Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Abuse under health coverage plans amid upcoming high court decision

This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on May 21, 2012. It was written by Vanessa White.

WESTMINSTER, California—A patient might be given a year’s worth refill on medication and sent away, told it is unnecessary to return for another visit in a month.
The doctor, then, might go on a vacation.

Or, a doctor might have a sicker patient visit monthly, receiving more money than if the patient were healthy and visited less.

It all depends on the plan, Garden Grove’s Tran Pharmacy Pharmacist Thư-Hằng Trần told the Viễn Đông in a 12 May 2012 phone interview explaining some of the differences between increasingly pushed managed care health coverage plans and fee-for-service health coverage plans. Aside from having a doctor as a close family member, Pharmacist Trần said that her knowledge on health coverage plans was gained from her own research and experiences.
After a “very bad” accident that put her in the hospital ten years ago, she said, she had to wait for approval from her health maintenance organization (HMO) each time she needed to see a specialist for follow-up treatment. An HMO provides or arranges managed care health coverage plans.

Fortunately, she added, her HMO quickly approved the requests and referrals that her family doctor wrote. Though, not all patients are so fortunate, she continued, adding that there are times when HMOs will take too long to approve a referral or request, upon which she advises the patients to demand approval.
“For some patients, if you don’t fight you don’t get the service,” she said.

ACA, Managed care vs. fee-for-service
Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), awaiting a June or July 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision on its constitutionality, Medicaid will expand coverage to uninsured Americans who will be required to have health insurance by 2014. Medi-Cal is California’s version of Medicaid, which covers lower-income families with children, seniors, foster children, pregnant women, and people with specific diseases including breast cancer and HIV/AIDS.

The Viễn Đông has learned that the upcoming court decision could extend managed care plans to more patients, as more states are reportedly moving towards these types of plans. Such managed care plans are private, with the state paying the private HMO a fixed monthly payment.
When doctors actually receive payment for their services, they get about $120-130 monthly, even if their patients do not visit the doctors, Pharmacist Trần told the Viễn Đông.

Pharmacist Trần said that she generally likes the idea of managed care plans because they can save the state money if a patient’s care is adequately managed. Though, she has a problem when the health care system is abused.
For example, Pharmacist Trần said that HMOs can take advantage of the system by denying certain patient referrals and requests for services or choosing the route that costs less, regardless of the patient’s need. For example, if a patient feels in need of a wheelchair, an HMO might approve a $500 manual wheelchair for the patient instead of a $5,000 electric powered wheelchair.

Pharmacist Trần added that under managed care plans, doctors also will sometimes withhold services from patients who really need them because the doctors will have to spend more time and energy providing the services, while feeling like they are losing out on money they might have made from fee-for-service payments. With fee-for-service health coverage plans, doctors are paid per service.
Under Medicaid fee-for-service health coverage plans, Pharmacist Trần continued, patients can abuse the system by claiming to need an earlier mentioned $5,000 electric powered wheelchair or other treatment and medication that stay at the patient’s home, unused.

Or, she added, a patient might go to one doctor that prescribes a medication or treatment the patient does not want, so the patient will go to a different doctor. That doctor might prescribe another medication the patient does not want and the cycle continues, all the while costing the state money.
Both programs have their weaknesses and strengths, Pharmacist Trần suggested, with managed care plans being good for helping patients decide what care they need and fee-for-service plans allowing the patients a different level of flexibility in choosing services.

There are problems, she said, when the systems are abused.

Electronic prescriptions not federally mandated, local pharmacist says

This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on May 19, 2012. It was written by Vanessa White.

WESTMINSTER, California—A newer form of prescribing medication has been touted as helping reduce errors and speed up delivery time, though the Viễn Đông has learned that the process might be slower.
E-prescribe is a system that allows doctors to “electronically send an accurate, error-free and understandable prescription directly to a pharmacy from the point-of-care,” according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) website. Included in the 2003 federal Medicare Modernization Act, e-prescribing has become considerably popular and aligned with the government’s plans to make medical records electronic.

Garden Grove’s Tran Pharmacy Pharmacist Thư-Hằng Trần told the Viễn Đông in a May 12, 2012 phone interview that the e-prescribe process involves a doctor inputting prescriptions into a laptop instead of using a notepad.

