Wednesday, December 23, 2009

New Book Review: Mitch Albom's Have A Little Faith

Have A Little Faith by Mitch Albom THE ENTERTAINMENT CRITIC BOOK REVIEW, BY JAMES MYERS HAVE A LITTLE FAITH: A TRUE STORY By Mitch Albom Published by: Hyperion Publication Date: September, 2009 Price: $23.99 254 Pages ISBN-13: 978-0-7868-6872-8 Four Star Rating **** “Will you do my eulogy?” I don’t understand, I said. “My eulogy?” The old man asked again. “When I’m gone.” His eyes blinked from behind his glasses. His neatly trimmed beard was grey, and he stood slightly stooped. “Are you dying?” I asked. “Not yet.” He said, grinning. Then why- “Because I think you would be a good choice. And I think when the time comes, you will know what to say.” Picture the most pious man you know. Your priest. Your pastor. You rabbi. Your imam. Now picture him tapping you on the shoulder and asking you to say good-bye to the world on his behalf. Picture the man who sends people off to heaven, asking you for his send-off to heaven. “So?” he said. Would you be comfortable with that?”

“In the beginning, there was another question. “Will you save me Jesus?” The man was holding a shotgun. He hid behind trash cans in front of a Brooklyn row house. It was late at night. His wife and baby daughter were crying. He watched for cars coming down his block, certain the next set of headlights would be his killers. “Will you save me, Jesus? He asked, trembling. “If I promise to give myself to you, will you save me tonight?” Picture the most pious man you know. Your priest. Your pastor. You rabbi. Your imam. Now picture him in dirty clothes, a shotgun in his hand, begging for salvation from behind a set of trash cans. Picture the man who sends people off to heaven, begging not to be sent to hell. “Please, Lord, “he whispered. “If I promise. . .”’ Have a Little Faith, pp. 1-2. Mitch Albom writes emotionally powerful little books that always leave you wanting to read more. A sportswriter from Detroit, Michigan, his heart tugging books are a surprise to those of us who have read his cold, calculating sports articles or seen his razor sharp analysis of sporting events on ESPN. The author of For One More Day, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Fab Five and Bo, he is best known for his masterpiece in human studies and the philosophy of death with his book, Tuesdays With Morrie. Tuesdays is thought to be his best work; well it was until this recent best selling true story was published, Have a Little Faith. By far and away this is the most fascinating prose that Albom has penned; a pure page turning joy from the first page to the last page. He covers the stories of two uniquely religious men; Albert Lewis, his old Jewish Rabbi and Henry Covington, a Detroit Evangelist, who is a convict gone good. The two story lines are separate but as Albom points out there are parallels in the nature of belief and the sacrifices these men make in serving their flocks. Lewis is a Rabbi that is a master performer on Sundays; a man who can deliver a message with gusto; a happy, well-adjusted man who while Albom was a child, was the dominant figure in his synagogue. He has requested that Mitch write his eulogy and in return the two agree that meetings and discussions will be necessary. Albom’s meetings turn into masterful insights into the psyche of a deeply spiritual, singing, well-adjusted man who has moved seamlessly into the background of his group without loosing his kind and gentle nature. Beyond a writing assignment, a friendship develops, and fortunately for us as readers a deep vision into the soul of a man who at one time was asked to leave the seminary, but became a visionary due to his ability to communicate and make a difference. This affectionate tale of his unique ability to communicate, accept, and by his father like faith, overcome obstacles, and ultimately reinforce the faith of his congregation is a moving, inspirational tale. Albom’s book is a true tribute to man who as Albom says makes you feel like you are “in love with hope.” Albom’s ability to probe the human condition and find answers like with Morrie are razor-sharp here: “I laughed and he laughed, and he bounced his palms on his thighs and our noise filled the house. And I think, at that moment, we could have been anywhere, anybody, any culture, any faith- a teacher and a student exploring what life is all about and delighting in the discovery.” A book about Lewis alone would have cemented Albom’s reputation as a great psychological writer; a book that contrasts religious leaders and emphasizes the tremendous faith they have in their interactions with others makes Little Faith a truly remarkable book. Covington, on the other hand took a radically different path to becoming a religious leader. A drug dealer and substance abuser, his initial conversion came while he was in prison. His prayers to be ‘saved’ are answered on several occasions in this book before it finally takes. His conversion is a sufficiently interesting saga in itself; his ministry is the stuff that Albom turns into magic. He runs a church in downtown Detroit, called the I Am My Brother’s Keeper Ministry. His flock is a group of homeless people and his church is an old dilapidated building, with no heat or lights and a huge whole in the roof. Nonetheless, Henry continues to minister to his group of converts. Albom does what any good investigative reporter does; he checks this guy and his group out. Persuaded that they are legit, he begins to write about Henry and his group, the old church and the hole in the roof, the blue tarp covering the hole. Albom’s writing leads to donations and the book makes a point of telling us the effect that this has on this group of people. This seems to be an outgrowth of Albom’s experience with his beloved Reb, the gift of teaching and motivating people to act and do the right thing. This is a great book and a natural Christmas gift. Albom’s continual exploration into the human condition and the positive results he gets are a testament to his first rate skills as a writer. If this book does not move you, check your pulse; you may be dead. I love Mitch’s books. Better pick up two at the store: one to give as a gift, and one for you. Whoever you buy this book for is not going to lend it back to you to read. Website: Video:

