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Taking Advantage?

November 1st, 2013 4 comments

You often seem to hear this kind of story from some Obamacare opponents:

So, I get this letter from my health plan. It says I can’t keep my current coverage because my plan isn’t good enough under Obamacare rules. It tells me to go to the exchange or their website and pick a new plan before January 1 or I will lose coverage. …

Now, my plan covers about everything. Never had a procedure for either my wife or myself turned down. Wellness benefits are without a deductible. It covers mental health, drugs, maternity, anything I can think of.

The new plan would have a deductible $500 higher than the one I now have and a lot more if I go “out-of-network” inside the rest of the Blue Cross national network. …

Thankfully, my Blue Cross plan is offering me an “early renewal” which means I can keep this plan I really like until December 2014—at which point my beloved health plan is toast. My health insurance company is doing everything they can—this is not their fault.

Reports like this make me more than just a little bit suspicious. What sticks out here is the claim that the insurance plan the person now has is more or less perfect, and they are being forced to pay more for a worse plan. Well, if so, then what exactly is making their current plan non-compliant with the ACA relative to the inferior plan? That does not seem to make any sense.

I see two possibilities:

One is that insurance companies are using the ACA to defraud their customers, to dump people who have advantageous plans that the carriers would rather shed. When I see stories like the ones above, I never see any indication that the person in question did any investigating at all to discover why their current plan is non-compliant or why their carrier cannot give them only a slight adjustment to make the plan compliant. That would be the first thing I would do: call the insurer and ask what was wrong with my current plan.

I have the feeling that insurers are straining hard to find faults with so-called “Cadillac” plans so they can cancel them and save money. I would not be surprised if many such cancellations are fraudulent. Or that if the plans do fail legitimately it may be on some small point would could easily be repaired and the current policy continued—but the carrier, again, would rather dump these people and therefore throw up their hands and make the false claim that “there’s nothing we can do.”

The other possibility is that the writers of sad stories such as these are leaving out key facts—like, for example, what was non-compliant about such perfect plans. It had to be something—so what was it? And can we be certain that they actually found all the options regarding new plans they could sign up for?

Or is he being lied to? We recently heard Made-for-Fox-News stories of people who say that their insurance agents assured them they would have to pay higher premiums that sound suspiciously like the one detailed in the story quoted above—but which a cursory check showed were untrue, and better plans existed which the people had not found. The writer quoted above does not make clear that he actually checked things out for himself; could it be that he only checked with an agent who was trying to scam him?

Or is the person simply yet another anti-Obamacare crusader who is either exaggerating, lying by omission, or outright making crap up? Looking at other posts on the quoted blog, it sure seems that this guy is rather vociferously opposed to Obamacare and is not inclined to treat it objectively.

I’m not saying that he can’t be 100% informed and 100% honest, maybe he is. I’m not saying that the insurance companies can’t be honestly doing what the law requires and (as the write suggests) are truly trying their best to help their customers.

What I’m saying is that stories like these, because of what they say and what they don’t say, really sound like something else is in play here.

Categories: Health Issues Tags:

Smoking Guns

January 18th, 2013 1 comment

In Talking Points Memo, there was an article about gun vs. non-gun culture. It touched on a story about a couple of 22-year-old men who decided to “educate” people in a neighborhood in Portland, Oregon unused to seeing guns by openly carrying assault weapons through the town. The sight of two young men carrying assault weapons down peaceful suburban streets generated a rash of 911 calls from frightened residents, and sent at least one school into lockdown—this coming less than a month after the Newtown incident. Neither man was arrested because they had “concealed handgun licenses,” though how this covered the open display of assault rifles escapes me. Their purpose was, purportedly, to demonstrate their Second Amendment rights, and seemed unconcerned that they were upsetting people.

Josh Marshall wrote a piece on the incident, naturally not painting the two young men in the best light. Someone wrote to Marshall about how his story on the incident rankled them; they felt it was a slanted piece that demonized gun owners:

My point is that regardless of how we feel about the law, that it was legal for them to do what they did but the tone I read was illustrating criminal behavior. I liken it to people obnoxiously purposely coughing and giving the stink eye to others who are smoking outside, well away from a door, in an allowed smoking area. Obviously less severe but an example of frankly, being pissy about others’ non criminal choices.

To say that Marshall’s story is like a non-smoker finding people smoking in their designated area and coughing obnoxiously as a means of objection is pretty far off the mark. In this case in particular, the two young Oregonians were not like smokers enjoying a drag outside and away from doors. That would be like gun owners shooting at a gun range, not 22-year-olds walking down residential streets with assault rifles. They were the ones going out of their way to be pissy about other’s attitudes about guns. Smokers in a designated smoking area are not “educating” others about smoking rights, or anything else.

This brought to mind a rather interesting comparison, because I do see similarities in attitudes between the two cultures, pro-gun and pro-smoking: the sense that smokers and gun owners can assert their freedoms without regard for the rights or concerns of others; the sense that people who object to this are being unreasonable; and a cultural sense of resentment at being persecuted, marked by a conflation of rash impositions and reasonable objections. A great deal of this has to do with perceptions, as well as with what one considers a normal or neutral state of affairs—what I call the “neutral space.”

The reaction of the pro-gun reader to Marshall’s objections to the Oregon story was starkly indicative of the difference in perception: what is the natural or neutral state of things? For smokers and gun owners, it seems to be, “I get to do my thing wherever I want and you just have to be cool with that.” The more militant smokers are like this; they do not see a space where no one is doing anything as a fair and neutral starting point; they see a room where they are smoking as a fair and neutral starting point, from which any objection you make is an imposition upon them which crosses the line of fairness. Secondhand smoke, to them, is little different from clear air, at least in the context of what one can fairly expect and have no objection to. To them, secondhand smoke is a non-issue; to the non-smoker, it is the entire issue.

