I found a photo of Congress on Facebook that was captioned, "Unskilled laborers report for work."

It was a little amusing, but what's scary is not so much that many of the new members of Congress have no government experience, but that they have gone to Washington with the explicit mission of dismantling the Affordable Care Act.

I don't know why the GOP is so intent on yanking access to health care away from millions of people; it's about as anti-life as anyone can get. Many are conservative Christians who seem to have no idea what Jesus actually demanded of his followers -- to heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked ...

One of the first things on their agenda is to change the so-called employer mandate that requires businesses with more than 100 full-time employees to offer health insurance. Right now, the mandate covers employees who work 30 or more hours a week. The GOP wants to change that requirement to 40 hours, which would yank insurance coverage from a half million people immediately and leave millions more in danger of having their hours cut to 39 per week so they could be dropped from insurance coverage.

Sure, go home early on Friday and lose your access to health care.

Of course Obama would veto this -- as long as it doesn't get tacked onto some must-pass budget bill, which we know the GOP is only too happy to do.

It's time to put Big Business out of business. I mean, that's who's really in charge here, after all. People with big, fat paychecks want to take even more while leaving their workers with less -- or nothing.

Loss of health insurance isn't just loss of a benefit; it often leads to loss of life. The people in Congress who would vote to take health care away from you have their own lifelong plan. They're not going to suffer and they don't care if you do.

The GOP has become the Death Panel they warned us about before the Affordable Care Act passed. If they are allowed to cut our access to health care, we have to call them out for the anti-life people they are.

I don't suppose any number of phone calls or e-mails will change the minds of people who are so opposed to granting others access to health care, but we ought to at least try. They're pretty confident that we won't vote them out of office, but mnaybe if they hear from enough of us, they'll reconsider,





 
 
I don't watch ESPN very often, so I didn't know much about Stuart Scott until he died. Then I started to learn about his grace and courage as he faced cancer.

"When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer," he said. "You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live." 

That was my son's philosophy. I don't know if Stuart had people howling with laughter by playing the "Cancer Card," but I know he knew to live each day, even when he knew his days were numbered.

We all know we'll die someday, but most of us don't know how or when. It's how we react when we find out that tells others what kind of person we are.

My dear friend Andy Chabra faced colon cancer. It was already stage 4 when it was diagnosed. Andy was determined to work as long as possible because he loved the day-to-day routine of his life. He relished being in a newsroom and being with other people who got his decidedly twisted sense of humor.

I miss Mike and I miss Andy, but I can still laugh at the wonderful memories they left behind.

I wonder of Stuart had that same silly side that could turn the worst things inside-out and make them funny. If so, the people who loved him will always carry that part of him.

 
 
The holidays are always a hard time for me. It begins with Mike's and my birthday in November and continues through New Year's. It is the time I miss my sister, Ellen, and Mike.

Like any bereaved mom, I get by. It's not the joyous time it was when my son was alive, but there is still joy to be found.

Sometimes, in the midst of missing Mike and Ellen, I lose sight of what good I'm able to do during the year.

I went for a haircut this morning with a new person -- my former hair stylist moved. We chatted a little and she asked what I do, so I told her: I advocate for access to quality health care for every human being.

I talked about the Moral Mondays Forward Together Movement and the people I've met there and the opportunity I've had to educate people about who dies when we limit access to health care.

I spoke to 100,000 people at last year's HK on J rally in Raleigh. By any standard, that's pretty cool.

At our most recent action, Rev. Barber hugged me and told me I inspire him.

I was floored.

After the election in November, a TV news person asked me whether I had wasted my time with the movement.

"Not at all," I said. "Change doesn't come overnight. It's a long process. We have to be patient and keep working toward the change we need."

I'm in this fight for justice for the long haul.

My new hair stylist was impressed with my resolve.

"What a life you have!" she said.

I think I have to agree with her. I'm hip deep in the most remarkable movement since the Civil Rights Movement of the last century.  I am working for positive change and I'm working with some amazing people.

I have made good friends among this crowd, and they will remain my friends.

I can be depressed over the lack of progress or I can remain resolved to work for justice no matter how long it takes.

I have been blessed with the ability to speak in public about what happened to my child and hundreds of thousands of other Americans who couldn't access care.

I have met other wonderful revolutionaries like Cindy Sheehan, who faced President Bush and spoke truth to power after her son was killed in his illegal and foolish adventure in Iraq.

My life is pretty awesome, now that I think about it. 

Looks like this year is going to rock!
 
