Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Affordable Health Care: One Year Old Today

My husband recently had knee surgery. (My role as caregiver is part of the reason I haven’t been posting much recently.) He’s mending nicely now, and it looks like that knee might be good for another half million miles or so.

The whole episode might have ended tragically, however. A few days after surgery, the patient woke me up at 2 a.m. It seemed like he was urgently trying to tell me something, but he couldn’t speak. He just kept starting sentences that led nowhere, like “I, . . . uh . . . feeling . . . .” Then he’d start again, without ever telling me what was wrong. Figuring that driving him to a hospital would be faster than calling an ambulance, I got him into the car and off we went. He wasn’t thrilled about going, but I was in no mood to negotiate.

Nurses at the hospital couldn’t get a blood pressure reading at first, but when they did, my husband’s blood pressure was a very dangerous 240/180. Drugs brought it down quickly, and he seems to have suffered no ill effects from the incident. His doctors have two schools of thought on what caused the episode, including the possibility of a small blood clot caused by the surgery that went to the brain. Happily, in any case, he did not suffer a stroke.

We have excellent insurance—partly because I have made quality health care a priority throughout my working life. At various times, I considered the possibilities of opening a small business or doing free-lance writing and consulting work. However, the need to feel secure about health care kept me working for large employers who could offer quality insurance plans. Those decisions might have been responsible for saving my husband’s life the night his blood pressure went through the roof.

People without insurance hesitate to go to a hospital. They know that even a short visit or a minor problem can break their budget for the month, or for the year. A longer stay or a serious illness can mean bankruptcy. So they wait to be sure something is wrong. By the time they are convinced they have no choice but to get to a doctor or hospital, they may be very ill—or dying.

Had we waited to see if my husband’s head cleared the other night, he might have been among the 45,000 known deaths that result every year from our antiquated, inadequate, and often cruel health care system.

The good news is that one year ago today, things started getting better. By the time the Affordable Health Care Act is fully implemented in 2014, no one in America will have to risk death or disability out of fear of getting help when they need it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Peter King is Right about Radicalization

For once, I agree with a GOP representative. The danger of violent, “lone wolf” extremists operating in America is real. These are often people with strong but perverted religious affiliations. Examples, unfortunately, abound, including the following:

Timothy McVeigh
Scott Roeder
James von Brunn
Jared Loughner
Seung-Hui Cho

However, King doesn’t need to knock himself out. People with much better credentials than he has study and report regularly on the dangers of radicalization and dangerous extremism.

Those who want to do something about these dangers—rather than simply adding to them by stirring up hatred and paranoia—can donate to the cause here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How to Increase the Number of Abortions in America . . .

. . . defund Planned Parenthood.

The nature of my job is such that several times a year, teens or young adults confide in me about unplanned pregnancy. Their fears are many:
  • What will my parents say?

  • Will my friends or partner reject me?

  • Will I be able to continue my plans for school and a career?

Girls worry about pain and physical complications. Boys worry about losing their freedom or figuring out how to provide for a child. Kids in these situations often feel alone, terrified, and trapped. Many consider abortion as a way out of what may feel like an impossible situation.

In my community, probably the majority of young people in this situation find their way to Planned Parenthood for a free pregnancy test. But what they get there is so much more.

First, they have an opportunity to share their dilemma with caring, professional adults who will not judge or condemn them. That often gives them the courage to share information with others, including family and friends. Once their "secret" is shared, the sense of panic subsides.

Secondly, they receive objective, factual information about how to care for themselves, how to care for an unborn child, and how to avoid unexpected pregnancies in the future. Should they choose to continue the pregnancy—and the vast majority do—they get information they need about community services to help them and their child.

Virtually every week, a story hits the national news about the horrendous life or death of an infant or toddler at the hands of tragically unsuitable parents—parents who may be addicts, mentally ill, or abysmally ignorant about a child's needs. If such parents never conceived, the world would be spared a great deal of suffering.

I have no doubt whatever that without Planned Parenthood, there would be a lot more unplanned pregnancies than there are—and many, many more of them would end in abortion.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Housekeeping Note

It's come to my attention that comments don't seem to be posting to this blog. We're working to resolve the problem. Please be patient, and please keep track of your comments so you can submit them again as soon as the problem is corrected.

Thanks for your patience!


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Teachers and Unions

My “day job” is counselor at a public high school. It’s always been gauche to talk about salaries, but I think maybe it’s time in America that we did. After sixteen years with my district, I reached the top of the salary scale four years ago—meaning I can’t get any more raises, no matter how long I work or how many credits I accumulate. My base salary is just over $64,000. (The salary scale is lower in many states, and nationwide, starting salaries for new teachers with bachelor’s degrees average just over $30,000 a year.)

I have good insurance, and my employer helps to make it affordable—but I still pay more than $800 a month. With only twenty years’ experience in public education (despite a good deal of previous experience teaching in colleges and private schools), my retirement income would be only a few hundred dollars a month, if it weren’t for my own investments. I have a master’s degree and enough additional credits for a second master’s and a Ph.D. I have paid for all those credits and educational clock hours out of my take-home pay—which, after taxes and all the various deductions, has averaged about $2,600 a month in recent years.

Compared to many people in the private sector, I do get generous vacations—a week in the spring, two weeks during the holidays, and as much as seven weeks during the summer. However, I’m always as close to my job as the nearest computer and—like the vast majority of my colleagues in education—I have spent many a summer taking classes, working in study groups, and otherwise honing my skills and working to improve education for our kids.

When I chose education as a career, I knew I’d never be rich. But like most people in my profession, I don’t do it for the money.

For the past two or three decades, members of the general public have heard very little good about American public education. Much of what they think they know is untrue. (I urge anyone who really wants to be informed about this topic to read an excellent book entitled The Manufactured Crisis, which is as relevant today as when it was published fifteen years ago.) Lately, one more negative myth has been added to the compendium of public misinformation about public education: that teachers and others who work with kids are spoiled, wasteful, and a burden to beleaguered state and municipal governments.

It’s not true, folks. From what I know as an “insider,” most school districts are about as lean as any bureaucracy can possibly be, and nobody in public education gets rich on the basis of their income. (There is ample evidence, too, for anyone who cares to look, that the same is true of public employers in general, including police and fire departments, public maintenance workers, and local governments.)

What we get from our unions—and it’s well worth the hundreds of dollars I pay annually in dues to my local, state, and national affiliations—is respect. In my district, as in many I know of, the relationship between district administrators and the staff who work with kids (including members of other unions, such as classified and secretarial staff) is an easy, simple, respectful way to communicate our needs, desires, and observations.

If I have a gripe or a good suggestion, I pass it on to my building representative, who passes it on to the local union president, who brings it up in regular meetings with district superintendants. The superintendants, in turn, may consult the elected school board. Questions are asked and answered, compromises are made. As with all compromises, people don’t always get everything they ask for—but they do get a respectful hearing and the opportunity to bargain for incremental improvements in benefits or working conditions. Morale is good, and everyone is able to focus most of their energy at work on the one thing that matters—our kids.

Virtually all the married teachers I know have spouses who also work, and almost all the single ones have second jobs. Education is no way to get rich—unless you’re talking about something other than money.

In general those us in public education get most of what we need to continue to serve kids and communities and very little beyond that. It’s a no frills kind of business. But if it weren’t for our unions, many more of us would get less—perhaps much less—than we really need to be fulfilled—personally and professionally—and to keep the focus where it belongs.