Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Moved to new site ... www.despinakarras.com

Thanks to all of you who have been following my blog!

Things have been pretty quiet around here for the last week as I've been preparing to move to my new site: www.despinakarras.com.

The site is up as of today. I'm still putting the finishing touches on it, but it's almost there. I hope you all enjoy the new design!

If you have comments or feedback, feel free to leave a comment on the new site, email me (despina.karras@gmail.com), or send me a Tweet!

I look forward to chatting politics with you on the new site!

Despina

Monday, September 14, 2009

Otto Raddatz: WSJ sheds light on his story.

President Obama has repeated a couple of heart-wrenching stories during his sales pitches for his health care reforms this summer. A little less than a month ago, I got curious about one of these stories -- the one about the man whose insurance policy was revoked while he was in the middle of chemotherapy. According to the President, the insurance company claimed that he had lied on his application, failing to admit to a history of gallstones.

Given our President's tendency to distort facts, I looked into the story of this Illinois man, who I found out was Mr. Otto Raddatz. And, it turned out the President's version of what happened to Mr. Raddatz was untrue. Since then, I've been wondering if anyone in the media would pick up on this story, and finally, Scott Harrington did so today in the WSJ.

Below is a reposting of my original piece on the American Issues Project Blog on August 23, 2009.

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Debunking willful misrepresentations in the health care debate: the story of Otto Raddatz

President Obama used his weekly address yesterday to "debunk[] some of the more outrageous myths circulating on the internet, on cable TV, and repeated at some town halls across this country." If we're clearing the air of falsehoods related to health care, then there is one story in particular that the President himself has referred to on a number of occasions that he should have corrected. That is the story of an Illinois businessman named Otto Raddatz.

At a town hall forum in New Hampshire on August 11, referring to Mr. Raddatz, President Obama said:

"Another [man] lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because the insurance company discovered he had gall stones that he hadn't known about when he applied for insurance. Now, that is wrong, and that will change when we pass health care reform. That is going to be a priority."


A few days later at a town hall in Montana, the President repeated this story.

"One man from Illinois lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because his insurer discovered he hadn't reported gall stones he didn't know about. True story. Because his treatment was delayed, he died. "


And on August 15, Obama penned an op-ed in the New York Times titled, "Why We Need Health Care Reform" where he repeated the story for a third time.

"A man lost his health coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because the insurance company discovered that he had gallstones, which he hadn’t known about when he applied for his policy. Because his treatment was delayed, he died."


The story the President relates of this innocent person who played by the rules and maintained insurance only to have it fail him in his time of a need is indeed a powerful, persuasive story ... except that it's not entirely true.

Here's the true story, based on testimony from Mr. Raddatz's sister at a hearing before the House of Representatives' on June 16, 2009.

Mr. Raddatz was a restaurant owner in Illinois who purchased an individual insurance policy for himself and his wife in 2003. On the original insurance application, he indicated that he had a history of kidney stones and was a smoker. A year into the policy, at the age of 59, Mr. Raddatz found himself losing weight rapidly and sought medical attention. It was then that he was diagnosed with stage four non-Hodgkins type lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. After undergoing a series of chemotherapy and drug treatments, he was referred to a specialist for high-dose chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.

At that time, he was informed by his insurer that his insurance was being cancelled due to his failure to disclose material information about his medical history - namely that he had a history of gall stones and an aneurysm. As it turns out, Mr. Raddatz was unaware of this diagnosis, having never been given the test results this information came from.

This happened just as Mr. Raddatz was told that he only had a 3-4 week window in which to get the stem cell transplant he needed. With his insurance rescinded, he could not afford to pay for the procedure out-of-pocket. His sister, Peggy Raddatz, reached out to the Illinois Attorney General's office who reviewed the situation and sent two letters to the insurance company arguing that Mr. Raddatz had not lied to the insurance company since he had been unaware of the test results and had in fact, never received any treatment for either of those issues.

The insurance company reinstated his insurance policy. He went on to receive the stem cell transplant, "which was extremely successfully" and enabled him to live for three and a half more years. He passed away when, while being scheduled to have a second transplant, his donor suddenly died.

