Friday, July 31, 2009

More on Health Care Reform

Here are a small collection of health care reform news and opinions in the media this week:

Paul Krugman explains that the government is already involved in our health care.

continue to resist any form of national health insurance.

Is national health insurance really so Un-American?

Yahoo Finance tells us what freedoms we will lose with single-payer health insurance.

The best solution is to move to a let-freedom-ring regime of high deductibles, no community rating, no standard benefits, and cross-state shopping for bargains... [Seriously?]

American Health Care Reform from a British perspective.

Ads...warn of the dangers of 'socialised medicine' - the most riveting of them carry warnings from Britain and Canada about the dire consequences which will follow if the United States copies their government-funded systems...You would almost get the impression that the streets of those countries are piled high with the unburied dead...

CNN wraps up health care reform in a nutshell. That's it, we're done. We've been educated.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The cost of Health Care Reform (not in $)

There was an article in the NY Times today about what health industry groups are getting out of negotiations with the Obama administration. Wal-Mart supporting mandatory employer coverage? What are the costs of these deals?

Friday, July 3, 2009

This mess of a thing we call Health Care Reform

I have been meaning, for some time, to write about the status of health care reform in the US. After all, this is a blog mostly centered on health care issues and I am a health advocate, how can I not comment on such an issue like health care reform? (Ah but come on, my thoughts on the Twilight series are so relevant to the state of the world). But, it has been a daunting task. Everyday something new comes out in the news and honestly, I am not even sure where some people/entities stand on the issue sometimes. This post is in no way, an end all and be all of health care reform. Rather, it is meant to be a gathering of news and updates on the status of health care and who is doing what. Maybe eventually, we can all figure this out (and maybe even have access to affordable health care too, but that may be asking too much).

As much as I would like to meet this subject with an air of neutrality, I find it near impossible. I’ve seen and heard too much to be impartial. It’s very hard for me to find sympathy for wealthy people and industry who have held the power over our health care system for too long. I am not deluded enough to believe that a national system would be perfect all around. But, I cannot see health care as anything other than a right for all people, not just those who can afford it.

Let’s take a look at who some of the major players are in health care reform and where they stand.

The Obama Administration:
Obama assured us all in his 2008 presidential campaign that he would fight for universal health care coverage and that a combination national/private health care plan would be the best route for the U.S. This sounded great to many of us, although those of us who have paid attention to previous health care reform attempts (IE. The Clintons’ attempt in the 90’s) realized this would be an uphill battle.

Now that he’s in office and attempting to take on this beast in his first year, we see a mess of cost issues, industry influence and anti-national health insurance propaganda. My concern is that, now in office, will Obama bow to the pressure and his campaign promise will not be accomplished? Will he have to compromise to make even smaller changes, working toward gradual reform? We voted you in with hope, Obama. Please don’t let us down.

Congressional Democrats:
Democrats are mostly pushing for a combination national/private health care program. Now they have to show us the costs of such a program and where we can save money.

Republicans are fighting against any form of government run plan, even in combination with private insurance. They fear that employers will drop private insurance and force people into the government plan.

American Medical Association (aka Doomsday to any attempts at national health care):
The AMA hates public programs that reimburse doctors at a lower rate than private plans. They have fought all attempts at public health care programs and would like to see Medicare eliminated, as well as charitable care reduced. They claim that individuals should ultimately be responsible for their own health care.

Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP):
Not all doctors belong to the AMA. Some doctors are for a national health care program, PHNP is an example. It’s not as large or powerful as the AMA, but it’s good to know there are MDs fighting for a national system too. This particular organization proposes an expanded version of Medicare for all Americans.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA):
The biggest reason that the pharmaceutical industry would oppose a national insurance program would be the ability of a single insurance entity to negotiate cheaper drug costs. We have seen this fear played out with Medicare, and it will no doubt affect the industry’s support of a national health plan. There is also a fear of stricter government regulation over the industry.

The industry is sensitive to negative publicity however, and has recently increased its charity provisions in a few ways. First, drug companies have agreed to offer discounts to people with a Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage during the infamous Donut Hole, when beneficiaries must cover the full cost of their drugs. Second, Pfizer just started a program providing drug assistance for the newly unemployed.

Now, these programs are all well and good, but wouldn’t they be irrelevant if people had affordable access to prescriptions on a regular basis? Wouldn’t that save the companies money?

The Insurance Industry:
This is a no-brainer. The creation of a national health insurance program would hurt the private insurance industry. Why would the industry then support a public program? But, come on, it’s obvious to see the current state of health care is not working. Even those with health insurance coverage are filing for bankruptcy.

WARNING: The following is a rant about the stupidity of some people.

