February 2003

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Tues., Feb. 4 11:00 p.m.


Watch and listen to the Independent Lens production: Maggie Growls Documentary of the Remarkable Life of Gray Panthers Founder Maggie Kuhn. KQED Channel 9.


Wed., Feb. 5 1:00-3:00 p.m.


Board meeting at the office. All welcome. Sun.


Feb.9 2:00-4:00 p.m.


OWL: Illustrated lecture on "Feminism in Contemporary Art" by Dr. Micheline Maccario Kissack, senior docent at SFMOMA. Chancellors Room, UCSF Laurel Heights Conference Center, 3333 California St. Wed.


 Feb. 12 1:00-3:00 p.m.


GPs Healthcare Committee meeting at the Gray Panthers office. Thurs., Feb. 13 10:00 a.m.-noon. SAN: General meeting. St. Mary’s Cathedral, 1111 Gough at Geary. Sat., Feb. 15 3:00 p.m. Chinese New Year Parade Sun.


Feb. 16 1:00 p.m.

 Peace Rally (If you plan to attend, call the office and leave your number. We'll call you back with where and when.) Tues.


Feb. 18 12:30-3:00 p.m.

General Meeting. The Patriot Act. See below. Sat.


Feb. 22 10:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m.


 OWL: "Update from Washington," by Catherine Dodd, Dist. Dir. for House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, on Medicare, prescription drugs, Social Security, etc. Info: 415/989-4422.


On the first and third Wednesdays of each month, tune in Cable Channel 29 (SF Community TV) at 4:30 p.m. for Deetje Boler's video documentaries "Every Voice." She captures current local events often overlooked by the media. The Patriot Act Our February meeting will concentrate on the Patriot Act and its attack on all of our basic rights. We plan to have speakers from the National Lawyers Guild, INS Watch, and the Arab-American Antidiscrimination League. And they will have a full plate of subjects to contend with including an overview on the registration and detentions of Arab and Muslim men; the situation of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay; the predicament of foreign students; how the Patriot Act is attacking citizens and permanent residents; what can other people and the Gray Panthers do; what are possible legal avenues; could declaring San Francisco a Sanctuary City strengthen things by giving more protection to those refusing to co-operate; and more. This act is important to you and me. Be there!



Prime Agenda Health Care Planned and organized by the GPs Health Care Committee


Our January meeting was provocative in its content and scope. The overall theme was single payer universal health and current crises were brought to attention by a group of knowledgeable panelists. Gretchen Davis moderated, calling on speakers for timed presentations. Michael Lyon was the first speaker, outlining the rising costs, sagging profits, doctors opting out of Medicare and Medicaid (our Medi-Cal) and the worsening economy that's shifting premiums to employers who, in turn, charge employees. Susan Lyon introduced the discussion by quoting the National Gray Panthers 1980 Health Task Force: Health care must be universal, accessible, comprehensive, and publicly funded and administered. "What health care do we want? What health care do we need?" And answered her own questions with "the Canadian system: It is based on need, not wealth." The next speaker was Rebecca King Morrow, Public Health Nurse, Pediatric Case Manager for the S.F. Department of Public Health, SEIU Local 790 member, discussing a very current subject: smallpox vaccination. There have been no smallpox cases anywhere in the last 25 years. Smallpox is not airborne, can only be spread by contact, and if cases should appear via terrorism they can be locally controlled. The current vaccine is one of the least safe vaccines, has no safety record, proposes one arbitrary dosage for everybody, and has known risks and side effects. To use it is poor science driven not by knowledge or urgency but by political scare tactics. Then came the ebullient Don Bechler of Health Care for All. He urged the GPs to actively support a bill being introduced in February by State Senator Sheila Kuehl (D., Santa Monica) that would create one publicly funded and publicly accountable agency to finance all health care for everyone. One agency, tax supported, no insurance company premiums. We'll surely participate. One of the first steps to build support will be the Cover the Uninsured Week forum, March 10-17, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. On Monday, March 10, the single payer coalition in San Francisco plans to flood the meeting with supporters displaying single payer signs. They will be joined by Frances Payne of Neighbor to Neighbor who spoke from the audience about the Healthy Kids Program in the schools and the opportunities there to promote single payer. Michael Lyon summed up the meeting by warning us all about the results of privatizing all of the (skimpy) health services we have enjoyed during the economic bubble of the late '90s. They weren't many and they weren't fair, but now that we're in a recession there will be even fewer, and they will all cost more than the middle class and working poor can afford. Read on Privatizing Medicare Give George W. credit. He is persistent or stubborn. In-between planning wars and cutting taxes for the top 1%, he is fighting hard to privatize Medicare. His strongest supporter in the battle is Senator First, the new Republican Senate majority leader and a doctor whose family co-owns the biggest chain of for-profit hospitals in the United States. One of the President's first proposals was a Medicare voucher system, guaranteeing access not to health care but to private health insurance partially. While he has not given up on it, he is flexible. He will support any new plan for Medicare, provided it is private and profitable. Using the excuse that the baby-boomers will be the losers if we don't change our ways, the White House is full of ideas: Freeze payments to nursing homes and home care agencies



