Sunday, May 21, 2017

Is Elbert County Being Stupid, Belligerent, or anti-Constitutional? Guest Blog by Mike Phillips

We’ve been here before; County Clerk, Dallas Schroeder, and underlings proselytizing their religious views while on duty at their government jobs. First there was the infamous poster expressing a religious viewpoint on traditional versus nontraditional marriage.  The issue went nationwide; solidifying the reputation Elbert County has for being a backwater vortex of dull-witted hicks. After the bad publicity, the County Clerk moved the poster to a less prominent place (but still visible in his office). Fudging, only breaking the law “a little-bit.” 

Did Dallas learn anything from the previous hubbub? Apparently not; now a Christian cross has been spotted hanging on the door to the Election Department. So if you find yourself wandering the Old Courthouse and spot said door, don’t mistake it for a religious stop and go in to confess your sins. It’s actually where you register to vote your favorite incompetent idiots into office.

To be clear, I don’t care if your preferred religion involves waving a bag of Brussels sprouts over your head and reciting Edger Winter lyrics every night. As long as you don’t hurt anyone outside of yourself… go for it. But just keep your wacko beliefs out of my face (I have my own, thank you) and outta my government.

There are a myriad of reasons (1) that there is a mandate for a separation of church (religion) and state (government). Here is the simplest to grasp. Dallas likes his version of Christianity. Cool beans. According to the military there are 215 worldwide religions who also think that their beliefs are just as worthy of promoting on your door. And just like you, every single one of them believes that theirs is the only way. Frankly Dallas, you don’t have enough door space, or the omnipotence to determine which of the 215, if any of them have found “the true way.”   

While hanging a Christian symbol on the Elections Department door may seem innocuous, it is not. Government cannot establish, promote or give preference to any religion because that’s the law of the land. Here’s the reason: What if the next County Clerk is a devotee of Drukpa Kunley and his Flaming Thunderbolt of Wisdom?  If that Clerk hangs a 10 inch dildo on the door to proclaim his version of “the good news” someone, like maybe Dallas or other Christians might object to his religious symbol.  Your “symbol” can be just as offensive to others and illegal to boot. The simple-minded might hate that and argue otherwise, but one religious symbol is just as valid to its adherents as another’s.

This isn’t anti-Christianity, so no Dallas, you don’t get to play the ever popular Republican “victim card.” Poor little fella. This is anti-stupidity. There are laws, obey them or get yourself another non-governmental job. The Elbert government doesn’t need another lawsuit caused by elected officials who are willfully stupid… We’ve had enough of those already, and it’s getting expensive.
  1. Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in 2005: "Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?"


Rabies - Been there. Done that. Heed the warning!

If you, a human being reading this post, are exposed to rabies by a bite or a scratch etc.,  you have a window of time in which you must act.   If left untreated, rabies exposure in humans is considered 100% fatal.  There have only been a small handful of reported cases in history where a human survived rabies after contracting the disease.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 15,000,000 people each year get treated for rabies exposure.  The disease is considered tropical in nature and most deaths associated with it occur in poverty stricken areas along the Equator.  Annually, we can expect to see 49,000 deaths around the globe to humans every year. 

From the United States Center For Disease Control: 

"Human rabies cases in the United States are rare, with only 1 to 3 cases reported annually. Thirty-four cases of human rabies have been diagnosed in the United States since 2003, in which 10 cases were found to have contracted infection outside of the United States and its territories. The number of human deaths in the United States attributed to rabies has been steadily declining since the 1970’s due to animal control and vaccination programs, modern rabies biologics following exposure, and successful outreach campaigns. Rabies vaccination programs have eliminated domestic dogs as reservoirs of rabies in the United States, although we still see 80 – 100 dogs and >300 cats with rabies each year, usually infected by wildlife when these domesticated pets are not vaccinated against rabies. While the biggest rabies threat in the world (domestic dogs) has been controlled in the United States, interactions with other rabies reservoir species results in 30,000 – 60,000 Americans being vaccinated against rabies each year."

In other words, as long as you seek treatment after being exposed to rabies, you are likely to survive.  But this is where my cautionary tale begins:  Exposure to rabies and the resulting necessary treatment may cause you to go bankrupt even if you do survive. Lest you think I am spinning some fantastic yarn, this is almost certainly a greater danger to you than is the disease itself, and it happens because in the United States, insurance companies are in control of our medical system, and they can own you because of the nature of the state laws associated with disease prevention and the underhanded way our this system deals with potentially fatal disease. 

