Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mourdock Says Employers Should Be Able to Deny Insurance If You Happen to Have Caner


Backed by SuperPac money as well as the Republican and Tea Parties, Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock hopes to shrink government, liberate the marketplace, and remove the heavy foot of the federal government from the necks of states. Mourdock, apparently unaware of the word statesmanship or its meaning, has vowed to stand strong, declaring, “I’m just against compromise, we need to stop it, it’s weak, it’s foolish, our views are irreconcilable, we have to force the American people to choose which one of us is right” (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/ 0512/76321.html). Rather than representing his constituents, Mourdock suggests he has the correct course for his state, its people, and the nation. He reveals that his mind is not open to other points of view or to diplomacy and collaboration. This declaration alone should disqualify him for office.

However, Candidate Mourdock has also stated that he believes employers should be allowed to deny insurance coverage to people with cancer, thereby saving the employers money and opening the door for real death panels. Cancer patients will be cut from the herd, and this is a notion that more people than Mourdock espouse.

In September, 2011, CNN debate moderator, Wolf Blitzer, asked Texas Representative and presidential candidate Ron Paul what should be done about young men who do not purchase health insurance, then later suffer a catastrophic incident ending in a coma. Paul contended that the young man should not be compelled to buy health insurance even though something awful and awfully expensive may happen. Blitzer then asked if the young man should be allowed to die or . . . . The crowd answered before Paul could. They shouted “Yes!”

Now Mourdock weighs in with the supremacy of individual choice and the sovereignty of the marketplace, suggesting that employers should be able to draw the line, beginning with cancer. After all, treating the disease is a very expensive prospect, and those who beat it once may have to fight again another day. What shall we as a nation do then? Condemn anyone afflicted with cancer to something not cruel or unusual, but swift? Shall we wish them “good luck” as we usher them out the door, perhaps giving them a typed list of charitable organizations instead of a farewell handshake? And where will be draw the line?

Consider the following data as you contemplate answers to those questions:

•    We know that early screening saves lives. In fact, the cancer rates, once climbing annually, have leveled off, due in large part to screening and a reduction in exposure to risk factors; e.g., smoking, asbestos, pesticides, and organic solvents. (http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/risk/cancer/cancer-trends.html)
•    The mortality rates have also leveled off as a result of improved treatment, but in 2009, more than 1/2 million (567,629) of us died with cancer the cause.
•    “About 27% of individuals 65 and older had only Medicare coverage. Almost 16 million people were unable to get needed medical care due to cost,” according to data from 2007. (http://www.winningcancer.com/txt/costs-of-cancer-treatments)
•    In 2006, the average monthly cost for a cancer treatment drug was $1,600, and that cost has not leveled off or decreased; it has increased. (U. S. Census Bureau, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009)

These figures cited above do not exclude children, many of whom survive because childhood cancers are more treatable today than ever before. Would Candidate Mourdock rescue them because they are the future of the nation? Would he endorse a wait and see approach; perhaps allowing children access to health insurance if they survive ten years without relapsing? Or would he propose poverty all their days because they and their families cannot pay for treatment from their monthly income? Does Candidate Mourdock prefer to send children for public assistance? And if he does, what level of care should taxpayers provide?

In addition to the moral and ethical issues implied by the questions above, let's consider just how easily an individual can pay out of pocket for health care, especially cancer treatment.

Using information for 2009, the U. S. Census Bureau lists the average income in this nation as $49, 777. (http:// www.ehow.com/info_8108233_percentages-taxes-taken-out-paychecks.html)

o    Divide the annual average household annual income of $49,777 by 12 months to determine the monthly gross amount: $4,148.08.
o    Subtract from the monthly gross amount what employees contribute to Medicare: 1.45% or $60.15 ($4,148.08 - $60.15 = $4,087.93).
o    Subtract from the monthly gross amount what employees contribute to Social Security: 4.2% or $174.22 ($4,148.08 - $60.15 for Medicare and $174.22 for Social Security = $3,913.71)
o    Ignoring allowances or deductions and tax credits, subtract federal taxes: 15% or $622.21 ($4,148.08 - Medicare, Social Security & federal taxes = $3,291.15).
o    Finally, subtract average living costs, including housing, utilities, transportation, debt repayment (student loans or credit card), food, insurance (car, renters’ or homeowners’), clothing, entertainment, and savings, estimated to be approximately and conservatively 51% of the gross in 2007 ($3,291.15 - living costs or 2115.47= $1,175.68). (http://www. kiplinger.com/columns/ starting/archive/2007/st0404.htm) Note that the Kiplinger article uses $35,000 as the annual income and lists living costs that are 51% of the gross. I applied that percentage to the average American income of $49,777 to calculate living costs for this theoretical American.