We’ve been hearing the argument that a government-run national health insurance program would be too bureaucratic; telling people what doctors they could see and making them jump through hoops to get coverage. Really?!?!?!?! REALLY? This is about the most hypocritical argument I’ve ever heard. Are these people really trying to suggest that people don’t face any of this crap with private insurance? Because I bet that argument would be washed away simply by talking to people who have private insurance, and especially if they have any kind of chronic illness! Anyone who believes this is fully delusional.

Anyway, enough of the ranting. If you want to learn more about health care reform or just keep up with health reform news, check out the Kaiser Family Foundation website. They even have a side-by-side comparison of health care reform proposals.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Amendments to Summer Reading List

My summer reading has begun and I have realized that a few changes to my initial list are in order.

I have already read both Twilight and Slaughterhouse Five. See my thoughts on Twilight below. Slaughterhouse Five was excellent and I highly recommend it to everyone. It's a great exploration of living in the moment and letting go of attachments, not to mention war.

Speaking of books about war, I happened to pick up the book, Johnny Got His Gun, from the bookstore recently. I was thinking I would just read it after my summer reading was through, but a friend wants to read it as well, so it has been moved up on my list. If you recall, I wrote a brief review about the 2008 film last fall. It was excellent and now I want to read the original work behind it.

I finished Twilight, and to my own chagrin, have become slightly obsessed with reading the series. I just finished the second book, New Moon, and am going back and forth about whether I should finish the series. When I read Twilight, the first book in the series, I told myself that it would be the only one I would read. That was, until I found myself at a bookstore, next book in hand. A young girl stared at me with big eyes from across the kiosk of Twilight books. "Are you reading the Twilight books?!?!?!". "I've only read the first, now I'm going to read the second one", I told her. She stared at me in disbelief. "I've read them all, three times! You should skip New Moon and read Breaking Dawn. It's the best one!" As she said this her mother rolled her eyes.

Here I am conflicted. It's great that kids are reading books, but I don't really like the message it sends to young girls. When reading the books myself, I am drawn into this overly dramatic, star-crossed love affair between Bella and Edward. But, when I'm not engrossed in the story, and think about the situation in a larger context, it really just sounds like an unhealthy teenage relationship. If I were Bella's parent or even friend, I certainly would be concerned about her being in an abusive relationship.

But even thinking all this, I will probably read the other books. I mean, you cannot just stop in the middle of the story. I have to know what happens in the end!

To make time for these additions (although I tend to finish the Twilight books rather quickly), I have decided to give up on The Baby Catcher. If I haven't finished it in 5 months, I need to be realistic and just let it go. Also, I may put off The Audacity of Hope until the fall. All other books on the list are still a go in my mind and I am looking forward to reading them.

Friday, June 26, 2009

My Sister's Keeper: From book to the screen (or how Hollywood has destroyed a great novel)

Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper invoked ethical concerns about genetic and medical advances, and how they affect us on a personal level. Anna, a 13-year old who was engineered and born to be a perfect genetic match for her frail sister, Kate, decides to seek an attorney to become medically emancipated from her parents, who have subjected her to various medical procedures since birth. Of course, this sends shock waves through the family, especially her mother who is extremely devoted to Kate and to keeping her alive at all costs. The story draws questions about quality of life, living in the moment and undying devotion to those we love. It's clear that there is a lot of passion and loyalty within this family, but that it also causes a lot of heartache and fear.

On the most simple level, the transition of characters from the written page to the screen was awkward and compromising of some of the most endearing aspects of the story. Perhaps the biggest letdown in this regard was the depiction of attorney Campbell Alexander by Alec Baldwin. This can be best summed up by Jon Stewart's comment when interviewing Cameron Diaz about the movie on The Daily Show. "That's the saddest episode of 30 Rock I've ever seen!". In the novel, Campbell's character was best defined by his vulnerabilities, which allowed him to develop a relationship with Anna and with the plot line. Unfortunately, Alec Baldwin was not able to display these vulnerabilities and it seemed to cheapen the role and the storyline. It gave us little sympathy for someone who was such a complex character in the novel.

Other character portrayals ranged from good to alright. Sofia Vassilieva's performance as Kate, the ill sister, was probably the most endearing. Cameron Diaz (Sara, the Mom) and Abigail Breslin (Anna) brought emotion and power behind their roles, that sufficed for the storyline. It brought many people to tears. The absence of another great supporting character in the book, Julia Romano, Anna's Guardian Ad Litem, created another loss of intimacy with Anna that would have brought the tragedy home even more. The judge for the case, played by Joan Cusak, seemed to fill some of this absence in a scene set in her chambers.

Sadly, there was an apparent overhaul of much of the storyline and resulting moral ambiguities presented in the book. Picoult is known for creating stories with complex moral stances and tends to leave many things unanswered. In fact, that what's best about her novels. They leave you asking more questions and considering perspectives you may not have considered before. Usually the novel is heart wrenching as we see the effects of actions and emotions through a range of characters reacting from their own point of view. This is very true to life. It's easy to observe a story externally and place our moral judgement on the people involved, but that doesn't hold up when we are involved ourselves. When the ego is involved, when our own behavioral conditioning comes into play, we don't often exhibit the highest of moral standards. Or simply, our moral code may be altered by our personal experience.

