government

Commentary: Healthcare vs. Insurance Care

by Patricia Cogswell, Byron Center, MI

I have been following the health care insurance issues very closely. I am a retired Health Care practice manager and a former RN. I have seen the evolution and downfall of health care over the years.

The major change is in the word Healthcare which exists only in the minds of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers. The new word is Insurance Care. The Insurance industry has taken over the healthcare industry. Patients want healthcare but they do not know that it no longer truly exists. Insurance controls the healthcare.

I may be an old retired healthcare worker but I also remember when the medical people decided what a patient needed. I remember the times that when a patient was sick, he was treated according to what the doctor thought he had. Not today — today a non medical person working in an insurance company decides what he needs. The need is based on how much profit the insurance company can get. Yes, it is the same insurance company that went out of the way to promote their product over their competitors to woo you or your employer to sign up with them and take your money for an insurance policy that you and/or your employer decided upon. All goes well until you or your co-worker becomes sick. Suddenly, you are a monetary statistic on a chart created by the insurance company. That chart says that you may have had a pre-existing condition or an un-approved condition.

Pre-existing condition is a loop-hole for insurance companies. Many of us are born with something we did not ask for and maybe did not even know about until we were diagnosed but the insurance company stats person pounces because their stats say that we were previously deemed by this disease therefore we are not now eligible for coverage. A worse scenario is that we did know about the disease but we changed jobs or was laid off or our company closed their doors, etc. The Insurance stat person double pounces on us. We have a pre-existing condition and therefore not eligible for insurance. Oh, they can insurance us but the cost will be very prohibitive. The wealthy will smile and say okay, the rest will just lay awake nights wondering how they can pay for the prescriptions and doctors appts. they need. Many will just give up and no nothing and not fill the prescription or visit the doctor and death will take them. Others will go but take their credit cards to max and remortgage their homes, etc and then have to file bankruptcy or lose their homes.

Okay, these are some facts I have presented. Now I have a question for you – Are you so wealthy you do not need insurance and do not care about others who do or are you a person who cares about your neighbors and believes in the Golden Rule? You choose and I hope you choose the path to Universal Insurance coverage for all.

I am a compassionate Christian who believes in Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself and there is no question how I (if I were a Congressman or Rep) would vote. I could not live with my own conscience if I were to vote for the Insurance companies and the Profits that are made on heathcare. My conscience would not allow me to say that a tax break should be put in place for a citizen for Insurance. A person who cannot afford the premiums for health care would find the tax break worthless. This idea of a tax break is only another example of a loophole tax break for the wealthy. It reminds me of Marie Antoinette who said “Let them Eat Cake” when they could not afford bread.

Please pass this on to anyone who is in desperate need of healthcare or cannot afford the premiums, copays, etc . I just want you to know that I do really care about you. I have given up on passing it on to the congressmen who can actually make a difference in your lives. If you think they will listen, please pass it on to your powers-that-be in your State.

Condi Rice Comes to Town; Press Focuses on her Piano Skills

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Former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice will be speaking in Grand Rapids on Monday at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids’ annual dinner. As is always the case with these events, they are limited to members of the Economic Club and their guests, with makes it so that ordinary folks generally can’t see what these former government officials say. Moreover, when they are in town to speak about their experiences while in government, citizens deserve a chance to know what is said. Ideally, that is a role that media can play.

But, I doubt we’ll get much serious coverage from The Grand Rapids Press or the other local media in town. In advance of her appearance, The Grand Rapids Press has focused on her piano skills:

She won’t be tickling the ivory, but Economic Club of Grand Rapids officials still are excited to hear from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday. There had been quiet hopes the 1,500-plus attendees would hear a piano performance from Rice, dubbed the world’s most prominent amateur musician by The New York Times in 2006. Club Executive Director Lorna Schultz said she was disappointed, but organizers just couldn’t work it out. Still, the crowd for the club’s 22nd annual dinner will be the fourth largest on record.

You would think that they would focus on her record–particularly as it relates to torture. A group of students at Stanford recently campaigned for Condoleezza Rice–a faculty member–to be prosecuted for war crimes:

As National Security Advisor, Rice authorized waterboarding in July 2002, according to a newly released report of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Less than two months later, she hyped the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq, saying, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” Her ominous warning was part of the Bush administration’s campaign to sell the Iraq war, in spite of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency’s assurances that Saddam Hussein did not possess nuclear weapons.

