Nel's New Day

March 25, 2017

Health Care Won—At Least for Now

Eighteen days ago, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) talked to reporters about the newly introduced health plan written behind closed doors, probably by aides:

 “We will have 218 votes. This is the beginning of the legislative process. We’ll have 218 when this thing comes to the floor. I can guarantee you that.”

Yesterday, just seven years and one day after the Affordable Care Act was passed, the GOP plan, distorted during the past few days by providing even fewer services than the original, died. House Republicans had entered over 50 bills to kill the ACA, many of them passing after the GOP gained a majority in the chamber, but Ryan was positive that the GOP takeover of both Congress and the executive branch would guarantee his success. Yet the Party of No is helpless in the face of Yes. Their work involved no stakeholders, and Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) followed his usual pattern of bullying threats instead of actually selling the bill.

Massive loud protests against the repeal of the health plan, steadily growing in popularity, pushed more moderate representatives to vote against the bill for fear of retaliation in their own district from people who would lose coverage. The Koch brothers’ promised to defend anyone voting no when they ran for re-election after DDT said that no voters would lose the next election. By the end of the debacle, only 17 percent of voters supported Ryan’s plan.

DDT blinked and lost the game of chicken. He canceled the vote rather than suffer the embarrassment of losing, but it’s obvious that he lost. With no experience or clout to lead his party, DDT lobbied 120 congressional members, “left everything on the field” in negotiations, and lost. In his ghost-written book The Art of the Deal, DDT claimed, “You have to be very rough and very tough with most contractors or they’ll take the shirt right off you’re back.” He repeats that the negotiator needs “to be willing to walk away or, more precisely, convince the people you’re negotiating with that you are.” DDT didn’t realize that legislators aren’t contractors. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) did a training session for the House Freedom Caucus on DDT’s book, complete with poster.

During his campaign, DDT managed to con voters into believing that he knows “the art of the deal,” that he can be the closer. Ezra Klein explains why DDT as president is a loser:

“Trump is not a guy who makes particularly good deals so much as a guy who makes a lot of deals — many of which lash his name and reputation to garbage products…. He licenses his brand and lets others worry about the details of the products. Trump’s partners often end up going out of business and his customers often end up disappointed, but Trump makes some money, and he gets his name out there, and it’s all good.”

DDT wasn’t alone in the Trumpcare con; he had company from Ryan, who Paul Krugman called “The Flimflam Man.” Ryan lied when he said that Trumpcare would lower premiums, end the “death spiral,” and increase choice. Premiums would have skyrocketed unless people chose junk insurance plans with no coverage, and the extra 24 million people without insurance, along with people who couldn’t afford full coverage, would cause a death spiral. Ryan proposed a tax plan for the rich under the name of health care and failed.

The bill began with a high “age tax”—raising premiums and expenses for older, working adults—and added the “mommy tax” that greatly added expenditures for maternity coverage while diminishing its availability. Asked about people living in a state that doesn’t require maternity coverage in insurance, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney said, “Then you can figure out a way to change the state that you live in.” He clarified his statement by saying he didn’t mean move out of the state but to change the law. Republicans also ridiculed other insurance benefits for over half the nation’s population. For example, Alice Ollstein tweeted about her Kansas senator:

“I asked Sen. Roberts if he supports scrapping Essential Health Benefits. “I wouldn’t want to lose my mammograms,” he snarked.”

Ollstein survived breast cancer discovered during a mammogram for preventative care. These are the people–no estrogen and largely white–who met to decide what services should be cut for women.

[A bit of humor….]

Trumpcare was so bad that Ryan’s only solution in getting it passed was speed. The cruel additions to woo ultra-conservatives by eliminating Essential Health Benefits was added only the day before Ryan hoped to call a vote. Among the items as unnecessary health care are maternity and newborn care, emergency room services, hospitalization, prescription drugs, mental illness care, laboratory services and pediatric services.

DDT’s “skill” is to always blame someone else. Finger-pointing shifted so fast that digits blurred. DDT with DDT’s his chief of staff Reince Priebus and Ryan, accusing them of faulty content and bad timing. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price also got blamed because he was put in the job to pass Trumpcare—although DDT assigned that job to Mulvaney. DDT claimed he wanted to start with tax reform that would have been “far less controversial.” (We’ll see!) Ryan was a popular scapegoat on the Fox network. The Wall Street Journal blamed the House Freedom Caucus for their “insisting on the impossible over the achievable,” and DDT took after this group too, telling them that he would tell their constituents that they were voting in favor of Planned Parenthood.

