Sunday, December 1, 2013

Breaking Poorly

The big hit of the past TV season was Breaking Bad, so I’m told. This I only know second hand since I don’t do boob tube. In the past 50 years or so I’ve only lived with one for about 3 years. Even though I’ve never watched the show I can state with some confidence that it exemplifies the reasons why I can’t stand TV. It simply doesn’t know how to ring true or represent what’s actually happening in the real world. That’s in spite of the fact that it purports to be part of the new genre of ‘good’ TV.
The story revolves around a good guy who turns bad because of big financial problems. Being a chemistry teacher he uses his skills to cook meth to make up for going bankrupt, loosing his house and having a chronic disease, cancer I think. The entire premise of the show is unbelievable if not preposterous. While it is possible for a person to do meth on a regular basis and still retain their basic goodness, I might not believe it if I hadn’t personally known such a person, because speed freaks, not to mention meth cookers, tend to be on the bottom rung of low-lives. They’re tense, angry, nasty and short on basic humanity. Of all the illegal drugs, meth has the most damaging effect on personality and health.
In other words, if a ‘good’ guy goes into illegal drugs it wouldn’t be as a meth cooker, it’d be making LSD or Ecstasy or one of the other designer drugs or setting up an old fashioned marijuana grow operation. Back in the States recently talking to my 21-year-old grandson about the show I asked him if it was ever mentioned in the show how millions of people lost their homes because of the unconscionable greed of the banksters who crashed the economy while getting rich themselves. And how even as millions of common people were kicked out of their homes and left to fend for themselves, the banks and their CEOs got bailed out by the government. Needless to say, that was never spoken of since it’s not part of the corporate TV narrative. I expect the subject of foreclosures was dealt with as if people lose their houses all the time with no-one else to blame but themselves.
The other reason why Mr. Good guy turned Bad is a chronic illness so I queried my grandson further asking if the show ever mentioned that the US is the only wealthy country in the world that doesn’t provide universal health care, that doesn’t take care of all its citizens; thus the only rich country in which people go bankrupt because of health care costs. Of course not, that would be political, that would mean talking about the things that real people talk about. I’ve never seen a show in which the characters talked about the things I and my friends talk about. There’s never been a conversation on TV that reflected the feelings of real people, at least those who aren’t totally bought into the corporate program. It’s pap, time-filler, skim-the-surface thinking, meant to be clever while keeping watchers stupid, stupefied and uninformed. When asked if they approve of the Affordable Care Act, Americans say yes. When the same question is asked about Obamacare they say the opposite even though they are one and the same. People don’t get that clueless and stupid by accident. They have to be taught to be dunces.
It’s like during the recent government shut-down fiasco when corporate media framed the story as both sides not being willing to compromise as if both were at fault, when it was the Repugs trying to hold the government hostage to achieve their goals of repealing Obamacare when they were unable to do so through the ballot box, you know, democracy. For once, Obama found his guts and refused to go against the will of the people, who after all had just re-elected him. Too bad he didn’t bend to the common will when he designed Obamacare, his monumentally complicated gift to the insurance companies. All polling has consistently shown very large majorities for single-payer health care, Medicare for all Americans. (For you non-Americans, Medicare is socialized medicine for people over 65 and the disabled.) He was afraid if he didn’t get the insurance companies behind the plan he’d get nothing so in the end the American people got crap. The fact that it is significantly better than the extremely rotten system that came before in no way makes it less than crap.
For instance, people have a choice of plans that range from bronze to platinum. The bronze plan requires a 40% co-pay which, considering the extreme cost of all health care in America, is essentially worthless. It only makes sense when Medicaid, the subsidized health care for low income people is added. Those whose income is too high to qualify for Medicaid will still be forced into bankruptcy from co-pays. At the present time 60% of all health care related bankruptcies are from people who had health insurance.
Obamacare doesn’t do anything to tackle the high cost of medication. For instance, living in Cambodia where it’s almost always humid I invariably have a fungus growing between my toes and need a fungicide to keep it in check. Here I pay 62 cents for 10 grams of anti-fungal cream, which is manufactured in Malaysia, a middle income country. In the US, in a discount market, the same cream costs $6.30 for 1.5 grams: seventy times more. This is a common generic medication; there’s no research necessary and no patents involved and no reason other than greedy underhanded corporate dominance and high friends in government that can justify or explain, that discrepancy. Americans are getting ripped off, clear and simple.
For all his efforts to placate the insurance industry - Obamacare is modeled after a plan designed by the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank - all he’s gotten is flack. For all the shit he’s had thrown at him, he should’ve done it right the first time and set up a single payer system. That could’ve included an opt-out provision for crazies who prefer private insurance to Medicare.
I had an opportunity while back in the States recently to use Medicare for the first time, and in fact got to use an Obamacare rule-change that only came into effect on October 1st this year. Now all insurance has to provide free preventative services and so I thought I ought to get a check up, since I don’t remember the last time. Previously, Medicare patients who didn’t pay $100 extra per month had to pay 20% of costs for everything including check-ups. Simple as it is, Medicare is more complicated than it should be. It should be free for everyone all the time.
Many people back there asked me about health care in Cambodia. If it has to do with medicine, it’s very cheap – a course of antibiotics is a dollar or two – and there’s no such thing as prescriptions. If they have it they’ll sell it to you with few exceptions. For instance, getting morphine isn’t always so easy unless you say, or they can see, that you are in terrible pain.
Treatment is also cheap enough, but also inferior. A friend broke his hand and had it put back together here in Kampot. It works, he can still play drums, but it’s offset sideways about a quarter-inch from where it should be. A serious fracture requires a trip to Vietnam or Thailand unless you want to come out all twisted out of shape.
Another friend had a serious hernia, size of an orange was how he described it. He didn’t trust Cambodia so went to a Thai border town. At first he went to a branch of a hospital chain that caters to foreigners. They wanted $3500. He decided that was too much and wandered around till he found a hospital for locals. Three nights in the hospital, doctors and all expenses included, cost $380. In America, probably 100 times as much, though there they’d probably kick him out of the hospital after one night and it’d only cost ten or twenty grand. I have a hernia issue myself. It’s a small bubble and if my guts start to pop out I can shove them back in – makes a strange squishy sound when I do that. Considering my friend’s experience, I can probably get mine fixed as an outpatient here for far less than the 20% share I’d have to pay on basic Medicare back in the states.
I know guys back in the States who, seemingly strong and healthy, had minor heart attacks. I’m not sure how that would get taken care of here, though there is a new teaching hospital started by a western doctor near the city. Would I get there in time to avoid complications? I don’t think about it much… whatever happens. I’ve been to see a doctor maybe 5 times in the past 50 years, take only recreational drugs and get plenty of exercise. I’m certainly getting creaky in places, but I’m not going to obsess or worry about it, just try to take care of it naturally. For instance, my toes tend to cramp up. When I asked a nurse friend about it five years ago, she said calcium deficiency. So now I drink milk – not all that much but for decades previously I only used it in coffee – and almost every time I cook I include a dark green vegetable which is the local equivalent of spinach and when I remember I take calcium supplements. My toes still seize up occasionally but nothing like before.
I can just imagine how decrepit I’d be if I didn’t exercise and eat healthy. My cholesterol is excellent and my liver and kidneys are working just fine. My blood pressure is higher than it should be, but still not in the problem area, and my lung capacity is a bit short, which is not surprising considering I’ve been smoking one thing or another for the last 60 years... I can still play sax, so it can’t be that bad. So, all in all still kicking at 72.
But like with my friends, health problems can hit you quite suddenly, so who knows what can happen? Worst comes to worst, I’d have to make a trip back there into the hands of Medicare and Medicaid and try to survive on $680 per month. Wow, that would be an awful fate.

No comments: