Healthcare: broken promises, broken state, broken healthcare system

Tribfest 2014 UT Tx vs healthcare panel

Michael Burgess 
Garnet Coleman  Sarah Davis  Kyle Janek  Charles Schwertner  Charles Ornstein (mod.) 

(Update: This panel was packed and during the open questions section, the audience was extremely energized over the issues, going from laud applause to outright boos to panelists who were opposed to the Affordable Care Act. One audience member added that he was surprised that even the state of Oklahoma was ahead of Texas in finding a way to fund Medicare to meet the needs of its citizens.)

Some people just don’t deserve healthcare, according to an increasing number of GOP politicians. Everyone agrees that the U.S. needs healthcare reform but opinions vary wildly about how that should be done. Using tax dollars to fund a government healthcare system for all citizens, as has been done by many countries, is not a reform that Republicans oppose. Meanwhile, no GOP healthcare options have been put forth as alternatives to universal healthcare. It’s easier to criticize an initiative than to work in a bipartisan manner to solve the healthcare crisis that is hobbling the American economy.

To be eligible for healthcare subsidies and assistance in Texas, you have to earn less than $200 a month. But some GOP are concerned that a person who qualifes for healthcare support might somehow, during the time they are insured, might earn more than $200 a month and therefore no longer qualify for assistance.

The only way to qualify for assistance for yourself or your family is to be without any source of (legal) income, whether you need food or healthcare for your children. While you are apply for food assistance or healthcare, do a drug test for good measure. If someone has a drug problem, the last thing we want to do is to provide them with any kind of help.

Regulations were passed to forbid government workers from providing information and instruction to the disadvantaged on how to sign up for healthcare. The reasoning was to avoid non-experts from providing inaccurate or misleading information to clients. Better that they provide no information at all.

Garnet Coleman: “We all understand that people need healthcare. Texas constituents want us to provide this service for them….and with cancer …we have made a commitment to cancer [treatment] but not to those who need the cancer treatment!”

Opponents claim that Medicare expansion is not an option, that we can’t add “able-bodied” people into a system that is already providing healthcare to a current set of Medicare recipients. What does “able-bodied” mean in this context? Able to go out and pay for their own healthcare? Or able to go “get a job” in an economic environment where most people can no longer obtain a full-time job that offers the benefit of healthcare?

Kyle Janek, Commissioner of Texas Health and Human Services, suggested that people don’t need “a healthcare card.”  If they get sick they can just visit certain clinics that will provide health services to those without insurance. It’s understood that most uninsured delay seeking care until they are in crisis. Then, they go to a hospital emergency room. They are billed for services, but hospitals receive a federal kick back for services rendered as “charity” — if there was a universal healthcare system, there would be no bill to the patient and the hospital would be paid by the healthcare plan.

Coleman: “There is a difference between showing up at a clinic for care, and having an insurance card in your pocket and being able to have a primary care physician…. it’s called certainty.”

Janek talked about a “safety net” that is currently dispelling the old myth that the only place you can go for help without a card is the hospital, as there are clinics that “stay open late” to provide healthcare to the uninsured. He admits that there is a “terrible” nursing shortage in Texas. (Update: After the Covid pandemic, there is a terrible nursing shortage everywhere!)

The children’s healthcare act is scheduled to be sunsetted as the affordable care act was supposed to take over for this type of care. It’s not yet in place to provide that coverage.

Again, like every other failing system, right-wing anti-government spokespersons decry how Medicare is overburdened and underfunded – but it’s the standard and well-understood operating procedure for Republicans to starve a program of needed funds for decades and make a campaign to shut down a “failing” system when appropriate funding would keep the system running effectively. This has been demonstrated with the cynical starving of funding for the mental health facilities in Texas, such as the state hospitals, followed by presentations to the Lege to close them and replace them with private, for-profit systems. One of the notable results: surging homelessness and homeless camps throughout the cities.

Panelists suggested that the Affordable Healthcare Act was extraordinarily “disruptive” to the system. Unlike the typical “pro-change” tech conference culture, there is a lack of understanding about the positive potential for disruptive change. – Disruptive change is what is needed to correct a shockingly broken and corrupt system.

