Health Care

April 18, 2010

Wasichu is the Lakota (Sioux) word for "those who take the fat," the greedy ones. WellPoint/Anthem, the health insurance behemoth born of Blue Cross, is a wasichu corporation.

As the Blue Cross movement grew in the 1930s, one of the foundational standards established in 1937 was "No private investors should provide money as stockholders or owners." There was no concept of pre-existing condition. Excluding someone from health insurance because they might be likely to become ill (and need to actually use the policy) was felt to be immoral. Their mission was essentially charitable.

Over the following 50 years the Blues grew dominant, but in the late 1980s the marketplace began to change, and many state Blue plans found themselves in trouble. Blue Cross of California established a for-profit subsidiary in 1994, and that summer the national Blue Cross Blue Shield Association changed its policies so that its licensees could convert to for-profit status and distribute their earnings to those who controlled the company. Enter WellPoint, under the guidance of Leonard Schaeffer.

April 4, 2010

When it comes to health care reform, single-payer advocate Rob Stone, M.D., says, "We're still for it, and we're not done yet."

The need is undeniable. Over 46 million Americans are uninsured, and a recent study reported in the American Journal of Public Health showed that 45,000 die each year because they lack health insurance. Tens of millions are underinsured, able to afford coverage only with policies with gigantic deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses.

Of U.S. health care spending, 31 percent covers administrative costs, or overhead. Medicare, in comparison, spends only 3.1 percent on overhead. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, countries with universal health care spend about 50 percent of what we spend per capita and have superior health outcomes.

Part 1: Piecing together what happened to our kids

April 4, 2010

Nothing makes J.B. Handley laugh more quickly than the suggestion that he and other parents who question the safety of the American vaccine schedule are "radicals." The Portland, Ore., businessman is a managing partner in a leverage buyout fund. And when it came to vaccinating their first two children, he and wife Lisa religiously followed the vaccination schedule set by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

"We were as mainstream as they come," the father of three said during a telephone interview. "We were the ones who followed the letter of the law."

Questioning their doctor about the risks of vaccination never occurred to them, Handley continued. The same goes for hundreds of parents he has spoken with who watched their children's health steadily decline following their vaccinations, eventually regressing into autism, like 7-year-old Jamie Handley did as an infant.

"Almost to a person, we were the ones who fully vaccinated," he said. "You know?"

March 21, 2010

Just a few hours ago, U.S. Rep. Baron Hill announced his support for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as "Health Care Reform." Hill's announcement follows that of U.S. Rep. Brad Ellsworth's own announcement toward the same action, made just a scant 24 hours earlier.

The twin announcements, by two of the bluest-blue dog Democrats in the House, marks the beginning of the end of what has been a long, rancorous and frustrating battle.

A good fight, to be sure, a fight to bring forward a process and a service first hinted at, whispered, over a half century ago by Harry Truman. A fight to redefine access to health care not as some kind of Malthusian market struggle, not as the simple rational choice of humans engaged in a straightforward cost-benefit-opportunity calculus no different than selecting and buying, say, wide-screen TVs or iPods but rather as a basic human right, the kind guaranteed and delivered by any self-respecting advanced civilization.

January 24, 2010

I had some face time with Rahm Emmanuel two weeks ago at my friend Owen's. (Owen's brother-in-law is the former chair of the Democratic National Committee.) Rahm said nothing surprising but made his points. He had just finished David Kennedy's 1999 book Freedom from Fear, about WW II, the Depression and, germane to this conversation, the tremendous compromises involved in forging the New Deal.

Politically, he asserted, if you want to make big changes, you have to choose your battles and win the big ones. If health reform goes down, then energy, global warming, financial reform and labor's legislative agenda are all at risk. He stayed right on message.

I posed this to him: "Many Democratic politicians, including our Blue Dog Rep. Baron Hill, tell us in private conversations that they believe we have to get to single payer eventually. What advice would you give on how to get there?" Without a blink, he replied it's "going to be a long haul," and if we don't pass this bill it's going to be even longer. He asserted that this bill begins building the required infrastructure for any future progress.

