Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Compassion of Strangers #WATWB

Five months! #WATWB, or We are the World Blogfest, has been moving right along for five months now, with bloggers sharing stories of positive action of people for people to counter the flood of negative news and energy in the world right now. This month's hosts are Simon Falk, Roshan Radhakrishnan, Inderpreet Uppal, Sylvia Stein, and Damyanti Biswas. Check out their blogs, as well as others listed on Damyanti's blog, to read something positive in your world! My contribution is below.

When I first read this blogpost, the writer's courage blew me away. Yes, it takes a LOT of courage to be open about physical and psychological trauma suffered at the hands of a friend. Most people would want to hide away and not talk about it. The blogger, Laura, shares her story not only to reveal her trauma, but also to describe the amazing compassion of strangers that she encountered.

Glastonbury Festival in the UK is a performing arts festival that occurs every year in June. Laura had made plans with friends to go, but one of those friends proved to not be a trustworthy and respectful friend (which is an understatement). As a result, Laura faced the possibility of not being able to go to Glastonbury. But she did a courageous thing: she wrote to the Festival and described her dilemma. The Glastonbury Festival responded with such amazing understanding and compassion, they showed that loving kindness and caring are truly out there in the world for all to see. They protected Laura when she could not count on her "friends" to do so.

Photo courtesy LifeonLauraLane Blog

Bravo, Laura, for standing tall and being a survivor! And bravo to the Glastonbury Festival who hire such compassionate, protective, and supportive people to take care of their audience. For the complete story, please read Laura's blog post: "An Open Letter to Glastonbury, from a victim." 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

#WATWB Random Acts of Kindness Work

Rockwall, Texas -- the name certainly doesn't sound like it'd be the kind of place where people would join together to help out a young man with a strong work ethic. But that's indeed where just such a group of people came together to buy a car so a young man, Justin Korva, could get to work everyday.

A man, Andy Mitchell, who'd given Justin a ride one day and talked with him about his walking 3 miles to work and back each day, decided that he was going to do something to help this hard-working young man.

"Inspired by Korva’s determination to work hard and make something of himself, Mitchell installed a donation box at a restaurant, which raised the $5,500 needed to buy the Camry in less than a week."

To read the full story and see the full 7-minute video when they presented Justin with his new car, go to Huffington Post here.

From this story, I tend to think Rockwall, Texas, needs to change its name to Heart, Texas.  I love this story!

This is the fourth installment of the We Are the World Blogfest! Bloggers from all over the world come together the last Friday (or Saturday) of each month to share positive news about humanity to counter all the negative news that can feel so overwhelming at times. This month, #WATWB hosts are Belinda Witzenhausen, Lynn Hallbrooks, Michelle Wallace, Sylvia McGrath, and Sylvia Stein. Click on the name links to visit their blogs and read their positive news for June!

More next month!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

What is the Role of Insurance in Healthcare?

With the U.S. Senate snarking over a so-called replacement for the Affordable Care Act this week, and with all the talk anyway about the Affordable Care Act's success or failure, and the Republicans in Congress determined to get rid of it, maybe it's time to ask the question: What is the role of insurance in healthcare?

What does "healthcare" mean in America nowadays? Here's my understanding, based on my personal experience. I'll use myself, in fact, as the example. I develop physical symptoms that will not go away on their own or respond to my diligent self-care treatments. So I call my primary physician and make an appointment. When I go in to see my doctor, I provide updated information on what medications I'm taking, and any changes that may have occurred in my medical history such as a recent surgery. My doctor and I meet in an exam room.  I describe to her my symptoms. She gives me a physical exam around the symptoms to try to determine a cause. Doctors try to figure out not only if they're dealing with a disease process but also what the cause might be in order to prescribe the best treatment. My doctor's really smart. She figures out not only the disease but the cause and prescribes a medication that clears up the problem in two weeks.  This is healthcare.

Before about 1973, at this point, most people paid the doctor's bill and the pharmacy bill themselves. The costs were affordable. Insurance was for catastrophic costs such as for hospitalizations, cancer treatment, and surgery. After Congress passed legislation in 1973 that allowed insurance companies to make a profit, as I understand it, the insurance industry began to go after more business and offering more coverage possibilities.

