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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Medicaid and Defense - Follow the Money

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/medicaids-big-spenders-in-one-chart/2012/02/24/gIQAVC53XR_blog.html?wprss=rss_linkset&Post+generic=%3Ftid%3Dsm_twitter_washingtonpost

Comment by reader Joe Pickering in Bangor follows in this blog*

This blog links to a Washington Post chart displaying how Medicaid beneficiaries are distributed across the demographics of people who are elderly, blind/disabled, children, adults, foster care children and a category labeled "unknown".  The data shows shows a decline in beneficiary reimbursements compared to the numbers who receive benefits, with the only spike being for the blind/disabled.

Okay, I'll get some dander flying here! Meanwhile, there's no comparable chart showing how defense spending is allocated. People employed by defense contracts (this isn't a judgement, but for the sake of comparison) are like Medicaid beneficiaries, because both populations receive revenues from tax monies.

Moreover, both the Medicaid and the National Defense programs employ people.  

Additionally, every dollar in defense spending spins off economic security for families who rely on paychecks to earn their livings.  Every dollars in state Medicaid money spent to help beneficiaries are matched by 3 federal dollars, money poured into local economies.

So the point of this blog is this:  Everyone deserves to earn a livable wage - my opinion is for comparison purposes.  Nonetheless, in my mind, it's hypocritical for people who earn their livable wages from defense spending projects to turn around and criticize people on Medicaid. 


The Washington Post needs to publish a chart showing how defense spending is allocated and how many people are employed as a result.


Medicaid or Defense - we need to care for our vulnerable populations; we also need to fund defense for security purposes and public safety.  But, follow the same revenue streams to fund both. Yes, both are a good use of our investment in paying taxes.

Comment from Joe:
"Santorum who doesn't deserve to be dog catcher was saying that Defense is only 16% on the budget and that the 'entitlements' essentially need to be targeted....we are actually spending over a trillion dollars to impoverish the nation...Mitt is worse, he wants 100,000 more troops in Afghanistan...I suggest he go first .....and a 50% increase in the Navy which is already bigger than the next 13 Navies combined...by the way do you remember your husband Richard saying...how are they going to pay for that?? (my answer - 'yes!')..."



 

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Drugs - They're everywhere but scarce where needed: - Pharmaceuticals and Mixed Media Messages

It seems like drugs are everywhere except where needed most.

We frequently often hear about the violence caused by imported illegal drugs by warring factions in Mexico. Yet, hundreds of legal drugs are purchased across the border by Americans who are looking to buy cheaper medications, even without a prescription.

In the past week, I listened to the Diane Rehms Radio Show discuss the quality assurance issues to be aware of when purchasing pharmaceuticals made outside of USA, because the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has no oversight of the off shore companies in India, China and the Middle East.


"The global trade in counterfeit medicines is an all-time billion-dollar business. So far, it's not been a huge problem here in the U.S., but the FDA this week said fake vials of a widely used anti-cancer drug were found in California, Texas, and Illinois.."
http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2012-02-16/counterfeit-drugs/transcript

In another Diane Rehms show, the topic addressed the shortage of badly needed life saving drugs to treat cancer and childhood leukemia:

"Critical shortages of medical drugs are becoming so common we’re facing a 'public health crisis' according to some in the industry. So much so it prompted President Obama to issue an executive order aimed at easing the shortages. The concern is mostly over generic drugs given by injection. But within that area, the shortages are becoming acute and widespread. More than 180 drugs have been declared in short supply this year. Many of them are vital for treating childhood leukemia, and breast and colon cancer." http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2011-11-02/addressing-prescription-drug-shortages

Then, I heard NBC news analyst Dr. Nancy Snyderman give a report on how 180 drugs are on the FDA's shortage list.  "How can this happen?", she asks?  When many drugs go "generic", the drug companies slow down or stop production to create more profitable products. Now, she told viewers, the FDA is looking to import some of these needed but in short supply life saving drugs from India and Australia.  "But the problem will get worse before it gets better," she ends her report.  http://video.msnbc.msn.com/nightly-news/44066488#44066488  (I noticed this clip was likely edited from what I saw on the February 21, 2012 Nightly News) 


Regardless of how these drug stories are reported, in all cases the situations are urgent.

