29 August 2009

Ex-Cigna Executive on Health Care Rationing

Wendell Potter enjoyed a 20 year career with health insurance corporations, such as Humana and Cigna. At Cigna, he was Head of Corporate Communications; he retired from this post last year.

In June this year, he testified before a Senate committee investigating insurance (see his testimony here [pdf]). Before the committee, Potter asserted that,
companies routinely drop seriously ill policyholders so they can meet "Wall Street's relentless profit expectations."

"They look carefully to see if a sick policyholder may have omitted a minor illness, a pre-existing condition, when applying for coverage, and then they use that as justification to cancel the policy, even if the enrollee has never missed a premium payment," Potter said. "…(D)umping a small number of enrollees can have a big effect on the bottom line."(ABC News)

According to Potter, there there are three ways in which health insurance companies strive to maintain their companies' stock prices:

1) Rescission: "seizing upon a technicality to cancel the policy of someone who has been paying premiums" who then "gets cancer or another expensive disease" (Kristof).
2) Deny permission for expensive procedures
3) Raising premiums for a small business after am employee is diagnosed "with an illness that would be very expensive to treat. That forces the [small] business to drop coverage for all its employees or go elsewhere" (Kristof).

Blue Cross has used rescission "to cancel more than 20,000 policies over five years, saving the company $300 million in claims" (Kristof). Perhaps you recall the fury unleashed at Blue Cross last year (2008) when the public learned about the company's practice of "asking physicians in a letter to look for medical conditions that could be used to cancel patients' insurance coverage" (L A Times). The company had sent out 1,000 such letters per month "for years" before someone complained about it (L A Times). Blue Cross stopped its letter-writing campaign when it became known.

If you, who pay your premiums dutifully, are diagnosed with a disease, and your insurer tells you that the cost of treatment exceeds your policy (or they deem treatment as "experimental" and, therefore, ineligible for coverage), or if you lose your job and, consequently, your health insurance benefits, or if a colleague becomes ill and forces your employer to drop all coverage, what then?

Added: A subsidiary of WellPoint, Anthem Blue Cross, has just sent its customers an email warning of the horrors of a public option. This post, "WellPoint Calls Attention To Its Own Immoral Practices In Effort To Smear Health Reform," points our how WellPoint undermines its claims about health care reform.

25 August 2009

John McCain: "Be Respectful"

You can disagree with a person, but you can still acknowledge that person as a human being and treat that person with courtesy and respect. John McCain showed us how it's done today.

Think back to his campaign, and when his audience would boo or shout when then-Senator Obama's name came up. Senator McCain would chastize his audience and insist on Obama's decency.

Today, Senator McCain held a town hall for seniors in Sun City, Arizona. When an attendee claimed that President Obama's health care plan is "against the Constitution," and asked "Doesn't he know that we live under the Constitution?'' McCain negated that statement and asked that people treat the President with respect. His audience responded by booing him. McCain certainly differs with Obama on most issues, but he won't cave to the audience and cater to its paranoias and conspiracy theories.

Further, when it appeared that a woman was trying to introduce a spot of "Birtherism" into the town hall by stating, out of the blue, that "we" should stand behind Representative Franks, he ignored her comment (as did the entire audience). Granted, the woman did not clarify why people should stand up for Representative Franks, but he's been in the news lately, and roundly mocked, for initially supporting, then backing away from, a Birther lawsuit. Today he signed onto the "Birther bill."

Anyway, it's great to see Senator McCain resisting the recent trend of demonization.

And the bit about health care reform being "against the Constitution"? Thanks go to Congresswoman Michele Bachmann for that one. It's a faulty claim, but it's the current one.

24 August 2009

UPS Stops Advertising on Fox News

Well, that call for a boycott against Glenn Beck's FNC show really backfired, didn't it?

33 companies have removed advertising from Glenn Beck's show or have requested Fox that ads run elsewhere in the day. This isn't really news, as it's been posted and discussed everywhere.

What is news? UPS "has temporarily halted buying ads on Fox News Channel as a whole" (AP). UPS's spokesman declines to say how long this moratorium will last, but UPS is a huge company, and this could signal the beginning of a serious shift in media. As political talk show hosts grow more hyperbolic and histrionic, chances are that advertisers will become less eager to associate themselves with divisive characters--be they Olbermann, Hannity, or Dobbs--who may alienate the broader public. Clorox, for example, has declared that it will no longer advertise on any political talk shows. But if companies begin yanking ads from entire networks . . . well, then networks will be forced to make changes. Otherwise, what's the point? They'd be losing monies regardless of their audience share.

Also, a good read: Russ Smith on American political dialogue: "Our Never-Ending Political Anger." Smith situates the health care debate along a continuum of similar arguments in the past, and he asserts that the anger expressed in the current argument--over health care--serves as a sort of catch-all for our collective dissatisfaction with government. Smith concludes, that, unfortunately, the current discussion about health care is, or has become, only oppositional: "The issue has become like abortion, you're either for it or against it, and no middle ground exists."

13 August 2009

M, Ph.D., & G S

Please excuse the trumpet blowing, but The Project is completed (excepting some minor fine tuning), an official "title" has been granted, and a newly-minted Ph.D. ventures into the job market.

And this newly-minted doctor of philosophy doesn't come from "the elite," the moneyed, the influential. I come from the working class--laborers, miners, and factory workers.

