Thursday, March 29, 2012

How soon can we come up with a health-care policy that makes sense?

The U.S. Supreme Court
Maybe the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and maybe it's not. If it turns out to be constitutional, maybe it's good legislation and maybe it's not. In any case, it's looking increasingly likely that the Supreme Court, come June, will strike down at least the requirement that everyone buy health insurance. And if the mandate goes, two other requirements will most likely go with it: Once again insurers will be able to reject or refuse to renew applicants. And once again Americans with pre-existing conditions will be uninsurable.*

Let me tell you four short stories about friends of mine. These are true stories, not hypothetical examples. I have changed nothing but the names of the people involved. I am not arguing on behalf of the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. I'm just saying that all of these people had serious problems before it was passed, and some of them are doing much better now because of it.

1. John, a pastor, was married to Jane, who worked in publishing. They were well insured - until John came down with a debilitating disease. They would have to rely on Jane's insurance, even though her job was over an hour's drive from their home and John's health-care provider. Changing jobs was out of the question; no new insurer would consider adding John to their policy. So for some 10 years, Jane worked full time, commuted over two hours a day, and worked evenings and weekends as her husband's primary caregiver. When he died, she quit her job and applied for insurance on her own. Every insurer turned her down.

2. Bill and Betty have a child with a learning disorder. When he finished high school, he went to work, but the only jobs he qualifies for are low-paying, without benefits. In addition, the nature of his disorder makes it hard for him to keep a job. He has persisted, however, and he is gradually learning how to be employable. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, his parents' insurance pays for the medications that allow him to work. They wonder what he will do if his insurance is taken away.

3. Dan and DeAnn have a similar story. Their daughter, in her early 20s, had a life-threatening physical problem that was correctable by expensive surgery. Until it was corrected, she was unable to work and earn her own insurance. Before the Affordable Care Act, she would have been too old to benefit from her parents' insurance, but once the act went into effect, they were able to put her on their policy. This story has a happy ending: she has had the surgery and is doing well.

4. Martin was a truck driver and Melissa was a secretary until a series of illnesses - heart disease, strokes,  ulcers, dementia - forced Martin to quit work and go on disability. Fortunately for him, he is a veteran with excellent health benefits at a nearby veterans' hospital. Melissa took over the full-time home care he now requires. Unfortunately for Melissa, she had no insurance and was too young for Medicare. A strong believer in self-sufficiency, she tried to ignore her arthritis and diabetes. After ten years of giving her husband excellent care, she finally turned 65 and was able to sign up for Medicare.

My stories are all about hard-working, responsible people who would eagerly buy health insurance if they possibly could. Before the Affordable Care Act, sadly, they could not. People on the left and on the right agree - the Act is flawed. But if it is thrown out, what will happen to people like my friends? What will we put in its place? And how soon can we come up with a health-care policy that makes sense?

*If the mandate to buy insurance is struck down but these two requirements are allowed to stand, you can be sure that insurance premiums will skyrocket and the number of uninsured Americans will reach new highs.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Grammar sins: a case study

From Nicolas Poussin,
 Le Christ et la femme adultère
You know the story. A woman was caught in the act. The religious leaders grabbed her and brought her to Jesus. Are you a biblical literalist? they asked. Because if you are, shouldn't we stone her? What would Moses do?

Quick, now. What did Jesus say?'s French Language website quotes his words thus: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

My inner grammarian wincing, I dashed off an email to the website's author: "That should be 'Let him who is without sin ... ' (i.e., 'Let him ... cast the first stone'; I don't think you'd be tempted to write 'Let he ... cast the first stone').

Of course she knew the difference - she herself is a grammarian. But, she said, she was just quoting the Bible, which says "Let he ...."

Actually it doesn't, at least not in the King James Version, the Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, the New American Bible, the Common English Bible, the Douay-Reims Version, or presumably any other version that uses copyeditors. Lacking a Bible at hand, she explained, she had found the verse online. Just Google it, she told me.

So I did. I am pleased to report that when I compared "Let him who is without sin" to "Let he who is without sin," correct grammar won, 3.8 million to 1.3 million.

I also learned that "Let He Who Is Without Sin" is the name of a Star Trek episode.

It's a good thing modern English tends to use only three pronoun cases (such as he, him, his). We'd never learn to speak Hungarian - it has at least 18 cases.

But hey, if you use the wrong case, I won't stone you. I'm not without sin: I refuse to say "It is I."

Monday, March 19, 2012

THE LAST DETECTIVE ... and others by Peter Lovesey

Several weeks ago one of my favorite magazine editors asked if I'd be interested in reviewing Peter Lovesey's forthcoming novel, Cop to Corpse. Yes, I said, provided I could do so from a position of ignorance--I had read none of the 11 other books in the series. OK, said the editor, but bear in mind that your readers will want to know "whether you felt motivated, by the time you’d finished this book, to go back to number 1 in the series."

Dear Reader, I'm having a hard time finding time to write the review. Not only did I feel motivated to go back to number 1, I've now also read numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8; number 9 is on my nightstand; and numbers 7, 10, and 11 are on hold at the library.

If you haven't yet met Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond of the Avon and Somerset CID, you have a lot to look forward to. Overweight ("burly," he'd rather phrase it), abrasive, sexist, impatient with standard procedures, he does not play well with others. But he is not a climber, is willing to admit his mistakes, and doggedly pursues the truth at whatever cost. Sort of like Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, but not as noir.

Not noir at all, actually. These books are about 3/4 police procedural, 1/4 comic novel. For instance, here's how Lovesey introduces his famous sleuth in book 1, The Last Detective:
In the Bristol city mortuary a body lay on a steel trolley. In profile the swell of the stomach suggested nothing less than a mountainous landscape. Or to an imaginative eye it might have been evocative of a dinosaur lurking in a primeval swamp, except that a brown trilby hat of the sort seen in 1940s films rested on the hump. The body was clothed in a double-breasted suit much creased at the points of stress, gray in color, with a broad check design--well known in the Avon & Somerset Police as the working attire of Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond. His silver-fringed bald head was propped on a rubber sheet he had found folded on a shelf. He was breathing evenly.
I'll have more to say about the detective superintendent when I write the magazine review. Meanwhile, here's a chronological list of the dozen books in this series to date. You can begin with any of them, but book 1 is not a bad place to start.

Bath, U.K., where much of the action takes place
The Last Detective, 1991
Diamond Solitaire, 1992
The Summons, 1995
Bloodhounds, 1996
Upon a Dark Night, 1997
The Vault, 1999
Diamond Dust, 2002
The House Sitter, 2003
The Secret Hangman, 2007
Skeleton Hill, 2009
Stagestruck, 2011
Cop to Corpse, June 2012