Sunday, March 14, 2010

I Guess I'm Just a Good O'l Socialist

I’ve never wanted to get political on my blog, but I received an email that so incensed me I felt I had to address the topic. The email started like this:

Did you know.... If you're a conservative and belong to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), .you're actually funding Barack Obama's radical agenda to change America into an all-powerful Socialist State.

I am so fed up with the Right screaming about the “socialist agenda” of President Obama. They have become as rigid as some Muslims in their way of thinking, and in their approach to issues and their inability to have any dialog that stretches their narrow views. This President, when he just began his term, was immediately targeted by the Right for extinction. Why, because he is “half” black? What are they afraid of, losing power? Is that what this game is all about? Never before do I remember hearing so much disrespectful drivel towards a president coming out of the mouths of Americans, where their slander was not immediately denounced as un-American. And then it was certainly not supported by the mainstream media as it is now by some channels.

Is his agenda “socialist” because he is trying to ensure that all Americans have access to healthcare? I am sure this is not the “only” reason, but surely it is one of the drivers. As I’ve mentioned before in my blog, I live in fear that I will lose my health insurance which will surely speed my death. But the reality is that this is an issue that confronts so many people on so many socio-economic levels – and it will only get worse.

When I see all these people protesting against healthcare reform, I have to ask myself, where do they get their insurance? Are they current retirees on Medicare, are they receiving wonderful retiree health benefits as veterans or as former government workers, or are they lucky to work for a major corporation, school system or union that provides their medical? It is interesting to note that we, as taxpayers, subsidize much of these costs, whether directly through our taxes or indirectly in the cost of services.

The percentage of Americans with Medicaid, Medicare, or military/veterans coverage increased to an average of 24.6% last year, from 23.3% in the year prior. The percentage with employer-based healthcare dropped to an average of 46.8% in 2009, from 49.2% in 2008. These numbers are surely lower now.

Dennis Cauchon of USA Today and Stephane Fitch of Forbes recently wrote that “State and local governments have set aside virtually no money to pay $1 trillion or more in medical benefits for retired civil servants… With bills coming due as Baby Boomers start to retire, states, cities, school districts and other governments may be forced to raise taxes, cut benefits or both.” They further added "that the task of cutting benefits for government employees is especially difficult because state and local politicians are generally beholden to the government employee unions.” Let’s not forget it’s all about getting re-elected – so don’t expect to see any movement to make any changes here.

Cauchon also spotlights the big picture problem: “These medical costs are part of a larger burden taxpayers face in providing health care for an aging population. The federal government has a $1.2 trillion unfunded obligation to pay medical costs for retired.”

For those that currently are depending on their corporations to provide retiree healthcare benefits (especially for pre-65 year old retirees), the future may hold quite a shock. A Watson Wyatt study indicated that “The benefits provided to future retirees will be significantly less generous than those current retirees receive today, as employers are cutting back, capping or completely eliminating their retiree health benefits programs. They further state that the net result of public policy and skyrocketing medical costs has been to render retiree health benefits economically irrational for many employers. Many employers have already reduced or eliminated retiree health benefits, and the trend will only accelerate as health care costs climb. The burden on retirees to pay for their own health care is increasing dramatically, and far too few employees are prepared for the magnitude of the changes that will befall them.”

One advantage for corporate retirees is that they have “access” to group benefits which tends to limit the increase in premiums. But what about all those workers who do not have retiree benefits and retire prior to age 65 - or the self-employed - or those who work for small employers that do not provide healthcare benefits (or do so at a significant cost to the employee).

When people lose their coverage and get over the shock of the cost of COBRA benefits which expire after 18 months, they fall into the “individual” policy category. Costs for these benefits can be staggering. When Thierry’s COBRA benefits ended a few years ago and he tried to switch to an individual plan, the cost went from $395 to $675 per month. Six months later it went up to $845 per month. Eight months later it went to $958, and two months after that he received a notice that the cost was going to $1,346! AND THIS was for an HMO – not even a top of the line plan. Do the math; insurance would have become unaffordable after a few years!

No system is perfect, but we have to start somewhere. The cost of insuring the uninsured is significant, but the cost of doing nothing is much greater. Sitting with your arms crossed in front of you and spouting conservative rhetoric is not going to get us moving forward. It might be said that President Obama is an idealist – aren’t there worse things? Perhaps if this country instituted term limits for members of congress, it would help remove the fear of re-election which is keeping this country at a standstill. I was grateful that this President has tried to improve our country’s image abroad after the damage that was done during the last administration; now I live in fear that this subversive Right may turn us into another third world country, catering to a ranting minority who thrives on conspiracy theories and fear mongering.

As I write this it is gloomy outside, with the wind driving the heavy rain against our windows. Notwithstanding my agitation and this gloom hovering, I feel pretty good and I am going to party tonight – so on average – it will end up being a good day.


Ann said...

Why is it always the people with great employee paid benefits that rant against health care reform? Let them lose their benefits and have to pay out of pocket for a "family" plan. And it is those people who abuse the system by going to the doctor every time they sneeze. Not to mention the Doctors who totally abuse the Medicare system. Let's face it people, you are going to pay one way or another. Personally, I would rather pay higher taxes. The increase would not even come close to the $5000 a year I had been personally paying for mediocre health insurance coverage.

