Access to Medical Marijuana for Patients with PTSD?

Posted on 30. May, 2013 by Stephan Helgesen in Healthcare, Politics, Social/Cultural

Access to medical marijuana for patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Oregon passed that State’s Legislature. If signed by the Governor, Oregon will become the 4th state in the nation to recognize PTSD as an Eligible Condition. Bi-Partisan cooperation was key to the bill’s passage.

(SALEM, OR) – Today, the Oregon House passed Senate Bill 281 with a vote of 36-21 to allow people suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to qualify for Oregon’s medical marijuana program. It passed the Oregon State Senate earlier this spring.   If signed by the Governor, Oregon will join New Mexico, Connecticut and Delaware as the fourth state to specifically recognize PTSD as an eligible condition for medical marijuana.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Senator Brian Boquist, had bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House. Patients with PTSD, who often have trouble tolerating the side effects of pharmaceuticals prescribed for a variety of PTSD indications such as sleeplessness, anxiety, and social isolation, find that medical marijuana is a helpful alternative. There is also evidence that use of medical marijuana reduces the risk of accidentally overdosing from traditional prescription drug cocktails.

“This is a great victory for the citizens of Oregon, and especially for military veterans who are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress and who have not been able to find relief from prescription medications,” said Jessica Gelay with the Drug Policy Alliance’s office in New Mexico. “Military veterans and victims of serious trauma and violence deserve the freedom to choose the safest treatment for their disabling conditions. They deserve access to the medicine that works for them.”

New Mexico’s medical marijuana program is a nationally recognized model for supporting patients with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.  Today, more than 3,700 New Mexican residents with PTSD are actively enrolled in New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program. Most of them are military veterans, patients living with disabilities, and victims of serious trauma and violent crime.

“When I returned home from Afghanistan I was diagnosed with PTSD. I worked with my doctor and tried many prescription drugs. Taking handfuls of pills every day, every one with a different set of side effects was hard on my body, and I still experienced some symptoms,” said New Mexico resident Michael Innis, who served in the military and who was awarded a Purple Heart after the convoy he was traveling with got hit by an IED and was then ambushed. “Cannabis was not my first choice of medicine, but I can tell you first-hand, this medicine works for me. Cannabis allows me to leave my house and has helped me to return to work.”

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation’s leading organization of people who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. DPA fights for drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights.

This information was submitted by: the Drug Policy Alliance. They can be reached at: or by phone at: (505) 920-5256

New Law- New Long-term Insurance Program

Posted on 17. Apr, 2013 by Stephan Helgesen in Healthcare, NM, Politics

New Law- New Long-term Insurance Program Would Allow New Mexicans to Keep More of their Assets While Qualifying for Medicaid- takes effect June 14, 2013

The law:

  • Gives New Mexicans more choice to do with their own money
  • Incentive allows estate to retain value of policy that could be passed to heirs
  • Saves Medicaid program when people are on private insurance.

(Santa Fe)  It is now law. A person does not necessarily have to be destitute in order for  Medicaid to pay  their nursing home expenses.

Freshman Senator Lee S. Cotter (R-Las Cruces) sponsored SB 196- Long Term Care Insurance Partnership and it has been signed into law.

It allows New Mexicans with private nursing home insurance to be able to exempt the amount of their insurance benefit from the amount of assets they can retain in order to qualify for Medicaid. They could still qualify for Medicaid if their assets total only $2,000. The amount of the insurance benefit would be separated out and would not be taken into consideration for qualifying purposes.

“New Mexicans who have invested in long-term care insurance will have more choices in how to spend their own money.  They will not have to spend their assets, including their insurance benefit, down to that last $2,000 in order to qualify for Medicaid if they need to go into a nursing home,” Senator Cotter said. “

They can keep amount of their insurance benefit and use it how they like.  They can use it to improve their lives while in a nursing home or they can leave their assets to their heirs.  The value of the insurance benefit is theirs to spend it as they see fit.”

Senator Cotter said the new law, which will go into effect June 14, 2013, will also help save the federal Medicaid program dollars. He said New Mexicans will appreciate the incentive of purchasing their own private insurance and might not ever go on the federal program. Others would have to be on the federal program, until their private insurance is exhausted.

Senator Cotter said the long-term insurance incentive program has been passed by 42 other states. Senator Cotter reiterated, “The program allows New Mexicans to have a choice. It gives them an incentive to save assets and provide for their long term health care instead of forcing New Mexicans to reduce their assets to $2,000 before they can apply for Medicaid.”

He said it modifies Medicaid eligibility rules by requiring that, individuals’ assets counted when considering Medicaid eligibility, exclude the amount of qualified long-term care insurance. The lower the “counted assets” the higher the chance the person will qualify for Medicaid.

SB 196 requires that the Human Services Dept. (HSD) modify the state Medicaid Plan and create a long-term health insurance partnership program in consultation with the Superintendent of Insurance to give incentives for individuals to obtain long term care insurance.

