A Note to My Fellow Americans

What the hell is the matter with us? When did we lose sight of who we are and what this country is about? When did being a Republican or a Democrat or a conservative or a liberal become more important than being an American? What do we have to do to stop the madness?

I was reading an article today on CNN about the threats that some of our elected leaders are receiving as a result of the recent health care vote. Bricks through windows. A gas line cut after someone PUBLISHED the address of the brother of a member of Congress. And when told that the member of Congress no longer lives there the response of the person who published the address, apparently, was, “Oh well, collateral damage.” Um, what?

Not, it was a mistake to publish that address. Not, thank God no one was hurt and the act didn’t put someone at risk of injury or death. “Oh, well, collateral damage.”

On that same article, there is a comments section. One of the comments read, “But it is well documented that we are far better armed and trained in weapons usage . Your people will be massacred at a rate greater than the first civil war. Im prepared , are you ?”

Have we really come to this? Is this where we are now? Are we really at the point where we believe a civil war is the only way to fix our problems? Really? Because if that’s the case, I’m not sure this is the country that I thought it was.

I know that I got involved in a discussion on Twitter with a person whose firm belief is that liberals/Democrats should leave the country and take our officials with us when we go. This is a variation on the thread I heard when we were preparing to go to war with Iraq: if you don’t agree with this action, then you should leave. You’re a traitor. You’re unAmerican if you question the president. You can’t disagree, openly, with the president because it weakens the office and makes us look weak in the face of terrorists.

I didn’t agree then, and I don’t agree now that we shouldn’t question our elected officials and that we shouldn’t disagree. That’s what makes this the United States of America. We have the right and even an obligation to speak up, to question, to argue. Heck, make fun of the president if you want. I know I made it through eight years of Bush by thinking of him as Shrub.

However, we do not have the right to threaten people who don’t agree with us. We should not be resorting to intimidation tactics or outright violence because we think it’s okay for us because we’re mad and we’re not going to take it anymore. What’s scaring me is that the radical element that has thought it was okay to bomb abortion clinics or to murder abortion doctors is part of the base of the group that is doing these things. So is it a stretch to believe that they could do the same things to elected officials or to people they find threatening in some way? I don’t think it is at all.

I know there are a lot of people unhappy about the new health care law, but I think a lot of those people haven’t actually read the law and don’t realize that it has its roots, in large part, in ideas that Republicans laid out back in the 90s as a counter-point to Hillary Clinton’s attempt to create national health care. Would that change opinions about it? I don’t think so. This country is so divided, so broken, that I don’t know if that would help things at all.

In his first inaugural address Thomas Jefferson said: “Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.” –Thomas Jefferson: 1st Inaugural Address, 1801. The point here is not, as some might take it, that Obama is a tyrant or a despot. The point is that if we allow intolerance of other political views to seep into our culture (the way that we have) we are in no better place than our founders were when they were trying to break away from religious persecution.

When I first started teaching twenty years ago, I used to assign students to research the positions of candidates for office. It’s an assignment I could NEVER use now. The first time I did it the candidates were Clinton, Perot, and Bush (the elder). I insisted that the research a candidate they didn’t think they would vote for and made this discuss each of the candidate’s policies in neutral language. It was a tough assignment then, but I think, given how rhetorically hot this country is now, it would be utterly impossible. I did this because I believed then, as I believe now, that the point of elections is to elect the most qualified people, the people whose beliefs and platforms most closely resemble what you hope for in the country.

I was shocked when I lived in Alabama to see two things at the top of the ballot: one said Republican; the other, Democrat. If you ticked one of those boxes, you could elect all Republican candidates on the ballot or, conversely, all Democratic candidates. It’s that kind of thinking that Jefferson spoke against. “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.” –Thomas Jefferson to Francis Hopkinson, 1789.

Wise words that we should perhaps consider before we rip this country apart.

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We Need Health Care Reform

This is not a political issue. This is not a party issue. This is a human issue. Every one of us, insured or uninsured is one major illness away from a catastrophe. No matter how well insured you think you are or how well off you think you are, one major illness could wipe you out. No person should have to go bankrupt in order to preserve his or her life.