 
I did a lot of speaking and demonstrating this year to try and educate people about the need to expand Medicaid in North Carolina. I think more people see the need, but not enough of them are in the state legislature.

Meanwhile, some 2,800 people have died needlessly.

That's 2,800 human lives gone forever.

And as much as we claimed in opinion polls to reject what the NC General Assembly did in Raleigh, voters elected one of its leaders to the US Senate.

How can you have a 16 percent approval rating and still get elected to the Senate? Beats me, but it happened here, even though he promised to carry these unpopular positions to Washington.

Of course, voter turnout left a lot to be desired, and all those who stayed home will have the government they deserve. Unfortunately, those of us who do care will have to suffer along with them.

So, all that's about to be last year's news. Oh, and nearly all of us who were arrested during Moral Mondays protests had our charges dropped. In other words, I'm ready to get arrested again if need be. I'd rather not, but I will if I have to.

Looking ahead, I plan to be just as involved in the Moral Mondays protests as ever. We need this movement to educate people about how important it is to have a social safety net, good education and access to health care. We need to bring compassion to our society.

With luck, we'll finally convince legislators everyone deserves access to health care.

With luck, the legislature will act before another 2,800 people die needlessly.

I have tried not to get angry; I've tried to keep positive and calm, and I will continue to try in the coming year. But I'm trying to save lives here. Each of these people who are dying is leaving behind devastated family members and friends, just like Mike did.

I think what frustrates me the most is the lies about health reform and about the people who need it. People who don't have access to health care aren't lazy -- most of them work at least one full-time job.

I just got off the phone with a friend whose niece has type 1 diabetes and can't afford the test strips. She works and her place of employment offers insurance, but the coverage is lousy and doesn't cover her glucose test strips. She won't qualify for insurance through the marketplace because her job offers insurance with the basics and the premium isn't more than 9 percent of her total income.

So, this year, I'll work for improvements to the Affordable Care Act as well as Medicaid expansion. We need to keep trying to move ahead. We need to keep our tempers in check because when we lose it, we look like the crazy ones, and we can't afford to do that.



 
 
North Carolina lost $2.7 billion in federal funding this year and stands to lose $3.3 billion in 2015, according to a report released today by the Center for Health Policy Research at George Washington University.

The report also found that 23,000 more jobs would have been created this year under an expanded Medicaid, and 29,000 next year. And these are not low-wage, menial jobs.

In all, the report says, the state' economy is about $1.7 billion smaller because of the decision to not expand Medicaid, and that caused the state to lose nearly $100 million in tax revenue.

We can expand Medicaid for 2016, but if our state legislature remains obstinate and continues its pretense that the Affordable Care Act never happened, we will lose an estimated $21 billion in federal funding between 2016 and 2020.

Refusal to expand Medicaid would lead to 43,000 fewer jobs created statewide. About half of those jobs
would be in health care. North Carolina hospitals, many of which are struggling already, will face more serious problems. Some will close.

The other half of jobs that won't be created are spread across sectors including construction, retail and wholesale,
professional/scientific/technical and food and beverage. That's because economic benefits ripple out when health care
providers buy more goods and services and as health care workers use new income to pay their mortgages, buy groceries, pay taxes and so on.

Expanding Medicaid could trigger a substantial reduction in unemployment here, which is needed since our unemployment rate exceeds the national average.

From 2016 to 2020, the potential state gross product would be $14 billion less and total business activity will be $21 billion lower if we decline expansion. Non-expansion will derail substantial economic gains that would boost the economy.

Medicaid expansion would increase state and county tax revenues without changing tax rates. But  if Medicaid is not expanded, about $860 million in potential state revenue will be lost, plus $161 million in county tax revenues from 2016 to 2020, for a combined loss of more than $1 billion. These revenues would have helped support other services, such as education and public safety.

That's just the financial cost. In human cost, the totals are even worse. As we approach the end of the year, we are grieving the lost of about 2,800 human beings who should not have died but were unable to gain access to the care they needed before it was too late.

I think often about what my child would have contributed to society had he not been killed by a broken health care system. He was on his way to law school because he wanted people in need to have a good attorney, and he would have been a damn good attorney.

He spent hours and hours each week helping people get and stay sober. How many people are not getting the help they need because he's gone?

His brother and nieces and nephew miss him terribly. He was going to teach his nephew to play guitar. Now the guitar gathers dust in the corner of my grandson's bedroom.

When we refuse to expand access to health care, we deny families and friends the presence of someone they love dearly. 

