My Letter to the Editor in Support of Tammy Baldwin for U.S. Senate

Tammy Baldwin for U.S. Senate

My letter to the editor supporting Tammy Baldwin for U.S. Senate appears in the Northwoods River News:

Tammy Baldwin will protect seniors’ benefits

To the editor:

In September, I had the honor of attending the Democratic National Convention as one of the delegates from Wisconsin.

One of the highlights of the convention was the delegation breakfast each morning, which featured great food and wonderful speakers such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Sen. Russ Feingold and Gov. Jim Doyle.

At our final breakfast, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin gave a lovely tribute to Sen. Herb Kohl, especially praising his work on the Senate Special Committee on Aging. Since Tammy was raised by her grandparents, she saw at an early age how important Medicare and Social Security are to helping seniors stay independent. She talked about how much Sen. Kohl’s leadership on the Aging Committee to prevent elder fraud and abuse has meant to her and all of us with older parents and grandparents who we love dearly but can’t always be with 100 percent of the time.

I didn’t know much about Tammy Baldwin before that breakfast but I left secure in the knowledge that if elected to the U.S. Senate, she will do everything possible to secure Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security for my parents, who are retired. I know Tammy Baldwin will make sure those programs – which she calls “promises,” not programs – are financially solvent when my siblings and I retire in a few decades.

I trust Tammy Baldwin to protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Vote for Tammy Baldwin for U.S. Senate.

Danine Spencer

Medicaid Reimbursement Rates Are a Feminist Issue

I generally try not to say anything negative about specific doctors, clinics or hospitals in any printed format, including online, because let’s face it: those folks have better lawyers than I do and they could sue the pants off of me, even though every word I’ve said is true (to the best of my knowledge and recollection).

Still, l had something happen at a doctor’s appointment recently that I think needs to be talked about. It doesn’t matter who the doctor was or where the clinic was. It doesn’t even matter whether the doctor was a man or a woman. It’s a long story, but I was treated very poorly and I actually walked out of the appointment. The doctor was rude, abrasive and extremely condescending. S/he acted as if s/he didn’t want to treat me, as if my case was too complicated and time consuming.

I believe I was discriminated against because I have Medicaid for my health insurance. After I left, I couldn’t figure out why a doctor would treat a patient that badly and the best explanation I can come up with is that s/he wasn’t getting paid enough to make my case worth her/his time and energy.

In other words, the Medicaid reimbursement rates in our area must be pretty low and if a doctor is driven by profit, taking a case like mine would not be cost-effective. This concerns me, not just on a personal level, but on a national level as well. 1 in 10 women receives her health coverage through Medicaid. For low-income women, this statistic is even higher: 1 in 5 women have Medicaid. These numbers are only expected to rise as approximately 17 million people will be enrolled in Medicaid as health care reform is enacted over the new few years.

Increasing Medicaid enrollment without boosting doctors’ reimbursement rates leaves poor and disabled women open to discrimination and abuse.

I worry that even if a doctor does accept patients with Medicaid, some patients with complicated cases will be turned away by doctors who don’t want to treat them. If they are lucky enough to find a doctor, they may be forced to accept substandard care or facilities. During the health care debate last winter, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) called Medicaid:

a medical ghetto called Medicaid that none of us, or any of our families, would ever want to be a part of for our health care.”
I thought he was exaggerating and took the senator to task on my blog. As time went by, I realized that while I have had really excellent care and providers, others may not be so lucky.

After thinking about it, I can see that I’ve had the best experiences with Medicaid providers who were part of large clinics and/or hospitals. It always seems to be the independent contractors – the little guys and gals at private clinics – who either refuse to treat me or have a lousy bedside manner when they do.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) even admits that it doesn’t pay for some doctors to take the cheap Medicaid patients on:

Medicaid payment is often very low. Low payment rates discourage provider participation in Medicaid… Rural areas usually do not have sufficient patients to fully support a doctor’s practice.

The HHS website I linked above goes on to list suggestions for how the Health Resources and Services Administration can use Medicaid funding to improve rural health care for Medicaid patients but at the end of the day, money talks: Congress will have to increase the reimbursement rates so doctors can afford to treat Medicaid patients. As feminists, we need to push Congress to do this so women and girls on Medicaid (and Medicare) receive the best health care possible.

