First, a study by Families USA, the health care advocacy group. They've done a state-by-state assessment of health insrance premium costs. Nationally, the costs of premiums rose by about 75 percent betwen 2000 and 2007. That's about 5.4 times the rise in earnings in the same time, although if you adjust for inflation, Americans' earnings have pretty much stayed flat.

Businesses have carried a larger percentage of the increased premium costs than workers, but workers are paying more overall because of decreased benefits and higher deductibles and copays. Even with insurance, Americans can't afford to get sick.

To learn more about the study, visit

At the same time, insurance companies are changing the rules. They sign contracts and then deny coverage, and they get away with it. They can call a treatment "experimental" even when it's not. The often flat out deny coverage of something they're supposed to cover because a lot of people won't question them. When they are questioned, they'll claim it was a computer glitch. It's a time-consuming job to straighten things out after an illness or even minor surgery or diagnostic tests.

Health Care for America Now has an amusing little video -- just over a minute -- on the topic. To see it, visit

Now is the time to speak up and demand health care for all. Corner your campaigning politicians now -- before the election -- and demand specifics. What will they introduce, support or vote for?

Insurance companies have had a free ride for far too long, and this Wall Street bailout can NOT be an excuse to delay health care reform. It may tie governent hands on increasing spending by a whole lot, but they can still impose strict regulations on insurance companies.

And if we taxpayers are going to own AIG, why not use that to our advantage? Tell Congress to find a way to use our acquisition to help people who can't get health care, or at least to lower the cost of insurance premiums for some of us.

Jennifer called me Wednesday night to tell me Danny had been burned at work -- again. This is the third time he has been seriously burned at work.

My first thought was that I was about to lose him. A paper mill is a dangerous place to work, but he has had second- and third-degree burns three times now.

Like many industries, paper mills have tried to cut costs by cutting employees -- and cutting corners. I don't know whether injuries are up industry-wide, but I'd be willing to bet they are. Industry leaders use the word "efficiency," but what it comes down to is greed.

I've lost one son to greed already, I can't bear to think about losing my only surviving child to the same thing.

It's funny -- Danny and I are such polar opposites politically, but when we talk about health care and the way big business preys upon workers while CEOs make multi-million-dollar bonuses, even when companies fail, we agree that governement needs to step in and control the greed so that the middle class isn't squeezed out of existence. We agree that people who work hard should be rewarded with the ability to support themselves.

While Danny's out, workers' compensation will pay 60 percent of his base salary. He did get the best medical care available anywhere this time, and it's all paid for. But he's still living on 60 percent of his base salary, which means he'll sink deeper into debt. I think the company should at least be responsible for paying his full salary since it was a piece of faulty equipment that caused his burns.

I'm so grateful he's alive. I couln't face losing him, even if we do disagre politically.


It looks like Christina will get here for the rally. Danny offered to help her get a ticket because she's still looking for a job in her field (event planning, of all things) and she's pretty broke.

Christina has been pretty much the primary caregiver for my 83-year-old mother and her 92-year-old husband, who has Alzheimer's.

But she adored Mike and she needs a break for a few days, so I'm really excited.  She'll get here that Thursday night or Friday and leave Sunday night or Monday. Janet will be here, Danny and Jennifer and the kids, Shannon and Matt and the kids, Janet and anyone else who wants to come.

I think we're going to have a very crowded house that weekend, and nearby motels will have the overflow.

I know a lot of politicians, and I like a lot of them personally. I don't agree with all of them of course. Lately, though -- since Mike died, to be specific, I've had some interesting discussions with them.

I was in an editorial board meeting week before last with our Congressman, Heath Shuler, a Blue Dog Democrat. That means he's pretty conservative on a lot of issues.

We went around the table with questions, and when it got to me, I was all about health care.  Shuler talked about getting more children covered under the various states' SCHIP programs, and working to get more funds for Medicare so more older adults would be covered.

After the meeting, I went over to him and said, "Nothing you talked about would have saved my son's life."

He looked shocked.

But he needed to know that  people ages 18-64 need coverage too. No child who loses a parent is going to do well. No mother who loses an adult child will care if she has her own coverage. Everyone, everyone, needs health care.

He agreed to meet with me to talk about the need for access to health care.

Shuler's opponent in the election, Carl Mumpower, is a man I admire for his honesty and his dedication to helping his constituents. As a city councilman in Asheville, he has helped people who had nowhere to turn again and again. It's not grandstanding -- it's just who he is.

But he told me he's all about the free market, and I told him, with all due respect, I can't vote for him because the free market hasn't worked. The system needs more than tweaking.

I corralled Nathan Ramsey, the head of our county commissioners, at 10K walkathon for Eblen Charities. Nathan is a Rpublican. He's a dairy farmer and a truly decent human being. We spent most of the 10K talking about health care and why the free market isn't working.