Now in President Obama's version of the story, Mr. Raddatz died because his treatment was delayed. That is a lie. Mr. Raddatz's story is powerful in terms of illustrating problems with the insurance industry. It is particularly relevant that he was self-insured, given the problems with the individual insurance market, the low numbers and high turnover of participants and the lack of tax benefits which make it less attractive to individuals. All of this makes the pool of participants amongst which claims can be distributed even smaller, resulting in higher costs to individuals and the insurance companies themselves.

But, that wasn't the President's point. He didn't tell this story to promote reforms in the individual insurance market, to make it equitable with employer-based insurance by giving it the same tax benefits or allowing people to purchase insurance from any state they'd like. Instead, this was a story, much like the cases of tonsil-removing, foot-amputating doctors, that was meant to vilify the insurance industry and exploit people's emotions given the tragic ending Mr. Raddatz faced at the hands of his evil insurance company under President Obama's made-up version of the story. If, as he said this weekend, President Obama really wants to open a new chapter, "not one dominated by willful misrepresentations and outright distortions", then perhaps he should start leading by example.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Questions for President Obama

Yesterday, while listening to the President's remarks at the Pentagon, I was struck by the apathy, the flatness of the words he chose and the language he used to describe the 9/11 attacks.

The President remarked:
"Let us renew our resolve against those who perpetrated this barbaric act and who plot against us still. In defense of our nation we will never waver; in pursuit of al Qaeda and its extremist allies, we will never falter.

Most of all, on a day when others sought to sap our confidence, let us renew our common purpose.

This may be the greatest lesson of this day, the strongest rebuke to those who attacked us, the highest tribute to those taken from us -- that such sense of purpose need not be a fleeting moment. "


The strongest words he used in his entire speech were 'barbaric', 'extremist' and 'attack''. He didn't mention the words murder, terrorism or war in his speech. "On a day when others sought to sap our confidence," he said. To sap our confidence? Doesn't he mean on a day when innocent American lives were specifically targeted by terrorists? And that those terrorists wanted to make us tremble in fear to spread their suicidal message of Jihad? That is, to show the world that the American 'infidels' had hell to pay for our very way of life?

The President stayed away from using any such harsh language. But, "sap our confidence"? Surely, he could have chosen words better suited to show that on his first 9/11, he stood with the victims, the families of the victims and with the rest of America in opposition to these deathmongers who instigated the deadliest attack on our soil in history.

But, the excerpt above was the extent of his mentioning the 9/11 attackers. I could only shake my head reading and rereading the President's comments. Just a few days ago, he spoke about his health care proposals more passionately than he did about the attacks on 9/11.

This prompted me to write this tweet:
"Chilling, hard to listen to. http://bit.ly/11Mrf8 Yet a reminder of the evil, not barbaric Mr. Pres. ,but evil that killed so many innocent.


I wrote that on 9/11. And I tried to bite my tongue for the rest of that day. And, it's for that reason that I'm posting this on 9/12, because I believe 9/11 should be a day reserved for remembering and honoring those whose were brutally and suddenly taken from their loved ones. 9/11 is a day we should all strive to remember what unites us, not what divides us.

So today, I'd like to share some of my thoughts on our President. The truth is, I disagree with President Obama's policies almost across the board. My convictions and my vision for the country are fundamentally opposed to the big-government policies Obama espouses.

But, when I disagree with someone's politics, I try to remind myself that while the means may vary, our intentions, on the left and on the right, are the same -- to implement policies that we believe are right for our country. I have reminded myself of this often since the President's days on the campaign trail because even then, when his rhetoric was more centrist, I saw him as an extreme leftist that would push our country in a totally new direction if elected, as he promised -- or threatened depending on your view of him.

