Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

Home · Articles · News · Features · Russ Baron
. . . .

Russ Baron

Robert Downes - July 12th, 2010
A Matter of Life & Death: For Russ Barron, health care reform can’t come soon enough
By Robert Downes
Russ Barron has literally died five times during the course of his
life, with his heart coming to a complete stop, -- a terrifying
experience that includes the realization that he may have only minutes
to live.
Once, his heart quit beating at a traffic light in Traverse City.
“I was sitting at a light on South Airport Road and knew that
something bad was going to happen,” he recalls. “I felt the blood
rushing from my head and knew that I was going to die right there at
my steering wheel.”
In desperation, Russ opened his car door and threw himself into
traffic, hoping that someone would stop and help him. “I threw myself
out in the street and my heart started up again,” he says. “I went to
work the next day, but I didn’t look so good.”
Barron, 52, has lived on the edge of mortality his entire life. He’s
had seven strokes, three open heart surgeries, two heart valve
replacements and 15 pacemaker surgeries. He’s been a patient at
Munson Medical Center five times this year alone for complications
related to his pacemaker, as well as a minor stroke.
Perhaps an ordinary person would crumble under the terrifying pressure
of living in Barron’s shoes, and yet Russ has dozens of friends
(including this writer) who find him to be amazingly optimistic,
fun-loving and thoughtful.
Not to mention courageous. Beyond the unpredictability of his heart,
there’s only one thing he fears: that a fractured set of rules will
condemn him to death at the hands of the State and Federal health care
Currently on full disability, Barron is faced with the prospect of
surviving 18 months without any health care coverage between the time
he loses his state Medicaid benefits and the time he qualifies for
Medicare under Social Security. Because of his pre-existing heart
condition, it’s impossible for him to obtain health insurance and he’s
already spent everything he owns on his health bills -- at least $1
million, including a lifetime of savings and the sale of his home --

Barron provides a face for the millions of uninsured but hard-working
and responsible Americans who need health care reform. Despite decades
of heart problems and complications, Barron has had successful
careers in several fields and has been a productive member of society
his entire life.
“It’s difficult going from wearing a shirt and tie and being a
successful professional for 30 years to all of a sudden wondering how
you’re going to get out of bed this week,” he says.
His problems began the day of his birth when he was literally born blue.
“I have a really rare heart condition called Epstein’s Anomaly,”
Barron says. “There may be only 30 of us or so in the eastern United
States who have this disease.”
Growing up in Linden, outside Flint, Barron spent most of his
childhood feeling faint, with a blue tint to his lips and skin and
unable to play school sports. “Epstein’s Anomaly is real simple,” he
says. “The right side of my heart is upside down and the valves
inside are also upside down, including my heart’s electrical system.
It’s kind of like having your house wired by someone who doesn’t know
anything about electricity and nothing works.”
When he was 11, a doctor noticed a heart murmur which led to the
discovery that a valve in Barron’s heart wasn’t closing properly. “I
lived with it,” he says, but he wasn’t expected to live long: doctors
gave him until the age of 14.
The Barron family moved to Lake Havasu City in Arizona when he was in
his teens, where he had the first of nine pacemakers installed in his
chest in 1980. Today, his chest also packs an automatic
defibrillator which gives his heart a burst of electricity, if and
when it quits beating.
At the age of 24, Barron became the first successful patient in the
world to have what is called a Starr-Edwards valve installed in his
heart at a hospital in Portland, Oregon. This ‘ball & cage’
artificial valve has the distinction of being the oldest
continuously-operating heart valve of its kind in the world. “You can
hear a lot of clippety-clop in my chest,” Barron says.

Despite his health problems, Barron created a successful career.
Following in his father’s footsteps, he became a contractor, building
hundreds of homes in the Lake Havasu area. “By the time I was 30, I
was making over $50,000 a year, which was rare back in the ‘80s,” he
says, adding that for a number of years, his earnings ranged into the
six figures.
His health problems led to an interest in medicine and he went on to
become a respiratory therapist in the Pacific Northwest. Eventually,
he settled back in Michigan, becoming a marketing and operations
manager for DME, a chain of local pharmacies. He also managed a sleep
lab in Traverse City before being laid off -- a situation which
ultimately ended his health insurance benefits, since the COBRA
extension of such runs only 18 months.
Through the years, Barron saw his savings whittled away by co-pays,
hospital stays, home nursing care and shortfalls in what his Blue
Cross-Blue Shield insurance would pay.
“Not all doctors accept Blue Cross-Blue Shield,” he says, making the
point that even persons with health insurance can pile up bills.
“They want the full cost of a surgery or a procedure, so you have to
pay the difference on what the doctor receives from Blue Cross. If
the insurer reimburses $11,000, but the doctor wants $16,000, you have
to pay the remaining $5,000.”
In 2003, Barron spent 21 days in the hospital recovering from the
complications of a difficult surgery. “When I got out I couldn’t work
for four months and there were all of the co-pays and medical bills to
worry about,” he says.
Then there are the pharmacy bills: Barron takes 12 pills each
morning, 6 pills each night, and wears a pain patch continually. It
adds up.
Currently, more than 60% of all personal bankruptcies in America
spring from medical causes, often even among persons who have health
insurance, according to a study in the American Medical Journal.
Barron can confirm that hardship;. Today, he lives with his fiancé
Alice Hauser at her home in Suttons Bay. They’ve had to delay getting
married because of the risk that health care costs might mean to her
own property. “I ended up having to spend all of my savings -- my
IRAs and my 401k -- everything I had just to have my surgeries and
stay alive.”