The more militant gun owners, in this sense, are the same way: a fair and neutral starting point is that I get to have guns and carry them around, and you just have to be cool with that. Anything less free than that concerning gun “keeping and bearing” is an unfair imposition on them. For these people, your rights and concerns about safety are a non-issue; they may as well simply not exist. The non-gun person, however, has this threat to their safety, and the safety of their children and others around them, suddenly thrust upon them in the form of seeing an unknown person bearing a weapon designed to kill people entering their space. They may not react well to being told that there is nothing they can do about this.

The second similarity, stemming from this, is the perception of who is being unreasonable when there is a conflict. The concept of the neutral space is at the root of this. In smoking culture, since “doing what you want” is considered the neutral space, someone who demands to breathe clean air is being unreasonable. The smoker does not see their act as an invasive one, so when they are told to stop smoking, they see that as the invasive act. You are butting into my business.

I may be biased about this myself, but I cannot see how that attitude is reasonable. If you and I are in a confined space, the social norm is that we do not carry out any act which imposes on the other. Or perhaps stated more pertinently, we do not carry out the initial act of imposition. If we are in a doctor’s waiting room, and I start making annoying noises and you ask me to stop, who is imposing upon whom first? If we are sitting in adjacent seats on an airplane, and I keep shifting around so my arms and side keep nudging and brushing against you and you ask me to stop, who is being unreasonable? If we are in an elevator and I let rip a particularly gruesome fart and you give me a dirty look, do I have the right to be offended?

In the smoking context, smokers—at least the militant ones—do not see what they do as the initial act of imposition; they see their actions as a natural right which others are required to accept as the normal state of affairs. They ignore the initial neutral space, they disregard the fact that they are imposing an unpleasantness on others first, and are annoyed when they are asked to stop.

So it is with the militant gun owners. They ignore the clear context of militia in regards to the entire Second Amendment “keep and bear arms” right, and literally read it as a right to not just possess weapons, but to carry them wherever they damn well please. Thus we have two men in Oregon who believe that they are doing a public service when, just weeks after the entire nation is horrified by a young man bearing an assault rifle killing 20 young children, they themselves bear the same or similar weapons and walk past residential homes and schools. They felt that they were making an important statement about their freedoms; they did not see the context or viewpoints of others as being relevant.

The neutral space—one which assumes a right to keep and bear arms—is one where arms are normally kept safe and locked up at home or other establishments, and used in specific contexts in designated areas. Not to walk around scaring the living crap out of parents soon after a severe national trauma.

The third similarity is a perception of resentment and sense of persecution from within the “using” cultures, who focus, often markedly, how put-upon they are. There is the tendency to superimpose the most egregious of objections made by critics onto every instance of criticism, no matter how subdued or polite.

As an example of this in smoking culture, I recall one job I had at a language school in Japan where the common teaching area was smoke-free, but the common teachers’ preparation area was not smoke-free. Between every lesson I was constantly subjected to 10 or 20 minutes of heavy cigarette smoke. Appealing to management was unproductive: they were all smokers as well. I didn’t even want to ban smoking; all I wanted was one table within the room where smokers would not puff away so we non-smokers could at least have a mild refuge from the worst of the smoke. The boss unhelpfully told me I could get this, but only if every smoker in the office agreed. I started by asking one of the smokers this, someone I had never confronted or complained to. I sat down and explained to him that the smoke was a difficulty professionally for me, as I had to speak all day, and between lessons, the smoke was making my throat raw. I asked politely (and those who know me in an office context know that my default mode is to be deferential and polite) if he would agree, and that he would decide himself which table could be smoke-free, just one of five or six tables in the room. He smiled, exhaled a long, leisurely stream of smoke, and said, “Fuck off.” It was pretty clear that he was enjoying retribution, not against me, but against everyone who he felt had annoyed him about his habit or had kept him from enjoying it where he pleased.

Gun owners seem to have the same sense of persecution, and indulge in the same general reaction to any objections from others. I see it when I debate guns with them, in which I support the right to keep and bear arms but debate whether the right stems from the second or the ninth amendment, and they react as if I think there is no right to keep and bear arms at all; or when I suggest gun control measures, making clear that under such measures, people could still have houses filled with guns, but they instantly assume I am promoting gun bans and confiscation—no matter how clearly I state otherwise. I sense they are not confronting my arguments, that in fact, they may not even be paying much attention to what I am saying at all, but instead feel that they are debating everyone who they felt had infringed on their rights; that whomever suggests any restrictions on guns may as well be the same person who wants to ban guns. The conflation in the Talking Points Memo story of the Oregon men (armed with assault rifles walking by homes and schools in the wake of a mass school shooting) with smokers (trying to get a brief break in a remote and restricted area and yet still being accosted by asinine non-smokers) is an excellent example of this.

It might even be that the gun “enthusiasts,” who now possess incredible freedoms compared to cigarette smokers, see similarities between smoking and guns as well—in that they fear guns will be treated as smoking is treated, where the practice in question will be demonized, those indulging will be seen as pariahs, and the enjoyment of their favorite pastime will be restricted to spaces away from others.

Categories: Health Issues, Social Issues Tags:

File This in the “Not What You Think” Category

December 22nd, 2012 Comments off

Husbands, boyfriends, and creepy office coworkers everywhere will be showing this headline to their wives, girlfriends, and women in the office, the lattermost who should then be allowed to kick them in the crotch:

Study: Squeezing Breasts Can Help Fight Breast Cancer

It is almost certain that this does not refer to what men will immediately believe, so calm down guys.

Sadly, there are likely hundreds of far more significant medical findings that we never hear about, but this is the one that gets widespread coverage.

Categories: Health Issues Tags:

Hard-Hitting Ad

August 14th, 2012 3 comments

But factual:

With Romney, it was only possible to infer tax hikes for the poor and middle class; he said what he would give the rich, and then said that he’d pay for it but not how. However, there’s only one real way to do that.