But, I'm not so sure I can give our President this benefit of the doubt anymore. I don't know if his decisions are based on what's best for the country, what's best for the politicians in Washington or what's best for certain groups of people he backs, like unions for example. From his decision to appoint Eric Holder, who orchestrated the pardoning of Puerto Rican nationalist terrorists by going so far as to write their apologies when they refused to, to his decision to close Guantanamo and strip the CIA of the power to question suspects who are deemed national security threats (without undertaking any examination of the strategies and reasoning behind the former administration's decisions), I don't know that he sees the world as I do. That he sees America as many of us do. That he takes threats to our national security as seriously as he should. Or really, when it comes down to it, that he loves and respects America.

It seems that he exploits every opportunity he has to centralize power, even stripping the CIA and the military of their authority where he can.

While our President opted out of visiting New York City on the anniversary of 9/11, he penned an op-ed in the New York Post. He stated:

"And in the policies and principles that guide our efforts, we are reaffirming a simple truth: that our strength as a nation comes not only from the might of our military, but also the power of our fundamental values."


I recognize that this President is seen as a supreme communicator, and maybe this is just too far above my pragmatic head, but what does this mean? His op-ed must be understood within the context of 9/11, in which he remembers what began our current struggle against the "real and present danger posed by violent extremists who would use terrorism against Americans." And so, he continues reassuring the reader that his administration is "providing the necessary resources and strategies to take the fight to the extremists." And, he goes down the list of measures: investing in intelligence and military capabilities, increasing the Army and Marine Corps, making efforts toward securing non-proliferation, building partnerships with allies and then he concludes by talking about these "fundamental values" and our "common sense of purpose" that he says provide us strength to defend ourselves alongside our military's might.

So I have to ask, how does pitting the Attorney General against the CIA strengthen us? How does creating a new interrogation task force to be overseen by the FBI, instead of the CIA, strengthen us? How does spending more than all of the Presidents in our history combined strengthen us? How does backing legislation that deprives workers of the right to vote on unionizing via secret ballot strengthen us? What fundamental values do these policies suggest, and how do they strengthen our nation in our ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and the larger war on terror throughout the world? How do they strengthen us in fighting against violent, Jihadist terrorists that seek our demise?

President Obama has been hailed as one of the greatest communicators of our time. As you can probably tell by now, I don't find this to be true. I think the utopian speech he uses, with its grand gestures, leaves much to be desired, particularly in the way of specifics. And I believe that this vague manner of speaking has started working against him -- first when it came to spending and the stimulus, then with regard to the debate over health care this summer and yesterday, on 9/11.

These questions, about the President's intentions, about his view of America, the Constitution, individual liberty and economic freedom -- these are questions every American needs to ask themselves. And on 9/11, I found myself wondering if President Obama believes, like his spiritual mentor of twenty years, Rev. Wright, that America had it coming? Does he believe that those terrorists that murdered so many in cold blood on that day were pure evil, not just barbaric and uncivilized as he stated, but cold and calculating evildoers? Had he not found himself in the middle of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, how would he have responded on 9/11? Does he believe in the Afghanistan war as he says he does, or is he just an opportunist who knew that the 'war of necessity' in Afghanistan would read better to those answering the polls?

I don't know the answers to all of these questions. But, I do know that when you stack them up side by side, the facts start to paint a picture of a President whose intentions for the country are to take it in a direction so different from our deep-rooted traditions. That is why all those people marched in Washington and throughout the country today, because they believe, like I do, that this country, this great melting pot that was built on freedom is the greatest country in the world. And I don't believe anymore that this President agrees.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering Mary Jo Kimelman - A Kid At Heart, Taken Too Soon

Today, as part of Project 2,996, I am honoring Mary Jo Kimelman. Mary Jo was working at Cantor Fitzgerald, on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center, when she was taken from her family and friends on the morning of September 11, 2001.



Here is a portrait of Mary Jo published by The New York Times in 2001.

Mary Jo Kimelman: 'Time Out New York,' Live
Published: Saturday, December 8, 2001

Whenever friends or friends of friends came to town, Mary Jo Kimelman eagerly became their tour guide. She knew so much about happenings in New York City that her mother once called her "Time Out New York," after the magazine.

