Wednesday, January 31, 2007

As if you couldn't tell

In my zeal to create a different blog for posts not related to my "do-gooder" stuff, I managed to totally mess this one up. Now I am going to figure out how to get this back how I meant it to be. Since I was "helped" (read: he did the work while I watched) by the Other Half to add cool stuff to thinkingthings, I am either going to have to bow my head and ask for help again, or use a little Morita technique and do what needs to be done.

That and never mess with the "customize" tab again.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Thursday Thirteen (on Friday)

13 musings about 13 days with no power

1. Flipping a light switch and actually getting light is a wonderful thing.

2. It is embarrassing that living without electricity is so damn hard.

3. You can create your own steam room by running a hot bath when there is no heat in the house. Breathe deeply then pray for power. (The electric kind.)

4. City Utilities has lots of patient people answering phones. The workers were very reassuring, and even though it didn’t get the power turned back on any more quickly, it helped so much to hear a real voice who assured me we weren’t forgotten.

5. Mediacom phone service is cheap…for a reason. I won’t switch back to Ma Bell, at least not yet, but I’d have been sunk without a cell phone since the cable phone is useless in a power outage. And the fact that the voice mail kept working was not helpful. CU called early on, left a message essentially saying “since your voicemail picked up, you must have power back.” Eventually I left a mean-sounding greeting that said “if you get this message without hearing a ring WE STILL DON’T HAVE POWER!!!!”

6. Sleeping in my own bed with fresh sheets in a warm room is true luxury.

7. Living out of duffle bags in a series of hotels is exhausting. Sending the Young One to school and to take final exams, from a hotel room was hard. It would have been worse, though to have had to send him to take finals from a cold, dark house.

8. The Hampton Inn at US 65 and Chestnut rocks. The staff there maintained a waiting list for possible room openings, the rooms had refrigerators and microwaves, thick comforters and free breakfast. The Holiday Inn North was nice because we could actually get a room there for more than one day at a time, but they charge 80 cents for local phone calls, had no free breakfast, and creaky old beds. The older lady who cleaned our room at the Holiday Inn was so kind, and gave me a tip on finding good firewood.

9. Hardwood floors take a long time to warm up after two weeks of cold. Wool socks are essential.

10. Laundromats may be the best societal equalizer-everybody has dirty clothes. An iPod cranked full blast is the best way to cope with adults having temper tantrums over dryer lines.

11. When you are waiting, it is hard to do much of anything else. Even going to the movies takes energy away from the waiting.

12. Co-workers and friends become a little embarrassed when they ask for the 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th days if your power is back on, especially if they never lost theirs.

13. People bring Krispy Kremes to work more often when they feel sorry for you.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Missouri Medicaid refuses to fund appropriate mental healthcare for young children experiencing storm-related stress

For folks who survived Katrina or the tornados that ravaged the Ozarks in the past few years, the ice storms and resultant power outages may seem like an inconvenience rather than a disaster. Maybe so. However, that doesn’t lessen the impact of the ice storm, and it doesn’t make the emotional upheaval of the past couple of weeks any less important.

The aftermath of the storms call attention once again to the ways in which Missouri Medicaid discriminates against young children living in poverty who need mental health assistance.

People living in poverty were especially hard-hit during this storm. Many poor families can’t afford items other families so eagerly purchased like generators, fuel-powered heaters or adequate wood supplies. Even flashlights and replacement batteries were out of reach for many folks--forget jar candles selling for $10 each at Walgreens.

Families living in homes with no fireplaces or other heat sources stayed in dangerously cold homes, slept in shelters when available, or stayed with numerous people in cramped hotel rooms or houses.

Many preschool aged kids were able to return to school and daycares last week. Local Head Starts, for instance, suspended their policy of closing when the public schools closed, and kept many of their full day centers open, providing two hot meals and lots of warm hugs for hundreds of poor children who might otherwise not have had access to healthy food and heat.