Imagine a guy standing next to a vault, with a box of dynamite nearby, and no one has the combination. “I promise I will open the vault,” he says.

“Do you have the combination?” you ask him.

“Nope,” he says.

“Do you have any special tools, a cutting torch or diamond drills?”

“Nope.”

“So, the only way to open it is to blast it with that dynamite right there. Will you use the dynamite?”

“I’m not saying.”

With Ryan, however, the picture is a bit more clear. Ryan has made positive statements about some of the stuff he plans. His math is fake and he still holds back on many details, but he is on the record about a lot of draconian crap he plans to pull.

Romney has tried to distance himself on this, but it’s what Ryan is known for. It’s why Ryan was even in the field in the first place. Choosing Ryan not for his budget and Medicare plans would be like the Yankees saying they got Ichiro not for his batting skills.

Romney is trying to do what he has been doing: veering hard right and then calling foul when people say he veers hard right.

Categories: Economics, Election 2012, Health Issues Tags:

Preserving Beer

August 14th, 2012 2 comments

You go into a bar and order a beer. They serve you a drink, but it has no head of foam, and in fact is clear as water. You taste it. It is water. “Hey!” you object, “I ordered a beer!”

“That is beer,” the bartender asserts. “We overhauled it. That’ll be seven bucks.”

“But beer costs five dollars here!”

“I told you,” the barkeep replies. “We overhauled it.”

“What’s with this ‘overhaul’? It sounds like a stupid idea.”

“Beer sales weren’t making enough money before. We would have had to stop serving beer. In order to preserve your ability to get beer, we made necessary changes. But it’s still beer.”

“No it’s not! It’s water!”

“It’s still a beverage. We just swapped out some of the ingredients. Stop whining.”


This is essentially what Ryan’s “Medicare” plan is: to end Medicare and replace it with something completely different, but still call it “Medicare.”

Ryan was only slightly more opaque; his plan was to give seniors “vouchers,” a set amount of money, so they could buy private insurance. It amounts to the same, however: private insurance costs more and gives lesser service, meaning that Ryan’s new program–one must refuse to call it “Medicare” because it is not “Medicare”–would instantly deliver less service to participants. It would effectively be a government subsidy of private insurance, exactly the opposite direction our system needs to go.

Worse, the vouchers would increase by the overall inflation rate, and not by the inflation rate of health insurance, which is notably higher. Thus, benefits would slowly decrease over time, making the coverage less and less each year. To top it off, Ryan would roll back the age of eligibility to 67.

So, waiting until you’re 67, getting a voucher which would buy you inferior care, which would decrease every year.

But it’s still an insurance plan, so let’s call it “Medicare.” See? We just “preserved” Medicare!

Cheerleading for the Freeloaders

April 2nd, 2012 3 comments

Van Jones makes a salient point:

“It’s so amazing to hear the Republican Party now cheerleading for the freeloaders,” Jones said on ABC’s This Week. “They say ‘hey listen, if you dive-bomb yourself into an emergency room, don’t worry about it, taxpayers will pay for it; we have no — there’s nothing we can do to make sure people don’t pay on the front end.’”

“What I don’t understand is, what does the Republican Party want here?” he added. “If we can’t have single payer, we can’t have a public option, and we can’t have individual responsibility, what we’re going to have here is more Americans dying.”

What it comes down to, of course, is that Republicans are simply opposed to just about anything Obama proposes, including their own pet policies–which the individual mandate was. Had McCain won and proposed this, the very same Republicans would all be pushing for it. As McConnell so aptly put, their number one priority is to make Obama fail; everything else, even their own policies, and surely the well-being of Americans, is secondary.

In response to Van Jones, Ann Coulter rather blindly stated that it is, quote:

“a freeloader problem created by Congress” thanks to a law requiring that emergency rooms do not turn down patients.

As if Van Jones had not just pointed out that it has been Republicans who, for the past few years, have consistently suggested freeloader use of emergency rooms as a viable alternative to health care insurance. She’s responding to Van Jones’ criticisms of Republicans encouraging this by saying that it’s a horrible mess created by Congress.

So, either she’s deaf and had no idea what he said, or she wasn’t listening, or she’s joining in on criticizing Republicans, or she’s just dumb as a post.

One presumes, however, that her point is that we shouldn’t have freeloaders using emergency rooms. As Van Jones pointed out, however, lacking the only alternatives–single payer, public option, or the individual mandate–millions of Americans will suffer and die without proper medical care.

Cue enthusiastic cheering from the Republican debate audience. “Americans suffering and dying! YEAHHH!!!”

Categories: Health Issues, Republican Stupidity Tags:

Decoding the Scam

November 9th, 2011 6 comments

Romney’s Health Care proposal:

First, Medicare should not change for anyone in the program or soon to be in it.  We should honor our commitments to our seniors.

Second, as with Social Security, tax hikes are not the solution.  We couldn’t tax our way out of unfunded liabilities so large, even if we wanted to.

Third, tomorrow’s seniors should have the freedom to choose what their health coverage looks like.  Younger Americans today, when they turn 65, should have a choice between traditional Medicare and other private healthcare plans that provide at least the same level of benefits. Competition will lower costs and increase the quality of healthcare for tomorrow’s seniors.

The federal government will help seniors pay for the option they choose, with a level of support that ensures all can obtain the coverage they need.  Those with lower incomes will receive more generous assistance.  Beneficiaries can keep the savings from less expensive options, or they can choose to pay more for a costlier plan.

Sounds good: keep Medicare as it is for those who are in it, don’t raise taxes on anyone, and instead allow new entrants to choose from a competitive market. At first glance, it seems a reasonable plan.

