Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Health care reform would help consumers too

Health care reform is about more than helping the uninsured. President Obama is on the road today talking about reform and how it will help consumers. These are the highlights:
  • No Denials for Pre-Existing Conditions: Insurers would be banned from refusing coverage based on medical history.

  • No Huge Out-of-Pocket Expenses, Deductibles or Co-Pays: Insurers would be bound by annual caps on charges for out-of-pocket expenses

  • Preventive Care: Insurers would be required to cover checkups and tests like mammograms or diabetes screenings.

  • No Drops in Coverage for Major Illnesses: Companies would be barred dropping or diluting coverage for those who become seriously ill.

  • No Gender Disparities: Companies could not charge differently based on gender.

  • No Annual or Lifetime Caps on Coverage.

  • Expanded Coverage for Young Adults: Family plans would cover people through age 26.

  • Renewal Guarantees: If premiums are paid, policies have to be renewed even if new illnesses emerge.
  • Obama calls these "health insurance consumer protections to make sure that those who have insurance are treated fairly and insurance companies are held accountable."

    In my case, "no denials for pre-existing conditions" hits a nerve. My husband works in the auto industry and his employment is tenuous, along with his health insurance. If he loses that, it's scary to think we might not be able to get new coverage, particularly at our ages. We're too young for Medicare, but old enough that problems like high blood pressure and arthritis are starting to pop up.

    Reform can't happen soon enough in my opinion.

    Mitch Albom defends the richest 1 percent

    Did you catch Mitch Albom's column in the Free Press defending rich people from having to pay more in taxes in order to fund health care reform? Prepare yourself to gag:
    In explaining why it was OK to sock a new 5.4% tax on the highest earners in this country — to pay for health care reform — President Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said this:

    “The president believes that the richest 1% of this country has had a pretty good run of it for many, many, many years.”

    Ah. So that’s it. The old “You’ve had it good enough for long enough” policy. That’s why a family earning a million dollars a year should now cough up $54,000 of that — in addition to all the other taxes it pays...

    It is not that the rich should not pay fair taxes. They should.

    But to justify a grossly overweighted tax by saying “You people have had it good long enough” is to engage in the worst and most destructive form of politics: class warfare.
    "Grossly overweighted tax" is not only incorrect (which I'll get to later), but Mitch seems to forget who his target audience is: Poor slobs like me who bought his books and helped make him rich. I won't make that mistake again.

    Speaking of his books, David Sirota notes that Albom has "made millions of dollars writing books about sick people and death." He also assumed "that because his writing comes into contact with the most gut-wrenching parts of health care system, and because he portrays himself as a shining beacon of compassion and selflessness, that he is, in fact, a somewhat compassionate human being."

    However, after reading Albom's column in what Sirota calls "quite literally the most economically devastated city in the United States," he changed his opinion of him. "Albom is a run-of-the-mill royalist and right-wing psychopath."
    And yet, Albom -- the guy who has made his pile by trumpeting his alleged compassion for the plight of the sick and dying -- is spending the most crucial week in the health care debate insisting that the superwealthy pay too much in taxes and never avoid paying what they owe. And more importantly, Albom spends this week insisting the major problem facing America is a "class warfare" that would ask a Goldman Sachs executive making $1 million a year to devote just 9-tenths of one percent more of his taxpayer-subsidized income to a universal health care program. And he's doing all this in the flagship paper of the city that has been most devastated by the economy.
    Not only is Albom not compassionate, he's also a fool when it comes to that "grossly overweighted tax" he mentioned. His math is not only wrong, it's considerably off, by a factor of six according to A Tiny Revolution.
    Someone making $1,000,000 per year wouldn't pay $54,000 more in taxes under this bill. They'd pay $9,000.

    That's because the 5.4% surcharge would only apply to someone's income over $1,000,000. Your tax bill wouldn't suddenly go up by $54,000 if one year you made $1,000,000 instead of $999,999.
    Albom writes at a third grade reading level and isn't a tax accountant (he has a degree in journalism from Columbia University plus an MBA from Columbia's Graduate School of Business), but that doesn't justify passing along false information as the truth. Or could it be, as A Tiny Revolution points out, that it's just acceptable practice in his line of work.
    "There really is no field but right-wing punditry where you can make these kind of catastrophic errors and keep your job. You can't graduate from Columbia Medical School and become a surgeon if you believe human beings have six spleens, and you can't stay an anesthesiologist if you give someone six times too much Sevoflurane. But as long as your horrifying incompetence serves a right-wing agenda, there will always be a cozy home for you in journalism."
    It's too bad Mitch didn't take to heart Morrie's words:

    "So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning."