Now that the power outages are winding down, and people are trying to return to normal, symptoms of depression and Post-Traumatic Stress disorder are becoming more obvious. Many adults talk about cringing when they see dark clouds, or hear a weather report mentioning extra cold weather. Loud noises remind folks of breaking limbs, emergency sirens seem ever-present.

Preschool teachers and child care providers say they’ve noticed children are having difficulty napping and are having bad dreams during naptime. Appetites have decreased, and flickering lights or loud sounds reminiscent of breaking limbs have caused children to cry out in fear.

Mothers and fathers talk to the teachers in tears because they are having problems coping, and their children are well aware of the stress. Parents who live paycheck to paycheck have had to make serious choices about how to feed their families when they’re unable to cook or pay for healthy meals.

No matter how hard we try, children feel our stress.

Kids who are experiencing such stress may have emotional or behavioral problems. They may regress in their developmental tasks—they may wet the bed, return to thumb sucking, become more clingy, or even show behavior problems like aggression or psychological withdrawal.

Missouri Medicaid refuses to pay for those young children to receive individual or group counseling by a licensed professional. Medicaid will only treat young children through family therapy.

Parents are overwhelmed with responsibilities and stress now, so knowing that their children can get the emotional help they may need while they are at school or daycare would be such a relief for them. Instead, Missouri Medicaid says young children simply won’t be helped unless their parent is present for the session.

Refusing to allow children to receive trauma resolution counseling in small groups by licensed therapists at their preschools or day cares is cruel and frankly barbaric. Why shouldn’t a young child, with parent permission, be allowed to participate in a counseling session with a licensed clinician on a one-to-one basis to help them process their emotions when they’re trying to cope with new fears and emotions?

Missouri Medicaid insists that “best practices” only includes family therapy for young children in spite of pages and pages of research documenting otherwise which have been directly presented to the committee directors.

Young, poor children in Missouri once again will go without much needed mental health care because of a committee, whose oversight remains a mystery even to local politicians. I know how difficult getting through these past days has been for me as an adult, and I just ache for the young children in our community who could get help—there are plenty of counselors and social workers eager to work with them—but can’t because of a government committee.

How to say "Hello" in Springfield this week

Stop the "Hey how ya doin'?" phrases. No more "you want fries with that?" Not even the ubiquitous "Pleasedtameetcha" is heard.

The current greeting in Springfield:

You got power yet?

To which I am still replying:

"Not yet. Maybe today."

260 hours and counting.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Cleavers Survive the Ice Storm

In a Leave It to Beaver world, here’s how 10 days with no power would look:

June Cleaver is well prepared—she’s baked a layer cake, white with sprinkles on top, and brought home lots of candles, the vanilla scent is already making the living room smell delicious. She’s stocked up on canned soup and chili, spaghetti-o’s and granola bars. June is smart, she didn’t load up on perishables when she heard about the storm. Two heavy weight coolers are full of ice, fruit juice and Guinness, and are waiting in the already chilly garage.

Ward stacked the firewood close to the garage door, and made sure the plastic runners are down so June doesn’t worry about her floors. They replaced the basic fireplace with a wood stove years ago, so they already know the house will be plenty warm. Clean sets of long underwear are neatly folded, and he’s gotten extra fuel for the camping lanterns.

Beaver, of course, has gotten down the board games, and he’s particularly interested in beating Ward at Yahtzee. The TV and Playstation are already forgotten in his excitement about a Clue competition with Lumpy’s family next door. Beaver printed out his school assignments before the storm, just in case the power went out, so he can turn the work in on time. His books and lessons are stacked on the desk, within reach of his boy scout flashlight with extra D batteries, of course.

The transistor radio has fresh batteries as well, and Ward remembered to check the smoke detectors, even though he changed the batteries last fall when the clocks went back to standard time.

June straightens the insulated curtains just as the first branches begin to crack. She turns to Ward, who has already gotten a fire going, and says “Here we go Honey, want some cake?”

Beaver dashes to his cell phone to call Wally, who’s away at college, warm and safe at Florida State. Wally says he’s seen the warnings on TV, and will try to keep in touch by cell. Beaver reminds him that he’ll be charging the phone on the car, so there may be some time he’s not available. “That’s cool,” Wally remarks, “I’ll write everyone a letter, and send a little sand from the beach, too!”