Ms. Kimelman, 34, was always a taker when people had an extra ticket to concerts or sporting events. She often read poetry at clubs in Greenwich Village and ran up on stage when bands invited audience members to sing. About two years ago, Ms. Kimelman impressed her friends by belting out a Melissa Etheridge tune at a bar near Wall Street. "At the beginning she was a little nervous," said her friend Carolynn Kutz. "But once she started going, she let it rip. The band helped her along and she shined."

Ms. Kimelman was passionate about photography and travel and was particularly smitten with Paris. She mused about getting executives at Cantor Fitzgerald, where she worked as a volume control clerk, to transfer her there. "We always got a kick out of that," said her [step]mother, Pat Kimelman. "I said, `Mary, maybe you should learn to speak French first. You should go to London.' But she happened to like Paris better."


In addition to being her own "Time Out New York", Mary Jo's mother, Terre Wallach, recalled, "no one had more fun than Mary Jo."

Her stepmother said, "She could be a kid with the kids ... crawl around the floor and make them laugh."

And she had plenty of opportunity to let the kid inside of her out when she spent time with her six nieces and nephews.

When she wasn't hitting the town or sharing laughs with her family, Mary Jo poured her heart out through her writing. Her choice of medium was poetry. Her boyfriend, Thierry LeBras, recalled that just before 9/11, she had read her poetry at a show in the East Village.

"She wrote about everything," her mother said. "She shared her father's interest in food and wine. She had so many interests."

Mary Jo wore her heart on her sleeve. She was always there for everyone. Her boyfriend said, "She had this special talent of listening to people that she had just met. She would talk [to them] about their lives."

And, she would talk to co-workers about her life and how she dreamed of being transferred to work in Paris. Her family would tease her, saying she should explore other options, that she should visit London first. But Paris had a special place in Mary Jo's heart.

Mary Jo was taken away well before her time, but she embraced life and had a vivacious spirit that we remember today. They say it doesn't matter how one dies, but how one lives. And Mary Jo lived her life to the fullest and touched everyone she met during her young 34 years.

She would have been 42 years old this year. She might have published her poetry. Had a family of her own. Taken that trip to London. Maybe even moved to Paris. But a group of people who didn't know Mary Jo, or her father Michael Kimelman, her mother Terre Wallach, her sister Dara Berliner or her brothers Michael and Scott Kimelman, set off a chain of events that took the lives of Mary Jo and 2,9995 other victims 8 years ago today.

Today we remember and honor Mary Jo. I hope that Mary Jo's family has found some comfort, and I know that she is watching over them with that same vibrant spirit she had here on earth. We will never forget you. May you rest in peace Mary Jo.

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To read more tributes to the victims of 9/11, visit Project 2,996 and Friends of Project 2,996.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Durbin getting all snarky with a constituent

Thanks to Ed Morrissey for providing this clip of my Senator, Dick Durbin, at a townhall event yesterday evening. Of course, I didn't know about the townhall until I saw this clip, on a national web site, but I'm sure that's how Durbin wanted it anyway.

Not only was Durbin clueless when it came to individual mandates in the House bill (which really, by this time, you don't even have to have read the bill to know it includes individual mandates), but he continued to spread misinformation about our current system as a way of justifying his government-centric health care goals - namely, that most bankruptcies are caused by medical problems. My stomach hurts at the idea of listening to him closely enough to transcribe where he addresses this, but here goes anyway.

"I'm glad for your experience and that you came out of it without debt, but you are an exception. When you look at the filings for personal bankruptcy in America today, 31% were for medical bills just a few years ago, that's doubled. And, it turns out that of the 62% who are filing for personal and family bankruptcy because of medical bills, 78% have health insurance. It's just not good health insurance, and it doesn't cover them...a lot of people are facing bankruptcy today because they're not in that good position. And, I'd like to take you back to one sentence you said, the government is going to force us to take an option. Listen to what you said. It's an option. If you don't want to choose the government plan, you don't have to. It's an option. You can choose private health insurance."