Now, it's gotten more and more difficult to pay out of pocket for a doctor visit, for a medication, or for an X-ray. It's the same with dentists, also. And so the insurance industry steps in and offers to pay...for a price. That price may have nothing to do with healthcare but with control of access to healthcare.

This morning, I spotted a full-page ad in a magazine from a very large medical insurance company that will remain unidentified at this point. The ad copy (I used to write ad copy, by the way) talks about "helping" with both the challenges and opportunities of health care. Let's take a look at the specific ways the insurance company plans to help:
  • This company offers to provide "employers with data and insights that can improve health outcomes." I wonder what employers they have in mind.  Doctors? Because to my mind, doctors are the people who'd be interested in data regarding health outcomes, not, say, a company like a book publisher or convenience store chain. So what exactly is the insurance company saying?  That they have control over health outcomes? They could if they had control over who they covered and what they allowed as treatment. I suppose if they are interested in being the insurance company that covers a book publisher's employees, the book publisher would want to keep health insurance costs down, right? So the insurance company would give them different options to do that, right? Then provide the "data and insights" about how that's working out for them. This ultimately means that the insurance company will get involved in decision-making regarding treatments in order to keep costs down. Control.
  • The company says in the ad that they'll ensure "seniors have stability and choice in their benefits." Hmmmm. Medicare? Well, nowadays, private insurers offer Medicare plans with the blessing of Medicare. This makes me wonder why insurance companies are so against single-payer insurance when they're already involved with it. Once single-payer insurance was established, private insurers could transition to be the administrators in their areas. But then there goes the possibility of profit! And control. So they are very interested in maintaining the status quo.
  • Finally, they say they'll work "with governments to expand access to care, lower health care costs and improve quality." The first thing that leaps out at me about this point is that the word government is plural. Which governments? In other countries besides the US? They will expand access to care. That's a laugh. Not if they want to keep costs down. What insurance companies have been doing lately to keep costs down is to restrict access to care with networks and formularies and prior authorizations required. I already have experience with their "expertise" in lowering health care costs. Their methods involve denying coverage of medications, doctors, hospitals, and procedures; and doing everything they can to attract healthy people in order not to have to pay out claims.
The last paragraph in this ad is addressed to all who have "a passion to improve health care."  Well, you'd think that'd mean doctors and other medical professionals, right? But I suspect insurers are not at all concerned about working with medical professionals to improve health care.  They haven't addressed this ad to medical professionals.  They've addressed the ad to employers, seniors, and governments. I find it astonishing that a medical insurance company would place such an ad in the first place.

Americans need to establish what they want regarding help with their health care costs. Do they want an insurance company whose priority is their bottom line to make health care decisions for them? Or do they want health care decisions to remain where they belong -- doctors and patients?  If insurance companies could help by negotiating for lower costs from pharmaceutical companies, that would be a huge step in the right direction.  As it stands now, private insurers just drop a drug they don't want to pay for from their drug formularies.

How did medical costs get so high? Actually how did the costs of everything get so high?  Should medicine be a for-profit business in any part? I suspect that if pharmaceuticals is for-profit, that drives the cost increases in other areas of medicine. The bottom line is that the issue is not the Affordable Care Act. The issue is a for-profit insurance industry.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Paying it Forward #WATWB

What goes around, comes around. Treat others the way you want to be treated. We hear these sayings all our lives. I sometimes wonder just how much affect they have in what my father would call a "dog eat dog world."

But then I heard a short story on a local morning news story that spun my world around.

For my third contribution to the We Are The World Blogfest, I offer a story about a couple. the Ertls, who lost their child in the worst possible way -- as if there's a good way to lose a child -- through kidnapping and murder, and in the midst of their trauma and grief took notice of the way people rallied to support them, help them.  Family and friends, of course, but who really surprised them were the strangers that sent their compassionate prayers and support.

I remember seeing the news story about Alayna Ertl's disappearance last year. Learning what a sweet little girl she was only made the news of her kidnapping and murder a blacker hole that the world had fallen into. What do you do when your child has been ripped away from you?