However, it falls apart if you start to think about it. For example, who was proposing tax hikes specifically to secure Medicare? I was not aware of any proposals along those lines, rather plans to solve deficit problems in general. Romney is effectively saying here, “No tax hikes for rich people, instead we solve our deficit problems by addressing Medicare–which means making cuts.” He’s also trying to throw in the statement that he’s for Social Security, to reassure seniors especially.

Now come back to his first statement: “Medicare should not change for anyone in the program or soon to be in it.” If one takes a careful look, the implicit message buried in that statement is, “Medicare WILL change for anyone NOT soon to be in the program.” The word “soon” being undefined. Essentially, he’s promising to change Medicare a la Ryan’s plan, to get rid of it in favor of private plans.

But then we come to the last part, in which he talks about people having a choice. Now, this is immediately suspect: people have a choice right now. Unless I am badly mistaken, no one is forcing seniors to get Medicare. Romney’s plan would seem to differ only in that it allows people to use government subsidies to buy private plans. Subsidies which, you can bet your life on, will be substantially lower than current benefits.

Note that Romney uses nebulous terms: the government will “help” to pay for “needed coverage” with “more generous” support for people more in need. Those terms could mean practically anything–“help” could mean to pay a small amount; “needed coverage” is a subjective expression which could be interpreted to mean only vital care; “more generous” than a pittance might still be a pittance. All that is guaranteed here is that seniors will pay for a substantial chunk of their health care themselves.

At which point we get to the key statement: “Competition will lower costs and increase the quality of healthcare for tomorrow’s seniors.”

Really? How will that happen? Sullivan points out that, even ideally, only as much as 8% of costs could be cut by competitive means. And we can’t forget the fact that private providers will charge a profit, which Medicare doesn’t. Or that “competitive” inevitably means “lower quality.”

Now, Romney seems to be promising equal or better quality–but how can that be assured? Only one way: government regulation. Which Romney and conservatives are steadfastly against. Which means that we’ll fall back on “self-regulating,” which really means “corporations trying to make a crappy thing sound good,” which means lower quality.

Really, the private market can’t beat Medicare. Which is the whole point. Which also brings us back to Romney’s indirect statement that he will not preserve Medicare for future recipients. This seems to fly in the face of his statement that “traditional Medicare” will be an option. If that’s really true, then the private plans would not be able to compete. Which is where his proposal falls apart: in order for private plans to have any chance of competing, “traditional Medicare” cannot be allowed to continue–which would fall in line with his original suggestion that traditional Medicare would, in fact, not be preserved.

In short, Romney fully intends to dismantle Medicare as it now exists and replace it with an unspecified level of government support to buy private programs. The claims that this will provide the same level of quality as Medicare today are, we are left to deduce, purely an assumption. But don’t worry, seniors–he’s not shortchanging you, so you can still vote for him.

Which, if you look back at the original statement, is not exactly what Romney sounded like he was talking about. Nor is it anything which, if enacted, would (a) save any money or reduce the deficit in the short term, or (b) prove effective or not during any period of time Romney could potentially be in office.

Yep. Quite a plan he’s got there.

Radiation Hazard

May 25th, 2011 Comments off

While there is much just cause to be gravely concerned about radiation hazards in Japan these days, one must also use a certain amount of critical thinking so as not to be caught up in hysteria that easily arises. People all too easily panic; in the U.S., many people consumed iodine pills despite having no reason to. The pills posed a greater health threat than the minuscule amounts of radiation that they may have been exposed to. People took them anyway, because they were caught up in the hysteria.

Now, sometimes concern is warranted. For example, the Japanese government raised the “safe” level of radiation exposure for children from 1 millisievert to 20 millisieverts per year, so as to allow them to be exposed to playgrounds with previously unacceptable levels of radiation. Parents were not amused.

I would certainly agree that parents should be upset. While the jury is still out on exactly what is safe or not, upping the safe limit to the point where German nuclear workers would balk is probably less a matter of following safety and more a matter of moving goalposts and risking children’s health so as to save expense. Where children are concerned and replacement of playground topsoil can remove 90% of the radiation hazard, changing the government standard like this is a weasel’s way out.

However, in some cases, a little critical thinking is called for before getting upset. A video has appeared on YouTube of an earless rabbit in Fukushima:

This is causing some alarm, though fortunately it has not been picked up by the media aside from the IB Times–yet. And while this story could show the harmful effects of radiation in Fukushima, it would be foolish to take it seriously without verification and analysis. If you watch the video, you may notice that there is nothing showing where the video was taken nor when it was taken. No one even speaks in the video. For all we know, this video could have been taken a year ago in South Dakota. While the poster is listed as being in Fukushima, that also could be claimed by anyone, anywhere in the world; YouTube does not verify locations claimed by users, that I know of.

Next, even if it is from Fukushima, that tells us next to nothing. The IB Times report says the person who posted the video claims, “This is the first anomaly/deformation ever born.” Either that was mistranslated, or was a typo, or the person is simply wrong. A quick Google search will reveal quite a few earless rabbits born around the world, like a rabbit named Vincent in England in 2008. It is not an unheard-of deformity. Nor can we be sure if it was even caused by radiation; it could have been caused by exposure to pollution, as we see happening with amphibians.

And even if it is caused by radiation, how unusual is that? One rabbit is hardly a scientifically relevant sampling. And even if it does show a rise in damage, then how does this compare with what we already expected? Some might say this has value as a canary in a coal mine, but frankly, I think that people are already on heightened alert to health hazards posed by radiation. If they weren’t tipped off by the three nuclear reactors exploding on TV, and only caught on when they saw a YouTube video of a bunny, then I think they should be paying a bit more attention.

Now, if a study came out showing a significant number of animal mutations due to radiation from a large enough sampling in a certain region nearby the reactor, and this could act as evidence that hazards are in excess of what was expected from the radiation exposures thought to exist, therefore indicating some risk we were previously unaware of–then I would be concerned.

