that we'd never dare vote against a Democrat or Republican and hazard a chance on a small party candidate. The parties have seized the reins of power so tightly that it would take massive effort to break their hold and that of the corporations. We have been brainwashed into looking at our political process the same we do a football game. We cheer on "our" side without really even thinking if "our" side is reflecting our own beliefs or interest. In reality both sides are the same when it comes to big issues.

As a nation it would be necessary to figure out how to dismantle corporate personhood that has been growing since the 19th Century when it was decided a corporation had all the rights of a citizen. That lead inexorably to our current quagmire of a government that is bought and paid for by billionaire CEO's. A government where people are so deluded that they are vomited forth into the streets, armed and screaming by their employers to do their bidding.

Still, I hope. I hope that one day we will see the demise of the Democratic and Republican parties as the only real games in town and a rebirth of vibrant political coalitions built not on money and name but on real principles and ideas about how our nation should proceed. It may well, be the only thing that can truly save us from another horrendous fracture.


8/30/2009

Family Values in Health Care

It has struck me as odd lately to see so many "Christian" groups and "Family" groups jumping on the Teabagger Nutjob crazy train. Of course, it shouldn't, because as any LGBT person in America can tell you these people resemble Christians in name only. Surely, were Jesus to return today and start in with all that "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven" or "love your neighbor" crap he'd be labeled a Socialist and some guy with an AK-14 from the local church would start stalking him.

But, the reality of our health care system is that is does break up families and it wrecks lives. Take the case of M. related by Nicholas Kirstoff at the New York Times:

The disease [early onset dimentia] is degenerative, and he will become steadily less able to care for himself. At some point, as his medical needs multiply, he will probably need to be institutionalized.

The hospital arranged a conference call with a social worker, who outlined how the dementia and its financial toll on the family would progress, and then added, out of the blue: “Maybe you should divorce.”

“I was blown away,” M. told me. But, she said, the hospital staff members explained that they had seen it all before, many times. If M.’s husband required long-term care, the costs would be catastrophic even for a middle-class family with savings.

Eventually, after the expenses whittled away their combined assets, her husband could go on Medicaid — but by then their children’s nest egg would be gone, along with her 401(k) plan. She would face a bleak retirement with neither her husband nor her savings.

A complicating factor was that this was a second marriage. M.’s first husband had died, leaving an inheritance that he had intended for their children. She and her second husband had a prenuptial agreement, but that would not protect her assets from his medical expenses.

The hospital told M. not to waste time in dissolving the marriage. For five years after any divorce, her assets could be seized — precisely because the government knows that people sometimes divorce husbands or wives to escape their medical bills.

“How could I divorce him? I loved him,” she told me.

“I explored a lot of options with an attorney here in town,” she added. “The attorney said, ‘I don’t see any other options for you.’ It took about a year for me to do the divorce, it was so hard.”

So M. divorced the man she loves.
I can relate to that story. When my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's we tried to allow her to stay at home. I lived with her while working at our local hospital up the street. Yet, it became apparent that she would be unable to stay at home. While I was at work she would wander the streets thinking that she was a young mother and someone had taken her baby. The delusions got worse and worse and when she began to go into rages and become violent there was nothing that could be done.

By that time, I was spending more time at my mother's house to just get a break from it all. It was taking a toll on my sanity and health as well. She was finally hospitalized in a nursing home that another of her grandchildren worked at over 50 miles from home because no local home had a bed available - despite the fact that there was one across the street from her house and she and her late husband had sold them the property to build it at a substantial discount over 40 years before!

Interesting side note about that: She eventually ended up in that nursing home after being refused repeatedly on the grounds there was "no bed available." It became clear that there were several beds available but they were being held for people with private insurance or self-pay rich people because the nursing home administrator was shifting funds from that home to a swank "retirement community" he and his friends were building nearby. She got her bed when Strom Thurmond (yep, that Strom Thurmond) called the nursing home and hinted that he'd ask for a full review of their reimbursements over the past 20 or 30 years if she didn't get a place to say. Within hours a bed suddenly "opened up." BTW: My elderly mother and aunt were driving 100 miles round trip daily to see their mother in the other facility.

By this time she had few assets other than her home. She had willed that home to my mother as a life estate and eventually to be mine free and clear. Unfortunately, her going into a nursing home complicated matters. Eventually, my mother moved into her house and out of her tiny apartment. Meanwhile, I had met Michael and we were living just across town in a rented home next to my brother who was ill with HIV.

When my grandmother died the house went into limbo. We were told the state could not evict my mother but that it was not clear whether it could pass to her because my grandmother had been put on Medicaid to help pay for what Medicare did not during her long decline. So, for another two years my mother lived in the house until she had a stroke. At that point her own health rapidly declined and she eventually died in a hospital.

At this point the house was again in limbo. No one was living there and my grandmother's will had not been probated because of my mother's own illness at the time of my grandmother's death. She had recently had a fractured hip that did not heal properly and a heart attack just after the surgery. She had also developed Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion during the surgery.

Michael and I had purchased a house about two blocks away by this time. However, having a house free and clear of payments could have helped us immensely either as a rental property or to move into and sell our house with its high interest rate loans. I decided to probate the will.

Not surprisingly, the probate attorney I hired told me that it was almost certain I would lose the house. The reason was that the state wanted its money back for my Grandmother's care. The Republicans in our state didn't like the idea of poor people inheriting, only rich people. But, we decided to try it anyway and see if I could possibly keep the house.

By that time my grandmother's will had disappeared either during her early dementia or when my mother cleaned after she moved in. All I had was a copy entrusted to my brother by her that he'd kept in his safety deposit box. By this time he had passed away as well. So, in order to probate it, the will would have to be proved meaning that all potential heirs would have to agree it was the correct will.

Up until that time I'd had a wonderful relationship with my mother's side of the family. In fact, I considered myself more related to them than my father's side. Unfortunately, it wouldn't last. My aunts and uncles and cousins didn't understand what was being done. They refused to sign a simple letter saying that the will was final, I should be named executor since my mother had died and they agreed for it to be probated. The reason for this, I found out, was they were all afraid if the will were probated the state would come after them for the costs of my grandmother's care for several years.

So, I had to hire a process server and have them served as though I were suing them (which I was not). One of my aunts tried to push the server off her porch thinking I was trying to make them pay for my grandmother's care.

Even when we finally assembled them all at the Probate office and the judge explained to them what was happening they were not happy they still thought they were being sued. None of them would speak to me and the only one who seemed to get it was my one surviving uncle who spoke up for me and hoped that the state wouldn't take the house my grandmother had left me.

So, in the end, the Probate judge ruled that the house would have to be sold and the proceeds given to the state to pay for my grandmother's care. If anything were left over it would be mine (not a chance) and I would be reimbursed for my attorney fees for opening and closing the estate.

After several months the appointed executor who makes a living doing this, sold the house for less than $20,000. I got about $400 that went directly to my attorney to pay her fees. The resulting sale did not pay for reimbursing the state for even a month of my grandmother's long illness.