Driving home from that doctor’s appointment a few weeks ago, I was angry and upset, not only for me but also for the millions of other women who are currently on Medicaid or will be soon. Regardless of our income level or what insurance we have, we all deserve dignity, respect and first-class health care.

Bye, bye, Bart Stupak!

So in case you haven’t heard, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) is retiring from Congress when his term expires in January. When the news broke this morning, feminists rejoiced. (Republicans and Tea Party activists are ecstatic, too, but that’s another story, one that other people are much more qualified to talk about.)

Personally, I am thrilled Stupak is retiring, but unlike many feminists, I see this as more than a victory for women and reproductive rights. It is a victory for the people that Stupak was elected to represent: the residents of Michigan’s 1st Congressional District. (After this, I’ll refer to 1st Congressional District as CD1.) CD1 encompasses the entirety of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and several counties in the Lower Peninsula. (Apparently, the mitten part is called the Lower Peninsula. Who knew?) He was not elected to represent the residents of the C Street house, the religious organization known as The Family, the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops or the anti-choice movement.

Obviously, Stupak was and is free to vote according to his conscience and convictions. Since we live in a democracy, that is one of our founding principles. Another one of our founding principles is a representative government. When Stupak became the de facto leader of the anti-choicers in the House and nearly killed health care reform over the issue of abortion, he was no longer representing the CD1. Stupak put the needs if the “pro-life” movement ahead of his own constituents.

CD1 residents didn’t need an anti-abortion activist to advocate for them in the health care debate. They needed their member of Congress. The 118,000 seniors on Medicare who live in CD1 needed a representative working to close the so-called “donut hole” that can sometimes cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a month. 324,000 women needed him to make sure that maternal and preventative health care is covered. Since the district is extremely rural, with the largest town having a population of 20,916, residents across the CD1 needed him to work on improving Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement rates for rural doctors and providing other much needed assistance to rural medical providers.

In short, Bart Stupak failed residents of the 1st Congressional District. They deserve better. Whether his successor is a Democrat or Republican, I hope they get it.

##

Transcript and More Thoughts from Lummis Call

I posted a link to this transcript in my Saturday Link-Love but I wanted to post the actual text of my conversation with Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) from last Thursday. As you may recall, I was part of the BlogHer conference call on health care along with some other great bloggers. Reading the transcript back, I’m a little embarrassed at how incoherent I was. Okay, I’m more than a little embarrassed, but I was really emotional. Moreover, I was hesitant and nervous about challenging a Republican member of Congress, even over the telephone.

Here’s what I want to point out: I asked Rep. Lummis if there was any way she could support the current health care reform bill. She never answered that question and instead reverted to her Republican talking points. It seems to me that if Republicans really are in favor of health care reform like they profess to be and aren’t just playing politics, they would realize that health care reform is happening. They would be demanding a chair at the negotiation table and arguing for what was best for their constituents, not their campaign financiers.

The other notable point from the conversation is that after I talked about how Medicaid and disability are demonized, Rep. Lummis went on to tell me I shouldn’t be ashamed of being on the program. Rep. Lummis barely skipped a beat before going on to say that Medicare and Medicaid are going broke and she refuses to burden her daughter and grandchildren with these unsustainable government programs. I’m sure she didn’t realize she was doing it, but Rep. Lummis was doing the exact “demonizing” I was talking about: Making me feel like I am contributing to our national economic downfall by being a recipient of an “entitlement” program. She nearly brought me to tears.

Anyways, here’s my portion of the call:

Operator: Thank you. And the next question coming from the line of 455-L. Please proceed.

(Danine): My name is (Danine) and I am calling from (assumption). I have a complicated medical history and I currently on – I’m so sorry – on Medicaid and I want to get off of those programs, be kind of quite frankly, Medicaid and disability are demonized and treated, you know, every time you talk about an entitlement program, you know, well, they’re demonized.

But I absolutely have to have health insurance. I have a condition called (hydrocephalus) and I have a shunt in my head that relieves the pressure from my brain and every single day of my life, I have to be able to afford health insurance and healthcare.

And I – in order to get off of SSI and Medicaid, I need to be able to – I’m working towards self-employment – and I need to be able to afford health insurance.

