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Show Me the Money

By Erica Balk  Posted by Bia Winter (about the submitter)     Permalink
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OPEN LETTER: To Our U.S. Senators: Show Me the Money

Are you public servants, or political servants? I'm hoping for the former, but I fear it's the latter.

by ERICA BALK
Dear U.S. Senators:

 

Capitalism needs to be removed from healthcare. This one issue is going to bankrupt this country.
I myself rarely take the time to communicate with my elected representatives. But I'm beginning to feel that we all must take the time out of our lives to let you all know how we feel.

We have so many problems here in Michigan that aren't being addressed at all. I'm a Finance Manager for the Public Works Department in Lansing. We work pretty closely with the State, and I can tell you we're in deep trouble over here. Before you go blaming it all on our dependence on the automotive industry (which admittedly has put us at a disadvantage for the current economic environment), let me point out that our governor is doing a lot to bring in technology-based industries and reduce that dependence. In the meantime, we're bleeding jobs, and therefore bleeding revenues that we need to keep the infrastructure of the community going. We're looking at a 25% reduction in Act 51 funds this coming year, which means less money to fix the roads, and even more importantly, less money to clear snow and ice during bad weather. The City of Lansing is running a $13 million deficit, and the State of Michigan is running a $1 billion deficit. Five years ago we were in the black—had surpluses in fact.

Lack of revenues due to an economy on the downslide is one factor, but do you know what's really killing us in City government? Healthcare, plain and simple. We paid $25 million for employee healthcare benefits (for a work force of fewer than 2000 employees) in 2005. In 2006, that went up another 10%. Our current fringe rate is 112%. So an employee making $25K annually is costing another $28K in benefits. That's projected to increase another 25% in the coming year. We're looking at laying off about one quarter of our regular work force. Police and Fire are political hotbuttons, so they won't be touched. But the folks who keep the City clean, maintain the roads and sewers, keep our water clean, and work in revenue-generating sectors such as Parks and Rec, Parking, Income Tax and Treasury, are all on the block. When those people are laid off, they will no longer have health benefits, along with thousands of others in this state that are in the same predicament. When that happens, these folks will go to the doctor only when they're sick, probably to the ER. They won't be able to pay for it, but the cost will get passed on to those people who are insured. This will cause insurance premiums to rise again. Fewer employers will be able to afford the cost, so more people will lose their insurance benefits. And the cycle continues.

Is it any wonder that major employers who can move their operations outside of the U.S. do so? Even if they pay the exact same wages to foreign employees, they're going to increase their bottom line by 10% off the bat by not paying these benefits.

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And insurance companies aren't alone in this. The drug companies that proclaim that prices must be so high so they may fund more research and development, spend billions on advertising. Next time you're in a restaurant or at a retailer, see if the pen they hand you to sign your credit card receipt doesn't have a drug name on it. When you get a sample of a drug from your doctor, how elaborate is the packaging? And when you turn on your television, how many commercials for specific drugs go across the screen in an hour?

I was hospitalized in November for less than 72 hours. The bill was $8000. I am fortunate to be insured, but I do get the itemized bill. I was charged $14 for two regular-strength run-of-the-mill Tylenol. Another drug they gave me cost $38.50 per pill. I was sent home without my problem being resolved, and told to monitor my diet. This is insane!

There seems to be a competition between the insurance companies and drug companies (in their glass and steel palaces...some of the most costly buildings in the world) to see who can make the most money. And the patient gets the short end of the stick. Advertising by drug companies should be illegal. Advertising by insurance companies is questionable, but more understandable given that they are in direct competition for the consumer dollar. Drug companies, however, should be limiting their advertising to health care providers, who should be the ones making the decisions about what medications to prescribe, not the patients themselves. Capitalism needs to be removed from healthcare. This one issue is going to bankrupt this country, and we're the only advanced country in the world that runs our healthcare system this way. The money being spent in Iraq on a monthly basis could fund a public health care system. But that would take a lot of money out of a lot of people's pockets, wouldn't it?

So to circle back to my original statement, I'm not naive enough to believe that the United States can function as an island. We can't. But we don't need to have our fingers in every little pie around the world. And stop lying to us about this "war on terror." That is such a ridiculous concept. We won't end terrorism by making war on any one country. People who commit acts of terror exist in every country in the world, and there's no way to prevent every possible act. And taking leaders who promote terrorism out of power won't stop it either. Most of the terrorists who are really commited have their basis in extremist religious doctrine, not in political power bases. You've been getting away with it by preying on the fears of a largely uneducated American public. And we breed our own terrorists right here in the good old U S of A, but they tend to be white males between the ages of 25 and 45, or have we already forgotten Timothy McVeigh, the Unabomber, the abortion clinic bombings in the South and in Boston...need I go on?

And how can we continue to give money to other governments? I manage our personal finances, as well as those of my employer. When my checkbook's in the red, I tell charities that I just can't afford to give. The bills need to be paid and I need to buy groceries first. That only makes sense. But our government seems to operate on the concept that as long as there are checks in the checkbook, we can go on spending.

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I am commited to the concept that the citizens are my employer, and I owe them the best possible job I can do. I'm even willing to take a pay cut to accomplish it. How about all of you in Washington?

I am a true Public Servant. Everything I do goes directly to the health and safety of the Citizens of Lansing. I'm a good steward. I cut costs wherever I can, and attempt to maintain the funding to provide the same high level of service to our public. My staff spends absolutely no money that isn't absolutely necessary, and they work their tails off. Due to staff cuts I've got one employee who is doing three people's jobs. She's a single mother with three children at home. Yet she never complains, or shows frustration to the citizens she serves. She is a true public servant. I am commited to the concept that the citizens are my employer, and I owe them the best possible job I can do. I'm even willing to take a pay cut to accomplish it. How about all of you in Washington? Are you public servants, or political servants? I'm hoping for the former, but I fear it's the latter.

(Originally published in the Baltimore Chronicle) 

 

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