Cat Flag’s Health Insurance Misadventure

Stethascope image from The Health Care Blog

July is almost over, and boy am I glad. This past month has been quite frustrating for me. There are several reasons for this, but one of the main ones has been trying to get myself health insurance. Man, I never realized just what a mess this seemingly simple task would become, and so I’m writing this blog post as a sort of “heads up” warning for anyone else who might find themselves in a similar situation, to help guide people past the pitfalls and through the confusing language. Hopefully, everyone can learn from my experiences and have an easier time dealing with this issue.

First Some Background: How Healthcare in the U.S. Works

Doctors image from Galaxy Health Network

International Cat Flaggers may find this whole thing rather bizarre and confusing, as virtually all developed, industrialized countries besides the U.S. have some sort of universal health care coverage legally guaranteed by the government – either through the government directly paying medical costs with taxpayer money, or through a government-run health insurance program that all citizens pay into and receive benefits from, or through some sort of partnership with private insurance companies to split the cost of treatments. Those countries that don’t provide universal health care coverage to all of its citizens are almost all impoverished, third-world, underdeveloped countries, and even some of these are at least attempting to improve their systems so that they cover everyone: Rwanda, China, and Thailand, among others.

The United States, though, finds itself in the awkward position of being a developed, industrialized country that doesn’t guarantee health care coverage to everyone. Instead, we have a system where most people are covered by a private health insurance company, paying a monthly insurance bill in return for the insurance company taking on most – but not all – of the cost of medical treatments. For most Americans, insurance is provided through their employer. The companies where Americans work usually subscribe to some sort of group health plan, which has a lower cost per person because the employer often pays part of the insurance bill, deducting what’s left from the employee’s paycheck automatically. Many of these plans will also cover spouses and children, so parents aren’t stuck with the hospital bill if their seven-year-old gets sick.

There are a few problems with this system, though. First of all, the smaller the company, the harder it is to pay for health insurance for employees, so the employees of small businesses may not be covered. Second, many employer-insurance plans require the employee to work full-time hours, so part-time employees are out of luck. Third, there are plenty of Americans who are entrepreneurs or otherwise self-employed, and therefore unable to get the security of an employer-insurance plan. Lastly, the unemployed and the homeless are obviously left in the dust by such a system.

Fortunately, there are programs set up by the government to plug some of these gaps. Retirees are able to get health coverage through a federal-government program called Medicare, and the very poor can get coverage through a federal-state partnership called Medicaid. There is also a program called COBRA Insurance, whereby people who are fired or quit from their jobs can keep their insurance coverage for up to 18 months in most cases, and up to 36 months in special cases.

Yet even these measures are not enough to make sure everyone has access to health care. Those Americans who don’t have private health insurance, either through an employer or by paying out-of-pocket every month for themselves, and who also don’t qualify for one of the government-run schemes for health coverage, wind up stuck in a situation where they have to pay for their doctor’s visit, prescriptions, surgical treatments, and emergency room visits themselves. These can be extremely expensive, as in thousands of dollars expensive.

In 2010, the U.S. government passed a law that, they claimed, would help to fix some of these problems. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often called “Obamacare” in everyday lingo, has a number of provisions to reduce the number of uninsured Americans. It makes it illegal for insurance companies to deny people insurance or make them pay a higher rate because they happen to have a pre-existing health condition when they apply. The law also requires companies with more than 50 full-time employees to insure them, and allows parents to keep their children on their insurance plans until the child’s 26th birthday, so long as her or she is in college. Lastly, the law sets up low-cost insurance exchanges subsidized by the government for individuals who are too poor to afford ordinary private insurance but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.

Though these measures do help, there are plenty of problems with Obamacare. First of all, I can easily see a small business that is just big enough to meet the 50-employee threshold weaseling its way out of having to pay to insure its employees by making many of them work part-time hours. Secondly, the law actually imposes a fine on uninsured people who don’t buy insurance from one of those low-cost exchanges. Those people would be forced to pay the government $95 or 1% of their annual income (whichever is greater) each year they are not covered until 2016, or $695 or 2.5% of their income (whichever is greater) each year they are not covered thereafter. In other words, they would penalize people for being too poor to be insured. Really.