For those who want to learn more about Condoleezza Rice’s record, a profile of her on SourceWatch.org has a good critical overview of her career, particularly with regard to her role in selling the Iraq War. It’s also worth reading recent news articles about her giving specific approval of torture.

“Read the Bill” Legislation Introduced in Congress

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Back in February, MediaMouse.org reported on a campaign called “Read the Bill” that was calling for the passage of legislation that would require Congress to post bills online for 72 hours before voting on them. The legislation would allow time for members of Congress, the media (including bloggers and citizen journalists), and the public to review pending legislation. All too often, legislators vote on bills without ever taking the time to read them. This is especially true of more complex bills such as trade agreements and the economic stimulus bill passed earlier this year.

The Read the Bill coalition–which is endorsed by a number of different organizations–announced this week that legislation has been introduced in Congress that would require bills to be posted online 72 hours prior to them being voted on. The bill–H.R. 554–is co-sponsored by Reps. Baird (D-WA) and Culberson (R-TX).

The coalition cites a few examples of why this bill is needed:

  • Most citizens would have supported amending the economic stimulus bill to remove the provision allowing AIG executives to receive retroactive bonuses – if only they had known.
  • The average person probably would have preferred to let the judicial system work rather than have Congress give immunity from lawsuits to telecommunications companies that participated in a controversial wiretapping scheme.
  • Workers hoping to retire on their 401(k) investments might have liked to have some serious analysis of whether credit default swaps ought to be regulated. We know how that worked out.
  • And, just about everyone benefits from mandating time to check for questionable and wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.

The Read the Bill coalition has setup an online system for contacting your legislators to ask them to both support and co-sponsor the bill in order to improve its chances of passing. Additionally, it is circulating a petition and is hoping to get 15,000 signatures before Congress’s August recess–you should add yours today.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Capitol News Coverage Dying; Bill Targets Teachers Who Strike

Here are some interesting stories published elsewhere on the web in the past twenty-four hours. Feel free to discuss them in the comments or let us know if we missed anything:

  • Capitol news coverage dying – This column from the Lansing City Pulse by MIRS editor Kyle Melinn looks at the dramatic decline in news coverage at the capitol. Over the past several years, media outlets across Michigan have dramatically reduced the number of reporters covering the state capitol. With important issues before the legislature–such as the upcoming budget–Melinn says that people want to know what is going on in Lansing, but he isn’t sure if there will be reporters to satisfy their interest.
  • Health and Hope – This is an interesting article from Rapid Growth Media about a dentist who was inspired by a trip to Africa to give up his lucrative dental practice in the suburbs to provide dental care for low income patients in the Burton Heights neighborhood as part of Health Intervention Services. The clinic is part of the Free Clinics of Michigan network. To be sure, it’s going to take a lot more than individual acts of charity and selflessness to fix the health care system in the United States, but it’s great to see things like this.
  • GRIID Interviews Kathy KellyThe Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) interviews activist Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Non-Violence. Kelly was in Grand Rapids last night to speak about her recent trip to Pakistan and what she learned from talking with refugees who have been displace by U.S. drone attacks.
  • War Funding Coverage Full of Omissions – Over the past week, MediaMouse.org has reported on the debate over war funding in the House of Representatives. In particular, we have looked how the Democratic Party has been willing to sellout its anti-war constituents. In this piece, the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) looks at how the war funding bill was covered in the Grand Rapids Press. Not surprisingly, it was barely covered, but what can you really expect from a newspaper that has no national reporters?
  • White House Says, ‘Stand Tall, Michigan!’ – The Obama administration’s so-called “green jobs czar” says that Michigan has everything it needs to make it “a green energy capital of the world.” The only thing missing is the political will to adopt green policies.
  • Proposed bills tell teachers one strike, they’re out – Two proposed bills in the Michigan House of Representatives will make it easier to punish teachers who participate in strikes. The bills would enact new penalties–including loss of certification for two years–on teachers who strike. Teacher strikes were made illegal under a 1994 law.
  • Dow dioxin cleanup in mid-Michigan could take years – This article from the Detroit Free Press describes a pretty typical pollution scenario. A corporation–in this case Dow Chemical–contaminates a large swath of land with a toxic chemical–in this case dioxin. After several years of citizen complaints, the EPA finally decides to investigate the issue. First, they promise a study. Then, they decide how to clean it up, then they actually (more often, a maybe) start doing the work. It takes years before the pollution is ever cleaned up. In this case, clean up could last until 2018.

