Monday, June 29, 2009

$1.4 million per day to derail health-care reform


Why isn't Congress listening to Americans on health-care reform? This is why.

Health care interests have spent $1.4 million per day this year lobbying Congress, according to Common Cause. Just imagine if that money were spent on health care for the uninsured instead.

Common Cause also reports:
  • Health industries — including health insurance, pharmaceuticals and health products, hospitals and HMOs, and health professionals — have contributed over $372 million in campaign contributions to members of Congress since 2000.

  • Political spending by the health industries has increased 73 percent since 2000. Health interests contributed about $94 million to candidates for Congress in the 2008 election cycle, up from about $54 million in the 2000 cycle.

  • Members serving on committees and subcommittees with jurisdiction over health care reform in the House and Senate received the lion's share of health industries' largesse. Committee members raised $178 million from the industries this decade — roughly half of the industries' contributions to the entire Congress.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hooray for Mary Flowers!
June 25 single-payer hearing, Carbondale

Mary E. FlowersMary E. Flowers
Illinois Rep. Mary E. Flowers (D-31st) is still out there talking up her bill for an Illinois single-payer health-care system, H.B. 311.

The Southern Illinoisan reports:
"Flowers said she plans to be in Carbondale next week to discuss the legislation and get feedback from citizens who want to 'make their voice heard' on health care. She will host a hearing at 7 p.m. June 25 at the Carbondale Civic Center.

"'The average family is paying $6,700 a year for health care in Illinois and guess what? They are not better for it, and they are not healthier for it,' she said. 'Other countries pay less, get more and live longer.'"
Given the mess being proposed in Washington by politicians largely bought and sold by the insurance industry and for-profit medicine, it may be that, like the smoking ban, we will have to enact universal health care state-by-state or even city-by-city. (After all, if the Chicago City Council could pass ordinances about the welfare of ducks, you'd think they could do something for people.)

Here's hoping Illinois will be a leader.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Obama's Chicago doctor supports single-payer


What do you call a man who ignores his doctor's advice?

Barack Obama.

So reports Forbes, which notes that Dr. David Scheiner, the Hyde Park physician who was Obama's internist from 1987 until after the election, is critical of the president's stance on health-care reform.

Forbes, naturally, tried to put as right-wing a spin on Scheiner's criticisms as possible ("Obama's Doctor Knocks ObamaCare"), but what it comes down to is that Scheiner supports single-payer health care.
"'He doesn't see all the pain, it's so tragic out here,' [Scheiner] says. 'Obama's wonderful, but on this one I'm not sure if he's getting the right input.'

"What should the president be focused on? Scheiner thinks that a good health reform would be 'Medicare for all,' a single-payer system where the government would cover everyone and pay for it by cutting out waste in the system. 'A neurosurgeon gets paid $20,000 for cutting into the neck of my patient. Have him get paid $1 million a year instead of $2 million or $3 million. He won't starve,' Scheiner says.

"Scheiner thinks that Obama's 'public plan' reform doesn't go far enough. He supports the idea of that option for people who don't like or can't afford their HMO. But he worries that it will be watered down or not happen at all. "'It's nonsense that the private insurance companies need to be protected,' he says. 'Why? Because they've done such a good job?'

Scheiner actually says he didn't discuss health policy with Obama, but it seems unlikely the latter was unaware of his doctor's views. Scheiner's medical partner, Dr. Quentin Young, founded Physicians for for a National Health Program.

Dr. Scheiner, it's not too late to write your patient a prescription for fixing health-care's ills.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Maher on Obama and health care: Right again


Sorry if you've seen this already. I don't have cable, so I see these things when they come around on YouTube. Bill Maher is absolutely right here. Pres. "Go with the Flow" Obama is not giving us the leadership we expected or deserve.

The way he and the Democrats in Congress are kowtowing to the GOP in the name of a useless bipartisanship is a crying shame. Now is not the time to turn the other cheek and try to prove how much better your manners are than the Republicans'. Too many lives are on the line. Use your power while you have it.

We should all stop basking in the relief that Bush is gone, and push Obama into doing the things we need him to do.

Stop making nice, Mr. President. Fight for us. History will judge you on what you achieve, not on how you look on TV.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Have you signed on to universal health care?


Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Please go to Sanders' Web site right now and sign the petition!