The film version of My Sister's Keeper painted a picture of an otherwise happy family, who were suddenly taken aback by the action of the youngest member laying this bombshell on them. In the book, however, while it was clear they all loved each other, the family was internally collapsing even before this whole situation played out. For example, Jesse, Anna's neglected older brother was very troubled in the book, even starting a fire to seemingly get his firefighting father's attention for once.

The biggest upset, however, had to be the ending of the movie. Apparently, the makers of the film felt the need to move away from Picoult's moral ambiguities and spell out clearly what they thought the main point of the storyline should be. In doing so, they completely changed the ending of the movie and ruined some of the best aspects and ethical questions to come up from the book's ending. The ending in the book leaves us feeling uncomfortable and fills us with regret for all of the characters in the book. The film's ending, however, wraps things up in a clean conclusion with a clear judgement of appropriate actions for the characters to make in order for a (somewhat) happy ending.

Out of recognition that fitting novels into a 2 hour or less movie requires omission of some of our favorites parts of the stories and that keeping the main idea of the plot, rather than details, is often necessary to make it a cohesive story, it is difficult to translate great storytelling into film. But, we have seen it done, so it is not impossible. The best way to devalue the integrity of a story is to assume that the audience needs an obvious and contrived dissertation on the issue at hand. The issue at the center of My Sister's Keeper is so relevant to our developing medical ethic, it's a shame that the film couldn't reflect the novel's consideration of a greater variety of aspects of the topic. We could have gotten so much more from it.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Summer Reading List

This has probably been the longest I have gone without posting on this blog and I'm sure there are not too many people reading it any longer (as opposed to the hundreds, even thousands who used to read it). But, I am here with a list of books I plan to read for the summer. It's a totally unoriginal idea, but I am going to go right ahead and steal it. Ha!

This reading list includes books recommended by friends, suggested by zen teachers, ones that I found interesting and some that I even found on the street (I love Brooklyn!). It's a mixture of fiction, memoirs and spiritual enlightenment. Hopefully they will encourage a little mental stimulation over the summer months. If nothing else, they will make my ride on the subway, to and from work, go by a little faster.

1. Twilight - Stephenie Meyer

Okay, okay, I know. I have received a LOT of feedback from friends on whether I should read this book. A friend gave me her book to read during my last visit to Michigan. Both she and my sister loved it. There are many people since who have scowled at my choice of books, because of it's tween-ish audience. I just started reading this and I'll be honest. I really like it. Something about it touches the deepest insecurities I had as a teen.

He is our President and I did vote for him, so I feel that I should read more about his political views. I bought this at an outlet store in Michigan at a discounted price. I love bargains!

A friend of mine from grad school exchanged books with me via snail mail. I sent her White Teeth by Zadie Smith in exchange for this memoir of a midwife. I started reading this in February. So...I have never given birth myself and even though I understand that it can be a beautiful is a bit to take in. Basically every chapter is the story of a birth she has attended. Very interesting. Also intense. I have been reading this for several months because I have to put it down after a few chapters. I will continue to read a chapter or two between other books.

My beau is a Vonnegut fan and has been lending me his books. I recently finished Slapstick, which all kinds of crazy but also good. I read Mother Night last year as well, which I really liked. Slaughterhouse-Five and Hocus Pocus are my next explorations into the world of Mr. Vonnegut.

I increased my monthly pledge to the local NPR-affiliate station here in NYC. In return I got this book about eating healthy in a way that nurtures the environment. If you recall, I also have a food blog and dabble in cooking and nutrition. I've skimmed through the book and saw a menu laid out for a month and matching recipes. I'm really looking forward to reading this.

My zen center follows the lineage of the San Francisco Zen Center, which is the focus of this book, specifically at a time when there was corruption of power at the center. It calls into question balance of power and hierarchy in religious institutions.

7. Funny Boy - Shyam Selvadurai

I found this book on the street. Before you start to get images in your head, know that in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, there is sort of a give and take of free items. When you want to get rid of something, say clothing, shoes or books, you can simply put them out on the street for others to take. Not only have I found some good books (ie The Crucible, She's Come Undone, Lovely Bones), but my roomie and I have found some items for our apartment on the street as well. I thought this book looked interesting because of the intersection of culture, sexuality and politics.

Friday, February 27, 2009

See this blog post

I had to post a link to a post by a guest blogger on my dear friend Samantha Grace's blog, A Very Political Woman. This post is about the recent comic in the NY Post that got all of the publicity (because it was racist, as you know). I think that the guest blogger, Marilyn Jean, makes several great points about the cartoon and about race in our society.

I know, two posts in one day, I like to mix things up like that...