Monday, September 30, 2013

Glaucoma and GOP health solutions

This morning my glasses disintegrated beyond even the ability of paperclips to repair. Fortunately, when I packed up, I made sure to put a few pairs of old glasses in the box of desk things. I picked out the pair that is best for driving and went to the nearest optometrist (about twelve miles away). The receptionist asked if I just wanted the glasses replaced or if I wanted a check-up. The old lenses are over five years old and I'm going through the middle-aged phase of my close-up vision changing, so I cringed over the cost and said yes to a checkup. Glaucoma runs in my family. I really should have a full exam every year and it's been two years since my last exam. That means I'm getting the full exam, which means I'll have to wait a few extra days to replace my glasses. Meanwhile, none of the old glasses I have any any good for reading or computering. This means I'm trying out the handicapped settings on the computer. Right now, I have the browser set at 200%. I can't take three or more days off from writing. I'm typing this on Notepad in 28 point font. Those modifications are good enough for reading and writing, though the keyboard is a bit fuzzy.

This is more than an inconvenience for me. It's a solid reminder of the problems of being unemployed and uninsured. Skipping my glaucoma check is Russian roulette. My grandmother, my mom, and my late little sister all had serious glaucoma. Bonnie lost half the vision in one eye because of it. If my glasses had held together, I would have continued to put off the exam. Having to make cost/benefit calculations over something as important as my vision is a terrible thing to do. And it pisses me off. While I sat here trying to figure out how to tape, glue, or wire my glasses back together, I kept thinking of two particular conservative arguments about healthcare and how they relate to my risk of glaucoma.

The first was their mantra that no one lacks medical care in the US because there are emergency rooms. That argument is disingenuous and laughable from several different perspectives. The primary purpose of the argument is to deny that there is a healthcare crisis. Not long ago I had it thrown at me by a relative when I mentioned that an old friend of mine with cancer had died from a lack of insurance. Emergency rooms are for emergencies. They are for accidents and victims of violent crime. They are not a place for me to go for a routine eye exam. And, if I do get glaucoma they will not be the place for me to get my medications or monitoring any more than they are for diabetics. And when Chuck had his cancer, at what point, exactly, did his pain become an emergency? Would an ER have performed the surgery to remove his tumors or supplied the chemotherapy he needed? Emergency rooms are the most expensive way to acquire healthcare. They drive up costs for all of us, and they don't give it away. Hospitals bill patients for ER visits. If the patient can't pay that bill, the cost gets passed on to everyone else who uses the hospital.

The second argument builds on the problem of delay and cost. Even the most rabid conservatives can't deny that healthcare costs have been rising much faster than the rate of inflation or people's incomes. They have three explanations for this problem, all of which are lame. First, people get too much in malpractice settlements. Malpractice insurance is a tiny part of the cost of doing business for doctors and hospitals and hasn't gone up anywhere nearly as much as medical costs. In may states it has gone down. Second, regulations. It's always regulations with these guys. Can they point to the specific new regulations over the last ten or twenty years that have driven the rise in costs? No. When medical professionals complain about paperwork, most of it comes from insurance companies. Third, people using too much healthcare. What? People ("those" people, not us) going to the doctor too often. The first two are so old and worn out that it's not worth spending any more time on them than I already have. It's that third one that I want to beat up on.

Like the ER mantra, this an argument that someone came up with not long ago that has now been repeated enough that it has become accepted wisdom on the right, even though it's completely stupid. The way it is usually described is: insurance pays for too much; because insurance pays for going to the doctor, people go to the doctor too often; if insurance paid for less, people would not go to the doctor and make the insurance companies pay as often; this would lead to more profit for the insurance companies; when the insurance companies feel they are making enough profit, they'll stop raising prices. This, my friends, is how the magic of the free market brings prices down.

Aside from its utter ridiculousness, this argument is also mean-spirited and irresponsible. It's mean-spirited in that it's victim blaming. In saying too many people go to the doctor too often, conservative pundits are not telling their audiences that they go to the doctor too often. No. They are saying that "those people" go to the doctor too often. Who are "those people"? Illogically, "those people" are the undeserving people who want the government to step in and help them with their health costs. That is to say, the people who use too much health insurance are the people without health insurance: the poor, minorities, and older people who aren't quite old enough for Medicare.

If the plan embodied in this argument was actually enacted, it would have almost the exact same negative effect as the current ER situation. Make it more expensive to go to the doctor and people will go to the doctor less often, even if they should. People will get less preventative care and catch fewer problems early on when they are cheaper to treat and when the prospects of total recovery are much higher. The actual effect of this plan, like the ER plan, is that total costs are actually higher and more people die, are permanently disabled, or, in my own example, go blind.

I hope, that when I finally get my glaucoma check on Wednesday, nothing will be wrong. I would be a lot more confident if I were able to have this check-up every year like the doctor recommends. As for the rest of my body, I haven't had a full check-up in three years and don't expect to have one anytime soon unless I get that insurance that the Republican Party is determined to make sure I do not get.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

STUFers gotta STUF

Have I mentioned how much I hate the phrase "Haters gotta hate"? Well of course they do! That's basic linguistics! Lovers gotta love. Drivers gotta drive. Lepers gotta lep. As far a annoying comments go, this one ties with "LOL" all by itself (adding a smiley emoticon still counts all by itself).