The cost of health insurance and health care is not present in the monthly expenses calculation above. Thus, our theoretical American must pay for office visits, diagnostic tests, laboratory work, physicians, anesthesiologists, surgeries, hospitalizations, and medications from the meager $1,1785.68 remaining, yet the average cost of one month’s cancer medication ($1,600) exceeds what he or she has available. The patient needs an additional $424.32 just to pay for one month’s medication. And this is the plight that Candidate Mourdock finds acceptable: an American, afflicted with a deadly disease, cast out on the heap of the Untouchables, faced with the choice to accept treatment and live or to die and spare his family the suffocating debt of treating his illness.

But what costs might exist if the cancer victim chooses death? Candidate Mourdock does not appear to have considered the socio-economic costs of not treating this sample American denied health insurance for cancer. One cost is his or her children. We know that children who lose one or both parents while young are at greater risk for educational and social challenges due to grief and reduced income. In addition, Big Brothers and Sister has more applicants than mentors. Worse, the U. S. foster care, adoption agencies, and shelters are extremely limited and often deeply flawed, increasing the odds of a child becoming a drop-out. If the child drops out, he or she is more likely to become part of the prison system. Indeed one estimate of the tax burden for drops-outs, considering the high rate of incarceration, is $320-$350 billion annually. (http:// www.npr.org/2011/07/24/138653393/school-dropout-rates-adds-to-fiscal-burden)

Another cost of Candidate Mourdock’s recommendation is the burden to society in terms of its inability or refusal to care for its citizens. We decry the living conditions in countless other second and third world nations, primarily because of the rates of poverty, hunger, disease, and death, often resulting from poor living conditions and an absence of accessible health care. Yet Mourdock, like Pontius Pilate, would wash his hands of identical problems within our borders. Most first-world nations are not so inhumane or callous; they believe in shared responsibility.

Worrisome is the number of people who fall in line behind Candidate Mourdock’s rejection of the Affordable Health Care Act and espouse a Libertarian and/or Capitalist notion about health care. Some church-going folks who profess to be good Christians have said, without blush, shame, or apparent cognitive dissonance, that those who can afford health insurance and health care should have the best while those who cannot afford those “luxuries” should receive only the most basic attention, perhaps something resembling Health Care Fairs where professionals volunteer a day or a weekend to offer health screenings, dental care, and medical attention. Such gifts of time and knowledge are wonderful, but hundreds are turned away because there just isn’t enough time or medicine or advanced equipment. Still the “haves” remain cavalier while the “have nots” struggle. The "haves" remind me of Aunt Alexandra’s church group, meeting in Atticus Finch’s home to help the poor African babies while ignoring the needs of  African-Americans in her own home town (from To Kill a Mockingbird).

Finally, Candidate Mourdock does not seem to have considered how slippery the slope that he treads. If we deny coverage and care to those suffering from cancer, why shouldn’t we deny coverage to folks with heart problems and those we suspect will have heart problems? After all, heart disease kills more folks than cancer, and those who survive are often weak, unable to work.

Candidate Mourdock, why stop with diseases at all? Accidents, automobile or slips and falls at home, kill some Americans. Let’s not offer coverage to accident-prone people, including anyone who takes a drink. Alcohol is a killer, as we all know. Sure it may not kill as many as the heart under attack or cancer, but it’s a killer. Let’s avoid all risk and deny coverage.

We should also consider the citizens who love risky behaviors: mountain climbing, snow skiing, motorcycle riding, bicycling on busy boulevards, deep sea diving, parachuting, hunting, fishing . . . even tail-gating because sometimes sports crowds get out of hand. Well, I’m sure you see where this is going: some people die every year while engaged in these activities. Just in case you might be one of them, I think we better withhold coverage.