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Thursday, July 23, 2009

    Racial profiling or not, the Cambridge police were wrong

    It's probably safe to say President Obama could have been more tactful last night.
    "The Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody [Skip Gates] when there was already proof that they were in their own home."
    Tactful or not, police officers are no different from the rest of us - some of them do a good job and some of them don't. (See here, here and here.) In this case, I agree with the president that the police acted stupidly (and unprofessionally).

    It should have been handled differently according to this former policeman.
    I was an auxiliary police officer for 20 years, 11 in Michigan where a wise chief told us never, under any circumstances, were we to arrest someone for disorderly conduct. He said that if we couldn't find a more serious charge it was up to us to calm the person down. Otherwise he told us that using this charge was just an easy way to end a situation with a disruptive citizen without using the skill we were supposed to have to de-escalate. ...

    As far as I'm concerned the police should have used their skills to de-escalate. This is part of their training.
    It's possible Skip Gates blew up and got confrontational, but that doesn't justify arresting the man for breaking into his own house. As the president also said, "I think it's fair to say...any of us would be pretty angry." That seems like a reasonable assumption.

    I actually have experience with "profiling" and can identify with Gates. Not too many people know this, but I have a disability that limits my walking distance so I use a wheelchair in public. About 15 years ago, while shopping at Lechters Housewares with my then 14-year-old daughter, I noticed that a salesclerk kept following behind us as we moved through the store. (My daughter was pushing me.) I assumed she was waiting to see if we needed any help so I turned around, told her we'd be fine and that she didn't need to wait on us. Her answer? I have orders to follow customers in wheelchairs to make sure they don't shoplift. I was flabbergasted. Had I been standing up, I probably would have fallen over!

    Was I angry? You betcha, but I'm the type of person who busts into tears when I get angry. The yelling comes later. Anyway, the clerk took one look at my face and felt compelled to defend management's policy. She explained that disabled people in wheelchairs are a higher security risk because we can hide kitchen gadgets down by our sides or sit on stuff in order to smuggle it out.

    Needless to say, I wasn't too pleased that she treated me like a criminal. I left the store and took my business elsewhere. Lechters went out of business in 2001, proving there is cosmic karma!

    I don't know if racial profiling was the motivation behind Gate's arrest or not, but I can understand how a black man might feel in a situation like that because of my experience. Trust me. It's not a good feeling.

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

    Wednesday, July 22, 2009

    Americans continue to lose health care

    Americans can't afford to wait another year, another month or another day for health care reform. According to Families USA:
    With each passing week that meaningful health care reform is not enacted, more families in every state are losing health coverage... Families USA based its state numbers on national estimates published in the peer-reviewed policy journal Health Affairs in May 2009. These estimates project that 6.9 million more Americans, primarily people in working families, will lose health coverage by the end of 2010. [emphasis added]
    Their report breaks down the number of people who may lose health coverage between the beginning of 2008 (the period immediately after the last Census Bureau report on the number of uninsured) and the end of 2010 (the close of the current 111th Congress) and it shows a total of 162,100 Michiganders losing coverage during that period. That's 1,040 people per week, 4,500 per month and 54,030 per year.

    The clock is ticking. Each week another 44,230 Americans lose their health coverage. Please, call 1-800-828-0498, ask to be connected to your member of Congress, and tell him/her to pass health care reform NOW.

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for Michigan.)

    Thursday, July 16, 2009

    McCotter Makes Fun of Dems Health Plan

    Republicans think the Democrats' health care plan is a Faustian web of Washington bureaucracy. To make their case they're doing exactly what they did in 1994, when President Clinton unveiled his plan, they're circulating a chart with lots of pretty colors, boxes, lines and acronyms. It's meant to confuse people and make light of the Democrats' plan.

