Tag Archives: health care

Ben Carson’s Split Personality

Brilliant Surgeon, Wacko Political Views

By Barry Rascovar

October 14, 2013 — As a pediatric neurosurgeon, Ben Carson was spectacular. His extraordinary eye-hand coordination and three-dimensional skills led to the world’s first separation of twins joined at the head — a 22-hour procedure requiring an expert Johns Hopkins surgical team of 70.

As a philanthropist, he and his wife are exemplary leaders in awarding scholarships to deserving youths who strive to be the best, regardless of economic or societal circumstances.

But as a novice political commentator, Ben Carson is displaying a less admirable side.

Dr. Ben Carson

Dr. Ben Carson

The first glimmer of this surfaced over the winter when he embarrassed President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual, non-partisan event designed to be spiritually uplifting. Instead, Carson delivered a gloomy speech about “moral decay and fiscal irresponsibility” directed at the man sitting by his side.

For this deed, he became an instant hero to far-right conservatives. Fox News and the Wall Street Journal urged him to run for president.

Another outburst critical of same-sex marriages sparked a protest movement last spring among students at the place that had put him on a pedestal — the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. This uproar grew so fierce Carson stepped down as commencement speaker to avoid a nasty scene for himself and the university that had nurtured his rise to super-star status.

Conservative Media Commentator

Now that he is a retired neurosurgeon, Carson has embarked on a new career as a right-wing talking head for Fox News, the Tea Party station.

On his first day, he equated President Obama to Vladimir Lenin and equated the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) to communism.

He inaccurately attributed to Lenin the line that “socialized medicine is the keystone of the arch to the socialist state. . . . because it gives you control of the people.” (As far as the Library of Congress can glean from its research, it’s a made-up quote.)

In another outburst, he claimed to be a victim of the Internal Revenue Service’s witch hunt against right-wingers because he’s been tagged for a tax audit this year. He offered no further evidence.

Then on Friday he called Obamacare “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery. It is slavery, in a way. It is making us all subservient to the government. . . . It [is] about control.”

Yes, Carson wins the prize for “wacko comments of the week.”

He wins in a landslide.

Defining Socialized Medicine

Is Obamacare socialized medicine, as Carson insists?

Not really.

Socialized medicine implies a nation’s health-care system is fully controlled and paid for by the government.

That’s the way it worked in the old Soviet Union:

  • All doctors, nurses and medical staff were state employees working in state hospitals and health facilities.
  • Private medical services were illegal.
  • The Soviet government dictated the number of doctors, the number of surgeries and the amount of medicine dispersed.

Cuba has a similar system today.

Other countries have a far more modest, and less dictatorial, form of universal health care run by the government — Britain, Finland, Spain, Israel and Canada.

Obamacare is a weak sister next to those socialized programs.

Examining Obamacare

If Carson wants an example of socialized medicine in this country, he shouldn’t point to Obamacare but to the military medical systems, the Veterans Administration, the Tricare government program for military families, Medicare and Medicaid.

None of those U.S. programs allows private insurers to sign up millions of Americans for health care coverage. Obamacare does.

Obamacare lets individuals choose their own private insurance plans from a wide array of options. People are free to choose their own doctors, too.

Individuals who already have health insurance don’t have to change.

Government subsidies support a big chunk of Obamacare, but the choice is still in the hands of individuals as to how much of their own money they want to spend on health care.

There’s no opt-out provision in other nations’ health care programs. Under Obamacare, anyone determined to go without health care can do so, but there’s an annual fee involved.

That hardly constitutes “socialized medicine” and it hardly amounts to oppressive government control and enslavement.

The U.S. vs. The Industrialized World

If universal health care coverage is so mendacious, why is it that every industrialized country in the world has some form of it, except the United States?

Are all those countries marching in lock-step to the drumbeat of Comrade Lenin’s ideology?

Are the VA and U.S. military health systems part of a grand communist conspiracy?

Obamacare is a modified version of Medicare, which has been around for nearly 50 years without limiting individual freedoms for seniors.

Today’s Medicare supplements function much the way Obamacare works: The government qualifies private health plans, which then vie with one another to win enough applicants to make a big profit.

Sad Transformation

That’s good old American competition at work, though the rules of the game are written by our elected representatives in Washington.

In Carson’s eyes, though, this is the second coming of an Orwellian, Leninist society.

It’s sad to see Carson transform himself from a much-admired recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom into a right-wing, apocalyptic voice.

Even worse, he has abandoned the scientific method that guided his earlier career. That time-honored approach demands rock-solid, well-tested proof before sweeping assertions and hypotheses are accepted as fact.

Ben Carson has forsaken the scientific method for political pontificating.

It’s a great loss for society and for those who once held this philanthropist and man of medicine in such high esteem.

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Obamacare: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Troubled Start But Strong Finish Likely

By Barry Rascovar

October 7, 2013–Let’s agree Obamacare’s sign-up period is off to a dreadful start. That Uncle Sam and most states botched the IT implementation phase is obvious. They get an “F” in computer science.

Is anyone surprised? How many times in the past has government screwed up technology initiation?

Flawed computer systems that crash often, can’t deliver on their lofty promises and cost billions to patch up are all too common on massive government IT projects (Exhibit One being the IRS).

Maryland’s botched IT approach to health care sign-ups seems especially ripe for criticism.MD Health Connection

That’s the bad news.

The Good News

On a positive note, this isn’t a dash but a long-distance race. There’s plenty of time to overcome the IT glitches. You’ve got till Dec. 15 to sign up for a health plan to gain coverage starting Jan. 1 and a full six months to get coverage starting later in 2014.