And with all due respect and I mean this incredibly, the reality is is that our greatest chance for – I don’t – I can’t – the reality is is that I probably won’t be able to afford private insurance in the current environment and my best option is probably – I’m sorry – but it’s probably in with this healthcare reform as the Democrats are proposing it.

Is there any possible way that you can support their policies or get on-board with healthcare reform in 2009? I need healthcare reform. I need something because the day that I don’t have health insurance, that could be the day that my shunt breaks and I need emergency brain

It’s a life – I think it was literally started – no, I’m sorry. I don’t remember which person said it. That’s the day that I could – that’s the day that – it’s a life and death thing and I’m sorry, but it’s very, very personal for me.

And I need my legislative Congress people to help. I’m not trying to put you on the spot, but…

Cynthia Lummis: No, you’re not putting me on the spot and I appreciate your dilemma. I want you to know how proud I am of America that Medicaid is there for you and you should not feel the least bit apologetic about the fact that Medicaid is serving you to help you with a condition that is highly debilitating and that really affects your quality of life.

That’s why it’s there so please take advantage of it. You are exactly the person that it was meant for. In the case that your condition were to improve to the extent that you could leave the availability of Medicaid, there would be tax credits in Republican plans for low-income people.

Of course the high-risk pools if you still can’t get coverage would be available to you. There is in Republican bills the opportunity for insurance to be purchased across state lines so in states like my state of Wyoming which has a very small population and health insurance cannot be pooled across state lines, bills would allow for Wyoming to participate in much bigger pools.

And the people of Wyoming could band together either through their church or their trade associations or states themselves to provide larger pools of people who can share the burden and lower the cost of health insurance, especially for those of us as I said that are in areas of very small populations.

So by all means, keep your Medicaid, keep healthy to the extent that those medications are helping you have a higher quality of life and don’t be the least apologetic about participating in Medicaid. That’ what it’s there for.

Now the problem I have with the bill that the Speaker rolled-out today is that it forces on states unfunded mandates to expand Medicaid. Where are the states going to get the money to do that?

In California, there would estimates that it could cost California $8 billion a year to expand Medicaid according to the Speaker’s bill. California is already awash in debt. They can’t add $8 billion to the state’s debts in order to cover programs that Congress mandates on them that they can’t afford to pay for.

So the problem I have with the Speaker’s bill and with these government-run programs that Democrats are advocating is that they are not paid for so it will just create a situation just like we’re going to face with Medicare down the road and that is that Medicare will eventually go broke because it is going to be paying out more in benefits than people are paying in.

And with those kinds of unsustainable government programs that promise a lot but are unpaid for, we are burdening our children and grandchildren with paying for us and for our needs without regard to what our children and grandchildren will face in the future.

And I’m opposed to saddling my child and her children with debts that I incur. I need to make sure that while I’m here in Congress, I am being responsible to the next generation and doing the best job I can for us in this generation.

That’s why I encourage you to stay on Medicaid to the extent that you are able to and when your situation improves to the extent that you are able to afford insurance, take advantage of the tax credits. Take advantage of state high-risk pools and thank you and, you know, I hope your condition improves and thank you for your question.

(Danine): I have one quick question. How is Medicare and Medicaid more – how is Medicaid more financially solvent and this is – I’m not being just (cold), I actually want to know?

Cynthia Lummis: What was your question again?

(Danine): Is Medicaid more financially solvent than Medicare?

Cynthia Lummis: Well, Medicaid is – they’re both in trouble. They’re both in trouble in the long run because they’re paying out more in benefits than they take in and every year more of the federal budget is going to pay for entitlement programs, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the states are responsible for of course picking-up a share of Medicaid so it’s also having a big impact on state budgets.

(Danine ): Okay. Thank you.

Read the rest of the transcript here

Conference Call with Rep. Cynthia Lummis

This morning I did yet another BlogHer conference call on health care reform. This one was with Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY). Did you catch the “R” after her name? Yep, she’s a Republican and vehemently opposed to “The Speaker’s Bill” as she put it. I’ll do a quick recap of the call, but long story short, there’s not a snowball’s chance in you-know-where that Congresswoman Lummis will vote “aye” on the Affordable Health Care for America Act.

At the beginning of the call, Rep. Lummis told Republicans are in favor of health care reform. They would just do it differently. She said she didn’t know what the rush was and that Republicans want to “borrow the best of the bills” to reform the system one step at a time. She also said the current health care system services 85% of Americans “very well” so we should focus our energy on trying to help the other 15%.

