Thursday, September 24, 2009

Just a reminder

Of what kind of amoral, thieving shitbags we are up against in the healthcare fight.

This committee has concluded an investigation into the practice of health insurance rescission, and results are alarming. Over the past five years, almost 20,000 individuals, insurance policyholders have had their policies rescinded by three insurance companies who will testify today; Assurant, UnitedHealth Group, and WellPoint.

From a review of case files, the committee has identified a variety of abuses by insurance companies, including conducting investigation with an eye toward rescission in every case in which a policyholder submits a claim relating to leukemia, breast cancer, or any of a list of 1,400 serious or costly medical conditions. Rescinding policies based on alleged failure to disclose a health condition entirely unrelated to the policyholder's current medical problem.

Rescinding policies based on policyholders' failure to disclose a medical condition that their doctors never told them about. Rescinding policies based on innocent mistakes by policyholders in their applications. And rescinding coverage for all families for -- excuse me, rescinding coverage for all members of a family based on a failure to disclose medical condition of one family member.

The investigation has also found that at least one insurance company, WellPoint, evaluated employee performance based in part on the amount of money its employees saved the company through retroactive rescissions of health insurance policies. According to documents obtained by the committee, one WellPoint official was awarded a perfect score of five for exceptional performance based on having saved the company nearly $10 million through rescissions.

These practices reveal that when an insurance company receives a claim for an expensive, life-saving treatment, some of them will look for a way, any way, to avoid having to pay for it. This is eerily similar to what we found last year in our investigation of long term care health insurance policies where unscrupulous sales people would sell policies to seniors, then change or revoke the policies once the enrollee was locked into a plan and making payments.

The companies who engage in these rescission practices argue that they are entirely legal, and to an extent they are. But that goes against the whole point of insurance. When times are good, the insurance company is happy to sign you up and take your money in the form of premiums. But when times are bad, and you are afflicted with cancer or some other life-threatening disease, it is supposed to honor its commitment and stand with you in your time of need.

Instead, some of these companies use a technicality to justify breaking its promise, at a time when patients are too weak to fight back.
Some people offer firsthand accounts of their dealings with their insurance companies:

In its rescission letter, Blue Cross said it would have never accepted me for coverage if it had known that I had polycystic ovaries. This letter was the first time I had ever heard about this condition.

I later learned that polycystic ovaries, or PCOS, as it is known, is a diagnosis of exclusion and very difficult to prove. Doctors often proceed on suspicions of a person having it without actually having proven it.

This is what happened in my case. My doctor suspected I might have PCOS, wrote it down in her notes, then told me she was prescribing glucophage for weight management. I never knew what she wrote down in her notes because she never told me.

After I was rescinded, I had two of my doctors write letters to Blue Cross telling them this, but they didn't care. They just wrote back that they were upholding their decision to rescind.

After being rescinded, I showed my original application to my sister and her husband, both radiologists, to ask them what I could have possibly done wrong in filling out the application. They felt that the application was worded in such a way as to be purposefully confusing and that it asked the same question in multiple ways to trip people up. I'm a college graduate, and no dummy, and I still couldn't make sense of Blue Cross' tricky application.

The worst part about my rescission is that I have been unable to get insurance anywhere else. I applied for individual insurance through Blue Shield. But on their application, they ask if the applicant has ever had insurance rescinded. When they learned that I had, they informed me that they would not accept me for coverage.

Every insurance company asks if you've ever had health care coverage rescinded. For the rest of my life I will never be able to get individual coverage again because of Blue Cross.

Can you imagine having to walk around with cancer growing in your body with no insurance? It's the most terrible thing in the world to not have anybody to turn to, not have anywhere to go. So I just can't even say how bad it was.

The sad thing is Blue Cross and Blue Shield took my high premiums the very first time I ever had a claim, the very first time, and was suspected of cancer. They took action against me searching high and low. They turned over every single thing they could in my medical history to pull out anything that would cause any suspicion on me, so they didn't have to pay for my cancer.
Contact your representatives and tell them you aren't going to accept snake oil disguised as meaningful healthcare reform.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Show me the note

It looks like the financial “wizards” on Wall Street may have outsmarted themselves and inadvertently struck a blow for the little guy. Of course, they may have slashed and burned the entire economy for personal short-term gain in the process, but so what? That's Capitalism, right? What are you, some kind of America-hating Commie pinko Socialist Fascist?