Until then, this is random data.

Categories: Health Issues Tags:

It’s Not Because of Trial Lawyers

May 11th, 2011 Comments off

Conservatives love to blame runaway health care costs on a variety of things, including immigrants, liberal medical & insurance programs, and liberal-backed trial lawyers. The truth is, however, these things are not to blame. The real costs are pretty easy to predict: health care costs rise so much because the people making money off of them know they can raise costs nearly as much as they want, exploding profits–and people will still pay for medical treatment. Without socialized medicine and government regulation to control these costs, we wind up paying the most for the worst levels of care.

Part 1 of the graphic introduces the idea that we pay more than other 1st-world countries and get worse care. Part 2, a very long graphic, does an excellent job of laying out why, dispelling myths (there are four instead of the stated 3) and presenting the true reasons. It’s well worth scrolling through:

Medical-Costs-2

Categories: Health Issues Tags:

Republicans Trying to Have & Eat Medicare Cake and Not Gain Weight

May 6th, 2011 Comments off

This is kind of funny. Republicans are trying to sloooowly back away from their whole “let’s destroy Medicare and say we’re saving it” plan. Apparently they didn’t do nearly as good a job of masking their intentions as they thought they were, and are really feeling the backlash, especially from town hall attendees. After all but six of them in the House voting to pass this legislation, Obama & the Democrats have had a field day–simply by pointing out exactly what the Republicans were doing. No exaggeration necessary. Funny thing, it turns out people don’t like the idea.

What’s funny is that they seem to know it’s political suicide, but they can’t seem to completely abandon the idea, either. Most of the Republican mixed-message scrambling is journaled here, but it boils down to the idea that they want to (a) blame Obama for making it look bad, (b) take it off the active agenda at least until after the 2012 elections where it could really hurt them, but (c) nevertheless somehow keep it “on the table” so they can use it as an extreme starting point from which to negotiate what they like (which is probably what they expected it would be used for from the start). Like the actions of some neurotic binge & purge dieter, it’s an interesting mix of “blame Obama,” “we’re not doing it,” and “but we still want to use it anyway.”

Democrats are being smart about this for once. They’re effectively saying, “until you say you’re abandoning it completely, we get to tell the public you stand behind gutting Medicare.” And it’s working.

Feckless Coward

April 30th, 2011 5 comments

Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels now says he will sign a bill that will defund Planned Parenthood because they perform abortions. Not just of state funds, but of federal funds, including Medicare. Despite the fact that $0 of public money goes to abortions, despite the fact that 97% of their services are vital health needs for women, despite the fact that most (about 60%) of the people who depend on Planned Parenthood are below the poverty line, despite the fact that this move will threaten the health of women across his state, and despite the fact that this move will do nothing to stop abortions.

So, why is he doing it?

Daniels’ decision was closely watched since he is considering a presidential run. His earlier call for a “truce” on social issues had garnered the ire of social conservatives, and the bill was seen as a test of where he stood on such issues.

Oh, nice. Daniels is uselessly endangering women’s health and putting their lives at grave risk as a political move to slap liberals and pander to the right-wing core for the sake of his political career.

What a hero.

Overconfidence?

April 5th, 2011 1 comment

If reports going around are accurate, then the GOP may finally be making a huge blunder that could cost them dearly in 2012: they are planning to dismantle Medicare. Or, more precisely, to turn it into something resembling the health care reform Obama and the Democrats set up.

The proposal would do away with (for everyone presently under 55 years of age) the current single payer government system for senior medical care and replace it with a program whereby seniors would choose private health insurance coverage from a menu of approved private health insurers. The government would subsidize the program by giving seniors a voucher to be used in purchasing coverage, the amount of such payment to be defined according to need.

The article goes on to note that the plan would actually be weaker than what Obama got passed, but that’s a side point at best. The main point is, they are pulling a Bush–they seem to be planning to firmly grasp a third-rail issue. One can only assume it is blind arrogance and a sense of invulnerability that allows them to think that this is a good idea.

Apparently they forgot what happened in 2005, when Bush went on his “Bamboozlepalooza” tour, trying to sell the American public on the idea of privatizing social security. It not only fell flat, but likely was a major factor contributing to further erosion of Republican power, leading to the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006.

Now, just months after taking the House back, they seem to think they are indestructible again. I mean, seriously, do away with Medicare? Do they really think that voters in their late 40s and early 50′s, now looking forward to getting on Medicare, will sit still for it to be yanked away from them? Do they think that those over 55 won’t see this as an encroachment, a threat that their own Medicare programs will be next on the GOP hit list?

And let’s not forget that the Tea Party faithful, the very same people who were flooding Democratic town halls at the behest of the Republicans, were furious at the suggestion made by Republicans that Democrats were going to fund health care reform at the expense of Medicare. Ergo the self-contradicting demands of “no socialized medicine, and don’t you dare touch our Medicare!”

Seriously, if these reports are accurate and the GOP truly plans to dismantle Medicare, they must be insane. Which, of course, you probably know I have long believed is likely the case.

Apparently, they will try to sell it as “reform” which will save up to $4 trillion. They seem to think that people will buy that, and be enticed by the prospect of slashing spending. Doubtless they will soon start pitching the line that Medicare is unsustainable and this will actually save it.

The thing is, people won’t buy it. The Republicans will find themselves in the same place they put Democrats in with health care reform: trying to justify an obscure promise of future benefit to a group of people fearful of losing what they have. People will far sooner believe that something bad is coming than hope that something good will come instead. The GOP would, in essence, be turning its own favored tactic on itself.

What surprises me is the idea that Republicans don’t see this. After all, this has been their chief weapon to gain power and beat Democrats with over the past decade.

To this potential opportunity to galvanize opposition to the GOP in general, add recent demographic studies showing likely increased minority influence in many states helping Obama and the Democrats.

