Busting The Myth of Emergency Rooms and Uninsured Care

November 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

There’s a myth that goes like this: uninsured people use ER’s like doctors offices, default on payments, and drive up premiums for everyone else. It’s a phenomenon called cost-shifting but its effect is really blame-shifting. It’s true that ER costs are exorbitant enough to cause payment defaults or financial crises for unisureds and poor people but, in fact, most stay as far away from ER’s and doctors offices as they possibly can. Studies show that they use the emergency room only when there’s a health emergency.

Overuse of ER services tends to happen when insured people are uncertain if their symptoms are urgent or else are incentivized to seek care in the one stop shopping environment of an emergency room. The copay is manageable and every conceivable test is available but the resulting cost to their insurer is huge and it boomerangs back in the form of increased premiums for everyone. The top trend in ’09 was to push rising health care costs back on employee healthcare plans. Since the opening of this century employee contributions to health plans have increased 131% making participation in health plans impossible for the working poor. 

Want more proof of this contention? To capitalize on the trend of insured people using emergency rooms instead of doctors offices, hospitals are building and marketing expensive new free standing ER’s in affluent neighborhoods. Private rooms, valet service, bring your insurance and come on in!  Why do they do that? Because Federal law allows ER’s to charge more for their services. Yes, alot more and ER’s also get higher remibursements from insurance companies because, as part of larger hospitals which are merging and becoming hospital monopolies,they can strong arm insurance companies under the rally cry of patient protections. They also strong arm their own doctors into meeting the monopoly’s bottom line. The “First do no harm” ethic mixes with the business mandate of “First make it profit” and we get higher premiums for all, questionable health benefits, and unreachable treatment costs for patients with poor and low incomes.

Mental Health and Economics by Aaron Crosetto

November 21, 2011 § 2 Comments

If we want to actively keep our freedoms, then we must educate ourselves continually to stay on top of the issues we hold most dear in a democracy.  We all owe a great debt to those willing to occupy Wall Street and hold these Wall Street criminals to task.  But people involved on any level also may feel a bit of impotence in our current global union to really be able to get politicians to make change.

Obama said, It is up to the people. Well, we have spoken and continue to speak.  Yet, the wealth for the top 1 % keeps multiplying and we are left with fewer and fewer crumbs.  Money rules all voting, not the people’s vote.  This is the implied message being spread everywhere.

Even back in  1890, a populist orator Mary Elizabeth Lease said, “Wall Street owns the country…our laws are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags.  The political parties lie to us and the political speakers mislead us…Money rules.”

Corporations, banks and governments are working against the common people and what is left of our welfare.  This causes psychological suffering on pandemic levels.  Sadly, our president is in bed with these destroyers of democratic hope.  Politicians nothing but money launderers.  The corporations see to this.  On top of it all, the wealthiest barely pay any taxes.  Corporations are also paying politicians to kill any and all legislation that might help the common soul. Those trying to help the poor and middle class become marginalized and easily defeated.  Except perhaps by large and small groups like Occupy Wall Street. Bill Moyers writes, “The most consisitent predictor of mental illness, infant mortality, educational achievements, teenage births, homicides, and incarceration, is economic inequality.”

“Vast inequalities of income weakens a society’s sense of mutual concern…The sense that we are all members of the social order is vital to the meaning of civilization,” Nobel laureate economist Kenneth Arrow observed. It is private interest over public duty.  These immense stressors spark mental illness and the depletion of health for everyone but the wealthy who have the riches to help with psychiatry, medicine and counseling.  The treacherous nature of economic crashes and strain and painful toil hurt our health and take our sanity and strengths to lower and lower levels as people desperately try to survive in the wreckage of our society’s social security net which they so need to survive.  Mental health equals quality of life that needs support from the top 1% in today’s stratification of wealth to survive unless by some miracle wealth can be redistributed properly, including through progressive taxation of the wealthy classes.  If this does not happen, the rubble we find ourselves within in America is not unlike that of the book Lord of the Flies. This is a world where no quality of life is possible and would mean death to many.  This would be the end to what we know as mental health.  Please let’s keep up the struggle for human rights and occupying Wall Street, government and banking not just in America but the whole of the world.