Rep. Lummis’ proposals for piecemeal reform including high-risk insurance pools that are (supposedly) available in every state. She also wants to establish a tax credit so individuals can buy private insurance policies that would be portable even if they lost their job. Her third idea was to allow consumers to buy insurance policies across state lines.

Rep. Lummis said she was “terribly concerned” about “The Speaker’s Bill” (doesn’t it sound evil?) because it shifts many costs to the states by expanding Medicare.” That’s a direct quote. (Hence the quotation marks.) I’m pretty sure she meant to say “Medicaid” as the bill does expand Medicaid. Nothing recent is coming up on Google for “expand Medicare”.

Here are the calls:

  • Loralee, of the LooneyTunes blog, asked Rep. Lummis to elaborate on her ideas for expanding the high-risk pools. The congresswoman told Loralee she is co-sponsoring HR 3400, which would provide more funding for high-risk pools so individuals could buy into the plans at a lower rate. This would be paid for with unused stimulus funds (which apparently aren’t needed for any of the bridges that are falling down.)
  • Jaelithe, a blogger for MOMocrats.com, told Rep. Lummis “there is a rush” for health care reform. People like her step-father, who has diabetes, are going without health insurance and life-saving medicine, such as insulin. (Which is kind of important to diabetics). Jaelithe asked Rep. Lummis if there was anything explicitly prohibiting insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions in HR 3400, her go-to bill. To my recollection, Rep. Lummis didn’t really answer that. Instead, she told Jaelithe her step-father could join the high-risk pool in his state. What Rep. Lummis apparently doesn’t know is that high-risk pools are still pretty darn expensive for the average citizen, especially if you’re poor.
  • Nancy from the Sunlight Foundation asked how Rep. Lummis felt about transparency, at which point, I mentally blocked out so I could figure out what question I wanted to ask
  • Next up, Yours Truly: I was really emotional so I’m sure this came out crazy and incoherent but I told Rep. Lummis that I have a rare medical condition and that I am on SSI/Medicaid. I don’t want to be on disability because honestly, it’s demonized. I know I said that twice. (The shaming of people on disability, Medicaid and other “entitlement” programs is a post for another day.) I told her I want to get off those programs very badly and am working towards self-employment but I need affordable health insurance. I need health care reform. With all due respect, the only way that’s going to happen this year is with the Democrats’ plan. I asked her if there was any way she could support the Democrats’ billWithout taking a breath, Rep. Lummis did not answer my question. Well, actually, she did – by not answering it.

    She started immediately listing her Republican talking points about how they would do health care reform: tax credits, high-risk pools and let people buy insurance across state lines. I actually started rolling my eyes while she was talking. She never once said anything about how she could work to find a compromise with the Democrats which means she can’t. Or won’t.

    Also, Rep. Lummis basically told me not to apologize for being on Medicaid and that I was the reason the system was there. I had nothing to be ashamed or guilty about. However, seconds later, she told me both Medicare and Medicaid are going broke and we are saddling our children and grandchildren with back-breaking debt.How am I not supposed to feel guilty about that debt every time I go to the doctor or receive my monthly check via direct deposit? Or how about when Sen. Judd Gregg goes on MSNBC and basically pitches a fit about how health care reform is another entitlement program that will bankrupt future generations, like he did less than an hour before I spoke to Rep. Lummis?

    Needless to say, I was not impressed with Rep. Lummis.

  • I was, however, very impressed with Erin Kotecki Vest who some of you may know as @QueenOfSpain on Twitter. Erin asked Rep. Lummis if she was in favor of expanding Medicare and Medicaid after listening to talk about how wonderful she thought Medicaid was for people like me (more on that in a moment). Rep. Lummis said she was glad I was able to take advantage of Medicaid but said it would be “inaccurate” to say she supports the program as it is. “I’m glad that the safety net is there for the last caller,” she told Erin, referring to me. Still, she said she is an advocate for reforming Medicare. “We must ferret out waste, fraud and abuse.”