    Thaddeus McCotter had this to say about it:
    It might make for a lovely board game but it makes for horrible health care system.
    McCotter obviously never had to deal with HMO's, referrals, denial of claims, etc. Or, as Jonathan Cohn put it:
    But these charts--and, more important, the Republicans who use them as propoganda--tend to ignore one inconvenient fact: American health care is already complex. Ridiculously complex. Thanks to decades of haphazard, disorganized growth, it's evolved into a mind-numbing web of institutions, agencies, businesses, and individual actors. And while that may be self-evident to anybody who's ever had to deal with, say, a billing dispute between an insurer and hospital, it's easy to lose sight of that when the discussion is all about what reform might do--rather than what health care would be like without it.
    TNR developed their own chart (with the help of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation) illustrating just how byzantine our system has become. McCotter should check out.

    Actually, if bureaucracy is a problem for Republicans, they might want to get on board with single-payer.
    Single payer reform... would eliminate the bewildering patchwork of private insurance plans with their exorbitant overhead and profits, as well as the costly paperwork burdens they impose on providers. These savings on bureaucracy - nearly $400 billion annually – are sufficient to cover all of the uninsured and to provide first dollar coverage for all Americans.

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for Michigan.)

    Wednesday, July 15, 2009

    Dave Camp Needs a Fact Checker

    (h/t Wonk Room)

    Dave Camp (MI-R) should get his facts straight before opening his mouth on national television. He appeared on CNBC yesterday to discuss the House Democrats health care legislation that proposes a surtax on wealthy individuals in order to finance a portion of the $1.5 trillion cost of health reform. The surtax rates would be 5.4 percent for couples earning more than $1 million, 1.5 percent on couples with incomes between $500,000 and $1 million, and 1 percent on incomes over $350,000. ($280,000 a year for individuals.)

    When asked about the surtax, this is what Camp said:
    This is going to be a massive tax increase, half of which will be paid by small business. We expect that as many as 2 out of 3 manufacturers could pay significantly higher taxes under this.
    Camp is so wildly off the mark he makes Sarah Palin look like a genius. According to the Wonk Room's Igor Volsky, "the overwhelming majority of small business owners earn far less than $350,000, and thus will not be affected by the tax. Of people who earn most of their income from their own business, 98 percent make less than $250,000, while “more than half have income below $30,000 and 80 percent make less than $100,000.”

    That's a far cry from the figures used by Camp. Citizens for Tax Justice also ran the numbers and found that about 5 percent of actual small businesses would be affected by the surtax.

    And what percent of Michigan taxpayers did CTJ find would pay a graduated surcharge? 0.7%

    And before Dave Camp jumps in to defend those 0.7%, here's another fact from CTJ: "Under this proposal, the richest 1.3 percent of U.S. taxpayers would have an estimated total tax increase of $550 billion over ten years, which is considerably less than the total tax cuts this group received over the 2001-2010 period."

    The millions of uninsured people in this country deserve better than wild exaggerations from politicians like Dave Camp. They deserve health care.

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for Michigan.)

    Wednesday, July 08, 2009

    Fear is not having health insurance

    Did you catch the ABC News story about security breaches at 10 randomly tested federal buildings today? Sen. Lieberman called it "stunning" and "shocking." He also said:
    "If a terrorist group just did that in two or three federal buildings, it would not only really hurt some people; it would create a real crisis of confidence here in the United States about our homeland security."
    No, Joe, the real crisis of confidence revolves around our lousy health care system. We all want to be safe from terrorists, but roughly 18,000 unnecessary deaths occur in the U.S. each year because people lack health insurance. That's equivalent to six 9-11's.

    It's time to start looking at public health care from another angle: Security.
    It's what ought to be at the center of this debate, and it's the one thing private insurance companies will never offer.

    The single-payer and hybrid systems in place in every other country in the developed world have many admirable features: lower costs, universal coverage, and better health outcomes. But what ought to make us most envious is their security -- it's what they have and we desperately need. If you live in Canada or Germany or France or Japan, there are some things you need never fear. You need never fear that your insurance company will tell you it won't cover treatment for your asthma because you had asthma before they signed you up. You need never fear that you will bankrupt your family because of expensive treatments for a serious illness. You need never fear that you will find yourself without coverage after your insurer dropped you or you lost your job. You might fear getting sick, but you won't fear that your life will be destroyed by not being able to pay for getting sick.
    We spend huge sums of money protecting Americans from terrorists, criminals, drugs and other threats to our security; our lack of health care should be given the same priority.