To some extent, the e-prescribe system does reduce error, Pharmacist Trần said. For example, if done correctly, the pharmacy will receive the prescription right away and the patient can pick it up sooner than if the patient had brought in the prescription.
Also, if a doctor has poor handwriting, Pharmacist Trần added, electronically submitting the prescription can ensure that the pharmacist reads the prescription correctly and does not make a mistake with the order. Though, aside from ensuring patients receive their prescriptions in a timely and accurate manner, Medicare gives doctors bonuses for using e-prescribe.

Doctors who do not use e-prescribe, Pharmacist Trần continued, experience a 1-2 percent reduction in payments, even though the program is not federally mandated.
E-prescribe myths

Pharmacist Trần told the Viễn Đông that some doctors who use e-prescribe will tell their patients that they can only send prescriptions to certain pharmacies that accept e-prescribe.
A common trick, she said, is for doctors to say that the patient must pick up a prescription from one particular pharmacy and nowhere else. Though in reality, the doctor might have a wife or brother-in-law operating that pharmacy and the doctor is helping to benefit others in the business, she added.

Pharmacist Trần suggested to the Viễn Đông that she is not one of those pharmacists with connections, as some doctors do not send her prescriptions right away. When the patient shows up looking for their prescription and she has not yet received it, she said that she calls the doctors and they tell her that there must be a problem with her receiver.
Some doctors even tell their patients not to go to her pharmacy, she continued, adding that she shares with her patients that some doctors offer misleading information.

Another e-prescribe trick involves pharmacists who do not give their patients the entire prescriptions, she said. For example, if a patient is to pick up 10 medications, some pharmacists will give the patients eight or nine, because the pharmacists might be short on medication or even because they might want to keep it for themselves.

Though, one of the most upsetting tricks or  “lies,” Pharmacist Trần said, is for doctors to tell their patients that because they are using e-prescribe, the federal government has mandated that they cannot write out a prescription for the patient. Not only is it misleading the patient regarding their prescription, she added, but it leads to a dislike toward the federal government.
“Many doctors take advantage,” she said.

Fight for the prescription
Pharmacist Trần told the Viễn Đông that patients have the right to ask their doctors for hand-written prescriptions. In fact, they should do so before leaving the doctor’s office, even if the doctor uses e-prescribe, she added.

With a handwritten copy of their prescriptions, she continued, the patient will know if the pharmacist is withholding medication or if the doctor has failed to electronically send the prescription to the pharmacy.
Some patients will have to fight for their prescriptions, she said, adding that this has been the case with some of her patients and she feels sorry for them having to fight for their right.

Medicare does not mandate that doctors and pharmacists use e-prescribe, she reiterated.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Haiti’s rainy season brings floods, more cholera cases amid U.S. efforts to feed

This article was originally published in the Viễn Đông Daily News on May 13, 2012. It was written by Bạch Vân.

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti—The annual rainy season has begun, already causing floods that have reportedly killed a dozen and displaced thousands while damaging crops and soil in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.
Haiti’s rainy season, from May-October, has heightened concern since after the 7.0 earthquake that hit the country in January 2010. Aside from the more than 316,000 people dying as a result of the quake, according to disputed Haitian government figures, more than 1.5 million people were left homeless with little if any stable shelter from the rains or flooding.

Contributing to the concern, in October 2010 cholera broke out in the country, reportedly killing at least 7,000 people and inflicting more than 500,000 more. As cholera is known to spread through water, floods serve as a heavy breeding ground for the bacteria, described by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an “intestinal infection” that results in “watery diarrhea,” and vomiting, quickly leading to “severe dehydration” and death if not treated.

While mainstream news outlets report that cholera-related deaths have been decreasing, a Haiti-based media outlet, Haiti Libre, reports that Haiti’s cholera-related fatality rate is increasing along with the number of cholera patients. Treatment centers in some areas have reached capacity while some medical staff members have not been paid since January 2012, the outlet adds.

Haiti Libre continues, reporting that when the rainy season is over, the funding recedes and there is little, if any, emphasis on cholera prevention, leaving the population vulnerable when the epidemic begins again.
Inside tent camps, where nearly 500,000 people displaced by the 2010 earthquake still reportedly live, less than one third have adequate drinking water and 1 percent of them have received soap, Haiti Libre reports.

“It is worrying that the authorities are not better prepared and keep reassuring speeches that do not correspond to reality,” Haiti Libre quotes Gaëtan Drossart, head of the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) humanitarian aid mission in Haiti. “There are many meetings between the government, the UN and its humanitarian partners, but few concrete solutions.”

