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Discrimination and Murder by Spreadsheet

By PAM BERNS
    The Tea Partiers are here to carry the message. They’re mad. Despite 95 percent of Americans having their taxes reduced this year, they’re mad about taxes. They’re mad about the health care bill, they’re mad about the financial stimulus plan, and they’re mad about immigrants. And some of them attend gatherings with racist signs.
    This mob has supposedly erupted because of the Obama health reform bill. But these mobs have attracted members of white separatist groups as well. According to Bloomberg, “Tea Party supporters are likely to be older, white and male.” Many claim to be Christian fundamentalists, with 44 percent identifying themselves as “born-again.” Another poll by Quinnipiac University found that 88 percent were white and that 77 percent said they voted for John McCain in the last election. A New York Times/CBS poll in April of this year reported that 92 percent felt that President Obama’s policies were moving the country toward socialism.
   Propaganda fueled by right-wing radio, TV and internet jargon has accused Obama of supporting a “Nazi-like” health care system. Rush Limbaugh threatened to seek his future medical care in Costa Rica, which prompted Roger Ebert to urge readers to send Limbaugh a bon voyage card.
   It is amazing that a health care plan covering all children and the eventual closing of the donut hole in the Medicare drug plan for seniors would threaten so many. Don’t these radicals have children or parents? Don’t they have heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, like the rest of us? Are they all so economically well-heeled that they can afford to go without health insurance? The protesters in the televised crowds appear to be regular-looking white folks who seem to have plenty of time to stand around outside “protesting” all day. Some of us work.
   One of the most appalling spectacles in one of these crowds involved a man who was sitting down on the ground holding a sign saying that he had Parkinson’s disease. The 60-year-old man, Robert Letcher, a former nuclear scientist with a doctorate from Cornell University, was supporting the health care bill. Another man stood out from the crowd and threw 2 dollars at Letcher, saying that he was starting a pot to give the man a hand-out. The crowd jeered. Since the incident, the man who threw the money at Letcher received so many emails about his behavior, that he repented.
    The discrimination towards the sick by this “tea party movement” is morally repugnant. Remember the “rent-a-crowd,” bussed-in protesters of the health care bill? Now that they have the ball rolling, this angry mob has given a platform to discrimination. This is not a “tea party.” The passion exhibited in these protests is not rational. We shouldn’t recognize this mob mentality as a rational response to the issues. Do these born-again fundamentalists have any compassion?
   In another scene of health care reform, protesters gathered  in Washington, hurling racial slurs at Rep. John Lewis and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, both African-Americans. A protester spat on Rep. Lewis. The crowds used the “N” word in their chants. Let’s not put a pretty face on this racism.
    I cannot believe in 2010 that we have come to this. That prominent conservatives have not spoken out against these racist protests forcefully is truly shocking. Are the politicians so hungry for votes  that they can ignore such atrocious antics?
   As for the “socialized medicine,” the Obama health care bill did no favors for those in the most high-risk pool in Illinois who will have to continue to pay for their expensive policies in ICHIP until 2014.
    In the  past year, there has been a combined 31 percent leap in net income of the five largest for-profit health insurance companies, despite the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. In 1993, the five leading health insurers used about 95 cents of every premium dollar on health care. Today, according to Health Care for America Now! (HCAN), they spend closer to 81 percent, adding a difference of $25 billion in 2009.
   The most outrageous thing I have heard of is about how one insurance company owned by WellPoint Inc. had systematically dumped breast cancer patients by implementing an algorithm to search its computer databases for breast cancer cases and used the information to trigger fraud investigations of the patients so that the insurers could search for excuses to rescind their coverage, despite the patients having paid their health insurance premiums for years. Health Access credits Reuters with the discovery of this atrocity.
   According to HCAN’s executive director, Ethan Rome, “WellPoint is committing murder by spreadsheet and it has to stop now. This is a matter of life and death, and executives and board members of WellPoint need to be held to account to the fullest extent of the law.”
   On May 8, Obama reported in his weekly radio address, “When we found that an insurance company was systematically dropping the coverage of women diagnosed with breast cancer, my administration called on them to put an end to this practice immediately. Two weeks ago, the entire insurance industry announced that it would comply with the new law early, and stop the perverse practice of dropping people’s coverage when they get sick.”
   Incredibly, this year WellPoint gave a bonus of $13.1 million to CEO Angela Braly, up 51 percent over last year. She denied singling out breast cancer patients, but agreed to stop cancelling policies.
   And that the Tea Partiers wanted to keep that kind of system defies reason. If the free market would have created competitive health insurance rates for all, we wouldn’t need government assistance to bring health care to millions more. But for all the protests, reports ABC News, this year private health care has cherry-picked the healthy and wealthy, while 2.7 million people lost their coverage. Next year, the Partiers may be among the unlucky.


Published: June 07, 2010
Issue: Summer 2010 Urban Living