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Health Care: a couple of reasons fixing is needed

I’ve had some time to think about Obama’s speech today. One of the times he got the most applause is when he mentioned health care. Specifically, he said:

Let’s be the generation that finally tackles our health care crisis. We can control costs by focusing on prevention, by providing better treatment to the chronically ill, and using technology to cut the bureaucracy. Let’s be the generation that says right here, right now, that we will have universal health care in America by the end of the next president’s first term.

For more on what Senator Obama has to say, go to this link.

[…]And yet, in recent years, what’s caught the attention of those who haven’t always been in favor of reform is the realization that this crisis isn’t just morally offensive, it’s economically untenable. For years, the can’t-do crowd has scared the American people into believing that universal health care would mean socialized medicine and burdensome taxes – that we should just stay out of the way and tinker at the margins.

You know the statistics. Family premiums are up by nearly 87% over the last five years, growing five times faster than workers’ wages. Deductibles are up 50%. Co-payments for care and prescriptions are through the roof.

Nearly 11 million Americans who are already insured spent more than a quarter of their salary on health care last year. And over half of all family bankruptcies today are caused by medical bills.

But they say it’s too costly to act.

Almost half of all small businesses no longer offer health care to their workers, and so many others have responded to rising costs by laying off workers or shutting their doors for good. Some of the biggest corporations in America, giants of industry like GM and Ford, are watching foreign competitors based in countries with universal health care run circles around them, with a GM car containing twice as much health care cost as a Japanese car.

But they say it’s too risky to act.

They tell us it’s too expensive to cover the uninsured, but they don’t mention that every time an American without health insurance walks into an emergency room, we pay even more. Our family’s premiums are $922 higher because of the cost of care for the uninsured.

We pay $15 billion more in taxes because of the cost of care for the uninsured. And it’s trapped us in a vicious cycle. As the uninsured cause premiums to rise, more employers drop coverage. As more employers drop coverage, more people become uninsured, and premiums rise even further.

But the skeptics tell us that reform is too costly, too risky, too impossible for America.

Well the skeptics must be living somewhere else. Because when you see what the health care crisis is doing to our families, to our economy, to our country, you realize that caution is what’s costly. Inaction is what’s risky. Doing nothing is what’s impossible when it comes to health care in America.

It’s time to act. This isn’t a problem of money, this is a problem of will. A failure of leadership. We already spend $2.2 trillion a year on health care in this country. My colleague, Senator Ron Wyden, who’s recently developed a bold new health care plan of his own, tells it this way:

For the money Americans spent on health care last year, we could have hired a group of skilled physicians, paid each one of them $200,000 to care for just seven families, and guaranteed every single American quality, affordable health care.

So where’s all that money going? We know that a quarter of it – one out of every four health care dollars – is spent on non-medical costs; mostly bills and paperwork. And we also know that this is completely unnecessary. Almost every other industry in the world has saved billions on these administrative costs by doing it all online. Every transaction you make at a bank now costs them less than a penny. Even at the Veterans Administration, where it used to cost nine dollars to pull up your medical record, new technology means you can call up the same record on the internet for next to nothing. […]

So, why do I believe that our nation’s health care system is broken? Well, here are two reasons: first, I believe that someone who is responsible, works hard and has health insurance shouldn’t have to lose everything they have just because they get sick!

The second reason is that all too often, the most vunerable among us are simply treated as trash to be disposed of.

To see what can happen in the first case, consider the situation that was discussed last night on the PBS Now News Magazine. This was a case where a family had a small business and had even payed off their house, in full. But, the man suffered an unexpected brain hemorrhage. Business debt and medical bills (after insurance) drove these folks to bankruptacy.

Unfortunately, such situaions are all too frequent:

Debt resulting from medical bills deters people from seeking future care, which can result in the need for more expensive treatment later on. In addition, medical debt can affect the overall financial security of families and undermine their economic stability. These are some of the findings from The Access Projects work with community organizations across the country to examine the consequences of medically-related debt for individuals and families.

If you or a family member have medical debt, we’d like to hear from you. For help with bill management and negotiation strategies, please contact Andrew Cohen at (617) 654-9911 x231 or acohen@accessproject.org.
Medical Expenses and Credit Card Debt:

In collaboration with Demos, The Access Project produced a report in January 2007 titled Borrowing to Stay Healthy documenting how low and middle income households are turning to credit cards to pay for medical care.The report findings are based on a national telephone survey of over 1,100 low and middle income households.