A landmark ruling in a recent Kansas Supreme Court case may have given millions of distressed homeowners the legal wedge they need to avoid foreclosure. In Landmark National Bank v. Kesler, 2009 Kan. LEXIS 834, the Kansas Supreme Court held that a nominee company called MERS has no right or standing to bring an action for foreclosure. MERS is an acronym for Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, a private company that registers mortgages electronically and tracks changes in ownership. The significance of the holding is that if MERS has no standing to foreclose, then nobody has standing to foreclose – on 60 million mortgages. That is the number of American mortgages currently reported to be held by MERS. Over half of all new U.S. residential mortgage loans are registered with MERS and recorded in its name. Holdings of the Kansas Supreme Court are not binding on the rest of the country, but they are dicta of which other courts take note; and the reasoning behind the decision is sound.


MERS as straw man lacks standing to foreclose, but so does original lender, although it was a signatory to the deal. The lender lacks standing because title had to pass to the secured parties for the arrangement to legally qualify as a “security.” The lender has been paid in full and has no further legal interest in the claim. Only the securities holders have skin in the game; but they have no standing to foreclose, because they were not signatories to the original agreement. They cannot satisfy the basic requirement of contract law that a plaintiff suing on a written contract must produce a signed contract proving he is entitled to relief.
If this stands up nationally or in your state, could this mean that you might be able to stop paying your mortgage? The aforementioned financial “wizards” may have sliced and diced and packaged and re-sold mortgages so many times that nobody knows who owns your mortgage anymore, and if the holder is known, that holder may have no legal standing to foreclose. And if the party you are sending your mortgage payments to can’t prove it holds the note on your home and/or lacks the standing to foreclose, you might as well be sending your mortgage payments to me.

I've been thinking about this since I read about it at Susie's place because, based on personal experience tracking down a mortgage holder when I sold a home a few years ago, I tell friends that if they ever face forclosure, demand that the foreclosing party produce the note and prove they have the legal standing to foreclose. If nothing else, it will buy you time. But now it looks like that demand also might be able to buy you a home.

Of course, I am not advising you to simply stop paying your mortgage. What I am offering is a layman's view of a recent ruling in the Kansas Supreme Court and wondering out loud, so to speak, about its ramifications. Consult an attorney who is an expert in real estate law for more information. (Let's see, bold, italic and underline. Could I have added any more stress to that last sentence? What if I repeat it? OK, sure!) Consult an attorney who is an expert in real estate law for more information. And don't even think about blaming me if you stop paying your mortgage and lose your home.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The end of the road

Joe Biden, on GOP plans to take back some House seats in the midterm:

They're going to put their chips on movement in the 35 seats in the House that have been traditionally Republican districts and trying to take them back," Biden said, according to the White House pool report.

"If they take them back, this the end of the road for what Barack and I are trying to do. This is their one shot," he went on. "If they don't break the back of our effort in this upcoming election, you're going to see the things we said we're for happen."

If Democrats can keep those seats, he said, Congress will finally see bipartisanship.
The end of the road? Where the fuck is the start of the road? Why is it that I have to wait until you find out if you keep seats that you already fucking hold before I see the things you said you're for happen?

Is it because the Republicans aren't the problem? Your political opposition has rendered itself all but totally powerless with eight years of servicing corporate America at the expense of the American people, and yet you still can't anything done. You need exactly ZERO Republican votes in both the House and Senate to get your agenda passed, so political opposition can't possibly be the problem, because you don't have any.

So what's the problem? Frankly, other than a few fringe nuts who watch Faux News 24/7, I don't know of anyone who opposes your stated agenda, other than Wall Street and the healthcare industry. Are they the ones who have stolen your spine? Are you really going to cater to them at the expense of the American people? Have you learned nothing from the Republicans' experience?

One more thing: Nobody gives a shit about "bipartisanship." Republicans already don't hold those seats. What about losing them again is going to make Republicans suddenly reasonable?

Republicans only care about one thing: making the rich even richer. I don't share that goal and therefore have no interest in compromising with them. The rich are rich enough.

And, frankly, if Republicans oppose something, it's a pretty good indicator that it will benefit the American people and/or improve the country in some way. So do yourself a favor and stop talking about "bipartisanship" except to point out what a horseshit smokescreen it is.

