Cheap TVs And Costly Health Care

Once in a while, a sentence or paragraph in the daily news seems to capture the truth.

“America is a place where luxuries are cheap and necessities costly. A big-screen TV costs much less than it does in Europe, but health care will sink you.”   — Joseph Cohen, Queens College, New York

Makes you wonder, why do so many Americans ridicule Europe, especially the European model of universal health care?

That paragraph is from a story in the April 27, 2014, edition of The Washington Post, under then byline of Carol Morello and Scott Clement. The headline is, “Less Dream, More Reality: America’s middle class is shrinking and is being squeezed by the pressures of diminishing opportunity, stagnant wages and rising expenses.”

The story follows a typical American family with two full-time wage earners and three children. They’re not exactly poor; they qualify as middle class. But as the story reports, they’re “masters at scrimping,” out of necessity.

As the headline says, it’s just a glimpse of reality. Makes me glad I still subscribe to a good daily newspaper.

— John Hayden

Maryland General Assembly Lame-Duck Session, 2014

Maryland State flag

John Hayden photo

The Maryland General Assembly is back in session is open for business as usual in Annapolis. I’m having a hard time making myself care.

All eyes are on the Democratic primary in June. The politicians are full of energy — all of it directed at collecting campaign contributions.

But they have to stop fundraising, now that the session has started, and I doubt they have the heart to do anything of substance over the next 90 days.

It’s truly difficult to imagine this lame-duck Assembly, with a lame-duck governor gazing at the White House, doing anything other than image repair.

Am I getting cynical in my old age, or what?

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Evergreen Health Cooperative

This is interesting. Dr. Peter Beilenson (former health officer in Baltimore City and Howard County) and others starting an innovative health cooperative in Maryland. Beilenson was interviewed briefly by Dan Rodricks today on WYPR.

Universal Health Care


UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE — Possible or impossible? It’s already happening, to a limited extent. Where I live, in a remote corner of Maryland, the hospital has been providing free flu-shot clinics on multiple dates and locations throughout the county, every fall for several years. Highly efficient, low-cost, preventive health care. Are you for it or against it?

‘Responsibility’ is Key to World Economic Crisis

Is the present generation willing to accept the simple responsibility of paying its bills?

Or will we refuse to pay? That’s what it all comes down to, isn’t it?

The Roberts decision upholding the Affordable Care Act turned the spotlight on RESPONSIBILITY.  The effect of the High Court decision is to require that people of means take responsibility for buying their own health insurance. Some view that as an unreasonable request.

The decision also leaves a central question open to debate. Will society accept responsibility for the health care costs of the poor? The High Court’s position on Medicaid essentially requires each state to decide whether it will accept responsibility for its poor citizens. (A related question is: Can individuals act responsibly to preserve their own health?)

On the world economic stage, the crisis in Europe also spotlights responsibility.

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Supreme Court Health Care Decision Divides The States

Fascinating complexity in the decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts upholding the Affordable Care Act!

English: President George W. Bush announces fr...

President George W. Bush, a Republican, announces his nomination of John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First of all, Justice Roberts, a conservative Republican appointee, voted with the High Court’s “liberal” justices to create the 5-4 majority upholding the law. Republicans and conservatives across the U.S. hysterically called him a “traitor.”  Wait. Isn’t a patriot’s first loyalty to the United States of America, not to any political party?

The frightening possibility is that some partisans no longer see loyalty to the U.S. as a patriot’s first loyalty. It’s possible that some of the more extreme Tea Party loyalists have already seceded from the United States in their own troubled minds.

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John Roberts’ “Can-Do” Doctrine Scandalizes Conservatives

“I will find a way or make one.” — Admiral Robert E. Peary, American explorer

“As between two possible interpretations of a statute, by one of which it would be unconstitutional and by the other valid, our plain duty is to adopt that which will save the act.”  Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

By all accounts, Chief Justice John Roberts believes that the Supreme Court of the U.S. should try to find a way to uphold  a law enacted by Congress, rather than declare it unconstitutional. In other words, declare a Congressional act unconstitutional only if it really is unconstitutional.

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John Roberts Is Man Of The Hour

Official 2005 photo of Chief Justice John G. R...

Official 2005 photo of Chief Justice John G. Roberts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Supreme Court decision today on the Affordable Care Act, AKA “Obamacare,” shocked my system. It was the first jolt of optimism about the future of America that I’d felt in months. And I hadn’t expected to have any reaction at all.

Chief Justice John Roberts is the man of the hour. With one stroke he won for himself a place in American history.