This was submitted by the New Mexico Senate Republican Office. For more information, contact: Diane Kinderwater at

Carrots and sticks, honey and vinegar

Posted on 02. Apr, 2013 by Stephan Helgesen in Healthcare, Politics

We are a nation of laws, but we’re also a nation built on incentives. The problem is that our elected representatives do not seem to understand basic human nature.

That may explain why they mostly focus on the sticks (law-making) and don’t consider the carrots (incentives) as a way to influence American  behavior.  Both political parties are guilty of excessive and bone-headed law-making from time to time, but both parties are not always equal in their distrust of their fellow citizens which has led to the passage of hundreds of unwieldy laws and thousands of onerous regulations.

Yes, there is a distinction between laws and regulations. Laws beget regulations. Regulations are the bureaucratic flotsam and jetsam that ultimately wash up on the shores of the unwitting average citizen, and which demand their full and immediate attention. When we realize that a law has spawned a multitude of regulations we’re surprised, confused and angry. We feel betrayed and don’t understand how very different the regulations are from the original law.

At this point, my father would have said, “Son, the devil is in the details,” and he would have been right. That’s where the devil always resides, and he’s not picky about his roommates, either. Here I speak of the thousands of bureaucrats who view themselves as shadow law-makers – ideologically-driven green eye shade types who see regulation-writing as their way of interpreting and influencing the law.

Before I do a number on bureaucrats (which they so richly deserve), let me call out the House and Senate Committees and staffers AND THE GENERAL PUBLIC for either not thoroughly reading the proposed laws and the resultant regulations or for not objecting to them during the review/comment process. Fortunately, (yes I said fortunately), we have lobbyists and non-government organizations (NGOs) that religiously take on that task.

Because their mission is to protect their special interest constituents, they pour over regulations to make sure that the regulators are not pulling a fast one that would disadvantage their bosses. The public should want the same involvement BEFORE the laws were passed as well as during the comment period, but that’s another story. It would seem that many Americans are blasé about the impact that legislation and the ensuing regulations have on their lives.

Case in point is the three-year old 3,256-page Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka. Obamacare). If law professors and political science/civics teachers needed a textbook case for earlier citizen involvement in the political process, this is it. Many credible critics have spoken eloquently on this subject, but Dr. Barbara Bellar (a licensed physician and lawyer in Illinois) stated the bureaucratics and ham-handedness of it succinctly in one (albeit long) sentence:

“We’re going to be gifted with a healthcare plan we are forced to purchase and fined if we don’t which purportedly covers at least ten million more people without adding a single new doctor but provides for 16,000 new IRS agents, written by a committee whose chairman says he doesn’t understand it, passed by a Congress that didn’t read it, but exempted themselves from it and signed by a President who smokes with funding administered by a Treasury chief who didn’t pay his taxes for which we will be taxed for four years before any benefits take effect by a government which has already bankrupted social security and Medicare, all to be overseen by a Surgeon General who is obese and financed by a country that is broke.”

The act created 159 new bureaucracies and boards and thousands of new regulations, and to add insult to injury, the government is now contemplating shortening the public comment time on its proposed regulations from the normal 60 days to 15!

President Theodore Roosevelt (the original Progressive) said, “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” It’s probably time for the Progressives to channel some really big brains like Bugs Bunny, or at the very least, Elmer Fudd. Maybe they can locate some of the carrots they will need to make their makeover plan for America more palatable to the average citizen. Otherwise, they’ll wind up with a very unfunny cartoon parody of a once-great country.

- Editor (Opposing views are always welcomed. Send them to us at:

Patients, Physicians and Advocates Launch Campaign to Protect Patients with PTSD Access to Medical Cannabis

Posted on 05. Nov, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Healthcare, Politics

Continued access to medicine is being threatened by a request to withdraw PTSD as a qualifying condition for the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program. Military veterans and other patients to petition the Governor and the Secretary of Health – Don’t Take Away Our Medicine.

(Santa Fe, NM) – Today, more than 3,000 New Mexican residents with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are actively enrolled in our state’s Medical Cannabis Program. Many of them are military veterans, patients living with disabilities, and victims of serious trauma and violent crime. Unfortunately, their continued access to medicine is being threatened by a request to withdraw PTSD as a qualifying condition for the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program.

On July 29th, 2012, William Ulwelling, M.D. submitted a petition to the Department of Health requesting PTSD be removed from the list of eligible medical conditions for enrollment in the NM Medical Cannabis Program.  His petition will be heard by the program’s Medical Advisory Board at a public hearing, November 7th from 1 – 5 pm at the Harold Runnels Building, 1190 St. Francis Drive in Santa Fe.  The Secretary of Health will have the final decision.

“We deserve access to effective medical treatments whether we’ve just come home from combat or we are suffering debilitating symptoms from other trauma,” said Chris Hsu, NM Medical Cannabis Patient’s Alliance’s Vice President.