Poverty Compounds Troubles for Children in Immigrant Families

November 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

Children born into immigrant families often live in a scarier world then most of us. Aggression against their families flares in our country and is institutionized in the department of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE deported 46,000 parents in the first six months of this year according to researcher Seth Freed Wessler speaking to Democracy Now. When parents are deported or detained their US born children often enter the foster care system and sometimes never see their mother and father again. This is the subject of a new study called Shattered Families. Immigrant children also may be living with abuse. Women in abusive relationships can be afraid to seek help because they fear deportation and lack social support. In some cultures more than 40% of women are subject to domestic violence

This isn’t a blog about deportation, domestic violence or immigration but this context is important in understanding the special hardship children in immigrant families face when they also endure poverty. 4.2 million kids in immigrant families are in poverty and their experience is uniquely hard because so many of those families can’t get food stamps or low income health insurance because of law and bias. 

Since the mid 2000’s poverty rates for immigrant families have increased the most in Suburban areas across the country. Suburbs aren’t often prepared to deliver poverty support much less poverty support to foreign born families. Outside of cultural and language differences other differences distinguish immigrant families from native born poor. They’re more apt to be a married couple with children and more often include a family member that’s working full time but not earning enough to support the household according to an August study from the Brookings Institution. For exact figures on immigrant poverty in your state and a fuller explanation of the issue read that study.  It may help you understand why so many people are working hard for fairer treatment of our immigrant neighbors.

Somethin’s Happenin’ Here by Manny Frishberg

November 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

You can almost hear the ringing tone of Stephen Still’s guitar out at Seattle’s Westlake Plaza, the original site for this city’s venture into Massively Multiplayer On-street Rebellion Games known as the Occupy movement. I feel the buzzing undertow of excitement at creating something entirely new and unexpected – the blindingly mad hope that we can actually leverage some changes this time, that we won’t get fooled again.

This is not my first rodeo, you see. I’ve been up and down on this merry-go-round horse before. More than once. It always starts like this, fresh with the flush of exhilaration at discovering that each of us is not alone after all. We are united, proud, big.

We are the 99 percent – that means there’s a lot of us. And we’re getting a lot of attention. So far, so good.

Okay, so sometimes it’s hard to pin down exactly what’s the point, well, that’s one of the strengths of the movement, if no one’s in charge than all the concerns of all 99 percent of us is what we’re for (or at least, some of us are – we can’t talk for everyone).

Still, even with the intended power vacuum in place, a certain consensus view of what we are protesting and what we are for has been coalescing. We are upset by the sense that the social deck is stacked in favor of the small sliver of the populace who take in the overwhelming bulk of the nation’s (and the world’s) riches. We are the 99 percent! That means we see millionaires becoming billionaires while middle class neighborhoods turn into ghost towns.

Back in the day, the revolution was not being televised. This time around it’s being tweeted, face-to-facebooked, live-streamed over the internationally ubiquitous Internet. We speak through a “human microphone”, the very antithesis of the brave, new techno world we want to embrace. All politics are local; the best are face-to-face.

The question, from the beginning, has been, “What do you do for an encore?” Deciding that the occupation is the purpose is one potential pitfall – already cities from Oakland to Atlanta are focusing attention on the campsites. But a naïve attachment to a place, making a stand on the (not really very) defensible position that since we are the people, we have a right to pitch our tents wherever will get us the most attention – it says so in the Constitution. (Except it doesn’t.)

A remarkable feature of the Occupy movement is its sponge-like quality – and I mean that in a good way. Sea sponges are made up of free-swimming cells that form into a loosely patterned organism, internal parts forming as needed. The Occupy movements have spontaneously generated interest and action-oriented groups, from medical and supply to media, tactics and arts and entertainment. Occupiers in other cities write out their position papers and they circulate freely through the cloud.

Another striking thing, for an old grizzled activist inclined toward telling war stories, is how widespread the support appears to be. Men and women in business suits drop off supplies and donations on their way to work in the office towers that are the ostensible targets of the demonstrations. Commuters honk as they drive past. In just a month, pluralities in every part of the country are inclined to look at the Occupiers favorably. The unions were among the earliest supporters of the Occupy movement. Even the cops themselves are not unsympathetic, not all of them. Not all the time.

So I claim the right to experience a shiver of excitement, a thrill of wonder to go along with the familiar déjà vu. The been-there, done-that, made-bail, got-the-t-shirt. Time to get my hopes up, one more time. (Then we’ll get on our knees and pray: We won’t get fooled again!)

