A good reason not to watch TV


My parents watch a lot more TV than I do. I notice this every time I come back to Indiana to visit them, because the television is on a lot of the time. I don’t know if it is a generational thing, but if I want to watch a show, I generally just download it and watch it. I never turn on the TV just to see what is on. I am much more likely to fire up an internet browser and search for particular content. So it has been interesting to note while I have been here that there is an inordinate amount of advertising on the health care initiatives moving through congress. These ads are funded by vested interests and are overwhelmingly anti-reform. This got me wondering about how effective these are. How many people get most of their information from the TV and what are the demographics of those people? Are there regional differences in the advertising and strategies of those opposed to reform? Do they think that if they can convince enough people of a susceptible mind set, they can kill reform? Perhaps these ads are running heavily on the east coast as well, and it is merely by virtue of the fact that I watch no television that I am spared the onslaught. In any event, they are simplistic and fear mongering, urging viewers to stop the “government takeover” of our “wonderful” health care system. They make me want to puke.

Trigger happy


I think we may have dodged a bullet.

I woke up cautiously optimistic today about our chances for some real health care reform in this country. After watching the dispiriting circus of the past few months, it seems we are moving towards significant reform, especially now that the senate version will include a public option. Why this has even been a sticking point when vast majorities country wide approve of one is beyond me. Well, not really beyond me, but I hate being so cynical as to think that everyone against it is in the pocket of the insurance companies. Perhaps one or two of them really does believe that the “free market” is wonderful in the case of health care. Look how well it has already worked out. Perhaps they really believe that it would be “unfair” for the government to compete against the private sector in this area. Perhaps they don’t give a flying fig whether or not “some” people (read: poor) ever have health care.

Although not perfect, I am strongly in favor of this “opt out” public plan, because in practice I believe it will be hard for state governments to opt out unless they completely ignore the will of the people. Maybe some states like Texas will want to do that, but even there I would be surprised. The ridiculous idea of a trigger was upsetting from the start. I mean really, what was the point of that. “Gee, now that the insurance companies know we are REALLY serious about reform, they are going to lower their prices and change their practices…or else we pull the trigger.” What utter bullshit. A trigger is just a way for congress to kick the can down the road, doing nothing while pretending they are. There are almost no cases where a trigger provision in a congressional bill has actually resulted in the proposed trigger action happening (see here, here, and here).

A status groundswell…


Normally I am not a big fan of joining groups on Facebook, but I was moved today to add the following status to my account after seeing it in a couple of other friends’ feeds:

Stephen Suess thinks that no one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day

And then it kept popping up everywhere I looked. A simple search of a part of the phrase turns up thousands upon thousands of them from all over the place. Seeing it over and over again in the form of a friend’s status makes it virtually impossible to ignore, and that is the point. And I have to admit that it feels good in the face of the sad antics of this summer to simply and calmly state what we believe to be a moral imperative, namely that universal health care should be a right, not a privilege. Although the sentiment and statement are important, I hope many of these people are also writing and speaking out, cajoling and calling congress, marching and taking action wherever they can to make this happen now. We probably won’t have another chance in a generation or more.

My personal health care reform story


A friend sent me the following question in an email today:

out of curiosity, who do you get your medical insurance through? every so often i toy with taking time off and the thing that always stops me dead in my tracks is insurance… i’m kinda curious how coverage works when you’re not with a company that picks it up for you…

My poor friend  probably didn’t realize what a touchy subject this was for me. My response to him I thought was worth sharing, so here it is:

In short:

If money is not a big issue, it is straightforward and easy to get.

If you don’t particularly feel like shelling out 700 plus dollars a month (or can’t) it is a Byzantine nightmare.

It took me many months of research and hassle to even be able to qualify for (much less afford) insurance. I finally settled on the least bad of any plan I could find, a place called Freelancers Insurance Company. They pool a bunch of freelancers into a group for better buying rates. I had to prove a certain amount of freelance work and have several clients verify with signed forms before I could even get coverage from them. I currently pay 266 dollars a month which includes vision and dental. While this is easily the best rate for the most coverage I could find, there are many things left out and I have a crazy high yearly out of pocket (something like 13K) should I need a hospital stay for example. My copays for a regular doc visit are 30 bucks (in network) and 50 bucks for a specialist (also in network).

If I had been able to afford more coverage, it would have been preferable, but alas this year as I am building a client list I have really not made much money at all. This process has been enlightening however, and made me realize how much the working poor (which sadly includes me at the moment) are screwed over in this country when it comes to health care. Being freelance adds and extra dollop of bend-over-and-take-it to the mix, because so much of our health care costs are hidden in the (even poor) health benefits that many employers extend to their staff.