My great-grandmother was born and raised in a tiny community in the Smokey Mountains (a genuine hillbilly, as she called herself). She married and had three children--two boys and a girl. Her oldest son, my granddad, joined the Navy and moved to the Chicago area during the war. My great-grandma, aunt, and uncle followed. I expect Grandma B wasn't feeling up to living in that mountain community alone with two young kids.

In Chicago, my granddad met my grandma, the daughter of immigrants, who was born and raised in a North Dakota hamlet just a touch south from the Canadian border. Having lost everything (even though they had little to begin with), my grandma's family moved to Chicago during the Depression.

After marrying and having four children, my grandparents moved to the Southwest because one of their boys had asthma. My grandpa worked as a laborer and as a cop. Grandma worked as an aid in an asylum.

In the Southwest, my parents met, wed, had three children, and divorced. The three of us lived with mother, who worked in a series of jobs (waitress, factory worker, and--get this--she was one of the first female security guards at a Southwestern arena). She went onto Welfare because we couldn't make it on her wages (and because my father refused to pay child support, which was a miserable $100 a month in total. He refused "on principle." He didn't want that hundred bucks going to my mom). My mother's sense of shame at being on Welfare prompted her to go back to school and obtain the equivalent of a high school diploma. She joined the Army Reserves--my mum was a WAC--and went to boot camp in SC. However, she discovered that the diploma and the Reserves experience weren't enough to get her a good job, a decent wage. She enrolled in a community college and, thanks to government grants, she became an RN. In her low wage jobs, in her studies, and in her graveyard shifts at the hospital, my mom worked herself to the bone to support us.

Even with her determination and work ethic, I hate to think where my family would be right now without the safety net of Welfare and food stamps. My mother wouldn't be an RN, nor I a Ph.D., without government grants and student loans.

Before my mother, the highest level of education my family got was junior high--they had to quit school and go to work in the fields. And if my grandad hadn't joined the Navy, who knows how things would have turned out. He spent his post-Navy life working for Chrysler, and, when that fell apart for him, he moved to the Pacific Northwest and, with his sons--my uncles--worked for Hecla Mines. Sadly, that Pacific Northwest town where my family lived is now pretty much decimated. People began moving away when the bottom fell out of the silver market in the late 70s/early 80s, and that mine essentially shut down.

The point of this: I don't come from money, and I don't come from "the elite." I come from mountain folk, laborers, and miners. Any success I have comes from their hardiness and determination, and from a government that believes people shouldn't go starving or in rags because of circumstances beyond their control, and that it should help people embrace their God-given potential.

I wish my grandparents and my great-grandma were around to share in my success, but all of them died too young (my lovely, wonderful grandma only made it to 59). They lived hardscrabble lives that ended too early. I know, however, that if they were about, each of them would be sporting, in one of my grandpa's favorite phrases, a shit-eating grin. I know that without them, I wouldn't be where I am today. Underemployed, perhaps, but a Ph.D.

11 August 2009

Rumor Central: Obamacare (Updated)

Taking a break from The Project to post some links regarding the plethora of rumors on health care reform.

1. For seniors concerned about Medicare and the fears of the government controlling "life and death decisions": the AARP has a page on "Myths vs. Facts"

2. "Health Insurance Reform Reality Check" addresses the claims that health insurance reform will:
-lead to a "government takeover" of health care or lead to "rationing."
-would encourage or even require euthanasia for seniors.
-will affect veterans' access to medical care.
-will harm small businesses.
-would be financed by cutting Medicare benefits.
-will force people out of their current insurance plans / force them to change doctors.
3. The rumors and distortions--on both sides--have kept Factcheck.org pretty busy. See the entries under:
"Health Care"
"Health Insurance"
4. The Truth-O-Meter at Politifact goes wild in the "Health" category.

5. The Associated Press fact checks rumors about "death panels" and clarifies the bill's statements on advanced care planning.

6. The Institute for Southern Studies corrects some of the misinformation presented by, among others, The Liberty Counsel (you can see the Liberty Counsel's full list of talking points here. This list appears to be one of the sources for Sarah Palin's much debunked claim about government run "death panels").
Note: Politifact approached the Liberty Counsel about a particularly specious claim on the list: that the health care bill "'will establish school-based 'health' clinics. Your children will be indoctrinated and your grandchildren may be aborted!". . .the bills now before the House say nothing about the school clinics being able to offer abortions." Politifact "spoke with Sarah Speller at the Liberty Counsel, who told us that the group had been getting a lot of calls about the memo and that everyone there was very busy as a result. However, she assured us that 'as far as our office can tell, everything in the overview is accurate. That's about all I can tell you,' she said. 'I'm just relaying what I've been told to say.' [Politifact] see no language in the three main versions of the bill that would allow school-based clinics, which have a long history of providing basic health services to underprivileged students, to provide abortions. Nor would the clinics even be new — they have been around for three decades. So we rate the claim Pants on Fire!
7. McClatchy publishes "Headed to a health care 'town brawl?' Read this first," a brief guide to wild claims about health care reform.

8. C Q Politics does a decent job at "Vetting the Health Care Rhetoric."

9. Factcheck has a fresh entry tackling a chain-email currently making the rounds: "Twenty-Six Lies About H. R. 3200." Factcheck notes that the email makes 48 claims. Of these, 26 are demonstrably false, 18 are misleading, and 4 are true.

If you find yourself in a muddle from all the misinformation floating about, the sites included above offer some clarity.

And it's back to The Project.