Report highlights include the finding that nearly a third (29%) of respondents reported that medical expenses contributed to their current level of credit card debt. In households with medical debt, the average credit card debt was significantly higher (46%) that in those households without medical expenses as a contributing factor in their overall credit card debt.

While uninsured respondents had the highest levels of credit care debt, even respondents with health insurance were not shielded from the medical debt problem. These findings, combined with the industry trend of increasing deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs, call into question whether it is prudent to rely on borrowing as a method to pay for needed health care.

[…]
In January and February 2005, a survey of working families in the St. Louis area asked the question: Do you owe money for medical care? Over half (53%) of these families said yes—they owed medical debt. More striking, more than 50% of those who were struggling to pay off medical bills said they had health insurance when they sought treatment. Almost one-third (31%) experienced housing problems due to their unaffordable medical bills.

This report, Living in the Red: Medical Debt and Housing Security in Missouri tells the personal stories that bring life to the statistics on medical debt. Seven Missouri residents from across the state share their personal experiences telling how medical debt affects their access to health care, as well as their families’ financial and emotional stability. As these stories attest, people with medical debt expect to and want to pay for the medical care they receive, but too often family budgets are overwhelmed by the rising costs of care.

People with unaffordable medical bills are our neighbors, friends, and colleagues. They work hard to support their families and live in small towns, suburbs and big cities. Nonetheless, each of these individuals was unable to avoid the unforeseen illness or injury that disrupted their lives, caused medical debt, and created financial instability and housing problems. Most appalling, most of these folks had health insurance that failed to protect them from the immense costs of medical care.

Though the NOW program was about bankruptcy, how it is often driven by medical situations and how the “reform” bill has hurt many (by the way, Senator Obama voted AGAINST this so called reform), a universal health program might well keep folks from getting to this stage. As far as the bankruptcy reform bill went, this is what Obama had to say:

The proponents of this bill claim it is designed to curb the worst abuses of our bankruptcy system. I think that is a worthy goal shared by all those in this Chamber, and we can all agree that bankruptcy was never meant to serve as a “get out of jail free’ card for use when you foolishly gamble away all your savings and don’t feel like taking responsibility for your actions.

But to accomplish that, this bill would take us from a system where judges weed out the abusers from the honest to a system where all the honest are presumed to be abusers, where declaring chapter 7 bankruptcy is made prohibitively expensive for people who have already suffered financial devastation.

With this bill, it doesn’t matter if you run up your debt on a trip to Vegas or a trip to the emergency room; you are still treated the same under the law. You still face the possibility that you will never get a chance to start over.

It would be one thing if most people were abusing the system and falling into bankruptcy because they were irresponsible with their finances. I think we need more responsibility with our finances in our society as well as from our Government. But we know that for the most part bankruptcies are caused as a result of bad luck.

We know from a recent study, which was mentioned by the distinguished Senator from Massachusetts, that nearly half of all bankruptcies occur because of an illness that ends up sticking families with medical bills they can’t keep up with.

Let me give you as a particular example the case of Suzanne Gibbons, a constituent of mine. A few years back, Suzanne had a good job as a nurse, and a home on Chicago’s northwest side. Then she suffered a stroke that left her hospitalized for 5 days. Even though she had health insurance through her job, it only covered $4,000 of the $53,000 in hospital bills. As a consequence of that illness, she was soon forced to leave her full-time nursing job and take a temporary job that paid less and didn’t offer health insurance. Then the collection agencies started coming after her for her hospital bills that she couldn’t keep up with. She lost her retirement savings, she lost her house, and eventually she was forced to declare bankruptcy. If this bill passes as written without amendment, Suzanne will be treated by the law the same as any scam artist who cheats the system. The decision about whether she can file for chapter 7 bankruptcy would not account for the fact that she fell into financial despair because of her illness.

With all that debt, she would have to hire a lawyer and pay hundreds of dollars more in increased paperwork. After all that, she still might be told she is ineligible for chapter 7 bankruptcy.

As much as we like to believe that the face of this bankruptcy crisis is credit card addicts who spend their way into debt, the truth is it is the face of people such as Suzanne Gibbons. It is the face of middle-class Americans.

