Esther Moring, my other health care hero

Esther Moring and I married in 2006 in a 19th-century red brick Methodist Church in Abbeville, AL, her parents’ hometown. 

  Esther at Dulles International Airport in 2016, before her flight to Liberia for Doctors Without Borders' ebola aftermath mission.

Esther at Dulles International Airport in 2016, before her flight to Liberia for Doctors Without Borders' ebola aftermath mission.

Besides being a fabulous wife, Esther has been an emergency medical coordinator on 38 missions for Doctors Without Borders (MSF, initials for its French name), International Rescue Committee, Merlin, and the International Committee of the Red Cross on four continents since 1994. 

That was when she worked with emergency teams to care for hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the Rwandan massacres (portrayed in the movie, “Hotel Rwanda”). Her most recent mission (and not her last) was in 2016 in Liberia in the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. 

In between were missions for civil wars, famines, outbreaks, and natural disasters.  To mention a few: the civil wars in Liberia, Bosnia, East Timor and Sri Lanka; outbreaks of Ebola and other killer diseases in Congo, Chad and Sierra Leone; and the earthquake in Haiti and winter crisis in a remote valley of Tajikistan. 

Sustaining her dedication to service has been a strong commitment to her Christian faith. She’s an active member of First Presbyterian Church of Tallahassee and made a point of attending services wherever she could when on overseas missions. Despite the dangers she’s faced, she is convinced that she’s in “the safest place” – in God’s hands. 

That she has lived her faith so authentically was a big reason I fell in love and married her.  Our third date was a week in New Orleans working in the Ninth Ward four months after Hurricane Katrina.  I gutted houses while she staffed a free health clinic.  We got engaged our last night there and married five months later.

  Esther re-enlisting as an Army Reserve medic while in college.

Esther re-enlisting as an Army Reserve medic while in college.

The earlier part of her nursing career was much the same. While a nursing student at Auburn University and University of Alabama-Birmingham, she served as an Alabama National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve medic, rising to Spec. 5.  

After graduating from UAB, she became a county public health nurse in rural Colorado, then moved to Seattle to earn a master’s degree in nursing at the University of Washington. After a few years as a hospice nurse there, she began her career with MSF.



  Bob and Esther wait for the fireworks show on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on July 4, 2017.

Bob and Esther wait for the fireworks show on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on July 4, 2017.

I always look forward to Independence Day – the happy crowds, the patriotic music, the swearing-in of new citizens and the fireworks – ah, the fireworks! (Esther, her sister Renee, and I will be on the National Mall tonight for spectacular fireworks.)

It’s a great day to remember the audacious Americans who declared independence from our colonial rulers and risked everything to take up arms. But it’s also a reminder of the steep price our ancestors paid to achieve that independence in seven years of perilous, bloody warfare. 

So too should we remember the sacrifices that independence and freedom require today. Our men and women in uniform are putting their lives on the line right now so that we can enjoy our July 4th picnics and celebrations. We should also consider what our part should be.

I did my part as an enlisted sailor and naval intelligence officer reservist for over 22 years, the last nine in a Pentagon reserve unit until I retired in 1983. (Esther served as an Army reserve medic in the 1970s while a nursing student in Alabama.)

As the son of a career Army doctor and younger brother of an Army sergeant, the decision to enlist in 1961 came without a second thought. I was only 17 then, so I needed my mother’s written permission and left for boot camp a week after graduating from Florida High. (She was glad to get me out of the house for a whole summer!)

After boot camp, I drilled in a Tallahassee reserve unit while an undergraduate student at Florida State University, then served on active duty 1965-67 aboard the USS Terrebonne Parish (LST-1156), operating in the Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas. I’m a founding member of the LST-1156 Alumni Association, which keeps me in touch with some of my shipmates. I’m also a member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Jewish War Veterans.

Returning to Tallahassee in 1967, I earned a direct commission as an Ensign, Naval Intelligence reserves, and spent several years in a unit supporting the Fleet Intelligence Europe, at the Naval Air Station, Jacksonville. 

Later I held a Top Secret security clearance in a Pentagon reserve unit while pursuing my civilian career in Washington, DC and New York City. My assignment was managing editor of the Naval Intelligence Quarterly, a Secret-level publication about the Soviet Navy. I retired as a Lieutenant Commander.

So in the end, it was a rewarding and stimulating 22 years – nothing heroic, just a citizen doing his part. I salute all who do their part.

Remember pre-ACA health insurance? I do.

Congressman Neal Dunn and Speaker Paul Ryan are determined to repeal the Affordable Care Act, deny 63,000 residents of Florida’s 2nd Congressional District, and return us to junk health insurance coverage.

Before passage of the ACA in 2010, the health insurance industry charged ever-increasing premiums and co-payments, denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, cut off its sickest customers with annual or lifetime caps, and refused to renew (or simply cancelled) coverage of many working families with no explanation. It often took years of litigation to get many of them to pay what they clearly owed. 

