Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Stigma and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Tuesday’s Tirade
Monitoring the Media

We will never be able to fix a problem unless it is on the table. Does living with a mental illness discredit the truth? Sadly, at times it does.

What happens to the truth when it is spoken by a person with a mental illness? Place yourself in the position of Tom Birdsong, Assistant Managing Editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He is on the other end of the phone and hears me speak the truth, only he does not appear to recognize it. Why? Six words, I believe, “I live with a mental illness.”

What does this mean? Our society has yet another huge problem. Because of perceptions, I, and millions of others, live with an unavoidable danger of being judged by our illnesses. Stigma destroys lives. It results when people are not informed of the reality behind a situation.

I have lived with bipolar illness for over forty years. I am not my illness.

While there were devastating times in the early years and great harm done me by Carelink Health Plans, Inc. of West Virginia, I am not broken. Nor was I exposed to stigma and discrimination until my involvement with Carelink in 2005 and later with the West Virginia Insurance Commission. My children are leading fulfilling, successful lives as an attorney and a doctor. My husband Tom, a small business owner, supports my efforts to write and to advocate.

Over the years I have responded well to treatment and developed important disciplines that have led to my leading a new healthy lifestyle and to a new career. Others, I am told, have not received the consideration and the understanding that each person deserves when dealing with a mood disorder.

Counter to experiencing stigma, I have experienced gratitude and unconditional love since becoming transparent about my illness in 1995. At that time my success story was published twice by the local newspaper as a way to inform and educate others about rich possibilities.
Today, while I passionately investigate Coventry Health Care, Inc. for abusive behavior on behalf of the most vulnerable, the mentally ill and the elderly, Tom leads a state-wide effort to develop and support new DBSA (Depression Bipolar Support Alliance) support groups. DBSA gives new courage to people who feel diminished and worthless as they try to relate in a world that does not always understand the significant contributions they can make to society. Today ten DBSA groups operate in West Virginia, a dramatic increase from the first one we began in 2001.

People who live with bipolar illness can and do contribute to society as the following sampling of people suggest:

Dick Cavett, television journalist
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, writer
William Faulkner, writer
Stephen Foster, songwriter
Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD., Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Faculty
Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy
Sir Isaac Newton
Jane Pauley, TV presenter and journalist
Mark Twain, Author
Ben Stiller, Actor
Robin Williams, Actor
Winston Churchill, Statesman
Ted Turner, media giant
Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States

People, who know of my bold goal to hold Coventry Health Care, Inc. accountable, have called me a “voice for others,” a “passionate, persevering individual” who promotes a “great cause.” No one will distort this truth. It has been a journey through intimidation and discrimination as Coventry and the West Virginia Insurance Commission play their games and manipulate the truth about me, but a great cause is just that, a great cause.

It is of no significance to many that I happen to live with a mental illness, just like Winston Churchill, Mark Twain, or Ted Turner. Each of these people has a creative genius that is part of living with bipolar illness. Stigma has no place here!

Tuesday’s Tale
Building a Blog Community for Health Reform

There are so many ways to skin a cat.

One of the easiest ways to promote your message and increase traffic to your blog site, is to make comments on another blog. It’s astonishing to me that as I daily leave comments about my experience with Coventry Health Care Inc of Bethesda MD on the sites of important health blogs, my traffic multiplies significantly.

I have found my voice and it is far reaching.

Here are a couple of highlights.

There is one very significant part of Coventry’s business plan that requires attention. Now. Coventry does not consistently provide quality health care as promised. Coventry consumers are not satisfied with Coventry's service as first reported by Washington Post Columnist Steven Pearlstein in 2005: "Coventry's rankings on consumer surveys, not surprisingly, are less than spectacular, running from slightly above average in western Pennsylvania to slightly below in Kansas City."

Maybe the $37 million value salary package paid to former CEO Dale B. Wolf in 2004 could have been better utilized.


Every patient must learn about the unethical tactics employed by many health plans to control costs. Media does not usually report the truth about managed care. Blogs speak truth to power. My 4 year investigation reveals shocking details.


Subject: Abuse & WV State Corruption

After four years of fighting for justice, (tuesdaytiradesandtales.blogspot.com) soon I will have my day in court against an HMO who is a subsidiary of a Fortune 500 Company. Bye, bye ERISA. It will be new law, applying a WV state law that prohits discrimination against someone with a disability. To date no traditional media has been interested in my story. Hoping you will link to me (as I have linked to you). The WV Insurance Commission has failed to enforce Final Order 06-AP-024 it signed that mandates Carelink thoroughly review initial requests for health care benefits. Both the Commission and Carelink are acting in defiance of this order as they believe they are invincible.

Never forget this reality: in the blogosphere we each can be an investigative reporter. We each can make an impact. Our world so desperately needs the truth.

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