Archive for the ‘Health Care Reform’ Category

Healthy Happiness Needs Your Vote

October 23, 2014

For several years now, Denmark has been at the top of the World Happiness Index. Since US rates number 12 on the list, behind Scandinavia, Canada and Australia, I wondered how much happiness effects general health and found an interesting study by R. Veenhoven of Erasmus Univ. Rotterdam., “Healthy Happiness: effects of happiness on physical health and the consequences for preventive health care”. Veenhoven analyzed 30 follow-up studies on happiness and longevity (including several from US states).

Perhaps we can learn something from Denmark. Three rights that Danes choose to provide for all citizens are free education, childcare and healthcare. Preschool education is provided in daycare facilities. Education continues up through vocational education and college.

Higher education is seen as a basic right and funded with tax dollars. By comparison, college graduates in the US are often saddled with decades of college tuition debt and have difficulty finding employment in their field. Such milestones as marriage, home-ownership and child-rearing are compromised.

Veenhoven notes that while happiness has not been found to be a cure for illness, happiness appears to protect us against falling ill, in some way. We have a better immune response, lower blood pressure, make better choices in life, are motivated to keep fit, more inclined to watch our weight, are more perceptive of symptoms of illness, cope better with threatening information, and facilitate creation and maintenance of supportive social networks.

US Healthcare has become a political football, distorted by the for-profit health care industry. Denmark’s healthcare represents 11 percent of its GDP. US healthcare sucks up 18 percent.

Denmark’s $21 an hour minimum wage also guarantees that people can support their families. McDonald’s gets away with paying employees $7.50 an hour in the US, while paying $21 an hour in Denmark. When parents have to work 2 or 3 low paying jobs to support their families, they are hardly in a position to spend quality time as a family. Many single people struggle to survive here.

Carl Gibson, in “How Voting in Large Numbers Dramatically Improves Society”( Reader Supported News 10/21/14), noted that the last election in Denmark brought out 87 percent of the population, compared to 57 percent registered voter turnout in the US.

Happiest countries value basic rights for all citizens. Politicians bent on creating more money for affluent backers do threaten Denmark’s happiness. But, thus far, Danish citizens have gotten out to vote and maintained their rights to health.

It’s time to listen up to what our politicians plan to do and to vote for those who value basic rights for all citizens. When we value basic rights for everyone, we all benefit. Our general health improves along with our happiness index.

“Slow Medicine,” and Living Wills for the Well

April 17, 2014

Dennis McCulloch, Chief Geriatrician at Kendal-At-Hanover, has written a kind and sensitive book, My Mother, Your Mother: Embracing “Slow Medicine,” The Compassionate Approach to Caring for Your Aging Loved Ones. The book offers a reliable road map and guide for children with aging parents.

People over seventy may find the book a bit creepy as it outlines the stages of decline in store for all of us. Wherever you find yourself on the spectrum, now is the time to see that your living will is documented and ready to be accessed whenever needed.

What I like about the book is the way McCullough draws on over 30 years of experience in which he helped his clients “postpone as long as possible any decline of function that might require institutionalization.”

The debate over end-of-life care weaves in and out of the news and recent book releases, no doubt spurred on by the struggle over the cost for health care. The time to draw up a living will is when we are well, thinking clearly, and before we have trouble making decisions. It can always be updated, but it does need to be put in place.

Those of us who value quality of life over simply existing in a deteriorating state, have likely had to watch a loved one depart after having their life unnecessarily prolonged in a state they never would have chosen for themselves. However, each one of us has the authority to decide how our end-of-life care will be administered, if we put our wishes in place when we are well.

My mother did not choose to make a living will, despite encouragement from us, her children, to do so. She was sure we were out for her money, despite the fact that we had been urging her for years to travel and consider us her insurance if her money ran out. She ended up living her last several years literally physically deteriorating to a shell while continually being “saved” by antibiotics. None of us dared make the choice for her to do otherwise.

Not wanting my children or myself to ever have to be in that agonizing position, I drew up my living will in my 50s. Each of them has a copy, as do health care providers I see. It is a relief to me, and I hope to them, that should I be unable to make decisions: do not resuscitate, no antibiotics, no ventilators, no tube feedings, etc. are all in place. I found a good and reasonable lawyer to draw it up so that I could be sure everything was covered, including appointment of my Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney designees.

