Friday, December 5, 2014

How a Bad Meal Probably Saved My Life - My experience with America's Healthcare System

It all started with a bad meal in the middle of November.  That led to my girlfriend and I throwing up at the same time starting about noon on a Sunday. Because we split meals it was obvious we had the same thing. The only difference was that after a couple days she got better and I didn’t. My stomach remained swollen.

Finally, on Monday afternoon we got a referral from my general doctor (Dr. Dolle) and went to an emergency center. They looked at me and before I knew it they were taking me by ambulance to a local hospital.  It was a brand new hospital in Clear Lake with a great staff – and I spent a few days on IV while they waited for my system to “fire up” again. It didn’t.

Since I had not eaten it over a week they put me on a “TPN” which is basically food in a bag that goes into a large opening they put in my veins (called a “PIC” line). They put everything into it, including the pain meds. I felt like a dummy with a slew of tubes dripping “lipids” etc.

So at midnight nearly a week after this episode started the surgeon came in and we agreed the only thing left to do was to operate to find out the source of the blockage.  It turned out to be the right decision. The surgeon (with the cool name a TV weatherman would love to have, Dr. Fairweather) discovered that my intestines were all rolled into a ball. He had to unravel them and splice together sections. Some parts of my system wasn’t even working! Apparently, there was scar tissue from an operation I had 35 years ago after a trip to Egypt. Parts of my intestine were 7 inches wide--causing a slowdown like a 4 lane highway that suddenly narrows to 2 lanes!) It’s amazing it was working at all. 

As a result I got a whole “new” system.

Basically, I can’t be too upset about the bad food although my lousy non-ACA compliant insurance policy from United Healthcare with a $10,000 deductible made it a very expensive meal and ordeal. However, without that bad meal, I never would have known that I had a latent defect in my digestive system that could have killed me when it failed – either here in the U.S. or on a trip. I had caught it in time.

It was the first time in over 30 years I had been in a hospital. Thankfully I had a private room since there is nothing more miserable then to be miserable with someone else in the same room. The beds were brand new "Stykers" that cost something like $15,000-$20,000. They put me into a thin green gown and I froze as the temperature swung wildly from too hot to too cold (it is a new building and they are still trying to get the kinks worked out of the system.)  However, the staff were excellent and took great care of me as they worked 12 hour shifts.

It was also a stressful experience – after ten days I was lying there, wondering “if this is it” as I waited for my system to begin functioning again.

What helped make it work was something I did. I got up and walked up and down the halls for a while – that action started my insides rumbling! I can’t tell you what a relief it was when I finally had a BM (bowel movement) which graduates one from the IV to eating clear liquids (before going to soft food, etc.) I can tell you I was craving eating even red jello towards the end - anything but more IV feeding.

It proves that you just never know what is around the corner. We missed a planned 7 day cruise as a result (more money lost since we didn’t have trip insurance.)  But that was OK too. Health comes first. Without it, what do you have?

I did kick myself for not having an Obamacare policy which would have had a smaller deductible and smaller premiums.  That changed on December 1 when I became eligible for Medicare – dropping my premium costs substantially.

I remember how Dr. Fairweather would drop me every day to check on me, even if it was at 1:30 a.m. or 4 a.m. in the morning. One night at midnight we had a long political conversation – it was as if we had had a 'mind meld.' What he was saying was similar to what I had written in my book chapter “Agenda for American Greatness.”  After about 20-30 minutes he suddenly gasped, “I have to go!” and he was on to the next patient, running on less than six hours sleep. No doctor had ever spent that much time with me before.  It may never happen again.

I can’t say enough good things about the staff at the Bay Area Regional Medical center and Dr. Fairweather.  Now that I am out it is a slow recovery to keep from damaging my internals as they heal. But I can feel the progress. It comes at a good time when things are slow in my business. 