Buncombe County has some great initiatives, and if Mike had lived here, he probably would have gotten the colonoscopy he needed before his cancer had spread. The county medical society has organized the charity care nearly all doctors give and people can get the speciaty care they need, even if they can't pay for it.

Project Access has spread to a lot of other cities and counties, but it has its limitations, and I'm not so sure doctors and hospitals should be asked to bear the burden that our government fails to take on. They offer many millions of dollars in care, but it isn't the way to fix the system because it' local.

Nathan and I talked about the Massachusetts plan of making people buy health insurance, with the premiums subsidized for people with low incomes.

By the end of the two-hour walk, Nathan and I had agreed on a plan we could both support, That public-private partnership wasn't the perfect fix for either one of us, but it was something we both could live with.

if we can do it, why can't politicians in Washington? 


The NC Justice Center's Health Access Coalition released a report this morning on how to provide affordable health coverage for every resident of the state.

It looks a lot like what Ga. Rep. John Barrow described when we spoke with him last week.

It's a public-private partnership that would regulate insurance companies. It also would involve expanding coverage for working people and mandating insurance the way Massachusetts does now, with sliding-scale rates according to income.

As I've said before, I don't care how it's done; I want health coverage for every American. Whatever works.

I spoke with Adam Searing today, the project director.

"It's a good plan if we can get somebody to enact it," he said.

That's the problem. There are still too many people who think the system just needs a little tweaking,

Searing said he can't understand how anyone could still think access to health care in America is adequate.

I'll lay odds none of those people has held the hand of a son or daughter as he or she died because they couldn't get health care in time to save their lives.

Read the whole report at

Then ask every politician you know why we can't have this, or whether they have a better solution. Don't let them off the hook. It's election season and politicians need to know we're serious about this.

We had an hourlong conversation with U.S. Rep. John Barrow, Democrat, of Georgia's 12th District. I was on speakerphone, but Rep. Barrow was in his Savannah office with Janet, Danny and Christian, who had Shannon on speakerphone.

It was a good conversation, and he offered us specifics and reasons for his views. I don't think any of us agreed with everything he said, but I was impressed with how thoughtful his answers were.

He's talking about a public-private partnership that would put more regulation on insurance companies and still allow consumer choice. There's elements of the Massachusetts plan, where people are mandated to buy insurance, but it's on a sliding-scale fee and people who can't get insurance would be covered by a government-funded plan.

This would get people access to health care before illness becomes serious and a lot more expensive to treat. Someone with diabetes would have access to the supplies needed to control blood sugar and avert complications. As it is now, someone with diabetes who can't get those supplies winds up in the emergency room five ot 10 years down the road with complications like kidney failure or infections that require costly, lengthy treatment or amputation.

Somebody with high blood pressure who can't afford medication will cost a whole lot more if he or she has a stroke.

Asthma that's managed properly doesn't require nearly as much hospital treatment.

People whose bronchitis develops into pneumonia cost a lot more than people who can get antibiotic treatment early on.

In other words, it costs us a whole lot more NOT to treat people.

So, even if you don't want to look at the problem from a humanistic point of view, consider the money we're pouring into the system now. It's our money, too. Yours and mine.

Mike would have had access to a colonoscopy under a plan like this, and he'd probably still be alive. Not to mention how much less money would have been spent to treat him.

Janet would be able to buy insurance from a group plan for freelance artists, which can't be done now. So, if she gets sick, she'll wait until she's really, really sick before going to a doctor.

I would have a choice between my current insurance or a government plan, which I would pay for just as I do my current plan, and the private insurers wouldn't be the only game in town.

Under current law -- or lack of it, really -- insurance companies can change the rules at will. They can decide to stop covering a certain treatment, declare something "experimental," claim that the doctors' charges are "unreasonable" and cover only a fraction of the cost of a procedure. Even people with insurance are left deep in debt.

What really impressed me about the whole conversation was that Danny -- who's very conservative -- and I --the liberal -- both went away agreeing with much of what he said.

He agrees that it's time to stop hollering at each other -- this person wants a single-payer system and isn't willing to budge and that person thinks the government shouldn't have anything to do with health care -- and come to an agreement that will get America's 45 million uninsured, and tens of millions more underinsured Americans, access to our health care system.

There are ways to do it. We're the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn't do it. It's time.

California may be the next state to offer health care to all of its residents. Their state assembly recently passed SB 840, a bill that will offer Californians health care through a single-payer system. SB 840 still needs to go for a final vote on the state assembly floor and needs to withstand a likely veto from the governor.

If passed, all residents of California will have access to the health care they need: prevention, dental, diagnostics, prescriptions, vision/hearing aids, mental health, etc. What's more is residents will have their choice of providers. Primary care doctors will refer patients to specialists as needed.

So how are they paying for it? California residents will pay a yearly health care premium on their state income taxes; California businesses will pay a premium proportional to their employees' wages. Money California already gets from the federal government for health care will go into the system. It's actually believed that LESS money will be spent in the proposed plan than their current system.

Learn more about the SB 840 plan.