In defense of keeping PTSD as an eligible condition, the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Patient’s Alliance, the Drug Policy Alliance, and others are banding together for a campaign they are calling, Don’t Take Away Our Medicine – a Campaign to make sure the voices of PTSD patients are heard loud and clear.

“When I returned home from Afghanistan I was diagnosed with PTSD. I worked with my doctor and tried many prescription drugs. Taking handfuls of pills every day, every one with a different set of side effects was hard on my body, and I still experienced some symptoms,” said Michael Innis, who served in the General Infantry and who was awarded a Purple Heart after the convoy he was traveling with got hit by an IED and was then ambushed. “Cannabis was not my first choice of medicine, but I tell you first hand, this medicine works for me. Cannabis allows me to leave my house and has helped me to return to work.”

The Campaign is standing up to protect the legal rights of patients to access safe medicine. They are asking for all compassionate New Mexicans to join them in telling the New Mexico Secretary of Health and the Governor to protect the rights of seriously ill New Mexicans and to reject the request to rescind PTSD as a qualifying condition by signing on to the Campaign:

“Tell them not to turn their backs on veterans, patients with disabilities, and victims of trauma and violent crime,” said Nat Dean, another medical cannabis patient diagnosed with chronic pain and PTSD.  “We deserve access to the medicine that works for us. Don’t take away our medicine.”

The right to use medical cannabis was approved in 2009, when PTSD was added to the list of conditions eligible under the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act. Since then PTSD has become the disabling condition most frequently indicated by patients in the program, and today accounts for 40% of the diagnoses of the citizens in our state’s medial cannabis program.

“The current pharmaceutical cocktails given to sufferers of PTSD have limited efficacy, have significant debilitating side-effects, and have in many cases proven deadly,” stated Lisa Walker, M.D. a board-certified psychiatrist. “Given these facts, along with the experience of thousands of patients whose quality of life has been improved by its use, medical cannabis should continue to be an available treatment for the suffers of PTSD.”

“We will not allow the removal of PTSD as a qualifying condition for the medical cannabis program to happen quietly,” said Emily Kaltenbach, the NM State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Patients deserve, above all, the freedom to choose the safest and most effective treatment for their disabling conditions — whatever that treatment might be.”

On November 8th, DPA is also re-launching an updated version of Healing a Broken System with current numbers and new material related to medical cannabis as a safe and effective treatment for veterans diagnosed with/suffering from symptoms of PTSD. This report examines the significant barriers that veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan face in obtaining effective treatment for mental health and substance abuse problems, and the tragic consequences of leaving these wounds of war untreated.

This article was submitted by: The Drug Policy Alliance. They can be reached at: or by phone at: 505/920-5256

























SCOTUS Drives Stake through the Heart of America

Posted on 30. Jun, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Healthcare, Politics

Just when I thought it was safe to turn to the news channels to escape True Blood or Vampires Suck, I’m hit with the latest salvo in the vampire wars in the form of a surprise ruling from none other than the Supreme Court.

On Thursday last, the Supreme Court upheld the controversial Patients’ Affordable Health Care Act (aka Obamacare).

Writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts gave all Americans and especially America’s small business sector the bad news with a deft puncture to our jugular vein and a stiff punch to the solar plexus for good measure.

In vampire talk, the ruling was a ‘major withdrawal’ from America’s already anemic small business sector.

By siding with the liberals on the court in a 5-4 ruling upholding one of America’s most despised pieces of legislation EVER, Chief Justice Roberts may have shown himself to be the consummate non-partisan, but he certainly didn’t boost his stock with the average constitutionalist, independent,  libertarian or conservative, not to mention the typical small business owner that was counting on an outcome that would keep the Federal Rottweilers away from the meager scraps in his feeding bowl.

Bram Stoker would have been impressed with the stealth and secrecy of the 9Js by not revealing their positions. Only the blood-sucking flying rodents of his novel, “Dracula,” did it better, laying in wait for the poor victim to fall asleep before relieving them of a pint of their life’s blood.

Vampire hunters didn’t have to brave the uppermost regions of the capitol rotunda to find a web-winged specimen either. There were plenty of them on the senate floor two years ago when Democrats used arcane tactics like ‘reconciliation’ to get their way and coupled it with epic deal-making to get the deciding votes in what has now become known as the ‘Cornhusker Kickback’ and the ‘Louisiana Purchase,’ etc.

At the end of the day, when the votes were counted not a single Republican had said ‘yea.’ The most comprehensive, most all-encompassing piece of legislation that would affect the lives of every single American passed without a single Republican vote.

We should have seen the bloody handwriting on the wall when then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “We’re just going to have to pass this bill so that we can know what’s in it.” And when we did find out what was in the 2,300 pages of gobbledegook like the mandate, the thousands of new IRS agents who would be hired to monitor our insurance policy-holder status, it was enough to turn even the most battle-hardened vampire’s blood-shot eyes white with fear.