I can only hope that the Republicans remain clueless, and, like Bush in 2005, stick to this plan. The only danger is that the Democrats, in their usual stupid, weak-kneed manner, fearing any slight possibility of disadvantage, will react by caving in before there is any time for the public to react–unfortunately, a very real possibility. Another possibility is that these reports reflect a simple trial balloon, or perhaps Republicans will catch on to their error very soon.

But if this is a mainstream right-wing plan, and if (hoping against hope) the Democrats don’t cave instantly, and if the Republicans are going to boldly campaign for this plan to its foreseeable end–then we could see Democrats actually make gains against Republicans next year instead of losing the Senate as many feel is now possible.

Categories: GOP & The Election, Health Issues Tags:

Health Care Reform, Always Popular, Gains Even More Support

December 28th, 2010 34 comments

Just a reminder of the BS that’s too often passed around:

Obamacare was opposed by most Americans when passed. It’s gotten even less popular now and most Americans support repealing it altogether.

CNN released their latest poll [PDF] that would appear to support the idea that Americans oppose the new health care reform:

 
Dec. 17-19
2010
Aug. 6-10
2010
Mar. 19-21
2010
Favor
43%
40%
39%
Oppose
54%
56%
59%
No opinion
3%
4%
2%

So it would seem that Americans oppose “Obamacare” because they don’t want the government getting involved in health care.

Except when you look at the reasons why they oppose it:

 
Dec. 17-19
2010
Aug. 6-10
2010
Mar. 19-21
2010
Favor
43%
40%
39%
Oppose, too liberal
37%
41%
43%
Oppose, not liberal enough
13%
13%
13%
No opinion
7%
6%
5%

Not that this is new–we’ve known for a long time that a good chunk of the opposition is because they want stronger government involvement, not weaker or less. Considering that the people who oppose because it doesn’t go far enough want at least as much as the reform offers now, the grouping should not have the “Opposed, not liberal enough” counted with the “Opposed, too liberal,” but with the “Favor.” Otherwise, it’s like counting Tea Partiers who don’t like the Republican Party as “Democrats.”

Recognition of this simple fact would make the numbers represent reality better, as such:

 
Dec. 17-19
2010
Aug. 6-10
2010
Mar. 19-21
2010
Favor and/or want more
56%
53%
52%
Oppose, too liberal
37%
41%
43%
No opinion
7%
6%
5%

Now consider that the above numbers are arrived at without most respondents being aware of what the reform measure actually consists of–when that is factored in, support only grows.

While the claim that a majority “opposed” the plan is technically correct, the assumption behind it–that a majority don’t want government health care reform–is a bald-faced lie. Those who want what was passed at least have always been in the majority. And now, despite a constant media campaign to malign the program, even the plurality approves of the plan as passed.

And, hmm, “Gotten even less popular.” Kinda hard to take that from any of the numbers. Support is actually growing, meaning that people are more and more realizing the benefits of the plan despite the campaign of lies. But the lies are still too thick and heavy for Americans to approve of a single-payer plan which would be the best of all. We’ll have to wait at least another generation for that, sadly.

The Political Fight Against Health Care

December 15th, 2010 10 comments

Ken Cuccinelli, the attorney general of Virginia, and the guy whose court case to declare the universal mandate as unconstitutional just won a victory (granted by a judge who co-owns a consulting firm which represents Republicans trying to kill off the Health Care Act), likens the universal mandate for health insurance to a similar mandate for gun ownership:

Never before in our history has the federal government ordered Americans to buy a product under the guise of regulating commerce. Imagine if this bill were that in order to protect our communities and homeland security, every American had to buy a gun. Can you imagine the reaction across the country to that?

Um, Cuccinelli, there has been something like that. It’s called the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. Remember, this amendment’s draft had a clause for conscientious objection right up until the final draft, and was more a mandate for militia service than anything else.

Now, it did not force everyone to buy a gun–instead, it expected that everyone would want and get one naturally, just as with health insurance today–but neither would the Health Care Act force everyone to buy insurance, as there are hardship exemptions and individual states may opt out of the mandate if they can provide comparable insurance options for their citizens. Massachusetts, which has an individual mandate (thanks, Mitt Romney!) has about 4% of people not signing up for it. In fact, Massachusetts’ plan is popular in the state, with more people signing up than expected, and even the individual mandate is supported by a comfortable majority.

The vehement objections we hear about and the backlash against the legislation are 99% politically motivated (remember, Republicans were for this kind of plan before Obama brought it to realization), and the likelihood will be that most Americans will be glad for the expanded coverage–though not for the gouging that insurance companies and the health care industry in general will (and would have anyway) inevitably attempt. But that’s a battle for another day–me, I would gladly impose cost controls and a profit ceiling for anything related to health care.

It will be interesting to see how the decision Cuccinelli won will stand up to appeal and decisions in other cases, considering the judge’s clear bias, questionable financial conflicts, and the fact that most other judges will not be as quick to supplant the law with their own personal preferences.

Categories: Health Issues, Right-Wing Extremism Tags:

The Health Check

December 4th, 2010 7 comments

I had my first social-insurance health check in a long time yesterday. In Japan, you have two basic types of public health insurance: first, there’s shakai hoken, which you qualify for if you work more than 30 hours a week, and your employer pays into it along with a pension plan. Then there’s kokumin hoken, which you usually get if you don’t qualify for the first type, and which you have to pay for yourself and has no pension component. For years I’ve been on the latter type, but due to a local redefinition of work done outside the classroom and office, I’ve gotten onto the shakai hoken plan.

