the health care reform bill: a week later

Sunday 28 March 2010

One week ago, the House of Representatives approved a health care/insurance reform bill that had been passed last November by the Senate.  Since then, President Obama has signed that bill into law, issued an executive order related to abortions and government spending, and a bill to make some “fixes” to the original has passed both houses of Congress.  With all that, the topic of the past year or more, health care reform, has been adopted.

Since then, I’m sure you’ve been able to read, listen to, and watch a lot of coverage on this topic (not to mention all of the coverage that happened the months leading up to this).  You’ve likely heard complaints of those who seeks its repeal, those who are pretty happy with the results, and those who don’t think it went far enough — and any combination of those views.

In my writing on this blog, I try to be pretty balanced and pragmatic, and I hope I will hold true to that even today.  However, I also want to share with you my personal thoughts on the topic as best I can in a succinct way.  I don’t claim to know all the ins and outs of the bills passed, and I’ll probably not touch on all the topics you might be interested in.  However, I invite you to leave comments, short and long, and if you’d be interested in writing a guest blog this week, please let me know and we can be in touch.

So let’s get on with it.

From what I can tell, I first have to say that the changes that were passed are better than nothing.  If this bill will truly allow 30 million more people to receive health insurance, then it’s a step in the right direction.  However, by my calculations, that apparently still leaves about 15 million people without insurance, so obviously it didn’t go far enough.  And we’ve often heard that the goal of controlling costs only works when everyone is covered, so what’s the deal there.

That being said, another issue I have with the bill is that, using a phrase I’ve also heard a bit this week, it “further entrenches the state of a for-profit private insurance industry.”  As someone who ultimately believes in universal health care provided by tax dollars, continuing on with privatized insurance companies that seek to make money off of people receiving (or not receiving) health care is a sham.  Obviously to continue on making money, insurance companies are going to pass their rising costs of coverage on to customers in the form of higher premiums and co-pays, and with no public option that is not-for-profit (they left that out, you know), what is there to truly control rising costs?  I’d really love an answer, because I don’t have one.

I personally can’t get behind a system where people are making money from health-related issues, which is why I totally disagree with the for-profit model.  I think health care is a basic right that we as a society need to get behind.  This structure and system seems unlikely to give universal coverage while keeping costs down — though I hope it will — so unless the plan is to show that the private, for-profit system doesn’t work and we truly need a nationalized system, I’m worried this will simply be an experiment costing thousands of lives in the process.

Some other generalized concerns I’ve been thinking about, in no particular order:

I heard this week that Switzerland has a highly regulated, privately run and universal health care system where profits are capped and the government doesn’t run the system directly but holds extremely powerful oversight abilities.  If we’re so worried about government f-ing things up and straying from our capitalist roots, perhaps this would be a compromise?

We must recognize the interconnectedness of health and other aspects of our lives, such as the food we eat and the lives we lead.  If we had a system where we all were in the same pool, then ultimately those with healthy habits would be subsidizing those with unhealthy habits (smoking/over drinking/poor diet/no exercise/etc.).  How do we change the fabric of society to deal with all these issues?

Our food system is built most calories for your $ is unhealthy foods that lead to diabetes and other such diseases, so changes can’t just come in the health care system itself. No one says having a beer is bad, but we need more support for other who use it excessively and in harmful ways. Also, I’ve heard that many people smoke because it works on the brain similarly to the ways anti-depression drugs work, but will all the extra complications we all know so well.  The question becomes how to deal with things like this that do affect a person’s health and would affect a system where we are all supporting one another. I certainly can’t claim to have all the answers, but it’s going to take more than this bill to change some large structures that are contributing to health issues in this country.

Another issue I have is that we (in the U.S.) have become accustomed to thinking that money can buy anything and failing to accept that we’re all mortal and will thus get sick and die. Unfortunately, until we accept that, we will continue to clamor for more medicine and medical service to keep us going, and if we have money we’ll think that should mean we can thus use it to buy more services and stay healthier longer.  Unfortunately, all the talk of “death panels” incited fear instead of a positive discussion about death itself. Should there be people “playing god” and deciding who should live and die? Well, maybe not to that extent, but we need to find a general consensus of what a good life lived looks like so we can better make decisions about how we’re using our limited health care resources.  Should we be giving a 95-year-old a hip and knee replacement if that takes away resources from a 10-year-old in some way?  I don’t think so, but we’ve failed to have open discussions on this topic because we feel entitled to certain privileges in relation to health care, especially if we have money to pay for it.

My biggest desire is that all people have access to a certain level of health care that doesn’t burden them financially. Will that ultimately mean some kind of rationing? Probably, and I’m fine with that as long as it’s happening to everyone equally. My biggest problem is that discrimination is happening in the health care system. Sometimes it’s in the form of people not being able to purchase insurance. Sometimes it’s that, with or without insurance, people are driven to bankruptcy or huge financial burdens because of medical costs.