Brief history of Haiti
Haiti is located in the Caribbean Sea, west of the Dominican Republic. Both countries share an island, which was called Hispaniola upon Spanish colonization.

The 1492 Spanish colonization killed off much of Hispaniola’s Taino Indigenous population by introducing foreign disease, warfare, and slavery to the island. To supplement the work of building a colony, the Spaniards brought Africans to Hispaniola as slaves.

The French also came to the western part of Hispaniola, breeding competition with the Spanish. In 1697, the island was divided in two: the western, or French, part of the territory was the area now known as Haiti, while the eastern, or Spanish, part is the area now called the Dominican Republic.
Uprisings among free and enslaved Blacks in the area now known as Haiti reportedly caused all French colonies to abolish slavery in 1794. While the French attempted to reestablish slavery in the area now known as Haiti, the country declared its independence in 1804, the French not recognizing the independence until 1825.

Part of France’s acknowledgement would mean that Haiti had to pay retribution to France for the French loss of “property,” including slaves, land, and equipment, etc.
While the retribution Haiti paid lifted a trade embargo placed on the country by France, Britain, and the United States, Haiti had to take out high interest loans to fully pay the retribution. This took the country until 1947 and Haiti is still plagued by perpetuated debt.

Help from U.S.
Upon the 2010 earthquake, humanitarian aid organizations from throughout the world rushed into Haiti, bringing dry foods, hygiene kits, school supplies and more.

Though, as Haiti was an impoverished country since before the earthquake, there were villages that were not hit by the quake yet the village people insisted otherwise so they could have access to aid they had needed for years, a Viễn Đông reporter learned from humanitarian aid organizations during a trip to Haiti in March 2010.

Before Fountain Valley’s Coastal Community Fellowship Pastor Kene Panas had heard of such stories, he was already helping to set up a food packing event for Haiti’s children through the organization Kids Around The World (KATW).

Pastor Panas told the Viễn Đông during an in-person interview that his congregation is one of many that is hosting such an event, contributing to 1 million packaged meals in May 2012.
The event will consist of a single two-hour shift, with about 200 people helping to package $25,000 worth of dried food stuff including protein and dehydrated vegetables,  Pastor Panas said. He added that the food will be packaged into bags that will go into boxes, each box holding 36 bags, enough to feed a single child for about seven months.

While Pastor Panas said that his church will think through their humanitarian aid plans more thoroughly in the future, he feels that packing up dry food and sending it to Haiti will help the people in his congregation and the general community to “think outside of themselves.”
He invites the community to the packing event on May 19, 2012 from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. at the Coastal Community Fellowship church lawn, located next to the Fountain Valley City Hall at 10460 Slater Ave., Fountain Valley, CA 92708.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Proposed Medi-Cal, Medicare partnership causing local confusion

*This article was originally published in the Viễn Đông Daily News on May 14, 2012. It was written by Vanessa White.

ORANGE, California—Orange County is among the first four California counties chosen to participate in a proposed demonstration project expected to integrate care for lower-income seniors and people considered to be disabled.
People eligible under both the state’s Medi-Cal program and the federal Medicare program, living in Orange County (OC), Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Mateo counties, could have coordinated care and services beginning on 1 January 2013, pending federal approval. The Viễn Đông has learned that California is among 15 others states that could participate in the proposed program.

Also part of Governor Jerry Brown’s Coordinated Care Initiative (CCI), the proposed project could include 10 other California counties aiming to improve health outcomes, promote more efficient health care, and allow more beneficiaries to stay in their homes and communities for as long as possible, according to an April 2012 California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) press release about the project.

“Currently, most dual eligible beneficiaries access services through a complex system of disconnected programs that often leads to beneficiary confusion, delayed care, poor care coordination, inappropriate utilization and unnecessary costs, issues we are addressing with this proposal,” DHCS Director Toby Douglas was quoted in the press release. “The goal is to design a seamless system that helps dual eligible beneficiaries get the health care services they need and improve health outcomes in a more fiscally efficient manner.”

California has more than 1 million people enrolled in both Medicare and Medi-Cal, according to the press release, which adds that these people are among California’s “highest-need and highest-cost users of health care services” and account for nearly 25 percent of Medi-Cal spending.

Funded through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is pending a U.S. Supreme Court decision on its constitutionality, the proposed project is expected to save California more than $678 million during the fiscal year (FY) 2012-2013 and $1 billion in FY 2013-2014.

