Archive for August, 2009

A Rabbi Writes About Health Care Reform – For All

“In an opinion piece recently printed [in my local paper], Newt Gingrich decried the possibility of rationing as a result of health care reform.  What he fails to understand or admit is that there already is rationing in our current system.  Tens of millions of Americans are rationed out of access to healthcare by their lack of income, by their employment status, or by “pre-existing conditions.”  We also already have “death panels.”  They’re the insurance company bureaucrats that decide to cut off cancer treatments because, for example, the patient neglected to report pre-existing acne.  (That really happened!)

Our national fear and greed (and the health care system they’ve saddled us with) are literally killing us.  According to Census Bureau and CIA data, the United States has the lowest life expectancy and highest infant mortality of any Western, industrialized country except Portugal.  Let’s put that fear and greed aside and commit, as all our faith-traditions command, to care for each other.  Let’s change the system so that every American has access to the preventive and curative care that our wealth and scientific achievement should make possible.”

Rabbi Jeremy Schwartz   – Willimantic, CT

August 31, 2009 at 4:06 pm Leave a comment

Thank You, Senator Kennedy

Thank you for reminding us to be civil, to bear life’s burdens, to sail and swim when you can, to expect mortality – and to seek health care for all.

August 26, 2009 at 10:31 pm Leave a comment

Wake Up, America!

In a column in  the Washington Post on August 24th, Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele purported to be worried about the damage health care reform will do to Medicare.

Really?  Talk about raiding Medicare: Can you say “Medicare Advantage”?  The last Administration privatized Medicare in 2003 with the Medicare Advantage system that lured private insurance into the program by paying huge subsidies of more than 14% on top of what the traditional, public Medicare program is paid for the same services.

Can you say “Part D”?  The last Administration created the incomprehensible Part D prescription drug program that made Medicare drug coverage available ONLY through private plans and actually wrote into law a PROHIBITION against Medicare negotiating prices with drug companies.  Talk about a boondoggle for Big Pharma!

The Bush Administration created a windfall for private insurance and pharmaceutical companies – all at the expense of the cost-effective public Medicare program, seniors, and taxpayers.

Come on, America, Wake Up!  Don’t buy into using health care reform to create another welfare program for private insurance and pharmaceutical companies.  Haven’t we given them enough by giving them Medicare?

August 26, 2009 at 4:04 pm 2 comments

Can We Afford a Private Health Plan Option?

Last week, Congressman Anthony Weiner (D. NY) asked TV commentator (and former Congressman) Joe Scarborough a series of questions about private insurance companies that form the lynchpin of our current health care system and around which health care reform may be based. Congressman Weiner asked:  “Why are we paying profits for insurance companies? Why are we paying overhead for insurance companies? Why are we paying for their TV commercials? What is their value? What are they bringing to the deal?”

Here’s what we know about the role private health insurance companies play in our health care system – and might well play in healthcare “reform”:

1.  Private insurance companies decide which doctors we see.  Most Americans are in network plans that require them to use the doctors who allowed into their network.  Some plans allow members to go to non-network providers, but only if the individual pays more out-of-pocket.  Private insurance supporters argue that people are always free to go to a doctor who isn’t in their insurance plan’s network, but if they do so they have to pay the full cost themselves, something most Americans cannot afford.

2.  Private insurance plans decide who gets insurance.  They reject people who use too much health care, rescind contracts from high health-care users, and deny health insurance and/or coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.  Plans also charge higher premiums for people based on what they determine to be a pre-existing condition or based on the individual’s gender, making health insurance unaffordable for many people.

3.  Private insurance companies decide what health care will be provided and paid for.  They decide what services will be covered in the insurance package they offer.  They establish drug formularies and prior approval requirements for drugs and procedures.  They set the standards for the documentation and proof they require to determine whether a prescribed treatment is medically necessary, and each plan has its own requirements.  Private insurance plans are not bound by what your doctor thinks is best for you, and they may override your doctor’s recommendation, and refuse coverage.

4.  Private insurance companies increase the administrative work load for doctors’ offices.  Staff must submit different health claim forms for different insurance companies and comply with each plan’s own formularies and requirements for submitting medical records to justify claims.  They must spend hours on the phone with insurance companies to verify coverage, cost sharing, and formulary rules.