Still, I was happy to finally have health care. That was, until I decided to actually use it recently. On my very first doctor visit after having coverage, I went to go see an in-network specialist (for a somewhat unpleasant problem I won’t bore you with), gave them my insurance card, got a consultation, paid my 50 dollars and left, thinking that was that. A couple of weeks later I received a notice in the mail from my insurer telling me that this may be considered a pre-existing condition and they may refuse coverage. I was pissed, and dutifully send them back all documentation that I had, and am still waiting to see if they will cover me.  People who truly do have pre-existing conditions are (again) SCREWED in this country. The fact that it is even legal to deny such coverage is in my mind one of the great evils of our current system. I am in an especially shitty position because I had a coverage gap while I was traveling and trying to qualify for insurance here in NYC. Insurers love to mess with you on that score as well (although not before taking several months of your premium payments).

Btw, while I was investigating the charge the specialist made to the insurance company, I was gobsmacked to discover that his charge to them for a 15 minute consultation was 900 bucks! I have no idea how much of this is overhead to an insurer, how much is just what they can get away with, but jeez really? I would LOVE to be able to bill at that rate. People have no idea how much doctors and hospitals charge back for services, but they should. In any event, this guy is competent and is on my insurers list of in-network, approved physicians, so they should be covering me without hassle and negotiating better rates with the doctors themselves.

Ultimately, I have become convinced that some things, like police protection and health care, should not be run as for-profit operations. They must be fair and available to everyone. The people that think we have the greatest health care system in the world are the ones that can afford the best coverage. That won’t change in a single payer system (France for instance covers everyone quite nicely and some people have add-on insurance called mutuals for things the system won’t cover) but there should be a minimum level that all citizens are entitled to. People who say we will have health care rationing under single payer are crazy if they think it isn’t rationed already: It is rationed on the ability to pay.

Hope this helps. It made me feel better putting it down on paper. :) Feel free to call me directly with any questions.

I won’t be shopping at Whole Foods anymore


I know I should let myself calm down before writing this. I know that first blush responses can be clumsy, so forgive me.

BUT screw John Mackey (CEO of Whole Foods) and his elitist, out of touch editorial in the WSJ on Tuesday! His position is essentially that poor people don’t deserve health care, except by the charity of the wealthy. Well, those that are disposed to charity anyway, which apparently don’t include him. To John Mackey, any government services at all are the result of his money being stolen. He is clearly the kind of person that thinks that every thing they ever got, they earned it in a vaccuum, without any kind of cultural, government, or institutional support. These are the people who are against things like public transportation, screaming out ridiculous phrases like “no one subsidizes my car!” (as my mother is fond of saying, “Oh yeah, does your car pave the road in front of you?”). These are the people who attended universities supported in large part by public funds, but somehow think they “did it all themselves”, with no help from anyone.

His “fixes” for healthcare are the kind of extreme Libertarian and Republican party drivel that would make Ayn Rand wet with arousal. They would “fix” nothing, except to make the rich richer still. They include such great ideas as getting rid of any sort of mandated care standards (what few are already in place) and certainly would allow the heinous practice of refusing coverage to people with “pre-existing” conditions to continue. John Mackey, in whatever penthouse or gated community he may reside, is clearly out of touch with the millions of people suffering in this country under the burdens of a supremely broken health care system. What is insane is that these people, with their millions, will ALWAYS be able to afford any standard of care they want, whether or not we have reform. They care not a fig for the millions who have no health care.

I’ll give him this, at least John Mackey states plainly what those who seek to block health care are really thinking. In his words, there is no “intrinsic right” to health care in this country. Let me translate that for you in even clearer terms:”Poor people don’t deserve health care”.

As someone who has struggled to get coverage recently, and been confronted many, many times (myself, friends, and family) by the horror of our current system, I know how important changes are to the total well being of this country. As someone who has actually lived in countries where single-payer “socialized” medicine is the norm, I also know first hand how much better those systems work.

What really surprises me about his editorial, even if he was thinking all of this, was that he seems to have no clue who his customer base is. They are exactly the type of free-love eco-hippies that believe in things like single-payer healthcare and universal education. I dearly hope they think twice about putting more into the coffers of people like Mackey.

I’m hoping John Mackey will appreciate me exercising my choice as a consumer, and not shopping at Whole Foods anymore.