A couple of years ago, my wife and I were exposed to rabies.  The dogs got us up at 1 AM and were upset by something flopping on the floor.  It was a bat and he was unable to fly from the floor. We have had bats from the woods surrounding our house for years.  They do get inside from time to time, and we know how to deal with them from previous encounters.  Unfortunately, in Elbert County, the health department is under staffed and so to turn the incident in to the county is time consuming, and once you realize you have been exposed, the survival clock is ticking.  You must determine if the bat has rabies.  We used known procedures to capture the bat, called the county and then, since Elbert County did not respond in a very timely manner,  we transported the live bat to the state CDC lab for testing in the area where Lowry Air Force Base once stood.  We could have waited for the county, but they were unsure of how long it would take.  I called Tri-County Health (as we were directed to do) and explained our situation and they agreed our plan was a good one.  

To find out if a bat has rabies, they must extract its brain.  If dogs and other mammals are exposed to rabies, they must be quarantined.  Bats get killed.  We hate it, but in Colorado, if you let the Division of Health know you were asleep with a bat in the room, you are presumed to have been bitten and must by state law get treatment.  You are now viewed as a potential health risk and the state will now be tracking what you do to remedy the situation.  Our bat was rabid.  We went in search of treatment.

The thing is, finding a medical facility which has the HRIG (Human Rabies Immune Globulin) vaccine available is extremely difficult. It has a short span of viability.   We tried everywhere, to no avail.  We were also told that even if we did find the HRIG outside of a hospital, no doctor would administer the shots.  My wife and I were beginning to sense that something about this was just not right.  Since this was our last resort, we went to a hospital and essentially turned ourselves into the emergency room staff.  A doctor stuck his head in the room and from that point on we were in the capable hands of well-trained nurses.  But the strangest thing was happening.  Not a sole would answer a single question in regards to how much this would cost, what insurance would pay or even who would bill us.  We asked each person who entered the room…and there were quite a few.   They all just said that it was necessary and not to worry.

Yes, the shots are painful, but no longer given in the abdomen.  The larger you are, the more shots you get because dosage is calculated by weight.  I got six or more shots in the arms and legs. My wife got a few less than that of the vaccine. The  one HRIG dose is very thick and to inject it is difficult.  The nurse even had one syringe break in her hands from the pressure.

The remaining shots (vaccine) came in two sessions (3-4 days apart) at the Tri-County Department of Health in Douglas County.  Those single shots were not nearly as painful and we had to pay out of pocket for the each visit  It seemed expensive when they said $300 apiece times two sessions to Tri-County Health, but as everybody kept telling us, "You have no choice.  Rabies is 100% fatal!" And of course we would agree.  It was not long after those sessions we received the bill from the hospital.

The total cost for both of us, for the evening in the emergency room, for the HRIG shots and first round of vaccines, was $59,000.  Think about your family for a moment. If you have three or four kids, the bill might be upwards of $200,000, and you would be responsible for it, because you would sign your family into the emergency room for care and no one would bother to prepare you for the financial nightmare that would be coming down the pike
We were shocked, worried and simultaneously angry.  All of the people we came into contact with in the emergency room, including the initial sign-in/registration desk, the nurses, the doctor,  knew  what we would be financially facing and were probably instructed that if they told us anything about the cost we would have been freaked us out of our minds…potentially bankrupting us.  I went straight to work investigating how and why all of this was happening.  

After reading everything I could on rabies, calling some insurance company watchdog groups, calling several doctor friends and lawyers, and then doing extensive reading on just how other countries around the globe deal with rabies, it became abundantly clear what was going on here:  This is a scam and I am certain that it goes on with all types of different maladies, not just rabies.  What tipped me off was learning that after calling the hospital and my insurance company, I discovered that there was a set price for rabies.  The insurance company just looks on a price sheet and sees what price had been negotiated for rabies.  They cut a check before I had even begun to complain.  No outrage.  No back and forth.  No, they just cut a check to the hospital.  It turns out that the healthcare providers and insurance companies sit down periodically and hammer out agreements on what they will pay for things and it is like a a huge game of monopoly.  Insurance companies tend to look at things like rabies as bargaining chips.  

Here is an oversimplified and made up negotiation but it is in essence how the industries dovetail to get our money:

Insurance company: “I will pay you somewhere in the range of $25,000 with no questions asked for rabies if you give me a 10% discount on Emergency Room trauma kits.”

Healthcare Provider:  “Hmmm. I don't know.  We use a lot of those kits and do pretty well on them.”

Insurance company: “Yes, but our actuary points out that Colorado has seen a 15% increase in HRIG treatments in emergency rooms for rabies exposure over the past few years.  People do not argue the cost of treatment when they know that if they are exposed they will possibly die without treatment.  In fact, our actuary says only 8 people in 100 ever even begin to challenge the costs associated with this type of incident.  It is a very safe bet you will do better with ten vaccinations that will bring you $250K than we will do with the reduced price for trauma kits.  What do you say?”

Healthcare Provider: “Make it a 8% discount on the trauma kits and $27k on the rabies and we have a deal.”

Insurance company:  “Deal!”

My research, which I turned over to a gifted attorney, indicated that that most countries use ERIG (Equine Rabies Immune Globulin) when treating rabies and that it is shown to be just as effective as HRIG.  No, the ERIG is not for horses alone, but it is made using equine based ingredients (E) as opposed to human based ingredients (H).  The difference is amazing in terms of price.  ERIG costs just a few dollars per dose. and at the time I did my research, the HRIG cost was  $14/dose.  Today, the average price for treating rabies runs about $40 according to the World Health Organization.  Remember, 15,000,000 people around the world get treated for rabies.  If everybody paid on  an average of the $29,000 that we were charged, that would come to $435,000,000,000.  People in third world countries struggle with $40 as the average income in the areas where rabies is most predominant make only $2 per day per family.  Only here in the US can somebody get away with asking two retired school teachers for $59k for a set of injections who may or may not have been bitten by a rabid bat.  And for many, many people, that would represent bankruptcy.

Those of you who are looking to attach your anger about Obamacare or the newly devised AHCA that has yet to be revised by the Senate can just forget it.  This is why we need to get insurance companies out of our healthcare model. Think about this:  INSURANCE COMPANIES DO NOT MAKE ANYONE WELL.  THEY DO NOT GIVE INJECTIONS OR EVEN DISTRIBUTE BANDAIDS.  THEY JUST DRIVE UP THE COST OF MEDICAL PROCEDURES AND THEN PAY LOBBYISTS TO SELL THEIR SCAMS TO POLITICIANS.   I could have taken Gaye to Paris or Montreal, got our injections and vacationed for the price we were billed.  Oh, sure they came down on the price some when we said we were going to fight them, but that is not the point.  The point is that our system of healthcare is corrupt and immoral.  The leading cause of bankruptcy in our country is health related.  We are the only major country on the planet that plays this game and it has to stop.

I went to the town hall meeting for Congressman (4th District) Ken Buck in Parker on May 10th.  We did not see eye to eye on much, but when I related our rabies story to him he dropped the false argument about our healthcare system costing more because it is the very best in the world.  I contend that it can only be best if it serves people and our outcomes are the very best.  They are not.  When I told him that I was able to fight the system and get the price down to a manageable amount with the help of a good attorney and some decent research, he seemed pleased.  That said, I told him it is immoral that everyone in the room is just a healthcare emergency away from losing everything, and he agreed.  Did I make a dent in his opinion of the AHCA or the demolition of Obamacare by his political party?   I sincerely doubt it…but one can hold out hope.

Dear people, stop injecting politics into the healthcare argument.  It is either affordable for everyone or it is not.  If you believe that it is okay to precociously charge unwitting patients ungodly amounts for a life or death vaccine that only costs a few dollars to make just so that a CEO for a healthcare group or an insurance company can buy another mansion in Aspen, then you-are-part-of-the-problem.  Healthcare organizations and forward thinking countries around the  have figured this out and I believe it is time to admit that we have been played like a fiddle.  Whatever we end up with for healthcare in the United States, at least let it be known that we see how we are being devalued as human beings by wealthy corporate CEO's.  And that, my friends, is not a batshit crazy thing to say.

What to do if exposed to a possibly rabid animal in Colorado.

Up to date rabies tracking in Colorado, 2017 by The Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tom Peterson Talks Up a Storm!

Tom Peterson, Chair of the Elbert County Republicans, is a real peach.  I can tell you, if he wants to espouse his views on any topic under the sun, he is going to do it.  He may even do it while in attendance at the regularly scheduled meetings of the Elbert County BOCC! 

Now those of you who are reading this may be surprised to learn that, if you are a member of the audience at one of these meetings, you actually are allowed to make only one comment; it cannot exceed three minutes and it cannot be political in nature.  Of course the real purpose of this arcane procedure is to stifle the public from interfering with the BOCC's agenda.  If you want to ask a question about something the BOCC is discussing...write it down because they do not want you to interrupt them.  If the public comment portion comes before your topic is up on the agenda then you will just have to wait.  It is annoying and stifles input into the governing process, but you can't have a prying audience get at the details of a subject, now can you? No, of course not.