So, it costs tax dollars to provide better healthcare to those least able to pay for it? And could this increase the costs of healthcare insurance? Hold the “surprise and dismay” about having to pay higher premiums. The very folks who can afford to pay more are the ones complaining the loudest. If healthy people pay into a “healthcare for all” system, the insurance will be there for them when they need it. Anyone who works for a state agency that keeps and invests a percentage of their salary as part of a pension fund understands that some employees will not stay in the system long enough to retire with a pension. Everyone working full time at a living wage is paying into the Social Security pension fund, too. Not everyone will live long enough to retire and draw social security benefits. But the value of these benefits are understood and workers are required to pay into retirement systems. In contrast, almost everyone would benefit from having healthcare insurance and it would benefit everyone to pay into a healthcare system.

Those with significant health issues refer to people who are currently healthy the temporarily able. Ilness and disease do not prey upon immoral or lazy people. Even the hardest working person can fall ill, perhaps be faced with the loss of their job. Since most Americans’ healthcare is tied to their employment, a catastrophic illness can cause the loss of their home, create overwhelming debt, and place crippling burdens on themselves and their families.

Cynical or myopic obstruction of “Obamacare” is delaying the only workable solution available for affordable healthcare. Some blame the “budget deficit”, saying that if we appropriately fund the system, we are borrowing from our future. But proponents like Garnet Coleman say that more people are invested in shouting inflammatory rhetoric than working towards a realistic and ethical solution.

Getting off: Spacemen with stars in their eyes

SxSW 2013 we'veGotToGetOffThisPlanet_Kirk_Meme

meme of “We’ve GOT to get OFF this PLANET” by Captain Kirk.

Bit of Bowies “The Next Day” song “Dancing Out In Space.”
Cutting through the water, hand upon the ghost
to the city of solid iron to the kingdom of the most
send your friend away now, let him sail back home tonight
something like danding
something like a drowning dancing outer space
no one here can see you, dancing face to face
no one here can beat you, dancing in outer space
silent as mist and silhouette
girl you move like water you have stars upon your head
you’ve got my name and number you got to take …

From David Bowie to writers and readers of science fiction, they’re all grown up now, and billionaires, and what do you think they are doing? They are building rocket ships. They are traveling to outer space. And they want you to come with.

My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair… But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows – T-Rex

SxSW 2013 captain-kirk meme

UT transportation research center applies science to real-world challenges, celebrates its 50th year

A few images from last year’s Center for Transportation Research Center’s Annual Symposium.

CTR Distinquished Lecture Series UT Austin: Dean Fenvis & Prof. C. Michael Walton

It’s alive! (responsible journalism). But newspapers are history.

SxSW 2013 Craig Newark, Poynter Kelly McBride: responsible journalism

“Craigslist” Craig Newmark, Poynter Kelly McBride on responsible journalism, at the 2013 South by Southwest Interactive 2013 in Austin Texas

“If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh – or they may kill you – Oscar Wilde. (Quoted by Craig Newmark at SxSW interactive 2013)

New standards of journalism in a new age (of journalism)  

Someone from Poynter went through the crowd, handing out a small pamphlet titled “100 Ideas to Make Your Journalism Better” to the large audience who had come to hear Craig “Craigslist” Newmark and Poynter’s faculty member Kelly McBride talk about what has gone wrong – and what’s right—in modern journalism.

“Journalism should be the immune system of democracy,” Craig told the crowd. “Without information, how can we vote responsibly?”

Excited, maybe a little bit nervous, but with a strong edge of humility, the well-known founder of Craigslist described himself as “a nerd” who became a customer service professional.

He and Kelly McBride summarized the recent woes of journalism. More than one-fourth of all journalists have been laid off since 2007, in part due to economic disruptors such as Craigslist, which took away a valuable source of revenue for newspapers (the classified).

It’s not that people aren’t consuming news content. But spite of the growth of digital news delivery, for every dollar of digital revenue $7 in print revenue has been lost.

You can tell the organization is eating itself when a bastion of supposedly solid journalism like CNN chooses to eliminate its own investigative news journalism department.