Government Targeting of Muslim Charities Stifling Religious Expression

A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) titled “Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity” finds that U.S. anti-terrorism laws that target charitable giving are preventing Muslims from practicing their religion through charitable giving and are consequently impacting the perception of the United States in the Muslim world. The report argues that the U.S. government appears to many Muslims to be at war against Islam and that the lack of charitable contributions undermines humanitarian aid efforts in parts of the world where it could be key in helping to improve the United States’ image.

The report writes of the stifling impact of terrorism finance investigations:

The ACLU also found that there is a common perception among many members of the Muslim communities in Michigan and Texas that those active with Muslim community and religious organizations will be targeted for interviews with law enforcement or for criminal charges on account of their constitutionally protected association with legitimate Muslim community and religious organizations. Our research reveals that this perception of the price of association with Muslim community and religious organizations affects Muslims’ participation in Muslim community organizations.

As noted in the above excerpt, the ACLU interview several members of the Muslim community in Michigan:

In Michigan, 33 individuals were interviewed in Metro Detroit and Flint each expressing their concern over the government’s questioning of Muslim donors, the raids of large U.S. Muslim charities and the consequent chilling effect on their participation in religious activities such as congregational Friday prayer, Eid celebrations at the conclusion of Ramadan, and other communal religious activities.

The report further documents cases of Muslim charities being closed and raided in Michigan, along with questioning of donors and surveillance of Mosques.

A video released along with the report has more information on the issue:

Local and Michigan Headlines: How Much Power Does Consumers Need; High Speed Railways in Michigan

Here’s links to a few worthwhile articles covering Grand Rapids and Michigan that have been published elsewhere on the web. As always, if we missed anything, let us know in the comments.

  • How Much Power Does Consumers Need? – Consumers Energy is under fire both for high fees it is charging for its renewable energy as well as its estimate of the state’s energy needs. A coalition of environmental and citizens groups is saying that the utility company has greatly over estimated how much energy Michigan needs and that it is using flawed numbers.
  • Hoekstra tweets response to court ruling – Earlier this year, Representative Pete Hoekstra–who is running for governor of Michigan–was at the center of a controversy for his use of Twitter and the disclosure of classified information. Now, he’s at it again on Twitter, dismissing Court ruling as “crazy.”
  • EPA downplays dredging risk to Bay City water supply – After citizens raised concerns about the possibility of dioxin-contaminated sediments moving downstream as part of a dredging project in the Saginaw River, the EPA has responded by saying that they won’t test for dioxin downstream.
  • Standing Up Against the Establishment – This post over at West Michigan Rising is from a person interested in running for Michigan’s 20th District Senate seat. However, he says that he was met with opposition from the Democratic Party establishment which is seeking a less progressive candidate. It’s a predictable response from the party, as is the first comment in response to the post in which the commenter attacks the author for deciding to go to the Green Party.
  • Call Conyers to Support His Opposition to Bigger Wars – Michigan Representative John Conyers has consistently voiced his opposition to an upcoming spending bill that would continue to fund the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Progressive filmmaker Robert Greenwald is urging people to thank Conyers for his stand.
  • When workers lead the way – A retired autoworker looks at how the UAW’s leadership and their role in accepting concessions that will harm workers.
  • High speed railways discussed before task force – A summary of a legislative task force’s hearing on a proposed high speed rail system between Detroit/Ann Arbor and Chicago.

Legislators Drafting Health Care Legislation have Financial Ties to the Industry

Last week, we highlighted an article in USA Today that explained how lobbyists are skirting federal campaign finance regulations by giving money to “honor” lawmakers. At the time, we wrote that it is an example of how corrupt the legislative process has become.

Now, there is another noteworthy example. Late last week, The Washington Post reported that most of the legislators drafting health care reform legislation have substantial investments in the sector:

Almost 30 key lawmakers helping draft landmark health-care legislation have financial holdings in the industry, totaling nearly $11 million worth of personal investments in a sector that could be dramatically reshaped by this summer’s debate.

The list of members who have personal investments in the corporations that will be affected by the legislation — which President Obama has called this year’s highest domestic priority — includes Congress’s most powerful leaders and a bipartisan collection of lawmakers in key committee posts. Their total health-care holdings could be worth $27 million, because congressional financial disclosure forms released yesterday require reporting of only broad ranges of holdings rather than precise values of assets.

Rules for disclosing this information are limited and there are no rules that prevent members from having a financial interest in industries that they regulate.