Maybe instead of worrying about the next election, you could accomplish something meaningful now. Something tells me that if you do that, the next election will take care of itself.

And if you don't, well, then I would start worrying.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Self explanatory

Exactly whom do you represent, Mr. President?

From the Houston Chronicle's Nick Anderson, by way of Crooks & Liars.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Shallow thought

The legislative process is like a father taking his awkward, embarrassed teenage boy to a whorehouse to get laid for the first time. Congress is the whorehouse. Congresspeople are the whores. Lobbyists are the father, who is paying the whores to fuck somebody other than himself.

We, the people, of course, are the unwilling teenager nervously asking the whores if it would be OK if we just talked.


Domestic violence

In the world of for-profit health insurance, it's a pre-existing condition.

Under the cold logic of the insurance industry, it makes perfect sense: If you are in a marriage with someone who has beaten you in the past, you're more likely to get beaten again than the average person and are therefore more expensive to insure.
And if you're married to someone who has sex with you, you're more likely to become pregnant than the average person, so pregnancy can be considered a pre-existing condition. And if you have a job that sometimes involves danger or hazards, you're more likely than the average person to be injured at work, so your job can be considered a pre-existing condition. And if your lifestyle involves playing sports or riding a bicycle, you're more likely to be injured than the average person, so physical activity can be considered a pre-existing condition. And if you walk down the street, you are more likely to be struck by a car or trip on uneven sidewalk, so walking can be considered a pre-existing condition.

With no government oversight, these amoral, thieving pricks can call anything they want a pre-existing condition, and nobody is going to stop them. And if you do get sick or injured and somehow manage not to have your case classified as a pre-existing condition, they can simply cancel your policy. It's called recission, and it happens every day, usually right after somebody has the nerve to get sick and rack up some serious medical bills.

And, if you're like most people and find the fact that health insurance companies consider domestic violence a pre-existing condition particularly reprehensible, you might be interested in knowing who helped them with this particular cost-saving measure:

In 2006, Democrats tried to end the practice. An amendment introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), now a member of leadership, split the Health Education Labor & Pensions Committee 10-10. The tie meant that the measure failed.

All ten no votes were Republicans, including Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), a member of the "Gang of Six" on the Finance Committee who are hashing out a bipartisan bill. A spokesman for Enzi didn't immediately return a call from Huffington Post.
I think it would be appropriate at this time to stop pointing out which state congresspeople pretend to represent when it's getting clearer every day that they only represent the interests of their largest donors (I doubt very much that the people of Wyoming think it's a good idea to allow health insurers to consider domestic violence a pre-existing condition). Perhaps Sen. Mike Enzi (R-United Healthcare) would be more accurate. It certainly would explain their positions and votes better.

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Monday, September 14, 2009


Hey all you stupid small-government idiots: Check out the results of relieving polluters of the heavy burden of government regulation.

Jennifer Hall-Massey knows not to drink the tap water in her home near Charleston, W.Va.

In fact, her entire family tries to avoid any contact with the water. Her youngest son has scabs on his arms, legs and chest where the bathwater — polluted with lead, nickel and other heavy metals — caused painful rashes. Many of his brother’s teeth were capped to replace enamel that was eaten away.

Neighbors apply special lotions after showering because their skin burns. Tests show that their tap water contains arsenic, barium, lead, manganese and other chemicals at concentrations federal regulators say could contribute to cancer and damage the kidneys and nervous system.

“How can we get digital cable and Internet in our homes, but not clean water?” said Mrs. Hall-Massey, a senior accountant at one of the state’s largest banks.

She and her husband, Charles, do not live in some remote corner of Appalachia. Charleston, the state capital, is less than 17 miles from her home.

“How is this still happening today?” she asked.

When Mrs. Hall-Massey and 264 neighbors sued nine nearby coal companies, accusing them of putting dangerous waste into local water supplies, their lawyer did not have to look far for evidence. As required by state law, some of the companies had disclosed in reports to regulators that they were pumping into the ground illegal concentrations of chemicals — the same pollutants that flowed from residents’ taps.

But state regulators never fined or punished those companies for breaking those pollution laws.