Soon, however, insurance becomes pointless. If it will not honor its contractual obligation to assist me in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, then why bother? It’s a relic that would prove unnecessary and a foolish waste of money after a basic cost-benefit analysis. But I doubt that Candidate Mourdock or insurers have thought that far ahead. I suspect Mourdock listens to employers and insurers; I doubt he’s listened to real people with cancer.

Beware Mourdock’s vision because it doesn’t seem to extend beyond November 2012, to the real effects upon real Americans, working hard to make a living, raise a family, and contribute to society. Mourdock embraces an untried ideology that benefits himself and probably his backers. Indiana would be wise not to send him to Congress. Our nation will prosper without his poorly researched and poorly thought out ideas, the very ones that he promises to uphold whether they work or not.

We are better than the Mourdocks, aren’t we? And if we’re not, shouldn’t we try to be?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Come on, Rush. Really?



Remember those maddening moments when your children were small, when from the other room, you heard nothing but an ominous silence? Then came the crime and a cry of outrage with only your kids as witnesses. Soon, both ran to you, expecting swift and sure justice.

“He pinched me!”

“She made me.”

You sigh and ask, “And how did she make you pinch her and make her cry?”

“She said, ‘You’re stupid’. She deserved it.”

The kid puts up a classic defense: blame the behavior on someone else. It's a classic red herring. Divert attention from the wrong while pointing the finger of blame at anyone else.

You, the parent, have been here before, and you don’t like. But it is a teachable moment--if you can remain cool. After all, they tore you away from the rare thirty minutes in any day when you can read a book written for grown-ups.

“Who is the boss of your actions?” you ask.

They have no retort or answer. They know that a retort will not be welcome, and they know the answer. You’ve given the answer many, many times: each of us is responsible for our actions no matter what anyone else does.

But your son decides that the best defense is a renewed offense. He says, “But she shouldn’t call me ‘stupid’!”

“No, she shouldn’t,” you agree. “And for that, she’ll not be allowed to watch TV or use the Internet today.”

Aggrieved, she objects: “But he pinched me!”

“And he shouldn’t pinch anyone no matter what anyone says! For that, he will not be allowed to watch TV or use the Internet today.”

They’ve lost, and they know it. They turn toward their rooms. You sigh once more and go back to your book, wondering how old they will be when they stop playing The Blame Game, but sadly, some never outgrow it. It’s even on the air now, not in your home and not involving children. It’s Rush Limbaugh, defending Neil Munro, the latest rude, pompous right-wing tool to disrespect President Obama by interrupting him while he was speaking. About that, Limbaugh said:

“’They want this guy [Munro] censored. They want him thrown in jail for not showing proper respect to the king,’ the conservative radio host said, according to a transcript of his show. ‘Anybody ever heard the name Sam Donaldson? Oh, for crying out loud, what do you think Sam Donaldson did to Reagan all during the 80’s? … [Dan] Rather did it to Nixon. I mean this is common. This is what journalists are supposed to do out there’” (http://thegrio.com/2012/06/18/limbaugh-everybody-knows-munro-was-heckling-obamas-white-half).

So, according to Rush, one man’s disrespect is acceptable because that’s what some reporters do, but more important, that’s what two earlier journalistic attack dogs did to the GOP icon, Reagan, and to the disgraced ex-President, Nixon, also from the GOP.  So there! Munro was simply emulating two historical figures. His bad behavior does not warrant an outcry from the left or right; he was simply provoked to interrupt by a precedent established by those other left-leaning journalists.

Rush also said that “Munro was heckling Obama’s white half,” thereby trying to nullify the suspicion that Munro’s behavior in the White House Rose Garden during a presidential briefing was racist. But even if Munro is free of racist impulses, Rush is not. He makes the President’s race a part of the argument by defining the President by his racial ancestry. Doing so is tantamount to the old news reporting bias in favor of Caucasians. African American suspects were so labeled while Caucasian suspects were never categorized by race. Raised consciousnesses have put an end to that practice except on Rush’s brand of talk radio.

