SOMETIMES YOU JUST HAVE TO LEAVE SANTA MONICA.
If the traffic allows, of course. Which it doesn’t. So we all weigh the import of that trip to Hollywood or downtown LA or, God forbid, the Valley. Lunch with God, perhaps, or Magic Johnson, Jon Stewart, Scarlett Johansson or the Pope, Beatles reunion, not much else.

Unless you were listening to music with a passion in the ’70s you may not be familiar with Leon Russell. I won’t go into why he matters so much; his accomplishments and accolades are almost endless but if you don’t feel like Googling just take my word for it.

Therefore I girded my traffic loins and gave it a good two hours to get downtown two weeks ago for the screening of his never-released 1975 Les Blank documentary, “A Poem is a Naked Person,” at the sumptuous old United Artists theater in the Ace Hotel.

I wouldn’t have pried myself loose from Santa Monica for just the movie: Leon himself was going to be there, for a Q&A with star musician-producer T Bone Burnett. Can’t top that.

Turns out you could, because although I have the highest respect for T Bone’s impressive body of work, he admitted right off that he had not prepared for the Q&A and had no idea what he would ask. That was soon painfully obvious.

But here’s the long and short of it. Leon’s a little hard of hearing and needs a cane, but is in great shape otherwise, mentally sharp as ever, and much funnier than I knew him to be. All great news. Despite Burnett’s bungling there was a lot of fascinating, precious info that was revealed that night by this cornerstone musician, songwriter and band wrangler. The doc itself was a product of its time and of Les Blank’s proclivities, worth seeing but hardly up there as one of the best rock docs ever, as was hyped.

GOT MILK, BUT NOT UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE YET
You think it’s history now, with the affirming Supreme Court decision? The miraculous Affordable Care Act (ACA/”Obamacare”) is a huge, historic step, but just the first step to real health assurance in this country.

Just last Friday there were two stories in the LA Times Business section that illustrate how far we still need to go.

The first was about out-of-network bills. That doctor or surgeon who worked on you in the hospital that your plan covers – surprise! He’s out-of-network, and sending you a whopper of a bill. It’s called “balance billing” and even though California has strong laws protecting consumers, still, one in four of us will get that shocker bill in the mail, reports Consumers Union. I got one for five figures – the bill for heart surgery that gives you a heart attack – and it took maddening months to send it where it should have been sent.

The other story was about Aetna being slammed for “price gouging” when it raised rates by 21 percent July 1 on small employers. But, poor dears, they had not had a rate increase since May (yes, two months ago), 19 percent, way back then. But after all, Aetna is kind of strapped, after paying $37B to acquire Humana, and they’re chasing Cigna, so… somebody’s got to pay for their competitive edge.

Our director of the California Dept. of Managed Health Care, Shelley Rouillard, stated that out of six “unreasonable” rate increases her agency has criticized since 2011, four were from Aetna, all in the last two years. She said she worries that mergers reward investors at the expense of consumers. (Well – it seems to work out that way in every economic field, even though the swallowing and swallowed companies tell you with straight-faced spokespersons that it will result in savings that will be passed on to the consumer. Or, actually, I think the wording is always, “savings that can be passed on to the consumer.”)

But Rouillard can’t do a thing but quote statistics and criticize, since voters overwhelmingly rejected Prop 45 last year, which would have allowed regulators to block such excessive rate hikes. Lost overwhelmingly? How could that happen? Do you suppose any insurance company money hit the election, to confuse the issues, to make all those people vote against their safeguard, against their own best interests? Nah, that’s never happened, not in our democracy.

Aetna rejected Rouillard’s request to forego the increase. What a surprise. Their spokeswoman said, “We are making every effort to maintain an affordable array of products.”

The problem here, folks, is real simple. It’s insurance companies. They are very expensive middlemen who are completely unnecessary. Medicare and Medicaid, despite some inevitable corruption that is so far below the level of the gouging of the insurance companies it doesn’t even compare, have for half a century proved the government can deliver single payer health care that works so well, saves so many lives and homes and families, that no one in their right mind would think of junking it. (Republicans, of course, do.)

If you want to hear this from experts, from doctors, the perfect place is right here in Santa Monica, this Sunday.

A garden party fundraiser honoring Medicare’s 50th birthday is being held this Sunday, July 26, 2-5 p.m., at 939 San Vicente Blvd. The home and grounds are lovely, the food outstanding, there will be live music and fascinating folk to converse with. $50 donation, tickets at medicare50pnhpla.eventbrite.com, or possibly at the event.

Our US Rep. Ted Lieu will be there, and our Mayor Kevin McKeown. I will be there and Kinky Friedman most likely will not, but come anyway.

JON MANN, WHAT DID I EVER DO TO YOU?
I treated you more kindly than most. Though I can’t remember why. So now you besmirch my reputation by leaving me off your SMDP columnist hit list, in your letter of last week?

I guess I needed to call you names. I would have if you had called me a Republican, or questioned my sense of humor. But alas, I’m an also-ran in your book of insults, not worthy to knock.

I must be doing something wrong.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I’ll love you in a place where there’s no space and time, I’ll love you for my life, you are a friend of mine.” – Leon Russell

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for almost 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com

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