Despite 34 no votes from Republican representatives, DDT ultimately settled on the Democrats publicly when he whined that not one of them voted for Trumpcare, despite his failure to ask them for support. DDT and the GOP will continue to exaggerate any problems of the ACA, and the media will most likely focus on problems rather than the successes because a train-wreck films better than a satisfied person.  The GOP may also try to sabotage efforts to improve the ACA.

DDT is failing in office for the same reason that he succeeded in his campaign—weak party leadership. In a little over a day, he took a bill that no one likes and made it worse while alienating more members of his own party. In addition, he may have broken the law in his last-ditch try to save it. Tweets asking DDT supporters to call their representatives to save Trumpcare were sent by White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr, the official @POTUS account, and DDT’s personal account. The use of federal dollars, including paid White House Staff, in directly lobbying Congress to support or oppose a bill is against federal law. Press Secretary Sean Spicer used the Nixonian approach toward law by saying that the law is “not applicable to the president.” Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, disagrees because of the direct appeal to contact representatives in support of Trumpcare.

Hillary Clinton had a grand time tweeting the victories of people who need and like the “Obamacare” that DDT has daily excoriated in his daily message. Watching her is a reminder of how close the United State was to having a president who could “keep America great.”

DDT, Ryan, and the far-right Republicans aren’t the only losers with the downfall of Trumpcare. The wealthy won’t get their billions in tax cuts, and Wall Street won’t get the wealthy’s extra money. Insurance companies are also the losers, outside keeping funding for Medicaid. Big corporations would rejoice over getting rid of consumer protection rules that would have allowed them to vastly increase sales, marketing, and IRS deductions while selling junk insurance that wouldn’t have those “essential benefits”—like hospitalization.

One winner is DDT because Trumpcare would have lost over 1.2 million jobs—some people say as many as two million—that would have hurt his desire to be seen as the “jobs president.” GOP senators are winners because they don’t have to cast any votes on health care, at least in the immediate future. And constituents of Rep. Greg Walden, leader of the committee trying to destroy health care, are winners. In his rural district comprising two-thirds of Oregon, Trumpcare would have taken health insurance from 64,300 of his 684,200 constituents, almost ten percent of the people he represents. The remaining residents would have had far less access to the rural hospitals that need ACA money to stay open.

The next step is for Democrats to fight DDT’s “tax reform” shifting millions to himself and his wealthy friends. Meanwhile Democrats can introduce bills for improving ACA. The GOP won’t vote for them, but people will see that it can be fixed—and maybe vote blue in the next election.

March 14, 2017

Trumpcare: The GOP Killer Plan

The Congressional Budget Office has come out with the numbers for Trumpcare (excuse me, The American Health Care Act), and here’s the good news. The deficit could be lowered by $33.7 billion a year. Of course, that accomplishment come from moving costs to the state as well as taking people off Medicaid and government subsidies. For example, Oregon will have to pay 35 percent of health costs instead of the 95 percent that the federal government now covers.

The bad news for Trumpcare by the numbers:

  • 54 million individuals uninsured in ten years, double projections for ACA, according to a leaked White House analysis.
  • 24 million fewer people with coverage by next year.
  • 14 million more uninsured people in one year.
  • 14 million fewer people with Medicaid coverage in 10 years.
  • 7 million fewer people with employer-sponsored coverage in 10 years.
  • 2 million fewer people not buying health insurance each year.
  • 15-20 percent higher premiums in the first year than with ACA.
  • $880 billion cut from Medicaid over 10 years.
  • 15 percent of low income people without services to help women avert pregnancy because of defunding Planned Parenthood that results in thousands of more births. (Savings of $178 million for no care for these women would be offset by increase in Medicaid that pays for 45 percent of all U.S. births.)

Older Americans pay “substantially” more. At the same time, Trumpcare also takes away from the Medicare fund, causing it to become insolvent three or four years earlier than formerly projected unless positive action is taken.

Health insurance companies are encouraged to pay CEOs more because Trumpcare removes the ACA limit on corporate tax deductions for compensation. Under ACA, health insurance companies could deduct only $500,000 of the pay for each top executive making deductions for the companies only 27 percent instead of 96 percent. This limitation has been enough to buy dental insurance under the ACA for 262,000 people or pay the silver plan deductibles for 28,000. The 10 biggest insurance companies paid their top 57 executives a total of $300 in 2013. The provision to give them back the 96 percent was buried in six lines on p. 67, and even Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services, seemed unaware of it until reporters inquired.

