July 10, 2007


I just saw Michael Moore's new film, Sicko.

He hit the nail on the head, to say the least.

While not a expert in public health or economics, Moore is able to use film to get across a message that the experts - armed only with statistics and analysis - often cannot. The premise of his film is that our health care system doesn't work, and that we would be better off by switching to a system that is not driven by profits. Rather than focusing on the nearly 50 million uninsured (although they come up regularly), he focuses on the failed state of health care for those of us that do have health coverage.

For the providers of health care in America, insurance companies, the intrinsic goal as for-profit corporations is to make the most money. Health care, people like Moore and myself feel, should be driven by the desire to make people better.

Moore presented story after story of denied claims leading to ruined families or even death. I think that many people can relate to these stories, having personally experienced difficulties with the health insurance system or knowing others who have. This, I believe, makes Sicko much more accessible than Moore's previous films such as Fahrenheit 9/11 or Bowling for Columbine, as anti-Bush or anti-gun rhetoric is not as personally relevant as health care.

While it is easy to criticize the health systems in every other industrialized country in the world, it is also easy to criticize a system that leaves 1/6 of the population uninsured while posing a huge financial and emotional burden to many others. Rankings of our health care system, as well as life expectancy and infant mortality rates, demonstrate that our for-profit system doesn't do anything better for us when it comes to results, while we spend more on health care per capita than any other country in the world.

Instead of sending our health dollars to stockholders, we should be sending it to doctors. Instead of corporations handing money to insurers as a benefit to their employees, that money could be diverted to the government to distribute to providers. Sure, it would mean new taxes, but it wouldn't have to mean more money spent overall; money would simply bypass the mess of private insurers. A successful health care system doesn't have to be government-run, but to be effective and humane it should be universal and non-profit.

Posted by mjpoll at 12:22 AM | Comments (1)

March 26, 2007

Mental Health Parity

"While I understand the importance of addressing a patient's mental health needs, I remain concerned that adding any new mandates in health care coverage will send already sky high health care costs even higher. Recent studies have shown that a portion of the increase in health care costs is directly correlated to increases in new mandates in health care coverage. As the costs of health care rise, some small businesses have been forced to drop health care coverage for their employees, and other individuals who receive employer-sponsored insurance increasingly face higher out-of-pocket costs. I firmly believe that the marketplace and consumer demand should be the driving force behind changes in health care coverage, not additional government mandates."

-Congressman Peter Hoekstra (well, his staff member) responding to me on his plans to oppose Mental Health Parity.

Posted by mjpoll at 05:54 PM | Comments (1)

October 20, 2006

Pro-life is about more than abortion (taken from an election issue group I created on facebook)

Life is precious. But 'life' refers to so much more than an unborn child. What about the other 6.5 billion people living today?

1.1 billion people on the planet have no access to safe drinking water.
An estimated 400,000 people have been killed in the Darfur region of the Sudan in the past several years, and 2 million more have become refugees.
In 2005, 46.6 million Americans had no health insurance.
Due to the U.S.-led invasion and post-war occupation of Iraq, an estimated 44,000-48,000 Iraqi cilvians, 2,786 American soldiers, 235 non-U.S. soldiers, and dozens of journalists, aid workers, and contractors have been killed.
In the past 30 years, over 1,000 people have been executed in the United States.
In 2005, an estimated 38.6 million people were living with HIV.

To us, pro-life is not just anti-abortion. And you don't have to be a Christian or a fundamentalist to be pro-life, as the debate on these issues would imply. To us, pro-life also means pro-human rights, anti-war, anti-poverty, anti-HIV/AIDS, anti-captial punishment, and fair and quality healthcare for all, just to name a few. And anti-abortion doesn't necessarily mean we think that abortion should be outlawed in the U.S. It might for some; this group is still for you. There are others who feel that there are other ways to decrease the number of abortions; this group is for you, too.

It's about time we change the direction of this debate.

Sources for statistics above:


All sources accessed 20 October 2006.