Yes, we should have seen it coming, but nobody on the left or right anticipated that rock-solid, pragmatic Chief Justice John Roberts, would succumb to the siren song of the Obama legal team’s arguments.

No, the CJ effectively cast the tie vote and thus drove a stake through the heart of our healthcare industry, our small business sector and our indebtedness while moving us one step closer to one nation of the government for the government and by the government with some liberty and a little justice for a few.

First it was the Congress who fell from our grace. Now it’s the Supreme Court. There’s only one branch left, and the opportunity to hold their feet to the fire will come November 6th. Maybe, just maybe, we can roll back Justicia Cunctator est Justicia Denego (“justice delayed is justice denied”).

There is one thing that the 9Js forgot amid their deliberations and that is the other court that is even more powerful than the Supreme Court. It is the court of public opinion, and its sentences are rarely plea bargained down, and its collective memory is long.

- Editor

America’s heartstrings are not for sale

Posted on 04. Jun, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Economy, Energy/Environment, Healthcare, Politics, Social/Cultural

I think we’ve finally reached the dead-end on the long political road of seduction. After being subjected to one year of campaign promises and three years of governing promises from President Obama, many Americans have managed to shake themselves awake from a mind-numbing REM sleep induced by the most elementary marketing tactic known to man – appealing to our deepest-seated desires…and fears.

And to be fair, the Obama win was also based on the incumbent fatigue that nearly always occurs after a political party has been in power for eight years, irrespective of its failures or successes.

It’s really pretty impressive how the President and his acolytes constructed a campaign organization whose singular purpose was to win the power of the Presidency, and it’s equally impressive how they’ve kept the campaign going for three additional years! They would all deserve an ‘Emmy’ for their performances if this were a made-for-TV movie. Unfortunately, this is no movie. This is reality, American style.

The great PR victory

And while we must give them all credit for this remarkable PR accomplishment, America cannot afford to swoon in admiration of its theatricality any longer, especially when our country is smarting from unprecedented deficits, obscenely high unemployment, a vacillating and seemingly sophomoric foreign policy, along with a new class war that can only be described as a bait and switch tactic designed to move voters’ focus from the Administration’s many failures.

The Presidents’ men are convinced that Mr. Obama’s personal likeability will save his Presidency, but they forget that the voters didn’t elect a class president. They elected a real President that was supposed to represent all of the people and not just those that subscribed to his own political philosophy (and that goes for his own party that has repeatedly refused to vote for his proposals like the budget)!  This President’s modus operandi has been to avoid working with the opposition, and in some cases even demonizing them.

This is not statesmanship. It is blind stubbornness and a total affront to Americans’ sensibilities and a misreading of their inherent fairness. It is also unworthy of a leader who resolutely adheres to a narrow economic and social philosophy that has effectively stiff-armed the desires of millions of moderate Democrats and independents who cast their votes for him in the hopes that he would bring us together as he so often promised on the campaign trail in 2008.

Leadership not followship

Presidents’ decisions must never be based solely on political polling, nor should they totally ignore them, especially when they concern foreign policy or social issues that affect all Americans. Every President must occasionally swallow his pride and cross the aisle of the political divide to get things done. Stern looks, veiled threats and smugness will not win the day, neither will condoning ramrod techniques to pass massive social legislation (the Affordable Healthcare Act) in the dark of night.

While some may judge his actions as courageous, and encourage him to redouble his efforts and take off the gloves, others will call his intransigence hubris and arrogance, not audacity.

I believe that most Americans are tired of bare knuckle street fighting tactics and want their leaders, starting with the Commander-in-Chief, to unclench their fists and extend their hands in bi-partisanship (though this may be wishful thinking in a political season that can only be described as a free-for-all). That shouldn’t stop us from wanting it, however.

Critics of the President will accuse him of being a totally political animal, one that cares little for the Constitution or the institutions of government if they get in his way. Supporters will say that process shouldn’t stop progress, and that if the President can get what he wants by going off script (Executive Orders, etc.) then so be it.

It’s getting harder to ascribe the best motives to Mr. Obama’s actions when indications of his willingness to go rogue are everywhere. The latest example is the ‘forced contraception coverage’ decision that mandates religious institutions discard their own strongly-held theological beliefs and accede to an overbearing government’s view of what those beliefs ought to be.  If that doesn’t skirt the edges of the First Amendment, I don’t know what does.

Should likeability trump good governance?

In the end, I’m convinced that the likeability factor will loom large in the 2012 campaign for the Presidency, probably accompanied by the have and have-not (the 1%) argument. We’ll have to accept that fact as part of the package, but what we should want to see and hear is a serious discussion of the candidates’ visions for America, absent the usual platitudes and harkening back to shining cities on a hill or I have a dream-like references that sounded much better when uttered by their original authors.