There's a lot more than money to be lost by not expanding Medicaid. But maybe the people who don't care about human lives can be swayed by the loss of money.Want to read the entire report? https://www.conehealth.com/app/files/public/4202/The-Economic-and-Employment-Costs-of-Not-Expanding-Medicaid-in-North-Carolina.pdf.




 

 
 
PictureEric Garner, who was killed by a NYPD cop.
I haven't been on here much the last few weeks because I just don't know what to say about all that's going on in our country.

African-American men are being murdered in the streets by the very people who are charged with protecting us, and they're getting away with it.

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act are promising to repeal it or de-fund it to make it go away, leaving millions of people without access to health care.

We send young men and women into combat again and again and then do nothing about the horrible emotional consequences they suffer when they come home. We make them wait months, even years, for help. We allow them to become homeless  and then call them lazy bums because they can't provide for themselves.

Now we learn that our government is guilty of torture, and I don't just mean waterboarding. The report released yesterday tells of pureeing food and shooting it up victims' rectums. It says we made people stand for hours on broken legs. We put people in coffin-sized boxes for days on end. We waterboarded one man 183 times. We chained people naked to cold floors and let them freeze to death.

The people at the top didn't know about it at first, but they were informed, and no one is seriously talking about prosecuting them for their war crimes.

What kind of a country have we become when we don't care about people's lives -- unless, of course, they haven't been born yet?

Then we're all about saving those lives. Why? So they can become cannon fodder for our wars? Or perhaps so they can become free labor in our massive prison system.

This is all so immoral and I still see people defending all of it. 

Murder is murder, whether it's committed by a cop, a CIA operative or a government sending its people into an unnecessary war so profiteers can make billions.

If you think abortion is murder but you think the rest of it is OK, you are complicit. You are not pro-life.




 
 
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They come by the thousands, sometimes by the tens of thousands, each seeking medical or dental care they can't get anywhere else.

Some of them have insurance but they can't afford the deductibles and co-pays, so they can't get the care they need.

These are clinics sponsored by Remote Area Medical, which was founded to help people in underdeveloped countries but now helps at least as many people in the United States.

It was a RAM clinic in Bristol, Tenn., that caught the eye of an insurance company vice president several years ago and led to his resignation from his lucrative job and his crusade to tell the truth about the American health care system.

Wendell Potter felt ashamed of the deprivation when he passed by the pop-up clinic in Bristol and the thousands of people in line, each hoping to see a doctor, nurse or dentist. Eventually, he became the best known whistle-blower in the country, writing the book, "Deadly Spin," to tell how insurance companies really operated, and how his job had been to make it look pretty.

I've met Wendell a number of times, and when we were visiting members of Congress a month before the Affordable Care Act passed, he told me the work he does now is penance for the damage he did as an insurance company executive.

The ACA has been law for four and a half years now, but these pop-up clinics are still happening across the country because so many states have refused to expand Medicaid, and even in those that have, many people still can't afford the deductibles on their policies.

The Affordable Care Act caps out-of-pocket costs at $6,600 for an individual and $13,200 for a family, but try to pay that when you make $10 an hour and you have to pay rent, utilities, food, car payments and insurance. It's impossible to scrape that much money together.

As a health care advocate, I've decided I need to do my part and volunteer as support staff for this year's clinic in Bristol, Tenn., the first weekend in May. I'll find a campground nearby where I can pitch a tent and then help people get the care they need. Maybe we can save a few lives. The least that will happen is that I'll be able to let some people know that their lives do matter to someone.

If you want to know more about Remote Area Medical, visit http://www.ramusa.org/. The page also has information on how you can volunteer or donate.

We do not have the best health care system in the world; we have one of the worst when it comes to access and outcomes. With all the wealth in this country, we shouldn't need these clinics, but as long as we do, I feel it's my job to help.


 
 
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He doesn't look terribly sad about rejecting Medicaid.
It's all about ideology, not about human life.

Gov. Pat McCrory has been making noises like he might want to expand Medicaid this year because the state is losing so much money and one hospital has closed already and blah, blah, blah.

McCrory has no plans to expand Medicaid, and he knows Senate leader Phil Berger won't let it happen.

McCrory would like to paint himself as a moderate, although he seemed very happy to sign the law killing Medicaid expansion in North Carolina. In fact, it was one of the first things he did as governor.

The law states that only the General Assembly has the authority to expand Medicaid, so if McCrory wants to play the moderate, Phil Berger can play the bad guy and refuse to even consider expansion.