Yet I think of those not so lucky as me who get sick and do not have insurance or a doctor like Dr. Fairweather. Had I not been able to pay the substantial premiums this past year I could have ended up lying in an emergency room at Ben Taub for hours - perhaps not even surviving the ordeal.  It is too scary to even think about.

It proved to me that Obamacare was just the first necessary step in making affordable healthcare available to ALL Americans--no more rejection for pre-existing conditions, etc. Personally, I favor Medicare for all. All Europeans have better access to medical care then American citizens, especially the working poor.

Maybe it has to happen to you personally to understand its importance. Having been on the brink, I can tell you that there is nothing more valuable than access to quality healthcare. I would have been turned away from a fine hospital if I had been carried in without an insurance card in my pocket. That should not be part of the American experience...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

America's Booming Hispanic Population and Diversity That is Coming to America

I just saw Stephen Stephen L. Klineberg with Kambrell Khambrel Marshall on Houston TV's Local 2 talking about Hispanics in Houston. He presented EXCELLENT facts, as always.

(1) Houston is the Most Diverse city in America. Within 20 years the rest of America will look just like us.

(2) We have about 1.6 million Hispanics in the Houston area.

(3) The ones coming from Mexico have a LOWER education than white kids in U.S.

(4) Hispanics coming from South America and Cuba have a HIGHER education level than White Kids in Houston! (Didn't expect THAT did you?)

(5) Only 6% of Hispanic kids graduate from high school college ready. yet 7=87% of their parents WANT their kids to go to college (hence need for pre-K, etc.).

All of these facts bring me back to my Global American values blog post yesterday on the need for immigration reform. Let's be honest, Americans won't do the low end jobs so we should issue work permits.
My personal example: On NASA Parkway I saw a service station and a tire store being built. How many white Americans do you think were standing in the rain yesterday pouring cement? NONE...


Saturday, November 15, 2014

What America SHOULD Do in 2015 with Divided Government

It's official. The people have spoken for divided government.

So here is the next big question: WHAT should a Republican Congress and Democratic President do for Americans in 2015?

We need three things:

(1) FIX our BROKEN Immigration System.  Do you leave a broken car in your driveway? We don't have a functioning system.

(2) INVEST in American Infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc) which is falling apart. Doing so would create JOBS. AND, since doing infrastructure takes awhile to gin up, we should juice wages NOW by immediately RAISING the minimum wage to 1968 parity. I made $1.60 in 1968 - minimum wage. That is over $10 today in 1968 dollars. We should keep that parity.

(3) Make American Education No. 1 again so we can compete in a space age, global economy

The GOP Congress is sitting on an Immigration Bill. The Senate has passed one. The House just WON'T VOTE on its bill! Why? Because it would pass!  It's been sitting there for over two years. How long does a guy wait before a lifeline gets thrown?

If they don't pass one the President has NO CHOICE but to take Executive Action just as President Reagan and Bush have done in the past.  We have millions of people in limbo and that is not right.  Failure to act by Congress for YEARS on critical issues like this is administrative negligence that a sane President and the American people cannot allow. 

The GOP dominated Congress has also failed to invest in American infrastructure. Instead they spent over $1 trillion on Afghanistan and Iraq infrastructure. It was a poor investment. Meanwhile we have 60 year old bridges collapsing from old age, and nothing is being done.  While China builds new everything we don't even fix our old. It's short sightedness to the point of blindness. It's nuts. We are throwing away our lead.

American education has fallen far from No. 1 due to the same lack of investment and interest by leadership.  Texas is still over $3 billion short in its education funding, and is not investing for the growth of 70,000 new students coming every year.  It has no full day pre K school program which has been shown to make tremendous different in kids succeeding in school (even Mississippi is ahead of us on that!)

America as a whole has a SKILLS GAP--and people in denial about that as well.

