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In the spotlight

SoVaNow.com / April 10, 2014
Whaddaya say to a roundalay?

It never ceases to amaze how often our small community becomes part of the national conversation – in ways both good and bad. Whether it’s NBC News visiting South Boston to do a segment on the Dan River coal ash spill, or the incredible story of a poor Clover woman, Henrietta Lacks, in a best-selling book on the history of genetic discovery, we do seem to have a knack for gaining the notice of outsiders. Heck, once when Riverdale found itself underwater (not for the first time!), an aerial view of the flooding made the front page of The New York Times.

It’s happened again: Yesterday we received a media release touting the cable-on-demand debut of a documentary film, “American Made Movie,” that would have been no different that other such promotional e-mails (we get a ton of ‘em around this joint) except for the fact Annin Flagmakers’ South Boston plant is prominently featured in the movie. Through the wonders of the Internet, I was able to stream the documentary for instant viewing yesterday. It’s really good! “American Made Movie” is about the rise and fall — and hopefully the rise again — of American manufacturing. In large part, it tells the story of two entrepreneurs — one a metalworking company founder, the other a small business maker of souvenir items — whose business fortunes offer a useful perspective on the viability of American-made products. It’s when the moviemakers inject a note of irony — would most shoppers insist that the American flags they buy be made in America? — that the narrative turns to Annin, and South Boston.

Carter Beard, president of family-owned Annin, spends a fairly brief period on screen, but his interview stands as one of the documentary’s many grace notes — especially when he talks about the aftermath of the 911 attacks, and how it changed his own understanding of the company’s connection to the Stars and Stripes. (Beard lives in New Jersey, where Annin’s corporate office is located. Other than the interview at his office, the footage was all taken of the South Boston plant floor.) While there’s some rah-rah material throughout, “The American Made Movie” mostly avoids heavy-handed boosterism of American business, and it keeps a noticeable distance from any particular ideology or point of view. (It does do a solid job of serving up a number of perspectives on issues related to manufacturing, including globalism, free trade and protectionism and the rise of income inequality.) Mostly, the documentary appeals to viewers to consider the consequences of their purchasing decisions, showing how these decisions can affect entire communities. None of this stuff is ground-breaking, but it is well done and often quite poignant.

I’ll admit to being a documentary-averse movie watcher — this is what happens when “Captain America” has been out in the theaters for a week now and I still haven’t had the time for a look-see — but I do recommend “American Made Movie” to anyone who has ever worried about the future of small-town and local economies (which should be just about everybody.) Among its many virtues, the film visits a number of towns and cities that are grappling with the same main issue that we face here in Halifax County: What to do about hometowns that took a massive hit with the decline of manufacturing. I can’t say “American Made Movie” offers any cut-and-dried answers, but it does suggest some intriguing possibilities. The local IDA board would do well to find a way to package the movie with any prospectus it sends to outsider companies that are looking at South Boston. The feel-good spirit might just turn out to be contagious.

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After our column last week on state Sen. Frank Ruff and his risible nonsense regarding the proposed expansion of Virginia’s Medicaid program, I guess I should resolve to not get dragged into the dreary job of fact-checking our senator’s constituent column, which is published elsewhere on this page. (How would you even label such an undertaking? Polifrank? Frank’n’Facts?) Still, there’s a line from this week’s installment that leaps out: “First, the bureaucrats are eliminating Medicare Advantage forcing changes on those who signed up for this popular program. They will reduce fees healthcare providers can charge, thereby discouraging providers from coming to those communities with more retirees and poor folks.”

Just so everyone is clear on the point, Medicare and Medicaid are separate programs. It appears Ruff is bringing up Medicare in the context of arguing that Medicaid expansion takes money away from the nation’s popular retiree health care program, but aside from being wholly off-base (the claim that “Medicare Advantage is being eliminated” with “reduced fees” is a straw issue, albeit one that is too complicated to explain in this space today), it’s also irrelevant to the debate at hand. Virginia has a choice: whether to expand Medicaid for hundreds of thousands of its citizens as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act. It does not get to weigh in on the future of Medicare Advantage, which is handled at the federal level. Furthermore, if Ruff’s argument is that cuts to Medicare Advantage will discourage doctors from relocating to Southside Virginia, well, then: You know what else reduces income for healthcare providers and might discourage them from coming here? A whole lot of uninsured patients who can’t pay their bills! Which is exactly the problem that Medicaid expansion is intended to solve.

At any rate, Ruff’s assertion fell apart as soon as his keyboard went silent. From the Associated Press, in a report that came out Monday after the Obama Administration announced it would reverse previously planned Medicare Advantage cuts: “The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Monday that 2015 payments to the plans should increase less than 1 percent overall. That compares to a drop of nearly 2 percent that the government forecast in February.”

As the great Bob Dylan once said, the talking points, they are a’ changin.’

####

If you didn’t catch the segment on rural health care in Virginia that aired this week on “60 Minutes,” the venerable CBS news magazine program, do yourself a favor and find a fast-enough Internet connection to watch it on-line. (Links are available all over the web and at http://www.cbs.com/60Minutes).

The piece nicely illustrates the challenges that residents of hardscrabble Southwest Virginia face as they try to maintain a semblance of health and a secure lifestyle. Only one could easily change the setting to Southside and the story would remain the same — of folks who, for reasons either of their own making or not of their own making, find themselves down on their luck and unable to seek medical treatment until in many cases a health crisis strikes. These are the people who would be helped by the expansion of Medicaid. They deserve something better than the constant excuse-making and misrepresentations they hear from opponents of the idea.

We’ve asked the question before, we’ll try again: How do Frank Ruff, Bill Stanley, Tommy Wright, Danny Marshall et al propose to make health care accessible for the thousands of their constituents who can’t afford to see a doctor?

Any answer at all?













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