In addition, by including race in his defense, Rush suggests that he has a rare gift: the ability to intuit, read and listen between the lines correctly and to speak for others. He’s able to burrow inside the minds and motives of others, including Munro, in order to deliver the truth to the rest of us. We can then dismiss any debate, discussion, and difference in opinions because Rush said so.

But I can’t ditto what Rush has said. It just doesn’t matter if Donaldson or Rather interrupted a president. Munro is the boss of his mouth as any parent might say as he or she tries to teach a child personal responsibility. It should never matter if bad behavior has appeared among us or a disturbed mind has tried to harm men like Presidents Reagan or Ford. Those precedents could never justify trying to harm, with words or in deeds, this president, a loved one, or a stranger. Civility demands more of us. We should be well beyond the childish Blame Game as a nation. No one compels us to be rude or crude or mean or manipulative. Those are choices. Let’s not defend them.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bye-Bye, Miss American Supersize



My husband is a generous man. He gives his time to others freely, and those others include people he will never know. They include the future citizens of a town we called home for twenty-five years, a town where he served many years on the Planning Commission, an advisory board reporting to and recommending actions for the City Council and Mayor. He received nothing other than an occasional thank-you from city staff and an annual certificate. His real reward was in serving the greater community.

During one of his years of service, he suggested that the Mayor declare his town to be the first and only smoke-free city in the United States. My dear spouse’s suggestion was never taken seriously. In fact, many thought the idea radical, even Draconian, that is until more evidence about the harms of second-hand smoke and tobacco in general ultimately led to smoke-free work areas, restaurants, campuses, stadiums, and finally, a first entirely smoke-free city: Aspen, CO.

The transformation from tobacco everywhere to tobacco nowhere was a slow evolution in thinking. From the earliest days of cigarette advertising, smoking was portrayed as a benefit. It soothed jangled nerves after a hard day at work. So popular was the habit that men’s shirts featured breast pockets and ladies' accessories included cases. At fifteen, I knew a girl whose physician advised her parents to teach her to smoke. She had a stomach ulcer, and smoking was supposed to be part of her cure.

Studies appeared and were often played down or countered by other studies for which quasi-scientists or jaded physicians were handsomely rewarded. Even former candidate for president, Bob Dole, suggested, as late as 1996, that the jury was still out on the harms of tobacco. He happened to speak such foolishness on the Today show during a Katie Couric interview. She asked him to repeat himself; she seemed genuinely astonished to hear Dole defend the indefensible. By 1996, everyone agreed that cigarettes in particular and tobacco in general kill. Dole’s acceptance of generous donations from the tobacco lobby may have been the final nail in the coffin of his failed campaign.

Although denial continues to make cigarettes profitable for both private companies and the public coffers, a public awareness campaign and heavy taxes have helped to reduce the overall number of smokers in the U. S. A similar campaign to raise our consciousnesses about high fructose corn syrup and the harms of consuming too much of it is now underway.

One prong of that consciousness raising campaign is the elimination of corn subsidies. Farmers, like anyone else on the planet, wish to make money so they grew plenty of corn, enough to help solve the problem of hunger around the world. But  approximately 925 million people are hungry world-wide (http://www.wfp.org /hunger) because a great deal of the corn crop was reserved for the making of ethanol. Another negative side-effect of propping up corn as a crop is that subsidies drove down the cost of corn and tempted food producers to increase their profits by switching to high fructose corn syrup, a product that has its own lobby, one that advertises to convince consumers that sugar is sugar whether it comes in the form of granules or syrups.

Several research studies disagree and suggest that high fructose corn syrup packs on pounds, especially around the belly. In 2010, Princeton released results of a study that linked high fructose corn syrup to belly fat (http://www.princeton.edu/ main/news/archive/S26/91/22K07/), and belly fat, as we’ve all learned, is harder to take off and more harmful to our bodies than fat stored elsewhere. It’s linked to cancers, heart disease, and bone density problems (http://www.health.harvard. edu/newsweek/Abdominal-fat-and-what-to-do-about-it.htm). Last month, news reports included a warning about sugar itself and its effects upon long-term memory (http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/this-is-your-brain-on-sugar-ucla-233992.aspx).

