Health care is a human right, and we shouldn’t have to worry about whether we can breathe the air here in Colorado, day by day

Diana Bray@Diana4Colorado Special to The Colorado Sun See more

Sometimes you just have to take a leap into the unknown when you see that the status quo is simply not working. 

In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt did just that when he signed Social Security into law. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson did the same with Medicare, which provides health care to all Americans over 65, regardless of income or medical history.

Diana Bray

At the time, these programs were both wildly experimental, but not too many people today would argue that they were mistakes.

As the only licensed health professional in the U.S. Senate race in Colorado, my view is that we must make a bold move forward to provide Medicare for All. 

If you get sick in Australia, Canada, Portugal, Iceland, Denmark, Ireland, the U.K., Italy, Germany, Sweden, Spain and many other nations, you go to the doctor and receive care free of charge. Health care is considered a right.

Here in America, we have a private health insurance system that is costly and grossly inadequate. Who is paying for it? We are. It is not the medical care that is the problem; it is the access to health care and the insurance companies’ administration of the care which is tight-fisted, inhumane and selective.

Many people are turned away for lack of health insurance, and go without care. Many people avoid preventative care because it is too expensive. Many people avoid going to the hospital because they cannot afford the deductibles.

Insurance companies are profiting off our injuries, illnesses and accidents — to the tune of billions of dollars — and they provide a false narrative about providing people with security. For this reason, I agree with the positions of U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Here in America, we need a single payer Medicare for All system.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Insurance does not give us safety and security. If that was the case, why are 30 million people without insurance and tens of millions more have insurance but are still vulnerable? This is because one accident or illness can bankrupt a family.

High deductibles, copays and out of pocket costs make health insurance unaffordable for millions of people. The logistics of dealing with insurance companies’ denials is also impossibly difficult. The last thing most Americans want to spend their time doing is fighting a largely losing battle with insurance administrators. 

For all these reasons, I respectfully disagree with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. Sen. Bennet is promoting the false narrative that people who have health insurance through their work, like and feel secure with their insurance. Has he ever met anyone who likes their insurance?

Possibly some people who have means know that they can afford the high deductibles and premiums that are the requirement for getting care. And this is the reason why our health system suits people of privilege and very few others. Even those with insurance through their jobs are susceptible to high deductibles, premiums and copays, and if they lose or change jobs, they and their families lose their insurance. What security is there in that?

Medicare is the most popular medical administration system in this country. Why not extend it to include vision, hearing, dental, disabilities and mental health?

This simple move would free our country of the stranglehold that the insurance companies have around our necks. Sure, there would be a tax to pay for it, but the tax would be far lower than what we are all paying now.

The U.S. government would save $260 billion a year on tax refunds to employers alone, and citizens would not be paying the costs of a bloated, duplicative system whose advertising and overhead is passed on to the average person. And finally, drug prices would no longer be through the roof.

But a few senatorial seats will not insure this change. We need to take back the presidency as well as flip the Senate so we can institute a single payer, Medicare for All system.

If elected Democrats don’t strongly advocate for a medical system that protects us all, we can be sure that the Republicans will continue their march to destroy the fragile system that we have in place. 

We need to stop hanging by our fingertips, jump down and start again, and like some previous administrations, we need to be bold, not beholden to the insurance dynasties. We have the model and we just need the political will to extend healthcare to everybody.

Let’s join the rest of the modern world, treat our citizens with respect and begin to row in the same direction. Health care is a right, not a privilege.

Diana Bray, Psy.D., is a psychologist, mother of four, and candidate for U.S. Senate in Colorado


Will Colorado’s air be OK to breathe today? We shouldn’t have to guess.

JUL 28, 2019 Diana Bray@Diana4Colorado Special to The Colorado Sun

Sunny skies. Light winds. Hot temperatures. One might think this a description of an ideal summer day, one that is perfect for swimming, a picnic or a hike.

In fact, these days it is just as likely a recipe for an “ozone action alert.” You know, when you wake up, have a cup of coffee and hear that ping on your phone? 

It’s an air alert that smog levels are unhealthy for sensitive groups, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. I had three last week.

Diana Bray

Who is it unsafe for? Children, the elderly, people with asthma, respiratory diseases or heart problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9.3% of the population has asthma in Colorado. That’s more than 400,000 people.

Most families have children or elderly members. So, breaking this down, what we are being told is simple: folks, do not go outside and breathe in Colorado.

We are so accustomed to these alerts, we do not even think about them much. They are merely an annoyance. But let’s unpack them a little here. What is an ozone alert exactly?  What causes excess ozone? In short what is this syndrome that threatens our public health and abducts our most beautiful summer days? And why are we having so many now?

Ozone is a molecule made up of three oxygen atoms. It appears on earth as a pale blue gas that makes up a tiny portion of our atmosphere (.06 parts per million).