Nightmare that "could reduce access to care for millions of" seniors, and "cut back on funds hospitals are scheduled to receive next year." (NYT 1-9-03).


As it is, "demand" for home care service dropped by 1.3 million in 2001; one explanation is that the agencies, with their profit margins shrinking, may be rejecting the high cost and therefore the neediest patients. Having rejected prescription drug benefits until recently, the White House has seen the light: Use Rx benefits as a "powerful incentive to enroll in more efficient, less costly health plans" (HMOs). "For such protection" (against high costs of serious illness) the planners propose, "beneficiaries might be required to pay higher premiums and co-payments, in addition to any new charge for drug coverage," reported the Times. Joining up with the Republicans on Bush's side is Sen. Breaux of Louisiana, Democrat. He signed on with Frist's voucher system, and still supports privatization. Diane Archer of the Medicare Rights Center, quoted in the Workers World of Jan. 16, 2003, said: "It's not about taking care of older and disabled Americans' health care needs; it's about charging them more money for less health care" while disemboweling Medicare. Meanwhile, if any of the for-profit, privatized Medicare plans go through, George W. will have another credit to add to his list, which is getting recklessly longer each day: Denying workers the right to belong to a union; cutting off funding to other nations that still permit abortions; giving SUVs more tax breaks (for their service to the oil industry, no doubt); destroying the environment multiple ways, bullying the world into supporting his dream of wars. Surely he has earned a long vacation in Texas. The Medicare System Medicare was created in 1965 by the federal government to provide health care insurance for persons with disabilities and people 65 years and older. How Medicare is supposed to work. In 2002 the program covered 40 million people and paid about $250 billion in benefits. Medicare charges retirees about $50.00 a month on average, deducted from their social security payment, for doctors' insurance. Health care providers treat patients and send the bill to Medicare. Medicare is run by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency in the Department of Health and Human Services. It sets payment rates for providers and oversees the private companies hired to make payment on behalf of the government. How Medicare really works. The private insurance companies the government hires to examine and pay Medicare claims have been involved in cheating the government, and reputable companies fail to search for fraud. These companies are often business partners with doctors and hospitals. The result is a variety of billing scams from non-existent patients, excessive charges, unnecessary treatment or services never provided. Malcom Sparrow, a health care fraud expert at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government says, "We are trusting insurance companies to do oversight of the medical profession and they are riddled with corruption." Fraud has forced Medicare to cut doctors' reimbursement rates. Lower rates have led many medical providers to drop Medicare patients leaving millions of the elderly without health care coverage. The system’s fraud problems began with a compromise Congress arranged with the health care establishment 25 years ago. Fearing socialized medicine doctors and hospitals agreed to participate in the program if they were allowed to select the insurance companies that process the claims and serve as the programs watchdog. Today 49 private insurance companies work for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The compromise with Congress allowed the American Hospital Association to decide which insurance companies should handle Medicare bills. All the companies turned out to be members of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Association. As soon as Blue Cross/Blue Shield took over abuse of medical billing began which the government seemed unable to stop. The General Accounting Office cites conflict of interest in the watchdog’s poor performances. Hospitals and doctors not only help select their overseers they go into business with them. Many insurance companies including Blue Cross/Blue Shield have been investigated for abusing the Medicare system and have paid millions of dollars in civil penalties and criminal fines. Prompted by a percentage of whatever the government receives, whistle blowers have brought an increasing number of cases to the public's attention. Stephen Menger, a San Francisco attorney says whistle blowers are essential in uncovering fraud. The private insurance companies say they perform as best they can. In California they process 60 million claims a year, handle 95,000 providers and 3.6 million Medicare beneficiaries. Only 2% of the claims are reviewed, confined to supporting documents, which can be fabricated. Professor Sparrow says that nobody knows how much fraud there is in Medicare. He thinks it may be as high as 20 or 30 percent Fixing Medicare. In 1999 the government hired 12 private companies to examine Medicare bills for fraud. After some delays the companies recently started work. Tim Hill, the director of the program for integrity at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said, "It took a while to figure out how to use the new companies." When fraud is suspected the case is referred to the new companies for investigation. Professor Sparrow thinks this is a good move, but is doubtful that they are dealing correctly with the problem of Medicare fraud. Excerpted by Rebecca Hirshleifer from an article on Medicare by Reynolds Holding in The San Francisco Chronicle, January 12, 2003.