We are electing a leader in November and not a heroic figure conjured up from the wellspring of our own imagination or one that is based on a composite of our own personal desires. If we really want a President that can help get us out of the metaphorical ditch we find ourselves in, then we need to elect one with the skills, talent and the experience necessary to truly lead our fragmented nation into the next four years.

To do that, you and I will need to reboot our decision-making process in favor of a rational, objective assessment of the candidates’ records. There’s an old saying in the entertainment business, “You’re only as good as your last performance,” and performance is the one metric that Americans have traditionally chosen over advertising when buying anything of enduring value.

- Editor-   Opposing viewpoints are always welcomed and may be sent to:

Partitioning the USA’s Healthcare: A Patient’s View

Posted on 26. Mar, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Economy, Healthcare, Politics, Social/Cultural

In a few short days the Supreme Court will take up the case brought by 26 states against the Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act aka Obamacare. You remember it don’t you? massive 2,700 page piece of legislation passed in the dark of night by the slimmest of Senate majorities with no Republican votes that’s supposed to cure the healthcare ills of all Americans? The one that Representative Nancy Pelosi said “We’d have to pass before we can know what’s in it?” The one that over 60% of all Americans oppose and that’s now projected to cost $1.76 Trillion, double its original estimate?

Yes, that’s the one.

As a patient and a taxpayer I find the whole thing incredible! It has caused a major riff in the entire country and served to drive us farther apart instead of bringing us closer together. We need to strike down this law and start afresh, using some good old fashioned commonsense, innovative thinking and a heaping helping of nationwide conversation.

We could start by looking at other countries’ systems.

I have experienced, firsthand, the healthcare systems of three European countries: Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands and one Asian country, Singapore. The Scandinavian countries are often trotted out as a superb example of how a healthcare system should be constructed and the  Danish system works fairly well for a country of only 5 million plus people. Studies done by my office in the early nineties showed that the Danes pay about 20% of their gross earned income for healthcare.

They have both private and public hospitals. The private ones appeared in the 1990s because the Danes got tired of waiting for months, sometimes years, for elective (read: non life-threatening) surgery. The Mermaid Clinic was one of the first. It did a land office business handling the overflow from the government healthcare system.

Many wealthier Danes also elected to come to the U.S. for diagnostic and specialized care.  As a matter of fact, thousands of foreigners routinely seek out U.S. healthcare services, bringing in millions for the M.D. Anderson Clinic in Houston and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Upsides downsides

One of the first casualties in any government system is the ‘bedside manner’ as doctors have little time for chit chat with individual patients because of huge patient loads. In Denmark, doctors see private patients who reside outside the doctors’ geographically-mandated area of coverage and they see those assigned to them.  Their offices, clinics and hospitals were oversubscribed when I lived there due to a insufficient number of healthcare providers to handle the volume and a general patient entitlement mentality (“I paid for these services with my taxes, and by gosh I’m going to use them!”).

I am willing to bet that hypochondriacs accounted for a fair number of visits to GPs though I have no proof of it. While I can’t comment on the quality of the care others received, I can only say that the week I was hospitalized, I received efficient and professional treatment.

One of the principal areas where the Danish healthcare system fell short was in pharmaceuticals. The drugstores (apoteks) were required to buy drugs from a government-owned and operated central pharmaceutical purchasing organization. This organization determined which drugs would be purchased, in which quantity and at what price. It negotiated with the pharmaceutical companies who were not enamored with the process as many of them had new drugs they were trying to get to market.

The government purchasing office refused to stock many of them despite the fact that they had gone through extensive FDA trials in the U.S. and thereby kept them out of doctors’ and patients’ hands. One of the real benefits of the Danish system, however, was the elimination of anxiety. Danes didn’t worry about being able to afford their care as the costs were rolled into their income tax bill.

In Germany, the system relies on private insurance companies to back up its system. Since the Germans are true believers in insurance, and are home to an impressive number of insurance companies, it took no leap of faith to build a system that relied on them. The quality of healthcare and ease of delivery correspond to that of their Scandinavian neighbors’, but the major difference is the size of the populations: Germany has 80 million people, Denmark 5.5 million.  In my four years in southern Germany, I observed that their operation runs smoothly.

In Singapore, medical care was excellent with many top-notch practitioners and great hospitals to serve a relatively small population of a little over 4 million. In fact, Singapore, a tiny nation-state that’s only 21 miles by 19 miles, also benefitted from foreign patients, principally from Malaysia which was a short drive across the causeway that connected the two countries. The Singaporeans are big on technology and had the latest and best diagnostic equipment, and they used it, liberally. Our embassy assessment was that the healthcare was uniform and good.

There were at least four things these countries had in common: 1.) a belief that healthcare is a right and not a privilege, 2.) a national health ID card, 3.) a national patient database and 4.) very high healthcare costs.