Here is the second reason: there are those who simply cannot care for themselves. I believe that one of our priorities ought to be to care for them. The following situation, as brought to my attention via a Daily Kos diary by trifecta, is unacceptable:

Source for the diary: the Los Angeles Times.

A paraplegic man wearing a soiled hospital gown and a broken colostomy bag was found crawling in a gutter in skid row in Los Angeles on Thursday after allegedly being dumped in the street by a Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center van, police said.

The incident, witnessed by more than two dozen people, was described by police as a particularly outrageous case of “homeless dumping” that has plagued the downtown area.

“I can’t think of anything colder than that,” said LAPD Det. Russ Long, who called the case the most egregious of its kind that he has seen in his career. “There was no mission around, no services. It’s the worst area of skid row.”

May I rant for a second? First, the concept of dumping anybody on Skid Row is obscene and should be criminal. You then have the added pathos of the man being homeless and missing the use of his legs, sitting in a soiled nightgown. But did you notice the Presbyterian in the hospital’s name? What in the fuck of all that is holy is a religiously affiliated hospital doing?

This is behavior I would expect out of Bill Frist’s family medical profit center, but now religiously based medical facilities think it’s ok to dump a fellow human being like garbage on the streets, in a wheelchair in shit stained bed clothes? What kind of a society are we in the end?

This is a story all democrats who are running for office in 2008 should read. While they collect money from donors who tell them to do nothing, or create half hearted gestures for fixing our medical crisis, they should be reminded of the current system now. We toss away human beings like garbage.

And we are getting people killed overseas? Just think of what we could have done with all of that money we are spending to get our young people killed in Iraq!

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February 10, 2007 Posted by | obama, Peoria/local, politics/social | Leave a comment

Obama launches campaign from frozen Illinois

Today I didn’t work out. Instead I took a 7 am bus from Peoria to Springfield to attend Senator Barack Obama’s announcement that he is running for President of the United States.

The Peoria County Democrats chartered three buses to take us from the waterfront to Springfield.

The people on the bus and the people in the crowd at Springfield were a mix of various ages, races, sizes and shapes. In short, the gang looked like America. Of course, most there were Democrats, but there were liberals (such as myself), moderates, and labor types.

It was cold; roughly 10 F though we got a bit of sun. The group had been given a few (about 30) “special” tickets that enabled people to get closer; these were distributed via a raffle. The rest of us found various places to stand; I chose a place off to the side; I was almost behind Obama and to his left. Since I was bundled up well, the only part that got cold on me were my toes.

(For the record: t-shirt, thermal underwear shirt and pants, high tech running shirt, hooded sweatshirt and a parka, wool socks, high top hiking boots and a wool cap and hoods from both the parka and the sweatshirt.)

Senator Dick Durbin introduced Senator Obama with a short but punchy speech. What must have drove the Republicans crazy is how the speech started with bringing up President Lincoln’s legacy; in fact, there were Obama buttons that had Lincoln’s photo on them.

Obama’s speech was quite stirring; if you missed it you can watch it here. Even if you don’t have time to watch the whole thing (it takes about half an hour), at least watch the start of it; see the large crowd and the energy (and the steaming breath!) Believe me, “the Decider” got nothing remotely approaching this when he visited Peoria, despite the Journal Star’s hyping of the visit.

But back to Senator Obama: The Senator must have been freezing.

I’ll reproduce parts of it:

Launching his 2008 White House campaign outside the building in where Lincoln began his fight against slavery with a famous 1858 speech that declared “a house divided against itself cannot stand,” Obama said it was time to “turn the page” to a new politics.

“Let us begin this hard work together. Let us transform this nation,” Obama, 45, told a cheering crowd of supporters in Springfield, Illinois, who braved sub-freezing temperatures outside the old state capital building.

“By ourselves, this change will not happen. Divided, we are bound to fail,” he said.

Obama, a rising party star and the only black U.S. senator, said the United States had overcome many difficult challenges, from gaining its independence to the Civil War to the Great Depression.

“Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what’s needed to be done. Today we are called once more — and it is time for our generation to answer that call,” he said.

Obama’s candidacy has intrigued Democrats looking for a fresh face and sparked waves of publicity and grass-roots buzz about the first black presidential candidate seen as having a chance to capture the White House.

He has vaulted quickly into the top tier of a crowded field of Democratic presidential contenders along with Sen.
Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and 2004 vice presidential nominee
John Edwards.

Obama acknowledged the questions about his experience.

