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MORAL VISION NEEDED TO BRING HEALTH CARE TO ALL

President Barack Obama is right. Health care reform is a moral imperative.

Health care is a basic human right, not just a human need. We have a duty to help ensure that basic health care is available to each and every resident of our nation.

As long as we are stuck on matters of money and insurance and political ideology, our conversations about health coverage in our nation will continue to not hear the voices of those living on the margins - the poor, the young, the elderly and the disabled.

It is good to remember Dr. Martin Luther King's words, "We shall have to repent in this generation, not so much for the evil deeds of the wicked people, but for the appalling silence of the good people."

The current debate about whether we should increase access, reduce costs, add or reduce benefits in public programs, increase income eligibility for public assistance, institute cost controls, improve delivery, enact tort reform, etc., demonstrates that there is no lack of policy creativity to move us forward. What is lacking is a moral vision and the political will to use our abundant resources in service of the common good.

We have an unprecedented opportunity to create a health care future that includes everyone and works well for all of us, a future grounded in the sacred bonds of our common humanity and reflecting faithful stewardship of our abundant health care resources.

Let us urge our elected representatives to set aside their partisan agendas and make health care reform a reality. Let us pray that as they struggle with the moral and financial questions posed by providing access to health care coverage, they will continue to hear a call to compassion, equality and justice. Financially, socially, ethically and morally, we cannot afford to do otherwise.

The Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater

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Competence is in question

I see the Times is firmly behind the president's plan for health care. Knowing that Social Security, Medicare, the post office and the SEC are poorly run or broke, how can you believe the people could trust the government to run something so important as health care? Do you really believe the outrage from the public this summer was all because of health care? You, like the Congress, are not listening!

Steve Cureton, Treasure Island

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President's health care address

He's keeping us divided

After watching my president Wednesday night address Congress in what was supposed to be a speech to bring clarity to the health care debate, I was once again forced to conclude that he is the most divisive president in my lifetime.

At a critical time in our history where leadership is desperately needed from the Oval Office, President Barack Obama has shown that he is not able to rise above politics and be the president of all the people. Instead of seeking to bring people together, he suggested that cable news talk show hosts and "prominent politicians" are liars. I have never heard an American president do that while addressing Congress.

He also said, "If you misrepresent what's in the plan, we will call you out." Does that mean anyone who disagrees or "calls him out" when he seeks to parse words or deceive the people?

The American people are finally waking up to what has been going on in our government for many years and they are calling for clarity, honesty and integrity from our leaders. I, like most Americans, want a government that works for us, not for special interests, regardless who the special interest is. I want a government that reveres its citizens instead of calling them "silly", "un-American" and "racist" when we use our God-given right to dissent and disagree. I, like most Americans, am sick and tired and we are doing something about it. President Obama had a chance to join with that philosophy this week. Instead, he continued to try to intimidate and bash. It hasn't been working until now, and it still isn't working.

Dave Stone, Tampa

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Arrogant disrespect

I was stunned, absolutely shocked, at the outrageous behavior of Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., during the president's address before Congress Wednesday night on health care reform. The rude Republican from South Carolina yelled out "you lie" when President Barack Obama denied claims that illegal immigrants would receive health care benefits. Current law excludes illegal immigrants from receiving Medicaid. The new health care proposals contain no wording that would modify existing law.

I have nothing but disdain for Joe Wilson. This man has become the personification of all that is ugly in partisan politics. This man should be immediately removed from Congress, shunned by freedom-loving Americans and sent packing back to South Carolina.

Richard Block, Tampa

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Obnoxious behavior

What is it with the conservative movement? All they can do is be shrill and obnoxious as they knee-jerk react to anything put out for discussion.

From the death panel lies to keeping their kids home from school when the president talks about education to yelling at the president in the middle of a major presidential speech before Congress, these people have no understanding of civility or common sense anymore. They don't listen, they just yell and then make up whatever lies they think will scare the hell out of everyone to get a reaction.

It is time to call these people out for the repugnant, nasty and unpatriotic people they have become and get back to having honest discourse about the issues we really need solve.