“We will build upon California’s existing structure of managed care health plans, county mental health programs and home- and community-based social services to achieve the financial and service integration necessary to accomplish this goal,” Mr. Douglas was quoted.

CalOptima managed care plans
Under the proposed project, OC’s public health plan, CalOptima, would receive a combined monthly payment from Medicare and Medi-Cal to provide their enrollees all needed services, according to the DHCS press release. Beneficiaries would have a single health plan membership card and one care team that will help coordinate their services.

All medical and long-term services and supports are expected to be integrated as managed care benefits, the press release continues, though adds that Medicare beneficiaries who do not wish to participate in the proposed dual eligibility project could opt out. However, beneficiaries who do not choose to opt out by 1 January 2013 would be phased-in throughout 2013.

Garden Grove’s Tran Pharmacy Pharmacist Thư-Hằng Trần told the Viễn Đông in a 12 May 2012 phone interview that beneficiaries will receive notices in the mail, informing them of the proposed changes in September 2012. Until then, she added, beneficiaries are not required to sign any forms regarding the proposed project.

Pharmacist Trần continued, saying that some doctors will try and have been trying to mislead their Medicare patients, telling them that they must fill out an “opt out” form right away. Really, she adds, the doctors are having their patients fill out managed care applications because doctors tend to benefit from that type of plan.

“I don’t like the way they lie to the patients,” she said. “It’s totally wrong.”

Under managed care, doctors receive a single fixed payment of $120-130 monthly, even if the patient does not visit the doctor, Pharmacist Trần continued. If a patient is healthy, doctors typically try to convince them to enroll into a managed care plan because the patient rarely visits and doctors profit by doing the least amount of work.

Pharmacist Trần said that she generally likes the idea of managed care plans if doctors adequately manage their patients’ care, though she has a problem when doctors, and even patients, abuse the system.

“Be careful,” she said.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

One year anniversary of G.I. Joe Foundation: reflections on progress, hopes

This article was originally published in the Viễn Đông Daily News on 3 April 2012. It was reported by Vanessa White

ANAHEIM, California--Victoria Lê breathes deeply before telling the Viễn Đông about what she has experienced during the past year, from about ten rescue missions to charity work and award nominations.

Still, she feels the pain of loss, her sadness unchanging despite the passing time.

On 1 April 2011, Victoria ate dinner with her parents, waiting for her brother to return from a hike, but he never did. Instead, police officers showed up at their door, informing them that Joe Lê had fallen into the San Gabriel River in the Angeles National Forest while attempting to cross a bridge.

After law enforcement called off its rescue, Victoria was supported by over 150 people during a two day recovery search for Joe’s body. On 3 April 2011, it was found, age 20 and lifeless.

On the one year anniversary weekend, Victoria tells the Viễn Đông that rather than eat at home, her family decided to go out for dinner. It is not that they wanted to forget Joe, it is just difficult to revisit the evening when they discovered he was missing.

“It still feels like it was yesterday no matter how long it has been,” Victoria says, adding that she lights candles in Joe’s room daily and has kept everything exactly in its place. “The only thing is he’s not here.”

G.I. Joe S&R

While Joe is not physically present, Victoria and others keep his memory alive through the G.I. Joe Search and Rescue: Joe Le Foundation, a nonprofit organization mainly known for assisting families and law enforcement on search and rescue missions. Responding only by request, these volunteers continue searching for lost loved ones after law enforcement lacks time and resources.

Recognized for its commitment and time, G.I. Joe S&R was honored in March 2012 for the 2012 OC One Spirit of Volunteerism Award in the Human and Community Category, labeled an “outstanding community volunteer team” on the OC One website.

Victoria tells the Viễn Đông that G.I. Joe S&R has revamped the organization over the past year, creating more specific departments and leadership positions while focusing more on training. All of these efforts are putting the foundation on the path to becoming nationally certified, she adds, giving it more credibility and access to a broader network of volunteers outside of California.

Yet, aside from its search and rescue efforts, the foundation has also volunteered its time and money to help people outside of the United States, consistently raising funds to provide food and hygiene products for poor and ill people, as well as orphaned children in Vietnam.

In February 2012, Victoria’s parents, Hoang Lê and Thu Ha Ngo personally packaged and delivered the supplies to shelters, hospitals, and foster homes in Ho Chi Minh City.

