Scenes from health care reality (5×8 – 6/21/11)


James Verone is about to become the face of the ongoing health care debate in this country. The 59-year old man with a bad back, a sore foot and a lump on his chest, dragged himself into a bank in North Carolina this month and robbed it. He intended to get arrested because jail is where you can get some health care.

After he handed the teller the note, he sat down on a couch in the bank and waited for the police. But there was a flaw in his plan. His note demanded only $1, which is larceny from a person and it won’t get him much jail time or health care.

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Kevin McClain was living in his car in a WalMart parking lot when paramedics found him unconscious. He had lung cancer. He couldn’t take care of himself, but he was able to take care of his dog, Yurt. They were split up when McClain was taken to the hospital, but a paramedic reunited them just before he died. Then, the paramedic saw to his dying wish: That Yurt end up with a good home.

Here. Here’s a tissue…

MPR’s Ground Level project is assessing the state of health care in rural Minnesota. Rural people tend to be older and poorer, are less likely to have insurance and suffer more chronic illness. And the doctor shortage has gotten harder to deal with. Sections of the state are dealing with the problem in different ways.


We might’ve gotten one of our first indications how the idea of a shutdown is going to play with the voters in districts that elected Republicans to the Legislature. “You’re not in office to hold your ground and die standing,” resident Dave Bechtold told St. Cloud Republican legislators in the Haven Township Hall last night. “You’re here to compromise.”

One lawmaker told the St. Cloud Times after the session it described as “feisty,” that he might support fee increases. No tax increases, he said, but fee increases might be OK.

One commenter on the paper’s Web site said the paper didn’t capture “the mood of the room.”

“It was packed with citizens who are angry about Republican unwillingness to compromise. I heard only one speaker who supported the GOP trio, and three people who applauded that one speaker. The rest of the hundred or more attendees were disgusted with the legislators. Many left shaking their heads in disbelief at what they had heard.”

Real compromise means you give up on some of what you want in order to reach an agreement. These three offered no shred of concession. They were still stuck on protecting the richest Minnesotans from any tax increase. Representative Gottwald went to far as to claim that Dayton’s $1.8 billion offer wasn’t a compromise. Surreal.”

But MPR’s Matt Sepic reports that most of the people who showed up were state workers, university employees, and union members.

Ruth Wollum, an unemployed woman who said she sympathizes with state workers, nonetheless was on the Republicans’ side.

“I really do think the Democrats have driven us to these $5 billion deficits,” she said. “And if Dayton doesn’t find this out, and realize that they are thinking it through clearer than he is, it’s not going to help the state at all.”

Bruce Bartlett, of the Economix blog, tackles the central question in the state budget debate, and any other debate involving taxes: Are they too high. He looks at the federal revenue and finds the more you make, the less you pay…

As one can see, average tax rates on the working poor have never been lower; in fact, they pay neither income taxes nor the employee’s share of the payroll tax, because the earned income tax credit offsets both and even gives them a small refund on top.

However, the tax credit is phased out at a rate of 21.06 percent for families with two children after their earned income reaches $16,690. The loss of a refundable credit is exactly the same, economically, as paying more taxes, and this is what imposes such high marginal rates on the working poor.

A typical middle-class family, on the other hand, is paying less in federal taxes than it has since 1967. Its marginal rate is also down substantially since it peaked in 1982 at 31.7 percent. The well-to-do family, too, has seen its average and marginal tax rates decline substantially.


Few institutions have been able to survive time the way the Wisconsin supper club has.

“The supper club is a gathering place where people can see their neighbors, families, and friends and meet new ones–in that way, it’s like a church,” one owner told supper club expert Brenda Bredahl who writes about the clubs in the Hudson Patch.

Now, there’s a documentary in the works

Speaking of community: Jesus Estrada of Willmar is in the military and stationed in Georgia. His wife, Laura, would like to join him, but they need to sell their house and their house needs some sprucing up before they can sell it. No problem. Volunteers showed up Saturday to paint the home and get it ready for sale.


If art imitated life, you’d never get to hear this collaboration of musicians in Jerusalem. They didn’t actually get together, however. Film producer Kutiman wandered the streets, filming and recording individual musicians, then created the composition.


Couldn’t get enough of Vancouver’s hockey riots last week? Ryan Whitehead of northSudio 360 yesterday took the wraps off a four-minute long, 360-degree experience. You can rotate the film for additional “these people are crazy” experiences. Find the movie here. Here’s a non-interactive version.

Somewhere in the middle of all of that is the “kissing couple,” who were the subjects of an iconic photograph cuddling in the middle of the rioting (it was later reported one of them had been injured). The New York Times’ Brian Stelter says the fact it took only hours to identify them is an example of how the Internet has become the place where anonymity goes to die.

This erosion of anonymity is a product of pervasive social media services, cheap cellphone cameras, free photo and video Web hosts, and perhaps most important of all, a change in people’s views about what ought to be public and what ought to be private. Experts say that Web sites like Facebook, which require real identities and encourage the sharing of photographs and videos, have hastened this change.

Bonus: How’d you spend your day?

More? Sure.

A new survey suggests more people are unhappy with their jobs. About a third of those surveyed say they are considering leaving. One in five says he/she is not engaged while at work.


A two-year project to promote telecommuting and other flexible work environments has found substantial benefits from such arrangements. Today’s Question: What are the pros and cons of working from home?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: From Prius to Ben and Jerry’s, companies are embracing social responsibility. But is there a risk for luxury brands when they try to “do good” for society?

Second hour: Charles Wheelan, lecturer at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago and author of “Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science.”

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch discuss their call for the special session to begin, so they can balance the budget by July 1.

Second hour: Best-selling author Richard Louv, speaking at the U of M Landscape Arboretum about his new book, “The Nature Principle.”

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Horse whisperer buck Brannaman

Second hour: Retiring MPR president Bill Kling on the future of public media.

  • matt

    Not sure that attempting to commit a felony is enough to make the face of the debate. People have robbed banks for love, drugs, gambling and a desire to not work and those actions did not change the debate. There will be similar stories after HACA goes into effect, maybe with slightly different twists and we will come to recognize that we simply rearranged the problem without solving it. 10 to 1 odds that our next step (I am guessing about 2025) will be to rearrange the problem again. Heaven forbid we actually deconstruct, thoughtfully consider and solve the problem.

  • Tyler

    We need to take that Bruce Bartlett article and staple it to our legislators’ foreheads.