So all that sugar, especially in the form of corn syrup, should be rationed. We should all seek to consume less of it for our own good health, and New York City Mayor Bloomberg has seized upon an idea that is gaining ground: fine sellers sweet sugary beverages to discourage their distribution and thereby restrict their consumption.

Bloomburg’s proposal attempts to increase awareness about the harms of corn syrup by limiting the quantity of high-calorie beverages that consumers can buy at one time. Specifically, the Mayor has proposed a ban “on big drinks … that contain more than 25 calories per 8 ounces. It [a ban] would not apply to diet soda or any other calorie-free drink or milk-based beverages.  [And] Consumers will be allowed to buy additional bottles of soda if they wish and fountain drink refills are not restricted by the proposal. The ban would apply to bottled drinks as well as fountain sodas, and restaurants and venues that don't comply can face a $200 fine” (http://www.cbs news.com/8301-504763_162-57451372-10391704/mayor-bloombergs-soda-ban-proposal-to-be-submitted-to-nyc-health-board-today).

In other words, New York City’s consumers can still swill as much high-calorie soda pop as they wish; they just can’t buy a Big Gulp or Rt. 44 or supersize their drinks. Instead of being enticed to order bigger and bigger beverages because they’re there, consumers must now elect to drink more calories than health experts recommend. Consumers must order a second and third helping of sugary drinks, and they will do so in full knowledge of the calorie count. Their co-workers will know and exercise an invisible restraint because some of them will tally the calories and judge. And that’s why Bloomberg’s proposal, as full of work-arounds and gaping holes as it is, might just work.

Currently we thoughtlessly order what’s on the menu, what sounds good, and we accept the portion sizes that the food industry puts before us. Those of us who go to the trouble of reading the fine print may discover just how many calories are in that sweet, sweet drink. We may learn that a single delicious salad is really meant for two people and contains nearly 1,200 calories, a full day’s load of calories for many people.

But as long as the fine print is fine and posted on the Internet far away from the counter or on a poster tucked in some obscure corner of the restaurant, we, blissful in our ignorance, drink and eat, wondering why we can’t lose weight. Bloomberg simply wishes to drag the fine print into the marketplace where it can be seen and considered, where we cannot don our blinders and ignore the consequences of our actions.

I say go for it, Mayor! You may be far ahead of the curve on this one. Like my husband who predicted the era of smoke-free air over entire cities, you foresee a future where every American butt will actually fit into those sculpted hard plastic seats made to squeeze the maximum number of human beings onto public transportation. I know my own butt needs considerable reduction so I vow to restrict my thirst to unsweetened iced tea. Can I still get that supersized?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

OK House Representative Ralph Shortey: Our Man for a Turkey Shoot



Never one to shy from controversy, OK Representative Ralph Shortey has spoken in support of an Open Carry law, first tried in 2010 and vetoed by Brad Henry, Governor in that year. In spite of opposition from law enforcers, this season’s version advanced out of committee and passed both OK chambers. This season’s governor, Mary Fallin, an ALEC honoree and loyalist, signed it as soon as it reached her desk.

Open Carry laws, advanced by the NRA, often hand in hand with ALEC, exist because its authors and sponsors profess that ours is a “dangerous world.” But is it really?

Using information from 2010 and published in the Book of Odds, Steve Mardon posted online the odds in favor of you or me becoming a victim of crime (http://www.bookofodds.com/ Relationships-Society/Crime-Punishment/Articles/A0397-Murder-Most-Foul-Or-Most-Rare-Crime-Worry), and the odds, as you will see, are pretty good that we will not be a victim:

  • Identity Theft: 1 in 1.52 (66%) of us worry about this digital-age crime, but the odds that a household will be a victim of identity theft in a single year are only 1 in 18.22—just slightly over 5%.
  • Car Crimes: 1 in 2.13 of us worry about our car being stolen or broken into. The actual odds of car theft in a year? Nationwide, just 1 in 187.3.
  • Sexual Assault: 1 in 5.26 of us worry about this terrifying crime. 1 in 541.1 women actually become victims of rape or sexual assault in a year (1 in 1,008 people overall).
  • Murder: For this most final of all crimes, our worry seems egregiously out of proportion. 1 in 5.26 of us worry about being murdered, but the odds a person will be murdered in a single year are just 1 in 18,690.