“We’re just there trying to help whenever we possibly can,” Victoria says, adding that her desire to help others is a reflection of what Joe would want. “This organization is all by heart.”

Despite the efforts G.I. Joe S&R is making to reach out to the community at home and abroad, there are various obstacles hindering higher levels of success. For example, while the foundation has received an abundance of support from local Asian communities, Victoria says it has had trouble gaining such support from the mainstream.

Other barriers involve a thought among some people that nonprofits are not to be trusted, while further barriers include the lack of governmental grants available for less popular organizations, Victoria says.

“It’s just hard to get our names out there,” she continues, though adds that G.I. Joe S&R persists, attempts to becoming more noticed by making visibility its priority.

On 7 April 2012, G.I. Joe S&R will hold a social fundraiser commemorating its one year anniversary at the The Pint House in downtown Fullerton at 4:30 p.m. Attendees can meet with volunteers, ask questions, and donate a fraction of their dinner bill to the foundation.

For more information on the fundraiser and G.I. Joe S&R in general, visit online.

Friday, January 6, 2012

National Defense Authorization Act could violate U.S. citizens’ rights

This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 6 January 2012. It was reported by Vanessa White.

WASHINGTON D.C.—President Barack Obama has agreed to possibly take away any U.S. citizens’ constitutional rights to a fair trial.
On 31 December 2011, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA), which-based on the interpretation of the acting president- could give the government power to militarily and indefinitely detain U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents on U.S. soil, if such people are suspected of terrorism or aiding a terrorist.
The 14 December 2011 House of Representatives vote for the NDAA was equally split among Democrats yet overwhelmingly supported by Republicans. Though, California’s Congressional District (CD) 40 Republican Representative Ed Royce opposed the legislation while the State’s CD 47 Democrat Representative Loretta Sanchez did not vote.
At the time of this article’s publication, the Viễn Đông did not receive comment from either Representative Royce or Representative Sanchez as to why they voted the way they did.
The Senate passed the NDAA, or HR 1540, on 15 December 2011, both California's U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer supporting it.
“The statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield,” an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) blog reads. “Any military detention of American citizens or others within the United States is unconstitutional and illegal, including under the NDAA.”
Citizen fears
Ms. Sara AbiBoutros, who has been involved with the international, political and socioeconomic Occupy Movement, told the Viễn Đông that under the NDAA and according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) definition of “terrorist,” her role as an Occupy protester could lead to her being indefinitely detained.
Since November 2011, the Viễn Dông has covered the Occupy Movement, which began in New York City (NYC) and San Francisco in September 2011, culminating into international civic disobedient acts including marches, city hall and home occupations, as well as port shutdowns.
“My biggest concern is the vague language in defining what constitutes being a terrorist,” Ms. AbiBoutros told the Viễn Đông of the NDAA’s language, adding that though the NDAA does not necessarily define terrorist, as the FBI does, it gives the government permission on how to treat such people. “The FBI’s definition of a terrorist is laughable.”
Although the FBI recognizes that “there is no single, universally accepted, definition of terrorism,” it defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.”
Anyone participating in such activities is considered a “terrorist.”
Ms. AbiBoutros added that the NDAA is also unclear about what it means for someone to “aid terrorists.”
For example, she continued, if she were to create a blog and a terrorist organization saw it and decided to use the information she displayed, she could be considered as aiding a terrorist.
Further bills
Although California's U.S. Senator Feinstein, who is also Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, supported the NDAA, she had objections with its indefinite detention provisions and offered an amendment that would clearly state that military detention is only applicable to suspected terrorists captured outside of the United States.
Her amendment was struck down by a 55-45 vote in the Senate.
On 14 December 2011, she introduced legislation to Congress that could keep U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who are seized domestically from being detained indefinitely by the military.
Her bill, “Due Process Guarantee Act”, or S. 2003, could ensure that U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents have their right to a fair trial.
“The argument is not whether citizens such as Yaser Esam Hamdi and Jose Padilla-or others who would do us harm-should be captured, interrogated, incarcerated and severely punished. They should be,” she was quoted in a press release. “But what about an innocent American? What about someone in the wrong place at the wrong time?”
Congress has yet to vote on S. 2003.
Regarding the NDAA, the ACLU is depending on an eventual U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the authority Congress has to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, arrested in the United States.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What is democracy to the minority among the majority?

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 4 January 2012. It was reported by Vanessa White.