In addition to the economic struggles of the news industry, the journalism food chain has changed. Once the pecking order was local reporters, then mid-size newspapers, and finally national news outlets. Nowadays, entertainment news and social media is at the top of the pile, with mid-size news, national news, and national magazines in the middle and local news at the bottom. This topsy-turvy situation has encouraged gossipy, sensationalist news and the viral spread of misinformation.

It’s hard to judge the quality of the content being served in a business forced to put journalists on a “hamster wheel” where writers pump out content on constant deadline. Effective investigative journalism  takes time to produce.

In contrast, the Poynter Institute is supporting a journalistic environment where there is sufficient time to think—and it’s building a new framework for ethical, community journalism.

This means turning away from the current farce of “balanced” news, where manifestly absurd, offensive ideas are given a voice to counter sanity, in order to pay lip service to “fair” reporting.

McBride derided the cliché of presenting a news story in the “two viewpoints” pretense of objectivity.  This artificial creation of false balance – reporters giving equal weight to opposing views even though one viewpoint is demonstrably false or irrelevant, is a big part of what’s wrong with the craft of reporting.

So, how should a responsible journalist write a story? According to McBride, good journalists get smart (informed)—and then speak with authority about what’s going on.

Journalism and ethical reporting

One of Craig’s pet peeves is broadcast  journalists interviewing talking heads that sit atop PR hacks and lobbyists—“ A responsible journalist shouldn’t interview people who are paid to lie.”

SxSW 2013 Craig Newmark: don't interview people who are paid to lie

He says being a news reporter is one of the most difficult careers to pursue but it is only a worthy calling if you deliver information that others can trust. We are in a bizarre situation right now, where we might feel more “truthiness” from watching an  “entertainment” show like The Daily Show, and find it surreal to discover news “actors” (as opposed to anchors) on global news networks, whose only involvement in a story is reading the words off a teleprompter.

SxSW 2013 Craig Newmark: responsible journalism immune system of democracy

Integrating journalism into communities

Social media has been a disruption to traditional journalism. The product has been the article, photo, or Vine/Youtube post as content. That social news product enhances, and helps to build, community. Citizens can inform themselves with the right tools: consider Politifact, a great combination of news and nerds.  ( )

But news gathering by community journalists, according to Newmark and McBride, are not rivals to professional journalism, although they augment and help to redefine its purpose and methods.

Consider the news opportunity created during the Huffington Post Obama fundraiser when the phrase, “clinging to guns and religion,” was released by the media. Consider how the recorded and shared  “48 percent” quote during a Romney fundraiser may have altered political outcomes.

Journalism is also a business. But it should differ from other industries, where the product is perceived as a means to an end. With responsible journalism, community should be the end product of the reporting of truth.

Traditional journalists saw community as a resource to create something else. McBride says that we should rethink this and recognize that community is an end in itself.

Newmark says that citizen journalism is good, but we need trained editors, content curators, fact checkers, professional writers and professionalism in every area in order to have responsible, quality journalism.

McBride and Newmark shared two lists of journalism values for the audience to consider. One was time-honored, from Mother Jones; the other is suggested by The Poynter Institute  for journalism in a new era of community.

SxSW 2013: journalists should get smart to speak with authority

Mother Jones: journalism values

  1. Seek the truth and report it.
  2. Be independent.
  3. Minimize harm.
  4. Be accountable.

New set of journalism values suggested by Poynter

  1. Seek truth and report it.
  2. Be transparent (about what you know and what you don’t know).
  3. Engage the community as an end.

Poynter has a book out if you are interested in finding out more about their ideas of what journalism could become.

And Craig Newmark is out there, talking at events like SxSW Interactive about responsible journalism, trying to help, supporting groups like Poynter: “A nerd’s gotta do what a nerd’s gotta do. Nerds are always outsiders.”

SxSW 2013: Misinformation travels faster than the correction

Responsible journalism is the immune system of democracy – Craig “Craigslist” Newmark

Listen to the presentation on Soundcloud

More images from 2013 South by Southwest Interactive

2013 SxSW Interactive Presentations on Soundcloud 

Find out more about the South by Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin Texas

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