For years he struggled to avoid going on disability, despite the
urging of his physician.
“I want to be a productive member of society, but my society is
smaller now -- it’s my friends and clubs,” he says, adding that he was
fortunate to receive state disability benefits and Medicaid within a
month of applying.
Despite the help and consideration of many doctors, pharmacists and
state health employees to whom Barron is grateful, in some ways the
health care system is rigged against him -- even to the point of
threatening his life.
Take COBRA benefits from his former employer, for instance. Under the
law, Barron could pay for his COBRA insurance premiums out of his own
pocket, but only for a period of up to 18 months.
“I don’t know why the health care system won’t let you just carry on
your COBRA benefits, but they force you to drop your insurance,” he
That means that even if Barron could afford private insurance at a
new, much higher rate, he’d be denied coverage because of his
pre-existing condition.
Then there is the impending shortfall in his state and federal coverage:
Barron has been told by the State that he’ll lose his Medicaid if he
goes on Social Security because he’ll be making too much money to
qualify for Michigan’s health program for persons on low incomes. But
under federal rules, he’ll have to wait two years (or 18 months beyond
the fall-off of his Medicaid) to receive Medicare while he’s on Social
It’s a potentially fatal Catch 22.
“Under the federal system, they say they’ll pay you Social Security,
but you must wait two years to get on Medicare. Why? Whoever made up
that rule really wasn’t thinking because by that point, you’ve got all
of these health conditions. Why do I have to wait two years? What is
the logic behind that? Are they waiting for you to die?
“Now what do I do? I’ve sold all of my assets and I’m down to the bare bones.”

Barron’s health problems are rubbed raw by the anxiety he feels over
his impending lack of medical coverage.
“This last month was the first time I haven’t had health coverage in
over 30 years and it was quite a shock,” he says, referring to the
fall-off of his COBRA benefits. “It was really a depressing day. I
woke up and thought that I don’t have insurance, and that’s a scary
Like many Americans who’ve lost their benefits, he began hoarding
pills and cutting dosages. The confirmation of his Medicaid benefits
was a godsend, but he wonders how he’ll bridge the 18-month gap to
The bitter irony is that unlike the Tea Party stereotypes condemning
‘moochers’ trying to receive ‘free’ health care reform for nothing,
Barron has contributed heavily to Social Security and Medicare all his
life and simply wants a chance to live on what he’s put in the system.
“I have no quarrels that you should spend all you own before getting
charity or help from the state,” Barron says. But he also feels that
he should be able to receive what is his due as a contributing member
of society.
“Now, knowing that I’m a man who’s worked all of my life and has done
well and has had to sell everything I own, including all of my
retirement money just to get to this point in disability, all I want
is to try to live a normal life on my own Social Security.”

“A lot of people in the community have offered to help me out,” he
says. “Loads of people and friends. I have a wonderful support system
in the community and at Munson and from the pharmacy programs at
Target and Walmart. At the end of the day, I’m blessed, but I’d like
to see a change in our country for the right reasons and see all
Americans have health care coverage. We’re supposed to be the greatest
nation in the world, yet we can’t provide our people with health
And while there have been angels in his life, there have also been
thoughtless individuals. Barron has been dismayed by persons who’ve
badmouthed the efforts to reform the nation’s health care system
without realizing that they’re condemning him to death.
If they only knew.
“Anyone can have a stroke tomorrow and within two to four years go
through everything they own and be where I am now with no insurance,”
he says.
“A lot of people are against health care reform, but they’re just in
their own world and don’t understand that they could be in my world in
a moment’s notice.”

Write your congressman and U.S. senator if you’d like to help Russ
Barron get an exception for his Medicare benefits.

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