By far the most bizarre thing about Obamacare, though, is that even with all of these provisions it still won’t guarantee universal health care to all Americans. The law contains a number of exceptions and loopholes that keep its provisions from applying to everyone. It also has to be implemented on a state-by-state basis, and thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling, states have the right to opt-out of some of its provisions. This means there will still be plenty of Americans without adequate access to health care after the law takes full effect in January.

My Health Insurance Experience

Health Insurance Cartoon from East Coast Health Insurance

I am very lucky as far as my health is concerned (*knock on wood*). I haven’t needed to see a doctor or visit a hospital in a very long time. I have no long-running health issues, and have never had to undergo a surgery.

For most of my life, I’ve managed to get by on my dad’s employer-provided health insurance family plans. After all, I’m only 26, and haven’t been an adult for all that long. There was, however, a very, very brief incident about two years ago where I fell into a health insurance gap. Obamacare had just been passed, but its provision that college students could stay on their parents’ health insurance had not taken effect yet. Under the old law, I had outgrown my dad’s insurance, and needed to get my own. Fortunately, I was able to get insurance coverage through my employer. It took time, was a bit of a hassle (filling out forms and such), and was a headache for my boss, who had to take time away from more important matters to deal with my issue. After a few weeks, though, I got approved and put on the company plan.

Then I discovered, the hard way, that the insurance only lasted while I was working full-time hours. Once school started back up and I was back to working part-time, I was booted off the insurance plan like an un-athletic, scrawny kid off a high school football team. I went about three months with no health insurance at all, but luckily I stayed healthy and when the new laws took effect in January I was able to get back on my dad’s insurance plan.

I really hadn’t had to worry about health insurance since, until this month. See, I just turned 26, which means I am now too old to be on my dad’s insurance. The good news came in the mail when I got a message from the government about COBRA insurance. The letter explained that, because of my age and circumstances, I could continue to receive insurance through the same provider, for a fee, for 36 months. Well, I thought, great! I would just sign up for COBRA and not worry about it.

Then I looked at how much my COBRA coverage would cost. It was $561 per month.

Yeah… no.

A Crash Course in Government Health Care

Socialized Medicine image from Family Security Measures

After our previous experience with employer-provided health coverage, my boss didn’t want the two of us to go through all the trouble and hassle of putting me back on the company plan, waiting several weeks for the paperwork to be processed and the insurance company to approve, only to have me booted off again in a mere two months just like last time. That wouldn’t be fair to me, to her, or to the insurance company. It just wasn’t worth it.

There was another reason to not go with my current employer’s insurance plan. I have been busily applying for work in my chosen career field, and if I get hired, I will almost certainly have to leave my current job. Plus, my future employer will almost certainly offer health insurance as well. It just makes sense for me to simply find a temporary solution until I get a new job.

With that in mind, I decided to see if I qualified for Medi-Cal, my home state of California’s variant of Medicaid. It may not be great, but it’s free, which is better than having to pay a monthly bill. I wasn’t sure if my income was low enough to qualify, so I looked on the program’s website to see if I met their minimum criteria, only to find they don’t have the criteria posted. Instead, applications are taken on a case-by-case basis, with any number of possible factors influencing the decision. All right, I thought, I’ll go to the county’s Social Services department, which handles Medi-Cal applications, bringing with me my main identifying papers, most recent paycheck, and most recent bills to see what they could or couldn’t do for me.

If the DMV has taught me anything, it’s that anything having to do with government bureaucracy takes time, and the busier the office is, the longer it will take for my issue to be resolved. Therefore, I arrived shortly after the office opened at 8 AM to beat the crowds. There were two ladies behind a counter labelled “START HERE”. The one on the left asked me for my driver’s licence and social security card, handed me a clipboard with several forms to fill out, and told me that when I was done, I was to give the clipboard to the woman on the right. I sat in an uncomfortable plastic chair, filling out all of my basic information like my name, address, birth date, and social security number, all of which were already on the ID cards they had asked for and photocopied. I then checked the box stating that I was applying for Medi-Cal, filled out my basic income information, and spent a fair amount of time marking “No” to questions about whether I was pregnant, had AIDS, was a disabled veteran, and so on.

With that done, I dutifully returned the forms to the woman on the right side of the counter, and sat and waited. The building was virtually empty, there were only two other people sitting there with me, and yet it still took an hour and a half before I was called. When I walked up to the window, there was a woman looking over my forms who right away informed me that my application was going to be rejected. She explained that if I had children, I would qualify, but as it stood the county wasn’t approving any more applications for single individuals any more this year. To be honest, none of this was all that surprising to me, and I went into this figuring there was a pretty good chance that I would be rejected.