Everybody in. Nobody out.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Chronic recognition

Ill and Uninsured in Illinois has gotten a tiny bit of recognition lately. The blog was accepted to Blogburst, a blog syndication service, which means a couple of my posts appeared on the Chicago Sun-Times' and Daily Southtown Web site. (This seems to have generated about five click-throughs to the actual blog so far, and there's no compensation, in case you were wondering.) More gratifyingly, Duncan Cross very kindly invited me to participate in the very first Patients for a Moment, a new patient-centered blog carnival, which launched today. It's a fine start. Go take a look.

One of the linked posts that particularly struck me was at Getting Closer to Myself on how to talk about one's illness. This is something I've been struggling with; most of my friends and acquaintances have no idea how sick I've been — what they think about why I've dropped out of sight I don't know. Probably they don't much care. I haven't told many people, in part because I still have hopes of finding a job when I get through all of this, and a reputation as a sickly person in the relatively small circle of my field will be hard to overcome. I never expected to be so ill for so long.

Duncan's comments, which linked my post on retail clinics to a thoughtful post from A Blessed Mess on the financial problems of chronic illness, sent me to look up just what chronic illness is.

I hadn't before now thought of myself as chronically ill. However, since the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics defines a chronic illness as one lasting three months or more, and this bout of decrepitude has lasted since late December, I guess I am. But it's the health-care system that's made me a chronic invalid.

Five years ago, when I had health insurance, I had an episode. It lasted a few weeks — four, maybe six altogether — during which time I had an emergency room visit, a follow-up with a specialist, three outpatient medical procedures and a number of intervening doctor visits. I had to take about a week off work, all told. And then it was all over and I was fine.

This new episode, without insurance, has been pretty much the same, treatment-wise. But the timing has been much different. I became ill in late December. I didn't get to see a specialist until late March. I had the first procedure in late April, with follow-up a month after that. A second procedure took place early this month, and my follow-up isn't until the end of the month. I'm guessing a third procedure will be needed, just like last time, so that'll be another two months. For all of this time, I've been too ill to leave my house, and for much of it, too sick even to work at home. I need a job, and yet I'm in no condition to look for work.

This isn't the fault of the beleaguered Cook County Health and Hospitals System. It isn't my fault. This is America's fault.

Thanks, Duncan, and also thank you to the bloggers who've added me to their blogrolls. Meanwhile, I invite your comments on this blog and suggestions on what I might do to get the word out further. By the way, please note the little star and the green doodad below. The star lets you promote a post on The Windy Citizen, Chicago's version of Digg. The green Share This icon makes it easy to share on Digg, Facebook or a variety of other social networks.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Health-insurance pirates: 'Go ahead and die!'


Pirates of the Health Care-ibbean.
Music by the Austin Lounge Lizards.

This is brilliant! Why hasn't it gone viral?

Embed it in your blog! Digg it! Post it on Please, somebody, put it on national TV!

Chicagoans, of course, will be reminded of the legendary Steve Goodman. Yes, the health-insurance industry is nothing less than the "Lincoln Park Pirates," all growed up:
"I've got mine, and I feel fine, so go ahead and die!"
How Chicago is that? As the late Mike Royko used to say, "Ubi Est Mea."

Funny as it is, though, it's also frighteningly true:
"Senators and congressmen make up my scurvy crew
They swab my decks and cash my checks
And cast a vote or two.
When the universal health-care serpent rears its ugly head
My press gang fires broadsides
And my crew ensures it's dead."
According to the Washington Post:
"Almost 30 key lawmakers helping draft landmark health-care legislation have financial holdings in the industry, totaling nearly $11 million worth of personal investments in a sector that could be dramatically reshaped by this summer's debate.... Their total health-care holdings could be worth $27 million, because congressional financial disclosure forms released yesterday require reporting of only broad ranges of holdings rather than precise values of assets."
Do they really think we're so dumb as to believe that people with such investments in the status quo will vote fairly on reform? And over and above that, of course, are millions in direct donations from insurers and pharmaceutical companies and their PACs accepted by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and other key players in the heath-care reform debate. Plus other close relationships, such as the wife of Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who, the Post points out, has remunerative positions on the boards of four health-care companies.

Weigh, hey, let's tow 'em away!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Horrifying health ministries: Inspiration for health co-op plan?

Andrea Mantegna, ca. 1490

Sen. Chris Dodd's health-reform site, now apparently closed after 26,363 votes on 514 entries from 484 people, got a lot of traffic from members of so-called Christian health ministries, who were apparently coached to post repeating messages (they all used nearly the same language) calling for preserving their private health-care expense-sharing plans and to hell with the rest of us. (I guess we're destined to go there, anyway, in their view, so they don't mind if we suffer here on earth first.)