Berger has said already he has no intention of expanding Medicaid, so the "moderate" McCrory can say, "Aw, please?" and get a firm "No!" Then he can throw up his hands and claim to have tried.

Don't be fooled. These people care nothing for the lives that are being lost every day; if they did care, they would do something. They would rather "ennoble" the poor by letting them go hungry and without medical care.

With open enrollment going on again, I am getting calls from people who are desperate for care but they're not eligible to shop in the marketplace because they live below the federal poverty level.

I get calls asking whether they should fudge their income so they can buy coverage. I can't advise them to do that because it's illegal.

What's happening to the poor in this state ought to be illegal, but the wealthy and powerful make the laws and they give themselves the advantage under those laws.

I don't believe McCrory when he says he would like to expand Medicaid because I know he's powerless to do so, and that allows him to feign compassion. If he had real compassion, he would have vetoed the law, even though the NC General Assembly would have over-ridden the veto. In the photo taken when he signed the law, he didn't look the least bit upset about that this law would do to people in need or about the 2,800 lives it would cost every year.

We rejected most of the candidates in the recent election who would have voted to expand Medicaid. It appears to have been apathy on the part of voters, and I have to ask myself whether people are even able to get outraged any more.

 
 
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This is a hard time of year for me. I struggle to stay afloat as Mike's and my birthday passes. I know it wouldn't be possible without the help of my friends.

This year, once again, LisaRose Barnes spent the day with me. The fun included a drive up to the Blue Ridge Parkway where she and I sang "Happy Birthday." She sang it to Mike and I sang it to me, just as Mike and I used to do.

Liz Huesemann and my husband met us for dinner at Mela, which has become tradition since Mike died. I wear my tiara and hold court.

It all distracts me from how much I miss my son. 

But the distraction doesn't last long. I think of him every day. I miss him constantly.

Sometimes, though, he reaches out and touches me in surprising ways through the ripples that his life created.

Recently, my son Danny needed support. Mine wasn't really enough, since Mom has to be there, no matter what, and Mom always loves you no matter what kind of decisions you make.

He came to visit a couple weeks ago and told my one of Mike's friends called to see if he could help.

"Guy named Joey," Danny said. "Really centered and sensible."

Rob and I looked at each other.

"Joey No-Days?" we asked.

"No," Danny said. "Couldn't be. This guy has been sober a long time and he's really got it right."

So, the next time they spoke, Danny asked whether he had ever been known as Joey No-Days.

Indeed, he had. He was called that because he couldn't seem to get to his one-year sobriety anniversary without screwing up.

Then one night, really late, he knocked on Mike's door.

"I want to do this," he said. "I can't do it alone."

That was the key, of course. No one can do it alone. Mike worked with him, helping him through the 12 steps, even though he was terminally ill.

Joey No-Days got his one-year chip the day of Mike's memorial service, which he couldn't attend because his own grandfather had died.


"We'll have to give him a new nickname, Mike's friend, James, said. "But Joey One-Year doesn't sound as funny, does it?"

Others have called Danny, too. People Mike helped get their own feet under them. Like Elliott, the chef and Daniel, Christian ...

I hear that Mike is still quoted often in the rooms, more than six years after his death. His words still offer comfort and strength.

The ripples reach out and encircle us, reminding us that Mike's love and wisdom are never-ending

 
 
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Forty-two years ago today, I gave birth to this handsome dude (who later fathered this gorgeous graduate).

We've had our differences, but he is a good and honorable man. 

His brother's death hit him hard, and he once wondered aloud whether legislators who would deny others access to health care might change their tunes if their own access was cut off.

He's fortunate in that he's always had access to care, even though he's had to battle with the insurance company now and again to get what he needs. 

Until Mike got sick, Danny believed the Emergency Room would provide people with the care they needed. But as it turned out, the ER only has to stabilize people, so Mike was sent home with laxatives when his problem was a malignant tumor blocking his colon, and he died from lack of access to care.

What's also been hard on Danny and on his kids is how I changed after Mike died. I wasn't the silly Grandma I had been. All I could think about was getting people access to health care. Danny has done his best to understand and to explain to the kids that I talk about Mike a lot because memories is all I have of him.

I can't go back to who I was before Mike died, and that robs my son and his children of the person I used to be.

I worry a lot about whether health care will be available to Danny and his family. I know the Affordable Care Act has offered access to millions of people, but not to everyone.

Anyway, I just wanted to let people know I'm thankful for the son I