What did surprise me, though, was what she did next. She told me about a different free, government-run health system called the County Medical Services Program, or CMSP. This is a partnership between 35 of California’s counties to help their uninsured residents get the health care they need. I had never heard of this program before, and figured I was already here, why not apply for that? It turned out, though, that CMSP in my home county is handled by a completely different department in a completely different building at the other end of town. Naturally.

I drove out to the CMSP office, and found it was absolutely crowded. All of the seats in the waiting room were taken, and people were lined up out the door. They were from all walks of life: young adults like me, older men in collared business shirts and khaki pants, mothers with small children, and so on. At least the form the CMSP gives you is far smaller. It was a single sheet of paper, with only 14 questions on it. I had that sucker filled out in under a minute. However, one of the questions confused me. It was asking what my medical issue was. I explained to the woman behind the counter that I had no medical issue, other than that my insurance was about to run out.

That’s when she told me that CMSP is NOT health insurance. Apparently, the way the program works is that you only qualify if you are already sick or injured. If, say, I was in a car accident, and had to go to the emergency room to be treated, I could apply for CMSP to pick up the tab for me. If I had an ongoing medical problem like asthma, I could apply for CMSP to help pay for my medication and see a CMSP clinic doctor for free check-ups and diagnoses. Being healthy, however, meant that I wouldn’t qualify for anything, and so rather than waste anybody’s time I returned my clipboard, thanked the lady, and left.

It was as I had figured, I would need to buy private insurance for myself. But that didn’t quite end the story. The next day, while I was shopping downtown with my brother, I got a phone call from the Social Services Department asking about my application. I told them what happened the previous day, with the application and the rejection. They told me that even though I was almost certainly going to be denied, they hadn’t officially rejected my case yet. They wanted to – I’m not joking – mail me some paperwork to fill out and mail back to them just so they could formally deny me. As you can imagine, I thought this was the most ludicrous thing ever, and told them to withdraw my application because I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time. So, the next day, I got a letter in the mail from the Social Services Department telling me, and I’m quoting here:

“We have reviewed all information available to us about your circumstances and find that your application for Medi-Cal has been denied. The reason for this denial is: You requested that your Medi-Cal application be withdrawn.”

Wow. Just… wow. You really had to waste that paper and spend the money to mail that to me, huh? You didn’t figure I’d know that I withdrew my application, you had to mail me a formal denial explaining that to me?

Bureaucracy. Gotta love it.

Navigating the Private Insurance Seas

Polynesian boat from Tahitian goddess

With that over with, I started shopping around for private insurance. Immediately, I was confronted with a flood of unfamiliar and bizarre terms that confused the heck out of me, at first. Soon, however, I figured out most of the lingo so I could understand what, actually, these different plans were offering.

  • First, I had to learn the difference between an HMO and PPO. HMO’s (Health Maintenance Organizations) are tightly-controlled plans where you have to visit specific doctors approved by your insurance company. If you have a specific medical need that requires surgery, specialized treatment, or an MRI to diagnose your problem, you have to first see your “primary care physician” (basically, your main doctor) to get a referral to see the specialist doctor who deals with your problem. PPO’s (Preferred Provider Organizations) give you more flexibility, basically letting you see any doctor you want (though it is still cheaper to visit an approved doctor). The source where I found this information explained that HMO’s are usually cheaper than PPO’s, as the price of letting yourself be subjected to more restrictions. However, for some reason when i was shopping around, the HMO’s I saw were actually more expensive, not less. So, I decided to stick with PPO’s.
  • Premiums are the monthly fee you have to pay to your insurance company. Why they couldn’t just call it a “monthly fee” is beyond me.
  • Co-Payment is something I was at least somewhat familiar with prior to all of this. Growing up, every time I visited the doctor or needed a prescription, my parents always had to give the nurse behind the counter a small amount of cash as “copay”, basically our share of the cost of the visit or treatment.
  • Coinsurance. This is basically the same as a copay, but the only difference is that copays tend to be a fixed amount ($20, for example) while coinsurance will be for a percentage of the bill (30%, for example).
  • Deductibles. This is the one that actually bugs me. The whole point of buying health insurance is that if you get sick and need medical help, your insurance company will pay the bill for you. In return, you pay the premium every month. However, it turns out no insurance company is going to pay your doctors a single penny until you have paid your doctors the amount specified in your deductible. For example, if you have a $2000 deductible, then for every year you have that insurance plan, you have to wait for your hospital bills to tick over to $2001 before your insurance company will get involved at all.