Mercury and the 'environmental soup'

January 10, 2010

BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Five years after the publication of his book on autism and mercury in vaccines, David Kirby finds much of the ongoing debate on both subjects rather tiresome. Before dismissing the notion that the connection between the two has been debunked, he pauses. He only wishes the public discourse were focused there.

"It's crazy that in this debate, we're still debating whether autism numbers are actually going up or not, which is insanity to me," he said. "It's people desperately clinging to this belief that autism is genetic, that it's always been with us at this rate, that we're just better at counting it, better at diagnosing it."

The two most recent government-backed studies put the rates in children at 1 in 110 and 1 in 91. And since males are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than females, that means roughly one in every 60 males of all ages has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

"So where are the 1 in 60 men with autism in this country, in this world?" asked the author of Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy. "They don't appear to exist. I've never seen them. I've met a few adults with autism in my life, but very, very few."

David Kirby: I'm not antivaccine, but ...

January 3, 2010

BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Two days before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its newest data on U.S. autism rates, author David Kirby consented to a two-hour, videotaped interview in his street-level brownstone apartment in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. The government, the former New York Times reporter said, always drops its worst news late on Fridays, assuming the attention-addled mainstream media will forget it by Monday, when people actually pay some attention.

While the release of new autism data on the Friday before Christmas would normally trigger nervous anticipation in the whirlwind of Washington spin, this year's holiday news dump was anticlimactic. The CDC had revealed the gist of its autism findings in October, after a study in the journal Pediatrics said its incidence had reached 1 in every 91 children.

To inoculate the public against the 65 percent increase the Pediatrics study represented over the CDC's last estimate of 1 autistic child in every 150 born in 1994, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius herself intervened the day it came out. In a hastily arranged conference call with the autism community, Sebelius announced that preliminary numbers in the third in a series of CDC studies show the ratio was 1 in 100 for kids born in 1996.

December 27, 2009

Editor's note: This story is the third in a series on autism and the Southwest Indiana environment.


MOUNT VERNON, IND. - When she discusses her autistic clients, Marcella Piper-Terry almost always speaks in reverential and laudatory tones. "They're just absolutely gorgeous children," she says of kids with Asperger's Disorder, such as her 15-year-old daughter Rachel. "Great big eyes, long eyelashes -- amazing, beautiful children. And very smart, very creative and extremely sensitive. Extremely sensitive."

Only when a two-hour interview in her Posey County, Ind., home turns to the notion that children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) cannot be treated does Terry's demeanor assume an edge.

"That is not true," she says. "It's unacceptable to write these kids off because standard medical practice says there is no medical treatment for autism."

December 13, 2009

MOUNT VERNON, IND. - Listening to Marcella Piper-Terry detail her journey from artist to autism researcher is like any conversation with someone whose life has been touched by the pervasive developmental disorder. It sometimes takes the breath away.

Her family life has been impacted by loved ones diagnosed with multiple disorders and conditions: autism spectrum, bipolar, attention-deficit hyperactive, obsessive compulsive, pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric associated with Streptococcus and depression. And through it all, she has become more self-aware.

"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree," she says in her spacious, hardwood-floor dining room a half mile or so north of the Mount Vernon Middle School. "I can definitely see a lot of Asperger's tendencies in myself." Her voice slows. "I don't do clubs. I don't do social events. I would rather be reading and researching than having a dinner party or being part of that kind of stuff."

December 13, 2009

On a cold and rainy Dec. 2, while the Senate in Washington was slogging along debating health reform, a remnant troupe of public-option-supporting Organizing for America stalwarts stood outside the corporate headquarters of WellPoint, Inc. in the center of downtown Indianapolis. Minutes before their demonstration started, three single payer activists slipped in and out of the WellPoint office dropping off a shareholder resolution for next May's annual meeting.

WellPoint, also known as Anthem or Blue Cross, is the perverted spawn of what was once a charitable venture known as Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Indiana. From the '40s up into the '90s Blue Cross of Indiana was like all the other Blues around the country, non-profit with a charitable mission. Its board of directors included physicians, hospital administrators and labor and community leaders, and it existed to serve the needs of patients.

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