Trick or Treat 2010

October 24, 2010 at 10:59 am | Posted in Politics | 4 Comments
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It’s Halloween and the doorbell rings. You grab the candy and open the door but it’s not a group of kids. The smiling man on your doorstep is wearing a business suit that cost enough to pay off your mortgage. There are several big men with him, all with very short hair and dark suits. They talk softly into the radios they carry, and a couple of them have foreign accents. They shoulder their way into your home.

Their leader pulls out the ballot for your district. He gently but firmly shows you where to put the check marks. “It’s for your own good,” he says. He tells you his candidates will reduce the deficit by eliminating wasteful programs like Medicare. He says they’ll repeal healthcare reform—but doesn’t mention that the legislation they’d repeal makes it unlawful to deny you insurance because you have a preexisting condition, mandates that the insurer can’t cancel your policy when you get sick, and allows your kids to stay on your policy until they’re 26. He says his candidates will repeal financial regulatory legislation to restore the free market, but he doesn’t tell you that the legislation they’d repeal makes credit card processors treat card holders more fairly and restrains excessive risk-taking by financial institutions. He tells you a lot of things that sound good, but doesn’t tell you they’re trying to take us back to the policies that ruined our economy and made the very rich very much richer—at the expense of the middle class.

He’s not your friend; that smile is really a smirk, because your whole house would fit in his living room.

The Democratic candidates, he says, are terrible people who just want to spend your money on wasteful government programs. Like Social Security. Food safety. Veterans benefits. “Don’t worry,” he says. “Elect our candidates and everything will be just fine.” Yeah. If you make over $250,000 a year.

Is this just a scary fantasy? No. The United States Chamber of Commerce, financed by secret U.S. and foreign donors, has launched a $75 million campaign to attack Democratic candidates. Many of the donors are large corporations like Prudential Financial, Dow Chemical, Goldman Sachs, Chevron Texaco, and Aegon (a multinational insurance company based in the Netherlands), and the parent company of the famously “fair and balanced” Fox News. Others are foreign corporations. They come from from China, India, and the Middle East, and some are owned by foreign governments. They are certainly not your friends.

Large corporations aren’t your friends because their charter is to make money for their stockholders, and, incidentally, for their top executives. They don’t care about you; they care only about their bottom lines. And they’re too short-sighted to see that by running our country into the ground they are destroying themselves in the long run. In the meantime, they’re spreading misery for the middle class.

Foreign governments are not in the least bit interested in the American middle class, or the American national interest. China wants what benefits China. India wants what benefits India. Dubai wants what benefits Dubai.

That’s very scary, and it’s no fantasy. The big money interests here and abroad are trying to buy this election, and they have the money to do it! This is the most serious threat to our democracy in the 234 years it has existed. They want to run our country in their interest, not ours. Don’t let them get away with it. For the very life of our country…vote Democratic!

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Don’t let John die

November 30, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Posted in Congress, Healthcare, Obama Administration, Politics | 1 Comment
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Recently The New York Times published an Op-Ed piece by Nicholas Kristof, titled Are we going to let John die? It’s the story of a man who will die soon—because he can’t get healthcare.

A friend wrote me and said he didn’t understand why John is having problems with his healthcare, that he doesn’t think our healthcare system is broken, that he doesn’t think the healthcare reform bills would do anything for John, and that he doesn’t want the government stepping in and spending lots of money.

This is my response.

Here’s why is John having problems with his healthcare:

  • Because of his condition he is unable to work.
  • Because he is unable to work he lost his health insurance.
  • His wife’s insurance company won’t cover him because he has a pre-existing condition—and neither will any other insurance companies.
  • Emergency rooms can’t do much for him. They can give him a pain pill, but they can’t treat the condition. And he’s gone to the ER so often that one hospital told him not to come back until he gets insurance.
  • In August he qualified for Medicaid, but the payment rates are so low in Oregon that he can’t find a doctor who will do the operation he needs.