For all these reasons I’ve listed above, I believe we need a system that treats all and is paid for by all.  In my mind, people would contribute in proportion to their wealth for the betterment of all.  Some people call this socialized health care, others call it a collective.  No matter the name, until we unite against those who continue to profit from the current system, inequality in relation to health care will continue, with some on the outside looking in.  I hope people will recognize that the fight needs to continue until this type of system is achieved.

my favorite movies of the 2000s, #9 and #10, and top 11 documentaries!

Sunday 27 December 2009

We’ve finally made it to the top ten — that means 5 days left in 2009 and the decade!  Today you get two documentaries, and to liven things up, I’ve decided to add a bonus list, too: my top 11documentaries of the decade!  It means you’ll get a sneak peak at a few of the movies to come in my overall list, which is fine by me.  I have another bonus feature coming, too, but let’s do the #9 and #10 of the decade first, and then see the documentaries below that!

First, previous movies in the top 25 list (remember, these are my favorite of those I’ve seen this decade — see the link to movie #25 for a description of the list and the other movie links for previous descriptions):
#25: (500) Days of Summer (2009)
#24: FLOW: For Love Of Water (2008)
#23: In The Bedroom (2001)

#22: House of Sand and Fog (2003)
#21: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (2003)

#20: Wo Hu Cang Long (2000)
#19: Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (2007)

#18: Hable con Ella (2002)
#17: The Wrestler (2008)

#16: Revolutionary Road (2008)
#15: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

#14: Hotel Rwanda (2004)
#13: Elephant (2003)

#12: Moulin Rouge! (2001)
#11: Juno (2007)

#10: Spellbound (2002)
Because I’m a big fan of documentaries (there are a total of 6 in my top 25, and 4 in my top 10!), I tend to see a good amount of breakouts in the theaters before they catch on with others, and I was lucky enough to see this one on the big screen as well.  It’s a basic premise: make a documentary covering the National Spelling Bee, doing individual features on a few of the participants along the way.  I think part of the genius is that spelling bee participants have to be pre-high school students, so the focus is on kids and their families.  You have first timers and those who have been there before.  Every one of them studies, but the amount varies drastically.  You have participants with rigorous study habits and private coaches, with parents pushing them all the way.  You have participants with language tutors (a lot of spelling is about etymology).  Some rely mostly on what they know already and are more laissez faire about it.  Personalities range from serious to bubbly to outright odd.  In the end, it’s a fun and suspenseful movie that leaves a smile on your face, something lacking from many scripted movies being put out these days.

#9: The Weather Underground (2002)
Without last year’s presidential campaign, most people would never have heard about the Weathermen.  But luckily for me, there was some kind of connection of Bill Ayers, one of the Weathermen, to now-President Obama, so it’s at least a recognizable group now.  (Bob Dylan mentioned them, too: “You don’t need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”)  In any case, this documentary details the doings of the “radical” (debatable) group acting out west during the Vietnam War protests.  You get some historical footage along with present day interviews with former members (a trio died in the building of a bomb) to make a very engaging and thought provoking story.  No matter your opinion of such protest strategies, you get a good view of what was happening during that time in history and what the Weathermen were seeking to do.

And here are my top 11 favorite documentaries (I’ve seen) of the decade!  (Since 1-6 are in the general top #25 list and 7-9 in a soon to be released bonus list, I’ve only provided descriptions to #10 and #11 right now, but this page will change with other links as the year continues!):

1. The Corporation (2003)
2. Jonestown (2006)
3. The Weather Underground (2002)
4. Spellbound (2002)
5. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (2003)
6. FLOW: For Love Of Water (2008)
7. Wordplay (2006)
8.  Neverland: The Rise and Fall of the Symbionese Liberation Army (2004)
9.  Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
10. The Natural History of the Chicken (2000)
I’m not actually sure if I saw this entire movie, but what I did see is enough to get it on this list.  This movie is a precursor to other “investigative” movies like FLOW and Food, Inc., but with a twist.  It’s a combination of vignettes about chickens (as the title implies).  You see a bit about chickens in factory coops (and their overcrowding).  You get to see a woman with her pet chicken.  You get to hear about complaints of neighbors because of disruptive chickens nearby.  We don’t think about chickens very much, but this movie put a nice personal touch on them.  I saw this in a film class and then headed to lunch where they were serving my favorite dish, marinated chicken.  I site it as one of the instigating factors in my vegetarianism!
11.  Food, Inc. (2008)
I just saw this movie this past summer (in a theater, so that 2008 date may be a bit off) and really enjoyed it.  There was a lot of information that didn’t surprise me, but a lot of new info, too.  In all, it tells the story of the industrialization of food into lots of “food like substances,” make with lots and lots of high fructose corn syrup.    There’s too much other information to detail here, but with it now out on DVD, you really should check it out (you can borrow my copy).  It will hopefully make you think more about the “food” you’re eating and the choices you make when putting things into your body.

Africa — wow!