Listen up, Geo. W. Anti-war & Chinese Make Peace!


There are ways, other than bloodletting, to settle differences. Anti-war organizers agreed to push next month's peace march and rally in San Francisco back a day to February 16, in order to avoid a conflict with the long-planned Chinese New Year's Parade. Organizers from the two events announced their compromise Friday at a City Hall press conference, ending a potential public relations and logistics nightmare that drew in the mayor and other elected officials.

Yes, Geo. W., it can be done! No Kidding!


The magazine Time Europe is conducting a poll asking which countries are the biggest threat to the world. There are three options:

United States,

North Korea,


These are the results:


North Korea 7.9 %

Iraq 9.1 %

The United States 83.0 %

Total votes cast so far: 257,991




Board Elects Officers


At its January meeting the Gray Panthers of San Francisco Board of Directors elected officers for the year 2003. Aroza Simpson was reelected as Convenor; Gretchen Davis was named Secretary and Mary Frances Smith, Treasurer. The board also changed its meeting date from the first Tuesday to the first Wednesday of each month. Current members of the board include Michael and Susan Lyon, Franklin Devore, Fannie Biderman, Sonya Hotchkiss, Gloria Channon, Mitzi Raas, Mary Frances Smith, Deetje Boler, Bernie Rush, Gretchen Davis, Kay Ochs, Aroza Simpson and Caty Powell. The board also named an editorial committee to decide on the collection and content of Eye on the News, including Dick Davis, Bernie Rush, Susan and Michael Lyon, Mitzi Raas and Caty Powell. But you don't have to be on the board to volunteer to help with a subject you're enthusiastic about. Just come to a board meeting and offer your services. You'll be welcomed! In other actions, the board approved passage of the resolution against the Patriot Act, agreed to participate in antiwar demonstrations, planned to participate in the health care conference in March, and asked the City to reinstate the homeless count.


The Baton Is Passed


 Hanna Fromm died on January 2 at her home in San Francisco. She and her husband, the late Alfred Fromm were the founders of the Fromm Institute for Livelong Learning at the University of San Francisco. Many Gray Panthers benefited from the "university within a university" that offered classes taught by emeritus professors to retired people 50 years or older. Now a new program, which will establish a lifelong learning institute, is part of a push by the Bernard Osher Foundation in San Francisco to establish and fund such institutes at universities nationwide. Though many schools offer seniors the opportunity to audit regular classes for reduced tuition, this program sets up classes specifically for older adults. And S.F. State is going beyond the College of Extended Learning, aiming to get these older students active in helping to solve some of the state's problems.











The Newsletter of the San Francisco Gray Panthers is published each month, and distributed free of charge to members and friends of this nonprofit organization.

Editorial Board: Rebecca Hirshleifer, Mitzi Raas; Publisher, Astrid M. Spector; Art Director, Fannie Biderman; Proof, Lurilla Harris; Circulation: Harold Greenblatt and Mary Francis Smith. Production, Michael Flandi. Printed by Graffik Natwicks; Webpage design: Barry Simpkins

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