As I hunted through the different insurance plans for sale on the internet, I found that while there are (comparatively) cheap plans out there, they make up for low premiums by pinning you with higher deductibles and higher copays. If you want a lower deductible and copay, you need to pay more each month. The result is that saving money on health insurance is a gamble – you are betting that you won’t get sick or injured while on this insurance plan.

There are some ways to work around this trade-off, though. For example, I found that many insurance plans give patients a lower copay for generic drugs than for brand-name ones. I also noticed that a small increase in premiums ($20 per month, in one case) could lead to a much, much lower deductible or copay.

There was one odd thing I noticed, though. Many plans I saw required a huge deductible or copay for trips to the emergency room, but waived all or most of these costs in you are actually admitted into the ER. Is this their way of trying to discourage people from calling 9-1-1 for every minor problem and saving it for true emergencies?

Eventually, I found a PPO plan that fit my budget and gave me deductibles and copays I could live with. I applied online, and have yet to hear back on whether I will be approved or not. Odds are, it will probably be a few weeks until I find out. Until then, I guess I’m just going to have to drive safely and try not to get sick.

Behind the Headline: British Royal Baby is Born!

A town crier announces the arrival of the youngest member of the British royal family outside St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington, West London. Image from AFP.

A town crier announces the arrival of the youngest member of the British royal family outside St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, West London. Image from AFP.

The Duchess of Cambridge delivered an 8 lb. 6 oz. baby boy today at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. The new baby is the great-grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, and the third-in-line to the British throne after his grandfather (Charles, the Prince of Wales) and father (Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge). As of now, the baby’s name has not been announced, so for now he is simply called the Prince of Cambridge.

President Obama offered his congratulations to the royal couple, stating “We wish them all the happiness and blessings parenthood brings. The child enters the world at a time of promise and opportunity for our two nations. Given the special relationship between us, the American people are pleased to join with the people of the United Kingdom as they celebrate the birth of the young prince.”

Prince Charles told the press “Grandparenthood is a unique moment in anyone’s life, as countless kind people have told me in recent months, so I am enormously proud and happy to be a grandfather for the first time and we are eagerly looking forward to seeing the baby in the near future.”

As for the new royal parents themselves, they simply said “We could not be happier.” (Perhaps they were too tired to say anything more?)

The announcement of the baby’s birth was made the traditional way, with a brief announcement placed on an easel in front of Buckingham Palace for the public to see. Cannons will be fired and flags flown in celebration across London and the United Kingdom. Economists predict the news will give the British economy a brief boost, as people buy cakes, party gear, booze, and royal memorabilia to celebrate the news.

So what’s the big deal about a baby?

Royal Baby Pacifier image from CNN Money

It is true that celebrities have babies all the time. However, the British royal family are far more than just any other celebrity, in spite of how the press may sometimes treat them like it.

Queen Elizabeth II is Britain’s head of state and formal, symbolic leader. She is the head of the British state religion, the Church of England. She is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. She appoints the Prime Minister, other government leaders, ambassadors, and judges. She calls for elections, opens and closes Parliament, gives royal charters to various organizations such as the BBC, the Bank of England, the University of Cambridge, and the Royal Opera House, and can issue pardons. If you want to become a British citizen, you must swear an oath to the Queen, as must soldiers, police officers, government and court officials, and even the British Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.

The royal family, in addition for providing the heirs to the throne when the reigning monarch eventually dies, are also a key support system, aiding and assisting the Queen in her duties. Each member of the royal family is the official commander of several military units, the patron of numerous charities, or the head of various British organizations. For example, the Duke of Cambridge is the Commodore-in-Chief of the Royal Navy Submarine Service and the President of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

What’s more, the British royal family is not just important in the UK. Australia, Canada, Jamaica, and New Zealand are just a few of the 15 countries that all share the same monarchy as the British. Each of these countries was once a British colony, but instead of winning independence in a war as the United States did, they won it through diplomacy and gradual change. As a result, they still mint the Queen’s image on their coins and still fly the Union Jack beside their national flag on certain holidays. If that isn’t enough, the Queen is also the head of The Commonwealth, a loose alliance of 53 countries – most, but not all, of whom were once British colonies – that seeks to reduce poverty and promote democracy among its 2 billion combined citizens.