It's essential to stop illegal drugs from entering the United States, but the supply of these toxins seems to be in avalanche-like abundance. At the same time, the drugs needed to save people's lives, some 180 legal pharmaceuticals, are at risk for short supply because profit margins are diminished when they are produced as generics.

The mixed message is: drugs to kill yourself with are are available by illegal means whenever you go searching for them. But, on the other hand, start worrying now about how to access legal pharmaceuticals when you or your family member needs a life saving brand.

Pharmaceutical companies have the resources and the marketing abilities to produce drugs and the childhood immunizations people need.  Indeed, those designer drugs, sold on television by couples posing in sexy bathtubs, should generate enough profits to provide for safe anti-cancer, and cardiac drugs and immunization agents.

So, why are we in this situation?  Because Americans buy illegal drugs from Mexico despite the criminal risks associated with this dangerous trade.  Also, we want designer drugs to make us young and beautiful, even if it's at the expense of risking access to life saving drugs for others.

Surely, pharmaceutical companies can have their profits and create life saving drugs if they would reserve a small ratio of their annual margins, perhaps even collectively pooled, precisely for this purpose.  Sooner or later, Americans will be hit with another pandemic scare, in which case, those television ads with people in bathtubs will be the last thing on our minds.

Let's prepare for the needs of our sickest people now so the capacity to produce pharmaceuticals in an emergency will be in place, before we think about creating more "R" rated ads for television.

As for the tragedy of those illegal drugs coming from Mexico, well, there's a solution there as well, if we could just get people to stop buying them.

Regardless of the mixed messages, the one result of drugs being everywhere except where they're needed is the same - sadly, just follow the money.








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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Suicide: Quote from an article...."...the children can't take it anymore...."

Can it happen here? Let's pay attention to the warning signs.

Russian teens are killing themselves en masse, and the authorities, "seem oblivious", is the subject of an article dateline "Russia", translated, by Czech Republic writer Alexander Tretyakov.  The country (Russia) has one of the world's highest teen suicide rates, and in the past decade it's gotten worse, he reports in a translation published in the February 10, 2012 magazine "The Week". (page 14).  "The children can't take it anymore," is the title.

This tragic, information is attributed to a seriously lacking mental health care system in Russia.

"The problem has become so acute that a leading psychiatric institute has begun lobbying for a state-sponsored suicide-prevention program.  It wants the national health insurance plan to start covering psychological counseling, and for schools to start screening children for depression.  But, so far, the government has been unresponsive.  Bureaucrats are evidently unsure "whether it is worth their while to spend state money on such 'worthless' people, as the depressed and suicidal," reports Tretyakov.

This brutal response from the quoted bureaucrats is especially startling because the problem of youth depression must cut across socioeconomic levels, which would include their own children.

Moreover, from a pragmatic point of view, given Russia's birth rate is in decline, saving young lives might also help to grow their declining population. (Russian President Vladimir Putin recently directed his nation's parliament to develop a plan to reduce the country's falling birthrate. In a speech to parliament on May 10, 2006, Putin called the problem of Russia's dramatically declining population, "The most acute problem of contemporary Russia."-http://geography.about.com/od/obtainpopulationdata/a/russiapop.htm)

Americans typically show disdain about comparisons to other countries. Usually, an unsubstantiated elitism exists when it comes to how we compare ourselves to people who live outside our borders.

Thankfully, though, America's mental health system deserves high marks for being acutely aware of the public health issues and care involved in untreated depression. It's important to recognize and treat depression, especially because, at its worst, the illness puts the stricken at risk for untimely deaths, not to mention, the consequences of negatively infecting work productivity and social relationships.