We have over 2 million high tech jobs that Americans don't have the job skills to fill. These jobs pay over $70,000 a year. Other countries have people with those skills, which gets us back to item (1) since we have to bring in high tech workers as part of a comprehensive immigration reform bill until we can train up our people. I say we help Americans upgrade their skills for them to get these jobs! What say you?

This is what our divided government SHOULD be doing to advance American interests. We have to do this while dealing with the latest foreign nuisance -- be it ISIS, Ebola or a Russian President who has become the World Bully knocking over the furniture at the party.  God knows what else we will be dealing with tomorrow--it invariably changes. We can't ignore the world that will bite us again (like 9/11) if we don't pay attention.

Congress could easily pay for this by reforming the tax code so that companies like GE who make $40 billion don't pay ZERO taxes when hard working average Americans are paying their fair share.

A more detailed plan for making America No. 1 again is in Agenda for American Greatness 

Lets get moving!  We have fallen behind. The good news is that we do have the potential to lead the world again if we put our collective minds to it. This isn't a partisan needs. Its a national requirement to avoid losing our country's unique leading role in a dynamic world.

 It's up to each of us to pitch in. But Congress must start ACTING and earning its paycheck -or be fired!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Amsterdam Closes Pot Shops - The Day I Visited "The Grasshopper" coffee shop

Near the central rail station in Amsterdam is a huge place called the "Grasshopper." It is a coffee shop (at least it was there in 2002). On one floor they sold pot and coffee/soft drinks - NO alcohol allowed.

On a separate floor they sold alcohol. I tried both floors.
                                         The lit building in the center was the Grasshopper

On the pot floor a guy said to me: "push that button." I did. A machine lit up with a bunch of patches of different colored grass with different names i did not recognize - no Acapulco Gold or Panama Red. I had no idea what to say so I put down ten Euros, got a small bag and some coffee, rolled one -- and watched people. People sat around smoking, sipping coffee and having quiet conversations. I could have been in Starbucks back home.

Then I went up to the alcohol floor (separate entrance in the back.) As I approached the door, the walls were vibrating and thumping from loud music. As I reached the door a drunk guy came staggering out, followed by deafening noise from whatever was playing. He almost fell on top of me.

I didn't bother going in. I had already seen the difference.

Besides, I was investigating a million dollar fraud and wasn't done yet. I still had to go undercover to keep from being killed...

Oh yes, I just found out that they have closed the Grasshopper!

More details in my book:

Friday, November 7, 2014

What Turning 65 Has Shown Me About America's Medical Insurance

What Turning 65 Told Me About America’s Health Insurance System

I turn 65 in December which makes me eligible for Medicare for the first time.  The process has revealed a lot of reality to me about America’s health insurance system that Americans should be aware of now that a new Congress and Senate majority has been elected and there is renewed GOP talk of “repealing Obamacare.”  

Going on Medicare has shown me how crazy people are --or uninformed-- who want to go back to pre-Obamacare days. Here’s what I discovered what happens when you do get to government provided medical insurance aka Medicare versus the world for those Americans under 65.

For years I have been an entrepreneur who wasn't on a corporate health or group plan. After I was laid off in the 80’s from a corporate job that had health insurance, I lost my coverage and didn’t have health insurance for over a decade because the costs were so high and my income was so unpredictable up and down.  I would get a policy, the costs would go up, and it would lapse due to inability to pay.  I had to do without it. It was like playing Russian roulette with my future since a major illness would bankrupt me.  

Only when I founded a successful company that allowed me to make the substantial monthly payment did I finally renew my coverage. But it was extremely costly since I could not be considered as part of a group, not even as a member of the Texas Bar. At the end I was paying $840 a month for a policy with a $10,000 deductible – a terrible policy not good for much but a catastrophic illness or accident.