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The stupid raises me from the dead

I am such a bad person. I've neglected the blog for--what?--two weeks. It's not that I haven't had any good ideas for posts. I've had awesome ideas. It's just that I get involved with writing the book or looking for work or worrying about my uninsured health (the other night I woke up in the dark hours and my foggy mind decided I had testicular cancer. After realizing a good vet could "fix" the problem for a hundred dollars, I went back to sleep). But, hey, I've spent the last three days obsessing about a certain old map that might get two paragraphs in the book. It's time to take a break. Let's get stupid.

What is the essence of public stupidity? There are two possible paths to public stupid. First, obviously, is to be wrong. But, not merely wrong, not holding an opinion that I disagree with--No! Type one public stupidity means being absolutely, factually wrong. Paul Revere did not ride to warn the British off. Raped women can get pregnant. There is no significant disagreement among climate scientists on the reality of human caused climate change. The founders did not conceive the United States as a Christian nation. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The second form of public stupidity is saying something so face-palmingly offensive or impolitic that your friends rush to deny they even know you. Today we have type two stupid.*

I'm not sure if you remember, but way back in the fall of 2008--which is, like, 5000 years in reality TV watcher attention span years and 2000 internet years--an unregulated investment market almost destroyed the global economy. Pensions for millions of Americans near or past retirement age evaporated. The economies of several South European countries collapsed. Millions of Americans lost their jobs and, therefore, their homes. In an attempt to stop the crash, the Bush administration committed the taxpayers of the US to 700 million dollars to bail out some of those responsible. The investment house AIG was one of the lucky survivors. A few months later, they gave the people most responsible 165 million in bonuses. In the face of an outraged public, AIG's PR flaks explained that they needed to pay those bonuses to retain the best and the brightest because the investment community was so robust that their competitors were lining up to steal the people who made trillions of dollars of the global economy evaporate.

Now, you would think that, if you were one of the companies who was responsible for the near collapse of Western Civilization; if you only survived because you were bailed out by billions of dollars from the American taxpayers; that you only survived to get that bailout because you lasted a few days beyond your competitors before admitting that you had also destroyed the wealth of your smallest, most vulnerable investors; that you might try not to remind everyone about those days. You or I might behave in that manner, but not so AIG CEO Bob Benmosche. His painful memories are not of the tens of millions of Americans whose futures were destroyed. His empathy is not for those who lost their homes, pensions, or retirement accounts. No. His empathy and outrage are for those brave, noble top level employees who destroyed the economy and faced criticism. Yes, some of these people had to face the horrors of bad publicity and mean words while collecting bonuses bigger than the mortgages of many people who lost their homes.

That brings us to yesterday. The current CEO of AIG, Bob Benmosche, remembers the horror of those days:
Now you have these bright young people who had nothing to do with [the bad investments that almost destroyed the global economy] ... They understand the derivatives very well...
they understand the complexity. ... 
And if they are so blameless, they must have been completely ignored by senior management.
They're all scared. They [made] good livings. They probably lived beyond their means. ... They aren't going to stay there for nothing.
Because, with half of our competitors wiped out, there's a worker's market bidding for their talent.
The uproar over bonuses "was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses, and all that–sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong."
Yeah! Having some people say bad words about you is "just as bad and just as wrong" as being dragged through the streets, beaten, hung, and set on fire. America would owe those poor lynching victims a major apology if they were still alive.

Wait, they are still alive? And, they're richer than before? But the bad words, the bad words, no amount of taxpayer money can make up for that. Can it? I don't know. Ask the 47 percent.

* If anyone has a recommendation for type three public stupid, put it in the comments here or on Facebook. Hell, if you can find me on Twitter (@archymck), use that, too.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Math: not his strong suit

And now, a special mini edition of The Stupid Files.
Vetoing a tax cut is the same thing as raising your taxes.
--Gov. Rick "Goodhair" Perry

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Stupid and manipulative

David Horowitz is not a stupid man, but he does say stupid things, and, apparently, he thinks his audience is stupid.
The reason we don't attack him is obvious, but no one will say it out loud. I will: It's because the color of his skin is black. It is because Obama is a minority that nobody will hold him to a standard or confront him with what he has done.
Who are these timid Republicans that fear to criticize Obama? Is Horowitz one of them? Even before he took office, Paul Broun was comparing Obama to Hitler. Trent Franks called him "an enemy of humanity." Michele Bachmann speculated about his "anti-American views." Other prominent Republicans have made Stalin comparisons, called him a tyrant, a dictator, "a low-level socialist agitator," and hinted that he's the Antichrist. These days, the crowd-pleasing favorite is to say he needs to be impeached for something, though they're not sure what.

Those are only the politicians. Maybe it's non-politicians that have been cowed into silence by Obama's color. Does Rush Limbaugh tremble in fear? How about Mark Lewin, Glenn Beck, or Michael Savage? Does Fox News only sing Obama's praises lest they be--gasp!--criticized? No. They seem to be just as critical of Obama, if not moreso, as they are of other Democrats. Perhaps it's only the common man who fears to criticize the president. Republicans would never be brave enough to form a group named after a popular hot beverage and gather in public waving signs that feature Obama's face PhotoShopped as h Joker, as a witch doctor, or into an old Nazi poster. They would never call him the "lier in chief," a "half-breed muslin," or a "theef." The average conservative on the road is far too fearful to put a bumper sticker on his SUV that says "Buck Ofama," "Stop the Obama-nation of America," or "Don't Re-Nig in 2012."

Of course, Horowitz doesn't believe the things he says. This is pure pandering. He's telling is audience that they are the lonely few, the brave truth speakers. The real stupid radiates out from anyone who would believe that.