Monday 7 April 2008

From approximately 27 March – 4 April 2008, I was in Zambia, Africa. My experiences there are far too many to put into one blog post, that’s for sure, but I thought I’d try to write a little something about my time there today and see if I want to write more another time.

I guess what I want to say is that Americans really just don’t realize that it is possible to be happy without very much “stuff.” America is a country built on materialism — don’t you agree? — and that’s pretty easily observed by traveling to (parts of) Africa and recognizing the vast contrasts between the two places. Leaving a land where some families have more cars than people to arrive in one where families have no electric or running water (and are lucky if they have a well/hand pump to obtain clean water from), I saw the stark differences of Zambia and the USA. But who was happier?

I think we could all agree there are certain basic things a person should have and that as probably requirements for finding contentment: enough food and water; a safe and protected living environment; access to sufficient medical care; shoes and clothing. Maybe you’d add some more. The point is, though, that there is no requirement of iPods or Mercedes or even televisions and computers to be happy or content, and I was able to experience that very poignantly while in Zambia. One evening we were able to have dinner and fellowship with members of one of the “villages” on the farm where we stayed. Before dinner, some of us (visitors and hosts alike) played with a soccer ball and sang songs, and we shared in conversation before eating dinner (in the dark because one of the cooks had taken too long in making her food). We were smiling and enjoying one another’s company, and I think we were all pretty happy. Most of us only spoke one language, — English or Tonga — though, so I never really got to ask, but I enjoyed my evening.

If you know me, you know I tend to live a pretty simple life. I indulge in movies and pop culture, to be sure, but I seek to live pretty simply. When I told someone I survived living in DC for only about $650 a month (including rent!), she was pretty shocked. But just because I forego the pricy food or the 64″ TV (though it’s pretty tempting) doesn’t mean I’m not happy. I think I’ve said it before, but once you have those basics covered, I really believe it’s all about the relationships and people in your life that make things worth it.

It’s truly an injustice that there are people in Zambia (and America, to be sure) who live without running water; who live without readily available resources to deal with certain medical problems they might encounter; who live with only one or two pairs of clothing and maybe nothing to wear on their feet; who lack enough food to meet their bodily needs.

What isn’t an injustice is that some people don’t have televisions or 50 shirts or cars that gulp down 10 gallons of gas to drive 150 miles. Perhaps the injustice is not that some people don’t have these things but that so many people do.

the hands that have prepared it

Friday 22 February 2008

Last night I was in a group where a prayer was said before the meal. Now the pray-er said many thanks, including thanks for the food and “the hands that have prepared it.” Now I have heard that phrase hundreds of times before, but it struck me as odd this time because the two people who had cooked the food had already been mentioned by name. So even though it was probably just a few perfunctory words from the pray-er, it got me thinking: “Did she mean to pray for them again, or did it mean something else?”

And right then and there I realized how restrictive my thinking had been (as many of our thoughts tend to be) in including only the chef as the preparer of my food. I thought of the worker who had picked the lettuce and peas and broccoli that made up my salad. I thought of the farmers who had planted the various ingredients that had combined to make my dinner. I even thought about the people at the store and the drivers who transported my food as being necessary for my dinner that night.

Do you stop to think about where you food comes from? Maybe the recent beef recall has made you think at least a little bit about what your food goes through before it hits your plate. And maybe not. In all likelihood, you read the story and maybe saw the video, got disgusted, but soon forgot about it — maybe even before your next meal. I still vividly recall seeing the horrible conditions of many chickens raised for eggs and meat while watching the documentary The Natural History of the Chicken in a morning film class and then walking to the dining hall to feast on one of their best meals: juicy, sauted chicken breast. I saw the food and saw the irony of the situation, but at that moment I wasn’t yet ready to eliminate animal flesh from my diet (that came about a year later).

But what of “the hands?” The Coalition of Immokalee Workers is a Florida group fighting for fair wages for the work they do to bring us a portion of our food. According to a recent Oxfam America post, workers earn only about $4.50 an hour on a good day. The CIW had been fighting with Taco Bell and McDonald’s for increased wages, a battle they won, but Burger King has yet to agree and continues to stall the process.

Whatever the reason, we are a people who have a hard time seeing beyond the immediate. In addition to the conditions of workers in our own country, we fail to recognize the horrible conditions of children and others in virtual “slave labor” factories around the world. We turn away from the atrocities of people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine (among others) who suffer in the face of occupation forces. We recall not the homeless as we crank up the heat in our houses with rooms no one uses and forget the homeless as we throw away food because we took too much from the all-you-can-eat buffet. “Out of sight, out of mind.

So I encourage you to think about the implications of all your actions. Check the labels to see where your clothing was made. Investigate the route your food took to reach your plate. Read the stories of the oppressed, share what you read with your family and friends, and they go do something about it. Let us not feign blindness by merely closing our eyes or act like we don’t hear when we are really only stopping our ears.

There is work to be done; go and make a difference so that others might soon give thanks for that which your hands shall prepare.