Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mark Kirk on health care reform

I signed an online petition for health care reform, which also sent a letter to my congresspersons, including Congressman Mark Kirk of Illinois. Here is the letter I received from his office:

Dear Friend:

Thank you for contacting me regarding universal health care in the United States. I appreciate your thoughts on this important issue.

Medicare and Medicaid are the foundations of our health care system, removing the fear that many elderly and poor Americans had in the 1960s about their health care. Since these programs were founded, America's health care system has changed radically. With the introduction of new drugs and therapies, costs have grown. As the system changed from traditional fee-for-service plans to preferred providers and managed care, a critical link was severed between doctors and their patients. Meanwhile, nearly 46 million Americans face life each day without health care coverage.

In the next 12 months, the cost of health care in the United States is expected to rise 11 percent. Individuals fighting diseases like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes often face drug bills of tens of thousands of dollars per year. Comprehensive health care reform is critical at this juncture, particularly as our population ages. While I hope that one day, every American will benefit from comprehensive health care coverage, we must take responsible steps towards this goal.

In an effort to create a nationalized, government-run health care system, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) recently introduced H.R. 676, the United States National Health Insurance Act. This legislation would establish a program to provide every American with health care services. While I empathize with the intent of this bill, we must work to enact responsible, effective legislation that brings real relief to seniors and the poor without straining our medical community or government resources. Experts acknowledge that such a blanket program would cost hundreds of billions of dollars each year, and holds no real promise of health care. Are the poor patients better off waiting for medical treatment or waiting for another government run program as patients do in Canada or Great Britain? Seniors, the poor, and the disabled depend on the promises we make. The worst thing we can do is to make promises that are too expensive to keep and later pull the rug out from under those who can least afford to cope. I believe we must design a program that makes promises the government can afford to keep.

I am encouraged by Congress' recent success in passing legislation to enact a realistic, meaningful prescription drug benefit under Medicare. Nearly one million Illinois residents received prescription drugs through the new Medicare Part D plan during its first month. Many seniors benefited from lower drug costs. According to a new AARP study, most seniors who enroll in a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan will pay less than if they got those same drugs from Canada.

Medicare modernization and a prescription drug benefit must serve as the foundation of a more effective health care system in our country. As part of these reforms, I believe Congress is committed to enacting legislation that will ensure more Americans receive health insurance.

One way to address the problem of the uninsured is by creating Association Health Plans (AHPs). Individuals who currently lack health coverage are typically young and employed by small businesses that do not offer health insurance. AHPs would allow national franchise chains - such as AlphaGraphics or Subway - to offer health insurance to their employees. AHPs also allow businesses of common locations or industries to combine to offer health insurance at a lower cost to their employees.

In the 110th Congress, Representative Howard McKeon (R-CA) introduced H.R. 324, the Working Families Wage and Access to Health Care Act o n January 9, 2007, to take action on this issue. The bill would amend Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) to provide ore establishment and governance of AHPs. I was a cosponsor of this important legislation that would employ innovative new methods of providing health care, particularly to small business employees and the self-employed, and I await its reintroduction.

Thank you for your thoughts on the need for expansive health care reform and the current shortcomings of our nation's health care system. Please feel free to visit my website,, or contact me again should other issues of concern to you come before the Congress. To stay better connected to current legislation please sign up for my e-newsletter at

Here is the response I sent back:

Congressman Kirk,

Thank you for your response.
You speak disparagingly of the health care systems in Canada and the U.K. I would gladly trade our health care system for the one they enjoy, or the one in most developed nations for that matter. The PBS Frontline documentary "sick around the world" highlights some of these health care systems, and although they are not perfect, I find them vastly superior to our own.

I am an independent professional and business owner. Consequently I have to purchase my own health insurance. The prices are extremely high, and coverage isn't guaranteed. My health insurer can decide not to renew my coverage or charge much higher premiums if they find my medical costs too high.

Japan, the U.K., Canada, Taiwan, Germany, all don't suffer from this problem.

Please, finally, do something about this problem.

Also, you refer to the "meaningful prescription drug benefit under Medicare". If this is the prescription drug plan passed during the bush administration, this plan has a huge problem that makes it almost worthless. It forbids Medicare from negotiating with the drug companies, something any company or organization purchasing goods or services typically does. Basically, this plan is a give-away to the drug companies. That's not what we need.

Please stop catering to the drug companies and health insurance companies. Please solve this problem for consumers and small businesses which are uninsured, underinsured, and being crushed by health care costs.
I don't know if this will go anywhere in the Congressman's office. I'll post it here and hopefully it'll spur some thought, discussion, and ideally action.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

British Petroleum/Amoco seeks to dump more pollutants into Lake Michigan near beaches

As first reported in this Chicago Tribune story, British Petroleum is planning to dump 54% more ammonia and 35% more sludge into Lake Michigan from their oil refinery in Whiting, Ind. Hold on, MORE ammonia and sludge? How is it legal to dump any sludge and ammonia into a public lake, in particular somewhere so close to a major metro area. See this Google map to see the location of the refinery and nearby beaches.

Indiana regulators justify giving BP permission to dump more toxins into the lake because it'll supposedly create 80 more jobs. Even if the moral cause of protecting the environment is left out as an argument, from a purely economic standpoint this makes no sense. How does 80 additional jobs compare with the additional health costs from people eating contaminated fish, swimming and drinking from the contaminated water? How about the lost tourist revenue due to people understandably being concerned about swimming in nearby beaches? Of course these are costs that will be born by the hundreds of thousands living along the lake and not easily traceable back to British Petroleum.

Remember this next time one of those British Petroleum "Beyond Petroleum" ads runs.

What can be done:
  • This story reports on a petition drive being launched in Chicago. You can join up, and let me know via a comment if you find out more about this drive.
  • You can follow this link to lodge a complaint with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
  • Sign this online petition to Indiana Governor Daniels.
  • Tell BP what you think about BP and the environment via this form
  • Support the "Bad Polluters Act" - H.R. 3276 (are there good polluters?) sponsored by Mark Kirk(R), Melissa Bean(D), Jesse Jackson(D) and others. Contact Mark Kirk or your representative to encourage them to support this.
Have other actions on this topic? Let us know with a comment on this blog.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Democracy for america - training progressive candidates

I recently came across the Democracy for America website by way of the Daily Kos. Democracy for America was founded by Howard Dean, and is now headed by his brother, Jim Dean, who worked on Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign. Democracy for America (DFA) is a political action committee that is "dedicated to supporting fiscally responsible, socially progressive candidates at all levels of government—from school board to the presidency. DFA fights against the influence of the far right-wing and their radical, divisive policies and the selfish special interests that for too long have dominated our politics.".

DFA backs this up with training for activists and candidates, helping organize local DFA groups, and promoting progressive candidates. We progressives need to get behind organizations like this to counteract the right wing's political machine and to ensure progressive and liberal values are well represented.

If the DFA sounds like an organization you could support, there's plenty of ways you can get involved:
  • Sign the DFA "No escalation" petition.
  • Find and link up with local DFA groups in your area via this page.
  • Support a DFA candidate local to you.
  • Sign up for DFA training on effective campaigning, organizing, and more. Training is offered throughout the U.S. and there's also online material and DVDs available.
  • And of course you can always make a contribution