Monday, September 7, 2009

Your Health Insurer Will Screw You

The Huffington Post
September 7, 2009
Peter J. Ognibene

Got health insurance? Think you're sitting pretty? Think again.

Health insurance companies fatten their bottom line not by helping people but by screwing them.

For-profit companies make money three ways:
First, they use medical underwriting, which is industry shorthand for finding ways to reject those applicants most likely to need care. Not only people with serious illness are denied insurance; so are individuals who may be 20 pounds overweight as well as those with acne or an old athletic injury.

Second, health insurers routinely weasel out of, or delay for months -- even years -- making payments for valid medical and hospital claims.

Third, they look for plausible reasons to reverse payments they have already made on your behalf. These reversals can occur one or more years after you thought your bill had been paid. And when a physician or hospital has to refund a payment, guess who gets the bill. You.
And it doesn't stop there. Investigative units routinely look at individuals who have been seriously ill to see if there's anything in their medical or prescription history they can use as a pretext to terminate their insurance. The industry term is "rescission."

Many large organizations -- municipal agencies, major corporations and labor unions -- have the negotiating power to eliminate exclusions of so-called pre-existing conditions from their employees' health insurance policies.

Small companies often do not. Worse still, individuals who lack the negotiating leverage that organizations exercise on behalf of their members wind up paying the highest rates for coverage and then are left to hope they won't get trapped by one of their policy's many exclusions or loopholes. When such individuals have the audacity to incur a major illness, you can bet the companies will look for ways to screw them -- with delays, payment reversals or outright rescission of their insurance.

Many who work for health insurers quickly learn that the surest way to get ahead is to screw as many policyholders as they can.

Recent documents obtained by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce indicated, for example, that Blue Cross of California awarded a perfect evaluation score to an employee whose efforts to rescind the insurance of thousands of policyholders saved the company nearly $10 million that would otherwise have paid their doctor and hospital bills.

This is no isolated case. If you get cancer or need expensive surgery, your insurance company is likely to investigate every medical claim ever filed on your behalf, the prescriptions you have taken at various points in your life and any lifestyle elements that might give them a pretext to reverse a payment or rescind your insurance.

In recent testimony before the same House committee, Karen Pollitz, Research Professor at Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, pointed out:

Representatives of the insurance industry have testified that rescission is rare and occurs in less than one percent of policies. Even if this estimate is accurate, it is not necessarily comforting. One percent of the population accounts for one-quarter of all medical bills. The sickest individuals may be small in number, but they are the most vulnerable and most in need of coverage.

Most individuals who have a job get health insurance through their employer. Yet, employer-based health insurance makes no sense in the modern world. It is an artifact of World War II when companies were desperate to attract and hire workers but were bound by federal wage and price controls from writing higher paychecks. So, companies competed for workers in other ways, including health insurance.

Two years ago, the Congressional Research Service issued a report, "U.S. Health Care Spending: Comparison with Other OECD Countries," which found:

The United States spends more money on health care than any other country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The OECD consists of 30 democracies, most of which are considered the most economically advanced countries in the world. According to OECD data, the United States spent $6,102 per capita on health care in 2004 -- more than double the OECD average and 19.9% more than Luxembourg, the second-highest spending country. In 2004, 15.3% of the U.S. economy was devoted to health care, compared with 8.9% in the average OECD country and 11.6% in second-placed Switzerland. In assessing what drives the difference between U.S. health care spending and the rest of the world, some leading health economists responded this way: "It's the prices, stupid." Put more formally, a report from the OECD declared that "there is no doubt that U.S. prices for medical care commodities and services are significantly higher than in other countries and serve as a key determinant of higher overall spending."

Though Americans are paying ever higher premiums, they are not getting better health care for their dollar. Current projections suggest that the average annual cost for employer-sponsored health insurance for a family of four will rise from $13,000 to nearly $25,000 by 2018.

Appearing recently on Morning Joe, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D, NY), a leading advocate in the House for publicly financed health care, made these observations:

I have heard people say, repeatedly, 'well, if the public option is too muscular, the insurance companies won't be able to compete.' Well, if they can't compete, then they're not gonna get customers. They're not gonna get patients coming to them. Isn't that what we want? To give people that choice?