Hunger in the Land of Plenty

November 4, 2011 § 1 Comment

All across our nation the smell of food wafts from restraunts along commercial streets. Absolutely every wonderful scent is represented.  Food is the celebrity on magazine covers and the focus of it’s own national television network. Food seems plentiful in this country yet startling figures are coming out  revealing that food hardship afflicts 14.9% of households in America and a shocking 23% of households with children. County by county these statistics may vary but let’s read that again…nationally 23% of households with children have difficulty getting the food they need; that’s one in four. 

Hunger in a land of plenty can be explained succinctly.  Phenomenal rises in grocery prices, declining median incomes, swelling poverty numbers, stubborn unemployment

Community garden

 Where can we begin to help? There are strong networks of food banks in America. The pressure is high on those existing organizations now.  Can you redirect money to give monthly to your local food bank  during these hard times?  Can you volunteer? Maybe you have an idea for a new way to help or can get involved in recent efforts that augment the food banks.  Some, such as the Urban garden movement, focus on growing food to feed neighbors. Others emphasize recovery of food. The USDA estimates that a 5% saving in food discards could feed 4 million more people daily and reduce the 31 billion dollars a year businesses and communities pay to get rid of unharvested/unwanted/unsold foods. Organize restraunts in your community to donate food, fundraise for hunger, or participate in a  Gleening Network

 This is a land of plenty; plenty of food and plenty of talented caring people. With focus and effort we can reach a time when noone in America needs to go hungry. Today we can begin to make that difference.

Uninsured America Nearing Majority in Many Communities

October 30, 2011 § 1 Comment

Greece and it’s debt woes moved the stock market, Iraq and our involvement was on the news every day yet the populations of those two countries added together are smaller than the number of uninsured in the USA in 2010.  That number, 49.9 million and 16.3% , climbed in the opening decade of the 21st century. What impact is that having on our society and our communites and why aren’t we doing more to treat the uninsured?

The consequences of an uninsured epidemic are every bit as grave as war. Tragically, high numbers of uninsured increase mortality. New studies from Harvard Medical School show that someone dies from lack of health insurance every 12 minutes. Nearly 45,000 people die in America each year because they didn’t have enough money to see their family doctor for a preventable or treatable condition.  Our county’s infant mortality rate is an abysmal 27th among 30 industrialized countries in part because more than 800,000 pregnant women are uninsured.

The number of uninsureds unable to afford basic healthcare and prescribed drugs is reaching a majority in our communities. 45% of single mothers reported not going to the doctor when they needed to and 43% didn’t fill a prescription. 39% of Hispanic women didn’t go to the doctor as needed, 32% of all Black men hadn’t filled a needed prescription, 52% of the unemployed skipped seeing a doctor when they had to, and 47% of unemployed men were struggling to pay a medical bill. In fact, high percentages of all the above respondents profiled in Women and Men Living on the Edge: Economic Insecurity after the Great Depression were having trouble paying medical bills.

Healthcare is expensive but the cost of not providing healthcare is human lives. As our country withdraws from the long years fighting in Iraq I call for new daily headlines;  stories about the lives we can and are saving in America by solving healthcare inequities. Please join me. We don’t need medical specialists to heal our communities we need to come together and insist on change.

The Price of Health by Manny Frishberg

October 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

Sometimes things happen that so shake a person’s world that nothing ever appears the same again. A few years ago, something like that happened to me — I almost died from a lack of health insurance. (and a burst appendix.) This story is far from unique to me. It is, more and more, what those of us who count ourselves among the bottom 99 percent have to deal with. Medicaid is being cut as states struggle to balance their budgets, while people facing layoffs lose not just their livelihood but the insurance they count on to pay their family’s doctor bills.

Delaying care is one reason  why people of color have worse chances of a good outcome with a number of diseases (but that’s another story). I know the cost of my delay in going to see the doctor. My adventure in emergency surgery ended up costing the system close to $90,000.

Probably 95 percent of that, and the fact that I nearly died, could have been avoided if I’d gone in when I first felt ill. But I couldn’t buy health insurance at the time and I did not think I was that sick. I’m grateful to the selfless people who saved my life. But the system paid because I couldn’t.

So for me it is personal  when the politicians’ plans to save money by making it even harder for people who are losing their jobs to get the only health insurance they might be able to afford,. When I hear of them making such nickel-and-dime wise/dollar bone-jarringly stupid proposals. I want to open up my window and scream.

But I don’t. I write about it instead. And as a journalist I am trained to keep my own feelings out of the story. I ask questions that other people don’t have the time or the opportunity to ask, report the answers and try, where possible, fill in the blanks with some background information for context. Then I sit back and wait for it to appear on the website – and for you to open your windows and scream.