WASHINGTON D.C.—The GOP 2012 Presidential primaries and caucuses have given “the minority” some chances at making their issues heard on the national level.
As Democrat President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, he represented the majority of Americans who voted him into office.
The Republicans represented the minority.
However, since the summer 2011, the Viễn Đông has reported on Republican-corporate alliances, like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), that are believed to support bills promoting business success at the expense of the American people-the majority.
Since fall 2011, the Viễn Đông has also consistently reported on the Occupy Movement, its protesters working toward what they feel democracy should look like: rule by the 99 percent, or the masses-the majority, as opposed to rule by the 1 percent, or the wealthy and corporations-the minority.
Yet, as the election of President Obama supposedly proved, their vision for democracy is already in effect.
Although the democratic election of President Obama represented the majority of U.S. voters, the Occupy Movement and ALEC exposure have led to insight into how much weight the minority actually holds.
The term “democracy” commonly meaning “rule by the people” comes from the ancient Greeks, who only gave one in five people the right to vote, University of California Irvine (UCI) Director for the Center of the Study of  Democracy and Sociology Professor David Meyer told the Viễn Đông.
“In contemporary discourse, democracy is supposed to allow the majority to rule,” he continued, adding that it is also supposed to protect the rights of all minorities as they try to become majorities by using their civil liberties and persuading others to join and push for their cause.
Though, he also told the Viễn Đông that it is common for democracies to “stomp on the rights and well-being of minorities.”
“Look, virtually all of the elected officials in the American South supported segregation,” he added, mentioning pre-1964 Civil Rights practices, including separating people’s meeting places by their race. “They had to if they wanted to be elected.” 
American slavery, institutionally ending in 1865, resulted in a system where Blacks were viewed as the “minority,” submissive to Whites. Especially prevalent in the American South, the rights of Whites were considered more important than the rights of Blacks and Whites representing the “majority” did not want to give up their privilege or perceived entitlement.
Civil Rights legislation only resulted from the federal government intervening and “imposing solutions over the objections of the majority,” Professor Meyer continued.
Minority-majority coalition
Mr. David Ajasin, who graduated from the State University of New York (SUNY) Plattsburgh with a Political Science degree, told the Viễn Đông that minorities have historically been represented by gaining support from the majority.
“The Civil Rights movement may not have been as successful, as it turned out, had it only included minorities,” he continued.
However, the motives for including minorities into democratic representation are not always pure, he added, like when politicians do everything they can to gain support in minority neighborhoods just so they can get elected.
He used another example of a Black woman’s, the late Ms. Rosa Parks, arrest for sitting in the front of a Montgomery, Alabama bus and refusing to give up her seat to a White person.
In 1955, the Montgomery Bus Service was legally segregated, designating the back of the bus for Blacks and the front of the bus for Whites.
Ms. Parks’ arrest spurred a mass protest called the Montgomery Bus Boycott, resulting in Blacks choosing not to ride the city busses.
After city officials realized the boycott was causing the city to lose money, as Blacks were the majority of the people riding the busses, they allowed Black people to sit anywhere they wanted on city buses.
However, Mr. Ajasin told the Viễn Đông that unlike what inspired the city of Montgomery’s decision, there have been more pure motives behind majority support of minority causes, like the mixture of White and Black supporters in the crowd at Civil Rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches.
“It seems like minority representation is based on uniformity between all communities,” he added.
Minority wins majority
As a Black male in the United States, Mr. Ajasin recognizes his gained opportunity for civic engagement though “it’s almost numerically impossible for a Black male to win a majority decision, especially on issues pertaining almost exclusively to Black Folks,” he told the Viễn Đông.
“It’s similar to feeling somewhat left out within an arguably ‘inclusive’ governmental system,” he added.
Though, President Obama was elected as the first Black President to the United States of America.
“People wanted change and voted him in,” Mr. Ajasin told the Viễn Đông, though, “unfortunately, he is frequently used as a reference to ‘prove’ that racism does not exist” and the minority is being sufficiently represented.
Although President Obama’s election “brings minorities a step closer, we still have a long way to go,” he added.
Mr. Ajasin shared with Viễn Đông a common phrase he remembers children yelling when he was a youngster, “majority rules!”
He laughed, “How ironic for a minority.”
Asian American community: minority or majority?
In September 2011, the Viễn Đông reported on the Republican National Convention (RNC), including comments California Board of Equalization (BOE) Vice Chair Michelle Park Steel made about the Asian American community’s seemingly natural alliance with the GOP party.
She told the Viễn Đông that most first generation Asian Americans do not want the government handling their money and want less government involvement in their lives, typically views also shared by GOP party members.
As Asian American community members are considered to be ethnic “minorities” in the United States, their mostly GOP membership could position them to be in the “majority” depending on the results of this year’s Presidential election.
Or, like ALEC and the Occupy Movement appear to reveal, the Asian American community might already be among the majority when it comes to U.S. democracy.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

No cuts to Medi-Cal provider rates for now

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 3 January 2012. It was reported by Vanessa White.