They call me Ruben said...

Monday is the reconciliation vote. I'm optimistic!

Anonymous said...

Gads. Just left you a comment (at least I THOUGHT I had done so) and see that I did not. To recap (and shorten) BRAVO Mary. From a Washington perspective (whatever that does...) I see alarming trends which I am certain mirrors the sentiment across the country - stop and discredit Obama at all costs. This is truly sad, but much more than that. I fear for us all as this is far more than a thumbs up or down for health care. I feel it is an "up or down" for the population and its wellbeing. Mary, you need to be political - you have the intellect, grit and special perspective. I, for one, look forward to your political discussions. Thanks! Love ya (and maybe this will get through....ha) J

Tony Delserone said...

Mary, thanks for publishing the comments about AARP that Mom accidently forwarded to you and that I purposely sent to her. Has it occurred to you that our health care system has been screwed up since WWII? The ridiculous run-up in health care costs began when the government drove employers to provide health benefits (instead of pay, which was limited by war-time wage and price controls). This separated purchasing decisions from the consumers and gave those decisions to a third party. I DO NOT want my employer to provide my health care. My employer -- like the government -- does not know MY needs or what is reasonable for ME to pay for. I want to make those choices for myself. When American consumers are left free to choose among competitors, we get the best services in the world for the lowest possible cost. Think of when Ma Bell was broken up and we all got to choose our own long distance and cell phone coverage. Service and choices soared and prices plunged. Perhaps you want to rely upon some pointy-headed bureaucrat to make your health-care decisions for you, but I am a FREE American and want -- indeed demand -- to make my own decisions. I DON'T NEED NO DAMN NANNY STATE TO LOOK OUT FOR ME!

Tony Delserone said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tasha M. Nilsen said...

I pay $170 per month for a BCBS plan with $2500 deductible. In the mean time, we go without cable, Internet (I use a BlackBerry), a landline, vacation...we go without. If a government plan can offer minimal, major medical coverage for both of us (hubby is currently uninsured) at an affordable rate THAT WE PAY FOR...we're all for the plan.

Mary B said...

Tony, I agree with much of what you said. Having worked in Human Resources and having to provide benefits at a level that was not appreciated and was "expected", I saw that people who have no vested interested in the cost of their healthcare tend to abuse it. Flip-side, I've also seen people NOT take advantage of their benefits. It all comes down to when a family member becomes seriously ill. That is why the current system doesn't work. Pay as you go does not work when younger, healthier people don't pay into the system. That is why some mandated system could help alleviate this problem. I also agree that due to the way States run their healthcare systems, we have little choice in selecting plan. PA is a great example - we have two choices, but US Healthcare takes themselves out of the game to the individual - so they don't really count.

This is why I believe the government has to do something, because the system will not fix itself.

PS: I told your mom that maybe I was a little one sided - the Dems are just as bad in many ways.... TERM LIMITS!

Mary B said...

Tasha: You provided another side to this debate. It is one thing when you can afford to pay for the best of the best in health care, it is another when you have to choose between the basics or simple conveniences and your health.

Juan said...

I couldn’t sleep and so I’m here early Sunday morning in need of a good rant. This is in response to Mary’s blog and some of the comments I have read:

Besides growing up in Philly, I spent many years residing in such cities as New York, Albany, Cleveland, Youngstown, Detroit and Chicago. There are cultural and political differences among the people of these cities but there’s one attribute that I especially liked about the people of the heartland; they are salt of the earth, good and generous people. Their frustration over the de-industrialization of our cities and the destruction of our family-based farmers by agri-business has made them easy prey to a right-wing radicalism that attributes the greed and sins of elected officials and lobbyists to the very institution that allows for them to be free and civilized individuals: government. They have been hook winked into believing that governance, and not the very individuals they elected to govern, is at the core of their problems. And so, they rant for the sacredness of the “free market”; that its invisible hand can best solve all the ills of society. Oh yes, if we would only allow our corporations to establish the rules to protect our rivers and oceans from pollution. And yes, I am sure that the auto companies would, on their own, establish high mpg levels and non-polluting cars. And yes, left alone I am sure that health insurers would work tirelessly to lower rates and provide excellent care. In truth, we have only to scan our history of robber barons, tycoons, and monopolists of the last two centuries to see what the “free market” can do. After all, Wall Street, deregulated and left alone, succeeded in taking us to the brink of a second depression.

So I wonder, thinking of our good citizens from the heartland, what a West Virginia or western Pennsylvania coal miner afflicted with emphysema would say about the free market as he ponders how to pay his medical bills. But it is Sunday, March 21, 2010 and I expect our government to do the right thing today.

Mary B said...


ann mcn said...

From Ann McN, the so-called free-market-for-health-insurance devotees have never had to pay a health care bill of any size because they don’t have to. They are happy with their company-provided plan which they have never tested. Can they really be so naive as to think that medical services don’t cost a great deal? This group wants the best in services but doesn't have a clue about how expensive things are and don’t think that they should pay for health services. These same people believe that medical coverage is a privilege, not a human right.

These guys make me NUTS! And when they shout that they want their country back, I smell racism. And when they assault property they are out of control.

I'm becoming very concerned about the future of my country as these extremists appeal to the most base emotions and intellect of our citizens.