Saturday, March 27, 2010

How Tough Do You Want To Be?

My friend called in a furor.  Those horrible Democrats had finally succeeded in passing healthcare, thereby turning our once great Democracy into a communist dictatorship (or whatever combination of isms you prefer).

Her main outrage was that her partner would be forced to purchase health insurance even though he is 62 and perfectly healthy and has other things on which he'd rather spend his hard-earned dollars and that should be his God-given right as an American!

My question to her was: "okay, so let's say he has a heart attack tomorrow. How tough do you really want to be?  Do we say to people like him that they have an option but if they choose not to insure themselves, they are on their own? Do we say, "don't bother calling 911 because you've made your choice and now you'll live or die by it?"

No, of course, she wouldn't want that. If she called an ambulance, she'd expect it to come, she'd expect the emergency room to jump into action to save her partner's life, she'd expect them to administer whatever treatment was needed to fix him.

So, if he doesn't have insurance, who is going to pay for all that? Well, I guess it would be us taxpayers. If that's the case, don't we have an equal right to insist that he pitch in a little by maintaining his own health insurance?

And anyway, my friend is going off half-cocked because she doesn't even know all the facts. As it turns out, her partner's insurance would be subsidized by the government because his income is between the 133 percent and 400 percent of poverty level. There would be a cap on how much he'd have to pay out of pocket on a sliding scale. Likewise, an exchange will be created for small businesses to purchase coverage starting in 2014.

Here is what else is in this bill:

- by 2020, it will close the "donut hole" for seniors getting their prescriptions through Medicare.

- Medicaid will be expanded up to 133 percent of poverty level ($29,327 for a family of four) and will also require states to offer Medicaid to childless adults starting in 2014, with the government paying 100% of costs through 2016. Illegal immigrants are NOT eligible for Medicaid.

- Insurance companies will no longer be able to deny children coverage due to a pre-existing condition (within six months of enactment). Starting in 2014, they cannot deny coverage to an adult based on a pre-existing condition. Children will be allowed to stay on their parent's insurance until age 26.

- In 2014, everyone must purchase health insurance or pay a $695 annual fine (with some exceptions for low income). So my friend doesn't have to worry because her partner will be 65 by then and covered by Medicare.

- There is no employer mandate as such although any employer with over 50 employees must provide health insurance or pay a fine of $2000 per worker per year if any of their employees receive federal subsidies to purchase their own health insurance.

- Illegal immigrants cannot buy health insurance through the insurance exchanges - even if they pay the premiums out of pocket.

- Abortion - suffice it to say the bill goes to great lengths to separate private and public funds to ensure that no American can be forced to pay for an abortion against their moral code. (Hell, the Iraq War was against my moral code but no politician care enough about my sensitivities to exempt me from paying for it).

- According to the Capitol Budget office, the cost of the plan is $940 billion over 10 years. It would expand coverage to 32 million Americans now without health insurance.  Supposedly, the way the plan is paid for will reduce the deficit by $130 billion in the first decade and by $1.2 trillion in the second 10 years. Believe this or not. We're all pretty familiar with how askew with how Congress' financial predictions often are (i.e. Iraq/Afghan Wars).

- To pay for this bill, 1) the Medicare Payroll Tax will be expanded to include unearned income starting in 2012, amounting to a 3.8 % tax on investment credit for families making more than $250,000 or individuals making over $200,000 - 2) As of 2018, insurance companies will pay a 40 percent excise tax on "Cadillac" insurance plans (those worth over $27,500 for families or $10,200 for individuals. Dental and vision coverage are exempt - 3) A 10 percent tax will be levied on indoor tanning services.

And there you have it. That's pretty much it in a nutshell. So, do you think it's worth all this screaming and shouting and tearing out of hair the Republicans and Tea-partiers and Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh and their followers are doing? How about you? Will you be better off or worse off or no different than before?

If my friend's partner has a heart attack, I'm willing to kick in some extra to help pay for his treatment (as I do now) but I want him to kick in some extra too.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Reincarnation and Roulette Wheels

I have always believed in reincarnation - that souls come back to the earth to be reborn into new bodies until they reach a state of near-perfection when they can choose to "retire" from life or continue to return to help others (i.e. Mother Teresa).

Reincarnation is the only philosophy that makes sense to me and my own heart and mind can't offer faith without fairness. Without reincarnation, life is the luck of the draw, a giant spin of the cosmic roulette wheel.

Landing on black is the beautiful, intelligent child of loving parents and comfortable means.  College, marriage, children, an abundance of material things.

Landing on red is the brutalized slum child, fighting for daily survival - an uncaring alcoholic mother, a non-existent father - ending in prostitution, drugs, prison.

Sorry, it was the luck of the draw? Nope, I don't buy it. If there is a superior being, of whose plan we are all a part, I have to believe that roulette wheels are not how he/she makes decisions and that there is more to it than those relatively short, wildly disparate existences.

There has to be a more level playing field for learning and therefore, an equal opportunity to be judged by what we learn.  I believe as we are born and re-born, we review and reflect on our actions here on earth. We deliberately put ourselves into incarnations that will help us with the areas in which we were weak to gain empathy for those to whom we were cruel or superior or un-generous.

From one existence to another, we will be male and female, black and white, gay and straight, rich and poor, strong and weak, until we have run the gauntlet of human experience.

Karma is a trendy term right now (and is, of course, the root of "what goes around, comes around") but many people confuse karma with punishment. Karma isn't punishment but self-appointed opportunity to learn from our mistakes. Like some obstinate students, we may require repeating a class more than once before we can pass the test and move on to a higher grade.