GARDEN GROVE, California—A recent court decision has helped save Pharamcist Thư-Hằng Trần's pharmacy, along with others across the state.
At least for now.
On 29 December 2011, the U.S. District Court, Central District of California, in Los Angeles (LA) granted an injunction-or stop- to plaintiffs opposing the 2011-2012 State budget trailer bill, Assembly Bill (AB) 97, which would have made 10 percent cuts to Medi-Cal provider rates statewide.
Pharmacist Trần told the Viễn Đông that providing the proper medication for her patients under AB 97, could have eventually led to her closing down her pharmacy, as she would not have received enough State funding to break even.
To keep her pharmacy open, she would have had to offer her patients less expensive, generic medications, rather than provide quality medication for them.
Since the summer 2011, the Viễn Đông has reported on proposed cuts to Medi-Cal, California’s version of the federal Medicaid program. It covers low-income families with children, seniors, foster children, pregnant women, and people with specific diseases including breast cancer and HIV/AIDS.
The State provides funding to Medi-Cal providers so they can offer less expensive, yet quality services to such individuals.
Passed in March 2011, AB 97 cuts were supposed to go into effect on 1 June 2011 as a way to help the State balance its budget, however the State had to wait for federal approval to enact them.
On 27 October 2011, the federal government approved over $623 million in cuts to Medi-Cal provider rates, spurring a lawsuit from plaintiffs, including the Medicaid Defense Fund which represented Pharmacist Trần's pharmacy, Tran Pharmacy.
AB 97 would have made cuts to more than just pharmacy services, including adult physicians and clinics, therapy, optometry, and dental. Nursing home nurses and adult sub-acute care nursing home facilities would have also experienced 10 percent reductions in provider payments, while acute care nursing facilities would have received 10 percent reductions in provider payments as well as a rate freeze.
However provider cuts would not have applied to child physician and clinic services, home health services, hospital based sub-acute care facilities, or outpatient hospital services.
“It affects everybody,” Pharmacist Trần said of AB 97, adding that many employees working at outpatient services experiencing the cuts would have lost their jobs as their employers would not have had enough money to pay them.
She continued, saying that the AB 97 injunction is similar to the 2008, 2009, and 2010 court decisions that also blocked cuts to Medi-Cal provider rates, originally passed by the California legislature for the 2007-2008 budget.
As a response to the U.S. District Court in LA block in 2008, California appealed the decision with the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 and 2010, losing both times.
However, the AB 97 injunction case is different from those past cases because California did not have federal government support then as it does now.
Pharmacist Trần told the Viễn Đông that California will probably appeal the newest AB 97 injunction, which will only spur appeals from plaintiffs seeking to block cuts.
“It will go back and forth,” she said.
Though, the Ping-Pong-like drama could be stopped if a pending U.S. Supreme Court decision to be decided by June 2012 rules against plaintiffs.
Douglas vs. Independent Living Center of Southern California
In October 2011, the Viễn Đông reported on first U.S. Supreme Court case of its new 2011-2012 term, Douglas vs. Independent Living Center of Southern California.
The case focused on whether or not people receiving Medi-Cal, their providers, and their advocates can sue California and stop its cuts to Medi-Cal provider rates.
Pharmacist Trần was a plaintiff in the case and traveled to Washington D.C. to offer her presence as support.
“If you don’t have the right to sue, the court will not accept your case,” Pharmacist Trần told the Viễn Đông in October 2011, adding that this case will affect decisions regarding similar lawsuits in the future.
She continued, saying that if the plaintiffs win the case, there will be similar lawsuits against states throughout the country.
However, if the plaintiffs lose, doctors and patients may never be able to sue the government again.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Treatment of women in Latin America, a process of progress

*This article was originally published by the Viễn Đông on 2 January 2012. It was reported by Bạch Vân.