Since the health cooperative idea proposed by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) seems based on the concept of these unregulated health-insurance programs, it's as well to understand how they work.

Typically, the organization publishes a newsletter specifying named individuals' health-care needs every month, and members, who are required to tithe a specified amount monthly, send their donations directly to the sick person of their choice. So not only do you have to tell all your fellow members about your hemorrhoids or prostate trouble, if you're unpopular, I guess you die.

According to the scheme most frequently cited, Peoria-based Samaritan Ministries:
"Whether anyone chooses to pay your medical bills will be totally voluntary. This publication should never be considered as a substitute for an insurance policy. Whether you receive any payment for medical expenses, or whether or not this publication continues to operate, you will always remain liable for any unpaid bills.

"This is not a legally binding agreement to reimburse you for medical expenses you incur...."

To participate in Samaritan Ministries, you must be certified by the pastor of your church as a born-again Christian who attends church three out of every four weeks, and who doesn't drink, smoke or have sex outside of heterosexual marriage. You must also practice undefined "good health measures."

No expense under $300 is covered; payments cap out at $100,000 per illness. No preventative medicine, regular checkups or routine tests, such as colonoscopy. No chiropractic or osteopathic treatments. No treatment for mental illness or resulting suicide attempts.

If you have cancer, diabetes or a heart condition before you join, no expenses related to those conditions will be paid for, ever. A 12-month symptom- and treatment-free period applies to other pre-existing conditions. They also won't cover any sexually transmitted diseases contracted by, er, having sex.

They do, however, cover the expenses of birthing lots of Christian babies.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Health Wonks' health reform roundup

I'm a little behind on things this week — struggling with two ailments while trying to get a little work done has sapped my energy — so I'm just getting to the latest edition of Health Wonk Review at Managed Care Matters.

This time out, it's a wide-ranging compendium of views on health-care reform, including my own post on retail clinics, which author Joe Paduda links in a flattering way to the eloquent DrRich's discourse on the death of the primary care physician.

I particularly like Paduda's own solution for reform, which goes further than any proposal being considered in Washington now — not "Medicare for All" but Veterans Administration health care for all. Paduda does a good job of refuting the anti-reformers' assertion that the government can't do anything right (which, oddly enough, seems to be promulgated largely by people who were staunch supporters of the government for the past eight years).

It's definitely worth taking a look.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Springfield on health-care reform


Following health-care reform has made me realize that I don't know as much as I ought to about how my state government works, not when you get down to the nitty-gritty details.

As an excuse, I grew up in another state, so I learned something else when seventh-graders in Illinois learned that stuff, and I haven't had much call to study the state's legislature's detailed workings till now. I used to get all I needed to know from the newspapers, but our local papers no longer seem to employ reporters to cover the daily happenings in Springfield, and the principal news source about the state Capitol is a paid-subscription blog. So I've just been trying to track what I can through the state Web site.

As best as I've been able to determine, here is the status of the various health-care bills that came up in the 96th Illinois General Assembly, now recessed.

What passed
  • Illinois H.B. 3923, Insurance Rate Fairness
    Requires insurance companies to spend atleast 75 percent of premium dollars on medical care rather than on executives' salaries, marketing and profits; establishes an Office of Consumer Health Insurance to conduct reviews of claims and rate increases; streamlines application process with a standard form for individuals and small groups. Passed the House and Senate in different forms. Final action deadline extended till Nov. 30, 2009, so it could still fall apart.

  • Illinois H.B. 2325, Continuing Coverage
    Extends state COBRA rights from nine to 12 months. Passed both houses.

  • Illinois H.R. 0233, Urge Congress-Universal Health
    A House resolution urging the U.S. Congress to enact Rep. John Conyers' Medicare for All Act. Adopted.

What failed

For those of you who also need a primer on Illinois government, here's a guide. What's not very clear to me is what causes a bill that's gotten to a second reading to fizzle before it comes to a third reading and final vote. I'm also unsure of what may and may not be reintroduced in the fall session, but e-mail from my state rep. said it was possible H.B. 311 might return then. I hope so.

I suppose we should be urging our representatives and senators to get it together over H.B. 3923, but I can't get too excited over it. The insurance companies will find a way to finagle it somehow.

Frankly, I'm very unhappy with what my legislators have managed to achieve this session, and I don't see the furor over Blagojevich as any excuse.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Tell Chris Dodd to support single-payer!

UPDATE: After commentary from 484 people, Sen. Dodd has stopped accepting opinions at the YouTube SenateHub site. You can still contact him through more traditional means.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, invites you to submit your ideas and vote up or down those of others here.

