Friday, October 31, 2008

Health care and Centralia: An Analogy

Here is a diary that is cross-posted at Daily Kos.

One of yesterday’s heart wrenching diaries that was rescued last night inspired me to write just my third diary. As someone who lived three long years without health insurance, this has been gnawing at me for a while. My university recently forced me to purchase its student health care plan. It is not very good coverage, but at least I have something in case I get hit by a car trying to cross Nebraska Ave. Bonus: no health questions. Every student is approved.

I would prefer to have full socialized medicine, but that is not going to happen. As a viable alternative, I am supporting Senator Obama’s health care reforms. At the core, the proposal is to offer affordable health insurance to all Americans, regardless of preexisting conditions. This diary will make that argument by comparing health insurance to a town that died from short-sightedness.

We are all familiar with the dismal state of health care in the United States, but knowledge of Centralia is largely limited to Pennsylvania folks and coal company executives. As we are all well aware, 45 million Americans, including a lot of children, do not have any health care. have not seen numbers on under-insured people. Centralia, on the other hand, is a town that has been burning down for the last 46 years.

I know that we have a lot of Pa. people here at Daily Kos. Coal company executives? Probably not so much. As you read this, though, consider this question: Would you prefer to see your tax money pay for a few hundred dollars in early remediation or thousands and millions of dollars to fix a serious situation?

Centralia was once home to a thriving coal mining industry and about 1,200 residents. In fact, a major anthracite coal vein runs under the town. (Just a little plea here: please no flames regarding Global Warming. That’s not the point here.)

In the spring of 1962, the town decided that the old dump next to the cemetery could use a good cleaning up. Memorial Day was fast approaching and the dump was looking unsightly. In those days, dumps caught on fire all the time and extinguishing said fire was difficult.

Ironically it was also tradition to intentionally set dumps on fire. This had the dual benefit of clearing out some of the trash in the dump and giving the firefighters practice extinguishing dump fires. (Again, let’s not get into a discussion about the resulting air pollution. This was eight years before the first Earth Day.)

The problem was that somewhere deep inside the dump was an exposed coal vein. The fire in the dump spread to the coal seam. No one noticed that day. A few months later, someone asked the borough council whether the fire was out. No. The fire was still burning and it was burning right underneath the town.

The first bid to put out the fire was $175. Naturally, that was in 1962 dollars, but still not a huge amount. One of the local boys offered to bring in the backhoe and dig out the burning coal. Problem solved? Not so much. The bid was rejected as being too expensive. Besides, mine fires are not uncommon in coal country. This one should burn out, too, the people reasoned.

Well, the fire didn’t burn out. It got worse. Much worse. By the 1980s, people noticed dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in their homes and gasoline tank thermometers were recording temperatures of nearly 800 degrees as the fire raged underground.

The federal government has since paid $42 million into relocation efforts (there are still a few diehards who won’t leave). Additionally there have been some efforts to put the fire out that ran into the millions of dollars. Despite all of the (mostly half-hearted) efforts, the fire burns on and might burn for thousands of years. Hopefully, the fire does not reach the nearby towns of Ashland (two miles) and Mount Carmel (six miles).

So what does a dead coal mining town in Pennsylvania have to do with health care (aside from the mental and physical health questions surrounding the holdouts)?

Consider this:

Imagine you have a minor throat infection that could be cleared up by a prescription antibiotic. If you have no insurance, you are looking at about a $100 visit to the doctor. If you are lucky, the local Walmart will sell you the antibiotic for $4. (I have a lot of problems with Walmart, but their $4 drug program is not one of them.)

Unfortunately, if you don’t have health insurance, you probably don’t have the extra $100 to go to the doctor. Without the prescription, you can’t get the $4 antibiotics. You just lie in bed and hope to get better tomorrow.

You don’t get better; you get worse. Now you are heading to the emergency room before you die. Afterwards, you are looking at a bill of several thousand dollars. Add a few hundred more if you have to call an ambulance. Public assistance (via tax dollars) will cover some of the cost, but you will probably be stuck with a huge medical bill. You may have to declare bankruptcy and ruin your credit. This is all the result of a minor throat infection that would have cost $104 to cure.

I could make the utilitarian argument and say that we have the responsibility to help out our fellow humans. Instead, I am making the financial argument. It is more rational to pay a lower amount to solve a problem early than to may a lot of money to solve a problem later. That's second grade math and logic.

Using the same argument, I would rather that my taxes pay for a $175 plan to extinguish a mine fire instead of several million to relocate people and maybe extinguish the fire decades later.

That is why I am supporting Obama’s health care plan. He would like to open the health care plan that covers members of Congress to everyone who would like to join in. Additionally, Obama wants to take on the insurance companies and force them to stop denying insurance for preexisting conditions. It would also be nice if certain groups, (all women for example) were not charged higher rates than others.