Just as the lights flicker for the last time, Lumpy’s dad calls Ward to sell him his extra generator. Ward politely declines—they’ll be fine with the stove, candles and lanterns, he says, plus they’re sort of looking forward to some straight-up family time.

On the third day, when the last of the ice has fallen for a while, Ward and the Beav bundle up to go check on the neighbors. June sends the left over chocolate chip cookies she baked before the storm, and reminds the boys to be home by five for roasted hotdogs and marshmallows over the fire. There are hugs all around, and Beaver reminds June that he’s one up on the Gin Rummy contest, and is planning on securing first place that night.

A few days later, when the walls start to close in a bit, June suggests they pile into the Volvo wagon and head out to the dollar movies. They splurge on buttered popcorn for all, and settle into an afternoon of escapism, Hollywood style. Later in the week, when the power is still out, the Cleavers spend the afternoon at the library, checking email, posting on their family blog and checking out new books for the rest of the week.

By day seven, they’ve finished the board game competitions, and canned chili has gotten a little tiresome. Ward sees that the local pancake house got their power back, so he loads up the family for a Breakfast for Dinner extravaganza. Beaver brings Lumpy and Eddie Haskell along, so they get to sit at their own table while the grown ups sip hot coffee and smile lovingly across the table.

June says she’s just about the luckiest mom around, even with no power and school out till next week, they’ve got each other, and what else could you need?

Yeah. Right. Makes me want to be sick, too.

Ten days and still counting. The Young One will go back to school from a hotel room tomorrow, and the Other Half will keep stoking the fire. God bless the CU folks—oh yeah, and send ‘em our way, okay?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Any dryer in a storm

Usually people think of the Department of Motor Vehicles as the place where virtually everyone, rich and poor, has to go at least once. As an equalizer, however, I've decided the ice storm leaves the DMV in the dust.

The aftermath of three "waves" of ice storms continues to leave about 18,000 Springfieldians, and about 100,000 others, including my little family--now on our 8th day, without power.

Having no power means wearing levis that stand up by themselves or a taking trip to the laundromat. I spent the evening at the Bennett Street Laundry yesterday, and I gotta say, the laundromat in a power outage may truly be the ultimate place for people watching.

A snapshot: All 35 washing machines are in constant use. There's evidence of at least one washer overflowing, and crumpled dryer sheets litter the floor throughout the room. You can't get two washers together, so folks mark open washers with their baskets or trash bags full of clothes, and move quickly to the next open machine to toss another basketload on the top before starting the first one. Three older and clearly wealthy women, with perfectly coiffed white hair, black cashmere coats and sturdy wicker laundry baskets huddle together near one machine, trying to figure out how to set a permanent press cycle with cold water.

At the other end of the laundry, where men and women are queued up three deep waiting for one of the 17 working dryers, two middle aged women and their teenage daughters are pulling satin comforters and designer jeans out of the six dryers they've co-opted. One of the moms takes off her sleeveless mink vest as the steamy dryer heat makes a fur pretty useless. She adds another quarter to one dryer, opens the next, feeling the clothing, and asks her friend to decide if it is dry. The friend, decked out in a thigh length pink silk car coat, has to shift her matching pink cell phone to the other ear so she can reach in the huge drum. Not just yet, she proclaims, and in goes another quarter. The teenage daughters alternately fold colorful silky panties, sip bottled water and glance at science books.

The well dressed older ladies eventually move over to the dryers, where the three-deep line surely doesn't apply to them. A dryer opens up, and the younger of the three steps forward with a trying-to-feel-embarrassed look, and tosses her basket of unmentionables into the machine just as a young black woman and her four year old daughter realize their turn has come and gone.

The child whirls on her light-up Barbie shoes and goes happily to her A&W Rootbeer and pretzels. She perches on an orange plastic chair right next to a twenty-something guy with a soul patch who has been calmly folding his abercrombie shirts and putting load after load into the one dryer he's got. Just by how he folds the shirts, any former retail clothing salesperson knows this fellow has spent a lot of time straightening racks and telling little white lies about how those jeans look "so you."