Since that day in the probate office when my aunts and uncles were terrified of the state seizing their property to pay for my grandmother's care I have not heard from them. One of my aunts contributed a little bit to helping with expenses before my transplant and I saw her in Wal-Mart just before moving to Arizona and we exchanged a few words and a hug, although it was clear her eldest daughter prefers we do not speak at all. I speak to one of my cousins infrequently online because she is the black sheep of her family and seems to hold me no ill will. One of my cousins told me after my transplant that she thought it was a waste that they saved a "homosexual" with a liver when they should have saved a good Christian. One of my aunts and her husband died without me every being able to see them or speak to them again.

So, the state, because of the horrific health care system we have, broke up the family I was closest to my entire childhood and life until that point. Beyond that, because I could not inherit the house as my grandmother wished, we remained in our house paying high interest rates. A few years later when I, myself became sick and needed a liver transplant and Michael was diagnosed with cancer, we would be unable to balance the medical bills and lost wages to keep our house. We eventually ended up all but homeless and would have been without the kindness of a friend who rented us her guest house for almost nothing. Had we been able to sell our house and move into my grandmother's we would have been spared a horribly disruptive episode in our lives as we both tried to recover from serious and life threatening illnesses.

Why is it that an illness like dementia in the case of Mrs. M or Alzheimer's in the case of my grandmother is allowed in our society to destroy families? Why is it that "family groups" who profess to want to "protect the family" cheer on the system with its patchwork of laws, insurance, and greed that seem designed to destroy families? Does anyone else not find it disingenuous that churches can possibly take the position that reform of our health care system is bad? Why is evil allowed to masquerade as good in the guise of "Christianity" in our country?




8/29/2009

Smart People Saying Dumb Things

Please read this quote by Will Wilkinson:
[P]eople tend underestimate the extent of adaptation to pain and reduced function. That’s the sort of thing a doctor might bring up in a counseling session. But it’s not clear how relevant it is. Living wills, as I understand them, primarily involve questions of what to do when a patient has lost consciousness, or is a state of heavily drugged consciousness, and is being kept alive by a respirator or other apparatus that is substituting for an organ that no longer functions. The big questions are about whether to withdraw active life-extending interventions or not, and under what conditions. If you’re functioning at a level sufficient to revise your living will, you can do that. It’s not like you’re locked into your first draft. And it’s not as if it is possible to set out in advance the conditions under which one would like to be legally euthanized. So I’m not sure I see the mistake.
What's wrong with that statement? Read the penultimate sentence again. Wilkinson confuses natural death without extreme measures with "euthanasia." Euthanasia is the active termination of life even when that life could, conceivably, continue indefinitely without medical intervention. Euthanasia does happen. It happens when a husband or wife gives extra morphine "accidentally" to a spouse suffering from excruciating and intractable pain in the final stages of cancer. It happens when someone shoots themself in the head rather than continue suffering from a terminal illness.

However, euthanasia is not when someone says that they do not want to be placed on a respirator, or have a feeding tube surgically inserted because they are no longer concious and have no chance for recovery. It is not when someone requests that if they are brain dead they do not want their body to be kept in an artificially animated state for no reason other than prolonging the suffering of their loved ones and the enrichment of the doctor's and hospital's bank accounts.

How can it be that supposedly intelligent people can be so dumb? Wilkinson's statement does nothing to enlighten but only muddies the waters further among those who have been so lucky to never see a family member or friend suffer through a terminal illness or been forced with this decision because a family member refused to confront the reality before they became incapacitated.


8/28/2009

The Horror of Socialized Medicine

Tuesday morning and I have to have labs drawn and see my hepatologist. That's hepatologist, not herpetologist because I am a liver transplant survivor and not a turtle (thank you spellcheck).

Anyway, we've all heard the horrors of socialized medicine where going to the doctor means you'll have to wait and wait and wait for an appointment and then you won't be able to get care or you'll be seen by some hack. Unfortunately, according to many, I must deal with socialized medicine because I have Medicare. Heaven help me!

About 6am after dropping Michael off at work, I swung by Sonora Quest to get my labs drawn. I walked in and signed my name on the pad. The nice person at the desk asked if I had orders with me or if I have standing orders. Of course, since I have labs monthly, I have standing orders so told her. She asked me to have a seat as it would be a few minutes since I had not made an appointment as I usually do.

About 5 minutes later, a tech called my name and escorted me to her room where she quickly drew the required vials of blood to be tested. The entire process took less than 10 minutes. After she finished, she wished me a good morning and I left. I didn't have to pay out of pocket and I didn't have to sweat how much it was going to cost. I just got the labs necessary to make sure my liver and kidneys are functioning properly.

I had about two hours before I needed to go to my doctor's office so went home and caught up on email. Around 8:30 I headed out to Oro Valley to see my hepatologist (liver doctor) during their monthly visit to Tucson. (They are based in Phoenix.)

I arrived and checked in at the desk. The waiting room was a bit more full than usual so I wondered if I would have to wait. However, in less than 10 minutes (I was 15 minutes early) I was called to a room. Roger, one of my favorite nurses, checked that everything was up to date and did my vitals. We talked for a minute about general things.

Within 3 minutes the doctor entered the room. I normally see their Nurse Practitioner but today one of the physicians was helping out because of the number of patients. He went over my current medications and labs and decided to increase my blood pressure medication. He wrote me a new prescription for the higher dose. After making sure I had no complaints or concerns we chatted for a minute about his recent vacation to Fripp Island in South Carolina. When we'd finished he walked me into the hall and made an appointment for me for November. I stopped for a moment to chat with the Nurse Practitioner I normally see and then headed out of the office.

I did not have to worry about how much I would have to pay that morning and I did not have to worry that I'd need to cancel or re-schedule because I was strapped for cash this week.

Meanwhile, Michael isn't allowed to have insurance in our country. Because he had cancer he is not eligible for any private insurance even if his employer offered it. In fact, if his employer offered insurance he would lose his job because the company would slap a huge surtax on their premium because they employ a cancer survivor! (Up to $1 million.) The only way around that would be to fire the cancer survivor. That's something people aren't taking into consideration when they yell "Free Market" and mandated coverage. The only way around that is a robust public option where employers and people like Michael could buy insurance at reasonable rates.

So, while he is due for a colonoscopy to make sure he's still cancer free - he can't get one because they run about $3,500 and the doctors and hospitals want that money up front if you don't have insurance.

Guess, I'll take the horrors of my socialized medicine plan! Funny that the majority of the screamers at Town Halls also participate in this socialized medicine program and seem to love it. In fact, the only part (before all this) anyone complained about was the Medicare Part D. Know what? That was a Republican plan to slap some cash into the hands of their friends in the insurance industry. It was an experiment in PRIVATIZATION that has failed miserably as drug costs increase and companies continually limit what drugs they cover.

I am still amazed at the "rationing" fools out there as well. If it were not for socialized medicine I would be dead because my private employer backed insurance dumped me when I got sick. I was completely without insurance when I was finally diagnosed just days from death in an ER with End Stage Liver Disease. My doctors and social workers moved Heaven and Earth to get me Medicaid (the MOST socialized medicine) so I could have a transplant. Without socialized medicine I would never have received a new liver. The claims that people won't receive transplants because of "socialized" medicine are lies and I would personally like to punch every person spreading it right in the mouth. Socialized Medicine saves lives... the private insurance industry is designed to take the lives of our sickest people to protect profits. If you believe any different you are a moron and there is nothing anyone can do for you.