That brings me to a CNN reportage done by Fareed Zakaria who is beating the drum for a single-payer system for the U.S. Unfortunately, Mr. Zakaria used the tiny, wealthy nation of Switzerland to make his case for exporting the single-payer system to the USA. Last time I checked the State Department’s statistics, Switzerland’s population was only 8 million and the average income of the  Swiss citizen was $67,000 compared to the U.S. population of 320 million with $31,000 per capita income. While it was interesting to see Switzerland’s system and hear their rationale for it, it was hardly a fair comparison to make with the U.S. demographics, infrastructure, history and geography.

A two-tiered system for the U.S.?

Given the importance of this issue and the turmoil that has ensued since passage of Obamacare, we ought to be engaged in a Manhattan Project-like dialogue to bring all affected groups to the table and consider everybody’s ideas. There are plenty of them out there, like a possible two-tiered or partitioned system: one government-run and administered system for those who dearly want it (or can’t afford anything else) and one that’s private for the rest of Americans.

Those who believe in the government system can pay the costs for running it out of their taxes for their coverage and the rest of us can continue buying our insurance to pay ours. Admittedly, this is what Medicare and Medicaid was set up to do, but the math just doesn’t work anymore which is why there must be a radical transformation in the way states are able to care for their own populations. Even the Europeans understand the principle of ‘subsidiarity’ (applying solutions locally), and they have enshrined that principle in their European Union laws.

More individual state freedom with less federal intervention is necessary to make healthcare work, locally, taking advantage of user-based budgeting and a reordering of healthcare delivery that includes a number of new solutions like health exchanges.

Risk-pool healthcare?

The new government system should not be, to borrow a transportation term, an FOB (free on board) system. Users should be means/income-tested and their fair share of the costs (or premium size) should be based on their ability to pay. Risk pools offering low monthly basic premiums could be set up alongside the full plan, financed with private and public funding. These would be offered to economically disadvantaged persons or those with debilitating illnesses in order to get them the care they need while shielding them from total financial ruin.

Similar pools could be created for those with better overall health. The pool principle is the same, however. The healthier the participants in the individual pools are, the fewer services they require. This would create the potential for profitability, and that profit would accrue the investors in the pools which would include government and the insured participants themselves.  Being able to lower your premiums is also a powerful incentive for adopting healthier lifestyles.

This idea simply exempts those citizens who choose the private insurance solution from having to participate in the government system or paying for its operation, though I believe there should be an option for them to join the government system should their health or financial situations change, dramatically. That way nobody falls through the cracks.

Participants in the government system would be required to have their medical records reside in a secure (hopefully) fire-walled government database. They would be subject to government-mandated norms for all procedures and care and have to accept the rationing that would certainly accompany it. Private plan participants would not. That may sound grossly unfair to those wanting universal, one-size-fits-all healthcare, but there is a tradeoff to be made with participation in any government program.

There’s no one, single, perfect solution to America’s healthcare system, but one thing is for certain… it must be reformed. We must bring our costs down, provide better preventative care and eliminate unnecessary procedures, many of which are now ordered out of fear of lawsuits. We need tort reform, healthcare exchanges, insurance portability across state lines and more patient involvement in their own health.

While many suggestions like those I’ve presented above may be wishful thinking and not be  financially viable, they need to be vetted in an open forum in the states where much of the responsibility to administer any government system we create must reside. We need flexibility and subsidiarity not rigidity to make it all work.

If that dialogue is to take place, we will need the Supreme Court to strike down the Act so that we can start from scratch, going about the business of reforming our healthcare system so that it is built on a public consensus around the kind of basic care Americans want, need and deserve and not on a single vote in the Senate at midnight.

Stephan Helgesen is a former U.S. diplomat. He has lived and worked in over 24 countries and has worked with the local healthcare industries in several of those countries. He can be reached at:


The Next 100 Years: Land of Sopapillas and Chilies or Chips and Bytes?

Posted on 31. Dec, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Economy, Education, Energy/Environment, Healthcare, NM, Politics, Social/Cultural

Judging by the great strides made in technology over the last 100 years, we can expect massive change during the next century. The world as we know it will be gone. It will be replaced by one that is shaped by the forces of technological growth, increasing social pressure and by dwindling resources and a crisis of governance.

The Economy and Technology:

If our economy survives without too much injury, we might be able to revive capitalism to the point where we can export the philosophy to more countries in the emerging world and gain a competitive advantage through mutually beneficial trade and investment agreements with them, and perhaps even manufacture for them!

With more wealth will come much more technology. The world of 2112 will see distances between countries, cultures and communities eroded even further, enlarging the neighborhood and allowing more people to interact with one another over the internet on devices as small as a pencil.

The New Mexico Spaceport will stimulate the growth of a vibrant, modern materials and aeronautics/space research sector that will create thousands of high-paying jobs.

