Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “health insurance”

No More Tears? – Tom Rossi

I was just watching a “news” special, that smacked of being paid for, like many, seemingly real, news segments are, about eye health. It featured a series of ophthalmologists and optometrists that offered advice on various issues of the eye.

Some of these issues were serious, like macular degeneration. But a somewhat lengthy segment was about “chronic dry eye syndrome.”

The doctors offered several solutions to this irritating, and sometimes painful, problem – pills, operations… the usual medical stuff. But let me tell you about when I went to see an ophthalmologist about this type of problem.


My eyes were dry, itchy, and actually painful, in a half-achy, half-sharp sort of way. I was having trouble focusing on written words, and reading was getting to be really difficult. The ophthalmologist I went to was very young… I’d say she had probably graduated from med school within the last five years, at the most. She examined me thoroughly, listened to my descriptions, and then uttered an utter blasphemy – “Go home and put a hot, damp washcloth on your forehead and eyes for 15 minutes, three times a day, for three weeks.”

What?!?!? No pills? No surgery? No scheduled return visit? Are you insane? OK, I didn’t ask her that last one, but I incredulously asked, “Are you sure?” She said, “Yes.” I told her that the pharmaceutical companies would have her head. She laughed and agreed.


My wife had been having similar symptoms, and so we tried the “treatment” together… and it worked. I was stunned, for several reasons. First, that such a simple regimen had fixed my problem. But most importantly, that my doctor had been willing to ignore what I call the “Pill Imperative.” She had also not even mentioned surgery at all.

My ophthalmologist’s treatment for this condition wasn’t supposed to be a one-time, permanent cure. It has to be repeated, every once in a while. But to tell the truth, neither my wife nor I followed the plan to the letter, and it still worked. We did about half the recommended hot washcloth treatments, and now do it about once every two months, or so.

I’ve decided not to give my doctor’s name, here, because I actually do think that it could bring negative attention to her from various medical regulatory bodies and/or pharmaceutical companies. But this episode illuminates a basic problem with our health care “system.”

Don't be a zombie.

Don’t be a zombie.

What’s wrong with our health care “system?” First, it’s not a “system” at all – it’s a bucket full of independent particles, more a gas than a fluid, each of which mainly exists to make money. There is a lot of good, of course. Many of those particles, while making money, do an excellent job and some of them actually care about people’s health. But what seems like a majority of doctors are all too ready to prescribe pills or surgery for almost any problem that a patient might have. Sometimes, this is due to an ignorant patient attitude, expecting pills and even, thanks to ridiculous advertizing on television, asking for medications by brand name.

Profits get sucked out of patients and insurance companies at several layers of the health care process, pushing the costs through the clouds, even while our bodies are increasingly assaulted by man-made toxins in the environment and in our food and water. These profits often leads to changes in the decision-making process concerning a patient’s care. Changes that are not based on the patient’s best interest.

The treatment prescribed by my ophthalmologist certainly won’t work for everyone. Sometimes pills and/or surgery are necessary or even urgent. There are many cases where an “alternative medicine” treatment just won’t get the job done, and could even cause a dangerous delay in getting the real medical attention that is needed.

But, in many cases, the first line of defense could be something simple and almost free. If you suffer from dry eyes, for example, you probably won’t die if you take a week or two to try this alternative treatment. Give it a shot, and if it doesn’t work, then you can go to a doctor and spend a bunch of money.

-Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.


Time for Healthcare Insurers to Compete – Roger Ingalls

It’s that time of the year again for us micro-business owners. We need to renew medical insurance policies for our employees and just like clockwork the price goes up another 10%. The increases are illogical and completely counter to everything we’ve learned about capitalism.

When it comes to the insurance or financial industry, if any Conservative or Libertarian thinks the American Economic System is a free market, they’re either a fool or extremely gullible. What we have now is an Oligarchy; a few large insurance companies loosely coordinating policies and pricing. There is no longer true competition in this or any other financial industry.