Yet, I was immediately stricken by the warning message in Tretyakov's article.

Americans are dealing with the problem of paying for health care for all our citizens, especially those who need entitlement assistance through Medicaid.  I hear the mantra, "we can't afford it...." cliche repeated so often it's causing a stigmata on those who happen to need the coverage; they are often referred to as though a scarlet letter "M" is embroidered on their chests.

So, the point of this blog is:

When Republicans, and politically conservative politicians and public policy wonks rail on "health care mandates", particularly regarding providing Mental Health Parity in insurance coverage, they do so at the risk of putting American young people in the same risk pool as those tragically untreated teens in Russia.

I sincerely believe this to be so.

Let's stop railing on health care reform! Rather, let's take pride in our nation's health care system's compassionate ability to reach out to the sick and the mentally ill whenever they need care.

It's in keeping with the Christian teaching about being our brother's keeper. Amen.














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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Religion and Health Care - Contraception and Blood Transfusions

Roman Catholic Church hierarchy made a big deal about a federal provision to mandate contraception coverage in health coverage plans, even though 22 states already include this provision in their insurance law. But this opposition flies in the face of other health care interventions objected to by different religious beliefs where the church either supports mandated intervention or takes no stand.  (Church sponsored institutions are opposed to paying for contraception which is contrary to natural family planning.)


Blood transfusions, for example, are opposed by Christian Scientists, although courts routinely intervene to mandate them when petitioned.  Roman Catholics would be in conflict with protecting life by refusing a blood transfusion when needed.  

How would right wing religious conservatives respond if Islam were the religion opposing the contraception health insurance mandate? Yet, Islam opposes the use of birth control.


Although the church opposes artificial birth control, many and perhaps most, women employees of child bearing age who work for Church institutions, probably buy contraception, without insurance coverage, using salaries earned from the Catholic institutions where they work.


A Maine pediatric physician responded to my blog, posted last week, about the Roman Catholic Church's position against including contraception coverage in health insurance plans.  


With the physician's permission, I'm posting the comments here:


"What if a group, for religious reasons or other, demanded an exception to the mandate because they don't want to pay for treatment for erectile dysfunction (which, one could argue, can cause more women to have unwanted sex, more rapes, etc), or they don't want to pay for infertility treatments, including those that are medically-related (women post-cancer treatments), or they don't want to pay for medically-recommended breast reductions, or they don't want to pay for obesity-related surgeries ('since diet and exercise should do')." 

(Moreover)..."And, the insurance mandate does NOT force ANYone to use birth control!! The Church can still preach natural methods and implore its members not to take birth control pills, for instance. I suspect the real issue is that data appears to show the vast majority of Catholics do use birth control not approved by the Church. So, with insurance actually covering it, likely that percentage will even increase."



Roman Catholics are important providers of health care through hospitals, community care organizations and charities. It makes no sense for church clerics to oppose an insurance coverage mandate that improves the health and well being of at least 50 percent of the employees who work hard to create the quality care systems provided by Catholic organizations.


It's a good political move for the Obama administration to compromise with the Church on the dicey and contentious contraceptive coverage issue.  Nonetheless, changing the rule is not the right thing to do, because paying for contraception should be part of routine women's wellness care. Political conflicts with health care is certainly not a freedom of religion issue, as right wing conservative groups profess. It's just politics at its worst.


After all, it's entirely up to the free will of women, whether or not they choose to access contraceptive coverage.  

































Sunday, February 05, 2012

Contraception Coverage - One Roman Catholic Woman's Response

This blog is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

It's an accurate report of what I know to be true.

