Laura Hershey: Writer, Poet, Activist, Consultant Rotating Header Image

August, 2009:

Two Quick News Items

I have two quick news items to share with visitors to this blog:

First, A new book entitled Fire in the Soul: 100 Poems for Human Rights, soon to be published by New Internationalist in conjunction with Amnesty International, includes my poem “You Get Proud By Practicing.” It also features poets from around the world, including, I’m happy to say, some of my favorite poets including Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Alexander, Kimiko Hahn, Harryette Mullen, and Margaret Atwood. Click here to pre-order the book.

Also, I have a new address for poetry orders, consulting and training opportunities, and other business correspondence:

Laura Hershey
P.O. Box 11215
Englewood, Colorado 80151

Please make a note of this, and feel free to share this contact information.

My Proposed Formula for Health Care Rationing

In response to my recent article in U.S. News & World Report, and to some of my blog posts, several people have pointed out this indisputable fact: Resources being finite, some form of rationing is inevitable and necessary. I agree.

So I propose that we start freeing up dollars to improve and expand medical and support services, by denying health care funds for the following:

  • Any health care executive, manager, or administrator whose salary exceeds the average salary of a government or nonprofit executive, manager, or administrator overseeing a similarly-sized operation
  • Any health care system employee whose duties do not directly benefit health care consumers
  • Insurance company shareholders
  • Long-term residential institutions such as nursing facilities, large group homes, “state schools,” and intermediate care facilities which confine people needing support services
  • Profiteering manufacturers and vendors of medical supplies and durable medical equipment, i.e., those whose profit margins significantly exceed the profit margins of other products with similar research/development and manufacturing costs
  • Physicians and other providers who refuse to serve lower-paying consumers
  • Physicians and other providers who discriminate against some health care consumers based on age, disability, sexual orientation, language, cultural background, or other arbitrary factors

Who else would you add to this list? Feel free to post a comment with your recommendations.

Until we make the cuts suggested above, I will oppose any and all current or proposed denials of health care based on disability, age, income, job status, insurance coverage (or lack thereof), pre-existing conditions, immigration status, or other arbitrary factors.

Health care should not be a privilege, nor a commodity. Health care is a human right. Let’s not forget that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, co-authored by Eleanor Roosevelt, supported by the United States, and adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948, included the following statement in Article 25:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”


Putting My U.S. News & World Report Article in Perspective

I had an op-ed essay opposing futile care policies and health care rationing published in the August 2009 issue of U.S. News & World Report. The print magazine hit newsstands several weeks ago, and yesterday it was posted on the magazine’s website.

Shortly after I submitted my essay, I started hearing some Republicans criticizing President Obama’s health care proposals using some similar-sounding concepts. They warned that expanding coverage to more people would result in “rationing,” and specifically the denial of care to elderly and disabled people. Sarah Palin, who seems determined to move on from her unimpressive term as governor of Alaska to another disastrous quest for national office, is advancing such claims. She has suggested that her baby, who has Down syndrome, would be endangered by the President’s plan. Palin said the following:
“the sick, the elderly, and the disabled would suffer the most under such rationing; and that under such a system these ‘unproductive’ members of society could face the prospect of government bureaucrats determining whether they deserve health care.”

Click here to read Palin’s entire diatribe.

This is nonsense.

As the author of what I hoped was a thoughtful, fact-based argument, I want to clarify that my concerns about treatment refusal and related issues do NOT mean I am opposed to health care reform. I do not believe in the specter of “death panels” concocted by Palin and other right-wing obstructionists. Instead, I’m talking about what is already happening, largely as a result of our profit-driven insurance system: Physicians and administrators employed by corporate health plans feel the pressure to maximize company revenues by cutting costs. They inject their own fears into “compassionate” recommendations against treatment, but this occurs in the context of coverage plans where private money interests matter more than the public good.

The arguments put forward by Sarah Palin, and some others, basically amount to, “My family has good insurance, so why should I care what anyone else does or doesn’t have?” I find this outrageous. Around 16 percent of Americans do not have access to health care. A few of these are people who probably don’t really need it — yet — but many of the rest are families with kids, or adults with chronic conditions, for whom the lack of coverage is a real hardship.

I find it especially ironic that some of the politicians who claim to want to ensure that Grandma and Baby Trig receive all necessary health care are the very same politicians who have no problem denying care to 47 million uninsured Americans, including many people disabilities and chronic illnesses. They claim to fear “government-run health care,” implying that it would be inherently evil, or low-quality, or too expensive. In my view, an expansion of government-funded health care could be far more humane and cost-effective than the services currently offered by the major health conglomerates.

I have experience with government health care — not in England or Canada, but right here in Colorado. It’s called Medicaid, and while it’s far from perfect, for many years it has covered my medical and independent living support needs far better than any private insurance policy would have. And it does so at an administrative cost of about 3 percent — much lower than private insurance industry standards.

It’s true that I and other people with disabilities have encountered problems with Medicaid bureaucracy — unfair denials, bungled paperwork, inaccurate information, and so on. But oftentimes, problems can be resolved through individual advocacy or systems advocacy — something you definitely cannot say about the private insurance industry!

Still, we can expect the rumor-slinging to continue and, unfortunately, the fearmongers will continue to exploit people with disabilities in manufacturing their dire warnings. In a recent, rather hilarious example, a conservative US publication wrote that Stephen Hawking would be allowed to die, IF he were British. Of course it turns out that Hawking is both British and alive. Furthermore, he has some very good things to say about the National Health Service.

Click here to read a good article by someone who has read the entire health care reform bill, and analyzed it from the perspective of care for people with disabilities.

Now my perspective is that the current health care reform proposal is not entirely adequate, since it does not address the important issue of long-term care. ADAPT and other advocacy groups have been urging inclusion of the Community Choice Act in health reform. Without this, I think any changes will be far less successful. Click here to get more information about the Community Choice Act.

Three Haiku from My Recent Camping Trip

I’m not sure whether the plural of haiku is “haiku” or “haikus.” Poetry experts, let me know what you think.

I do know, however, that supposedly “minor” language questions can actually be significant in terms of conveying information. For example, when I was planning our camping trip last week, I checked the web page for Golden Gate Canyon State Park, where we had reserved a yurt for our party of six, including three wheelchair users. The description read, “The yurts accommodate a maximum of six people. They have two bunk beds, one twin-size and one double-size…” I took that to mean that there were six beds total, but in fact there are four, and they are ALL bunk beds — which are, to say the least, quite a challenge for people who need assistance to get into bed, change clothes, etc. A lot of heads got bumped.

Well, I guess there are two ways to read the sentence above, but I think that changing the comma ( ,) after “bunk beds” to a colon ( : ) would have been a big help.

Nevertheless, we had a wonderful time in that beautiful, partly accessible, occasionally peaceful environment. We were a group of family members both related and chosen, and friends who are essentially family too.

My time there inspired a few short poems, the haiku(s?) below.

Tall pines loom over
loving thoughtless laughter,
lean into gray dusk.

Campfire eats logs, air,
matches, and thoughts. It feeds us
heat for meat and words.

Late night, our yurt yawns
us into its round belly,
to rest for travel.

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