The healthcare reform bills would help John in a couple of ways. Both bills would make insurance companies take him on despite his pre-existing condition. The House bill (and probably the Senate bill) would prohibit his insurance company from dropping him because he lost his job. And a strong public option would reduce premium costs by making health insurance companies compete.

If our healthcare system isn’t broken, how could John’s problem be solved?

He’s going to die. He’s going to die because he doesn’t have health insurance, or the money to pay for the healthcare that would save his life. He is one of the roughly forty-eight thousand people who die each year because they are underinsured or uninsured.

Healthcare reform is expensive, sure. Yet the Congressional Budget Office says that both the House and Senate bills will more than meet President Obama’s requirement that they “not add a dime to the deficit.” They will actually reduce the deficit. Can we afford healthcare reform? Yes.

But healthcare reform is not simply a financial issue. It’s a moral issue. We have the ability, so it is immoral and unethical to evade our responsibility to care for those who cannot care for themselves. It would be nice if friends, relatives, churches, and social organizations could take care of the problem. But they can’t. It is simply too big, too complex, and too expensive for that. Who is left?

We can’t afford not to reform our healthcare system! We must do the right thing and make healthcare available to everybody.

The Republicans, Joe Lieberman, and the Blue Dog Democrats are doing everything they can do to keep the status quo. I don’t suppose most of them want John to die, or would simply let him die. But apparently they would rather see John die than lose the contributions they get from the health insurance companies. And most Republicans simply want to see President Obama fail because they think it will be to their political advantage—but that’s another discussion.

We won in the House, and we cannot let healthcare reform be emasculated or defeated in the Senate. Write or call your senators—both of them—and tell them that, like most of the people in your state, you want real health reform, including a strong public option. They’ll listen, because you have something the health insurance companies don’t have: the vote.

Oh, by the way…

October 10, 2009 at 7:58 am | Posted in Congress, Healthcare, Obama Administration, Politics | Leave a comment
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I used Congress.org to write emails to my elected representatives on healthcare reform, and I’ve reproduced the emails below. I strongly urge you to send similar letters (but for best results, don’t copy mine). If you prefer, phone your reps: ask for the staffer who handles healthcare reform and leave a message. Or, write a letter. But do it, please: putting pressure on these people, showing them that public opinion is strong on this issue, is the best way to get the job done.

President Obama

When you ran for President you promised us a strong healthcare reform package with a robust public option. Like most Americans, I know we need that package badly: it’s important that we get it, and I care little about the politics and processes. I want it done. Now.

I worked on your campaign and voted for you, but I’ve been disappointed in your lack of aggressive leadership on this issue. Mr. President, the country relies on your strong leadership to get a bill—like the ones in the House—passed in Congress and signed into law.

Please: get it done!

Representative McIntyre

Healthcare reform will soon come to a vote in the House. It is a critical issue. Like most Americans, I want to see a bill that reins in the health insurance companies, makes them compete with each other, and includes a strong public option. We can do this, as every other industrialized nation does, and failure to do it would result in financial disaster for individuals, and for the nation.

Remember, Mr. McIntyre, it is the people who vote, not the corporations. And the people care about this issue. Like the people of North Carolina, you must support real, robust healthcare reform. Get it done!

Senator Kay Hagan

Healthcare reform will soon come to a vote in the Senate. It is a critical issue. Like most Americans, I want to see a bill that reins in the health insurance companies, makes them compete with each other, and includes a strong public option. We can do this, as every other industrialized nation does, and failure to do it would result in financial disaster for individuals, and for the nation.

Remember, Ms. Hagan, it is the people who vote, not the corporations. And the people care about this issue. Like the people of North Carolina, you must support real, robust healthcare reform. Get it done!