Mostly I am optimistic that we are all on a slightly upward-inclining evolutionary path although there are certainly days when I despair and then I try to tell myself that God-time isn't the same as ours. If it takes vast millenniums for us to reach the end of our spiritual journeys, so be it. Our only concern now should be how we are handling our present existence.

I don't believe progress depends on denomination, which no doubt also changes from life to life. The same learning curve is expected of Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and Pagans. None of the great, or even minor religions, have a monopoly on either kindness or cruelty.

It is popular to say that God created us in his image but I believe it's just the opposite - we created God in our image and therefore, made him far, far too small in order to suit our self-focused prejudices.

There is a huge body of research about reincarnation and age regression should anyone care to read it. It is at least as "proven" as any other philosophy. But I have no interest in converting anyone. People have the belief system that meets their particular needs and it doesn't really matter except for the harm we often cause by our insistence in digging the mote out of our neighbor's eye rather than extracting the log from of our own.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Oh, Please......

- There is something wrong with our government when a single politician can throw a hissy fit and toss thousands of lives into desperate disarray. I'm talking about the The Honorable Senator Bunning of Kentucky who held up a bill to extend unemployment benefits by blocking a Democratic request for "unanimous consent" to pass it.

Because of Bunning's filibuster, over a 100,000 recipients of unemployment saw their benefits stop, dozens of transportation projects came to a screeching halt (along with the wages that came with them)  and doctors who treat Medicare patients faced a 21% decrease in reimbursement.

Of course, Bunning wasn't really alone. It's likely the Dems could have overridden his filibuster if he hadn't had Republican assistance in maintaining it, even if his fellow R's didn't exactly come out to support him publicly.

And were the Democrats as outraged as they proclaimed? It's likely most of them were.....on the other hand, they were probably also pleased that this one turned out positive for them since it allowed them to paint the other side as callous and uncaring about working people.

Anyway, not to worry, it has been resolved to everyone's satisfaction now. Bunning's objection to the $10 billion bill was that it wasn't paid for (although economists say that every $1 spent on unemployment benefits put $2 back into the economy). So, the politicians worked out some esoteric payment plan involving rescinding a tax credit on a paper byproduct called "black liquor" (something the Democrats objected to because they had already set aside this source of income for something else).

At any rate, when the Republicans saw public opinion was turning against them, 21 of them voted with the Democrats to pass the bill. And the lives of the chess pieces, also called constituents, who were the lowly pawns in the political game went back to what passes for normal when you're unemployed, albeit, probably feeling even more insecure about their place in the scheme of things than before.

- And speaking of political gamesmanship, one of the ugliest sights that flow from Washington are those of our arrogant representatives sitting high on their thrones ripping some poor sucker to shreds for their own aggrandizement. In this case, it was the Toyota executives. And it's not that I don't think Toyota shouldn't be investigated and punished if they're found guilty of a cover up but we have agencies that specialize in that sort of thing and know lots more about automobile manufacturing than our senators. No, it just gives the exalted ones a good excuse to get on their soapbox and pontificate (loving the sound of their own voices as they do).

This is in stark contrast to what happens when it is one of their own. Then we see Nancy Pelosi being very even-handed about Charlie Rangel's, um, possible ethical lapses. In this case, she wants a full investigation before she makes any judgment because it just wouldn't be fair, you know, to find a man guilty before all the evidence is in.

- And it isn't just politician's that disappoint. There is also the Catholic Church which was my church once long ago before I realized how many issues there were on which I was in absolute opposition to the hierarchy.

Because truly, how can you support a leadership that makes a decision such as this one?

On March 4, the District of Columbia will begin granting marriage licenses to same sex applicants. In retaliation, Catholic Charities is ending all spousal benefits for their employees. From this day forward, no husband or wife, gay or straight, will have the option of carrying their spouse on their insurance policy, or I guess be listed on any other benefit Catholic Charities may offer.

I find this thinking incredibly hateful and short-sighted. From now on (current employees are grandfathered), every person who works for Catholic Charities will be laboring under an onerous handicap of having either an uninsured spouse or finding expensive private coverage because the Church believes the preferred outcome is: if you can't hurt just one, it's better to hurt them all.  Ah, yes, I'm sure Jesus would agree with that philosophy.

- There are rumblings in the political world about Indiana's own Governor Mitch Daniels as a possible Republican candidate for the presidency in 2012. The rap on Mitch is that he's so sensible. Low-key, practical, accounting whiz.

Oh, really? Does anyone remember that Our Man Mitch was George W's budget director during the on-set of the Iraq War. Does anyone remember Mitch's answer when asked to estimate the over all costs of going to war with Iraq? Well, if you don't, I'll tell you. It was between $40 and $50 billion, and he even thought that might be a little high. Uh, how's that working out for you, Mr Accounting Whiz? You were only about $300 billion shy.

And Mitch has brought privatizing to an art in Indiana. He practically put a garage sale sign on the state the day he became governor, offering to sell off the employment service, the welfare department, the lottery, our state highways.

I have the most experience with the Welfare Department and I can tell you, that it is a mess (although I'll grant you that it was a mess before too). Offices were merged so that it is difficult for low-income people to get to them; there aren't enough caseworkers to go around; the ones who went with IBM (the new management team) work tons of over-time and still can't stay caught up. I have never been able to figure out the criteria for removing or not removing children from potentially harmful homes. There seems to be no uniform standard.

To hear Daniels tell it, outsourcing government jobs was the easy answer but it didn't work out that way in reality. He was about as correct in that prediction as he was on the cost of the Iraq War.

What makes me nervous is that no one in Washington ever seems to be held accountable for their previous forecasts or the actions that didn't pan out. And that could result in Mitch Daniels in the White House doing to the country what he did to Indiana for eight years.