“I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness — a certain audacity — to this announcement. I know I haven’t spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I’ve been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change,” he said.

He said a fresh perspective could break through Washington gridlock on issues like energy, health care and the Iraq war.

“What’s stopped us from meeting these challenges is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What’s stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics — the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial,” he said.

He said the last six years under Republican leadership in Washington had led to mounting debts, rising health care costs, economic anxiety and a botched foreign policy and war in Iraq.

“The time for that kind of politics is over. It is through. It’s time to turn the page,” he said.

Obama, an early opponent of the war, has called for a phased withdrawal of troops starting in May. He opposes
President George W. Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq.

“America, it’s time to start bringing our troops home,” he said. “Letting the Iraqis know that we will not be there forever is our last, best hope to pressure the Sunni and Shia to come to the table and find peace.”

Again, go to Senator Obama’s website for a video of the speech. Here is the text.

Update: The Peoria Journal Star reported that 15,000 attended the event; 5000 were expected. The Journal Star also had a nice article on the Peoria County Democrats bus trip as well as a photo spread.

I’ve enclosed some photos below:

Here the area where I was standing is right behind the Senator; you are looking straight at it.

I would have been toward the background of this photo.

From the Journal Star story:

SPRINGFIELD – To raucous cheers and to the surprise of no one, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, on a sun-drenched but frigid Saturday morning, threw his hat into the 2008 presidential ring.

Proverbially speaking, that hat might as well have been of the stovepipe variety. The Chicago Democrat repeatedly channeled Springfield’s favorite son during a 20-minute address today outside the Old Capitol State Historic Site, the building where Abraham Lincoln delivered his famed “House Divided” speech in 1858.

The announcement, amid a Springfield Police Department estimate of 15,000 to 17,0000, took place one day before the 146th anniversary of Lincoln’s departure for Washington, D.C. and two days before Lincoln’s birthday. […]

The gathering was spirited – supporters waved blue-and-white signs, peppered Obama’s remarks with peals of “I love you” and “O-ba-ma” chants, and occasionally interrupted the speech with thunderous applause.

From the Journal Star story on the bus trip:

More than 130 area Democrats loaded

into three chartered buses and departed at about 7:30 a.m. from the Le Vieux Carre building on Water Street for a drive to Springfield, where Obama announced his candidacy in front of thousands outside the Old State Capitol.

“This is the best $10 in entertainment I’ve had in a long time,” said Velma Walton of Peoria, referring to the charge for the bus ride. Plenty of coffee and doughnuts were included.

“We wanted to give everyone an opportunity to come to this historic event,” Peoria County Democratic Party Chairman Billy Halstead said, adding the bus rentals cost the party $550 each.

It was the excitement among those on the trip that made it all worthwhile, Halstead said. […]

Tammy Hyatt of Pekin brought her son, Austin, 12, along for the trip as a real-world lesson in social studies. Austin, a seventh-grader at Edison Junior High School, will be studying the U.S. Constitution soon.

He was dressed for the occasion in a large Uncle Sam top hat he purchased at Disney World two years ago. Pro-Obama stickers were all over it.

“We felt this was a great opportunity to witness history,” his mother said.

Bradley University students also got a chance to witness history.

Erin Bobst, 19, Natalie Winter, 19, and Jamie Turner, 18, all Bradley freshmen, were impressed with Obama’s speech and were excited about his position on education.

“I want to see change in government, and he can do it,” Winter said.[…]

Retired state Sen. George Shadid, D-Peoria, was all smiles when the buses returned to Water Street around 12:30 p.m.

Shadid, who served with Obama for about seven years in the State Senate, said hearing Obama’s speech brought back memories.

“Some of the things he said, I’ve heard him say before,” Shadid said. “By telling people you need to take responsibility and we need to do things to get together.”

Shadid, who was with family and friends on one of the buses, stopped into Kelleher’s for lunch after the buses returned to Peoria.

“I’m just pleased I got to know him well in the seven years I served with him,” Shadid said, adding he hopes Obama will visit Peoria during his campaign. “We’re going to try and bring him here.”[…]

Injury note: I worried that I might not be able to stand in one place for so long; it turns out that it wasn’t a problem; it was very different than it was when I went on the “light tour” this past Christmas vacation.

February 10, 2007 Posted by | injury, obama, Peoria/local, politics/social | 5 Comments