Okay, but the British royals don’t really have any power anymore.

British Royal Family portrait from The Backbencher

No, they don’t have very much “hard power” – the ability to compel people to do things. Most of those roles I described above are ultimately a sort of political fiction. The Prime Minister and Parliament have all the actual “hard power”, and the Queen just rubber-stamps whatever it is they decide. This trend doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon.

Having said that, the British monarchy has plenty of “soft power” – the ability to persuade people. The British royals are almost always paying visits to charities across Britain and the world, bringing camera crews with them to showcase the important work that these charities do for the less fortunate. The royal family’s official website and Facebook page are filled with pictures of the royals feeding the homeless, meeting children with cancer in hospitals, shaking hands with disabled veterans, and so on. The royal family may not decide policy, but they do what they can to highlight and bring attention to important issues. As one columnist put it, “the Sovereign has… three rights—the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn.”

Besides, even though the British royal family may not be as powerful as they once were, they still are important in one crucial respect. They are what makes the United Kingdom, well, the United Kingdom. They are a core part of that country’s identity, right down to its name. Without them, we’d have to call the country “the United Republic”.

So, what will the new baby’s life look like?

Princess Di and Family image from BBC News

There is no telling for absolutely sure what the future brings. Having said that, it’s almost certain that one day this newborn prince will be the new King. In the meantime, he will almost certainly be baptized into the Church of England sometime in the coming weeks. This BBC column predicts that the prince will be mostly raised by his parents, instead of the once-traditional practice of having royal babies raised by nannies. The fact that his mother came from an ordinary, middle-class British background will almost certainly play a role in his upbringing. He will almost certainly live a life in front of the watching eye of the press, just as his parents and grandparents have. He will probably serve in the military, as all British royals must. He will probably spend a fairly long time waiting to take the throne, as he has three generations ahead of him. He will probably get a whole bunch of noble titles, most of which will be given to him when he marries. Indeed, he will probably wind up with a life of luxury but not very much choice. Who knows, though? Maybe his generation will be the one that finds the right balance between duty and being oneself. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Pacific Rim is Imperfect, but Rocks!

Pacific Rim poster from Collider

I grew up watching TV shows like Mobile Suit Gundam, The Big O, Voltron, and similar shows about giant robots that fought each other. To me, then, Pacific Rim represents something of a fantasy of mine come true: a big-budget Hollywood film about robots like those going into battle. Just watching how these things could be depicted with top-of-the-line special effects and budgets is a real treat for me. I’m sure that I’m far from the only person who feels that way.

Having said that, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures took a huge risk in green-lighting this film. We’re talking about a movie that depicts giant robots fighting giant monsters. This classic trope in Japanese filmmaking has never really been tried by a Hollywood studio on this scale ever before. The closest analogue would be Hollywood adaptations of popular anime shows, and those don’t have the best track records of success. On top of that, the director they got for the job, Guillermo del Toro, has made some pretty great movies but has never really had a big breakthrough hit. The screenwriter, Travis Beacham, has only penned two other feature-length movies before. Add to that a cast of actors who are not household names, and we’re talking about one of the biggest gambles attempted by a major studio in a very, very long time.

It may just have payed off.

First of all, the movie just… looks right. I know that sounds like a strange thing to say, but like I said before, I grew up with this stuff. I’m used to the look and feel that giant robot stories should have – there is a certain aesthetic quality to them that comes from how these old TV shows were animated. They have certain stylistic features they should have, and this movie captures them all perfectly. It looks like how my mind imagined this stuff would look. Here, let me show you some examples of what I’m talking about…

Neon Genesis Evangelion image from We Remember Love

Pacific Rim image from Comic Vine

Zaku II image from MAHQ

PACIFIC RIM image from Entertainment Weekly

That in and of itself really impressed me. It’s pretty clear that del Toro and the special effects teams are fans of this stuff themselves, or at least did their homework when making their designs.

And the action! Oh, man, this movie has some of the best action sequences I have seen so far this year. Yes, better than Man of Steel. Yes, better than Star Trek: Into Darkness. Yes, better than Ir… okay, so maybe on the same level as Iron Man 3. Basically, if you like movies about stuff blowing up, this has the action fix you need.