Can we please ferret the Republicans out of this debate? I appreciate the bipartisanship that the Sunlight Foundation and Blogher tried to introduce to this conversation but at this point, isn’t the GOP irrelevant? I want to pretend they are, at least, because John McCain and Lindsey Graham’s influence on Joe Lieberman is driving me up the freakin’ wall. If this health care house of cards comes falling down because Joe Lieberman, who was elected vice-president of the United States by the majority of the people in this country in 2000, decides to kill it, I just don’t know what I’ll do.

I just don’t.

UPDATED: 6:09 PM CST

For the record, in case that statement about “what I’ll do” if Joe Lieberman filibusters health care reform sounded weird or could in any way be construed as threatening, let me be clear: The only thing I’ll do is say bad words when no one’s listening so I can pretend I’m still a lady. Or I’ll engage in grassroots lobbying by emailing, faxing and telling my story. Nothing else. Yep, I’m kinda paranoid that anything I write online is considered published and could be traced back to me someday so there. I’ve covered my butt.

My Conference Call with Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi in her place as Speaker of the House

This morning, I was lucky enough to participate in a BlogHer conference call with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. The topic was health care reform and Speaker Pelosi had plenty to say.

In her opening remarks, Ms. Pelosi expressed optimism that health care reform legislation will get passed. “I’m very enthusiastic about where we are on this legislation,” she said. She said women have much to gain from health care reform:

  • Insurance companies won’t be able to charge women more than men. (Women currently pay as much as 48% more)
  • It will be illegal to count pregnancy, C-sections and domestic violence as pre-existing conditions.
  • Insurance companies who participate in the health insurance exchange will be required to have maternity care. (It’s unclear to me if all insurance companies will be required to do so.)
  • There will be assistance to individuals and families who earn up to 400% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to help buy health insurance.

The first question came from Audrey in Maine, who said her family was facing foreclosure on their home due to huge medical bills. Audrey asked if it was really possible that insurance premiums wouldn’t go up for people in private plans?

Ms. Pelosi explained that there were several provisions in the House bill for Audrey’s situation. There will be no discrimination for pre-existing conditions. Insurance companies couldn’t drop coverage if you get sick. There will be no co-pays for prevention and wellness. There will be yearly and lifetime caps on what you pay out of pocket. If you have a disability or chronic medical condition like Audrey, there will be a cap on what you pay. Ms. Pelosi told Audrey that her case is exactly why the current system needs reform.

The next question came from a woman in Chicago, who happened to be waiting at the DMV. (I didn’t catch her name, sorry DMV lady!) The caller was extremely concerned about the expansion of government into the health care system. “It strikes fear in my heart,” she said, asking Ms. Pelosi to help calm her fears. “We are not doling out health care. We are helping people pay for health insurance,” Ms. Pelosi replied. Ms. Pelosi went on to say that health care reform would be paid for by reducing fraud and waste in the current system. She also insisted the public option has to pay for itself and be “actuarial sound,” which I freely admit is an accounting term that’s way over my head.

Heather from Los Angeles, who has a blood clotting disorder that makes her pregnancies high-risk, asked if there would be any “gray area” on pre-existing conditions. Absolutely not, Ms. Pelosi replied. “There can be no discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions.” She reiterated that all insurance companies who want to participate in the insurance exchange will be required to have maternity care and that insurance companies will want to operate in the exchange because they will have access to millions of new customers.

On the issue of pre-existing conditions, Ms. Pelosi expressed disbelief and disgust at the discrimination women face by insurance companies. “Can you believe that C-sections and domestic violence are pre-existing conditions?” she asked, incredulously.

A caller from St. Louis asked about the proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. Ms. Pelosi said they were going to eliminate the waste, fraud and abuse” in Medicare and Medicaid. She said these efficiencies would extend Medicare solvency by another five years. She quoted the AARP as saying the changes to Medicare would make Medicare more efficient.

Throughout the call, Ms. Pelosi talked about the proposed health insurance exchange. “Reform must take place in the exchange… A public option should be in the exchange.” There will be assistance for individuals (and families, I think) making up to 400% FPL and small businesses to purchase health insurance through the exchange.

After nearly every caller, Ms. Pelosi said, “Keep watching what we’re doing. Hold us accountable.” She said the final House bill she be done within a week or two. It will be posted online at least 72 hours before debate begins on the House floor so look for that.

This was a great opportunity to be a part of this conference call so thank you, BlogHer!

Note: This was written off my notes from the conference call. Actual quotes on the transcript on Blogher.com may be slightly different.

About Last Night('s Health Care Rally)

Last night, I went to a pro-health care rally organized by Organizing for America. When I got there, there were lots of people holding signs and the crowd was mixed fairly evenly, half pro-reform, half against.  Some of the anti-reform signs were hideous so I took lots of pictures.  I had to laugh to myself as the pro-reform crowd tended to congregate on the left side of the grassy square while the antis were on the right. I don’t think this was intentional but it was still amusing, nonetheless.

When the rally got started, one of the first speakers was a woman in her sixties or seventies (I’m horrible about guessing ages). She talked about the thousands of dollars of debt she and her husband incurred when he had a lengthy stay at a long-term care facility. In addition to Medicare, they have a supplemental health insurance policy, which was supposed to reimburse them for their upfront costs, but of course, the insurance company never did.

While the woman was speaking, I heard a lot of murmurs and mumbling and grumbling behind me. I was pretty obvious the anti-reformers didn’t understand the moral of this woman’s story: the need to reform the insurance industry.

Another woman spoke who was a former mayor (or high ranking official) from De Pere, WI, which is by Green Bay. I thought she was pretty antagonistic towards the anti-reformers. She kept saying, “If you’re happy with the status quo…” and then throwing out statistics like, “In the last nine years, insurance premiums have gone up 90% for the average Wisconsin family.” I have no idea where she got her information from, as she didn’t tell us. It’s become a pet peeve of mine that people in positions of authority throw these fancy figures around to impress us and then expect us to believe them without batting an eye. Unfortunately, that happens far too often.

I digress. My apologies.

Back to the woman from De Pere. She wasn’t giving a speech. She was giving a lecture to the anti-reformers.  It wasn’t effective because it didn’t open up the dialogue. When you talk down to people, they’re not going to listen to you. I’m fairly certain she did not change a single person’s mind about health care reform last night.

A local dental hygienist who is a breast cancer survivor also spoke. She and her husband, a veterinarian, buy private insurance at considerable cost to them. It’s very expensive but at least she has insurance. She was grateful she was able to receive treatment for her breast cancer. A friend of hers wasn’t so lucky. When she found a lump, she had to save for two months in order to have enough money to go to the doctor. The friend had to save money for another couple months to go back to have testing done.

The dental hygienist also told us about another friend who died several years ago because she couldn’t afford her seizure medicine.

Dr. Tom Gabert, an internist in Minocqua, WI, was the keynote speaker. (I looked up his name, heh. I apologize for not knowing the others.) He talked about reforming health care to make medicine more patient-centric not money-centric. He said money is always the number one topic of discussion when it comes to health care, not prevention or wellness. He told us about the countless patients who have asked him to lie about pre-existing conditions so they can get health insurance.

Dr. Gabert said many of his colleagues have left medicine because dealing with health insurance is so difficult. He added, “which is a form of rationing, by the way.” He went on to explain that the health care industry is driven far more by profit than by actual health care. For example, they (clinics and hospitals) make the least amount of money on women and children but they spend a lot of time wooing that demographic anyways. Why? So moms and kids convince Grandpa to come to their hospitals and clinics for hip replacements (and other old man stuff), which is profitable. Another example: the fancy helicopter services and heart care clinics being advertised on billboards, in newspapers and on television. The health industry spends big bucks trying to impress consumers to come to their clinics and hospitals based on their shiny new toys and pretty new facilities (sarcasm is mine) rather than spend money on keeping people healthy.

Dr. Gabert also spoke of the need for malpractice reform, which got big applause from the anti-reform crowd. They apparently think limiting the amount a doctor can be sued for medical malpractice is the magic panacea to the health care crisis. Good grief.

Another local physician, a pediatrician whose name I didn’t catch, spoke briefly about how important it is for kids to have health insurance. He said he believes Medicaid and S-CHIP are very good programs but unsustainable. He advocated a “Medicare for all” type of system.

The Anti-Health Care Rally

After the rally was over, the anti-reformers gathered on the right side of the square. I had been about to leave but I waited to see what was about to happen. Who doesn’t like a good train wreck, you know?