I wonder whether anyone will actually pay attention to this, or whether it's just a political ploy.

Dodd asserts: "Many people like what they have. They don't want to change. They don't want us fooling around with it. And certainly our intention is if you like what you've got, then you keep what you've got."

Yet I've read every one of the 153 ideas that are there as I write, and by far the vast majority are calling for change, and most of those want single-payer.

Anyone who's had any serious illness and had to deal with the denials, the paperwork, the expense and lack of coverage entailed in the private-insurance system doesn't want to keep what they have. Those of us who don't have coverage don't want to keep what we have.

The only people who want to keep what they have are healthy people who haven't had any real interaction with their insurance companies. And, of course, people who work for insurance companies.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


It hurts

I haven't written about my own situation in a while. Partly because I find writing about myself difficult, especially when there's no good news to report. This week I have good news and bad news.

The good news is that treatment is progressing. Slowly, but it's happening. The bad news is that I now have another ailment on top of the one I started with, and although I got some treatment for that, too, I feel worse. I'm frightened and discouraged, both by my own deteriorating condition and by the fact that health-care "reform" seems to be progressing in ominous ways.

So Max BauCA$H met with single-payer advocates and apologized. But, of course, he said it's too late.

Among other discouraging things that's happened lately is a conversation I had when I was at Stroger Hospital last week, being prepped for treatment. During a lull in the proceedings, I said to the anesthesiologist, "So what do you think about single-payer health care?"

"I never heard of it," she said.

I thought maybe she just wasn't familiar with the term itself and explained. "Oh, socialized medicine," she said. No, I said, and explained further. "I'll have to look into it."

But here we have medical personnel at a large, overburdened public hospital in the hometown of Physicians for a National Health Program ... and they don't know about single-payer? And neither do the patients?

Stroger Hospital, and other places like it, should be a prime recruiting ground for single-payer advocates. There, if anywhere, people understand what's wrong with our health-care system.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Can we have worse health care than today? Yes we can!

Black Sox Scandal
Say it ain't so, Barack. Say it ain't so.

Well, I never would've thought it.

Of all my nightmares over health care, the one I never thought would come to pass is a system worse than we have now. Yet it's looming on the horizon: A system in which everyone is forced to buy health insurance from the big, greedy insurance companies who continue to practice their current deceitful schemes to get out of actually providing coverage. And if you don't pay, you either face fines, or have to fill out a lot of humiliating paperwork detailing your impoverished state in order to qualify for the privilege of doing without decent health care.

That's the plan being considered by senators Max Baucus and Edward Kennedy and, yes, Pres. Barack Obama. And they call themselves Democrats?

I can't write anymore, I'm too appalled.

Please, Barack, say it ain't so.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Retail clinics no answer to medically underserved

UPDATE: I unfairly maligned Walgreens' nurse-practitioner for not doing any tests; in subsequent research I learned that my new illness is best diagnosed clinically in its early stages. On the other hand, the dosage of antibiotics she prescribed was too little, as I found out when I phoned my doctor. He told me to take the pills twice as often and twice as long, and graciously phoned in another prescription, so I was spared the price of an office visit. However, he said that if that doesn't clear up the symptoms, I will need to see a specialist.

(AP) — "Walk-in retail clinics in grocery and drugstore chains can help the uninsured find health care, proponents say. But a new study suggests most retail clinics aren't in the poorest neighborhoods.

"Like most businesses, they go where the money is — to more affluent neighborhoods, which already happen to be well-served by other medical resources....

"The study's results suggest financial incentives may be needed to lure the clinics to low-income neighborhoods, said study author Dr. Craig Pollack of the University of Pennsylvania....

"Open late and on weekends, the clinics use nurse practitioners to give shots and treat minor ailments such as sore throats and rashes. Visits typically cost $40 to $75, and prices are posted so consumers know what they're paying. People pay cash or use insurance....

"Industry leaders said retail clinics were designed to offer convenient care, not as the health care system's safety net. But they play a role, industry officials acknowledge. The clinics' own research shows 30 to 40 percent of patients say they don't have a primary care provider, said Tine Hansen-Turton of the Convenient Care Association, a trade group representing most of the clinics...."

Retail clinics like Walgreens' Take Care are quick and convenient. They're open evenings and weekends, and you don't need an appointment. If you don't have insurance, they're somewhat less expensive than a visit to most doctors.

