Who Are We?

Today is Sunday. And Father’s Day.

Believers who celebrate Sabbath on Sunday will go to church and hear exhortations about living a good and moral life.  Depending upon the denomination, the focus will be on love and compassion, charity and social justice.

In most families, Fathers will receive sentimental greeting cards from their children thanking them for their patience and love and support. Some will get sweaters or ties or sporting gear; others will have a family dinner.

These Norman Rockwell experiences make us feel good about ourselves. We’re good people, family people, caring citizens.

So here is my question: how many Americans will go to work tomorrow for an employer who has cut his or her hours in order to avoid paying for health insurance? If we are to believe the media reports, it’s not an insignificant number.

At Indiana University, where I teach, there’s a new rule that Graduate Assistants–already poorly paid–cannot work more than 29 hours a week, because then they would be eligible for health insurance. The Indianapolis Star recently reported that several Indiana school districts were planning to cut back hours for many staff positions, so that they could avoid insuring the people in those positions. Private employers, of course, have been engaging in such practices for years, in order to avoid compliance with a number of regulations that apply only when employees work a certain number of hours.

This response to an effort–however flawed–to extend basic health services to people who currently can’t afford those services tells us something about our culture. And what it tells us isn’t consistent with that Norman Rockwell version of ourselves.


  1. Your essay makes me mad. These days, truth usually does. I remember reading in a slick Indiana University publication that the university considers its people to be its most important asset. After 30 years of working at the university, I know of many instances that refute the rhetoric. IU should be a leader in support of its mission–well-being and education of students.

  2. I think what we discovered during the HC fight was we have a compassionate but warring nature in continuous conflict at the group or institutional level. It took every niggling payoff, every scintilla of calculation, every ounce of political will the more generous side of our collective nature had to make the compromises necessary to establish the principle of a right to HC. My fervent hope is that as implementation slowly creeps into American life and takes hold our systems make the adjustments necessary to accomodate the idea that greater social equity has national economic benefit as well as individual benefit. I fought hard for passage of the ACA and in many ways was disappointed briefly in the final bill but as Teddy Kennedy often said take the small steps and eventually you’ll get there. This was a large, essential, foundational step. Only the first of many to come. The fight is only beginning as we can see by the continual fight today over Social Security and the completely ignorant way in which sequester is allowed to continue. Sheila Kennedy is absolutely correct in reflecting on values when considering the families who have yet to see much support following the enormous bailouts granted our largest institutions initiated during the recession/depression and still ongoing. I’ll reflect on the father force in each of us this morning and work to see it more benevolent, more compassionate, more creative and what I believe to be more wise. Happy Fathers Day to that force in everyone.

  3. Want to know why employers cannot afford health insurance coverge for employees and why GOP and others blame ACA for the problems; below I copied and pasted a message from a friend regarding 60 Minutes last week.

    “Did you watch 60 minutes last night? Sounded like you produced it. All about how HMA instructed docs to hospitalize 20% of ER patients. Told them to admit 50% of patients over 65. Encouraged them to run tests unrelated to complaints.”

    Her comment regarding my producing the program resulted from my recent 49 hour in-patient hospital stay, admitted through the ER after four days of being severely ill. I had a viral flu, severe dehydration, bladder infection but the doctors and service providers ignored all information my daughter-in-law and I gave them about my general condition. They also questioned but ignored my granddaughter who is an RN at Riley Hospital. They ignored the fact that I have never had chest pains or difficulty breathing and decided I had heart disease and ordered numerous expensive cardiac tests. They also ordered physical therapy, the PT’s spent 30-45 minutes with me one time. The cardiologist came to my room to tell me all heart tests were normal and I would be released one hour after the same ER doctor said I needed to remain hospitalized for more heart tests. I am 76, deaf and disabled due to two inner ear diseases; have had the best of care and therapy since my first diagnosis 37 years ago but all information I gave them was disregarded.

    Two weeks ago I received a copy of the hospital billing for doctors and service providers totalling $1,280.00. The following day I received a copy of the hospital in-patient billing totalling $18,739.85. The full total is $20,019.85 for 49 hours of unnecessary service providers (at times 3-4 in a group) and unnecessary testing. The hospital bill lists Intensive Care Services – I was never in Intensive Care and received normal ER treatment. There was also a charge for the ER Services. Physical Therapy Services was listed twice with two different amounts; the PT’s spent 30-45 minutes with me one time and one of them only leaned against the door jamb. My Release Document made no mention of heart disease as the reason for my in-patient admittance.

    This experience shows why medical care is sky high and why employees cannot afford to insure all employees; it is also an example of why many people cannot afford health care or health care insurance. It is the explanation of problems with Medicare who apparently do not question any bill they receive but simply pay it. I have written to my health care provider and, depending on their response, will submit this information to Welfare Fraud Division. If we do not speak out; the problem will escalate and ACA will continue to be blamed for the financial problems. WE, who are patients, are the ones who need to carefully examine all medical bills and speak up when we find these bogus billings and ripoffs of Medicare and health care insurance. Many employers are simply money-hungry but many smaller businesses cannot afford to pay outrageous health care benefit.

  4. I’m sorry; of course the first statement in last paragraph should read “why employers” not employees. I am still super upset – pissed – about this entire situation.

  5. ACA greatly compounded the rampant existing problems with US healthcare financing.

    Regarding IU, the better question is, why do Graduate Assistants exist ? The average professor at IU teaches only 5.5 (five and a half) 3-credit-hour classes per calendar year.

  6. Yet another examply of why GOVERNMENT can do things that the private sector refuses to do. PLEASE open up Medicair to all. It is the best and cheapest insurance we have. Let me into that so I can quit paying $14,400 per year for my coverage. When the private sector refuses to engage, that is when the government should aid the citizens. Single Payer.

  7. I recently heard a woman on NPR speaking on this subject. It is her job to go over doctor and hospital bills for people. She finds error, duplications and countless other charges. People don’t fight their bills, she said. They just take the bills to be correct. She digs ‘way down deep, finding plenty wrong with almost all the bills she analyzes.

    I don’t remember her name or how to contact her. I bet some of your readers might know. Now, there is a woman worth finding! All of us have had bills written in ‘hospitalese’ for a reason. Too many of us just pay without questioning. We should investigate bogus charges.

  8. I am a long-time advocate of a single payer system, preferably an expanded Medicare program for all. With 300 million in the risk pool, all paying in, with the young and healthy at minimal premium rates, Medicare’s administrative efficiencies and bargaining power ( currently prohibited by law) would allow coverage of the sick and the elderly .The largest risk pool possible is what makes insurance a rational way to avoid financial calamity whether from illness, fire, theft, fraud, etc. The theory of insurance rests on this principle. The theory of profitable health care rests on overcharging, unnecessary treatment, and. perverse incentives leading to the aforementioned distortions.

  9. Sheila,

    Your analysis is flawed. It is not only graduate assistants whose hours are being limited. Adjunct faculty across the country will see their hours limited because of the ACA. And to make matters worse, schools are struggling to come up with a formula to determine how the 30 hours is computed. Also, if schools have to provide health insurance, where will the money come from to cover the costs, tuition and fee increases? Or are you willing to take a pay cut so someone else can have insurance?

  10. As a matter of fact, Abdul, I AM willing to take a pay cut if that means GA’s will get health care. If some of our bloated administrative structure were eliminated, we could also shift those funds to the GAs. (Adjuncts are independent contractors.)

    Chris Stack’s analysis is absolutely right, but while the ACA is all we have, the least we can do is not screw people over.

  11. Then go tell your employer that you want your pay cut to provide a GA with health care or write them a check every month. I respect your sacrifice.

  12. Sheila,

    As one of those GAs (though provided insurance by my department) I would be interested in reading this. Is it in a new handbook or did they just decide not to educate the very people it would affect; I just can’t seem to find it?

  13. Employers who practice family values enough to provide health insurance to their employees (especially in workplaces with
    occupational hazards and/or high frequency of contagions such as in schools) are at a competitive disadvantage with employers who do not provide health benefits.

    If employers want to reduce absenteeism and/or sick people coming to work and infecting others AND if they want to level the playing field for all employers, then all should provide health insurance.

    I agree that hospitals in particular make so many billing AND health care mistakes. Overcharging and unnecessary testing seem to have more to do with profits than with avoidance of malpractice lawsuits. A highly regarded orthopedic Dr. incessantly x-rayed my mother’s same hip every month over our objections, exposing her to unnecessary radiation and costs. He still couldn’t or wouldn’t diagnose the cause of her pain. In desperation, we took the xrays to Mom’s internist who immediately saw that a screw in the hip replacement mechanism inserted by the orthopedic surgeons was loose.

    How could an ‘expert’ orthopedic surgeon miss such an obvious problem in every x-ray? To this day I think the Dr. viewed Medicare and my Mom’s supplemental health insurance as a cash cow.

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