The first speaker was a middle-aged woman (I probably shouldn’t say that as she wasn’t that much older than I am). I couldn’t hear everything she said, but what I did hear alarmed, to say the least. A sampling:

  • “I don’t like Obama” after which somebody called out, “Where’s the birth certificate?” I only heard that once, though. Kudos to my fellow Hodags for (mostly) staying classy.
  • “I’m not against reform.” She continued on to say that she has worked all her life and put into the system. At this point, things got a little noisy and I honestly don’t know what she said next. I think she said she was entitled to her Social Security and Medicare but I can’t be sure.
  • She asked if anyone watched Fox News and Glenn Beck. She said she learned from watching Glenn Beck that if health care passes, Obama won’t cover babies up to two years of age. Yes, you read that right.
  • She brought up the “death panel” concept, saying that people over 65 wouldn’t have health insurance anymore. At this point, I raised my hand. All night, the need for civility and respect had been mentioned over and over. I didn’t want to be rude and heckle her so like a first grader, I raised my hand to ask a question. Since she brought up the “Obama wants to kill Grandma” idea that originates with the living will provision, I wanted to ask her if she had a living will. Of course, she never called on me.

The next person to speak was a man who said he worked with employers all over the country.  He said employers were very concerned about health care reform, to which the anti-reformers cheered.

I couldn’t figure out why. Why did these people care more about employers and businesses need than what we the patients need? Aren’t we all patients and human beings first? When you get laid off, your employer doesn’t give a flying fig if you have a migraine and need Imitrex or that you still have cancer and need radiation. They just don’t care. What the heck are these people thinking?

Well, by then I’d had it. When the gentleman was done speaking, I saw my opportunity and took it. These people needed to know what the stakes were. They needed to know that socialized medicine wasn’t evil, that human lives, indeed, my life was more important than all of this insanity that’s been going on lately.

I walked up to the picnic table and stood up on one of the benches.  I don’t have great balance so there was no way I was going on top of the picnic table.  The lady who spoke first at the anti-rally saw I was wobbly and came to give me a hand. (I appreciate it. ) Everyone looked at me expectantly.

Here’s what I said:

Four years ago, I was paralyzed from the neck down. I was four months away from being kicked off my parents’ health insurance so I was eligible for BadgerCare and Medicaid. This is the face of Medicaid. (I whipped my sunglasses off, hoping it was very dramatic.) I understand the budget and financial concerns, but this is about real people. This is the face of Medicaid.

Without my prescription sunglasses on, I couldn’t see anything. I could hear some murmurs and grumbling, though. I hadn’t planned on saying anything so after I spit out those few sentences on impulse, I had no idea what came next. I got down from the picnic tables and left the rally. By the time I got to my car, I was in tears. I was angry at the anti-reformers and at myself.

I was angry at the anti-reformers for allowing their racist and paranoid thinking to get in the way of my life and death need for health insurance. Instead of just listening to Glenn Beck and Fox News, they should be doing their own research. Read the damn bills and proposals, particularly the parts that controversial or confusing. Try and understand why we need health care reform. Contact your congressional delegation, express your concerns and ask them to handle this responsibly.

Please.

Please don’t tell me we don’t need anything to change.

I was also angry with myself. I had the bully pulpit for a few brief moments and I felt like I wasted it. I could have used it to advance the conversation but I don’t think I did. I wish I would have said,

This happened to me. Medicaid paid for services private insurance would not have and kept me out of bankruptcy at 25. As I try to work my way off disability and towards self-employment, I need low-cost health insurance. I think a public option would be a good idea, in addition to employer-sponsored policies, private insurance, Medicare, Medicaid and the like. I understand there are concerns about the budget and debt but simply saying no is not an option for people like me. Can we come up with another answer?

In the end, I don’t know what good will come of any of this. I wonder if I’m just needlessly stirring the pot by writing about my interpretation of last night’s events. I wonder if any of this is worth it.

This morning I had a doctor’s appointment in Wausau. It was a check-up and relatively minor. On the ride in and while I was at the doctor’s office, I was filled with a profound sense of gratitude that I do have Medicaid, that I am able to go to the doctor when I need to.

Someday, a day that I hope will come sooner rather than later, I will get off disability and Medicaid, but for now, socialized medicine has a place in society. It even has a face and it’s not some bizarre mockup of Barack Obama as Heath Ledger as The Joker.

I am the face of Medicaid. I am the face of socialized medicine. I am the face of health care reform.

It’s that personal for me and millions of other Americans.

We have to get it done.