Maybe you have been out on one of these ozone action alert days and noticed the scent and haze — some people say it reminds them of the smell of chlorine. 

Ozone’s main residence is in our planet’s stratosphere where we can thank it profusely for protecting us all from ultraviolet light from the sun. Think of it as a sort of gaseous sunscreen. Vital, really, but when it is at ground level, it is quite dangerous. Ground-level ozone is formed when high heat and humidity and sunlight combine with oil and gas industrial and vehicle emissions.

After the Clean Air Act passed in the 1970s, urban air pollution and ground level ozone decreased significantly, but about 15 years ago, a date that coincides with the inception of the fracking boom, this changed.

Hydrocarbons inevitably enter our atmosphere from leaks at valves, pipes, separators, compressors, through exhaust vents on tanks and through intentional flaring and venting.

And these hydrocarbon releases can form significant amounts of harmful ground-level ozone. There it is: your ozone action alert day. According to the EPA, Colorado has been out of ozone compliance for the past 10 years. 

Measurements taken by the Colorado Department of Health and the Environment and CU Boulder scientists indicate that ozone at Boulder Reservoir is the most severe in the entire state, likely because of winds that carry Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from industrial activity in Weld County.

Some scientists believe that oil and gas activity contributes 10-15 times more VOCs than the total emissions from all cars in Colorado and that ozone-related health effects are escalating.

Health organizations predict that thousands of people will die prematurely from exposure to oil and gas particulates in Colorado alone, and just this month there was research linking a much higher incidence of babies born with congenital heart defects to mothers who lived in close proximity to oil and gas activity.

The oil and gas industry has utilized a state loophole that does not require the industry to obtain certain permits before drilling.

One CU Boulder study determined that the annual VOCs released into the atmosphere through venting, production and leaks just in Weld County could be equivalent to the exhaust of 67 million cars, 2.3 million barrels of oil or 292,000 tons of VOCs.

The good news is that locally, citizens and city councils are challenging the industry. Some citizens of Broomfield are fighting the industrialization of open space where extensive drilling has begun. Moratoriums on new drilling permits have been passed by municipal leaders. 

The bad news is that while state and local governments have had significant authority over oil and gas activity, neither Democrats nor Republicans have had the political will to take action to address the climate crisis. And in counties such as Weld, the council is interpreting SB-181 as an invitation for local communities to allow more drilling.  (Ed. note: Their air isn’t so bad – it’s regularly blowing to the south and west and getting stuck up against the mountains, as in Jefferson County)

What can the government do? For one thing, the federal government could enforce EPA regulations, penalize violators and incentivize clean energy by providing funding for a just transition to a clean energy jobs program that would create 6.7 million jobs as proposed by the Green New Deal.

All of these measures would make a serious difference. State and local governments can also become more serious about addressing the health and climate crisis.

Colorado is punching above its weight when it comes to generating pollution, and these action alert days are nothing to take lightly.

That is what I think about every day. Will it be a day with an ozone action alert, like today, where breathing the air will be harmful to our health, or will the air be OK to breathe? I’m holding my breath wondering which it will be.

Diana Bray, Psy.D., is a psychologist, mother and candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Requests for domestic violence services are up at Latina Safehouse in Denver, as reported recently by The Colorado Sun.

Victims who are undocumented say their abusers have threatened to report them to the government. But, acting director of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Matthew Albence, said he doesn’t necessarily believe that’s true. Instead, he said any decreases in prosecutions would be due to the deportation of offenders. 

What should you believe? Are abusers stoking deportation fears in their victims? Or is the country winning a war on domestic violence through ICE roundups and deportations? 

We have insight into these questions based on years of working together to better meet the needs of crime victims — including domestic violence victims. Our work highlights several things you need to know about domestic violence dynamics and crime victims’ immigration-related fears. 

In domestic violence, abusers play on victims’ fears. Abusers alienate victims from friends, family, and help — such as the police. For example, abusers commonly tell victims that the police won’t believe them or will take their children away. 

U.S. immigration policies have stoked fears across immigrant communities with threats of roundups and deportations. These government actions give abusers ammunition to use against victims who are undocumented or who fear they will get swept up in ICE raids despite their legal status. 

Given domestic violence dynamics, we find it hard to imagine that abusers would not play on victims’ immigration-related fears. Evidence locally points to increases in immigration-related fears among crime victims.

Several years ago, we identified more than 50 barriers that crime victims face when trying to get their legal needs met. Since 2016, we have surveyed victim service providers monthly to evaluate whether 26 of those barriers have continued to be problems for their clients trying to get legal services. 

One of the barriers that we have tracked is victims’ fears that seeking legal services might result in deportation or changes in legal status for themselves or their loved ones. 

This gives us an interesting perspective on immigration-related fears before and after U.S. immigration policy changes with the 2017 presidential inauguration.  