Our fur-wearing comrade decides her things are dry, zips up her mink, grins at those of us waiting patiently for at least one of her six dryers, and informs us that she's "totally out of my league here!" Really?

I've spent a lot of time at this laundromat over the past few years when my 17 year old washer and dryer alternately went on the fritz. I must look like I belong there, since at least two ladies ask me how long the dryers last, and how many cycles it will take to dry 15 pairs of jeans.

By about 8:30 the lines are gone, I've gathered up the last of the long underwear sets and boot socks and am about out the door when a new wave of humanity starts arriving. I see a local engineer and civic leader come in, looking dapper in his Polo denims, followed by a tree trimmer swaddled in an insulated jumpsuit, and two Hispanic guys in t-shirts and dickies.

Part of me just wanted to buy a bucket of popcorn and settle into the warmth to watch the people the way I'd watch a good movie. But it is cold at home, the Other Half would probably enjoy some warm socks and a coffee. At least I've got some good people stories to tell him tonight.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Power Envy

Reality therapists say one of the major human needs, and one that can become a big issue, is the need for power.

Man oh man is that an issue for me today. My need for power is not exactly what William Glasser had in mind, though, since what I want is electric power. Lights. Heat. Normalcy. Please.

City Utilities is a fantastic power company. Compared with what my mom goes through dealing with her utility companies in Tulsa, we are incredibly lucky. She never gets to talk to a human. We always do. Even in this disasterous ice storm, after holding for less than 5 minutes, I was able to speak to a real person, and even better--she was nice. With CU being customer owned, we have control over what happens through the CU board and City Council. We've got all our utilities in one company which also makes everything significantly easier.

All the warm fuzzies aside, though, I'm ready to see a big honkin' CU truck on my street. I'm ready to flip a switch and see light. (If I had a dollar for every time I've flipped the switch by habit just going into a room in the last five days, I could pay my CU bill!)

Driving around my neighborhood at night brings out another sort of power envy. We're only a few blocks from a fairly major intersection which got power back a couple days ago. Two houses closest to the library got their power back then, too. They're the only houses for blocks and blocks with power. Driving by, seeing their porch lights blazing, warm light emanating from the windows, it is almost like they are showing off. That wave of power envy passes quickly, though, and then I feel happy for them and recognize that when my electricity is back, I'll be blazing that porch light with the best of 'em.

Peter, Paul and Mary summed it up in their song "Power:" "everybody needs some power I'm told, to shield them from the darkness and the cold..." Go to lyricsfreak to see the rest of this groovy anti-nuke song.

Power. Today please.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Thanks for the warning, Mr. Gore

Epic storm. Devasting ice. Destroyed trees. Power outages for up to 200,000 folks in Missouri alone--60,000 of them in Springfield.

This on top of record lows in California, two huge blizzards right on top of each other and an avalanche in Colorado, an 8.4 earthquake in Japan with tsunami warnings. Al Gore was talking about the long term effects of our conspicous consumption when he ran for president in the 80's. Looks like it took having the presidency stolen from him (and an award-worthy documentary) to get people to pay attention to his message of climate change.

I hope it is not too late.

This "epic" storm started Friday night, and even though the trees were beginning to crack under the weight of ice, we blessedly kept power. By Saturday noon, however, the lights flickered and died, leaving the house to grow rapidly colder. The fireplace, along with flashlights and vanilla candles, made it almost cozy, though.

By 1AM, when the last firelog and dry wood chunks burned up, extra blankets and undercovers spooning were what kept us from giving into the teeth chattering cold.

The front yard and driveway are littered with huge ice-covered branches and gumballs frozen into hockey pucks. The Sweetgum trees we alternately curse (because of the never-ending showers of prickly gumballs) and praise (because of the heavenly shade they provide) may not survive the inches thick ice. In the stillness of the cold house, breaking branches sound like gunshots and cannons exploding throughout the neighborhood.

