Sunday, September 27, 2009

Better Dead Than Insured

The New York Times/CBS News poll out yesterday posed the following question:
57. Would you favor or oppose the government offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan — something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get — that would compete with private health insurance plans?

Sixty-five percent said yes. Twenty-six percent said no. According to health insurance reform opponents, that makes nearly two-thirds of Americans socialists or worse.

At the Washington Post, Harold Meyerson observes:
Think about that. The public option has been demonized non-stop for the past half-year; it’s the key to the Republican charge that instituting such a program is tantamount to bringing socialism to America. They have clearly rallied the Republican base to this position, just as they rallied the base to fear the coming of death panels and publicly-subsidized immigrant care. But whereas pluralities of Americans simply said they didn’t know enough to believe one thing or the other about death panels and immigrant care, virtually all Americans not in the Republican base support the public option.
Since Republican legislators represent the 26 percent of Americans opposed to the public option, their opposition to same poses no mystery. The conundrum is why some Democrats -- all save those from the most right-wing districts -- oppose it. When The Post’s uber-policy blogger Ezra Klein asked North Dakota Democratic Senator Kent Conrad yesterday why he didn’t support the public option, Conrad replied, “I don't think a government-run plan best fits this culture.” In Conrad’s mind, such as it is, American culture doesn’t seem to be shaped by the American people.

Funny how that works inside the Beltway. The status quo -- which, presumably, Conrad does think fits this culture -- produces outcomes like this from the Dayton, Ohio Daily News:
OXFORD — Friends say the Miami University graduate who died this week after reportedly suffering from swine flu delayed getting medical treatment because she did not have health insurance.
Young became ill about two weeks ago, but didn’t seek care initially because she didn’t have health insurance and was worried about the cost...

That puts "Kimi" among the 45,000 a year whose deaths are attributable to lack of insurance coverage in America, according to a new Harvard Medical School study.

But then, better dead than red ... at least for a noisy 1/3 of the people in our democracy. Here's what that looks like:

Kimberly "Kimi" Young, 22, died
Tuesday night Sept. 22, 2009 at
University Hospital.

(Cross-posted from Scrutiny Hooligans.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

If You Like Medical Bills, You’ll Love These

Activists in the blogosphere are studying well over 500 amendments to Sen. Max Baucus’ Senate Finance Committee health care reform bill, including three “public option” amendments. All sides will hotly debate, soundly trash, and amend the hell out of the Baucus bill, H.R.3200 (on the House side) and any others that come out of the woodwork by October.

But those aren’t the only kind of bills Americans should be worrying about.

My sister died at 37 from a metastatic sarcoma (the same cancer that took Ted Kennedy, Jr.’s leg). I watched her die, went to her funeral, and then went back to her apartment to sift through stacks of medical bills.

In exhaustion and grief, we couldn’t tell which bills were paid, which were not, which were rejected, which were under review, and which were still in the pipeline and wouldn’t arrive for weeks or months. This doesn’t happen in most industrialized countries and shouldn’t happen here. It's a disgrace, a disgrace that none of the bills pending in Congress will cure. A disgrace that health insurance conglomerates and their allies in Congress are fighting hard (and spending hard) to preserve, along with the profits the billing process helps generate.

Over 60 percent of personal bankruptcies in the U.S. are from medical bills. Over three-quarters of those are in families who had health insurance, were probably satisfied with it, and thought their coverage was adequate until a serious illness proved otherwise. But it's the burdensome billing process itself that the health care reform debate has not addressed.

At the America’s Future Now! conference in June, Dr. Salomeh Keyhani of Mt. Sinai Hospital detailed the number of weeks doctors, nurses and their staffs spend each year dealing with insurance paperwork and procedures. Insurers make it as difficult as possible for customers to collect. Bottom line: if patients and doctors get frustrated and go away, the insurer won’t have to pay. Keyhani described the labyrinthine claims process as “passive aggressive” by design.

