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Revolution anyone?


I was among those packing the house at the Van Duzer Theatre last Friday for the inauguration of Humboldt State University President Rollin Richmond. There was a distinct advantage to having this event one year after Richmond assumed his post. Those who spoke of the changes he is making on campus and throughout the community did so with first-hand knowledge --genuine enthusiasm.

Richmond caused a little grumbling on the hill this year when he pushed forward with a physical reorganization of some offices. And there were a few notable exits from the administration as well as hirings as he settled in. (Still to come, the hiring of a vice president/provost.) But at this early stage, the students and particularly the faculty, who are sometimes known for being a cantankerous bunch when dealing with administrators, are giving him a thumbs-up.

In terms of community relations, Richmond has demonstrated a hands-on approach to problem-solving. He involved himself in the stand-off with the city of Arcata over the construction of the Behavioral and Social Sciences Building and with the city of Eureka over the boarded-up State Theater/Daly Building. Both projects are moving forward.

At the reception later, I ran into state Sen. Wesley Chesbro. After apologizing for injecting business into a social event, I launched into a short rant about double-digit increases in health insurance premiums and said no wonder some small businesses are canceling their policies altogether.

Mainly, I wanted to make sure Wes had read the special report, "Medical emergency," in the San Francisco Chronicle April 27 (a terrific journalistic effort ). [Links are below.] The report was actually eight different articles, one of them by Jamie Court, "A revolution looking for a leader and a way." It summarized health care reform proposals and handicapped all the players -- patients, doctors, nurses, hospitals, employers, insurers, HMOs and drug companies -- each and every one of them with their own agenda. (One interesting note is that nurses, "having witnessed abuses at the bedside ... are even more ready than doctors for radical change.")

Are you ready for a revolution? I am, and not just because of my own company's high insurance premium.

At first, I was intrigued by Rep. Dick Gephardt's recent proposal to shift health care premiums from a business "expense" to a much-more-desirable tax credit. (He is proposing to pay for this shift by forgoing the tax cut Congress is working on, a brilliant idea that will go nowhere under this administration.)

What's wrong with Gephardt's thinking? For one, why is universal health care, a social goal that the world's richest country can well afford, the sole responsibility of business owners? More importantly, as a second Chronicle article pointed out, Gephardt's plan would do nothing for the uninsured who are clogging emergency rooms because they have nowhere else to go. (The article by Julie Winokur, "Live sicker, die younger," tells of a professional couple who very recently earned $100,000 a year, descending into health care hell because of a layoff, an illness and no insurance.)

If you are sitting there comfortably saying, I have insurance for my family, what does any of this have to do with me? I will tell you.

You are paying for this dysfunctional health care delivery system now in a very expensive, inefficient fashion: with jacked-up hospital bills paid by your insurance company and ever-higher premiums that are strangling businesses -- the ones which haven't canceled their policies.

I have little hope for a solution at the federal level, with a Congress still gun-shy from the 1993 Clinton health-care reform failure. A state will have to show the feds there is a system that can work. Wes said Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco, is co-authoring a union-backed "pay or play" proposal which would tax those employers without insurance to fund publicly subsidized universal coverage, but would it cover nonunionized workers? How about those newly unemployed or in transition? Would it have any relief for small companies currently unable to join group plans?

Stay tuned.

See San Francisco Chronicle Articles:
Neglected for a decade, health care is metastasizing into a new crisis

Live sicker, die younger: The plight of the uninsured
by Julie Winokur
A revolution looking for a leader and a way by Jamie Court
Can we control the rising cost of health care? by Lloyd H. Dean
Gephardt launches two great debates by Matthew Miller
Universal care is nowhere to be found by Jeff Stryker
Put insurance out of work by William S. Andereck
Should Medicare just say yes to prescription drugs? by Carolyn Lochhead,
Chronicle Washington Bureau
The long road to a national health plan by Kevin Grumbach, Philip R. Lee




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