One of the fringe benefits of the plan is that the employer also spring for a yearly health check, where you go in and have a battery of tests carried out. I had this check-up years back–I don’t even remember when–but it was not quite as involved as it was this time, as they seem to have added a few new tests. Since it’s standard nationwide, large numbers of people are doing it all the time. So when you go in to have it done, it’s not like you’re doing it alone. When I went in for mine yesterday, I was with the afternoon group–about a hundred or more people. And that’s just the men’s floor.

When you come in, they take the forms you filled out, along with a sample you had to collect at home (ahem, you probably know what unpleasantness I’m talking about), and ask you to take a seat. Then they call you up to the desk and give you a number. You go in to the locker room, strip to your skivvies and change into two-piece jammies with the shirt being a tie-off. You then go back to the main room and sit in the seat with your number on it (I was #23), and wait for the tests to begin. They take urine and blood samples, measure your height and weight, take your blood pressure, give you a chest X-ray, an EKG, vision and hearing tests, and the thing where the doctor listens to your heart and breathing and asks to see your tongue. Between tests, you sit back in your chair, reading the usual waiting room magazine fare–unless you brought your own materials. I seemed to be the only one there who did that–I had my iPad, which was quite nice.

After all those standard tests, there’s one more they seem to throw in for fun: they put you on a motor-controlled X-ray platform starting at a 90-degree angle, so you begin standing up. They then give you a packet of seltzer which you you have to gulp down with what had to be a quarter-teaspoon of water, and then–without burping up any of the air that starts to build up in your stomach–you have to gulp down a large cup of gloopy white barium solution, which at least did not taste terrible, but nonetheless was hard to get down with your stomach bursting with gas. If you belch out any of the gas before the test is done, they make you drink more of the stuff.

But that’s just for starters. Once you have this explosive combination in your stomach, they then start rotating the platform, while demanding that you constantly roll over, again and again, in that small, restricted space, while they call for you to stop at various angles so they can take X-rays before telling you to roll over yet again. For giggles, they roll the platform at all angles, including one where you’re angling down head-first and it’s impossible to hang on without sliding [note to health center: friction pads on the handles would be nice], but they keep taking X-rays until you do. Then just to be thorough, a mechanical arm with a large pad on the end is extended to press down hard on your stomach–and you still better not belch out the gas.

One hopes this is some vital test, because if it’s not, then no way it’s worth it. At some point I gotta find out exactly what that was for. When I got off the stand, I asked the technician, “So am I ready for the Space Program?” He didn’t seem to get it. I then belched, long and loud.

Even that wasn’t the end of it. Despite giving no warning whatsoever in the pre-check materials, they then give you laxatives, so the radium doesn’t stay in your system. This being some time after they asked you to choose whether or not you would stick around an extra hour or two after the exams end to get a consultation with the doctor. I was glad I asked them to mail the results–though I found out that you can change your mind afterwards–because they gave no guarantees on when the laxatives would kick in.

As it happened, I chose correctly–they kicked in just as I arrived home. Had I stayed for the consultation, they easily could have kicked in while I was on the hour-long commute back. That would have been fun.

Further hilarity ensues when, after experiencing what Sachi branded as “the white craps,” you find that the barium solution is damned heavy, which results in your thanking the fact that you have a toilet brush.

Were it not for the barium thing, the check-up would be a breeze. With it, once a year seems a bit excessive.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2010, Health Issues Tags:

Those Socialists Are Onto Something

March 1st, 2010 3 comments

Just got back from the doctors’ this morning. One is helping me with a back problem, the other is my GP who is currently helping me with ocular migraines. Both required an MRI, so I had two taken this morning–one of my back, and one of my head. After meeting with the back doctor (the other I consult in about a week), I picked up my prescription for the medicine helping with my herniated disc. Took all of two hours for the whole thing.

Total cost: about $135 for two MRI’s, a doctor’s consult, and a month’s worth of medication. The medication is working, BTW, just like it did last time–helps with the pain while I recover.

Socialist health care is actually quite good.

Categories: Health Issues Tags:

Ocular Migraines

January 9th, 2010 25 comments

When I was a kid, I accidentally burned the retina in my right eye. It left a small but permanent scar on the retina, right near the center of my vision; thanks to the magic of the brain, however, my mind edits it out, making it invisible except when I close my left eye. Think of it as similar to the blind spot everyone has–same principle. Still, it does pop up when floaters or whatever obscure the vision in my left eye, and leaves me worried that if anything happens to the vision in my left eye permanently, it could seriously impair my ability to read.

When I was in high school, though, I got a huge scare: suddenly, the blind spot was in both eyes. That alone made me worry like hell. After a few minutes, I began to panic as the blind spot started to grow bigger.

I excused myself from class and called home. As I waited for my mom to pick me up, the blind spot just kept getting bigger and bigger. It went from being a spot to becoming a very large spot, a round blotch off-center to the left. It was affecting both eyes equally. I thoroughly believed that I was going blind on the spot. After my mom got me and we were driving home, however, something greatly encouraging happened: as the blind area grew, I regained vision in the center of the spot. From that point, the blind area took the form of a ring, which slowly began to move toward to edge of my vision. Before an hour had passed, it had completely fled my field of view, and my vision was normal again.

That was my first ocular migraine, also called a “scintillating scotoma.” A form of migraine headache, it mercifully does not come with the pain usually associated with such an attack. I get these periodically, but not too often–maybe once every 3-5 years. They last about 30-45 minutes, and thankfully are benign. Though they scare the crap out of you the first time, they leave no damage–it is happening in the brain, not the retina, ergo the fact that it affects vision in both eyes (strangely, that is a reassuring symptom, when you know what’s going on). After the first few times, the visual aura was less a ring and more of a semicircle, always arcing and growing to the left.

I blog on this because it happened again today, as Sachi and I took the train to meet with Maruko and her family. As usual, it begins as a small distortion near the center of vision, and is hard to discern; I usually mistake it for the kind of distortion one might suffer with an afterimage of a very bright point of light. For the first five or ten minutes, it’s indistinct enough to make it hard to recognize as a migraine, and so I have to worry through that until I can see that the distortion is both growing and is truly in both eyes; after that, I relax and wait for it to take its course.