McCullough also suggests that designated contact persons and your physician agree to advocate for your wishes should you ever need emergency services, since hospitals sometimes ignore these legal papers and insist on life-prolonging services, against a patient’s wishes.

Here it is spring, or at least the bulbs are trying to poke their way out of the snow and brighten things up for us. Spring is a time when we think about new life, fresh starts, and increased physical energy to be turning over new leaves. It’s a good time to put all of life in perspective so we don’t have to worry about it later. This is a vital part of keeping each other well and enjoying life.

Corporations vs. Health

January 16, 2014

Obamacare seems to be a variation on the general theme of corporations mobilizing to control our lives at the expense of our health. How many examples do we need to experience before we wake up?  Stress brought about by corporate greed can lead to or exacerbate just about any health problem we have.

 Despite the fact that single payer health care has been found to be more economical and reliable elsewhere, it seems incredulous that the US can’t wise up and get with the program instead of feeding ever more corporate excess.

Locally, we can see corporate power at work in the attempts to make big bucks off an above ground energy transmission line that would claim destruction of forest lands, the threat of which has already created a hornet’s nest of family conflicts over property values. All this for corporate coffers when an economical underground line down existing state rights of way would make the state the recipient for the rent money and save the environment. Australia reduced its line maintenance by 80 percent by undergrounding. That is something to keep in mind when we have power outages due to downed lines during wind and snow storms and hurricanes.

 Corporations are also attacking water. The presence of bottled water at common meetings lets us know corporations have ‘massaged’ people into buying what they don’t need through their advertising. Coca Cola’s latest scam is to discourage restaurants from providing free water so that people will spend more money to have ANY liquids with a meal. The change has nothing to do with safety or digestion.

 Contaminated water from chemical and oil spills is daily reported in the US.  Citizens are being advised to accept changes in taste and odor, which in turn ratchets up the sale of bottled water by corporations.

 Everything is connected. More trees mean more holding tanks that purify natural water, more places for people to relax and coexist with other life forms, more chances to see the stars at night, and breathe in fresh oxygen. Less overhead wire means fewer accidents and ailments.

 Corporations are blocking food labeling that gives us the right to know what we are eating. These same corporations have already polluted our land with toxic pesticides and contaminated our heirloom seeds with GMO cross pollination. Big Ag corporations want to deny us the ability to choose what we eat. The White House sports an organic garden but supports Big Ag GMO foods for the rest of us.

 Significantly, Carl Gibson of Reader Supported News (1-4-14) reported that Monsanto, grower of GM crops, and Pfizer, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, have an insidious relationship “invested in growing food that makes people sick when they eat it, and selling sick people the drugs to treat those conditions.”

 Even more damaging is the potential of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) to affect our health. We’ve seen the destruction NAFTA (North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement) has wrought on vanishing jobs outsourced to foreign countries now housing US companies. The TPP is even more powerful, takes precedence over our government and threatens to send us spiraling down further.

 People are using less electricity, conserving more, and tapping into renewable energy, in spite of corporate ‘massages’. These are positive steps. However, we also need to take it to the next level and stop the TransPacificPartnership (TPP), which gives corporations even more power worldwide.  We need to contact our US Representatives (www.house.gov) and Senators (www.senate.gov) and ask them to vote NO on presidential fast tracking and the TPP.

Health Care Reform and Obamacare

November 13, 2013

While congress continues to role play an unconvincing fight between Democrats and Republicans, has anyone noticed that no matter who wins, the health insurance companies stand to make a tidy haul?

Is anyone surprised that health insurance companies cancelled so many policies? Built in to the Obamacare plan were enough clauses to expand coverage for which, of course, companies would continue to offer coverage, but at a gut wrenching increase in price for inflated coverage. People whose income is just over the poverty line are the most threatened if they trust their insurance companies. They’re already struggling to survive and risk being sucked into poverty unless they check out subsidies they are entitled to.