Keyhani's name came up again last week in connection with a nationwide poll published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Keyhani helped conduct the survey funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation of 5,000 physicians representing a spectrum of specialties and regions, including American Medical Association members. The survey, Keyhani told NPR, found that "nearly three-quarters of physicians supported some form of a public option, either alone or in combination with private insurance options." That included AMA members, whose organization opposes a public option.

Yet only a single-payer-style plan promises to eliminate the mountains of bureaucratic paperwork that make our patchwork system cost nearly twice what other advanced countries pay. But since a nationwide single-payer system is off the table, even if a strong public option gets to the president's desk, most Americans will be sifting through confusing stacks of insurance paperwork for years to come. Some reform.

The anti-reform forces had their Tea Party in Washington on September 12. They offered no alternatives and screamed loudly about not being heard, but not loudly enough to drown out a majority that decides to speak with one voice.

President Obama must know that he has only to say the word and a sea of pro-reform supporters will travel to Washington in support of real reform and a robust public option. If summoned, supporters should bring their collections of medical bills, rejection letters and appeal forms and wave them overhead.

Talk about “Don’t Tread On Me.” Medical insurance paperwork is universally recognized and universally loathed. It could serve as a potent symbol of everything wrong with America’s dysfunctional, for-profit health insurance system.

Reform supporters might, en masse, flood congressional fax machines with their medical bills. Or stage media events with fax machines set up in public spaces for patients to fax their medical bills to Congress -- just to put an exclamation point on demands for meaningful reform.

There's something viscerally satisfying about feeding documents into a fax machine and knowing they're spitting out onto the floor of your congresscritter’s office. It's the next best thing to being there.

(Cross-posted from

Monday, September 14, 2009

What Does Happen Here

Last weekend, tens of thousands of health reform protesters prompted by Glenn Beck descended on Washington. They fear America is turning fascist because Barack Obama wants health insurance reform that reduces cost, guarantees choice, and is affordable and high quality for every American.


“Don’t Tread On Me” is their battle cry — emphasis on “Me.” There is no "we" in their America, no welcome for your tired, your poor, your huddled masses of Americans, much less immigrants. E pluribus unum is Greek to them. They have reduced freedom to a fetish.

This is the kind of cheap, plastic, made-in-China patriotism you buy at Wal-Mart at everyday low prices — all packaging and empty on the inside.

Read more at Campaign for American Future.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Bile Boils Over

Enter the Tea Baggers, the Birthers, the Deathers, Glenn Beck, town hall shouters, guys with guns, and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC). The right's simmering kettle of bile is boiling over.

You almost can't blame them for losing it. Conservatives spent three decades building, Bolero-like, towards their denouement: control of both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court and the White House. And a permanent Republican majority.

Their efforts climaxed with the presidency of George W. Bush. They lost it all to Barack Obama.

Bush's presidency climaxed on a pile of rubble in New York just after 9/11.

A flood of post-September 11 articles asked how the attacks happened, what we would do next, and why terrorists hate us. One savvy pundit asked, Would America keep its head?

We invaded Iraq on trumped-up intelligence. We conducted illegal surveillance on our own citizens. We imprisoned people without charge, here and abroad. We rendered prisoners for torture and tortured others ourselves in violation of international law. All the while, millions of staunch, law-and-order conservatives supported and defended it, and still do. Vigorously.

Did America keep its head? Uh, no.

But with the election of its first bi-racial president, the electorate threw the movement conservative and neocon bums out. Had America's temporary insanity finally abated? Uh, no. It's worse.

Osama was one thing. But Obama?

People weren't this crazed over Jackie Robinson, were they? Father Coughlin was off the air by then. People's minds were not as marinated in the mind poison the right-wing has pumped out daily for the last twenty years.

Case in point. I once worked in an office where a guy recorded Rush Limbaugh every afternoon. Using a small FM transmitter, he rebroadcast the show the next morning to fellow dittoheads in the building so they would be primed for Limbaugh's live broadcast at noon.

No lie.

In Appalachia, dentists call it "Mountain Dew mouth." Children carry around the acidic, heavily caffeinated soda, taking a sip every few minutes. It's "like bathing the teeth in it all day," according to one dentist. Children go from decayed to toothless.