I passed up an Obamacare policy last year when the site was having computer problems. It was a big mistake.  After I elected to stay with United Healthcare, my rates jumped 30% in midyear from about $640 per month to $840 per month for just myself --for a medical policy with a $10,000 deductible! They said they could do it because it was not an Obamacare policy!  I had passed up Obamacare plans that would have been much lower and had a lower deductible.  If I wasn't going on Medicare I would definitely be getting one of them this year!  Also, as a result of Obamacare, the Texas State Bar can offer its individual lawyer members a group rate!

Before the Affordable Care Act, even with a high deductible, I could have been denied insurance for a pre-existing condition, or canceled after getting sick. In those dark days many people were denied insurance, or canceled, with devastating personal consequences. Do you really want to go back to a time when they could deny you insurance? Those days are over only because of the Affordable Care Act – unless repealed by the new Republican majority in the Senate that insists upon it.

Now that I am eligible for Medicare, my health premiums are a fraction of what I had to pay a private insurance company! I am now facing monthly premiums of around $266 to $413 a month including a prescription drug plan and supplement insurance with only a $1,000 deductible.

I may be able to do better than that - there is a bewildering array of supplemental plans to choose from and I am still sorting it out. I have international legal experience and even I find the choices and differences in plans a challenge. Some of the additional coverage offered is free! Some have a small fee of $147 a month, including prescription drug costs.  I don’t take any prescription drugs other than a cholesterol pill, but some people have large prescription needs and Medicare helps tremendously.

So the talk about “repealing” Obamacare by the new GOP majority should scare the hell out of anyone under 65 because you will be screwed if you can no longer keep your kid on your policy until they are 26 or you are denied insurance because of your pre-existing conditions (obesity, smoking, cancer, age or other reason to deny you insurance.)   

That is how it was before the Affordable Care Act required that everyone applying for insurance must be covered regardless of their condition. Do you really want to lose that protection as a consumer?

Ironically, America picked the party for control of the U.S. Senate that has been working solely for the top 1% who don't need these protections from insurance monopolies while the bottom 99% can’t even get a boost in minimum wage or health insurance unless they are 65 or on Medicaid.  

Think about it.  Be careful what you pray for. You might just get it – and screw yourself in the process Americans.  My experience with the private insurance policies and Medicare shows how vastly better it is with Obamacare. We should have "Medicare for all" so those under 65 can enjoy what I am about to with those Americans 65 and over. 

(P.S. We are the only OECD country that doesn't provide healthcare for all our citizens).

Stay tuned for developments by following this GlobalAmerican Values blog and Like us on Facebook.

Solutions?  Check out the free chapter on making America No. 1 again “Agenda for American Greatness” at the book link below:

Michael Fjetland

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Americans Just Voted In the Party That Created the Gridlock. Now what?

Ironically, American voters just voted into control of the U.S. Senate and House the exact party that created the gridlock that cost those voters their income. Ironic.

The party that created the crash of 2008 and the Great Recession afterward is now in charge again.  When President Obama took office, on his first day on the job they pledged to sabotage his every request. How patriotic, to fight the new Captain after you just wrecked the ship. They did. And have for six years.  

Despite all that, Obama has created over 10 million jobs since taking office. He dropped the unemployment rate to under 6%. He was unwinding bad wars. The economy and stock market have been humming. And that wasn’t good enough for the voters?  He inherited a wrecked economy and trillion dollar deficits, unpaid for wars and unpaid for tax cuts—and without help from the GOP had bought a disaster back into a brisk 3% growth rate.  

It was the GOP that refused to pass a Jobs Bill or Minimum Wage increase that would have made people feel better and do better.  Because of the GOP tax policy, the economic growth has gone to the top 1% instead of the lower income people, many of whom voted for the Republican candidates Tuesday. 

Ironic.  Now what? 

Now that they have “control,” where are their SOLUTIONS?  How will Governor Greg Abbott make Texas roads better while cutting revenues? How will Texas education go from No. 49 to No. 1 by shortchanging funding for education when the courts have held it unconstitutional? How does a state that is adding 80,000 new students a year help education by not increasing the funding required to teach those students and funding for infrastructure such as roads to satisfy that growth?