These are the things that will encourage people to go to the doctor early and not run up huge bills at the emergency room. It might mean some up front costs, but the long-term benefits are obvious.

This proposal is not as good as being able to walk into a clinic in Britain and not pay a ha’ penny for treatment, but it’s a start. That’s more than anyone else has offered.

I owe my great friend, Jenn a major tip of the hat for her extensive research on the Centralia topic. (I hope she had fun protesting Palin and supporting Biden in Williamsport.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

This person scares me

Ummm... yea... Whatever Michelle

(Sorry about the commercials if there are any. NBC has to pay the bills, too.)

In fairness, Matthews did kind of steer Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-Minn 06) into her answers. The point is that she answered them like she did. If you don't have the time or inclination to watch this, Bachman a (Republican) member of our Congress suspects that there might be some anti-American members of Congress.

You can tell who they are because they are Liberals.

I can't wait for the Army-Bachman hearings.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Thank you, Ralph Stanley

I'm a bluegrass fan. That means I like real country music, not the current country crap that is essentially pop music with a southern twang coupled with the occasional nationalist rhetoric.

Well, one of the legends of bluegrass has announced his endorsement and I could not be happier.

Thank you, Ralph Stanley.


Found another one and some inspiration (updated)

I really hoped that my previous post was simply an isolated incident. Turns out, not so much. This one is from Keystone Progress via DKos commenter degringolade. Caution. This may make you ill.

Here's an open question. Which comment is more ignorant? Would it be the nauseating "terrorist" thing. Or would it be the crowd suggesting the Obama supporters "get a job" after W., McCain, et al tossed the world's economy into the toilet. Maybe it is my favorite: the guy who is all riled up about ACORN, but who cannot even tell us what what that organization does nor realizes that Obama's only association with that group was to (successfully) represent them in a court case.

I am pretty devastated that this is happening in my home state.

I am renewing my last challenge. Let's fix stupid by electing Obama and a Democratic majority and showing these people that we can turn this country around and even benefit their lives. Catch more flies with honey?

One more quick thing. Please visit my online friend, Sarah. I'm sure she would appreciate it.


Update: I have been posting these horrific videos. Before we all come down with an irreversible case of political depression, I am posting this video. If the last video made you puke, this one will make you weep.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Let's fix stupid (updated)

All I can say is holy F#%@! Check out this video that was shot in Ohio. Pay particular attention to the blond woman that you see in the preview screenshot.

I'm not sure which is worse: the ignorance or the barely veiled racism. If the McCain/Palin campaign has any sense of decency, they would address this garbage from their "base" of support. Unfortunately, McCain's only chance of winning this thing is to continue to cast Obama as scary and dangerous. It's not like they are winning on the issues or via the debates.

I am particularly amused by the intelligence-challenged people who are attacking the Senator's name. But for a compromise between my parents, my name would have been Xavier Xerxes.


h/t to blogger interrupted and DKos diarist ves man.

Update: Final thought. Let's get out the vote, elect Obama, and show these people that they are wrong about him. Try not to gloat too much on Nov. 5.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Train wreck

From DKos poster kdoug and presented without comment.

He posted it on Saturday, but I only posted today. I didn't have a chance to ask permission to repost. If anyone has a problem, let me know and I will take it down.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Homer dies voting for Obama

Someone leaked a clip from the Nov. 2 episode of the Simpsons, which is probably the annual Tree House of Horrors episode.

This is a brilliant comment on electronic voting machines. Without a paper trail, there really is no way to protect against potential hackers. I once asked a representative of a company that makes these machines (it may have been Diebold). This person looked at me like I had three heads and assured me that it is impossible to hack into this proprietary software. Okaaaay....

Three points:

1) What if the machines are flawed from the start? Remember Man of the Year? (Just one quick rant about the movie. Tom Dobbs was on the ballot in 13 states in the movie. However, a candidate needs to win the largest 17 states at a minimum to win the presidency.)

2) Apple claimed that it was impossible to unlock the iPhone, allowing any company (not just AT&T) to activate it. That was a challenge and it took somepeople all of about three days to unlock one. Okay. It was more like a month and a half. The iPhone launched July 12, 2007 with a bunch of glitches and it was late August when someone unlocked it. Anyway, Here's how to do it.

3) I don't have three heads.


Update: For the sake of complete accuracy, I need to clarify something from point two. No matter how hard you try, Verizon will not activate an iPhone. This is because AT&T and T-Mobile and some smaller companies run on a technology called GSM. Verizon and Sprint operate on CDMA. If anyone wants the long version of the explanation, let me know. The short version is that Verizion cannot (not will not) activate a phone from AT&T. That also explains why Verizon gets service in the Metro stations and AT&T does not.