Sunday, March 28, 2010

Shame on you Tom Corbett!

One of the serendipities of the courses I teach is that often the news is filled with real life examples of the theories and concepts we discuss in class. Such has been the case this spring in my Leadership Development course. We have been studying the process of individual, organizational and social change for the last two weeks as the Health Care Reform bill went through the final stages to completion. Last week we discussed John Kotter's Eight Stage Process of Change. Like any theory or model, Kotter's model is far neater on paper than in real life. Yet as we have seen the health care reform become reality, we have seen the wisdom of Kotter's analysis.

Step 7 in Kotter's model is "Consolidate Gains." In essence what the model suggests is that just because a change has been made, that does not mean that the forces of resistance won't continue to push and fight to turn back the change that has just been enacted. So for those who have worked for change (or for that matter, worked against change), it should be no surprise that the anti-health care folks are still fighting. Even now Republicans are vowing to make health care repeal an issue in the fall. I am with President Obama when he says "Bring it on!" I want to see the candidate who can justify being against providing health care to students, unemployed workers, and young children. Oh they will find a way to make it sound like Obama has instituted communism, but go ahead make your case.

What is more disconcerting is the 12 Attorneys General, including Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, who are suing the Federal government for infringing on their state's rights not to provide health care. In Pennsylvania, Corbett is running for governor, so this is his platform. Outgoing Democratic governor, Ed Rendell is cooperating with the Justice department against his own attorney general. These indeed are strange times we live in! As a Pennsylvanian, I am embarrassed and outraged at Corbett's moves. However, it reminds me that the change enacted last week is not consolidated. So the work must continue, and indeed we all should contact our legislators to ensure that this landmark legislation is not undermined by some Republican lackeys for the health care industry.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Big Government or Big Business - Hold Your Nose Because Both Stink!

Last May my daughter graduated from college. Because of the recession, she has not been able to find a full time job. In October she caught a virus (not H1N1 gratefully) and had to go to a hospital emergency room. She had no health insurance. As a single person with no job picking up the health insurance tab, she was on her own. We helped her pay the bill, but it brought home in a deeply personal way, the need for health care reform in this country.

This coming week the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a Health Care Reform bill. While I am in support of passing the bill, I do so holding my nose at the inadequacy of this proposed bill. In my mind it is better than nothing because people unable to afford health insurance will have an option, but the failure of the Congress, particularly the Democrats, to really tackle the problem of exorbitant costs and rapacious profits of the health insurance companies is both damning and discouraging.

For example in an appearance before Congress, Angela Braly, CEO of Wellpoint Health, the parent of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, with a straight face justified a 39% hike in premium costs in California, while she admitted to a nearly $200 million salary. In fact this year was one of Wellpoint’s most profitable.(See a clip of Ms.Braly's testimony here.) While the conservatives are shouting that the health care bill is “big government” because the bill uses taxpayer money, we need to also recognize that the bill provides subsidies to be paid to health insurance companies without any significant effort to rein in their profits and premiums. While I do not doubt the cost to the government in this bill, what is unconscionable is the unprecedented profits to the health insurance companies. Whether the bill passes or fails, the health insurance companies like Braly’s Wellpoint will still come out making billions.

I am reminded of how following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit in 2005, the oil companies jacked up their prices to over $4/gallon because their “refineries were down.” Amazingly, the oil companies posted record profits that year. It was so nice of oil companies to share their pain with us! Now the banks and the health insurance companies are doing the same. The population as a whole suffers and tiny elite profits in ways that are beyond imagining. When companies began becoming “incorporated” in the late 1800’s, part of the understanding with becoming incorporated was that a company would do business with the common good in mind. Tragically, with many companies, especially banks, big business and now health insurance companies, that is no longer the case.

In a recent article Trudy Rubin discussed the government provided health care in several European countries. While the French and the Germans provide health care for all their citizens at 10 and 11% of their GDP respectively, the US spends 17% of its GDP on health care and doesn’t cover everyone. Whereas US health insurance companies generally have 20% overhead (for those bloated salaries, stock options, and other executive perks), France and Germany spend only 5% in administrative costs. France and Germany don’t have to advertise their health care as it is provided to all. However in this country the health care industry invests millions of dollars in is lobbyists and advertisements that obfuscate the true state of our health care system, and redirect our attention away from the abysmal quality of life of millions of people in this country must endure.