I'm no math whiz, but Durbin thinks that 62% of individual bankruptcies are because of medical bills that pile up. First of all, even under his own theory, he says that close to 80% of those people have health insurance, but it just doesn't work for them. That's false; the controversial study he's referencing states that nearly 2/3 of personal bankruptcies are due to uninsured medical treatment and loss of coverage. Brett Skinner of AEI's The American analyzed the study and also compared American and Canadian rates of bankruptcy due to medical reasons, since Canada already has the type of system we're heading toward.
"Th[is] medical bankruptcy study has been soundly refuted by several researchers. This includes critiques published by David Dranove and Michael Millenson in Health Affairs and a working paper by the American Enterprise Institute’s Aparna Mathur.

The idea that large numbers of Americans are declaring bankruptcy due to medical expenses is a myth. Dranove and Millenson critically analyzed the data from the 2005 edition of the medical bankruptcy study. They found that medical spending was a contributing factor in only 17 percent of U.S. bankruptcies. They also reviewed other research, including studies by the Department of Justice, finding that medical debts accounted for only 12 percent to 13 percent of the total debts among American bankruptcy filers who cited medical debt as one of their reasons for bankruptcy.

As for the notion that greater government involvement in health insurance will reduce bankruptcy, it is helpful to compare personal bankruptcy rates in the United States and Canada. Unlike the United States, Canada has a universal, government-run health insurance system. Following the logic of Himmelstein and colleagues, we should therefore expect to observe a lower rate of personal bankruptcy in Canada compared to the United States.

Yet the evidence shows that in the only comparable years, personal bankruptcy rates were actually higher in Canada. Personal bankruptcy filings as a percentage of the population were 0.20 percent in the United States during 2006 and 0.27 percent in 2007. In Canada, the numbers are 0.30 percent in both 2006 and 2007. The data are from government sources and defined in similar ways for both countries and cover the time period after the legal reforms to U.S. bankruptcy laws in 2005 and before the onset of the 2008 economic recession.

The truth is that the majority of debt among bankrupt consumers in both Canada and the United States is comprised of non-medical expenditures and therefore has little to do with health insurance coverage.

On the rare occasion that medical debts do partially contribute to bankruptcy, they likely accumulate from patients’ demands for the kinds of expensive, cutting-edge or end-of-life treatments that would never be covered by government insurance anyway. It is a fact that many of these same types of expensive treatments are increasingly not insured by government healthcare in Canada. Survey research commissioned by the Canadian government found that despite having a government-run health system, medical reasons (including uninsured expenses), were cited as the primary cause of bankruptcy by approximately 15 percent of bankrupt Canadian seniors (55 years of age and older).

There is no objective evidence to indicate that a government-run health care system in the United States will reduce personal bankruptcies. The U.S.-Canada comparative analysis strongly suggests that bankruptcy statistics are being exaggerated and distorted for political reasons."


The Dranove and Millenson study Skinner cites found that among the 17% whose bankruptcies appear to be linked to an inability to pay their medical bills, most have income within the poverty level. They certainly don't have private insurance that doesn't work for them as Durbin suggested.

And it's no wonder Durbin didn't want to hold any town hall forums this summer when his strongest argument was, look at the phrase you used, public option. What should he have called it? The public-no-other-option? The step 1 to single-payer public option? I mean, come on, that's all you've got Senator? Your only answer is to play semantics with a man who got up and told you his personal health story of overcoming Hodgkins lymphoma, and you remind him of the label Democrats chose to place on this monstrous transformation of our health care system? Perhaps you raise a good point; perhaps those of us that are anti-ObamaCare ought to stop calling it an 'option' altogether since it's been shown over and over that that term is clearly not based in reality.

Or, here's another thought Senator. Before you start getting all clever on us with your word games, and before you have another panel discussion about health care, how about you sit down and at the very least, even if you don't read the House bill since I guess that would be beneath you as a Senator (and you wouldn't have time for that given all that you've been...hey, what exactly have you been working on all summer? This constituent would like to know, but I digress...), why don't you at least do some research and inform yourself as to what the issues are before you start accusing others of 'misrepresenting the issues', 'sucker-punching their opponents' and 'engaging in political theater'?