The big healthcare insurers are publicly traded companies and, therefore, are managed by Wall Street. This means they must meet two critical criteria to stay within the good graces of for profit investors: 1) increase year over year revenue and 2) maintain or increase year over year profit margin. In today’s economic climate and in a real free market, this would be impossible for insurance companies. But yet, they continue to set profit records and growth. How is this possible? Simple…we don’t have a free market. Just to clarify, this has nothing to do with Obamacare; it’s deregulation of industry going back to the early 1980s and accelerated in the early 2000s.


Let’s look at this more closely. Because of the Great Recession, many Americans are unable to continue buying their healthcare coverage so, today; fewer people actually have health insurance. This means insurance companies have fewer customers now than they did last year or even the year before. Fewer customers usually mean lower revenue but somehow they miraculously managed to increase year over year revenue and profit. To appease Wall Street, insurers just simple charged their customers more. Without a free market, we, as consumers, have no choice.

You may be thinking there are four or five big insurance companies so we do have a choice, right? No, we don’t. These few companies are unable to differentiate themselves because they are publicly traded and must cozy up to investor wishes by not straying from profit and growth path. This is why insurance prices from company to company don’t really vary. One may offer lower monthly premiums but the copays are higher and at the end of the day (or year), it all comes out to about the same.

There’s only one way to infuse a dose of competition into this industry and that is by allowing the public, of all ages, to buy into Medicare. This is truly a different type of offering to the consumer and would provide real competition for the insurance companies. Make these companies fight for customers by offering value.

Let’s bring back a free market economy, let’s have a little competition.

It’s Not About The Money

When I came to the US, I was told there are three subjects you don’t broach at a dinner, party or other social gathering: politics, money and eating habits. I don’t excel in small talk. I find it difficult to hear about the health issues of someone’s (who I might not see for a few months) great aunt (who I’ve never met). I crave meaningful interactions.

I can talk sports, but not baseball or American football – English soccer or cricket anyone? And I wonder why no one talks to me at parties? I love talking politics and can pass an evening enjoyably with an intelligent person further left or right of my opinion. But apparently this is on the no-no list and might explain why I’m not invited to many parties.

I am actually interested in people’s eating habits and their efforts to lose weight and stay healthy. Of course, I spoil it by sharing that I think most of the US’s problems would be solved if the entire country turns vegan. It might be that I’ve brought politics back into the conversation, but it doesn’t help my credibility that I’m holding a smoked salmon bagel.

And then there is the subject of money. I’m not sure if the guests at this dinner party have noticed, but we are in the middle of a horrendous recession. People are losing their homes, sacrificing medical needs, and losing their dreams of retirement with honor and respect.

People are hurting and chances are they are in this room. And I want to know so that I can be supportive, so that I don’t make things worse:

– I won’t offer to take your kid to Six Flags, knowing you have to cough up $40 for a ticket.

– I won’t suggest we go to a restaurant for dinner. I’ll invite you round to my house and fry up some sweet ‘n sour tofu. I have a two-buck Chuck that goes well with it.

– I won’t share my accomplishments at work when I know you are unemployed.

– And most importantly, I want to show that I care.

It makes me wonder. Do people really know what is happening if no one is talking. Sure we read newspapers (do we?), watch political TV shows (The Daily Show, anyone?), and peruse blogs. But all we hear about here are statistics.

It might be that 10% are unemployed and 13% don’t have health insurance, but the fact that 90% do work and 83% have health insurance alienates the minority in the room. It makes them ashamed and subconscious. Perhaps they didn’t even come to the party because they couldn’t bear to face the rest of us.

Money influences everything: our health, lifestyle, and the way we perceive each other. Moreover, it influences how we define our own self-worth. We need to smash this barrier of shame. We need for those friends who are hurting to know that we want them at the party because they are good people. They are our friends and family.

 I’m not sure the answer is talking about baseball.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Algaculture: Farming Worth Subsidizing

Last week I blogged about farm subsidies and how they limit variety, make people fat and destroy the free-market economy. It wasn’t a very popular post so I assume most people don’t care to dig into the complexities of this subject. However, it is a very important issue so I’m going to discuss it again but with the focus of how I believe our tax dollars should be spent.