This pattern is not limited to West Virginia. Almost four decades ago, Congress passed the Clean Water Act to force polluters to disclose the toxins they dump into waterways and to give regulators the power to fine or jail offenders. States have passed pollution statutes of their own. But in recent years, violations of the Clean Water Act have risen steadily across the nation, an extensive review of water pollution records by The New York Times found.

In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times. The violations range from failing to report emissions to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.

However, the vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment. State officials have repeatedly ignored obvious illegal dumping, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which can prosecute polluters when states fail to act, has often declined to intervene.
But at least those more than half a million violations of the Clean Water Act have led to cost savings that have created thousands of jobs and stimulated the shit out of the economy.

Oh, right.

For a list of the polluters near you and the number of times they have violated the Clean Water Act without having to worry about the burden of fines, prison or any penalties whatsoever because government has wised up and gotten out of the way of free enterprise, click here. And I'm glad that the same government that looks the other way while corporations pollute our water is working hard to deny affordable healthcare to people sickened by filthy, toxic water. And to everyone else, for that matter.

And, in what I'm sure is a completely unrelated story:

Dangerous staph bacteria have been found in sand and water for the first time at five public beaches along the coast of Washington, and scientists think the state is not the only one with this problem.

The germ is MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus — a hard-to-treat bug once rarely seen outside of hospitals but that increasingly is spreading in ordinary community settings such as schools, locker rooms and gyms.
I read the news yesterday and came away so depressed by the boundless greed in this country that is completely untempered by even the slightest grain of human decency and compassion. The health insurance industry is spending millions and working tirelessly to deny Americans access to affordable health insurance that won't be canceled the moment they need it, the Supreme Court is about to make it even easier for corporations to tighten their grip on elected officials, and polluters are poisioning our fucking water to save a few bucks while regulators yawn.

With everything that's going on, I am starting to think that raising a family in these conditions is simply irresponsible. And it pisses me off that I might have to leave my fucking country -- MY country -- in order to raise my family in a secure, healthful environment. People who used to say, "If that happens, I'm moving to Canada" used to sound like crackpots. Now they sound like pragmatists.

With all due respect to the late President Kennedy, when is it OK to ask what your country can do for you?

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Douchebag of the Week

Kanye and Serena, I give you credit for your outstanding efforts, but you picked the wrong week to act like assholes. Our winner, of course, is Joe Wilson (R-SC). Wow, what a fucking douchebag!

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Friday, September 11, 2009


All branches of the Free Library of Philadelphia, due to budget constraints, unless state legislators take action. Too bad legislators like tax cuts more than providing services for their constituents. Too bad more rich people don't use libraries.

In a related matter, I wonder if the Philadelphia Eagles have ponied up the $3 million they owe the city or if team owner Jeff Lurie is going to continue dicking around in the courts and paying well-heeled attorneys while the people who have supported his team for so long lose yet another service as the city goes broke.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009


While Washington conspires with lobbyists to deprive the American people of meaningful healthcare reform ...

The Census Bureau reports that the number of people lacking health insurance rose to 46.3 million in 2008.

That's up from 45.7 million in 2007, due to a continuing erosion of employer-provided insurance. Still, the level remained just below the peak of 47 million who were uninsured in 2006, because of the growth of government insurance programs such as Medicaid for the poor.

The nation's poverty rate increased to 13.2 percent, up from the 12.5 percent in 2007. That meant there were 39.8 million people living in poverty. It was the highest rate since 1997.
Is it any wonder that the insurance industry is pushing so hard for a mandate?

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Monday, September 07, 2009

100 Innings

I'm recovering from the 100 Innings of Baseball fundraiser for ALS research. The event was held Saturday through Sunday in Quincy, Mass. I've played plenty of night games, but I never watched the sun rise while playing the outfield before. There's something beautiful about dawn's early light on a baseball field -- especially one that's in use. But nothing compares to having my wife and daughter there to watch me play. Two images tattooed to my brain are my wife clapping after I singled and scored a run, and my daughter smiling while happily digging in the dirt behind the dugout.

Former Phillies and Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, a big supporter of ALS research, stopped by during the 95th inning to offer his support and say thanks. He chatted with the players, posed for a group photo and signed some baseballs.

The event raised $26,756 for ALS research so far. I say "so far" because even though the game is over, donations are being accepted for the next two weeks. To donate, click here. Anything you can spare will be a big help. Thank you to everyone who has been so generous in donating to support this great cause.

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