So, let's hear it for socialized medicine!

Is There No LGBT Issue So Small the Mormons Won't Jump In?

I have a very dear friend who serves on the Human Relations Advisory Board for the City of Mesa, AZ. They have been considering an ordinance to establish Domestic Partnerships and call for sexual orientation and gender to be added to the non-discrimination language for the city.

In reality both are fairly symbolic. While city Domestic Partnership ordinances make us feel better they really don't have much affect in securing even the most basic rights. In short, they are statements that the city views LGBT people and couples as vital parts of the community and deserving of respect.

Yet, no statement can be allowed to be made that is not calling for condemnation or violence if you are the Mormon Church.

Indeed, they are mobilizing NATIONWIDE to fight a simple city ordinance in a suburb. According to my friend, Mitt Romney has already weighed in on the issue denouncing the ordinance. They have been asking anti-gay Mormons and other anti-gay extremists to flood Mesa with anti-gay letters, phone calls, and emails.

It also appears that one of the local Republicans has ties to both the church and the anti-gay front organizations. I'm still working on information on that, but looks like he could be the smoking gun in the Mormon church being a political rather than a religious group and deserving of having their church status stripped.

So, if you'd like to help counter the nationwide anti-gay Mormon forces you can drop a line to the Mesa City Council or call Mayor Scott Smith at 480-644-2388 and let them know that you support LGBT Equality and the Domestic Partnership proposal. Please be respectful as the HRAB is sympathetic to us and have been working hard to counter the Mormon's anti-gay propaganda.

I'm preparing a "real" news story on this development for the Examiner and will update this post with a link there once I have all the details and have unravelled the Mormon money train driving this meddling in a local issue.

8/27/2009

Missing the Real Drama


Lately I've been watching Jada Pinkett Smith in HawthoRNe on TNT. I'll admit it is a fairly sappy little show with few redeeming qualities. The acting is sub-par and the story lines suffer from an identity crisis: Are we a drama, a comedy, a soap opera?

But, what is positively crystal clear in this series is that no one doing the writing knows the first thing about the real world of medicine. As I watched the latest installment where Smith's character goes to bat for a family friend who needs to get into a clinical trial for a cancer treatment, I couldn't help but think that they have completely missed the real drama that happens every moment in a hospital.

None of the patients at Hawthorne's hospital every have a problem with insurance. No matter how great the treatment, how unlikely the outcome, or how poor the patient - everyone obviously has the best insurance. No patient ever has to make choices about getting treatment or paying the rent.

In this episode Christina's (Smith) friend has his cancer recur. There is a new clinical trial for a treatment at this hospital. Amazingly, it is being run in house because her public non-teaching hospital has its own research department. But, let's set that aside for a moment. There's only one spot in the trial for this promising miracle cure. The spot has been promised to a man with a family though.

In the opening scenes we see one of the doctor's is speaking to the patient and his wife. The patient has gone off his antibiotics and gotten an infection because he didn't like taking the pills. This jeopardizes his position in the trial. What could have shaped up to be an intriguing look at patient cooperation flops when the patient promises to take his medicine and is re-instated. How much more interesting to explore that topic fully. How much more interesting to talk a little about real world health care rationing. Instead of not taking drugs because he just didn't want to, how about talking about the real fact that many patients don't take their medication or self-ration because they can't afford them. Would that not have been more intriguing?

But, we go down the tired old path of Christina Hawthorne wanting to save her friend and ending up in a moral dilemma over whether to get her friend in the trial who has a small chance of surviving or a dedicated family man who has a good chance of being saved by the treatment.

Meanwhile, the shenanigans continue around her to provide levity and secondary drama.

Yet, none of it is remotely real or emotionally gripping. Her hospital functions like none that have ever existed. She has sexual tension with her friend who is Chief of Surgery but seems, like her, to be a super hero. He's a surgeon, a neurosurgeon, orthopod, oncologist, ER doctor, pediatrician, OB-GYN, and probably moonlights as a Chiropractor/psychiatrist.

Hawthorne is also the only "Chief of Nursing" that seems to spend all her time treating patients on every floor and department of the hospital rather than mired in the paperwork and endless meeting that are the realm of the Administrative Nurse.

I've made it pretty much through this first season only because when I'm dealing with insomnia I can grab it On-Demand and kill some time. Yet, it lacks any depth or any connection to real world issues in health care. In the end, you have to wonder if any of the mega-rich people involved, like Smith, have a clue what it means to need health care in today's world where insurers try their best to deny that care, where 47 million+ people have no access to care, and where nurses who actually treat patients often find themselves at odds with their own bosses to provide even minimum standards or care to those who need it.

Maybe, one day, someone in Hollywood will learn that real life can be much more dramatic than hackneyed story lines tied up with nice bows at the end of an hour.

The Puritans in the Age of Cellphones

Our laws to "protect" teenagers from sex just can't seem to catch up to the 21st Century. Or rather, they seem to be stuck in the quaint window of the mid 20th Century when teenagers were thought to be asexual.

In Tucson, two 13 year old boys were arrested on misdemeanor "child pornography" charges because one of the boys received a nude photo from a girl and passed it to his friend. Never mind the fact that the photographer was the girl herself and she knowingly disseminated the photograph and did so in a way that was easily shared.

The girl in this case faces no charges whatsoever for producing child pornography. The police decided not to file felony charges against the boys because they said the boys were not "aware" that receiving and sharing the photo were a crime. Yet, you can be sure that the police will force the boys to be registered as sex offenders for life meaning their entire adult lives will be destroyed by this.

Meanwhile, the pubescent stripper will get off scot free despite being the catalyst of the illegal activity. Furthermore, she will be treated by police and adults as a "victim" despite the fact that she willingly took photographs of herself without clothes and willingly distributed it to others hoping to arouse sexual interest.

I am constantly amazed at how our puritanical roots continue to lag behind our real world. First of all, 13 year olds are sexual. I know, it's terrible to consider given our short memory spans as adults but once those hormones start pumping we do begin to think about sex. They are not "children" in the sense that they are non-sexual beings anymore. In fact, in the United States the average age of first sexual intercourse at 16.9 years old. In lower income brackets that average drops to 12 years old!

If we must prosecute teenagers for engaging in sexual activity - including fantasy activity such as looking at nude photographs created by the subject of the photograph as a way to titillate a prospective partner - then we must also prosecute the person creating that photograph for creating pornography.

In this case, if the boys are going to be arrested for receiving and distributing child pornography then the girl should be arrested for making and distributing child pornography as well. What's fair is fair.

Otherwise, we need to realize that 13-year-olds are sexual beings and treat them as we would adults who have nude photos of their girlfriends or boyfriends which is simply to not get involved.

This is a case where the parents of all involved needed to sit them down and have a good talk and deal with a natural fact of life given a new spin because of technology. Instead, our police are acting as the parents in ways that will wreak the lives of two people while the other party simply walks away.


8/25/2009

100 Angry White Dudes and Journalist Walk Into a Town Hall...

And the journalist pees in his pants because he has the opportunity to create a movement out of whole cloth.