I'm right in the middle of rereading Stephen King's The Stand which just compounds the eeriness of the storm. With the length of Glenstone, from Battlefield to I-44, in total darkness, along with dead street lights and electric wires coated with thick white ice hanging low over the roads, Springfield looks way too much the way I've envisioned King's post-superflu apocolypse.

This sort of event can bring out the best in people, which I sometimes forget. Tonight, just as a giant limb crashed onto the roadway blocking cars each way, the guy in a Jeep behind me pulled out a chainsaw and began cutting it into manageable pieces. Several of us got out to help pull the icy branches off the street before we went on our way. Drivers seem nicer today-- people are driving slowly, letting others go first, moving quickly out of the way at the first sound of a siren. Strangers offer suggestions about what to burn in the fireplace since stores still open in the city have sold out of wood and firelogs. People seem more patient, or maybe they're just resigned to several days of unavoidable low-tech living.

Tonight, however, I am warmly ensconced in a thick white quilt, watching Mythbusters and typing on the laptop, listening to the trees break apart outside the Hampton Inn. It's a luxury, and one that I'm not at all sure I would have endulged without the Young One. As it is, the Other Half is still home, watching Orange Kitty silently move from window to window, ears cocked, listening to the branches crack and fall in a shower of ice.

I talk real big about wanting to live off the grid. This devasting and beautiful ice storm reminds me why it would be easier said than done. Preparation is the key. That and learning to live without a blow dryer.

Friday, January 12, 2007

If you didn't know better

"'I think decent societies are judged by how they care for and meet the needs of our most vulnerable,' Blunt said at the Family Resources Center of Boys & Girls Town of Missouri in Springfield..." (Springfield News Leader 1/12/2007)

If you don't live in Missouri or work with people who are the "most vulnerable," you might believe that Governor Matt Blunt was being genuine. You might think that he is working to help the poor and disenfranchised in our state. You might decide folks are better off now than they were when Holden, Wilson or Carnahan were governor. But you would be very wrong.

He's right on one point, of course--we are judged by how we treat the poor and underprivileged among us. So, let's look at a little slice of some of the changes he and his cronies in the state General Assembly have wrought upon our more vulnerable citizens.

-Thousands of citizens, including disabled adults, children, the elderly, and working poor families lost medical coverage when the Blunt-led government slashed Medicaid coverage.

-Elimination of dental health care for poor adults.

-Elimination of individual mental health services for young children.

-Elimination of coverage for certain pharmaceuticals and durable medical equipment including wheelchair batteries.

-Appropriations to Missouri's public colleges and universities have been cut drastically--100 million is the estimate so far but tuition increases have skyrocketed.

-Creation of seven new state agencies--reportedly to cut bureaucracy.

-The governor is said to have spent over $100,000 in tax dollars to redecorate his office, with rumors flying about his wife's fear of staying in the governor's mansion since inmate trustees work on the grounds. Some say the new security system in place was another drain on tax dollars.

-Funding for state supported child care programs are so far behind that at least two local preschool/daycare programs had to close for lack of payment.

Blunt's comments about meeting the needs of the most vulnerable were made while touting his proposed increase in the pay rate for children's residential care (for the third time since taking office). It is clear that these rate increases are desperately needed. Boys and Girls Town and other residential care programs do good work for children and adolescents, and should be commended for what they try to accomplish.

The fact remains, however, that residential care typically is, and should be, a treatment of last resort. He's cut mental health care for poor children, hasn't even begun to fix the horribly broken state Children's Division system, and seems to have ignored many programs which could prevent children from needing residential care.

The road to judgment which Mr. Blunt and his Republican-led General Assembly lead us down, is paved with cronyism, misplaced priorities, and self-serving choices that make our society less decent with each vote they cast.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Let's see if I can do it

I don’t usually make new year’s resolutions—I’m more likely to follow through with giving something up for Lent, but unless its Dr. Pepper (as opposed to Guinness) that’s probably not going to happen, either.