Under our present health-care system, they do have a role. But they're a stop-gap, not a replacement for a primary-care physician. If you catch the flu or sprain your ankle on the weekend, they can save you a trip to the emergency room. But if your flu turns into pneumonia, or the ankle remains weak and needs physical therapy, they won't offer you followup care. For that matter, they can't x-ray your ankle to see if it's actually broken. If you have a chronic condition that needs monitoring, they don't do that, either.

* * *

Recently, I visited a Take Care clinic because of an illness I self-diagnosed ... with help from Dr. Google. Dr. G told me that it's one of those things that can get very bad if left untreated, so I thought I'd better get checked out. I didn't want to go to the Stroger Hospital emergency room, and the retail clinic seemed like the least expensive alternative.

The nurse-practitioner took a short medical history, did a very brief exam, listened to my description of my symptoms, said it looked as if I was right, and prescribed antibiotics. It cost $68.

She did no tests. She had to look up the correct antibiotic in a book. I asked about followup care, and she advised me to see a regular doctor once I'd finished the medication.

If Dr. Google and Take Care's APN are right, the pills will likely help me. If they're wrong, I'll have had — at a minimum — an unnecessary course of antibiotics that will do me no good.

Would my treatment have been different had I gone to the doctor I used to see when I had insurance? Perhaps not. But I bet he'd have ordered a test before writing a scrip, and I'd know for certain whether I had the disease I feared, or something else.

Of course, his price would have been higher, too.

* * *

Even for the limited ailments and injuries they diagnose and treat, retail clinics aren't a substitute for having a regular doctor who knows you and your history. If you rely on on such clinics for your medical care, it's very possible that underlying problems will go on unrecognized. And, as this new study notes, they aren't even convenient for the people who most need health care options.

To me, the existence of these clinics is just another symptom of our spotty, patchwork health-care system. Rather than offer financial incentives to create more for-profit retail health clinics in poor, underserved areas, it makes more sense to set up nonprofit or government-run clinics and offer incentives to doctors to work there.

Why don't we have a medical version of ROTC in the United States? In Australia, government scholarships subsidize the training of medical students who agree to spend six years working in underserved areas once they complete their schooling.

Somehow, it seems typical of the state of America now that our government trains young people to make war, but not health care.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Health reformers' calendar

Upcoming health-care reform events

June 8: Campaign for Better Health Care Summer Celebration, 5:30 p.m., La Decima Musa Restaurant, Chicago, $50.

June 9: Chicago Single Payer Action Network meeting, 6:30 p.m. Access Living, Chicago.

June 14: Town Hall Meeting on Health Care Reform with U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-9th), 2 p.m., Niles Senior Center, 999 Civic Center Drive, Room 127, Niles (southeast corner of Oakton Street and Waukegan Road).

June 23: Chicago Single Payer Action Network meeting, 6:30 p.m. Access Living, Chicago.

June 25: Great American Sickout, National Rally for Health Care for All Now. Those who can, gather at 10 a.m. at the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Those who can't, stay home from work and call the White House and all your representatives and senators.

Monday, June 1, 2009

June 6: Organizing for health care — rewrite the script!

"On June 6th, thousands of people just like you are beginning to organize for health care reform by hosting or attending a Health Care Organizing Kickoff," says the Democratic National Committee's Organizing for America.

Pres. Obama will join confirmed hosts and attendees in a live conference call. Some 50 events are already planned for the Chicago area. The Web site lets sign up to host or attend a kickoff function, and provides scripts for how it should go.

The kickoffs are intended to organize a June 27 National Health Care Day of Service and to promote Obama's three key health reform principles:
  1. Reduce rising health-care costs
  2. Guarantee choice in keeping or finding a new doctor or insurance
  3. Ensure affordable care for all
It's No. 2 that's the hitch, since by "choice" the administration means your choice to preserve the greedy, corrupt health-insurance companies that are enriching Congress at the expense of Americans' health. It defeats the other two principles.

I don't like that choice. The 50 million of us who are uninsured don't have any health-care choices right now. The millions more who are stuck with whatever plan their employer offers don't have any choice. The people who can't change jobs because they'll lose coverage of their pre-existing conditions don't have a choice, either.

We don't need choice. We need health care!

Yet I definitely think single-payer advocates should sign up to host and attend these organizing events. Just rewrite the script!

Use this as an opportunity to point out that before Washington's sacred cash cows got to him, Pres. Obama was an advocate for single payer universal health care. "That's what I'd like to see," he said. "We may not get immediately, because we've got to take back the White House. We've got to take back the Senate. We've got to take back the House."

Point out that we've done all of those things, now, so it's time to take back health care, too.