by Joe Shea
December 29, 2009
A SONNET FOR THE NEW YEAR
BRADENTON, Fla., Dec. 24, 2009 -- Yesterday, without warning, my right leg suddenly became paralyzed five times for about two minutes each time. It's already happened twice today. So don't holiday me.
I'm falling apart. About six months ago, I was in a crowded store or somewhere, when I heard an anonymous voice call out, "Hey, Joe, you better run while you still can!"
I took the advice to heart, kind of slowly, and by a few months later I was running sprints in my condominium's third-floor corridor late at night. Being the humid and awfully hot summer of 2009 on the Gulf Coast of Florida, there were only three other units occupied in the 32-unit building, so no one could hear or see me.
The sprints were pretty impressive to me, since I didn't think I could still run that fast. After a few weeks of this, my legs felt a glow that was unmistakable. They felt alive, happy, full of potential.
Then one night as I finished my corridor sprints - always barefoot - I headed for my shower. Coming out of it, suddenly, I thought I was having a stroke. My legs wouldn't support me and I fell on the floor. My right-most toes on my right foot began to shrivel up, curling toward the sole of my foot. My left leg felt hot and tingly, and my right arm and my hand also began growing stiff.
I had no idea what was happening. I HAVE BEEN healthy as a horse my entire life. Now I was praying for my life, fervently and desperately. Blessedly, after about two and half minutes, my leg relaxed again, and except for some very mild discomfort in the muscles around the two curled toes, I was fine again. I was fine enough to try sprinting again the following night - with the same painful result. What was happening to me?
The last time I went to a doctor, for very high blood pressure the night my Mom died, I was there for four hours on an IV feed of calming sedatives and went home. The bill was $3,200, and since I had no health insurance, or a job, or even income, I was able to pare the bill down to $1,200 that even then was awfully painful to pay. No amount of pain short of a real stroke and a heart attack would get me back there.
In deference to the facts, I had gone to the Manatee County Rural Health Services clinic here, where I qualified for low-cost visits with a doctor. The first time I went there, with my wife, the very first thing the doctor said to me was, "What medications do you want?" We didn't want any, so I guess that was exceptional for him.
Later I went for a toenail fungus, but was told the doctors weren't allowed to write a prescription for the well-known medicine that can cure it.
When I began to notice numbness in my right thumb, left big toe and similar things, the doctor said my problem was a compressed spine and that I would have to see a neurologist. He gave me a prescription, but I had gone to one once before and the bill had been $200. I don't have $200 and didn't have it then, so I didn't go.
Now the seizures are coming more frequently, and sometimes they don't last as long, especially if I've had one within the past 10 minutes or so. Yesterday I had two just trying to get up from a sunken couch at the home of a 92-year-old man I had stopped to visit with down the street.
From the research I've done, you're supposed to be hospitalized after the first one; I'm now around the 45th. And you can't imagine what poor old Ted, my friend, went through watching me groan and writhe on his couch every 10 minutes. He was in a wheelchair and couldn't be much help.
I guess the whole point of this is to talk about the health care bill. I watch a lot of the debate on television, and it's all been in the Senate lately until it ended this morning with a 60-39 victory for the Democrats. Now comes the long and probably bitter process of reconciling the House and Senate versions of the bill. And since the House bill contains a public option provision, that's naturally the one I'm most interested in.
I saw how totally committed to the insurance companies that a few senators were, especially Joe Lieberman. I cursed him out loud up and down for 10 minutes when he pretended to have an issue of principle with the public option. His only problem with the public option is the insurance industry, much of which is headquartered in Connecticut even if their holding companies are incorporated in Delaware.
They call the shots for Lieberman on health care, and they desperately want to kill the whole bill, but more than anything else, they fear the public option that will provide meaningful cost competition for them for the first time in their histories. Collectively, life insurance companies alone have reserves of about $4.5 trillion, according to the National Assn. of Insurance Commissioners, or about $2.1 percent of their $52 billion in losses in 2008 (they had a net profit of $29 billion in 2007). The amount of all insurance company reserves probably rivals the projected federal debt of more than $12 trillion.
"I do not think these reserves per se influence legislation," Princeton economist and healthcare expert Uwe Reinhardt told The American Reporter. "What influences legislation is ordinary PAC money, which can easily be carved out of recurring profits and employee-created PACs. It always amazes me for how little one can purchase the affection of legislators in the United States. We must thank the fabulous Founding Fathers of this nation for bequeathing on us this, shall we say, "financially influencable" system of government of which we Americans are all so proud. We - you and I and our fellow Americans - cannot understand why European countries and Canada do not allow this elegant form of bribery. In those countries, one cannot purchase the affection of legislators retail, as we can here (under our First Amendment, no less)."
Insurance company reserves grows by the billions every day without any tax liability arising from the growth, just as you don't have to pay taxes on stock appreciation until you sell it and take the gain. But the insurance companies never "take the gain," or they wouldn't have reserves to meet the claims of their insured and be able to intimidate even the federal government.
Instead, the reserves become vast fat pools of tax-free money for claims they often refuse to pay, and write off when they do. That money, much of it invested in Treasury notes, allows them to have great power over every area of American life. You can't drive without insurance; you can't get a home loan without it; many community associations throughout Florida require you to have it, and so does state law, which thankfully can't be enforced at this time. Very little happens at the level of representative government that isn't somewhere, somehow approved by an insurance company.
The schools, colleges, city, county and state governments and all their operations are circumscribed in all they do by what the insurance companies will cover. They dictate what government can do, not voters or some idea called "democracy."
A retiring state representative from our town has made his living throughout his career as an insurance agent. As a parting gift to his supporters in the industry, he has introduced for a second time a bill to allow insurance companies doing business in Florida to charge whatever they want. This comes as State Farm wanted a 65% increase in homeowner policies but couldn't get it from the state insurance commissioner.
If they didn't get it, State Farm said, they were going to leave the state entirely (except for their lucrative auto and other policies, of course). It didn't matter that most people are so hard-pressed to pay their mortgages that Florida's home foreclosures lead the country; we hadn't had a hurricane in three years, but they wanted more. Finally, they agreed to raise premiums 15% and drop almost 200,000 instead of a million policy holders.
I'm trying to tell you that because some long-ago Supreme Court decision ruled that insurance companies and other corporations are "persons" under the law, allowing them all the rights of real human beings even though they are not; they have gained tremendous sway over our democracy in ways that are simply wrong and anathema to civil liberties.
Today these ersatz persons are fighting the right of the American people to enjoy the same free health care the rest of the civilized world enjoys. Other nations think it's barbaric to trade a person's health and life for his ability to pay for health care. I do, too. But, of course, I'm biased because I may be dying without it.
Amid the gloom of the betrayed health reforms today, though, I take great pleasure in the results of a Quinnipiac College poll that mostly had a lot of bad news for President Obama. The respondents very dramatically rejected him and his leadership, and also heavily opposed the health care reform bill - except for two items. By a large margin, 56-30 percent, they supported the public option, and by an even larger margin, they supported expanding Medicare so younger people could participate.
We had a link to the story on our front page, and there's no way anyone reading their press release will decide this was a put-up job; the poll-taking public very decidedly was anti-Obama. That poll result needs to be validated and verified by more polling, but if the sentiments hold up, perhaps there is a way to get at least one or two Republicans to vote for the parts of the bill the public wants as the conferees wrangle in the conference committee.
I'm hoping I'll live long enough to see them do it.