Is the mind rot from listening to Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity or Savage every day any different? Or from passing on the sludge from Drudge or WorldNetDaily? Or from reading those chain e-mails forwarded by relatives and friends who spread them like Typhoid Mary? Inhaling mercury vapors might be less harmful.

Conservatives bathed in daily lies -- from WMDs to "death panels" -- have become so comfortable spreading them that they treat it like good, clean fun for the whole family. They spread them dutifully, no matter how extreme or outlandish (assuming they know the difference any longer).

The day of Obama's speech, Crooks and Liars' Dave Neiwert again insisted that "ideas, agendas, talking points, and memes in general regularly [migrate] from the extremist right in America into mainstream conservatism." This week we saw just how far up the infection goes.

Hours before South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson yelled "You lie!" at the president, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich appeared on NPR's Morning Edition and rebuffed an invitation to condemn the "death panel" rhetoric. The GOP leadership won't quit the useful idiots who do their dirty work for them.

By Obama's address that evening, "the town hall freak show" had come to a joint session of Congress.

Responding to Birthers, Deathers, and a flood of right-wing paranoia from the likes of Glenn Beck, Open Left's Paul Rosenberg discusses the mental elasticity of linear thinkers like Beck. They build elaborate conspiracies like Frankenstein's monster, linking together random bits of their own chaotic fears. "They are put together, but can't be logically deconstructed," he writes, nor argued with "any more than you can reason with a nightmare."

Responding to his flood of hate mail filled with "spitting, incoherent rage," Paul Krugman commented, "Something is going very wrong in the head of a substantial number of Americans."

The poison has spread to the GOP's very soul.

Cross-posted from Huffington Post.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Hide The Pseudoephed - Wall Street's Back At It

A severely anorexic friend once had her heart stop beating in church. A heart specialist at the service got her going again, but they had to jump-start her twice again on the way to Mission.

She'd recently taken to sucking on a Big Gulp cup of water all day. Flushed all her electrolytes. The hospital had never seen readings that low. But she was no longer using laxatives, she rationalized. That meant she was in recovery.

So what do we make of our friends on Wall Street and their new Big Gulp? Sunday's New York Times explains:
After the mortgage business imploded last year, Wall Street investment banks began searching for another big idea to make money. They think they may have found one.

The bankers plan to buy “life settlements,” life insurance policies that ill and elderly people sell for cash — $400,000 for a $1 million policy, say, depending on the life expectancy of the insured person. Then they plan to “securitize” these policies, in Wall Street jargon, by packaging hundreds or thousands together into bonds. They will then resell those bonds to investors, like big pension funds, who will receive the payouts when people with the insurance die.
The earlier policyholders die, the more investors ... reap?

If my wife had been drinking, she'd have done a spit-take. "What sick f***s would buy these?" she exclaimed. Or think them up?

But thank heavens, they've stopped bundling mortgages.

This behavior is like a gambling or meth addiction. It's not even about the money any more. Wall Street doesn't need bailouts. It needs rehab and a priest.

Cross-posted from Scrutiny Hooligans.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Push them harder

From Steve Benen at Washington Monthly:
IT'S COME TO THIS.... In 1988, then-President Reagan spoke to students nationwide via C-SPAN telecast. Among other things, he talked about his positions on political issues of the day. Three years later, then-President Bush addressed school kids in a speech broadcast live to school classrooms nationwide. Among other things, he promoted his own administration's education policies.

President Obama wants to deliver a message to students next week emphasizing hard work, encouraging young people to do their best in school. The temper tantrum the right is throwing in response only helps reinforce how far gone 21st-century conservatives really are.
Eventually, the spectacle of right-wing lunacy could supplant reality TV as profitable, ratings-rich popular entertainment.

So if I were a producer of such tripe, I'd be sending my scouts looking for the furthest-right wingnuts. As reality-TV talent, they've got it all: duplicitous, petty, rigid, manipulative, mean-spirited, histrionic, boogiemen hiding in their closets. America's Most Maladjusted. Now that's entertainment.

Push them harder, I say. This show is just getting good.