Prior to 2017, victim service providers rated their clients’ fears about deportation or legal status as a medium-to-big problem (on average) for getting legal services. Since 2017, providers have rated victims’ fears about deportation or legal status as a big-to-very-big problem. Since that time, fears about deportation and legal status have remained stubbornly high, often in the top five of the barriers that victim service providers report on each month. 

To understand how victims’ fears relate to prosecution and victim safety, it is important to know that reporting is the gateway to prosecution: Unreported crimes cannot be prosecuted.

Further, many protections for victims require them to go to courthouses. For example, victims may have to physically appear in court to testify during prosecution or to seek civil protection orders

News in 2017 and 2018 that ICE was showing up at courthouses may have confirmed for many victims the immigration-related threats made by their abusers. 

Immigration-related fears are more likely to affect prosecution rates by chilling immigrant victim’s willingness to use the courts and report to law enforcement than deportation of abusers — particularly given that abusers may be U.S. citizens.

Assuming that abusers and victims are both non-citizens propagates myths about immigrant communities and crime — as well as myths that abuse occurs within cultural groups. Such assumptions have created enormous blind spots in our policies and courts. For example, Native American women victimized by non-Native U.S. citizens struggle to this day to get access to justice

Lower rates of reporting and prosecution ultimately leave more abusers in our communities who are not held accountable for their actions and can continue offending. Our communities pay this price — and so do victims. 

For domestic violence victims, the price of immigration-related fears may be nothing short of death. Consider that one woman is shot and killed by a current or former partner every 16 hours.

This number is sure to increase among immigrant women if fears about deportation and legal status cause them to second-guess calling the police in life-threatening situations.

The aftermath of the recent El Paso mass shooting highlighted the very real risk that immigration-related fears can prevent people from accessing needed emergency services.

Instead of doubting what domestic violence victims say about the threats abusers make, we must address their fears. We applaud the public statements made by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and leaders nationally that police in their communities will not cooperate with federal immigration raids.

We urge them to keep repeating these messages to ensure that domestic violence victims can safely call the police and use the courts if they choose to. Victims’ lives depend on it. 

Anne P. DePrince is a professor at the University of Denver’s department of psychology. Her research focuses on the consequences of trauma against women and children. Emily Tofte Nestaval is the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center. Naomi Wright is a fourth-year graduate student at the University of Denver.

Study: Breathing dirty air is like smoking a pack a day

(Credit: Pixabay )


Jason Plautz@Jason_Plautz


Aug. 16, 2019


Dive Brief:

  • Breathing even slightly elevated levels of air pollution can lead to the same sort of lung damage as smoking, according to a new study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. 
  • The study is the largest of its kind and tracked more than 7,000 adults in six major U.S. cities — Chicago, Los Angeles, Baltimore, St. Paul, MN, New York City and Winston-Salem, NC — over the course of a decade. Subjects’ lungs were studied through CT scans and breathing function was studied through spirometry, and compared to air pollution levels recorded by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)monitors.
  • Breathing four pollutants — ground-level ozone, fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxide and black carbon — was found to be associated with increases in emphysema, a lung disease that causes shortness of breath and is most associated with smokers. Just a small increase of three parts per billion of ozone was associated with damage equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes every day for 29 years.

Dive Insight:

With its long scope and robust set of participants, all of whom were healthy at the start of the research, the study is another strong piece of evidence about the dangers of air pollution, especially ozone. It also helps explain why non-smokers exhibit chronic respiratory diseases like emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The health effects were especially pronounced in patients who experienced higher levels of ozone, or smog, the result of mixtures of pollutants in heat.

Although emissions of air pollutants have dropped in recent decades, recent EPA data showed that air quality has actually declined in many major cities. Across 35 cities, days with unhealthy levels of ozone and fine particulate pollution increased from a combined 706 in 2016 to 799 in 2018, the most since 2012, Reuters reports.

The American Lung Association’s annual State of the Air report found that roughly 40% of the population lives in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution. Cities have seen worsening air quality in part due to wildfires and rising temperatures, since heat is one component of ozone. The findings also come as the Trump administration has rolled back regulations designed to reduce pollution, including from power plants and automobiles.

Still, states and cities have taken steps to clean up the air, especially through transportation. This week, Colorado is debating and is expected to approve a proposal to join California and nine other states in requiring that a certain percentage of cars sold be electric or hybrid. By becoming a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) state, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) estimates that it will cut 300 tons of ozone precursors from cars, helping to clean up the Denver region, which has seen elevated ozone levels. 

Promoting electric vehicles has become a priority in other states with ozone problems, led by California. John Putnam, director of environmental programs for the CDPHE, said on a press call that a rising population and increased traffic were eroding some of Denver’s clean air gains, and the ZEV mandate was a way to tackle “some of the tougher, more persistent issues.”

JAMA, Association Between Long-term Exposure to Ambient Air Pollution and Change in Quantitatively Assessed Emphysema and Lung Function