The Ertls have defied the expected. My local CBS news broadcast the story earlier this week of what Alayna's parents chose to do to honor their child instead of lashing out in their pain. It is an example of paying it forward, of giving the best their humanity, as you'll see here: 

The last Friday of every month a group of bloggers spread some peace, love, and positive thinking about humanity by sharing stories of the best of humanity. This month's blogfest is hosted by
Emerald Barnes,  Eric Lahti, Inderpreet UppalLynn HallbrooksPeter Nena, Roshan Radhakrishnan. Visit their blogs to learn more!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Why I Love Classical Music

Lately, the world has been an awful place, and frankly, we have no one to blame but ourselves. I could list all the events and people that have made the world such an awful place, but I think you already know the contents of that list.

What are the things that make this time bearable? Sleep.  I've been far more fatigued lately than usual. Sleep and dreaming. Sunshine. Birdsong. Cats. And actually at the top of my list is classical music. Perhaps some of you would include Rock or Jazz or popular music or even specific performing artists who help to make your world bearable right now. For me, it's classical music. Why?

Please allow me to use a recent example.  A month ago, I attended a Minnesota Orchestra concert in Orchestra Hall, downtown Minneapolis. I've written about this orchestra before, its artistic excellence and some of the sublime music that it makes under the baton of its Music Director Osmo Vanska. I love that the Twin Cities has this orchestra, and a superb chamber orchestra across the river in St. Paul: the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. For large symphonic music, I go to Orchestra Hall to be transported to another realm and to be transformed by the Minnesota Orchestra.

A month ago, the program began with the ultimate in sublime: the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major. There were 3 soloists -- a violinist and 2 flutists (instead of the usual 2 recorders) -- and the orchestra was a small one with harpsichord. The joy in this music comes from the melodic order and the comforting sound of this combination of musical instruments. My body relaxed, but my mind was right there with the musical notes dancing through the air.  The musicians must have complete concentration as well. Like the example below, they played without a conductor.

Modern music begins with J. S. Bach with his robust clarity, passionate logic, and sublime orderliness. I remember studying his music as a music student, and all the rules that applied to his music. Hearing his music in concert both calms and energizes. (It was Bach's keyboard preludes and fugues that taught me how to think in layers.)

When we think of the British, it's usually their stoicism in the face of adversity that comes to mind, not passion, romanticism, or whimsy. And certainly Edward Elgar, the composer of any number of Pomp and Circumstance marches, does not immediately pop into mind for passionate music. But he was quite capable of writing music of the most profound emotion, and his Cello Concerto in E minor traverses the human heart and soul with its sound of loss and acceptance.

This concerto was the second piece on the program with cello soloist Alban Gerhardt who made the cello sing in a white heat of emotion in sound. He and the orchestra musicians were so in sync that it was like they were breathing the music together. Elgar begins with a bold statement from the cello before introducing the elegiac theme in the orchestra. This theme will haunt the rest of the concerto. But there were moments of whimsy also, even playfulness, in exchanges between orchestra and soloist. This is music one feels in one's body, in the pulse of blood, and in the vibrations of cells. I felt that for the first time, I'd truly heard this concerto and what it had to say to me.

In contrast, Gerhardt played an encore from a J. S. Bach unaccompanied suite for cello. I'm not certain from which suite, or which movement from that suite, only that it was Bach's voice, orderly, soothing, compassionate, and bold. It was a lovely echo of the Bach that opened the concert.

After the intermission in this concert, Osmo Vanska conducted the orchestra in Franz Schubert's Symphony in C major, "The Great." Schubert's music tends to be much lighter than Elgar, singing more like the human voice than any other musical instrument, and at times with a joyful dancing quality. His C major symphony, however, tends to be a bit darker and heavier, and Vanska seemed to emphasize this by employing a full complement of strings rather than scaling down those sections. Schubert's musical voice always makes me think of a time when people lived without technology, but with the same human concerns we have now. I think of Schubert as loving life, loving Vienna, and loving to make music, and that's what I hear in his music.

Music is the sound of human emotion. It connects people in ways that simple conversation cannot, and certainly also affects the human body. I've had the experience of listening to music and my blood pressure lowering, my pulse rate slowing, and my whole body relaxing. Music gives me joy and it gives me hope in people and life.  If we are still playing and listening to music, the world cannot be such a terrible place.