Tuesday, May 30, 2017

If You Or Someone You Love Has Cancer, Trump Is Not Your President

During his first overseas diplomatic trip last week, President Donald Trump paid a brief visit to a young cancer patient, and his supporters went ballistic because it wasn't widely reported by the legitimate press. Perhaps that’s because despite this PR stunt, Trump’s actions have been overtly hostile to cancer patients. One visit with a patient doesn't change that.

The American Health Care Act (AHCA), the generic, noble-sounding healthcare bill he champions, will, if passed in anything resembling its current state, have a profoundly negative impact on cancer patients.

Trump has been compared to Richard Nixon, but that comparison is an insult to Richard Nixon. After all, Nixon declared war on cancer. And he meant it. Trump, however, has declared war on cancer patients. And he evidently means it, too.

As a three-time, 20-year survivor of stage IV non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, I'm nauseated, angered and saddened by Trump's pathetic efforts to look compassionate with his brief visit to a cancer patient's hospital room. I would ask the family of the child he visited to read the bill Trump is trying to get passed. 

But, kind readers, don't take my word for it. Every respectable national cancer and health organization condemns the preposterous, vicious, immoral healthcare bill Trump wants to see become law. Everyone who has actually read the bill knows it rewards the rich and throws pretty much the rest of us under the bus.

Harvard’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, for example, one of the finest cancer hospitals in the world, is evidently none-too pleased with Trump's handiwork and recently announced that it will not host its annual gala at the president’s Mar-a-Lago property.

Trump's healthcare bill is nothing more than an $800 billion tax break for America's wealthiest citizens. It does great harm to cancer patients and many others with pre-existing conditions. It also denies basic services to and wildly increases premiums for seniors, children, the disabled and those suffering from prescription drug addiction.

Trump also wants to severely slash funding for medical research. He's called for a 20 percent cut to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as well as deep cuts to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). These cuts would obscenely slow and in many cases stall cancer research and the development of new cancer treatments.

Andrew Gurman, president of the American Medical Association, had this to say about Trump's plans:

"America should not go backward to the time when our fellow citizens with pre-existing health conditions faced high costs for limited coverage, if they were able to obtain coverage at all. The AMA urges congressional leaders and the Administration to pursue a bipartisan dialogue on alternative policies that provide patients with access and coverage to high quality care and preserve the safety net for vulnerable populations."

In a joint statement, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, JDRF, March of Dimes, National Organization for Rare Disorders, National MS Society, and The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, said:

"In March, our patient advocacy organizations collectively urged Congress to ensure that any changes made to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) provide affordable, accessible and adequate coverage and do not result in a loss of coverage for any Americans. The AHCA would do the opposite, causing at least 24 million Americans to lose health insurance, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. The bill would profoundly reduce coverage for millions of Americans — including many low-income and disabled individuals who rely on Medicaid — and increase out-of-pocket costs for the sickest and oldest among us. We are alarmed by recent harmful changes to the AHCA, including provisions that will weaken key consumer protections."

Rick Pollack, CEO of the American Hospital Association:

"Our top concern is what this change could mean for older and sicker patients, including those with pre-existing conditions, such as cancer patients and those with chronic conditions. For these reasons, along with our previously stated concerns about the AHCA, we cannot support the bill.

"The amendment proposed this week would dramatically worsen the bill. The changes included put consumer protections at greater risk by allowing states to waive the essential health benefit standards, which could leave patients without access to critical health services and increase out-of-pocket spending. This could allow plans to set premium prices based on individual risk for some consumers, which could significantly raise costs for those with pre-existing conditions.

"There is nothing moderate about the AHCA. Rather, it is an extreme attack on access and coverage for millions of Americans."

Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president:

"Changes under consideration that would allow states to waive important consumer protections ― allowing insurance companies to once again charge Americans with pre-existing conditions more because they’ve had cancer, diabetes or heart disease ― would make a bad bill even worse. This would be devastating for the 25 million Americans 50-64 who have a deniable pre-existing condition."

Sister Carol Keehan, CEO of the Catholic Health Association of the United States:

"It is critically important to look at this bill for what it is. It is not in any way a health care bill. Rather, it is legislation whose aim is to take significant funding allocated by Congress for health care for very low income people and use that money for tax cuts for some of our wealthiest citizens. This is contrary to the spirit of who we are as a nation, a giant step backward that should be resisted. Lastly, we must point out that this bill has been crafted largely behind closed doors, with almost no input from providers of health care."