How will a U.S. GOP Senate create jobs when it refused to fully fund the traditionally bipartisan Transportation Bills that would have created millions of more jobs?

That is the question ahead. Can they be trusted to focus on addressing America’s failure to invest in our own country’s people and infrastructure instead of power politics? We’ll see.

Follow us on Global American Values for updates to this continuing saga …And SHARE. You can check out my Agenda for American Greatness to get America back to No. 1 again at this link

Thursday, October 30, 2014

How NASA is Picking Model T Technology to Compete in Grand Prix Space Race

This weeks explosion of the rocket carrying supplies to the space station revealed a deep flaw in NASA's system - but not the flaw you may think.  It shows a huge lack of common sense at the management level that smacks of gross incompetence and lack of sound judgment that jeopardizes our entire space program at a time when even China is beginning to pass us by.

NASA awarded a $ 2 billion contract to Orbital Sciences to help supply the space station -- a company that has zero manufacturing expertise! Furthermore, Orbital Sciences was not allowed to buy engines that companies like Boeing have sole (monopoly) access to.

As a result, Orbital Sciences had a $2 billion contract but could not perform without buying and "fixing up" 50 year old Soviet era engines in order to do the job. Who in NASA thought that awarding a contract to a company relying on ancient technology was a good idea?

                                         Photo: Obital Sciences 50 year old engines major malfunction

So, Orbital Sciences ended up using Soviet-era engines that were built in the 60's and 70's!

Does that sound "cutting edge" to you?  Imagine trying to win the Indy 500 using a car built forty years ago.  Should we be surprised that these engines blew up after sitting in a warehouse for decades?  How many Packards or Edsels have won the Grand Prix, even after a tune up?

The problem is not using private companies; the problem is the companies that NASA has been selecting -- they picked companies that a rationale citizen could determine were not qualified.

This is not an isolated incident.  NASA just awarded SpaceX and Boeing $6 billion in contracts for further space station supply flights. The difference? SpaceX has been building its own engines and has actually successfully flown several missions! That was a correct choice. However,  Boeing hasn't even made a test flight, yet it got 2/3's of the money and SpaceX only 1/3 (about $2 billion). How does this make sense? Was the decision based on merit, or politics?

So far NASA picked one winner who hasn't even flown a test flight (Boeing), and another which is using technology old enough to qualify for social security (Orbital Sciences.)

NASA's decision-making also lacks common sense in that it picked three designs which were all basically the same capsule designs. SpaceX, Boeing and NASA's own Orion are all capsules. NASA eliminated Sierra Nevada although it has developed a reusable "Space Plane" design called the Dreamchaser which can take off and land on an ordinary runway, vastly speeding up turn-around time and cutting costs and recovery effort.

All the capsules selected by NASA have to be fished out of the ocean, just like they were over fifty years ago. How is that an improvement?

                                        Photo: Sierra Nevada's "Dreamchaser" Space Plane
                                         - NOT picked by NASA

NASA's decisions lack common sense when they give billions to a company that brings nothing to the table and has to rely on ancient technology to perform a high risk job of launching cargo into space. NASA's decision lack vision by overlooking a mini-shuttle design like the Dreamchaser Space Plane that would bring down the costs of recovery and launching payloads.

There needs to be an investigation into NASA's contracting processes.  As a result of this launch failure, Orbital Sciences needs to have its contract revoked and replaced with Sierra Nevada's more modern design. Also, Space X should be getting the lion's share of the launch contract funds, not Boeing.

We need more decisions from NASA that result in more manufacturing of modern components in the United States instead of relying on foreign competitors and junk engines left over from the Soviet Union.

Write your Congress representative.  Demand that NASA start picking cutting edge technology instead of conducting an American space race with Model T technology.

We are not going to be No. 1 in space by following the road of mediocrity.

Follow Global American Values blog for more updates.