I’ve stayed quiet on this for as long as I think is rational, but I can’t stay quiet any longer. Consider this. My insurance company covered the birth of our daughter. They didn’t balk at the extra expenses of more exams because the pregnancy was high risk, but they did refuse to cover the high risk specialist, though they did cover the ultrasounds that he did every month (go figure that one out; we’ll pay for the test, but not for the guy who reads it). They covered the immediate birth of my daughter, no sweat. They attempted to argue every single charge related to my near-fatal complications.

They refused to pay for the second anesthesia on the 17th because it wasn’t “medically necessary” for the purposes of giving birth. It was medically necessary, however, to save my life. That, apparently, was secondary. They argued about the number of units of blood. They argued about the amount of fluid I was given. They argued with the tests run to make sure my kidneys were functioning (a common complication after the surgery I had), and on, and on, and on.

This same insurance company feels I should stop taking the asthma drug that controls my asthma except during extreme situations, and take something that is “similar” — it’s not the same pair of drugs and it doesn’t work the same, and my doctor doesn’t believe we’ll have the same results, but my insurance company argues (and sends me letters monthly) suggesting that it is in my best interests to switch. They believe that I should have no more than 4 migraines in a month and so limit my medication on that front to four pills.

I get that people don’t want the government controlling their health care, but, honestly, your doctor isn’t controlling it now. Your insurance company is and they don’t care about you, your health, or what’s best for you. They care about what’s best for their bottom lines. And that’s no way to care for patients.

I have incredibly weird reactions to drugs. For example, I am severely allergic to Naproxen. Like, throat swelling, can’t breathe, nearly died, allergic. My insurance company doesn’t care about that and frequently tries to insist that the medication that I can take for migraines should be substituted with one that contained Naproxen. So, I pay more in order to stay alive because the only drug I can take is not on their preferred list.

Or, if you want another example, take my daughter. While her life is not threatened by her condition, her eyesight and normal development is. Because of all the screwing around on the part of the insurance company, we are now assured this surgery won’t take place before October 1. Because it won’t, we are now going to be out $4000 plus 20% rather than $3000 plus 20%. It’s going to be hard to absorb that hit, but we can. And the worst of it is that they reset the policy on October 1, but the calculations of our out of pocket expenses gets reset on January 1. It works to their benefit, not ours. This is the result of letting private industry regulate our health care.

Or, you want to argue quality of care? Okay, I can do that, too. My daughter had an outstanding surgeon. One we felt extremely comfortable with and were really happy with having do the surgery. But, because our insurance company won’t cover her, we can’t afford to use her. And remember, even though I needed I high risk specialist for both of my pregnancies, neither insurance company covered that cost, so we had to. We’re fortunate that we could afford to do that. What if we couldn’t afford it? Then what would have happened?

Add to that what I’m seeing with my mother- and father-in-law, both of whom have been hospitalized for nearly a month. A conservative estimate of my mother-in-law’s care? $300,000 to $1 million. My father-in-law’s care will likely be somewhere in the neighborhood of $200,000. They have no insurance and no money. We certainly can’t afford to pay for that (nor are we legally responsible to pay it). So, who pays it? I don’t know. I do know that they will end up bankrupt. I know that my father-in-law, who is a World War II veteran was told at the VA that there’s no help for him there at all.

Finally, P and I lived uninsured for the first five years of our marriage. It was extremely scary and not something I would ever want to do again. But insurance doesn’t fix the fear or save us because insurance isn’t actually there to benefit us. They bet on us. If we’re well, we’re a good risk, but if you get ill or develop a chronic illness, health insurance works against you in every way that it can.

We need a system that protects the people of this country and puts the health and welfare of the people above the cost. We need our doctors to be doctors and not be dictated to by people who read spreadsheets, but who have never set foot in a medical school class. We need a system that is not broken and that allows everyone to receive care pre-existing condition or not without fear of losing their homes, hopes, and dreams.

We need health care reform and we need it now.