While some of the health insurance companies have got to be laughing themselves all the way to the bank, alert state insurance commissioners like Kentucky’s Sharon Clark know how to pull the rug out from under the sting of companies like Humana. Humana sent out letters that encouraged customers to do nothing and their new policy would include all the Obamacare requirements (but at a much higher price they would learn of later.) Kentucky not only fined Humana for sending out misleading information letters to customers, they freed 2200 respondents from their obligation to Humana and allowed them to shop for insurance through the Obamacare with a start date of Oct. 1, (for a much better deal), according to Dylan Scott of Reader Supported News.

Also in the news this week was the World Happiness Report 2013, put out by the Earth Institute at Columbia University, which identified six factors that happiest countries have in common: a large GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy at birth, lack of corruption in leadership, a sense of social support, freedom to make life choices, and a culture of generosity.

Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands and Sweden topped the list. In Denmark, health care is a civil right, Danes feel a responsibility to each other reflected in a high rate of volunteerism. Danes create a real sense of belonging as a civic duty that includes economic security and a work-life balance to support it. Happy countries have very little direct involvement in war or other conflicts. US ranked 17th on the list.

We would do well to learn from happy countries as we grapple with health care, food, water, energy, education, employment, and environmental issues that affect us all. What would it be like to see a drastic reduction in the unemployment, terrorism and chronic illness that we allow to keep us bumped down the line?

It’s Not the Economy; It’s About Equality

November 30, 2012

 Whatever our spiritual connection, December, our darkest month, signals a journey toward light, clarity, and a fresh start for the New Year.

 The book, Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, by Wilkinson and Pickett, is an eye opener that helps us understand how USA relates to the rest of the world and what our task is if we want to reclaim vibrant health for American citizens in 2013.

 The authors found that “if a country does badly on health, you can predict with some confidence that it will imprison a larger proportion of it’s population, have more teenage pregnancies, lower literacy scores, more obesity, more mental health problems, and so on.”  Currently, the US leads the world with health problems, imprisoned population, and so on.

 After WWII, we, in the US, experienced a more equal society until about 1965, when we began the shift toward more inequality. Here’s a partial list of what happened: trade unions were weakened, profit sharing agreements were abandoned, changes in taxes and benefits were legislated, and adequate minimum wage legislation never happened.

 In the US, Wilkinson and Pickett found that the states which perform well are dominated by ones which have more generous welfare provisions. New Hampshire, the state which performs best, has among the lowest public social expenditure of any state. This doesn’t mean that we in NH have no need to improve. The US average of all our states still makes us the most unequal of all countries in the world. Wilkinson and Pickett’s conclusion is that how a society becomes more equal is less important than whether or not it does so.

 The issue is not about the economy and economic growth. It’s about equality. In 2007, chief executives of 365 of the largest US corporations received well over 500 times the pay of their average employee. The issue now is the community and how we relate to each other. Countries with more equality, like Japan and Scandinavia, also enjoy better health.

 The issue is also not about the greedy rich. It’s about who determines public policy. Wilkinson and Pickett found that greater equality was gained by either using taxes and benefits to redistribute very unequal incomes or by greater equality in gross incomes before taxes and benefits, which leaves less need for redistribution.

 By looking at what more equal countries do to provide greater equality and better health, we can begin to map out where we need to put our energies in 2013. Here’s a partial list of  dynamics found in more equal countries:

  • Democratic employee-owned companies that help companies change from being property to being communities.
  • Profit sharing companies that inspire employee-owners to be conscientious and innovative in their work performance because everyone reaps a share of the profits.
  • Shorter work hours and longer holiday time that increase energy, creativity, and sense of self-worth.
  • More patents are granted per head of population.
  • Health Care is provided for everyone as a right.
  • Early childhood development and education programs are provided that result in high literacy rates.

 What the authors found seems to work best is a series of small changes, not one big revolution. December may well be the best incubator for positive thoughts as we come together with family, friends and groups and celebrate the bonds that hold us together.

Time  to think about what  we need to do as a community to keep each other well both now and for  generations to come so that heaven and nature will sing!