Last summer when Pres. Obama started proposing the health care reform bill, it included price controls and the so-called “public option,” which put the for profit companies in competition with a non-profit provider. Now all of that is gone. If the bill passes, it will hopefully enable my daughter to get affordable health care; we’ll see. However, whatever company she chooses to go with, it will not be making any sacrifices to make health care available to her or anyone else.

Yes there will be a big price tag for health care, but let’s be honest and note where those dollars are going --- right into the pockets of the companies that already have been sticking it to us all along…and unfortunately will continue to do so, no matter what. So the argument about big government is only true because big business is ripping us all off.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Seeking Leaders of Grit and Integrity

During our recent trip to Atlanta, my wife and I took the better part of a morning to tour the Carter Center and Library, the presidential library dedicated to preserving the memory of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. What both amazed and troubled us was the current relevance of the words and actions of Carter’s presidency. While his presidency (1977-1981) was overshadowed and ultimately undermined by the Iranian hostage crisis, many of the issues that Barack Obama is seeking to address today, were very much on Jimmy Carter’s agenda in the late 1970’s. Carter was a strong advocate for universal health care reform and energy efficiency (Carter is often remembered and ridiculed for encouraging people to turn down their thermostats and wearing sweaters, and encouraging the auto industry to develop more energy efficient cars). He was a strong advocate for peace in the Middle East, having mediated a lasting peace between Israel and Egpyt. Moreover, Carter presided over an economic recession and called for wealthy people and businesses to contribute their fair share. Carter was also a strong advocate for civil rights and was a man of unimpeachable integrity.

As my wife and I read Carter’s words on these and other issues, we were struck with how little our culture has moved from it’s bellicose, gas guzzling, pro-wealthy strategies. We could not help but see the parallels between the challenges Obama faces today and Carter faced over 30 years ago. When Ronald Reagan was elected president, he removed several of the environmentally-friendly policies of Carter, he released the controls on big business, and ushered in an era of increasing and growing disparity between the rich and poor. So here we are again with Obama addressing the same issues Carter warned us about 30 years ago.

As I walked through the Carter Center I was filled with feelings of appreciation and regret. When Carter ran for re-election in 1980, I did not vote for him; I voted for the third party candidate, John Anderson. Like many people, I was disappointed with Carter’s apparent lack of leadership. What I didn’t realize was that Reagan would so completely undo the good Carter accomplished, and undermine so much of the good he accomplished.

The other day I received a call from the Democratic Party seeking a donation for the upcoming Congressional mid-term elections. I turned them down and said I would focus on my local candidates. At the time I was not sure I was actually going to do that, but after reflecting on my visit to the Carter Center, I realize that we need to find candidates with integrity and with a progressive agenda in regards to health care, economic reform and creative solutions for seeking Middle Eastern peace. So often when I look at what goes on in Congress, all I see is a bunch of hypocrites pointing fingers, while taking contributions from corporations, pharmaceutical companies and other special interest groups. I don’t see many folks who care about the poor or the needs of the marginalized in our society (including undocumented immigrants). I don’t see leaders who are willing to step up and actually make universal health care a reality. I don’t see leaders who are willing to seek creative avenues for peace. However, they are out there; there are occasional politicians of grit and integrity like Jimmy Carter, and like Barack Obama.

I must admit that in recent years I have become cynical about our democracy. It appears that our representative democracy only represents those with the fattest checkbooks. However, I realize anew that I can’t make the same mistake I made about Jimmy Carter. He has done a great deal of good since leaving office, but another 4 years in office might have led to a far different result today. Perhaps we would not still be trying to pass health care reform; perhaps we would be much further ahead in the battle against global warming; perhaps the poor would have more dignity. Touring the Carter Center reminded me that the battle for justice and peace is an uphill battle, and those politicians willing to wage that battle deserve and need our support.