Given that so many members of Congress profit from the health care industry, it’s no surprise that a single-payer health care system–which would create a government-sponsored insurance system–is largely off the table. a

Local and Michigan Headlines: What Happened to Single Payer Health Care; College-Bound Michigan Students Unsure about Financial Aid

Some worthwhile articles published elsewhere in the past 24 hours or so:

Headlines: Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture; Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of Bankruptcies

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture; Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of Bankruptcies

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

At Least 40 Killed in Pakistan Mosque Bombing

At least forty people are reportedly dead following a bomb attack on a mosque near Pakistan’s Swat Valley. It’s the ninth bombing to hit Pakistan since government forces launched a US-backed attack on Taliban militants in April. US special envoy Richard Holbrooke is in Pakistan today for talks with Pakistani leaders on supporting the offensive. The meeting comes as the United Nations is warning it could be forced to reduce its Pakistan relief efforts unless it receives additional aid. Manuel Bessler of the UN Organization for Humanitarian Assistance cited dwindling supplies.

Manuel Bessler: “Some of the clusters are running short. And in this sense, we have to use all opportunities to bring to the attention of the international community the urgent need to fund this operation. When we are short in funding, short in resources, we will be forced to scale down our operation.”

Around 2.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting in Swat and other northwest areas.

Obama Plays Down Mideast Peace Hopes

President Obama is in Germany today on the third stop of his tour of Europe and the Middle East. One day after his speech in Cairo, Obama played down expectations of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under his administration.

President Obama: “The United States can be a partner in solving the problem, but ultimately the parties involved are going to have to make a decision that the prosperity and security of their people is best served by negotiations and compromise. And we can’t force them to make those difficult decisions. What we can do is to provide them a framework and a forum and the support for such an outcome to be achieved.”

The Obama administration has clashed with Israel over a US insistence that Israel end settlement expansion. But it’s refused to leverage massive US aid to Israel or push for the settlements’ complete dismantlement. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he hopes Obama will follow his Cairo speech with meaningful pressure on Israel.

Saeb Erekat: “President Obama’s speech laid the ground for the two-state solution. Now, I hope that in the next few months President Obama will lay a real plan with time lines, monitors and mechanisms to implement and translate the vision of two states from a vision to a realistic political track.”

Obama will pay tribute to victims of the Nazi Holocaust when he tours the Buchenwald concentration camp later today. He’ll then head to France to commemorate D-Day on Saturday.

North Korea Silent on Trial of US Journalists

In North Korea, state officials have remained silent on the trial of two detained US journalists. Euna Lee and Laura Ling were detained along the Chinese border in March. Both work for Al Gore’s Current TV. Their trial was supposed to open on Thursday, but there’s been no word on whether it’s begun.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Urges Probe of Afghan Civilian Deaths

The UN’s top human rights official is calling for an independent probe into the rising number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council Thursday, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said attacks by both Taliban militants and US-led forces should be investigated.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay: “The government of Afghanistan and all states involved in this conflict should take all measures to protect civilians and to ensure the independent investigation of all civilian casualties, as well as justice and remedies for the victims.”

14 Killed in Somalia Clashes

In Somalia, at least fourteen people have been killed in clashes between government forces and rebel fighters in the capital Mogadishu. The ongoing fighting has caused a new wave of displacements, with around 70,000 people fleeing Mogadishu in the past month. Oxfam Somalia relief coordinator Hassan Nour said the humanitarian situation is dire.

Oxfam Somalia relief coordinator Hassan Nour: “You can imagine a situation where nearly half of the country’s entire population are in need of humanitarian aid, where borders are closed, where displacements is taking place, where droughts are actually frequent. One emergency after the other. This is no longer a normal situation. This is an extraordinary humanitarian situation.”

Seven thousand Somali refugees are now pouring into neighboring Kenya each month.

US Ordered to Release Secret Gitmo “Evidence”

A federal judge has ordered the Obama administration to release secret evidence it says justifies the continued imprisonment of over 100 Guantanamo Bay prisoners. US District Judge Thomas Hogan rejected the government’s blanket request to keep the documents sealed, saying it must seek court approval to keep specific information under wraps. The case was brought by prisoners’ attorneys and a coalition of media groups. Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union hailed the ruling, saying, “For far too long, the government has succeeded in keeping information about Guantanamo secret and used secrecy to cover up illegal detention and abuse.”

Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture

The Obama administration’s pick for a top Homeland Security position has ties to the FBI spying on Muslim Americans, as well as reported links to CIA torture. Philip Mudd has been nominated to become secretary of intelligence and analysis at Homeland Security. Under the Bush administration, Mudd helped spearhead an FBI program that sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores in 2005 and 2006, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian secret agents. A congressional aide, meanwhile, told the Associated Press Mudd had direct knowledge of the torture of foreign prisoners while serving as deputy director of the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis. Mudd’s confirmation hearing is expected next week.

Bankruptcy Filings Projected to Reach 1.5M

New figures show consumer and commercial bankruptcies are on pace to reach more than 1.5 million this year. The figure is the highest since Congress passed legislation making it harder to file for bankruptcy in 2005.

Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of US Bankruptcies

A new study, meanwhile, says ballooning medical bills are now responsible for more than 60 percent of bankruptcies in the United States. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says the percentage of bankruptcies linked to medical bills increased by 50 percent from 2001 to 2007, the last year for which data is available. More than 75 percent of bankrupt families had health insurance but were still crippled by medical debts.

Ex-Countrywide CEO Accused of Fraud, Insider Trading

The former chief executive and co-founder of the mortgage lender Countrywide Financial has been charged with civil fraud and illegal insider trading. On Thursday, federal regulators said Angelo Mozilo and two other Countrywide execs misled shareholders about the failings of their vast holdings in subprime loans. Countrywide played a major role in the subprime mortgage scandal, holding one of every six mortgage loans in the United States.

Tennessee Schools Remove Censorship of LGBT Websites

In Tennessee, school officials have rescinded a ban on websites containing information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against two Tennessee school districts last month for installing software that prevented students from accessing LGBT websites.

Hundreds to Attend Tiller Funeral in Wichita

And in Kansas, hundreds of people are expected to attend Saturday’s funeral of the murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. Tiller was killed last Sunday as he ushered during services at his Wichita church. On Thursday, the suspect in his killing, anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder, made a brief call to the Associated Press from his jail cell but refused to talk about the murder. Scott Roeder’s brother, David, has said Roeder has suffered from mental illness. Tiller’s funeral will be held at the College Hill United Methodist Church, whose members have previously supported Tiller’s abortion clinic. More than forty-five vigils have been held across the country to honor Tiller since his murder.

Health Care Advocacy Group Responds to Proposed Reforms in Michigan

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The Michigan Universal Health Care Access Network (MichUHCAN)–an advocacy group working for comprehensive health care–has responded to proposals to reform the individual health insurance market in Michigan. In a blog post, the group says that the proposals are a “pretty good idea” and that they have the potential to be great. It states in part:

This plan would apply to anyone with health insurance, and would completely cover all expenses above $25,000. In other words Michigan would have a single-payer health care system for all expenses above $25,000.

In theory an insurance company could offer a plan with a $25,000 deductable and never pay a cent in medical bills. Their only costs would be administrative, so they could probably charge $100 a year and still make money. Unfortunately for us universal-care advocates this program is funded by a small tax on health care premiums, so if the entire state actually enrolled in plans like that there’d be no money to pay Doctors.

But even without that stealth universal plan this would help a lot.

For one thing the 80-90% of the state that currently has health insurance would be less likely to go bankrupt when they get sick because out of pocket expenses would be capped. As is even with a UAW plan somebody whose care costs $300,000 has a $60,000 co-pay. $25,000 is still a whole lot for a family on a UAW salary to pay, but it’s a lot more doable than $60,000.

Then there’s the fact that it will make more people insurable. People with expensive pre-existing conditions can’t get insurance at al because the insurance company isn’t stupid. They know that if you sign up a guy likely to have an expensive heart attack for $6,000 a year you’re gonna go out of business. With total medical expenses capped at $25,000 minus co-pays insuring that guy makes a lot more business sense.

Altogether the Legislature estimates this program will insure half of Michigan’s current uninsured population. Depending on how things go in DC it’s theoretically possible Michigan could end up with true universal coverage. That’s unlikely, but if both plans pass we’ll have more than 95% of Michigan covered. I’d guess it would be more like 97-98%.

Note that under this system the new plan would be a single payer. Let me repeat that: under this new system 97% of Michiganders would be covered by a single payer. They’d only be covered after paying huge medical bills, but I have the feeling convincing politicians to lower that $25,000 threshold will be a lot easier than convincing them to create a new system from scratch.

This plan is far from MichUHCAN’s ideal health plan. It won’t cover everybody, and those it does cover are still on the hook for $25,000, but it’s a good starting point. And a lot better than the current mess we’re dealing with.”