We are most likely to experience identity theft and least likely to be killed. So the truth about our world is that it is reasonably safe. Of course, risks exist, and some people or regions are more dangerous than others, but overall, most of us will live our full lives without having our identities or property stolen and without being assaulted or murdered.

Still, if you follow the news, you could mistakenly believe that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket because in the news business, if it bleeds, it leads. In other words, stories about war, accidental death, murder, and assault dominate, and these stories persuade us that we should not venture out after dark or into parts of the city featured on the nightly news.

Mr. Shortey’s belief in a dangerous world comes first-hand, however. He advocated for Open Carry after a frightening encounter, but I’ll let him tell you about it himself:

“’I was in oil and gas,’ Shortey said. ‘I was out on a lease at one time and I got attacked by a turkey. Wait until you get attacked by a turkey. You will know the fear that a turkey can invoke in a person. And so I beat it with a club. That was all I could do. I wish that I had a gun with me,’ he said. ‘And I started carrying a gun in my truck after that without a license because I didn’t want to get attacked by a mountain lion. Turkeys are bad enough.’” (Source: http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/04/13/ 464053/oklahoma-state-senator-justifies-need-for-open-carry-gun-law-due-to-threat-from-wild-turkeys, posted by Faiz Shakir, using an article in The Tulsa World)

Note that Mr. Shortey admits to carrying a gun without permit or license. He also admits that the danger in this world that compels him to support Open Carry in public places is a remote oil and gas lease site where a wild turkey took issue with Mr. Shortey’s presence.

Now I’ve been bombed by a mere swallow defending her nest, and I’ll admit that I was startled. I have also felt the bat’s wing move the air in front of my face as I moved through the night on a path that intersected his. I flailed, crouched, and changed directions. I have even reached inside a dog house on a cold winter night to retrieve a pet food bowl where an uninvited guest, a possum, fed. It moved faster than I had ever imagined a possum could move and bared sharp teeth, gnashing them in my general direction. I ran for the back door, and I was faster. I saved myself, and I wonder why Mr. Shortey didn’t just run for his vehicle and let all those tons of metal separate him from that testy turkey. Alas, Mr. Shortey has not embellished upon his tale; he simply believes that a gun would have helped in that moment.

I remain unconvinced. I’ve known some educated people who lack common sense, and I’ve known some uneducated people who also lack common sense. Each class of person is capable of hysteria, poor judgment, and rash decisions. I don’t want to be close when either one pulls the old Six- or Six-hundred Shooter from its holster and begins to blast away at some perceived threat. Collateral damage is the most likely outcome, and that’s one thing that firearms education helps gun owners understand: no one, not even trained police and military sharpshooters, uses a dangerous weapon without jeopardizing others or the gun-owner:

·      A child may find the gun and hurt himself. In the U. S., about 500 children die this way every year.

·      A bullied, hurt child may steal the gun and carry it to school in order to pay back all those who have wronged him. One of the few characteristics that fit all known mass killers is access to guns. A teen’s brain is still under construction; he should not have any access to a weapon so easily hidden and so capable of killing many in seconds.

·      A gun-owner may think the gun is unloaded, only to discover tragically that it is in fact armed and dangerous. In January 2012, the CDC provided data showing that 31,347 people die as a result of firearms, and this number includes gun-owners.

·      Even law enforcers are not safe. In 2010, 56 officers of the law died, all but one killed with a firearm.

Mr. Shortey has convinced me that his judgment is unsound, especially because he bases it upon a turkey that, according to him, posed a threat to him. That turkey meets the criterion for a turkey shoot: a conflict in which one party has great advantage over the other. In this case, Mr. Shortey, with or without a licensed firearm, had the advantage, but he wants even more advantage. He wants a weapon that is more likely to hurt him or another human than a single offended turkey. Would that Mr. Shortey cared as much about the lives of others as he cares about his own in a turkey shoot.