I can’t claim full understanding of the High Court’s ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act. My gut reaction is it changes everything. It goes far beyond the legal issues at hand. This ruling might be the turning point that saves the American system.

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Last Stand of the White Men in Suits


Not to belabor the obvious, but does the above photo look like the last stand of Republican white men in suits?

REP. PAUL RYAN. AP photo by J. Scott Applewhite

This morning, Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, presented the Republican budget for 2012. Joining him were a TV screen full of his Republican colleagues on the House Budget Committee. Everyone present, from what I could see on TV, was a white man. With a few exceptions, they are from the Red States, the heartland of America.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Republican budget would cut government spending by $6.2 trillion over a decade, and sharply cut taxes for the wealthy. The top income tax rate would be reduced from 35 percent to 25 percent. Is the U.S. really broke, or is the U.S. wealthy? You decide.

Here is a list of Republican members of the House Budget Committee. White men in suits from the heartland. Only one female name is on the list.

Many believe the Republican budget is so draconian that it's dead on arrival. I hope so, but the hard line on Medicare, especially, is ominous.

NOT TO IGNORE THE REPUBLICANS IN THE SENATE. Roger L. Wollenberg photo, 03-31-11

Umm, the photos above, of Republican leaders in the House and Senate, and the list of Republicans on the House Budget Committee . . . Is this what democracy looks like in America, in 2011? (Disclaimer: Many of my friends and relatives are white men. Come to think of it, I am a white man. Hey, I even own two winter suits AND two summer suits, so I am prepared to attend weddings, funerals, and job interviews in all seasons.)

The name of the Republican budget is “Path to Prosperity.” Rep. Ryan says these words, “Path to Prosperity,” with a straight face, without a hint of irony.

Here’s an early analysis of the Republican budget numbers, from the Huffington Post.

Here’s another analysis by Ezra Klein in the Washington Post.

The “Path to Prosperity” runs right over Medicare and Medicaid. At this moment, it appears to me that the Path to Prosperity would effectively destroy Medicare and Medicaid. Maybe that is a  good thing. Sometimes, I think, the only way to reform a program or a bureaucracy is to destroy it and start over. But I don’t think that’s what Republicans have in mind. I think Republicans intend to privatize health care for the elderly and the poor. In the name of paying off the debt. (For an earlier post on Republican strategy regarding Social Security, see “Divide and Conquer.”)

Also on the Republican chopping block: education, from Head Start to Pell Grants.

I think Republicans are focused entirely on two things: paying off the public debt, and reducing taxes. Two contradictory goals, but possibly both can be accomplished at the same time, by grinding the middle class and the poor — and the elderly — into the dirt. (Go ahead, accuse me of class warfare. Doesn’t this look like a scorched-earth policy to benefit wealthy America and corporate America?)

Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget will “create jobs.”

SHOW ME THE JOBS. How exactly do you create jobs by slashing spending to the bone, on everything except the Department of Defense?

How do you create jobs when Toyota is shutting down 13 factories in the U.S., and food and gasoline inflation is vacuuming up every spare dollar of discretionary spending? AND the U.S. is fighting three wars in the Middle East.

Oh, yeah. And to show their power, or something, Republicans intend to shut down the U.S. government at the end of the week. Will that create jobs?

— John Hayden

What Prevents Surgeons And Hospitals From Providing Free Surgery To Save A Life?

Sunset at Organ Pipes

Image by Bill Gracey via Flickr

News organizations are reporting this evening that at least two patients have died in Arizona because the state has decided it can no longer afford to pay for organ transplants for low-income patients.

The organ transplants can cost from $200,000 to more than $1 million, according to NPR.  A list of 98 patients are potentially impacted in Arizona. NPR provided this explanation of the Arizona budget decision in November:

“In Arizona, 98 low-income patients approved for organ transplants have been told they are no longer getting them because of state budget cuts.

The patients receive medical coverage through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), the state’s version of Medicaid.” — National Public Radio

WTF?  How can a state justify refusing organ transplants to low-income patients, particularly in cases where the refusal amounts to a death sentence without a trial?

But there’s another question that’s even more compelling:

Why have no surgeons or hospitals offered to do the life-saving surgery for free?

What prevents a doctor or hospital from providing free life-saving treatment? DO THE SURGERY FOR FREE! Would that be un-American?

Am I missing something here? Would a surgeon or hospital spokesperson care to comment? Is there not a single, altruistic transplant surgeon in America? Is there not a single hospital affiliated with a religion that would be willing to provide free surgery as an act of charity, for God’s sake?

What? Would it set a bad precedent, or something?

— John Hayden