Media Matters' Eric Boehlert brings us a brilliant analysis of how those on the left protesting the Iraq War and Bush policies were routinely classified as "fringe" by the MSM at the time and ignored. Compare that to today when a few dozen screaming sexagenarians at a Town Hall and some crazy militia types carrying AK-47's are seen as the epitome of enlightened discourse by our media elites.
And just so there's no doubt in people's mind, the blanket coverage the mini-mobs are lapping up (i.e. the mobs are hugely important!) stands in stark contrast to the way the press often did its best to ignore liberal protesters who spoke out against the war in Iraq.

For instance, in October 2002, when more than 100,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., to oppose the war, The Washington Post put the story not on the front page, but in the Metro section with, as the paper's ombudsman later lamented, "a couple of ho-hum photographs that captured the protest's fringe elements."

For that same 2002 anti-war rally, The New York Times also bungled its reporting. The day after the event, the newspaper published a small article on Page 8, which was accompanied by a photo that was larger than the article itself. And in the article, the Times falsely reported that "fewer people attended than organizers had said they hoped for."

This is a MUST read analysis of how the MSM has become so afraid of the Right Wing's constant claim of a "Liberal Media" that they are now constructing their reporting to follow their talking points.


8/24/2009

I Went Before a Real Death Panel

I am a liver transplant survivor. I'm very lucky. I am also one of the people in this country who has been before a real life "Death Panel."

In mid January of 2007 after two months of testing that included both physical and mental screenings, I went before the Transplant Committee at the Medical University of South Carolina. Well, not me personally. It was actually just the collection of lab results, notes, and personal views of a half dozen or so people involved in the process. I was assured by the Transplant Coordinator who is a nurse and serves as the patient advocate that she would present my case in the best way possible.

Yes, this is a real life "Death Committee" or as it is sometimes called "The God Committee." Before I could even make it to that point I had to show that I was a good and decent person, I had family support (charmingly titled a "support network"), I did not use illegal substances (even medical marijuana prescribed legally by an M.D. will get you killed by a God Committee), and that I had the financial resources including insurance and a set amount of money in the bank to make it through the months after transplant.

Honestly, I was terrified because I'd heard rumors of God Committees turning down LGBT people because we are not "socially valuable" in that we don't have children or can't have children. I was assured this was a mistaken belief when I broached the subject outright early on.

Still, what did these people think of me? I had to sit for a couple hours and talk to a therapist about my life and my mental status. I worried that even hinting I'd ever been depressed after my father's death would kick me out of the running to live. After all, why speak to a therapist about your past mental health history unless it meant that something in that history could make you ineligible? Since no one gives you a list of things that makes you ineligible it's hard to know what is considered "normal" by the God Committee.

In my first appearance before the God Committee I was "deferred." That's not a death sentence but it's close. It means that there was something some member of the committee didn't like. My nurse called me and told me the news. However, the good news was that it was simply a lab test they were concerned about. Something looked a little strange on one of the cardiac tests and they needed a better idea whether or not I could even survive the surgery.

I was scheduled for another test involving a cardiac catheterization the next day and then my case would go back into the committee at its next meeting in two weeks. As it turned out at the next meeting I was listed for transplant and placed at the top of the waiting list in my state because I was critically ill. Still, in the intervening two weeks one of my doctors had to start me on anti-anxiety medication because I was prone to panic attacks and uncontrollable weeping as I saw my life slipping away 40.

A few days later I had a new liver thanks to the generosity of a young man and his family and have since done quite well.

However, transplant committees truly are "Death Panels" they are tasked with deciding whether someone is given a chance to live by receiving a transplant or whether they die - often painful and horrible deaths. Their deliberations are quite secretive and there are precious few safeguards enacted in law.

It is necessary to have some screening process because the number of available organs is tiny compared to the need. Too many people just refuse to do the right thing and sign up as donors. After all, of all the people who do consent to be donors only a small percentage actually are able to become donors at the time of their death. It's, unfortunately, a numbers game.

I was very lucky to be at a hospital where the people looked at the medicine rather than making their decisions based upon religious beliefs or social values. Each of their decisions centered around whether I was medically fit for transplant and could survive an 8 hour surgery, whether I could handle the life changes following transplant including the mental swings between euphoria at being alive and the guilt at being alive because someone else died, and the ability to understand what was necessary to remain healthy and juggle medications and frequent visits for checkups. They saw that I was a good candidate medically and that I had educated myself on the process and was capable of being a partner in my own care. My doctors and nurses were all wonderful people who were able to transcend the ordinary to make tough decisions.

Not everyone is as fortunate. Several years ago the University of Arizona's program at UMC came under scrutiny for what seemed to be random actions by members of their God Committee when it came to patients. Simply disagreeing with a physician about a course of treatment or asking about alternatives were enough to have a patient denied a listing for being "non-compliant." Supposedly, this has all been changed and for several years the program at UMC shut down due to a "lack of surgeons." They are now back in full force as of 2008.

Yet, unlike the "God Committees" that functioned in the early years of Kidney Dialysis and which Congress destroyed with the Medicare Act, there doesn't seem to be any sign that the organ transplant God Committees will be going away in the near future.

The reason for that is simple. While finance plays a role in access to transplant: in my case waiting longer while I was finally classified as "disabled" and given Medicaid or in Steve Jobs case, jetting to a place where the list was short to get listed; the real limiting factor is the number of organs available. Unless people in the United States embrace transplant as a moral duty we will continue to have long lists and God Committees will continue to make life and death decisions. Sometimes they decisions will be good and based on medical criteria and sometimes those decision will be bad and based on personal whim or politics.

But, the fact is, when given a chance our Congress destroyed "Death Panels" in the past and I have no doubt that should we reach the place where there is no longer a shortage of transplantable organs and a need by hospitals to ration them, they would do so in the future. But right now, Death Panels meet almost every day across our country and no one on the Right Wing notices or cares because they see them as a necessary part of organ rationing. So don't be fooled by their moralistic bluster. They approve of the Death Panels that do exist both in hospitals and at review centers for insurance companies - they just don't approve of the fictional ones they created as a boogie man in the process to insure more people in this country!

This is not an indictment of the people who serve on Patient Selection Committees. As I found, many of them are very caring and they have a job I simply could not handle. After my transplant, my coordinator and I discussed returning to school to complete my BSN then possibly my MSN and become a Nurse Practitioner to work with transplant patients. However, the more I thought about having to sit on this panel and in judgment of people's lives and whether they lived or died, I knew I could never do it. I could never tell someone that their life was not worth doing everything possible to save if there was so much as a glimmer of hope for them and they wanted to fight. The trauma nurse in me simply couldn't stand by and let death win without a fight.

So, I have a great deal of respect and compassion for people who makes these decisions. Those who act with justice and wisdom do outnumber those who act with pride and conceit.

Would you like to help make the God Committees a thing of the past? It's easy. Sign up to be an organ donor. Then talk to your family and friends about your decision. Don't worry about your current state of health! The determination whether you can successfully donate is made at the appropriate time. Criteria are constantly expanding as techniques improve. Thousands are being saved today using organs that just a few years ago would have been untransplantable!