1.  In the Roman Catholic Church, family planning is supported, albeit with natural methodology.
2.  Although artificial contraception is an interference with nature, there are times when this protection against natural intervention has been allowed, as in these true examples:
       a.  In Rwanda, on the African continent, Roman Catholic religious women took birth control pills to protect them against the horror of random rapes perpetrated by evil warriors.
        b.  I have been in therapeutic Roman Catholic supported group homes where young, single mothers, with babies, who were residents, were directed to take birth control pills if they were permitted to spend weekends off the premises with their families and boyfriends.
        c.  The Vatican supports the use of condoms, at least in Africa, for the prevention, and spread of HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Although the above three examples are extraordinary situations, they are a recognition of the knowledge God has given us to understand how to use biological pharmaceuticals to protect women from the unintended consequences of an unwanted or forced pregnancy; or, to protect people from being exposed to sexually transmitted diseases which shorten life.

Roman Catholic institutions, including social service agencies and the administration, don't want to violate Church teaching on use of natural family planning by a mandate to cover artificial contraception in health insurance plans. Therefore, they have taken the position of being opposed to a mandate to require health insurance programs, provided for their female church or agency employees, to pay for contraception.

Perhaps, Roman Catholic institutions can self insure to avoid paying for a contraception mandate.

Needless to say, young women of child bearing age who currently work for Church institutions are likely paying privately for contraception, with money earned in their salaries. So, however you look at it, either through insurance or salaries, the Church is paying for contraception when a woman chooses to use it.

But, for the Church to claim the mandated inclusion is an infringement on the law of "separation of church and state", when, in fact, it has allowed for the use of contraception in certain situations, in my opinion, is hypocritical. And that's the truth as I see it.











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Saturday, February 04, 2012

Citizens United and Dred Scott - Deja Vu in US Supreme Court

Note:  Link below to a National Memo article - US Supreme Court may reconsider this case in light of a foot in the door opening made by a Montana ruling! 

Among the most controversial of all US Supreme Court decisions are the Dred Scott slavery decision of March 1857 and the Citizens United ruling of February 2009.  Obviously, I'm not a legal analyst, but in my lay-mind, both decisions have one weird component in common- each creates an "out of body" look at what constitutes a human being.

In the Dred Scott decision, some historians claim the ruling, which disallowed anyone of African descent from being an American Citizen, also created the precedent of  the "separate but equal" basis for subsequent racial segregation. Even worse, the ruling allowed for people to consider Negro slaves to be less than human beings.

In the Citizens United ruling, the court created a new life form by claiming corporations have the same right to freedom of speech as American citizens enjoy under the US Constitution.  This unenlightened ruling now allows wealthy individuals and corporations, who expertly shelter their wealth in accounting formulas, to  spend unlimited sums of money on political advertising. The result of this decision has become a right to create paid for "yellow journalism", a way of slinging propaganda at anybody.

Even worse, the US Supreme Court has not specifically overruled this 1857 decision, but the US Constitution was amended (14th Amendment) which makes it illegal to deprive a person of life, liberty or the pursuit of a better life.

Will the Citizens United case require another exhausting Constitutional Amendment process? It seems like common sense solutions should not require such exhaustive and expensive interventions.

Meanwhile, Americans are suffering with a barrage of horribly negative political ads paid for by the heavily financed new donor entities.  If an ounce of truth is woven into the mud slinging expensive ads, then the conclusion should lead to "none of the above" being qualified to hold public office. Cliche works here - "people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones...."

Journalists would likely suffer the equivalent of public stoning if we published even a crumb of the kind of negativity thrown around like sludge in the 2012 GOP primary campaign! But, then, journalists are real people who don't enjoy the diversionary anonymity of a corporation - our right to free speech is mitigated by professional ethics.

Americans value our right to freedom of speech, but we also have a right not to listen to opinions we find offensive. Moreover, we arguably have a civic responsibility to rebuke the yellow journalism thrown by these decadently expensive political ads on the American public, for the purpose of demonizing election opponents.