Having said all of that, though, this film is far from perfect. It has some pretty obvious problems that you just can’t help but notice. For example, the plot. Have you seen Top Gun? If you have, then you can pretty much predict the plot of Pacific Rim right from the get-go.

The story is that sometime in the near future, a dimensional portal to another universe opens up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and giant monsters called “Kaiju” emerge from it and start destroying city after city. To stop these monsters, the countries of the world decide to set aside their differences and combine their efforts to fight back. They build giant robots called “Jaegers” that are designed specifically to fight these Kaiju. Each Jaeger is piloted by two people who are psychically connected to each others’ minds by a neural link that controls the robot. At first, the Jaegers seem to be working, but over time, the Kaiju adapt to these new weapons and start turning the tide. Our heroes must race against time to find a way to keep the Kaiju from coming through the portal before they destroy what’s left of humanity.

Into this situation is thrown our hero, Raleigh Becket, a maverick pilot who frequently ignores the rules and challenges his authority figures. Gee, where have I seen that before? Oh, and it turns out he starts to develop a rivalry with one of the other ace pilots. Golly, I wonder if they’re going to find a way to overcome their differences during combat? It doesn’t help that the actor portraying our hero (Charlie Hunnam) doesn’t do a terribly great job. Oh, he’s not bad, but he’s just sort of… there. He gets across the dialogue he needs to move on to the next action scene, and that’s pretty much it. He doesn’t bring a whole lot of character to his character.

That’s another major problem with this movie. The dialogue is frequently clumsy. The characters spell things out for each other in the most “I’m just blatantly explaining things to the audience so they aren’t confused” way possible. I appreciate that you want us to follow along, movie, but actual human beings don’t talk that way to each other in everyday conversation.

Not only that, but we get to sit through some really poor attempts at comedy relief through our two bumbling, eccentric scientist characters played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman. They do help move the plot along and explain the more convoluted parts of how the Kaiju are supposed to work, but mostly they just try to be funny and fail miserably. Their jokes misfire and they feel like a needless distraction.

Luckily, the film is saved by Idris Elba and Rinko Kikuchi, both of whom turn in spectacular performances that are able to compensate for the bad parts and carry the weight of the movie. Elba plays Stacker Pentecost, the commander of the Jaeger force, and Kikuchi plays Mako Mori, the chief Jaeger scientist. Elba’s amazing performance really steals the show, as we feel his character’s struggles with the weight of the whole world and humanity’s future on his shoulders. Meanwhile, Kikuchi tears at your heartstrings as you watch her character struggle with a secret past and learn what truly motivates her.

Yes, Pacific Rim is imperfect. Having said that, I still left the theater with a smile on my face. What can I say? I got to see a Hollywood movie about giant robots that got “the look” right, some amazing action sequences that blew my mind, and two great performances by two amazing actors. Even with the film’s weaknesses, it is still a rocking good time.

Four Often-Forgotten Heroes of the American Revolution

Reenactors image from Revolutionary War Reenacting

It appears I have made something of a tradition to talk about our nation’s war of independence on the Fourth of July. What can I say? I’m a history buff, and the American Revolution is one of the historical subjects that fascinates me most!

It’s true that this crucial moment in our history produced some amazing figures and heroes: George Washington, Paul Revere, Thomas Paine, Nathanael Greene, Nathan Hale, and so on. The problem is that there were just so many of these figures that our history books often overlook some of them. I don’t think that’s fair, that we celebrate some of our founding heroes but not others. So, to make matters right, I’m going to be telling the tales of four founding fathers who we seem to forget, so we can honor their memories as well this Fourth of July.

Crispus Attucks

Crispus Attucks portrait from BiographyWhy He’s a Hero: This man was the first person ever to die for the American nation.

His father was an African slave, and his mother was a Native American. He grew up as a slave on a cattle farm in Framingham, Massachusetts. in 1750, he ran away from his master, who offered a reward for his capture and return. Attucks managed to escape capture, building a career for himself as a sailor on whaling ships.

As tensions grew in the 1760s between the colonists and their British colonial masters, British troops were sent to Boston to maintain order. These soldiers, when not on-duty, would sometimes apply for part-time work at local shops and businesses. This meant more competition for jobs, harming the city’s working class and causing resentment.

Something Americans today can relate to, as well.