Early hang-ups on such a massive and complex undertaking had to be anticipated. Once computer snags and slowdowns are remedied, it will be interesting to see how enrollment turns out.

In states like Maryland, where the political establishment is a gung-ho backer of Obamacare, there’s a strong likelihood of broad acceptance. In states under Republican control, where leaders have made Obamacare the political Satan, enrollment may not be strong.

Indeed, this country could become a two-tier nation on health coverage split between the haves (states where most obtain health insurance) and the have-nots (states actively impeding efforts to give poor people and America’s underclass health coverage).

The Ugly

What’s playing out is, unfortunately, oddly familiar. An affluent, white, conservative ruling class primarily in Southern, Border and Southwestern states wants to re-create the United States in that image — even though they don’t have the votes to do it.

This also was the situation when Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860 and we know what came shortly afterwards.

This time, it is the Tea Party vowing to blow up the federal government to get its way.

The movement’s bitter hatred of the nation’s first black president sounds eerily similar to the vicious personal insults directed at Lincoln. There are strong overtones of racism and classism in the movement’s rhetoric and objectives.

Those with money and power in Tea Party states seek to deny those lacking money and power the right to receive health care, citizenship and the vote. It is a cynical, hedonistic movement pandering to the desires of narrow-minded, well-off folks who have no wish to help those less fortunate than themselves.

Who Wins?

In Maryland, you can spot overtures along these lines from political officials in Frederick and Carroll counties and from the First District’s ultra-conservative congressman, Andy Harris.

Maryland Rep. Andy Harris

MD 1st District Rep. Andy Harris

The plight of poor folks and minorities really doesn’t count for those politicians. They are pandering to the Tea Party crowd.

In rural parts of the Free State there’s a strong conservative tone to politics. That’s unlikely to change any time soon.

But the vast bulk  of the state’s population lies in Central Maryland, where liberal Democrats have a near-monopoly on public offices and public opinion.

So we know which side is going to win this argument in Democratic Maryland.

What’s less certain is the ultimate outcome in Tea Party states with fast-growing minority populations, such as North Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Next month’s governor’s election in the Old Dominion could give an indication as to which side is gaining the upper hand.

The Fate of Obamacare

Meanwhile, the dreadful stand-off in Washington continues with no end in sight. Republican hardliners don’t have an exit strategy.

One thing seems likely: Obamacare will remain on the books once the dust settles. Time is on the side of the president. As more and more citizens gain affordable health insurance, the Tea Party’s extreme arguments could bear less and less relationship to reality.

In the long run — a decade from now — Obamacare might prove unaffordable and unworkable as Republicans are predicting. Or it might be as ubiquitous and accepted as Social Security and Medicare. But that’s for another generation to debate.

The current leaders in Washington find themselves locked in a pointless and damaging food fight that in a few weeks could do great harm to the country and its economic stability.

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Look to Shock Trauma’s success

By Barry Rascovar / The Community Times / May 15, 2013

After a response team dragged unconscious firefighter Gene Kirchner from an intense three-alarm house fire on Hanover Road in the early hours of April 24, he wound up in the only place equipped to deal with his life-threatening injuries, the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Unfortunately, even the renowned doctors at Shock Trauma could not save Kirchner, an eight-year veteran of the Reisterstown Volunteer Fire Company.

He died last Thursday, only the second firefighter to die in the line of duty in the 100 years of the RVFC.

It is not often that Shock Trauma loses its battle to preserve life. Fully 96 percent of those admitted survive.

Trauma doctors there believe that if badly injured patients arrive at Shock Trauma within that “golden hour” following an accident they can be saved.

Using unconventional methods such as simultaneously treating multiple aspects of a patient’s critical injuries immediately upon arrival, the Maryland Shock Trauma Center has revolutionized emergency medicine.

But sometimes there is little doctors can do to help someone as critically injured as Gene Kirchner.

Ironically when the center’s staff and guests gathered for their annual gala recently, the evening centered on another fatality that had been turned into a remarkable “gift of life.”

Physician-in-chief Dr. Tom Scalia described how he and his team fought to revive a pedestrian who had been struck by a car, 21-year-old Joshua Aversano of White Hall. Sadly, Joshua’s brain injury was too severe.

At that point Joshua’s family made the decision to contribute Joshua’s body parts to help others. What followed was a true miracle.

Over a three-day period, six people were given life-saving organs, Joshua’s heart, liver, pancreas, kidneys and lung. It was a mighty tribute to Joshua and his family, and to the enormous skills of the Shock Trauma team at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

But the truly amazing part of the story was yet to come: using Joshua’s facial bones, skin, tongue, teeth and underlying muscle and tissue to perform the world’s most extensive full-face transplant.

Over 150 doctors, nurses and other professionals participated in this 36-hour marathon. The Virginia patient, who had lived as a recluse since a 1997 gun accident shattered his face, received a new lease on life.

When 37-year-old Richard Norris walked on stage, he was a man reborn with nary a wrinkle.

An incredible amount of research preceded the surgery, much of it funded by the Office of Naval Research. The hope is that similar facial transplants will aid servicemen maimed by explosives.

Each year, 8,600 gravely injured people arrive at Shock Trauma, most of them via State Police Medevac helicopter, part of Maryland’s integrated emergency medical network.

It is a remarkable organization, heavily supported by taxpayer dollars. They did their best to save Gene Kirchner. He would have been the first to recognize their heroic efforts.

Barry Rascovar of Reisterstown is a writer and communications consultant. He can be reached at brascovar@outlook.com.