Perhaps we need a judicial litmus test prior to having the Supreme Court consider making common sense decisions. Prior to a decision, a primary toggle might be - "Will this Court decision make a difference in how we define a human being, or not?"  Let's begin screening with two absolute facts;

1. Corporations are not human beings.
2. People of African descent are human beings.

Our Supreme Court has twice created precedent to challenge both of these  facts. Each ruling was made during a time of extraordinary division in America - slavery in 1857; and now, political ideological differences have created an American Balkan nation.

In divisive times, Americans are not well served by a Deja Vu Supreme Court.

When Moses presented his followers with the Ten Commandments, he carved for us a rule of human conduct rooted in common sense.  Ten sensible laws have survived for thousands of years to support and improve the human condition, without creating new life forms.

May I suggest the US Supreme Court spend some time roaming around in the desert to reconsider some judicial priorities?
http://www.nationalmemo.com/article/will-supreme-court-reconsider-citizens-united










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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Romney's "Moon Colony" Florida Victory Speech

It was a terrible Florida victory speech weighted in bashing others with no uplifting message.  It was as challenging to understand as Gingrich's "Moon Colony" apparition.

Former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney made his own, special version, of building colonies on the moon during his victory speech in Florida's Republican primary election victory.  He marginalized academics, bashed Europeans and slammed "Obamacare" (a cheaply negative cliche).

Then, he extended empty promises to vulnerable people without any explanation whatsoever about how he intends to make things better, as he said:


"In the last ten days, I met a father who was terrified that this would be the last night his family
would sleep in the only home his son has ever known. I’ve met seniors who thought these would
be their best years and now live day to day worried about making ends meet. I’ve met Hispanic
entrepreneurs who thought they had achieved the American Dream and are now seeing it
disappear." http://thepage.time.com/2012/01/31/mitt-romneys-florida-victory-speech/#ixzz1l89F7Pno

Okay, Governor Romney, tell us how you will raise up the seniors or the Hispanic entrepreneurs.
Instead, he proceeds to tear down typically non-political academic institutions, where enlightenment still exits:
"Like his colleagues in the faculty lounge who think they know better, President Obama demonizes and denigrates almost every sector of our economy. I will make America the most attractive place in the world for entrepreneurs, for innovators, and for job creators. And unlike the other people running for President, I know how to do that." http://thepage.time.com/2012/01/31/mitt-romneys-florida-victory-speech/#ixzz1l8BbGRvO
World wide- American education and academia are the very places where our nation has NOT lost it's leadership among other nations.  Why would Governor Romney use this victory opportunity to denigrate
American academics?  What point is there is bringing down the very institutions that educate our children?

Romney takes every chance he can to raise Obama bashing to fingernails across a blackboard screeching levels when he challenges the President as in this quote:


"President Obama believes America’s role as leader in the world is a thing of the past. He is
intent on shrinking our military capacity at a time when the world faces rising threats. I will insist
on a military so powerful no one would ever think of challenging it."http://thepage.time.com/2012/01/31/mitt-romneys-florida-victory-speech/#ixzz1l8CVLLl9

But he doesn't explain how to pay for this promise.

And Romney promises his version of a moon colony (as rival Gingrich seriously misstepped) with this quote:

"I will not just slow the growth of government, I will cut it. I will not just freeze government’s share
of the total economy, I will reduce it. And, without raising taxes, I will finally balance the budget."http://thepage.time.com/2012/01/31/mitt-romneys-florida-victory-speech/#ixzz1l8FgHKIX


As though academic and Obama bashing weren't enough to tank Romney's negative speech, 
he added on European slamming as the final bitter compliment:

"I want you to remember when our White House reflected the best of who we are, not the worst
of what Europe has become."

(For those of us who happen to like Europe, this message is truly misleading at best, totally
marginalizing an entire continent.)

Undoubtedly, Governor Romney is a visually attractive candidate. His wife and family are
photogenic, as well.  Nonetheless, beneath the photo-shop veneer, Romney is a self promoter who cannot explain what he will do to deliver on his rhetorical empty promises. At least the vision of a moon colony is something we can absolutely "get", regardless of whether or not it's cemented in reality.