8/22/2009

What's Wrong with "Journalists"

The refrain is a familiar one. Reporters for newspapers decry the sorry state of "bloggers" and how they couldn't report their way out of a paper bag. They point to the "need" for the Fourth Estate in a free society. They whine and moan about how only they, with their years of training and experience can accurately report the news.

Yet, as we've seen during the healthcare debate the "journalists" have failed the American public horribly. They have treated outrageous claims about "Death Panels" as a legitimate debate! Every bizarre or outrageous claim that comes out of the right wing fringe is treated as though it is based in fact - even if it is an outright lie.

Instead of educating the public about our system of healthcare and its problems they have taken to treating this as a sporting event when daily our esteemed "journalists" handicap who is getting ahead in the debate and who is doing a better job of "messaging."

When people show up at events where the President is speaking with assault rifles and armed to the teeth they do not treat these people as lunatics and dangerous but stick them on television or interview them for the newspaper so that they can spread their extremist messages.

They are so concerned with seeming like they know more about politics than the rest of us that they make stupid mistakes like confusing the process of bill reconciliation with the Republican attempt in the past to dismantle Senate rules known as the "Nuclear Option." They even peddle wholesale fantasy as fact. Just note what Edwin Chen of Bloomberg wrote on speculation that when Congress reconvenes Obama will push Democrats to forgo courting insane Republicans and just take care of the American people:
A move by Democrats to seek a partisan bill may provoke a backlash from Republicans and weaken public support for the health-care overhaul, Obama’s top domestic priority. It might also result in watered-down legislation.

Really? And it also might result in Mothra rising from the Sea of Japan to stomp on Tokyo but I doubt anyone would put money on it.

Why is that allowed to pass for "journalism" today? Why isn't Edwin Chen, who wrote that line looking for work this afternoon at McDonald's? More importantly why isn't Chen's editor looking for work.

That is not journalism, it's speculation based on nothing. Chen's "backup" for his opinion is something that Bob Dole (seriously?) said. Newsflash Mr. Chen: Bob Dole is no longer in the Senate. He has nothing to do with this legislation. So, you might as well have gotten some expert opinions from the lady in housekeeping down at your local hospital.

I'm sick of this piss poor excuse for journalism in our country. Rather than cutting through the BS to bring people the truth, journalists now present every bit of crazy as legitimate dialogue and refuse to even attempt to debunk it for fear of being called "biased."

Maybe it's time someone told the folks in this profession that being biased toward sanity and truthfulness is really OK and if they can't stand the criticism of the lunatic fringe, maybe they should go into another field. Or, maybe it really is time they just disappear finally because they've become ineffective and irrelevant when it comes to the job they are supposed to do.



8/21/2009

A Morning of Socialized Medicine

This morning I had to see my General Practitioner. This is how my visit went.

Since I worked in medicine for years, I always try to get one of the first appointments of the day before emergencies and kids sent home from school with the sniffles back up the day. So, I arrived a few minutes before 8am and signed in with the receptionist who double checked my address and phone number and my insurance. I then waited just about 5 minutes to be shown to a room. The very polite medical assistant checked my current medications to see if there were any changes from my other doctors then told me the doctor would be in shortly.

Less than five minutes later I heard him outside the door greeting staff members and then he swept into the room with a cheerful smile to shake my hand and get started. We talked about how I was feeling and the fact that I'm putting on far too much weight. We talked about how the blood pressure medication I've been taking hasn't been very effective. He suggested switching to another but wanted to talk to my hepatologist about it before making a change. We talked about my problems with diet and my food issues. He checked my right hand ring finger because I've been having pain the past few weeks bowling. He then suggested a cream that I might try to relieve the pain since he felt it was a deep bruise. We spent a few minutes talking about other things too - like our shared interest in history and his work with the Presidio Trust. Finally, he ended the visit and walked me out into the hall where he paused for another minute or so to recap a few things.

I then went to the front desk where a cheerful clerk took my paperwork with his notes and noted that I had an appointment scheduled in October for a full physical. She wished me a happy weekend and I left the office.

At no point did money change hands. That was a good thing, too because we're pretty much broke until Michael gets paid on Monday. If I had had to pay for this visit, I would have been forced to cancel.

That's the way a visit to the doctor should be. It should be a pleasant experience where you feel cared for by people who value you as a person and not a "revenue stream."

Now, the reason I was able to have such a wonderful experience was because of socialized medicine.

Yes, I have Medicare because I am disabled due to my transplant and a spinal fracture in the past. With my Medicare I have a Medicare Advantage plan that is paid for by the government as well. This plan takes care of my deductibles and co-payments that I would normally have with Medicare such as the 80/20 split. It also covers my prescription drugs, including my transplant medications for only a few dollars a prescription. For my visits to the doctor there is no fee at all.

So, thanks to the "evils" of socialized medicine. I was able to see my doctor today and be treated as a human being. I had a problem addressed (blood pressure) that could lead to serious problems down the road if not corrected and also a common little ache seen about that luckily is nothing more than an inconvenience. And all of that happened without me having to worry about whether I could afford that visit or to buy groceries.

This is what every American should be allowed to receive when it comes to health care. Everyone should have the chance to see their doctor regularly to catch problems early and treat problems before they become life threatening. Every American should be allowed the chance to do that without having to worry about how much it will cost or how much money they have in the bank this week!

I'll bet you most people would gladly trade their employer based high deductible/limited coverage plans for my "socialized medicine" plan. Yet, they will try to derail the public option which could extend them similar plans for a fraction of the cost of their current medical plan simply because they are either idiots or racists who can't stomach an African-American President introducing one of the most sweeping reforms since the establishment of Medicare.

The next time a pundit raises the specter of "Socialized Medicine" just remember how my morning went and think to yourself "Wouldn't it be great if my doctor's visits were as nice?"

McCaughey's Death Panel

First, I ask that you watch this clip from the Daily Show of Betsy McCaughey a Republican and Insurance Industry shill who originated the "Death Panel" mania that has gripped the most mentally challenged in our country (most assuredly the 20% of the population left who self-identify as "Republican").

Pay particular attention to the actual reading of the "Death Panel" page that McCaughey claims means that doctors are going to be forced to kill people.



OK, now notice the language of that section. As Jon Stewart rightly and rationally points out it judges the doctor on his adherence to patient wishes. McCaughey tries to make it sound like this means if you've every signed a Living Will in your life your doctor will be forced to withhold treatment no matter if your document event says he must provide every measure possible even, as Stewart humorously muses "Gold plated enemas."

Let me tell you a story about doctors and Living Wills and Healthcare Powers of Attorney.

My brother died of complications from AIDS several years ago. His partner of many years had predeceased him and he had moved into a rented house about half a block from me and Michael. I watched his decline over a few years as he progressed from fairly healthy to frail and sickly.

Finally, he was hospitalized almost constantly for one thing or another. Luckily, he had signed a Living Will when he and Tony first discovered their HIV status. He was adamant that when it was his time he wished to go. He became even more adamant after Tony's death as he believed that they would see each other again in the afterlife. He did not want to prolong his death and suffering.

In the last week of his life he drifted in and out of consciousness. Either my sister or myself spent most of every day with him. When one of us would have to work the other would sit with him. Even Tony's father and stepmother flew down from Massachusetts to sit with him during this time.