It was especially bad if you had no employer-provided insurance and needed an individual policy. I had one of those individual policies in the 1990s for me and my three children – with Time Insurance Co. (later, Assurant Health), a subsidiary of Fortis Inc. I was a self-employed consultant for numerous corporate clients, and Time Insurance seemed to have the most affordable individual policies. 

It was lousy insurance.

First, I had to pass a physical exam, in case there was something that would disqualify me from any coverage (I passed). Then my policy had a 20 percent co-payment and a lifetime cap of $1 million.  It excluded pregnancy coverage (being a woman was a pre-existing condition), and imposed premium increases that leaped higher every year. Mine went up 43 percent in two years – and was that low only because I increased my annual deductible to $10,000.

In other words, it was catastrophic coverage only, to prevent my personal bankruptcy if some terrible illness or injury happened. We managed to stay relatively healthy and avoid major expenses. I paid our routine expenses out of pocket and, in fact, never filed a claim. 

I never saw a dime of the thousands of dollars I spent annually. Plus, I never even had the peace of mind that Time Insurance would take care of me if something terrible happened. It had a sorry record of wrongdoing that involved lengthy court challenges and numerous fines.

(Assurant Health left the health insurance business in 2015. Good riddance.) 

I finally achieved that peace of mind when I turned 60 and got Tricare for my health insurance, which I earned from 22 years in the Navy, mostly in the active reserves.

So when I hear Congressman Dunn and Speaker Ryan condemn the ACA with bogus facts, I remember what we had before – when even so-called “ensured” working families had shoddy coverage that meant tragic financial and health results.

Turning back the clock will never happen on my watch. You can count on me.

Missing in "Sunshine State?" Solar jobs.

Last weekend I was at the Democratic Party annual gala in Hollywood. My room was on the 23rd floor of the event hotel, facing west (I was too cheap to pay for an ocean view), overlooking a vast urban expanse of southeast Florida.

It was only by the second day that it struck me: There were no solar panels on any of the thousands of buildings I could see. Not one. In the "Sunshine State." And because of that, no solar industry jobs.

Forget for a moment that Florida is the land of air conditioners going full blast, costing working families billions of dollars a year we send out of state for the fuel used to generate these massive amounts of electricity. We pay the fifth-highest average monthly electricity bills in the United States.

Remember instead that our neglect of solar energy potential denies working families tens of thousands of good-paying, local, permanent jobs. Florida had only 8,260 solar jobs last year -- barely half those of Massachusetts' 14,582 solar jobs, and far behind California's 100,050 solar jobs -- but could triple that number by 2021, with a modest effort.

Remember also that the median annual wage for a solar panel installer is $39,240, with similar pay levels for solar manufacturing, sales and distribution, and project development -- hundreds of new local businesses created -- and they make up the fastest-growing category of new jobs in America today.

And remember that the sun won't charge you a dime. It is a free, inexhaustible source of energy that any homeowners with solar panels can use -- and sell back whatever excess electricity they don't use. You will own your own electricity.

Solar jobs, new local businesses, and electricity you own are too good for Florida working families to pass up. Yet our electric utilities and our state leadership are no help In fact, they've tried to kill expanded solar with government roadblocks. They even tried last year to put these roadblocks into Florida's constitution.

Voters rebelled against this blatant power grab in 2016 by rejecting this blatant power grab. I'm determined in 2018 to help grow solar industry jobs and help working families realize your own energy destiny. You can count on me.

The World War II G.I. Bill: 73 Years Later

73 years ago today in 1944, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into the law the landmark G.I. Bill of Rights. Nearly every one of the 16 million Americans who served in WWII — our "Greatest Generation" — were eligible for benefits ranging from college and vocational support to home mortgages. 

It not only helped the veterans of World War II to resume their interrupted civilian lives, it improved their lives dramatically. It also sowed the seeds for decades of tremendous economic growth and expanded opportunities for America's working families.

Historian Milton Greenberg estimates that the WWII G.I. Bill enriched the United States by producing 450,000 engineers, 240,000 accountants, 238,000 teachers, 91,000 scientists, 67,000 doctors and 22,000 dentists. Their legacy returned $7 to the American economy for every $1 invested in the educational benefits, a huge return on investment.

The Vietnam-era version of the G.I. Bill helped reshape my life. Following active duty as an enlisted sailor 1965-67, I continued my education at Florida State University and, a few years later, bought my first home in Tallahassee with a G.I. mortgage. 

I'll never forget how it gave me such a good start in life -- and I'll always fight for the same for the young men and women of today's working families.

My dad, my health care hero, on Father's Day

I learned from my dad what our nation's health care system should be – available to anyone, regardless of income – not the get-rich-quick gaming of taxpayer-financed programs that makes our medical industry system the most expensive, with the sorriest results, in the world. 

