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Public Service

I had yet another suspicious-looking mole removed last night. I left the house at 4:30 and got out of the doctor’s office at 8. This is a lot of aggravation (not to mention the $50 co-pays) but since I’m already at high risk for skin cancer (three stage-2 sunburns, blonde hair, light eyes), I gotta do it while I still have insurance.

So far, all but one biopsy has contained cells in the early stages of various skin cancers – squamous, basal cell – so I’m glad they’re gone. The doctor was suspicious this one might be a melanoma. (And here, I thought it was just a tiny dark freckle.)

This time, because it was my leg and not my back, I got to watch. I didn’t realize they actually punch out a core of tissue and then stitch it closed. (If you like that sort of thing, you can watch how it’s done here.)

I had a push: A friend who went through the full cycle of chemo and radiation for malignant melanoma and now peers at everyone else’s uncovered skin. “That’s what mine looked like. You really need to get that checked out,” she says to everyone she meets. (Thanks, Jean, I did!)

And now I’m pushing you. The only really painful part is the co-pay – that, and the long wait in the waiting room. But if you have a skin growth that concerns you, or you’ve never been checked by a dermatologist, go get it done.

Medicaid Rolls Exploding

I don’t understand. I thought Americans were strongly against any kind of government health care program? Do you suppose maybe the politicians were wrong?

The recession has fueled the greatest influx of Americans onto Medicaid since the earliest days of the public insurance program for the poor, according to new findings that show caseloads have surged in every state.

More than 3 million people joined Medicaid in the year that ended in June, the data released Thursday show. That pushed enrollment to a record 46.8 million, exacerbating the financial strains on already burdened states and complicating the federal politics of health care.

The analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health policy and research organization, found that in three-fifths of the jurisdictions, including Maryland and the District, people rushed into the safety net for health coverage at more than twice the rate as the year before.

Medicaid directors said in interviews that despite early clues elsewhere that the economy may be starting to improve, the demand for government health coverage has not tapered off since last summer. “Nope. It hasn’t slowed down yet,” said John Folkemer, deputy secretary for health-care financing for Maryland, where the caseload rose by 20 percent from June 2008 to June 2009, the steepest increase in the country.

20 Senators Sign Reconciliation Letter

I want to believe this is actually happening, I really do. But we’ve been burned so many times already, I have to wonder: Are they really serious about this, or is this just another show to placate the base? Because if it’s the latter, they’re going to have even angrier Democratic voters on their hands.

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But I do! I do want to believe! Via Plumline:

This is key: Senator Chuck Schumer has just signed the letter calling on Harry Reid to hold a reconciliation vote on the public option.

Schumer just fired off an email to supporters in which he announced that he’s added his name to the letter, which was initially spearheaded by Senator Michael Bennet and three other Senators. He wrote:

I just added my name to their effort to pass a public option through the reconciliation process, and I wanted you to be the first to know.

This is far from a done deal, but it’s an opportunity to break through the obstructionism Republicans have pushed for the past year.

That brings the total number of Senators calling for this vote to 17. But Schumer’s signature is arguably far more important than many of the others.

That’s because Schumer has now become the first member of the Dem Senate leadership to join this effort. As the former head of the DSCC he played a major role in engineering the Dem takeover of the Senate.

Schumer’s voice is highly respected inside the Dem caucus on policy matters. He played a major role in driving support for the public option throughout this process. And, crucially, Dems have trust in his political instincts. So his support implicitly suggests he thinks a reconciliation vote on the public option could also represent good politics.

March Tomorrow

Philadelphia, PA – On Wednesday February 17th at 12pm EST, hundreds of health care reform activists and supporters will kick off “March to the Finish Line for Melanie” – an eight-day march from Philadelphia, PA to Washington, DC in honor of one health reform advocate who recently lost her battle with breast cancer after her insurance company refused to pay for the treatment her doctors said she needed. Local residents are participating in the march and are available to the press.

During her illness, Melanie Shouse was a tireless campaigner for health care reform for all Americans, and the marchers will be bringing Melanie’s message to Congress that not one more person should have to suffer or die for lack of health care in our country.

The “March to the Finish Line for Melanie” group will arrive in Washington, DC the day before President Obama’s Health Care Summit. As the summit is set to begin, the marchers—and supporters expected to number in the hundreds—will be there to tell lawmakers enough is enough!

They will deliver the message that Members of Congress have had plenty of time to discuss and debate health care over the past year, and now it’s their job to make it happen. It’s time to get it done and get it done right. Congress must deliver the change people voted for.