As it became clear that the time was nearing and he was no longer able to express his wishes his doctor decided that it was time to use artificial feeding (feeding tube) and artificial hydration. Edd had been adamant he wanted neither. His living will stated so clearly. He wanted to go and he didn't want anyone drawing out the inevitable.

One afternoon while I was at work, my sister called in a panic. She was crying and weeping. I thought my brother had finally died, but instead she managed to tell me that the doctor was overriding the Living Will and sending my brother to surgery to have a feeding tube put in. I could not imagine why he would do this other than the fact that he had become a good friend of my brother's over the years and could not control his own emotions. He wanted to do whatever he could - even if it was against his patient's wishes.

I had her put the nursing supervisor on the phone and told her that if they moved my brother I would press charges. I also told her that as of that moment the doctor was fired and we would find a new doctor.

Cut to a few hours later and the doctor had managed to get his emotions under control and agreed to abide by my brother's wishes in his living will. However, it was not before he had caused a great deal of stress for a family already dealing with a stressful situation and disrupting what should have been a gentle and peaceful exit with a time of fear and panic.

When Jon Stewart read that section I flashed on that episode and unlike Ms. McCaughey and her paid and subsidized outrage and craziness, I quietly cheered the fact that it reflected the fact that patients and their families would be given the final say and doctors who refused to adhere to those end of life wishes and who caused stress and strain at such a time would find their quality ratings dropped (and thus their reimbursement rates).

But, McCaughey is paid to be crazy whereas those of us who have sat by the beds of our loved ones know the true value of a Living Will and why it should be our final statement about our care in those last moments or hours when we may not be able to speak for ourselves anymore.


8/15/2009

By the Time They Got to Woodstock...

This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the landmark "Aquarian Exposition" in upstate New York better known as Woodstock.

I was 3 years and 6 weeks old when Woodstock began on August 15, 1969. I remember absolutely nothing about it, obviously.

But, all of my siblings were much older than I was. My next oldest brother was 17 that summer. My other brother was 20 and my sister was 23. They remember those days quite well, though none attended Woodstock.

There is a scene in the movie "Almost Famous" where William's sister goes off to be a stewardess and leaves him her copy of Tommy with instructions to put on Sparks with a candle so he can see his future. That scene always struck a chord with me because with older brothers and a sister I was always either stealing their albums or inheriting them when they got tired of them. Tommy was one of my early favorites followed closely by Janis Joplin's Pearl.

So, I grew up with the music of the 60's and 70's. Even in high school I preferred Bowie to Prince and Led Zeppelin to Guns N Roses. There was something deep inside me even during the Reagan orgy of me, me, me in the 80's that rebelled against that selfish and hateful culture.

Many of my friends also tended to share those musical sensibilities. I had a great history teacher who came of age during those turbulent days of the Nixon administration and shared my skepticism of Reagan and the "Republican Revolution." In my later high school and college days I worked often with her at theater events and she expanded my love of the music of that era even further.

This weekend as media is abuzz with reflections of Woodstock, I rented the Director's Cut of the 1970 film. For the past two nights Michael and I have watched the performances of many of the greats. Some were great and some were a bit strange. I kept finding myself uttering my thought that "Some things just go better with a toke."

I'm not sure, despite my insistence as a teenager, that I would have wanted to be at Woodstock now. When you're a teenager mud, rock music, and masses of humanity seem thrilling. When you hit middle age it sort of loses it's thrill. At the same time, I can't help but be reminded how much of the ideals of that age and that event I still believe in today.

I still believe that peace is the best foreign policy and preemptive war is evil.

I still believe that people should take care of one another. It's why I am so incensed at the bullshit being said by people in the Health care Reform debate and their selfishness in trying to make sure that they and only they have health care while millions do without.

I still believe that people should be left alone if they are not harming another. That includes the use of recreational drugs. People ultimately are answerable only to themselves. I do not believe that the bullshit arguments that border on chaos theory about drugs harming people and society by osmosis are legitimate. They are simply moralizing dressed up as intelligent thought.

I believe that individuals should respect each other and not push their religion or religious mores on others. I don't like the moralizing and evangelism that was launched out of the South with Reagan and his Christian goons in the 80's and still infect our country and hold back our entrance into the 21st Century to this day. I love the freedom of the Woodstock era where Paganism mingled with New Age Thought which touched on Buddhism and Hinduism and it all came out not as an artificial moral system designed to enslave but as an organic search for truth and understanding of our place in the Universe.

I believe in doing things for people to bring them joy without the desire to profit from their joy. I can't imagine an event like Woodstock today where the event would be opened to all comers free of charge. I can't imagine people being fed and even clothed for free by individuals and companies. I especially cannot imagine that happening without someone on the left screaming bloody murder about being co-opted by whoever provided the food or clean water.

All of those early ideas and attitudes developed as a kid born on the cusp of Woodstock are still with me. What's so disheartening is to see that so many of my friends from my younger years have abandoned those ideals and embraced the hedonistic pablum spoon fed to us as the teenagers and young adults of the Reagan generation.

For me, I'll cling unapologetically to my hippie influenced childhood. Rock on, y'all and happy 40th Anniversary!


Health Care Horror Story #5

This one comes from hometown of Newberry, SC. What happens when you work hard for a living and something happens to you that requires very expensive medical treatment that could last for years? In today's America, chances are you'll be bankrupt and homeless - if you're lucky. If you're not lucky you'll die from lack of care or substandard care because every person in the health care chain is interested first in their cut of the money and second in your well being.
Around 11 p.m. on July 27, Macedonia "Mase" Gallman was called to pick up two men near Newberry Academy on Smith Road. The men asked Gallman to take them to Belfast Road.

Later, C & C Commute dispatchers called police to report that Gallman could not be reached and was missing.

Deputy Rusty Fulmer had seen a C & C cab while he was helping remove a fallen tree from Mudlick Road, and when he heard the call, the deputy went in search of the cab.

Fulmer found Gallman lying in a ditch near Mudlick Road and Highway 56 and shot twice.
Since the incident Gallman has remained hospitalized and in serious condition. He is on a ventilator and has required several surgeries with more in store.

It would seem reasonable to expect that insurance would be assisting with Gallman's care, especially since he was injured while working. Unfortunately, this is not the case. As anyone who has dealt with both employer based insurance and "Worker's Comp" can tell you that paperwork jungle is nearly impenetrable. Each points to the other as the responsible party while simultaneously barraging the patient with paperwork and phone calls. If the patient is unable to fill out those forms or take those calls because they are on a ventilator or in a coma then the insurance folks are overjoyed because delay can mean they get to deny the claim!

Friends and family in the community have set up the usual "fund" at a local bank to gather donations for Mr. Gallman. Dinners and bake sales are being planned to help pay for his ongoing medical expenses because the hospital wants its money - insurance be damned in order to pay the salaries of its CEOs and other administrative staff.

I am intimately familiar with this process. Before it was determined whether I would be listed as disabled before my transplant, my family began a number of fund raisers to pay for my care since we had no insurance after I lost my job while sick. Friends from around the country sent in donations to a fund and complete strangers also sent in donations to help pay for my ongoing medical care. Even though I eventually was determined to be disabled thanks to liver failure and was able to qualify for Medicaid in South Carolina, I was required to have nearly $3000 in cash on hand before my transplant to cover expenses insurance doesn't cover after transplant including travel expenses to and from Charleston, lodging for myself for up to 3 weeks after transplant as well as a family member, and other incidentals. Thank God for those donations!