Posted by mjpoll at 03:52 PM | Comments (2)

October 14, 2006

An Open Letter on Mental Health Parity

Dear Friends,

I write to you today asking for your consideration of an issue that has had a profound impact upon my family and many others in our nation: the disparity in health care treatment for the mentally ill. To address this problem, Congress has been considering a bill on mental health care parity for several years that would require group health insurance plans to provide coverage for mental health at the same standards as for other areas of health care. For example, a health plan can limit the number of annual visits to a psychologist, even though the plan does not limit visits for non-mental health illnesses. To give you an idea of the status quo, Congress passed the Mental Health Parity Act in 1996, which required that insurance companies place equal dollar caps (lifetime and annual) on mental health and physical health benefits. The legislation, however, does not prohibit insurance companies from restricting the number of therapy visits or days of hospitalization for mental illnesses, or raising co-payments for mental health care. Some states have passed their own parity laws, but many have not. Also, some of the state laws are not comprehensive. This discrepancy creates a huge burden to receiving care for those with mental illnesses; in my opinion it amounts to nothing less than systemic discrimination.

I have seen the first-hand effects of this disparity as I have watched my parents fight a continuous battle to provide care for my younger brother, who has several psychological disorders. At times, they have been left with no choice but to pay for treatment out-of-pocket because the insurance company limits the number of visits per year to a psychologist. There are so few options available for so many, unfortunately. In America today, tens of millions live without health insurance. Now imagine an America where those that are fortunate enough to have health insurance, but are living with mental illness, are denied treatment and can't afford to continue. No choices remain except amassing debt or just forgoing treatment altogether. Those who can't afford their own treatment are sent further along on a downward spiral. According to the American Psychological Association, 44 million Americans live with a mental health disorder, but only one third of those Americans receive treatment. Of those who don't receive treatment, 87% say that lack of insurance is a leading factor for not receiving treatment, and 81% say that cost is a leading factor. This, I'm afraid, is the America we live in.

The main opponents of mental health parity argue that it is too costly. The research on the matter paints a quite different picture, however. The estimates for the rise in health care premiums if parity were required range from one to four percent. However, the loss of productivity due to untreated mental illnesses is far more costly than the direct financial cost of parity. Estimates for the cost of lost productivity range from the tens of billions of dollars to over one hundred billion dollars annually (according to a 2000 surgeon general's report, indirect costs of mental illness were $79 billion in 1990).

Why is it that in the United States today, a person can have a broken bone or cancer and be reimbursed to one standard by their insurance company, but have a mental health disorder and be held to a different, lower standard? Why is it that our society has decided that mental illness is not as real as any other illness? After years of progress in research on mental illness and after proving wrong all of the preconceived notions about a non-biological cause for mental illness, isn't it about time that the health care system in the United States starts treating mental health to the same standards as other illnesses?

Thank you for listening to my opinions on this issue. I hope that you will consider these facts and arguments. If you agree that insurance companies should have to hold the same standards for mental health care and non-mental health care, this is a great time to become involved and do something about it! You could call or write your Congressional representative, and ask him or her to sign discharge petition 0018 so that this bill can be brought out of committee and receive a floor vote in the House of Representatives, or at least tell them that you support mental health parity and urge them to support it too. The bill has been stuck in committee for years, and if discharge petition #18 can receive 218 signatures (it only needs 53 more right now!), the bill will bypass the committee and go straight to a floor vote. The bill has the bipartisan support of 229 co-sponsors, a majority, and would likely pass if brought to a vote. You could also let other people know that this is an issue that matters to you , such as by adding "mental health parity" as a campaign issue that is important to you on Facebook (the issue can be found in my profile!).

If you have any questions or would like to speak with me about this, let me know! I've included a few sources of information below for anyone interested. I have also attached a PDF copy of a very informative journal article about this topic.

Thanks again for your time,

Mark Poll

A Few References on Mental Health Parity
Text of House Resolution 1402 - http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c109:H.R.1402:
Discharge Petition 0018 - http://clerk.house.gov/109/lrc/pd/Petitions/Dis18.htm
American Psychological Association Info on Mental Health Parity - http://www.apahelpcenter.org/articles/article.php?id=26
Census data on health insurance statistics - http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/hlthins/hlthin05/fig07.pdf
National Mental Health Information Center Info on Parity - http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/cmhs/ManagedCare/Parity/default.asp
National Mental Health Association Parity Fact Sheet - http://www.nmha.org/state/parity/parity_fact_sheet.cfm
National Mental Health Association: Why Parity Makes Economic Sense - http://www.nmha.org/state/parity/parity_economy.cfm
Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General (see Chapter 6, Section 2 for the costs of mental illness) - http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/mentalhealth/toc.html

Posted by mjpoll at 06:51 PM | Comments (2)