   Bob's dad, Dr. Melvin Rackleff

Bob's dad, Dr. Melvin Rackleff

Dr. Melvin Rackleff took Hippocrates seriously. He was a general practitioner and the only doctor in Depression-era Clayton, Ill. He treated everyone in need, whether they could pay or not. 

My dad had been a U.S. Navy Pharmacist’s Mate (now Corpsman) in World War I, decided to become a doctor, and worked his way through Chicago Medical School until he graduated in 1927. Our home in Clayton had no indoor plumbing, a wood stove for cooking, and only partial electricity; we had only one car. 

After serving his community for 15 years, Dr. Rackleff was drafted in 1942 as a U.S. Army doctor and served in field hospitals in England during World War II, treating mass casualties from our invasion of France and drive toward Germany.  He stayed in the Army after the war until retiring in 1958, and became a Veterans Administration doctor in Winston-Salem, NC for the next 10 years. 

Even after he retired to Dunedin, Florida, he continued to read every issue of the AMA Journal and regularly attended lectures on medical advances at the local hospital. He died at age 95.  He was a good provider but never rich.  I wear his medical school class ring every day to remind of how to live a useful life of dignity and service.

The Six-Day War

Fifty years ago this week, the 1967 Arab-Israeli War became a milestone in my life.

When the war broke out, I was an enlisted sailor on the USS Terrebone Parish (LST-1156) during our Mediterranean cruise, part of the Sixth Fleet. We were in port, in Valletta, Malta, when the war broke out and were immediately called back from liberty (Valletta was a terrific liberty port!).

After we loaded supplies and fuel, we left port on a course to Alexandria, Egypt, to help evacuate U.S. citizens and get them out of harm’s way. While underway, we heard about the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, steaming off the coast of Israel. The attack killed 31 US sailors and wounded 171, nearly sinking the ship.

Knowing how vulnerable our ship was to attack, our mood got serious quickly. We were essentially defenseless, aware that LST stood for “long, slow target.” Fortunately, the war ended in six days, and we reversed course and headed back to Malta, safe and sound. 

We were all greatly relieved that Israel won the war so soon. But I never forgot the ultimate price those other sailors paid.

My father, Melvin Rackleff, MD, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army (ret.)

My father embodied what health care and public service should be. 

  Bob's dad, Dr. Melvin Rackleff.

Bob's dad, Dr. Melvin Rackleff.

That was his life, in fact, and I wanted to live up to his example. I wear his medical school class ring every day to remind me.

He was an old-fashioned general practitioner and the only doctor in 1930s Depression-era Clayton, Ill. He treated everyone in need, whether they could pay or not. To him, this was not charity care.  It was simply his duty.  

My mother set aside her career as a hosptial dietition to be a homemaker, the mother of her two sons, and the sponsor of the local 4-H Club. Our home in Clayton had no indoor plumbing, a wood stove for cooking, and only partial electricity; we had only one car. I took my children there in the 1990s, but the house is no longer there.

My dad had grown up in a pioneer Oregon family. His grandfather, William Rackleff, sailed in 1850 from Portland, ME to the Oregon coast in the family fishing schooner. There was no Panama Canal then, so his voyage took him around all of South America. Arriving in that sparsely-settled territory, he and other families built new businesses and farmed.

When America entered World War I in 1917, dad enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Soon he was serving as a Pharmacist’s Mate (now called Corpsman) on a troop ship homeported in Hoboken, NJ, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. When the war ended the next year, he helped bring the troops home from Europe, then decided to become a doctor. He enrolled in Chicago Medical School, which had night classes that let him work in various jobs to help pay his school expenses.  He graduated in 1927.

While an intern, he married my mother, Hazel McNish Rackleff, a dietition at a nearby Chicago hospital. Her father worked in a Hormel factory in Austin, MN. After their wedding, my mom and dad kept their marriage secret for the first year. It was customary in the 1920s for employers to fire women after they got married; the reasoning was that their husbands could support them, and that single women need her job more. My parents needed the income from her job.

After serving Clayton for 15 years, Pop was drafted in 1942 as a U.S. Army doctor and served in field hospitals in England during World War II, treating some of the massive casualties from the invasion of Europe. He was overseas when I was born in Quincy, IL, which had the nearest hospital to Clayton. As soon as I was able to travel, my mother, older brother and I moved to Long Beach, MS, where we lived while mother worked as a dietition in the Biloxi VA Hospital.

Dad remained in the Army after the war until retiring in 1958, then worked as a Veterans Administration doctor in Winston-Salem, NC for the next 10 years. He then retired to Dunedin, Florida, where he regularly attended lectures on medical advances at the local hospital; he was always learning. When he died in 1994, he was not rich. He never expected that being a doctor entitled him to be rich.