It is ironic that the area of the country that seems most opposed to reforming our broken health care and insurance system is the area of the country where on any given week you can open the paper to find a notice for some bake sale, potluck dinner, poker run, car wash, or local band benefit for a kid or community member with some health care calamity.

There are entire websites devoted to helping people raise money to pay for treatment that insurance companies routinely refuse to allow.

So, the family and friends of poor Mr. Gallman instead of being able to focus on his care and assisting the police in finding his attackers, must spend their time trying desperately to raise money that will allow him to get some modicum of care. Even then, the reality is, he will be destroyed financially - probably for life - by the medical bills and heartless medical collections people that will begin to circle like vultures before he can even begin to mend.



8/14/2009

Health Care Horror Story #4

So, you're lucky. You submitted your "pre-approval" paperwork. You doctor has begged and pleaded with the insurance company to cover your necessary surgery. His over bloated staff has gone over the paperwork with a fine tooth comb making sure they insurance company's corps of clerks won't find a typo or a misplaced comma and use it as a reason to deny the procedure.

You've waiting patiently and in pain while all the wheels are greased and the Insurance Company Death Panel made up of unemployable doctors, nurses, and accountants decides your fate. Finally, they come through and tell you that you can go ahead and have your surgery. You're elated! But not so fast...

In October 2008, Michael Napientak, a doorman from Clarendon Hills, Ill., went to the hospital for surgery to relieve agonizing back pain. His wife's employer's insurance provider, a subsidiary of UnitedHealthCare, had issued a pre-authorization for the operation. The operation went well.

But in April, the insurer started sending notices that it wouldn't pay for the surgery, after all; the family, not the insurance provider, would be on the hook for the $148,000 the hospital charged for the procedure. Pre-authorization, the insurance company explained, didn't necessarily guarantee payment on a claim would be forthcoming.

The couple's health insurance was provided by Sandie Napientek's employer, Accelerated Health Systems. The policy was a self-insured plan, meaning Accelerated Health Systems funded the plan, which was administered by a company called UMR out of Wausau, Wis.

Napientek said she called a UMR representative to complain and was told preauthorization did not guarantee payment. UMR initially said her husband had not exhausted all conservative means of pain relief. Later, after the couple showed evidence he had, in fact, tried conservative pain-relief methods, UMR said he had not provided documentation to support the "appropriateness" of the surgery.

"I don't have [$148,000]," said Michael Napientek, lead doorman for a high-rise in Palatine. "I'd almost rather have the bad back than to spend [$148,000], but what are you going to do?" Napientak's wife, Sandie, asked her boss to help out, but with no luck.

Fortunately for the Napientaks, they were able to attract the attention of a Chicago Tribune columnist before they had to figure out how to pay the six-figure bill -- once the newspaper started asking questions, the insurer suddenly decided, "based on additional information submitted," to cover the tab, after all.

Yes, there you have it. The only paperwork that counts is media exposure of the company's "Death Panel." Once it appeared the secret would be out they decided to "buy off" the family by paying the bill they had promised to pay originally!

Let's all join hands and sing Kumbaya...

Maybe I'm just a cynic. Maybe I just have a natural suspicion of self important people. I don't know what it is, but I do know that the whole Netroots Nation thing leaves me feeling like the girl in the slasher film who hears something in the next room just before she gets offed.

Netroots Nation is supposedly this great democratic and Progressive (the little d and capital p are on purpose there) convention meant to "empower" bloggers and others. But, somehow it seems more like a bootcamp for toeing the Democratic (big d) party line anymore.

Their big events now seem to be opportunities for Democratic bigwigs to talk at a bunch of bloggers and give them the party marching orders. It's this big slick deal where the usual suspects in the upper blogosphere assert their alpha dog status while congratulating each other about how great they are and how they changed the world.

In short, it just smells when you're down here on the ground.

Case in point. Today I go to my "non-traditional media" for the news. Lo and behold what do I find? Well, I find a daisy chain of self pleasure over Netroots Nation. Yes indeed, the world stopped and nothing has happened but all the Democratic (big d) bloggers joining hands and singing Kumbaya while being talked at by the likes of Bill Clinton who, by the way, blames teh Gays for DOMA and DADT. In short, "don't look at me. It's your fault because you aren't popular!" Speaking of which, don't you love Michael Jones over at Change.org (read Demo central) for this Big Bill stroking?

So, excuse me, but after reading the self love going on at this mini-elitist gathering all I can think is: Who do I trust if I can't trust TradMed and now I can't trust the independent voices because they're all up the ass of the Democrats at this summer camp?

Oh well... every movement when it becomes large enough will be co-opted and shaped by the prevailing powers that be. Netroots Nation seems to be proof of that.

8/13/2009

Health Care Horror Story #3


What happens if you are a small business owner and you dare to challenge your billionaire insurance company over the piss poor coverage you're getting? Well, if you have cancer you can bet you'll have your insurance terminated post haste while their "case managers" laugh behind their hands at your stupidity for actually expecting them to pay for medical care rather than just send them money.

That's what happened to Patricia Reilling. She opened an art gallery in Louisville, Ky., in 1987, and three years later took out an insurance policy for herself and her employees. Her insurance provider,Anthem Health Plans of Kentucky, wrote to her this June, telling her it was canceling her coverage -- a few days after it sent her a different letter detailing the rates to renew for another year and billing her for July.

Reilling thinks she knows the reason for the cutoff, though -- she was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2008. That kicked off a year-long battle with Anthem. First the company refused to pay for an MRI to locate the tumors, saying her family medical history didn't indicate she was likely to have cancer. Eventually, it approved the MRI, but only after she'd undergone an additional, painful biopsy. Her doctor removed both of her breasts in April 2008. In December, she went in for reconstructive plastic surgery -- and contracted a case of MRSA, an invasive infection. In January of this year, Reilling underwent two more surgeries to deal with the MRSA infection, and she's likely to require another operation to help fix all the damage. The monthly bill for her prescription medicines -- which she says are mostly generics -- is $2,000; the doctors treating her for the MRSA infection want $280 for each appointment, now that she's lost her insurance coverage. When she appealed the decision to cancel her policy, asking if she could keep paying the premium and continue coverage until her current course of treatment ends, the insurers wrote back with yet another denial. But they did say they hoped her health improved.


8/12/2009

Health Care Horror Story #2

In June 2008, Robin Beaton, a retired nurse from Waxahachie, Texas, found out she had breast cancer and needed a double mastectomy. Two days before her surgery, her insurance company, Blue Cross, flagged her chart and told the hospital they wouldn't allow the procedure to go forward until they finished an examination of five years of her medical history -- which could take three months. It turned out that a month before the cancer diagnosis, Beaton had gone to a dermatologist for acne treatment, and Blue Cross incorrectly interpreted a word on her chart to mean that the acne was precancerous.

Not long into the investigation, the insurer canceled her policy. Beaton, they said, had listed her weight incorrectly when she bought it, and had also failed to disclose that she'd once taken medicine for a heart condition -- which she hadn't been taking at the time she filled out the application.