But if you are Tom Peterson, set your mouth on automatic, turn back the dial on the whole, "no political talk rules" and let 'er rip.  That is how Tom Peterson approached the delivery of his “anti-resistance movement and their anti-American obstructionist tendencies” diatribe at the last BOCC meeting.   The room was filled with county employees who were on the clock. The choreographers of this dog and pony show were aware of this fact and made sure the Republican chairman got a very warm round of applause.  Funny the way that works, but that is the topic for another day.  If he were a rule-abiding man, that should have been the last we should have heard from Mr. Peterson, but apparently he received bonus points with the commissioners during his earlier speech. Soon it became clear to everyone in attendance that it was just the beginning for the outspoken Republican because he gave a running commentary for the remainder of the festivities with no objections registered from the elected officials in charge of the meeting.

Suffice it to say, Tom made a couple of bold statements in the meeting.  Well, maybe the word bold would be the correct word if the county was intentionally trying to set some kind of record for unforced errors that resulted in litigation against the county, so let me change that word to idiotic.  I really do not believe that the commissioners are interested in another flurry of lawsuits, but under the guidance of Republican Chair Tom Peterson; County Manager Ed Ehmann and County Attorney Wade Gately, they are likely not through with their string of unfortunate lawsuits.  With this troika  providing expert guidance, the BOCC is wired for more of the same  difficulties.  They just cannot seem to grasp the difference between written laws and Wade Gately's wish list to Santa Claus.

Let me explain. Tom Peterson blurted out a very telling statement, “There are a handful of people who make multiple requests [open records] and it is burdensome on the county.” Now think about that for just a moment:  It is the word "burdensome" that is the key to how Peterson views the world.  You see, it is the law that we govern openly in this country, and unless there is information that must be kept secret for reasons of public or national security, it is our lawful right to know.  We cannot expect that this is a service that does not come with a price tag, to be precise, a monetary fee. However, let me assure you that any secretarial assistance, copying costs, or Kleenex necessary to wipe away the commissioners tears or assuage their hurt feelings at the notion of not being trusted are a bargain in comparison to yet another burdensome lawsuit for not following the rules.

Grant Thayer gave Peterson a verbal green light for the posting but it was obvious that this approval was not thought out very well. This list of people would be put on public display for all the good  folks of Elbert County to see. Still, anyone with room temperature IQ knows the purpose of this  list would be to shame people for exercising their statutory rights under Colorado and U.S. laws.  Sure, it is okay to submit your own CORA/FOIA requests, Mr. Peterson and then do with that information as you please.  That is your right.  But notably absent from the recorded discussion on this topic was his offer to pay for it.  Or, was this a predetermined decision to have this conversation read into the record for purposes of intimidation?  I hope Mr. Thayer is not suggesting that the county employees generate and update a list of requests and the people who made them a part of their regular duties, as I can assure you this is what infuriates taxpayers.  This is why we end up paying huge legal fees for unwanted and unnecessary litigation.  Of course, a competent lawyer would advise you against this kind of shallow thinking, and I am certain Mr. Gately will tell you the same, maybe?

In addition to the proposed folly by Mr. Peterson, there was supposed to be an item agenda introduced that most certainly would have steered the county into the rocks of yet another lawsuit.  (I would be remiss if I did not point out that reason prevailed and the sitting commissioners must have taken the advice of several of the citizens who told them they would be making a huge mistake if they went forward with a proposed rule regarding appointments.)  Its initial wording stated, "No person who is a current or former plaintiff claimant in any lawsuit involving the county will be considered for appointment or reappointment." Clearly, that is punishment for anybody who exercised a statutory right to complain about the way government behaves.  I have no way of confirming this, but I would bet good money that clinker would have gone directly to the ACLU and or the CFOIC.

As long as we are just being honest here, no one who the commissioners, the county manager, etc. does not want appointed will ever be appointed.  I have never filed a lawsuit or complaint in my life, and I can tell you that because I am a well known Democrat, I will never be appointed to anything in this county.  I know that. You know that. They know that.  Writing the rule would have been the equivalent of just spiking the football and so it was unnecessary.  Kudos to whomever pulled it off the agenda. Lest we forget, President Trump has sued the U.S. Government a total of 190 times in his lifetime, and he gets appointed to fun things all of the time.  Or did our Republican BOCC wish to suggest that only the people they dislike should be subjected to disqualification by being a plaintiff against the country he leads?