5.  Private insurance companies encourage people to ration health care.  By developing products with high deductibles and cost-sharing, private health insurance companies encourage enrollees to think twice about getting the care their doctors prescribe.  Unfortunately, such decisions are often based on cost rather than on medical necessity and/or quality of care.  Someone who delays needed care because of a high deductible or high cost-sharing amount may leave a condition untreated, and may end up requiring more costly health care in the future.

6.  Private insurance companies are highly profitable industries, for their investors.  According to insurance industry filings with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, profits for the 10 largest publically traded health insurance companies rose 428% from 2000 to 2007, from $2.4 billion to $12.9 billion.   During the same time period, the number of uninsured continued to rise, although the economic downturn enabled some individuals to get insurance through state Medicaid programs, many lost their health insurance due to lay-offs.

What do we get from private insurance companies?  A system that decides who gets insurance and who does not; that comes between patients and their doctors – and that makes profits for investors.  Is this the right direction for our country to take in “reforming” the health care system?  Can we afford this?  And who stands to gain?

August 24, 2009 at 6:42 pm Leave a comment

The Opposition Will Vote No Anyway – So Stick With Good Health Care Reform!

Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) has today given the proponents of strong health care reform a huge gift:  he has admitted that it does not matter what the content of any bill is.  Even if the final bill contains everything he wants, he will vote against it.

Senator Grassley has laid bare the strategy of opponents of health care reform:  defeat the legislation regardless of its content.  Since the Senator is one of the more powerful and moderate voices of the Republican party in Congress, it seems unlikely that further efforts at bipartisan negotiations will yield fruitful results.

This is a gift to proponents for a true public option – the only path to true health care reform.  Nothing is to be gained by abandoning the President’s commitment to a strong public plan in health reform that would be available nationwide, would be entirely portable and would keep the private insurance market honest by providing innovation and competition where little competition exists today.  (Most private insurance markets are dominated by two companies:  Wellpoint and United Healthcare.)

We urge policy-makers to remember the truth amidst all the noise.  We need health care reform.  We need a true public option!

August 17, 2009 at 8:50 pm 3 comments

So, I was at a Town Hall meeting …

Congressman  Joe Courtney hosted a Town Hall meeting on Thursday (August 6th) to discuss health care reform.  This is the third such meeting I’ve been at since mid July.  The first two were sparsely attended and extremely civil.  People listened, had questions, and told their own stories about problems and concerns regarding health care coverage.  Last week’s meeting was entirely different.  How?

  1. The room was packed. Standing room only.  Hundreds of people in attendance, in the most out of the way area in CT on a summer night!
  2. The atmosphere was heated, literally and figuratively.
  3. People in opposition to health care reform had signs and repeated points.  Suddenly there was talk of forced euthanasia, the Constitution, and limits on care for “retarded children” and older people.  None of this was mentioned at the earlier meetings just a few weeks ago.
  4.  When one woman ( a veteran) spoke about the problems getting health care coverage for her special-needs child she was shouted down with the question: “Why don’t you move?”   When she asked back, “where is your compassion, my husband and I both served this country and have done everything right,” she was greeted with hoots. 
  5. When a local farmer spoke about the loss of her family farm and cows and her brother’s chronic illness, she was told to hurry up and sit down.
  6. When a woman with cancer told about not being able to get a needed study covered by her private insurance, someone yelled out, “Why don’t you just switch plans?”   As she had explained, she said, “I can’t, I have a pre-existing condition!”  “Awww,” said a group seated together in the crowd, feigning sympathy.

Now I am reading about these same points being made and attitudes reflected in similar atmoshpheres throughout the country.  

While many people did come to listen and learn, too many did not.  Of course this was organized.  It’s the only explanation for the dramatic difference between the meetings before and after the Congressional Recess and for the repeated talking points and style.  Unfortunately, it appears to be aimed at intimidating, not at community building, discourse, or learning.   While Congressman Courtney was prepared, respectful and even-tempered throughout, few people could have heard and too many people left scared and sad.  What a shame. 

For the health of our country, we need to reform.  We need to back away from this noise soon, before someone gets hurt. 

Oh – and we need  health care reform with a true public option.  It’s the only way to get coverage for everyone at a price taxpayers can afford.

August 10, 2009 at 4:21 pm 7 comments


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