This year though, inspired by the posts at agirlworthsaving I’ve decided to not only make a resolution, but to also blog it so that when I mess it up, I experience that guilt trip borne from having shared it with someone else. That, behavior modification fans, is punishment. (Don’t make me explain the difference between punishment and negative reinforcement—you’ll make me get out my red grading pen and assign F’s to all of your old psych 101 exams!)

Anyway here’s the deal: I love to eat out. I’d eat out every meal every day if I could. I rarely get taken out, or go out, to eat in the evenings, so I usually do my restaurant-going at lunchtime. Because I’m all over the Ozarks doing that do-gooder jive, I’ve experienced quite a few great joints, and nice places, in some unusual spots (try the Maple Street Grill in Buffalo, or Hawg Wild Barbeque in Aurora for example). I settle in with my book and my coke, and take a half hour or so away from the “trouble I’ve seen.” It is heaven.

It is a sort of therapy for me, especially when I’ve spent my days working in other folks’ homes or rural preschool classrooms, trying to help in situations too desperate to describe. It’s an escape for me, really, just a baby step removed from reality.

But it costs money. Even the 2.99 burger and chips at Hawg Wild adds up over time, and with that comes a different sort of guilt trip.

Now, it’s not like I spend a fortune at some five star place; taco bell drive thru beats the heck out of a sack lunch to me, but that’s money that I could save. Which leads to my resolution--I decided to cut back on the lunch money I spend. At first I thought I’d whittle it down to one or two days a week, but I understand enough about my nature to realize that wouldn’t work. So, instead of limiting the days, I’m going to limit my spending. I’m giving myself a dollar amount each week, and when it’s used up, then it’s back to sack lunches or microwave chicken noodle dinner.

If I win the lottery, though, after I create my foundation to pay for parenting classes and mental health services for children and families living in poverty (oh if only), and after I pay bills and invest so I never, ever worry about money, I’ll be hitting the restaurant trail again. And Hawg Wild will be serving up the rib plate instead of the burger, that’s for sure.

Oh yeah, I forgot—I don’t play the lottery.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Left Behind Missouri Style

Marmot (snarling marmot) has a good post with background on the recent discussion about the Bush Administration's No Child Left Behind Act. I started to leave a comment on her blog, but realized it would take up way too much space, so I clicked over to the dashboard and began to vent...

A perfect example of why this NCLB is more of a negative influence on education: My officemate has a child in 5th grade. Yesterday she came home from school so stressed that she wanted to quit her gifted program which takes her out of school one afternoon each week. Why?

Not because of sports or ballet or music; not because of family stress or too much math homework, no, the stress is because of the upcoming Missouri Assessment Program, or MAP testing.

MAP testing, which actually began in 1993 as result of Missouri's Outstanding Schools Act, has been reworked to comply with NCLB, and often is the focus of Ozarks area schools from January until April. In the case of my officemate's child, on the first day back to school after winter break, she was told their schedule for MAP preparations. Essentially that is all they will be working on from now until the tests. They'll study for the test, have "MAP bowls" and other competitions, practice tests, study groups, and more. She's afraid that if she misses Monday afternoons she'll not be prepared for the test. This is a child who is gifted--and motivated. She wants to do well, and she's clearly gotten the message that the results of the MAP tests are the most important part of her school year.

Teaching for the test? You bet. Are kids being "left behind?" Maybe yes, maybe no, but what is definitely left behind is the education of our children to be productive, socialized citizens who are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of their parents. Instead it seems education has been reduced to scores on a test which in turn means money for the school. Dollars, baby, that's the point.

Even the Head Start programs are testing kids. Three and four year olds are subjected to NRS (National Reporting System) testing at the beginning and end of each school year. I'm all for making sure kids are getting prepared for kindergarten and to be lifelong learners, but asking four year olds to perform for national tests is just too much. They need to be in sandboxes and getting paint all over themselves, not being taken one at a time to little rooms with desks to be tested.

School is about learning--tests, homework, competition, heavy book bags, and bad lunches are part of this, but when months are dedicated to preparing students to take one big test, pretty much to the exclusion of everything else, all kids are left behind.