"I didn't know what to do. The hospital wanted a $30,000 deposit. I was by myself. I didn't have that kind of money," Beaton said through tears. "Can you imagine, having to walk around with cancer growing in your body? With no insurance. It's the most terrifying thing in the world to not have anybody to turn to or anywhere to go."

By October, thanks to an intervention from her member of Congress, Blue Cross reinstated Beaton's insurance coverage. But the tumor she had removed had grown 2 centimeters in the meantime, and she had to have her lymph nodes removed as well as her breasts amputated because of the delay.

Beaton was a victim of both the "Death Panel" at Blue Cross and their corporate stop-loss department and an insurance industry ploy known as "rescission" where your insurance is retroactively cancelled because their corps of clerks manages to find something, anything in your medical records to give them reason not just to cancel your current insurance but to cancel the insurance you've had in the past.

If that's hard to follow, it means that anything they have paid up to that point they take back from your doctor or hospital and leave you footing the bill for things you thought had been paid months or even years previously!

In another "rescission" case Wittney Horton, said her coverage was canceled after her carrier said she did not disclose that she had taken a drug prescribed for weight loss and because of her irregular menstrual cycle. Her carrier sent her a letter saying they would not have accepted her had they known she had "polycystic ovaries," a condition she did not know she had.

Here we have nurses or unemployed doctors making a diagnosis without seeing the patient at all. In fact, making a diagnosis that her doctors who had actually bothered to examine her had not made at all. Responsible medicine? Would the definition of a "death panel" not be one that sat in a close and secret room pawing through medical records without ever seeing the patient face to face then deciding their fate based on how much money they will cost the company?

That is exactly the system we have with our private insurers. If you have insurance, pray you never use it for anything more serious than a head cold or you could find your files in front of Cigna's, United Health Group's, or Blue Cross's "Death Panel".

Sponsors of Hate Speech

Update: See State Farm's response below!

Here's an interesting video from Media Matters that show the major sponsors of Glenn Beck's running crazy train. This is the same Glenn Beck who has advocated poisoning members of Congress and inspired one of his regular crazies to carry a gun to President Obama's town hall.

So, I suggest that you write to these companies and let them know that until they stop sponsoring hate speech you won't be patronizing them. In fact, here's a copy of the letter I just sent to our insurance company, State Farm.
Dear State Farm:

We are shocked to see that you are sponsoring Glenn Beck's shows and publicly supporting his hate speech, racist diatribes, anti-gay rhetoric, calls for violence, and even calls for assassination of elected leaders.

While you may feel that your sponsorship does not mean you "support" his views, the reality is that your sponsorship does exactly that. Without your financial support he would be unable to carry on so irresponsibly and with such dire consequences for so many in a public forum. Because of your direct sponsorship of Mr. Beck, a man was caught at the President's town hall event with a gun after being inspired by Beck to attend while armed.

This past week we renewed our quarterly insurance before becoming aware of your involvement in this show. Interestingly, we learned on the same day that State Farm is standing arm in arm with the forces of intolerance and violence that Geico has pulled all support of Beck's shows. Therefore, unless we learn that State Farm has also stopped its sponsorship of this hatefest, we will certainly be switching our insurance to a more responsible company when we are ready for renewal in a few months.

I hope, that in the next few days to hear that State Farm has done the right thing and distanced itself from the likes of Glenn Beck and said it will no longer be the financial underwriter of hate and violence at this point in our nation's history.

So, there you have it. Hope you'll follow suit. Here's how you can contact the companies sponsoring Beck's particular brand of crazy violence.

Update: This morning we received the following email from State Farm. It appears they are no longer planning to sponsor Mr. Beck's show either. In fact, they're disavowing that their sponsorship was anything other than a monumental mistake by the ad department.

Thank you for your recent e-mail concerning State Farm’s advertising on the Fox network.

Recently, there was a breakdown in the execution of State Farm’s advertising guidelines and a few commercials mistakenly appeared for a brief time on a couple political discussion programs.

Understanding our millions of customers and thousands of associates hold a full spectrum of views on political issues, State Farm has a long-standing practice of not advertising in political discussion programming. This advertising applies regardless of a program’s political point of view.

State Farm continuously monitors programming to ensure quality control and that our political issues advertising guidelines are maintained.

Thank you for your e-mail and your continued support of State Farm Insurance, both are greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Jairon L. Wills
Executive Customer Service Supervisor
State Farm Insurance

8/11/2009

Private Health Insurance Horror Story #1

Beginning today, I will print a daily horror story about the much loved (it would seem) private health insurance industry.

These stories show how our "for profit" insurance industry has already done all the things they are telling their puppet "teabaggers" to claim a government sponsored plan would do - including "death panels" made up of loser bureaucrats and flunked out and disgraced 'doctors' and 'nurses.'
17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan, a leukemia patient from Glendale, Calif., died in December 2007, after her parents battled their insurance company, Cigna, over the surgery. Cigna initially refused to pay for it because the company's analysis showed Sarkisyan was already too sick from her leukemia; the liver transplant wouldn't have saved her life.
In an article at the LA Times: Dr. Guiseppe del Priore sums up this immoral and criminal behavior by Cigna and it's unethical "experts":
Sarkisyan's procedure likely wasn't experimental because the outcome was known. Doctors treating her told Cigna that patients in similar situations have a 65% chance of living six months. A 65% chance of surviving six months does not preclude a 50% survival at five years. Furthermore, if consent is not required by the Institutional Review Board, and if others have already reported the procedure, it is not experimental. I helped introduced the radical abdominal trachelectomy in 1997 with IRB approval. It became the standard of care by repeated use as determined by individual doctor-patient relations — ultimately, whether a procedure is experimental can only be decided by a clinician and individual patient.

The third predictable insurance industry stall is the "expert" review. I would define an expert as a doctor who did a transplant or took care of a transplant patient this week. Insurers that review my denials define any has-been, retired, unemployed failure with a medical license an expert, paid to deny care. This is practicing medicine without examining the patient or seeing all the data. In effect, the licensed nurse or doctor working for an insurer is practicing medicine unprofessionally and criminally.

Sarkisyan was killed when the insurer decided to stall. Her family is within its rights to expect coverage for what their doctor determined was necessary, as Cigna promises.
And there you have it! Let's hope that Sarah Palin doesn't use Cigna because her dreaded "death panel" made up of insurance clerks, hack doctors, and washout nurses is patiently waiting their turn to pass judgment on her baby.

Read more about Nataline and her death warrant by Cigna's Death Panel:
Quick update: I got the following comment on Facebook about this post from someone I really don't know:
Jennifer Myers Williams: If you think government healthcare is better talk to a veteran. Better yet, go visit the VA hospital. I'm sure you'll come to your senses.
Now, the interesting thing about that comment and what I didn't realize until I checked out her "employment" info on Facebook, is that this seemingly "neutral" person expressing her opinion actually works for a division of Cigna as a "Catastrophic Case Manager." Those are the folks whe help make exactly the type of decisions seen here by exactly this same company. I don't know whether these employees are being instructed to pretend to be "concerned citizens" to promote their company's agenda or not, but it seems to be becoming quite a trend.




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