Fernando Stein, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics:

"Pediatricians have been voicing our opposition to the AHCA since it was initially introduced, and the current version makes an already bad bill even worse for children and families. This bill would dismantle the Medicaid program by capping its funding and eliminating the Medicaid expansion, and a new amendment adds on even more harmful policies, such as allowing insurance companies to refuse to cover those with pre-existing conditions. In short, the bill hinders states’ and families’ ability to provide and access care. These are not improvements to our health care system; they are setbacks that would have real consequences for children.

Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association:

"The American Health Care Act is bad policy. The measure would force millions to lose insurance, cut key public health investments and gut health protections for Americans. Now, in a bid to win votes, they’ve taken a bad bill and made it worse.

American Academy of Family Physicians:

"Despite recent activities and amendments, the American Health Care Act (H.R. 1628) remains a highly flawed proposal that will destabilize our health care system, cause significant loss of coverage, and allow for the discrimination against patients based on their gender, age, and health status. For these reasons, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) continues to oppose the AHCA and encourages the House of Representatives to reject this failed policy.

"By removing critical consumer protections that collectively ensure that the millions of individuals with pre-existing conditions can continue to purchase affordable health care coverage, the AHCA would result in higher premiums and higher deductibles for millions. Additionally, the negative impact of the AHCA is not limited to the individual insurance market. These policies also may impact the more than 130 million people with employer-sponsored insurance."

Pamela Cipriano, president of the American Nurses Association:

"AHCA would cut Medicaid funding by $880 billion over 10 years, dramatically increase premiums on seniors, restrict millions of women from access to health care, weaken the sustainability of Medicare, and repeal income-based subsidies that have made it possible for millions of families to buy health insurance."

Bruce Siegel, CEO of America’s Essential Hospitals:

"The AHCA is a deeply flawed bill that would leave more people without health insurance than before the Affordable Care Act, weaken programs for our most vulnerable people, and leave states, local governments, and taxpayers holding the bag. This amendment might win votes, but it likely won’t change the outcome: 24 million more Americans without health insurance."

Jack Ende, president of the American College of Physicians:

"On behalf of the American College of Physicians (ACP), I write to urge the House of Representatives to vote no on the American Health Care Act (AHCA) because it will bring great harm to patients, many of whom are treated by our members, notwithstanding the amendment that reportedly will be offered today on funding for high risk pools

"There is nothing moderate about the AHCA. Rather, it is an extreme attack on access and coverage for millions of Americans, and especially, older, sicker, and poorer patients who are most in need of help. Please vote for patients and against this extreme bill. This is contrary to the spirit of who we are as a nation."

Paul Markovich, CEO of Blue Shield of California:

"The bill could return us to a time when people who were born with a birth defect or who became sick could not purchase or afford insurance. The discrimination, whether on price or just on the ability to access insurance at all on preexisting conditions, is unconscionable. As a country, we are better than that."

Friday, May 26, 2017

After The Flowers!? The Stunning Anza-Borrego Desert Is Actually Best Enjoyed After The Wildflowers Are Gone

Ah, the wildflowers of the Anza-Borrego Desert. They're the eye-popping, sweet-scented stuff of legend out here in Southeastern California. And this year's "super bloom" was the best show these flowers have given us in years, thanks to the near-biblical rains this winter.

Like just about everyone, we enjoy seeing the desert light up with these impossibly colorful flowers each spring. It's a natural and reliable phenomenon that annually and convincingly disproves the tired notion that there's no life in the hot desert.

But as beautiful as the desert flowers are, Borrego - and specifically Borrego Springs, the charming, underrated little town within these desert confines - is best enjoyed after the flowers have gone back into dormancy beneath the baked desert surface.

That may sound counter-intuitive. But it's not. Borrego really comes alive after the droves of well-meaning Lookie Lou's have caught their brief glimpse of the flowers and headed back home. It's a far more enjoyable, satisfying and relaxing trip. 

I'm not grumpy or anti-social. I like people. But I don't like the mind-numbing traffic jams that accompany the flower season. Coming out to Borrego when there are throngs of humans and long lines utterly defeats the purpose of coming out to Borrego.

The joys of breathing in the scent of the flowers are compromised, at best, when they're accompanied by the smell of 10,000 cars, trucks, motor homes and motorcycles.

So here's my obvious recommendation: Get out there now, after the flowers but before it gets oppressively hot. Right now, it's still in the high 90s, which, with the typically low humidity, is just fine. In May and early June, there are no big crowds and there is no hurry, no worry. It's blissful. And fun. And, dare I say it, educational.

Warning: If you want until July to go, well, you'd better be a desert rat. It's hot.

Our favorite retreat in the world - La Casa del Zorro

If you do choose to spend more than a day in Borrego, the one and only place to spend the night(s), if you're not camping, is La Casa del Zorro, the desert diamond I've been happily frequenting now for more than 30 years. It's my favorite getaway in the entire nation, hands down.