There’s no easy way to represent this, but here’s an attempt. Keep in mind that it’s moving; the blind area is kind of dark, kind of sparkling–I get similar images when I squeeze my eyes shut real hard for a bit, I don’t know if you get the same thing. This is what it looks like late in the event, not too long before it moves out of the field of vision.

Scotoma

Anyone else get these? From what I read, they’re not too common, especially the kind that comes without any pain.

Categories: Health Issues Tags:

The Stillheart Institute

December 21st, 2009 1 comment

Invited by talented artist Chrisann Brennan, Sachi and I visited a local health sanctuary touching on spirituality as a means of catalyzing the healing process. Sachi and I were very impressed by the center. It is a beautiful retreat that we both wished we could stay at for a few weeks or months.

Sw Ext 01

Sw Ext 02

The institute is situated on Skyline boulevard, in the forests of the mountains separating the San Francisco peninsula valley from the ocean. It’s a beautiful area, and a beautiful drive up (though the mountain roads require as much time to travel as from Palo Alto to San Francisco, almost). Intended for educational purposes as well as healing, it focuses on alternative healing methods. The center has many rooms with twin double beds in simple, elegant rooms:

Sw Room 01

Sw Room 02

Sw Room 04

Surrounding the main building are the “treehouses,” buildings on stilts with two apartment rooms per structure (one above the other), surrounded by the trees (alive with birds!). Imagine waking up here in the morning:

Sw Room 03

Sw Balc 01

You can see what I mean by wanting to stay there for weeks on end: the facility is solidly built, casual yet luxurious. It doesn’t cater to whims as much as it simply lets you relax, unimpeded, unpressured. There is a spa with message rooms, meditation rooms, and a saline pool:

Sw Spa 01

Sw Pool

Sw Med1

Upstairs is the “Great Room,” with wonderful hand-blown glass chandeliers and a very comfortable, no-shoes, lodge-type feeling.

Sw Great 01

Sw Great 05

Sw Great 03

Sw Great 02

Sw Great 04

Sachi and I envisioned this as a potential tie-in with her desire to teach Reiki healing. She would get together with friends involved in Zen healing and hypnotherapy, or other like alternative healing philosophies, and offer a week-long seminar that would cover everyone’s room fees for the center, using the week to educate their clients in the various arts they have to offer. The fees are not cheap, but for people wishing the best environment in which to learn such things, I couldn’t think of a better location.

Sachi Crystal 01

That’s the very large quartz crystal at the foyer, by the way. Some local bird life from the few minutes I had to whip out the zoom lens:

Sw Bird01

Sw Bird05

Sw Bird07

Categories: Health Issues Tags:

HRC

December 20th, 2009 1 comment

So, what to think of the health care bill? Perhaps it could best be summed up by the word, “meh.” Having been disgusted with the bill’s progress, and, like so many other liberals, in contempt of the Democrats’ weakness and ineptitude in getting the bill passed, I have stopped paying close attention to it all. It should have been much stronger to start with. It should have been “Medicare for all” and the negotiations should have started from there. Obama should have put forth two versions, one for “bipartisanship” and the other in case Republicans didn’t want bipartisanship, and when Republicans of course showed no interest, Obama could have switched to the stronger bill, declaring that the GOP had rebuffed his bipartisan outreach. Democrats should have strong-armed the Blue Dogs more instead of begging at their feet. Democrats should have began with reconciliation instead of dumping it.

Coulda, shoulda, woulda. So how about now? As far as I can tell, the bill stinks. However, compared to the fetid, steaming pile of insurance the country now has, it stinks somewhat less. But I see no way to really keep down costs for the consumer, something even more important now that coverage will be more or less mandatory.

A big question will be, if and when it is passed, then what? Politically, I mean. Will Democrats reap the rewards? Well, they pretty much shot themselves in their collective feet on that one: everyone, including (especially!) Democratic voters, now see them as weak and ineffective. The only thing keeping Democratic voters on their side is that the alternative is to go with the batshit insane people who spent the last eight years destroying the country. I can imagine centrist voters being like Bugs Bunny in that cartoon where he opened one of two exits and sees a monster; screeching in horror, he runs for the other exit, opens it and sees another monster; screaming again, he closes that and runs to the first exit; when he opens it and sees the first monster, he rubs his chin and say, “Oh, yeah…”

The real problem here is that while Democrats have spent the last several months disheartening their own voters, the Republicans have spent the same time firing up theirs. There is that Kos poll from a few week s back which showed that while Democratic voters were not interested in voting in the midterms, right-wing voters couldn’t wait to do so. Not a good sign.

The irony is, if Dem voters got their act together and came out just as strong and voted aven more Dems into office, that would probably break the barrier needed to bypass even the Blue Dogs and get stuff done. But the way things are, Republicans will probably gain seats, and things will just go straight to hell from there. Which is frightening, as this pretty much looks like hell now.

Sometimes I am glad I live in Japan. Makes it a bit easier to ignore this stuff. Just a bit.

Categories: Health Issues, Political Ranting Tags:

Which Plan?

November 8th, 2009 Comments off

According to the non-partisan CBO, the Democratic plan insures tens of millions more Americans than the Republican “plan”; it saves tens of billions more dollars, and makes it illegal for insurers to deny people for pre-existing conditions, whereas the Republicans would allow insurers to keep on discriminating.

Is this even really a choice? What are the Republicans running on? Are they saying, “Our bill will cost more, insure a lot fewer people, and keeps the worst insurance policies alive! Vote for us!”

More likely, they’re simply doing what they do best: lying, and making people vote against their own best interests by scaring them.

Categories: Health Issues, Republican Stupidity Tags: