An Open Letter to Mike Pence on ‘Life’ and Universal Health Care

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Photo courtesy of Sage Ross via Flickr

NOTE: After working in healthcare communications for eight years, this is a subject I felt compelled to write about publicly in light of recent political developments. I’d initially written this letter in January, but refrained from publishing it because of my career. The time has come to speak out, however, so I feel the need to publish this disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post, and on this blog as a whole, are my own and do not represent any other person, business, or entity.  

An Open Letter to Mike Pence on ‘Life’ and Universal Health Care

Dear Vice-President Mike Pence,

I read your quote from the March for Life event on Jan. 27 this year in an article from The Atlantic, “We will not rest until we restore a culture of life in America.”

I’m glad to hear you say that, because this opens the door to let Congress know we want health care for all.

Even after the Affordable Care Act was implemented, 29 million Americans went without health insurance in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2015” report. This means nearly 30 million people could not access or afford treatment for conditions ranging from a sinus infection, to a heart attack.

Before the ACA, however, it was much worse. In 2008—during the days of pre-existing conditions and lifetime caps—nearly 16 percent of the U.S. population went uninsured, compared to only 9.1 percent in 2015 (source: U.S. Census Bureau).

If we’re going to talk about restoring a culture of life, let’s start with this, because many people are forced to choose between paying for their food or paying for their medicine. I’m one of them, having agonized over whether to visit the emergency room and risk bankruptcy, or stay home in a potentially life-threatening situation.

In one case, while I was studying journalism in college, my father—a music teacher—could no longer afford to keep me on his health insurance. Before I could find another plan, I became sick with mononucleosis and needed treatment. Yet, no doctor or clinic would see me because I didn’t have insurance. At the same time, insurance refused to cover me because of my pre-existing condition.

More recently, a family member—who would prefer to remain anonymous—may be forced to leave retirement simply for employer health benefits. She is a retired teacher and a type 2 diabetic who receives her health insurance through the Federal Exchange. However, with Congress’s plans to repeal the ACA, she’ll be forced to work full-time because she can’t afford the state’s $600-per-month premium and she’s too young for Medicare. Once the ACA is gone, she will have a “pre-existing condition” once again.

You see, Vice-President Pence, in my world, life matters too, which is why health care is a right and not a privilege. I hear politicians preaching their morals time and time again, but their actions do not reflect their words. I’m going to make it easy.

The time has come to get serious about a universal or single-payer system that leverages public-private partnerships. This will ensure cost control of sky-rocketing drug prices, allow practitioners to concentrate on treating and healing patients, and still offer businesses opportunities in the private sector. France demonstrates an exemplary standard of this model, so much that the World Health Organization ranked them as number one in the world for health systems.

I’ve worked in journalism, media and communications for more than 10 years, of which eight were spent in healthcare communications. I have seen this issue from all sides and am confident when I say, this proposal could be a real solution.

I am ready to help restore a culture of life in America, Vice-President Pence. The question is, are you?

Enough About Donald Trump, What About Burundi?

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Rwandan refugee camp in east Zaire, 1993 (courtesy of CDC)

I get it: Donald Trump is the leading front-runner in the Republican primary who spouts off whatever comes to mind and is a former reality T.V. star.

But amidst the American media’s love affair with Trump, other important world issues are being overlooked. Lately, I’ve been seeing articles pop up about potential genocide in Burundi.

Doesn’t Burundi deserve our attention, too?

According to a Dec. 15 article in the Washington Post, the violence has forced more than 220,000 Burundians to flee their homes.

Reflections of Rwanda

Burundi’s population is split primarily between Hutu (80 percent) and Tutsi (19 percent). For anyone that knows their history, they’ll recall the infamous Rwandan genocide of 1994, where more than 800,000 people were slaughtered (thanks for the actual number, Baltimore Sun).

Remember the movie, “Hotel Rwanda?” Yeah folks, that could happen again.

Yet every time I open my Facebook news feed, all I see is “Trump this” and “Trump that.” Meanwhile, Burundians are screaming for the major world powers to pay attention to their country.

I have a friend who survived the Bosnian genocide that started in 1992 and she can tell you it took years before the world intervened. Meanwhile, she lost close family members and friends.

Time to Switch Our Focus?

Of course we need to watch what Trump says and speak out if we disagree, but should our media be giving the man so much attention, that other world events—like potential genocide—aren’t being reported with the same vigor?

I’m a former journalist and I’m asking you: what the heck happened to my beloved profession?

How Inflammatory Language Brought Us to the Age of Mass Shootings

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SWAT team members approach a building with a gunman inside. Thirteen people were killed and 30 more wounded in an attack by a lone gunman at Fort Hood Nov. 5, 2009 (courtesy Wikipedia).

First Planned Parenthood, then today: San Bernardino, Calif.

Both are medical clinics. Both are supposed to be safe places … kinda like schools (anyone remember Sandy Hook)?

According to CNN, president Barack Obama said, “We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.”

Regardless of what you think of our president politically, you have to admit: HE’S RIGHT.

How Did We Get Here?

I was in high school when Columbine happened on April 20, 1999. The massacre shocked the world because things like that just didn’t happen. Since then, mass shootings have begun increasing in frequency, until today, they’ve become commonplace.

So how did we get here?

Some say we need more gun control. Others say we need better access to mental health care. Personally, I think it’s a combination of both … but everyone seems to be leaving out one very important factor.

This is a sociological problem, not an individual one, which means a sickness has somehow pervaded our society. 

What’s the one thing that’s changed from 1999 until now? SOCIAL MEDIA.

The Age of Propaganda and Inflammatory Language

Now, I’m not blaming social media. In fact, I’ve worked in it for a living.

However, social media gives people, institutions, political parties and special interests an unfiltered platform to broadcast their thoughts and ideas.

You know those Facebook memes that people love to share that instigate endless political debates on comment threads? They’re developed by groups with certain agendas to garner engagement and prompt action by plugging into people’s emotions.

You know what that’s called? PROPAGANDA.

Hitler used it. Stalin used it. Kim Jong-un still uses it. Propaganda is powerful because it plays into people’s emotions and fears. Even the most educated can become susceptible to it.

In the age of social media and content marketing, propaganda is running rampant in our country. It’s causing the best of us to scream at each other and it’s making our society angry.

As angry individuals, we insult others behind the blanket of “freedom of speech.” We say whatever we want because “we have that right.” We develop a sense of persecution, which leads to an “us versus them” mentality. “Them” always end up less human than “Us.”

How Do We Fix It?

We need to begin using our words responsibly again. I’m a journalist; I’m all about the First Amendment. But with great freedom comes great responsibility. And words can kill.

We also need to hold media outlets, political institutions and special interest pages accountable when using inflammatory language. Don’t watch them. Don’t share their memes. Don’t comment. JUST DON’T ENGAGE.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What are your thoughts on the increasing mass shootings in the U.S.? Do you agree with my conclusion?