Our homes will be interactive and individually programmed to respond to voice commands (even from our smartphones). When coupled with Artificial Intelligence (AI) they will ‘get to know us better’ and anticipate our desires, teeing up the system by responding instantaneously to our wishes. “Lights on, heat down 2 degrees, security system armed and start perimeter recording at maximum sensitivity level.” A grasshopper won’t be able to get through the average 2112 home security system let alone a human intruder because our AI home will go into lock-down mode, automatically reinforcing our smart windows and doors that can go from normal tensile strength to bulletproof level protection in seconds due to advances in new, space-age materials.

Computers and computer microprocessors will be imbedded or merged into many new products, and these integrated circuits (chips) will be reprogrammable by their users to accommodate new requirements and applications.

Holograms will take the place of DVDs and videos and will be viewable in life-size. They will also be programmable to act as opponents in games and as conversation partners, thereby ending loneliness for millions of people.


Education of our children will take place earlier and earlier, starting in the first few months of life with ‘crib ed’ where newborns and infants learn languages and are even tested at home from remote testing sites.

New, government-funded ReTraining Clusters will be formed to deal with the chronically unemployed. The RTCs, which will be electronically networked with all American businesses and all state Labor Departments, will closely monitor the workplace (job) needs and re-train America’s unemployed or underemployed workers for those jobs.

A new type of high school curriculum will be instituted in America’s schools. It will be built on a uniform aptitude test given to all middle school students. Each student will be voluntarily ‘directed’ to a curriculum specially suited to his/her aptitude and skills that will continue throughout the six high school years. Those having chosen that path and graduating will be awarded a 100% scholarship to a nationally-funded school of higher learning/training that will match up their skills with the needs of the business community and society at large.

The University of New Mexico will be privatized and no longer be a drain on the state’s budget. It will segment itself into several profit centers and will triple its international student population and generate important revenue from scientific and other partnering.


Solar and wind power, hydrogen, bio-algae and biomass fuels AND traditional energy sources will   play a role in the next 100 years. The ‘all of the above’ solution will be the only viable one for our personal transportation and home energy needs until the perfect balance is found between imported oil and domestic production.

New Mexico will become the Alternative Energy Capital of the United States as the state develops its bio-algae, biomass, solar and wind resources (the state will actually produce enough bio-diesel fuel to power all of the vehicles in the federal fleet from its massive bio-algae GreenWay park in southeastern New Mexico).  Important federal grants for renewable energy projects will be given to New Mexico to offset the reduction in force and mission at Los Alamos National Laboratories (a victim of significant federal budget cuts). The state of New Mexico will be given permission to commercialize all renewable energy technologies in a three-way partnership with the federal government and the private sector.

Governance and Politics:

In the year 2112, there could very well be a supra-national government, based on the United Nations model that governs specific global areas like: food and energy production, monetary and financial matters and maybe even sets standards for a host of other things. We could see the world operating on an intellectual property or idea standard alongside a world currency where countries with patents and ideas generate royalties and enjoy a financial advantage.

We may see a merging of the House and the Senate into a unicameral body (this will come as a result of the gridlock that will nearly paralyze our legislative efforts to govern ourselves).

Our state government will be an on-line 24-hour accessible one and our legislature will morph into a full-time paid one with regular sessions that mirror the federal legislative calendar.  New Mexico will enter into a program of ‘Enterprise Zones’ that will be formed with Colorado, Texas and Arizona that harmonize taxes and incentives, enabling the state to better compete with the rest of the country for out-of-state direct investment.

New Mexico will also begin offering a special Retirement Investment Incentive (largely a package of tax reductions on personal income tax, sales tax and property taxes) to those willing to purchase property and retire in New Mexico. It will become a popular incentive and be copied by other states.

The New Mexican political landscape will also change to reflect a growing dissatisfaction with the two traditional political parties. Voter registration will see a significant increase in the number of independents in the State resulting in a new political makeup of 25% Republicans, 30% Democrats and 45% Independents (the Independents will be absorbed by two new political parties that will spring up in the second half of 21st century).

Unfortunately, we will lose some of our personal freedoms in the coming 100 years as new terrorist attacks turn us into a more insular and protective society instead of an outgoing one.  Crime will increase, but new types of penalties for minor crime will take the place of incarceration, so our prison population will decrease.


Each new citizen will be DNA tested at birth by law and get a Genetic Profile Prospectus (GPP) that will give him/her an ‘odds and probabilities’ assessment as to which diseases that he/she could succumb to and which preventative or cautionary lifestyle choices he/she should make. This GPP will become part of our national identity card and follow us all through our lives.


Many of us will rarely leave our homes. We will work, remotely, and even direct our businesses from our computers, but for those who must travel, they’ll be taking to the air. We won’t have flying cars, but we may have flying mass transit for short distance travel. Flying maxi-taxis with designated routes (flight plans), capable of transporting 50-100 people high above our freeways will be standard fare.

Our four-wheel transportation will utilize hybrid fuel technology that will incorporate several types of energy sources: electric, fossil fuel, biodiesel and even solar. In order to get consumers to buy the newer vehicles, government will offer deep discounts and other incentives such as fuel rebates and even matching funds for vehicle repair.

In New Mexico, our Rail Runner will give way to a sleek monorail that is built down the middle of I-25 and I-40. It will carry passengers from Socorro to Santa Fe and from the Greater Albuquerque area to Moriarty. The price of the tickets will be subsidized by a surcharge on businesses and by property tax increases along with a direct Dept. of Energy grant from the federal government.

Chilies and Luminarias, starry skies and broad vistas will remain largely unchanged as New Mexico will lag behind other states in population growth (unless no progress is made on stemming the tide of illegal immigration), due in large part to finite water resources. Living in the next century will be a challenge, especially for those who believe that technology should occupy a smaller footprint going forward. The next hundred years will demand that we all learn more and do more with that knowledge. Much will be asked of us, but I’m confident that New Mexicans will accept the challenge and figure out a way to make decisions that will reflect our chosen way of life. We are, and will continue to be, the stewards of the land that we call, enchanted.

- Editor

Monday’s Headlines from Around the State – Aug 15, 2011

Posted on 15. Aug, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Economy, Education, Energy/Environment, Healthcare, NM, Politics, Social/Cultural

The New Mexican Voice takes you there! To read these news stories, find the newspaper on the right and click on it.

Alamogordo Daily News – Students returning to NMSU

ABQ Journal – NM flights Costing $1.2 mill.

Artesia News – Council Approves New Zoning Along Richardson

Carlsbad Current Argus – Redistricting on County Commision Agenda

Cibola County Beacon – Commissioners Require Retraction Before Helping City

Farmington Daily Times – Veteran cop gets new post

Deming Headlight – DAC Jam Fest

Gallup Independent – SRP agrees to purchase Big Bo wind power

Lamonitor – Los Alamos: More than a science town

Las Cruces Bulletin – MVRDA may move to East Mesa

Las Cruces Sun News – NMSU campus alive with students and families

Mountain View Telegraph – NM 344 lane fix in place for now

Portales News Tribune – Drought leading to large number of cattle sell-offs

Quay County Sun – Officials break ground on Ute pipeline project amid protests

Raton Range – Tax revenue adjustment considered

Rio Grande Sun – Taxpayers stuck with rancher’s legal bills

Rio Rancho Observer – Council approves sign law

Roswell Daily Record – Nothing like a good old fashioned shoot out

Ruidoso News – Federal agents raid Ruidoso home

Sangre de Cristo Chronicle – Monsoons finally arrive but lose steam

Santa Fe New Mexican – AG locked in costly Elephant Butte water fight

Sierra County Sentinel – City Holds Quick, Productive Session

Taos News – Taos Kit Carson Trustees: $7,651 for attending rate hearings

Prescription Trails – Get Up and Get Moving!

Posted on 18. Jul, 2011 by Stephan Helgesen in Healthcare, Social/Cultural

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, when Dr. Julie B., considers a patient’s health issues she can offer a choice of treatments. Dr. Julie B., tells her patient, “I can give you medicine that will treat one condition and cost money, or I can give you a prescription for physical activity that will help prevent a whole range of diseases, is free, and will last a lifetime.”

If the patient is interested, she writes up a walking prescription with the patient and provides it with a guidebook to accessible walking trails. The patient now has a clear way to accomplish a physical activity goal. The epidemics that result from an indoor, sedentary lifestyle requires action from all sectors of society. Parks and public lands are an underutilized healthcare resource that can and must be used to help solve the problem

Prescription Trails Program

Prescription Trails identifies walking and wheelchair rolling routes that are both safe and accessible to patients and families to promote healthy lifestyles. To make sure that people engage in appropriate levels of physical activity, healthcare professionals assess their patients for readiness to start or maintain a walking program and then write tailored prescriptions based on their current physical condition. Being physically active is key to living longer, healthier, happier lives and can help people achieve and maintain a healthy weight and lowers the risk for certain diseases.

Walking programs can contribute to the treatment and prevention of a number of constant conditions such as diabetes, depression and high blood pressure. Information about parks and trails are available by zip code, making it easy for people to see what is available in different areas of the city. Increased use of public parks and trails may lead to support for more information about the resources for walking paths in parks and improvements in pedestrian access on public streets.

For more information on the Prescription Trails Program, visit including maps of parks and trails, safety tips and a short video.  Prescription Trails currently has programs in Albuquerque, Bernalillo County Open Space, Las Cruces and Santa Fe, each of which has active coalitions that support the local program. Each coalition has a standard collection of tools to help patients fill their prescriptions, including a Prescription Trails walking guide booklet to local “approved” parks and trails, with photos and detailed information about park locations, amenities, and trail. Expansion programs are underway in Roswell, Alamogordo, Rio Rancho and Las Vegas.

Written and submitted by Charm Lindblad. She can be contacted at:

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