Medicare Mumbles and the US Class System

October 19, 2012

People in the US shy away from the socialized medicine practiced in Great Britain and Canada like it’s some kind of regressive poison that deprives people of what they need. Yet there is an important attitude we Americans need to chew on.

 Turning the World Upside Down: The search for world health in the 21st Century, by Nigel Crisp is an insightful read. Crisp, a UK leader in promoting world health, notes that today we may be over-investigated, overmedicated, and overspent. Also, we may end up in the hospital when we don’t need to.

 In the UK, Crisp notes that the National Health Service is designed to offer services to every citizen  equally, regardless of their ability to pay. This says something about the British and Canadians and their ideas about fairness and compassion. It also calls to question the top down hierarchy of treatment available in the US with probably the most top drawer life long care going to our congressional legislators. The public has no vote in legislator health insurance; it can be as inclusive and expensive as legislators choose.

 It doesn’t matter which political party is in. Obama Care’s insurance plan is not unlike Romney’s MA Health Care. Requiring everyone to buy insurance is a mandated, class specific, medicine plan. Neither plan dispenses health care equitably.

 Today, when we visit a health care provider, we are sent home with a sheet of recommendations for medication, and options for further tests. The length of the list has more to do with protecting the provider from lawsuits and raising money to fund expensive technology, than it has for providing quality health care. A good diagnostician can usually ask insightful questions and make necessary observations to identify the cause of problems. Much is based on their ability to “see” and “listen to” patients.

 A frustration among health care providers is the continual requests for more medication based on what their patients have seen on TV ads, and their patient’s reluctance to follow simple suggestions for diet and exercise or other habit changes. Small wonder that with all our services, we’re still reeling in chronic illnesses. The American Cancer Society lists three changes in American Lifestyle that have led to our long list of chronic conditions: we eat more unhealthy foods, we eat bigger portions, and we are less active physically as a country.

 Crisp suggests a new system based on independence and self-determination. He defines health as independence and ability to live lives we value, whatever our condition, with a system that values contributions of lay people as well as professionals, cares for the public sector as well as the private, and underscores the importance of family and community.

 In sum, we have a lot to chew on and think about what we want to swallow when it comes to insuring that we keep each other well.

 

Figuring Out Independence

July 4, 2012

As a child, the Fourth of July was always a big event in the towns we lived. World War II was in full swing and everyone who could wear a uniform met and marched in the parade, starting with flag bearing honor guards from all branches of the service, jeeps and tanks, the town fire trucks and ambulance, a police car, representatives of the American Legion, DAR, Girl Scouts and Brownies, Boy Scouts and Cubs, little girls with decorated doll carriages, unicycle riders, horseback riders, clowns, big balloons, a few dignitaries in antique cars and a few more in cars as big as boats, all kept buoyant by the local high school band playing every marching song they knew. Everyone else lined the route waving little flags. And at night, there were always fireworks somewhere to celebrate. 

As years passed and the war we hoped would really end all wars didn’t end all wars, people gradually didn’t want to see reminders of war and all the pain and mixed feelings about what was being accomplished by war. Those of us working in the mental health field began seeing more people with PTSD, Post  Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and were gripped by horrendous stories of what our service people were being ordered to do and how many were treated in general. We were alarmed and not surprised that many who returned home could not live with their memories and committed suicide at a rate that equaled or surpassed the documented casualty rate of the war. Rehab was and continues to be The enormous challenge for therapists as well as clients.

 Parades have dwindled but fireworks continue in what seems like bursts of  hope that we will actually be able to live free and healthy lives, we will all be able to get along.  At this point, the whole world is included in the challenge and our basic needs for water, food and energy vie with the strength of our environment to put up with all we have tried to rearrange and control, rather than live in harmony with.

 In earlier times, strength lay in communities. People were aware of their dependence on each other which gave them a sense of community independence. It was pretty easy to just move someplace else if one was not satisfied with the way things were going. Today, it has become important to figure out how to get along, share what needs to be shared, and look out for each other because there is less freedom to move. This is the tall order for our times and a challenge that will determine whether we can achieve independent communities and understand what freedom requires.

 This is a move away from big everything chaos to small focused effectiveness. Those of us who have been lucky enough to have farming roots somewhere in our recent or distant past, also have the benefit of recognizing the difference between quality of life and pretense of quality.