La Casa provides the perfect lodging experience. It's the closest thing to home, but better. The service is impeccable, the staff aims to please. It's a great place to come back to after a full day of hiking, exploring.

There is so much more to Borrego than the wildflowers. We come for the impossibly starry nights, the canyons, the hiking trails, the charming local shops (Borrego Outfitters) and eateries (Carlee's), tennis, golf, critter watching (coyotes, bighorn sheep if you're lucky, road runners), the delightfully friendly, art-loving, non-jaded locals, and, above all, the chance to exhale, relax, and be reminded why life is so worth living.

La Casa has has always represented a unique combination of rustic and classy. It is for all kinds of reasons among the finest hotels in America, without being pretentious.

We like to dig our hiking boots deep into the sand and climb every mountain, then come back to one of La Casa's legendary Casitas and hang out by our own private pool and review the day. Or we head over to the full-service spa, or the state-of-the-art tennis facility.

Other than staying at La Casa del Zorro, the other thing we highly recommend you do during your trip is check out the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitors Center. The knowledgable and pleasant staff will show you all the best hiking trails for those who want it easy, moderate or really challenging.

They'll answer any questions you have, and tell all the secrets of the desert. And if you get out there this Saturday, head to the Borrego Palm Canyon Canyon Campfire Center where a talk will be given on Anza-Borrego's miraculous star-gazing night skies, which are among the very best in the world.

You can explore constellations and planets in a way you perhaps never have before. Bring binocs, a flashlight (red lens is preferable). Ask for Sally Theriault, Park Interpreter.

Also be sure to ask the staff at the Visitors Center about how much life there really is in the seemingly lifeless California desert.

There is something so enthralling and inspiring about desert life, especially when you stop to consider just how hot it gets out here in the summer months.

The desert is in fact teeming with life. And it's life of the hardiest, most robust kind. You gotta be tough to live in these parts, be you plant, animal or human. You gotta be a true survivor.

As a three-time survivor of cancer myself, I have an even stronger connection to the critters of the desert than I did before I was diagnosed. They can endure a whole lot. I guess I can, too. The desert in the hottest months is Darwinism on high. It requires a toughness that only the 3,000 or so year-round residents of Borrego Springs possess.

So take a day, or a week, and head out to Borrego, right now, or at least by mid-June before the heat becomes too much. Get the best of all worlds: stay at La Casa, but do some hiking in the desert and the nearby mountains, walk until you are winded. 

There is no greater feeling than to be exhausted amid the majesties and nuances of Mother Nature. As for flowers, well.... We don't need no stinkin' flowers!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

BREAKING NEWS: President of World's Largest Hematologist Group Blasts House Members for Callous Health Care Vote

Dr. Kenneth Anderson, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Kenneth C. Anderson, the renowned physician and researcher at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and president of the American Society of Hematology (ASH), the world’s largest professional society of hematologists, had some harsh and sobering words today for members of the House of Representatives who voted in favor of the American Health Care Act (H.R. 1628), also known as "Trumpcare."

“Since the early days of health care reform, ASH has remained committed to supporting access to affordable, high-quality health care for all Americans," Anderson said in a statement just released. "We are deeply disappointed that the House today passed a bill that would price the oldest and sickest Americans out of affordable health insurance coverage by waiving requirements for community rating and age rating, scaling back funding for Medicaid — a vital lifeline for many with blood diseases like sickle cell disease and hemophilia — and permitting states to opt out of requiring coverage for essential health benefits."

As the Senate picks up this reform package, ASH, whose members are focused on promoting research, patient care, education, training, and advocacy for blood diseases  --including cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia -- called on lawmakers in the more civil and sane of the two Congressional houses to ensure that the following principles are reflected in the final bill:

* ASH opposes any measures that discriminate against individuals with pre-existing conditions or that impose lifetime benefit limits.

* ASH urges that protections be included to ensure that consumers understand their coverage options.

* ASH encourages efforts to combat high drug prices by supporting legislation that provides for insurance parity between patient-administered and intravenous chemotherapy, curtails out-of-pocket expenses, and limits the cost of drugs placed into specialty insurance tiers.

* ASH seeks thoughtful consideration in tackling the opioid epidemic while avoiding unintended consequences that unnecessarily punish patients with chronic diseases, such as sickle cell disease and cancer.

* ASH recognizes the importance of coverage for ambulatory, emergency, hospital, and laboratory services in properly and effectively diagnosing and treating patients with hematologic malignancies and chronic hematologic diseases throughout all stages of their care.

* ASH opposes any move that would waive individual states’ compliance with the above protections.”