Positive reinforcement rocks!

Wow! I actually blushed to my earlobes when I heard last night that this blog had been nominated for a "Blogaroni" award. Larry over at Simple Thoughts of a Complex Mind has all the award categories and nominees listed, so go check it out. Thinkingthings is up for two--Best Rookie blog and Most Improved blog. What a trip!

Rookie is definitely the right word for me. I'm lucky if I can get in a post a week and I have more than a few unfinished posts taking up space as "drafts." Of course I spend probably a lot more time than really necessary making sure that I sound coherent, and that I've been able to paint an accurate picture, especially when I am blogging about poverty, mental health, child abuse and neglect, and the MESS our government has made of health care and mental health care in these crazy times.

So yeah, it is way cool to have this positive reinforcement for my attempt at blogging. You can vote for the various awards by emailing Larry, or at the next bloggers meeting. Click on over to his website to get more info.

And thanks, kids, for the reinforcement. BF Skinner would be proud of my immediate positive response (this post and the warm fuzzy feelings) to the operant conditioning!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Another example of how the US Healthcare system is broken

My friends Johnna and Mary (fake names, okay?) have lived together for about 8 years, maybe more. Their relationship or partnership is not recognized by the State so they can't have health insurance on the same policy together. Mary carries her own health insurance because she is self employed. She is probably one of the hardest workers I know. Her business involves major physical work including wallpapering and removal, painting, building clean up, etc.

Mary's 52 now, and she is in almost constant pain from her back. She's been seen regularly by a pain management clinic at a local hospital, and the physician has her on some very heavy narcotics so that she can continue to earn a living. Last week the doc told her that her insurance would no longer cover his services, and that the clinic wouldn't take self-pay even if she could afford the $300 a visit he charges. (For local readers, we're talking about CoxHealth, of course.) The hospital system her insurance will fund has no pain management center, and her general physician is reluctant to prescribe the narcotic medications.

Right after she heard this news, she received notice from the insurance company that her premium is being raised by another $100 this month. She said they've raised her premium $100 a year since she turned 50. It is now up to $500 a month.

$500

Mary's mortgage payment is about $525, so think about this: To get ongoing care for her myriad health problems she has to pay essentially the equivalent of her house payment every month. Mary works hard, pays taxes on time, is buying her own home--she is doing all the things we Americans are expected to do to be considered productive--yet she can't afford health care.

This is wrong. People like Mary are being punished by an industry which focuses on the profit margin and not on the patient. Since when did health care become a privilege for the rich?

The government intervened when Chrysler was about to go under. It funds billions and trillions of dollars worth of bombers and heavy duty hammers for our military (but forget about heavy duty armor for the troops), while making sure that companies like Halliburton get cushy contracts, but it refuses to take care of it's own citizens. The government intervenes when restaurants are unhealthy, when dogs are running loose, when downtown buildings need to be revitalized, but it won't stop the health care industry from running roughshod over the people it purports to help.

Why is it that my insurance plan would charge me a $25 copay for a medicine I recently purchased at Target for $4? If I had no prescription plan and didn't know about Target's program, I would pay close to $45.00 for the exact same medicine at a different store.

Why is it that when I see my doctor for a twice-yearly med check, he charges my insurance company $70 when all he does is tell me how his kids are doing in college? If he chats longer than 10 minutes, he charges more. If I go to a different doctor for the same medicine check, I may have to pay only $55, or then again, I may pay as much as $100. There is no predicting the fee.

I hear people complain about "socialized medicine" or point to the health care system in Canada as unreliable. The latest propaganda about how Canadian medicines may not be as reliable as American meds is beyond ridulous! As if Canadian citizens are so backwards they wouldn't be aware if they were getting bogus medications.

For a nation that fancies itself the "greatest" we've got some serious problems. When we can't take care of our own citizens, when we can't police huge industries that are stealing from the middle class and the poor, we're a long, long way from being okay. Our government should focus at least as much energy, if not more, on protecting it's own citizens as it does focusing on foreign policy.

And NO ONE should have to decide between paying for medicine or food.