 The true test of an independent community will be whether the people in it are willing to do whatever needs to be done to keep each other well. That means applying this principle to water sources, safe food, clean energy, education, environmentally sensitive agriculture, business practices, forest and wetlands management, health care, recreation, music, art, spiritual practices – the whole spectrum of life. Whatever we do for each other comes around to each of us.

King’s Legacy for Health

January 21, 2011

Let’s keep the record straight on Martin Luther King’s warning to us: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

 Perhaps that warning was too strong for people who think otherwise. The fact that a pentagon official would attempt to twist King’s sentiments makes many of us wonder just who did silence Dr. King.

 We still have kinks to be worked out to provide our nation with health care reasonably. However, it does seem a bit out of kilter to be keeping a lid on how much we are willing to spend for health care, but leaving the lid almost totally off of defense spending. What does this say about our priorities as a nation? Whose quality of life do we value?

 Fifty years ago, President Eisenhower warned against military spending that creates a deficit, and he kept the lid on. Dr. King simply clarified needed priorities.

 In the time since, we have grown steadily passive about the lifestyle changes that continue to bring us ill health. Restaurants can serve us more food than we need, and at higher prices than many can afford, without increasing their wait staff. They simply increase their profits. This practice does not create more jobs; it just raises health care expenses to treat the conditions caused by overeating, or generally over consuming the things that keep us out of balance.

 It takes some planning now to find fertile seeds for our gardens. With genetically modified sterile seed dominating the market, we don’t have the option of saving seed each year for the next crop. It was once a simple matter to add natural amendments to the soil and grow healthy, strong plants that resisted disease naturally. Today, that practice is challenged and along with it, our health. Instead of creating jobs, this practice is putting farmers out of business, and threatening the diversity of our plant life, while creating wealth for GMO corporations.

 Food for thought: Dr. King encouraged us to figure out ways to get along together, that “returning violence for violence multiplies violence,” and “an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind.” Are we willing to take the time to figure out how to care for each other and keep each other well?

Health Care Reform and Individual Responsibility

January 13, 2011

The tragedy in Arizona shakes and reverberates through our nation, a clear wake-up call to us to figure out how to keep each other well so that health care does not continue to be a major controversial issue in our country. 

There is something wrong with the equation that the increase in our aging population means that health care businesses are the job market of the future. The new adage seems to be “To be old is to be sick.” Yet, it has been clearly stated through the ages, from the Tao Te Ching through to Maggie Kuhn’s claim, “We all have to get old, but we do not have to get sick.”  

Today, television airs popular health specials about diets leading to robust health. One thing they do have in common is ‘moderation.’ True, it is hard to observe moderation when eating out, as many of us do. Today’s sandwiches are about twice the size of those served 20 years ago, and today’s dinner plate is not only 1” larger in diameter, it is also piled higher with fries or a humungous potato, along with twice as much meat or fish, and smaller servings of green and yellow vegetables than we were served 20 years ago. 

We are clearly not sick of being sick yet. Otherwise we would be reaching for a goal that would bring much faster general health and an automatic reduction in health care demands, not one that clearly keeps our health spiraling down. 

How much health could be bought with what we now spend on health care? In the United States, we represent so many different ethnic backgrounds that the idea of one particular diet to suit all needs makes no sense. We could be enjoying a variety of health promoting foods rather than leaning so heavily on double servings of everything from popcorn to fries and fried foods in general. We could put sodas back into the occasional drink category instead of using them regularly with their appetite stimulating, bone deteriorating effects.

 Our supermarkets and health food stores have a fantastic array of bright fruits and vegetables as well as bulk stores of whole grains and beans that form the base of every diet imaginable. Unless we are doing heavy physical labor, 4 ounces of meat or fish will give us the amounts of nutrients we need without overtaxing our systems with health problems and financial stress.

 If we are truly interested in Health Care Reform, we need to take responsibility right in our own homes to make it happen. We need to keep each other well by collaborating on what we learn, not just about what our representatives in Washington are doing, but by taking a candid look at what each of us is doing to bring about good health.