The March starts with a noon rally at the Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia and proceeds through University City and Southwest Philadelphia, ending the first day with a vigil at Taylor Hospital in Ridley Park. The group will hold rallies in Wilmington and Baltimore and host meet-ups for local residents in small towns along the way. Supporters and press can track the walk online at http://www.facebook.com/l/950e4;melaniesmarch.com/. This website will be updated throughout the march with logistical information for the events and video from the marchers.

Members of the press are invited to join the group at any point along the route and interview walkers – some of whom have personal stories about the difficulty of securing access to affordable health care in America today. They will be accompanied by an RV with Internet access.

WHAT: “March to the Finish Line for Melanie” – A Walk from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. for Health Care Reform

WHO: PA citizens and activists from Health Care For America Now, Families USA, SEIU, Catholics United, The AME Church, Families USA, Health Rights Organizing Project Interfaith Worker Justice, National Physicians Alliance Pennsylvania Health Access Network, Philadelphia Unemployment Project, UFCW, Raising Women’s Voices (List in formation).

WHEN: February 17 to February 24, beginning with a noon rally in PA and ending in DC at 2 p.m.

WHERE: Starting point is Mother Bethel AME Church, 419 S. 6th St., Philadelphia

For more information: http://www.facebook.com/l/950e4;www.melaniesmarch.com.

Looser

Just came back from another session with my massage therapist. Every week, I see noticeable improvement in myself – less pain, more function. Now, it’s accelerating. I can walk down the street at something approaching my normal gait. I can get up from a chair without having to lean on something. My knees actually work!

I’m very grateful I found someone who actually knows what he’s doing. I have to say, I’m pretty disgusted with what mainstream medicine has by way of treating musculoskeletal injuries. (I mean, should I have been the one to explain to doctors that a sprained ankle would also affect the function in my knee and hip?)

Mole Man

I went to the dermatologist’s office last night to have another abnormal mole removed.

“Is there any way we can remove a lot of these at once?” I asked him.

“The insurance company won’t pay for more than one at a time,” he said.

I thought that was bizarre. “Why?”

“It loses the deterrent effect.”

“You mean, they don’t want me actually using the insurance. They want me to die,” I said.

He just smiled and said nothing. Oy.

Six down, six to go, $50 a pop. I spend more time in his office than I do at home.

In Clover

New HCAN study:

The five largest U.S. health insurance companies sailed through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression to set new industry profit records in 2009, a feat accomplished by leaving behind 2.7 million americans who had been in private health plans. For customers who kept their benefits, the insurers raised rates and cost-sharing,and cut the share of premiums spent on medical care. Executives and shareholders of the five biggest for-profit health insurers, UnitedHealthGroup inc., WellPoint inc., Aetna Inc., Humana Inc., and Cigna Corp., enjoyed combined profit of $12.2 billion in 2009, up 56 percent from the previous year. It was the best year ever for Big Insurance.

The 2009 financial reports from the nation’s five largest insurance companies reveal that:

* The firms made $12.2 billion, an increase of $4.4 billion, or 56 percent, from 2008.
o Four out of the five companies saw earnings increases, with CIGNA’s profits jumping 346 percent.
* The companies provided private insurance coverage to 2.7 million fewer people than the year before.
o Four out of the five companies insured fewer people through private coverage. UnitedHealth alone insured 1.7 million fewer people through employer-based or individual coverage.
o All but one of the five companies increased the number of people they covered through public insurance programs (Medicaid, CHIP and Medicare). UnitedHealth added 680,000 people in public plans.
* The proportion of premium dollars spent on health care expenses went down for three of the five firms, with higher proportions going to administrative expenses and profits.

House To Investigate Anthem BC

From McJoan at DK:

The Obama administration has already sent a sternly-worded letter to Anthem Blue Cross over the company’s excessive rate increase for individual policy holders in California. How excessive? Up to 39 percent. But that’s not all. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield also informed their customers that they are changing their practice of adjusting rates annually, and as of now are reserving the right to raise premiums basically whenever they feel like it.

You got that? They want to do exactly what the credit card companies were doing.

There’s little beyond sternly-worded letters that the administration can do, other than something like maybe advocating strongly for some kind of legislative remedy, say in the form of serious competition to private insurers in the form of a robust public option for health insurance. But there’s something Congress can do, and that’s put the insurers on the hot seat and investigate. From the Speaker’s blog, The Gavel:

As Secretary Sebelius pointed out, WellPoint [parent company to Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield] reported a staggering $2,740,000,000 in profits for the fourth quarter of 2009 alone – eight times more than the last quarter of 2008 – and more than $4,750,000,000 for all of 2009. In fact, the company reaped these record profits even as it lost more than 1.4 million members…..

Today, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak announced that the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing on February 24th regarding the premium rate increases.

The hearing, conveniently, will be held on February 24, the day before the bipartisan White House healthcare summit.

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