The problem that we have here is we're trying to jerry-rig this system so that insurance companies still continue to make healthy profits. Why? [They] don't do a single checkup; they don't do a single exam; they don't perform an operation.

Medicare has a four-percent overhead rate. The insurance companies take about $230 billion out of the system every year in profits and overhead. The real question is: why we have a private plan?

These costs drive up the insurance premiums of everyone with private health insurance. With universal health care, these costs will disappear. Even the insurance industry knows that.
In recent testimony before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce about the rescission of individual health insurance policies, Don Hamm, the president of Assurant Health, admitted: "If a system can be created where coverage is available to everyone and all Americans are required to participate - the process we are addressing today -- rescission -- becomes unnecessary because risk is shared among all."

Sunday, September 6, 2009

What Obama will say in his address

What Obama will say in his address
By: Mike Allen and Carrie Budoff Brown
September 5, 2009 12:36 PM EST

President Barack Obama plans to reach out to Republicans and reassure — rather than confront — his liberal supporters when he addresses an extraordinary joint session of Congress at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday.

But he will warn lawmakers against seeking a perfect plan and then winding up doing nothing, as happened to the last Democratic president back in 1994.

The high-stake speech makes sense because Obama is such a gifted orator. But it is also risky because if poll numbers on health-care reform don’t improve after he speaks, it will be clear that the problem isn’t in the packaging, but in the proposal itself.

The contents of the speech were still being debated over the weekend. But here is what POLTIICO gleaned from conversations with top aides:

1) Obama will lay out a specific “President’s Plan,” even if he doesn’t call it that. He will make clear what’s on the table, and what he thinks warrants further debate, such as how to pay for the overhaul.

2) He will not confront or scold the left. “This is a case for bold action, not a stick in the eye to our supporters,” said an official involved in speech preparation. “That’s not how President Obama thinks. The politics of triangulation don’t live in this White House.”

3) He will make an overture to Republicans. “He will lay out his vision for health reform – taking the best ideas from both parties, make the case for why as a nation we must act now, and dispel the myths and confusion that are affecting public opinion,” the aide said.

4) He will make it clear that it’s better to get something done than nothing done. White House aides are reminding fellow Democrats that the party lost Congress in 1994 by failing to do any health reforms at all after Congress balked at the original plan by President Bill Clinton. “The lesson of 1994 is not that tackling health reform is politically perilous. It’s that failing to act could be devastating,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House deputy communications director.

5) Obama will try to reassure the left about his commitment to a public option, or government insurance plan. Aides said they are rethinking what he will say about this. He wants to thread the needle of voicing support for a public option, without promising to kill health reform to get it. But liberal congressional leaders were unyielding in their support for it on a conference call he held from Camp David yesterday, and he's going to meet with them at the White House early next week.

The White House line has been: “We have been saying all along that the most important part of this debate is not the public option, but rather ensuring choice and competition. There are lots of different ways to get there.” But now he’s going to step on the gas a little harder. One top official gave this formulation: “He has consistently said that he thinks the public option is an important way to make sure that there is both cost and competition control. He’s also said consistently that if someone can show him a better way or another way to get there, he’d be happy to look at it. But he’s never committed to going with another way. He’s always said he’d be happy to look at any proposal that gets to these goals, but that he thinks this is probably the best better way to do it.”

The speech was very much in flux over the weekend, because key decisions are being hashed out. Even the length is not yet set.

“He has not made any final decisions about the ultimate form of his package,” said a top official guiding speech preparation. “Anyone that tells you that he has is misinformed or extrapolating from conversations. He’s going to talk to a lot of people between now and next Wednesday. The president is in the process of deciding what his ultimate proposal will look like."

Also undecided: whether to follow up with nitty-gritty legislative language. “He has not made decisions about how he’s going to move this thing forward,” said a top West Wing aide.

Obama’s speechwriters were on the West Coast over the weekend for the wedding of Ben Rhodes, the deputy director of speechwriting. So the West Wing is coordinating the speech over a three-hour time difference.

On Tuesday or Wednesday, the leaders of the four liberal House caucuses will meet Obama at the White House. The meeting pledge came a day after progressives urged him in a letter to stand firmly behind the public insurance option.

Obama spoke by phone Friday with the leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“Caucus leaders expressed absolute commitment to the idea of a robust public option, and said they expect it to be part of any health care reform legislation,” the groups said in a statement. “The president listened, asked many questions, and suggested that the dialogue should continue.”

© 2009 Capitol News Company, LLC

What Obama will say in his address - Print View

What Obama will say in his address - Print View

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Saturday, September 5, 2009 Join the Community Join the Community

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Move On.Org video of people who cannot wait for health care reform

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Here is a link to write to the White House. Please write in support of the Public Option and Let the President know he should avoid the 'trigger' option.

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