Senator Richard Burr

Healthcare reform will soon come to a vote in the Senate. It is a critical issue. Like most Americans, I want to see a bill that reins in the health insurance companies, makes them compete with each other, and includes a strong public option. We can do this, as every other industrialized nation does, and failure to do it would result in financial disaster for individuals, and for the nation.

Mr. Burr, you have voted against virtually every piece of legislation since January. That’s childish, and it’s not what you were elected to do. Remember: it is the people who vote, not the corporations. And the people care about this issue. Like the people of North Carolina, you must support real, robust healthcare reform. Get it done!

Make it happen

October 9, 2009 at 6:57 am | Posted in Congress, Healthcare, Politics | Leave a comment
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It’s a matter of life and death. Literally. 45,000 Americans died last year because they didn’t have health insurance. Many of them couldn’t afford it: premiums have been rising four times faster than wages.

Even if you don’t die from lack of health insurance you’re going to suffer: the cost of healthcare causes well over a million bankruptcies a year, and causes 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes each year.

Meanwhile, mergers and acquisitions resulted in a situation where there is little or no competition in most markets. Health insurance company profits rose more than 400% between 2000 and 2007. Premiums increased, coverage decreased, and it became harder and harder to get claims paid.

Quite simply, the problem is that the health insurance companies are not competing with each other. They’re ripping you off. They’re ripping your employer off. They’re acting like…a cartel. The result is pain, death, and financial ruin for individuals and problems for the economy.

It has to stop, and it has to stop now. It is a matter of public safety, like defense against attacks by other countries and terrorists, from criminals, and from natural disasters. Without real healthcare reform we are unsafe, and the longer we wait for reform the less safe we are.

Extending coverage to everybody is complex, but like every other industrialized nation we can do it. It will be expensive—but we can reduce the cost of healthcare by getting rid of inefficiencies, fraud, and misuse of resources. We can reduce the cost of healthcare by reducing the cost of health insurance: by regulating the insurance companies instead of subsidizing them, and most important, making them compete with each other.

Making the insurance companies compete is easier than you think. We need to set up a national health insurance exchange that would allow people (and employers) to choose among many companies competing on a level playing field. We need to add a new player to that field: a Medicare-like plan that would be available as another choice to everybody, that would be self-supporting like all the other insurance companies, but that would be run by the same people who bring you Medicare.

Yes, run by the government. Run by the people who are supposed to defend the country from attacks by foreign countries and by terrorists, who are supposed to leap in to lead the recovery from natural disasters, who provide medical care for wounded veterans, and who provide pensions and medical insurance to millions of Americans who are over 65 through Social Security and Medicare. That’s what government is supposed to do, and providing a self-supporting plan for anybody who wants it is a logical extension of what government already does.

There are healthcare reform bills in Congress that do, or could be amended to do these things. But there is opposition. Not surprisingly, much of that opposition comes from the health insurance companies, who spent something like a billion dollars a day during August, lobbying against reform and financing “grass roots” opposition to reform.

In Congress some of the opposition comes from the Republicans, who have voted en masse against almost every piece of legislation since January, simply because we have a Democratic president. Some of the opposition comes from “Blue Dog” Democrats who are in the pockets of the health insurance companies, or have problems with the proposed legislation.

Lobbying the Republicans is useless. They have said they’ll vote against the healthcare reform bills no matter what is in them. But there are plenty of senators and representatives who are Democrats or independents. They are the ones who will pass a bill. It is up to us—to you and to me—to see that they pass a good bill. A bill that reins in the insurance companies and makes them compete. A bill that offers a robust public option (the Medicare-like plan I talked about above). A bill that extends coverage to as many people as is humanly possible.

Please…call, write, or email your senators, your representative, and our president. Tell them you want a strong healthcare reform bill—with a robust public option—that will extend coverage and reduce healthcare premiums.

You can’t afford not to.

A letter to The Editor of The Robesonian

August 28, 2009 at 1:45 pm | Posted in Congress, Healthcare, Politics | Leave a comment
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It seems that Congressman McIntyre opposes the Healthcare Reform bill.