Something Americans today can relate to, as well.

When one British soldier went to look for work at a Boston pub on March 5, 1770, he was confronted by a crowd of unhappy sailors. Soon, the angry crowd gathered around the Boston court house, protesting and taunting the British guard on duty. Reinforcements showed up, trying to keep the snowball-throwing crowd in line. What happened next is a matter of debate, as eyewitness accounts vary. What is known is that the British opened fire, and five Americans died. Attucks was the first victim, shot twice in the chest.

The American revolutionary movement seized on this event, calling it the “Boston Massacre” and demanding justice for the dead. The British soldiers were arrested, but claimed during their trial that they were acting in self-defense as the crowd attacked them with stones and clubs. They were found not guilty, which only made public anger even stronger. Whatever the truth of the matter was, the American Revolution reached a turning point on that night, and the path to independence was put in place. From that point on, Americans would see the British not as compatriots, but as a foreign power occupying their country. From that point on, the Patriots had martyrs to point to as inspiration for their struggle for liberty. The deaths of Attucks and the other victims laid the first stone in the foundation of the future United States.

Information from PBS

Samuel Prescott and William Dawes

Midnight Ride image from How Stuff Works

Why They Are Heroes: These two men were the ones that ACTUALLY warned the minutemen at Lexington and Concord that “The British are coming!”

Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride to warn the Americans of the approaching British forces may have been made famous by the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, but the poem is not what you would call historically accurate by any stretch. The real story is that Revere was just one of three men riding through the countryside that night, and he was captured by the British en route!

Our story begins in Boston, where American spy Joseph Warren found out about the British plans and called on Revere and Dawes to ride out and warn the patriots. Revere and Dawes would each take a separate route to Lexington, so that if one was captured, the other could still make it through. Dawes went by land, while Revere took a boat across the river. Those famous lanterns in the church tower? Those were not a signal to Revere about the British movements – they were a signal BY Revere to his friends across the river, warning them that the British were coming by boat.

Eventually, the duo made it to Lexington, where they regrouped at a tavern. There, they met Prescott, who happened to be passing by, sympathized with the Patriots’ cause, and volunteered to warn Concord. It was a good thing, too, as a British patrol managed to discover the riders on the road. Prescott and Dawes managed to escape, but Revere did not, and was questioned by the British troops at gunpoint. The British eventually let him go, on the logic that they could move faster without prisoners. With this stroke of luck, Revere managed to meet up with Samuel Adams and John Hancock, and the trio agreed to flee to Philadelphia. As they left, they heard the first shots of the battle. Prescott had managed to make it to Concord and warn the townsfolk. The war had begun.

Information from How Stuff Works

Molly Pitcher

Molly Pitcher image from Wikipedia

Why She’s a Hero: She fought at the Battle of Monmouth, braving bullet and cannon fire to load the cannons.

This one is perhaps the most infuriating one for me. When I was in elementary school, I learned all about Betsy Ross, who allegedly sewed the first U.S. flag, and Abigail Adams, who reminded her husband John Adams to “remember the ladies.” It turns out that historians now think the Betsy Ross legend was a hoax concocted by her grandson, and as we all know, Abigail Adams wasn’t able to convince her husband to give equal rights to women. Yet the tale of a far more awesome woman in the Revolutionary War that could be an inspiration for modern American girls with modern American values were never mentioned at all; I only learned about her years later.

Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley came from a German-American family in Pennsylvania. She married a barber, who enlisted in the Continental Army in 1777. Mary followed her husband as part of a group of wartime housewives who would mend and wash uniforms, cook for the troops, act as medics and nurses, and bring water for the troops in the heat of battle. She earned the nickname “Molly Pitcher” because she would always carry buckets of water to the artillery soldiers manning the cannons.

Then, at the Battle of Monmouth, her husband, a cannon-loader, was shot and wounded in battle. After tending to her husband and making sure he made it off the battlefield to safety, Mary picked up her husband’s ramrod and began loading the cannons in his place. Throughout the day’s battle, she kept at it. At one point, an enemy cannon ball sped between her legs, ripping her skirt to shreds. She shrugged the near-miss off, remarking “That could have been worse,” and just kept right on fighting.

After the battle, George Washington, who saw the spectacle of this lady loading the cannons, rewarded her by making her an army sergeant. Now that’s a tale we should be telling our children in school, if you ask me.

Information from Wikipedia