Instead of subsidizing grains, corn and other carbohydrate crops that get over-processed into unhealthy foods, we should fund farming methods that can efficiently turn plant life into alternative fuels. And I’m not talking about the inefficient use of corn to make ethanol which is a crazy waste of food and energy.

We should subsidize algaculture or algae farming. More than 50% of algae’s composition – by weight – is lipid oil which burns cleaner and more efficiently than fossil fuel based petroleum. Once the oil is removed from the algae, the leftovers can be turned into fertilizer and feedstock for animals.

To eliminate our reliance on imported oil, we would need approximately 50 million acres of algae farming compared to billions of acres of corn to produce ethanol. Algae is a much better crop choice for making alternative liquid fuels.

Can you imagine all the problems we could solve by using our farm subsidies wisely? We could eliminate our reliance on foreign oil. We would no longer have to fight wars in the Middle East. There would be a new farming community with massive job creation as well as support industries to refine algae oils. In addition, there would be less unhealthy products in our food system because high fructose corn syrup and grain-fed beef would no longer be priced below true market value.

I encourage you to learn more about farm subsidies and algae bio-fuels. We could have a healthier, greener and safer society by changing how we spend our tax dollars.


Roger Ingalls is well traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

Subsidies: Sickness and Profit

Have you ever wondered why the government subsidizes food that is bad for our health?

picture from fadingdesign.com

Government funds (our tax dollars) go to farmers that grow corn, wheat and soybeans resulting in artificially low prices for these foods. You may be asking, “what’s wrong with paying less for food?”

There are fundamentally two problems with our farm subsidy programs: 1) it reduces the variety of affordable foods and 2) the funds support crops that are turned into high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated fats.

Between 1975 and 1984 most soda manufacturers switched from sugar to high-fructose corn syrup because of price. You may find the correlation between the rapid rise of obesity and the introduction of soft-drinks with HFCS interesting (see figure below). In addition, there is a disturbing correlation between diabetes and the use of HFCS (below). Close to 70% of the packaged foods found on grocery store shelves are manufactured with HFCS or hydrogenated fats. Even the price of beef is artificially low because they are fed an unhealthy diet of subsidized grains instead of their natural meal of grass. The cattle are given doses of antibiotics to keep them from getting too sick for meat processing.

Foods that are healthier for us, such as vegetables, are not subsidized. Have you seen the prices for fresh veggies lately? They are outrageous! The good and healthy stuff is not affordable relative to unhealthy subsidized food. These government funded programs are pre-selecting our foods by artificially lowering prices for a small variety of farmed crops.

If we want a healthy society, we must re-create a free market by doing away with farm subsidies or by allowing equal funding for all crops. This will be very difficult because the large corporate-run farms receive over 70% of the subsidies. Their lobbyist and big banking partners will do all they can to eliminate a free market. In addition, a healthy society is not good for the pharmaceutical, health insurance and medical industries which also have strong lobby groups.

It’s an interesting dilemma; today’s corporate landscape of profit with sickness vs a change to health with a free market.


Roger Ingalls is well traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

Why Aren’t You in Better Shape? – Tom Rossi

I used to be in great physical condition. In fact, it wasn’t all that long ago – just a few years. I used to work out with weights, play hockey, run, hike, play tennis, all sorts of things. At the time, I used to look at overweight people and think, “Gland problem? Genetics? My ass. Laziness and a lack of self-control with food – that’s your problem.”


But at times in my life, including recently, I’ve had things go wrong… things that have interfered with my conditioning. I’ve had a lot of semi-serious injuries. Most recently, I injured my Achilles tendon and despite doctors’ visits, physical therapy, and endless stretching and coddling, it just won’t stop hurting. I’ve also injured several other joints over the years – shoulders, knees, etc.

Work is another insult to physical training. In a couple of jobs I’ve had, I worked about 55 hours per week, sometimes more. Coming home from this, exhausted, I certainly didn’t feel like going running or anything, even though that’s probably exactly what I needed. Instead, I collapsed on the couch with a bag of chips while “dinner” was warming up in the microwave.

While working at stressful jobs, I also ate a lot of “convenience” food… in other words, crap you wouldn’t feed your dog. Fatty, sugary junk – that’s what I had time for. My mid-section started to grow.