Jeremiah Rohr, St. Petersburg

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Make health care a priority

As a pediatrician, I am regularly dismayed that there are children in the United States who have no health insurance. Most of the children I work with in that boat have lost their health insurance with their family's employment, so the hardship is doubly cruel. As a result of their circumstances, sometimes these children just can't access health care services. Considering there is the State Children's Health Insurance program, American children at least fare better than many adults, who have no affordable options for health care coverage regardless of whether or not they're employed.

In our small business, we struggle to continue to provide health insurance for our employees and ourselves as our health insurance premiums have soared and the coverage we can afford requires higher and higher co-pays and deductibles. In this climate, the CEO of our last insurance company received more than $100 million in total compensation in 2005 and the CEO of our current company received a $14 million salary in 2008.

Meanwhile, I and our office staff spend hours on the telephone every week jumping through hoops to get health insurance companies to pay for their policyholders' necessary medications or medical testing. And I'm not talking about PET scans and cosmetic surgery - I've had to argue about a $10 bottle of medication for a baby who has "thrush."

There appear to be many in our country who don't appreciate the predicament of unaffordable health insurance that faces so many American citizens. In my view, it is unconscionable that this is acceptable in the 21st century in the United States. There is far too much wealth among so many at the top to justify our failure to agree that health care is a basic human right that should be one of the first programs to be funded by our society.

Sally Smith Milligan, St. Petersburg

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No place for profits - Sept. 8, letter

Don't target insurance

The letter writer lashes out at health insurance companies in trying to make her point that the industry is solely responsible for the maintenance of the status quo. However, the numbers do not support her contention that health insurance companies earn "obscene profits," since health insurers actually are just marginally more profitable, on average, than companies in other industries.

According to Morningstar, in 2008 health insurance companies had an aggregate profit margin of 3.4 percent, ranking 87th out of 215 industries; the median profit margin for all industries was 2.2 percent. Last year UnitedHealth, the largest health insurer, had a profit margin of 4.1 percent, with Wellpoint at 4.0 and Cigna at 3.9 percent. Contrast this with the profit margins for biotechnology companies like Gilead Sciences (37.6 percent) and Amgen (30.6 percent), or for drug manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson (20.8 percent), Glaxo-SmithKline (17.4 percent) and Pfizer (16.3 percent), and it's easy to see that health insurers are far from being the major profiteers of the current system.

Health insurance companies make an easy target, but they are a long way from being the sole villains in the health care reform effort, despite the efforts of clueless politicians like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to demonize them. In fact, the big health insurance companies have been, at least until now, some of the biggest supporters of President Barack Obama's efforts to reform health care.

I am a lifelong Democrat who voted enthusiastically for Barack Obama, but I fear that he is on his way to becoming another Jimmy Carter.

Joe McColloch, Tampa

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She'll shoot down any other bird - Sept. 9, story

First, protect wildlife

While naming a state bird may be a fun civics lesson for kids, it diverts attention from the real issue: How do we protect what's left of Florida's wildlife? Were the students also told that in 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported plunging numbers among many species of common birds? This is what state officials should be worried about.

Instead of making it easier for developers to pave over the state, the Legislature should be protecting more land, saying no to oil drilling, cleaning up our springs, preventing sea grass destruction, limiting fertilizer runoff and restoring the Everglades.

If we really want to help our kids, let's make sure there's some nature left when they grow up.

Liz Drayer, Clearwater

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She'll shoot down any other bird - Sept. 9

A lobbyist's power

Did I miss a day in civics class? I go the polls on Election Day to choose the people I want to represent me in government - those people I can personally hold responsible for their actions.

However, this case demonstrates how a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, whom no voter elected to hold office, can override those whose job it is to represent me. The state bird? It's not even her field of "expertise."

Carry this up to higher levels of lobbying, and it is scary what influence these unelected people have over the state, our future and well-being.

Nancy Frederich, Madeira Beach

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Pick a Florida bird

All this hue and cry in regard to an official Florida state bird has completely missed the point. There is only one bird that is not shared with any other state.

The Florida scrub jay is found only in Florida. It is so natural that this bird be chosen that I must think that the persons responsible for the selection must not know anything about birds. While many other birds may be more beautiful, sing better, are larger and more abundant, the Florida scrub jay is a Florida bird, and no other state can lay claim to that unique distinction.

David S. Swan Jr., Clearwater

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