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic— The man on the bus reached over and caressed her bare thigh, warm from the sun’s heat after a day at the beach.
Yet, she had not asked him to, at least not knowingly and certainly not verbally.
She felt violated, uncertain of her place despite her prior confidence. He smiled at her, desire seemingly in his eyes.
Staring back in shock, she focused on her peripherals, hoping someone would interfere.
No one did.
“In Latin America in general there is a sense of machismo,” Ms. Gabrielle Equale, who spent time in Chile and Mexico while studying Latin American studies, told the Viễn Đông. “It’s a very cultural habit.”
Machismo is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a strong sense of masculine pride,” and an “exaggerated or exhilarating sense of power and strength.” It is considered to be a deeply rooted and acceptable attitude in countries-like the Dominican Republic-displayed by competitive actions among men, including their sexual conquests of women.
Ms. Equale told the Viễn Đông that she did not notice machismo in Chile as much as she did in Mexico, though “that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.”
“Women in general are seen as inferior,” she told the Viễn Đông of her experience in Guadalajara, Mexico, adding that she noticed women walking behind men and men ordering for women at restaurants.
During Ms. Equale’s stay in Chile, bà Michele Bachelet was the country’s president. Women were treated better in Valparaiso, Chile than in other countries Ms. Equale had traveled to, she told the Viễn Đông.
Though, “there was a larger difference between men and women in the lower social classes,” she continued, adding that the richer people lived closer to the water while the poorer people lived in the hills.
Latin America: brief history
As of the 2010 census, there were over 590 million people living in Latin America.
Before mostly Spanish, Portuguese, and French people began colonizing the region in the 16th century, numerous Indigenous peoples inhabited the area now known as Latin America. Some of them, like the Aztecs, Mayas, and Incas, developed advanced civilizations.
As Indigenous populations began dying off from disease, slavery, and wars, the Europeans brought Africans to the region as replacements to do the slave work. The mixture of Indigenous peoples, Europeans, and Africans is still prevalent in Latin America’s racial diversity as some countries reflect the mixed genes and other countries are populated with mostly one ethnic group.
Though, still influenced by their colonial past, Latin American countries have gained independence, mostly resulting from movements and wars from the late 18th through 19th centuries.
Latin America has been considered one of the most unequal regions in the world in terms of socioeconomics, stemming largely from institutions put in place during colonial times that generally kept people of color, women, and poor people from attaining social status.
Although, there are deeply rooted ideologies-like machismo- prevalent throughout Latin America, there has been progress made in certain social areas, specifically regarding women.
Progress a process for women
In 2009, the magazine Dissident Voice published an article that called the political left shift in Latin America positive for women in the region.
For example, Venezuelan Socialist President Hugo Chavez has been self-proclaimed as a feminist, his voter base in every election since first running for presidency in 1998 being poor women.
Most people living in Venezuela are reportedly living in poverty, 65 percent of households are headed by single women, many of whom support President Chavez’s social welfare programs-including care for women who have suffered domestic abuse.
Under the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution, women are guaranteed social, political, and economic equality with men. The Constitution recognizes that housework is an activity that stimulates the economy, thus giving social security benefits to housewives.
However, not all Latin American women are supportive of left-wing ideologies and social programs, as there is also a right-wing middle class segment of women who are not necessarily struggling for the same rights as their poorer sisters.
Women’s movements that center on economic difficulty will more likely include women and men in the lower classes than women along class lines. Also, there is not always unity in organizing among women of Indigenous or African descent and women of European descent, as some movements also focus on race.
Indigenous women, for example, receive triple discrimination as they are women, non-white, and largely poor. In Bolivia, where Indigenous people are over half the population, women are struggling to preserve their country’s natural resources as their land is subject to devastation for commercial purposes.
Abortion is illegal in Bolivia, unless the woman is a rape victim or could have a life-threatening pregnancy. Still, the country has one of the highest abortion rates in the world, though lower than it could be since there is a fee of $150. That kind of money is often difficult for the women to come by.
In Chile, abortion is completely illegal, no exceptions. Though, former President Bachelet did expand contraception access, including a policy that distributed the morning after pill for free in public health clinics.
Though, Ms. Equale remembers women being respected relatively strongly in Chile, she does recall being treated differently herself during her stay.
“It could have been that I was seeing things or being treated differently because I was there as a foreigner,” she told the Viễn Đông, adding that people often treated her as though she understood little. “[It] Could have also been because I was a woman.”