I’m not lazy – at least not physically. So why was I getting fat? Why am I about 25 pounds overweight now? Circumstances. Maybe my own stupidity contributed to these circumstances at times, but some could not have been changed.

This got me to thinking about the way that people with jobs, people with their finances more or less under control, look at the unemployed and the ones of us that are having serious money troubles. It’s so easy to think, “I guess I’m just smarter than those people. I’ve made better decisions and I adapt to changing circumstances.”


I don’t really believe in luck. I often say, “It’s bad luck to be superstitious.” But look at the example of a good friend of mine. Let’s call him “Jim” to avoid bringing any unwanted attention to him. Jim joined another friend’s successful flooring business (tile, wood, carpet, etc.) and built a franchise in a new location. This was during the housing frenzy somewhere around 2004, if I remember correctly.

Jim is an incredibly hard worker and a very energetic person. He leased a small warehouse, bought a forklift and a good-sized van and hired a few workers. He got up at 4:30 in the morning and was in the office before 5:30 every day, where he stayed until late in the evening if he wasn’t out supervising, estimating, etc. He researched his business every day and did his best (he’s also a very smart guy, with an MBA) to make good decisions in running his business.

To make a long story short, when the housing market crashed, so did his business. Now, he’s deep in debt and selling everything at a huge loss. Could you look Jim in the eye and say, “You were stupid and/or lazy, and that’s why you failed?”

Circumstances. They can strike anyone, anywhere, at any time. So when you see someone in trouble, maybe you can’t afford to give them the money to get back on their feet, but don’t judge. You don’t know what went into their situation. Maybe their business partner embezzled all of their money. Maybe he or she has a kid with an expensive disease. Maybe a family member was in a terrible accident and medical care and physical therapy went well beyond any medical coverage that had been in place.


There are “losers” in this world. But don’t assume that those who have lost “deserved” to have lost. I’m now one of those overweight people, and I’ll never again think it’s easy to stay thin.

-Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com


Desperate for Health Care, Try The Verone Plan – Roger Ingalls

When you’re sick, out of work and have depleted all financial resources, how do you get health care in the world’s richest country? If you don’t know, take a little advice from James Richard Verone. He may have it all figured out.

So, what did Mr. Verone do? On June 9th, he robbed a bank. He’s already been seen by a few nurses, is scheduled to see a doctor for his painful ailments and all this occurs less than ten days after committing the crime. His needs will be met faster than someone paying for an HMO health care plan. Does crime pay even when you get caught? Maybe yes.

James Richard Verone doesn’t appear to be a bad man. The 59 year old was never in trouble with the law until he reached a point of desperation two weeks ago. Needing medical care, he gave notice to the landlord, sold and gave away his possessions and then checked into a motel. After showering and ironing his shirt, he mailed a letter to the local newspaper outlining his coming crime and then hailed a cab to a nearby RBC Bank. Once inside, he made the $1 robbery demand and waited in a chair until the police came. He was arrested, received needed medical attention and has a place to stay while healing and awaiting trial – it was that simple. Mr. Verone is looking to spend time in jail until he can collect social security and then move near the beach. This is probably a reasonable plan for someone in his position and age.

What does the mini crime spree by Mr. Verone say about the state of health care in this country? The US health care system absolutely sucks! Health is one area where unbridled capitalism does not work. Private insurance equates to lack of affordability because of its inefficient administration costs, needed profit margins to satisfy investors and the $300 million dollars each company needs for CEO pay. Not to mention, they make more profit by rejecting medical claims.

The Verone Health Care Plan is obviously unrealistic except for a few desperate people and, maybe, a few brave activists trying to prove a point. Is there an easy answer for far-reaching health care, probably not but America, the richest and most powerful country, can do better. Experiment! Open Medicare to all ages and let the infusion of money help pay for the elderly and disabled. The expanded pool of participants will lower costs through economies of scale.

Oh, but wait, that’s a single payer system and not the American way.

Isn’t it sad when the Incarceration Nation is more comfortable throwing someone in jail to receive medical attention than it is accepting a health care system affordable to all?


Roger Ingalls is well travelled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

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