Fighting Monsters

Monsters inspire terror, which makes our fear of them unreasoning and debilitating.  We know this crippling terror from early childhood, and it is terror without chronology, just as fearful now as when we were first gripped by it.  We need to remember that monsters must be fought, and that they can be beaten.  It takes organization and courage, the kind of courage we give to each other during a long fight.  Monsters become monsters because of their own bottomless fear, which is something that can be used against them.  Monsters are bullies, and we all know all about bullies.  We have defeated monsters in the past, though it has sometimes taken a grotesquely long time.  

There was a time here in our great democracy, for around a hundred years, when states that favored lynching did nothing to stop the practice.   Lynching was considered an exercise in liberty,  enraged citizens dragging someone they suspected of heinous crimes to a tree, torturing them and hanging them by the neck until dead.    Souvenirs of the lynching were sold, body parts, post cards. For daylight lynchings, people brought their children to watch the spectacle, it was an early form of reality TV.    There was a good reason Southern Democrats in the Senate repeatedly filibustered federal anti-lynching bills.   They were racists playing to the racists they represented, racists who would have considered a federal law against lynching a betrayal.

The example of lynching is old, of course.  We no longer regularly lynch people here in America.   At least not with a mob and a rope.   In other places, sure, the equivalent can still be done routinely as a matter of foreign policy.  Trump sells $110,000,000,000 in high-tech weapons to the warlike Saudis who will use them against the children of the poorest country in the Middle East.  Obama sold the Saudis about the same amount of weaponry, as Dubya did before him, and Clinton before that.

It is merely the way business is done and there is no morality attached to it.  If a business is very, very lucrative, a way will always be found to sell the product and make a ton of money.  It happened for decades with cigarettes, even after their role in lung cancer and other disease became well-known, it is still going on full tilt with fossil fuels, extracted from the earth in more and more destructive ways.  If the product is, say, cluster bombs, or white phosphorous (which burns flesh to the bone), both widely considered a war crime to drop, and we make them here, and sell them to third parties — well, it creates good jobs for good Americans and generates massive profits for the company that makes ’em, and for the shareholders.  A lot of winners, a few losers, but that’s life.  

The problem, of course, for those of us who would fight monsters, is that we live in a world where countless monsters walk among us, ubiquitous and seemingly untouchable as the zombies on TV.  Is the biggest monster catastrophic Climate Change, which, in the United States, alone among the nations of the world, has a powerful, motivated, very wealthy lobby convincing the credulous that, in spite of impressive evidence of change, no change is even happening?  Is the biggest monster Martin Luther King’s three headed monster of racism-militarism-poverty?   That was the in-your-fucking-face monster that made it necessary to kill King.  Is the systematic dismantling of all programs to protect the public, well under way by the extremists who are now mainstream Republicans, the most immediately threatening monster?  

Or is the most dangerous monster a relatively small thing, like the deliberate appointment as Secretary of Education of a hereditary billionaire ultra-conservative Christian fundamentalist who has never set foot in a public school?   Or the appointment of a man who sued the Environmental Protection Agency more than a dozen times to head the agency responsible for protecting our air, water and soil?  Or is the appointment of a Supreme Court justice to the right of the extreme rightist Antonin Scalia the biggest monster?    

These are all gigantic monsters well beyond the immediate ability of even a well-organized, disciplined group of people to fight.  Our laws have allowed each of those things to take place and they cannot be changed until a massive citizens’ movement and a future election change the political landscape.

I can think of only one monster that is within my reach to take a poke at: unaccountable corporate health care in New York State.   While the complete lack of government regulation of the practices of health care  providers in New York State does not affect anyone I know but me, it affects the health and lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of New Yorkers.  Let me take a long-delayed swing at this monster for a few moments, in the interest of finishing my stalled letter to the pugnacious progressive Attorney General of New York State, an official who also proposes legislation and advocates for it.

Dear Mr. Attorney General:  

At this moment when an American’s basic right to affordable health care is in jeopardy, I write to alert you to a consumer health emergency in New York State.  New York State has no government forum where a patient denied health services can have a grievance heard, even if that grievance is a matter of life and death.   I speak of my own experiences, which I’m certain can be multiplied by the experiences of tens of thousands of low income New Yorkers, many of whom cannot advocate for themselves.  

I write to urge your office to recommend a regulatory scheme to the legislature. The regulators would be able to quickly adjudicate matters like the denial of services by a cardiologist to a pre-approved patient recently released from a hospital for heart issues.   At present a patient’s only appeal is to the insurance company, a company that has multiple legal grounds to deny claims (incorrect NPI number, transposed CPT code number, etc.)   At the very least an ombudsman’s office is needed to supervise these widespread, unappealable, regularly occurring corporate abuses.  

This letter will provide a road map to the empty shell of the regulatory scheme currently in place in our state.  I will also provide examples of colorable fraud from my own health-challenging experiences.

As a self-employed New Yorker, I have purchased private insurance in New York State for over a decade, at first under the Healthy New York program and, since its abolition, under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”).  When the State adopted the ACA it merged the consumer oversight functions of the Insurance and Health Departments (along with several other disparate agencies) into the Department of Financial Services, a department that does not investigate frauds against consumers.   

I am not writing to complain about the sometimes arbitrary costs of health care under these programs, but to draw your attention specifically to the lack of any kind of due process for New Yorkers who are denied needed medical services.  A New Yorker’s only appeal under current law is to the company who has denied the medical service.

As a matter of fact, now that I have written these words, I am going into the other room to fuck myself.  With all of the other pressing problems your office is vying with at the moment, it is hard to imagine that the death of a few more or a few less low income people, people who die disproportionately under our current health insurance scheme, amounts to a hill of beans in our publicity-driven world.  An impeccably reasoned posthumous letter, I am sure, would hold greater moral clout than the letter I am struggling to complete now.  I am, therefore, working on getting it to your office later, rather than sooner.   I will put the finishing touches on it from my hospice bed, assuming I am still able to secure one. Have a very nice day!





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