But when he claims the bill provides benefits to illegal aliens he is either misinformed or misrepresenting the facts: the bill explicitly prohibits illegal aliens from getting Federal dollars for health care.

When Mr. McIntyre puts the cost of the bill at $1.6 trillion and claims it will put the country in debt he is, again, either misinformed or misrepresenting the facts: the Congressional Budget Office says that cost savings, coupled with the revenue package in the bill (which affects only families with incomes of more than $350,000) will fully finance the $1.042 trillion cost.

According to The Robesonian Mr. McIntyre suggested that any bill reforming the healthcare system should allow people to choose their own doctors, allow people to keep or change their insurance plan without being penalized for preexisting conditions, avoid penalizing or putting more mandates on small business, and avoid bankrupting the system with economic irresponsibility.

Doesn’t Mr. McIntyre know that the bill already does these things? It provides for an individual’s right to choose a doctor. It provides for wider insurance networks, thus making more doctors available to choose from. It provides that individuals may keep their plans or choose another, and requires insurance companies to provide coverage regardless of preexisting conditions.

Small businesses? Isn’t Mr. McIntyre aware that 76% of all businesses, the smallest, are exempt from the employer responsibility requirements?

Mr. McIntyre says he is concerned that Medicare reimbursements be “proper,” and set to attract doctors to rural areas. The bill does exactly that, eliminating a planned 21% cut in physician fees planned for next year, and increasing reimbursement for primary care services. In addition, it extends protections for rural providers—already in the law—to ensure continuing access to healthcare in rural areas like ours.

Mr. McIntyre says he is worried about the bill cutting benefits to seniors. But it has provisions that extend and improve benefits to seniors, like the eventual elimination of the “doughnut hole” that traps seniors into increased payments for medication, improve the Medicare low-income subsidy plans, and enhance nursing home transparency and accountability.

Mr. McIntyre, everything you say you want in the bill is already there! And despite what you say, the bill explicitly prohibits illegals from getting coverage! Are you trying to scare us, are you misinformed, or are you simply ignorant?

Mr. McIntyre, you say we’re going too fast with healthcare reform, that members of congress ought to have more time to read the bill. Where were you during the five-hour congressional briefing session where the bill was fully discussed?

We’re not going too fast. We’re going too slow. Mr. McIntyre, the voters of this district recognize the urgent need for healthcare reform. We want you to go back to Washington and get the job done!

—Barney Bornn, Lumberton

Participate in the Process

August 22, 2009 at 8:06 am | Posted in Politics | Leave a comment
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Consider a grain of sand. It’s so small you can hardly see it. It’s useless, and not even pretty. It’s totally inconsequential. But put a bunch of these inconsequential things together and you get a sand castle, a sandbox, a beach, or maybe a mountain.

In the same way, you and I, as individuals, are politically inconsequential. As individuals, our votes mean nothing. Individual letters to our elected leaders mean nothing. But each of us is a member of a group that, though not formally organized, holds certain beliefs, certain political opinions. You may not know many members of your group. But there are many, many others in your group, and if you all vote, if you all write your elected leaders, things will get done.

For example, President Bush lost his battle to privatize Social Security because a lot of people told their senators and representatives they didn’t want it. President Obama and a whole raft of Democrats got elected—some by landslides, one by a couple of hundred votes—because a lot of people voted, and by voting changed the political complexion of the national government. More recently the F-22 got dropped from the Federal Budget—because people wrote their elected representatives, and won their battle.

Politicians listen, or they lose their jobs, and they know it. They may get huge amounts of money from corporations and other groups whose interests are selfish and different from ours, but these well-funded outfits do not vote. They make huge contributions and they wield a lot of influence, but in the end they can’t vote. You and I can vote. You and I and the great unorganized masses are the ones who elect—or throw out—our leadership.

Participate. Express your opinion.

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