Republicans, claiming to be the part of smaller government, also have a provision in Trumpcare that employees without genetic testing as part of their workplace wellness programs can face large penalties in premiums. Existing federal laws don’t have this power because genetic privacy is protected. For example, the Kaiser Family Foundation could charge an additional $5,443 in annual premiums employer-sponsored family health coverage.

An oddity in Trumpcare is its obsession with lottery players, mentioned 11 times, the same number as Medicaid. Six of the 67 pages in the replacement plan focus on lottery winnings. Anyone getting at least $80,000 from the lottery or lotto would be kicked off Medicaid. To give you an idea of the savings, Michigan’s plan, withholding part of lotto winnings over $1,000 and not $80,000—saved $2 million.

Republicans have spent lots of time and energy criticizing the mandate that everyone purchase insurance. Trumpcare’s new system allows insurance companies to charge a 30-percent penalty after a break in purchasing coverage. It’s still a penalty: the only difference is that the money goes to insurance companies and not to the government. It also threatens destabilization of the individual insurance market.

Geographically, Trumpcare is disastrous for DDT supporters. The plan’s elimination of 0.9 percent for additional Medicare tax on wages and 3.8 percent surtax on investment income are only people in the top income stratum. John McCormick’s independent analysis of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) plan for Bloomberg states:

“Counties that backed him would get less than a third of the relief that would go to counties where Hillary Clinton won. The two individual tax cuts contained in the Republican plan to replace Obamacare apply only to high-earning workers and investors, roughly those with incomes of at least $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for married couples. Taxpayers in counties that backed Trump would see an annual windfall of about $6.6 billion, (an) analysis of Internal Revenue Service data shows. In counties that backed Clinton, it’d be about $21.9 billion.”

The refund of this tax to the wealthy is what keeps the deficit reduction only $33.7 million when the massive cuts to benefits, including Medicaid, should come to much more. Getting rid of ACA’s taxes and annual fees would reduce revenues to the federal government by $592 billion over ten years. Just one person in the top 0.01 percent, for example, will get an extra $197,000 if the bill passes, and people in the top one percent will each get $33,000.

How Trumpers—and people at the same income level—will suffer from Trumpcare: A 64-year-old person with an annual income of $26,500 pays $1,700 a year in annual insurance premiums. Trumpcare will change that annual premium to $14,600 for equivalent insurance. The math makes it an increase of $12,900.

Ryan has made two strategic problems. He tried to push the bill through the House in three weeks; the ACA took over 16 months to pass after four months of groundwork. He also failed to involve any stakeholders. To pass ACA, Democrats developed support by convening health-care groups, largely the same groups that now strongly oppose Trumpcare. In retaliation, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) is trying to minimize opposition from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) as just another flawed interest group. Their 37 million members comprise over one-third of the U.S. population over 50 years of age and are likely to be DDT voters. Bush’s 2005 struggle to privatize Social Security failed after AARP’s opposition.

http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/why-the-white-house-isnt-sharing-health-care-numbers-its-own?cid=eml_mra_20170314   The White House has its own analysis of Trumpcare. A leaked report from Office of Management and Budget (OMB) shows numbers are even grimmer than those from CBO with 26 million people losing coverage within the next decade instead of CBO’s 24 million. Although the White House called that report wrong, it hasn’t released anything in its place. GOP-confirmed OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, in charge of the health care legislation instead of the Secretary of Health, called the CBO estimates “just absurd” and said that “I don’t believe facts are correct.” DDT may have moved Price because Mulvaney, a founding member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus and former South Carolina U.S. representative, is more conservative than either Ryan or Price.

Congress may also take both health insurance and pensions from retired coal miners. After 22,600 miners retired, the company in charge of their health care gave it to another company that declared bankruptcy and was relieved of responsibility for retiree health care. Both companies finally agreed to pay into a special fund for retiree health care benefits, but one of them stopped contributing. In addition, UMWA’s multi-employer pension plan, serving more than 90,000 retirees and their widows, became severely underfunded. The Miners Protection Act (MPA) uses federal funds to pay for threatened health benefits and strength the pension plan, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blocked its inclusion for his own constituents in an omnibus budget bill. The four-month extension of health benefits is due to expire on May 1, 2017 if Congress doesn’t act on the bill. Democrats wrote DDT for support in January, but he didn’t respond.

Yesterday Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) talked to some of these miners during a panel discussion in West Virginia. One of them thanked Sanders for his support regarding the bill and said to applause:

“I never dreamt that I’d get to thank you personally for the bill that you are co-sponsoring. I’m one of those miners that will lose his health care at the end of April if they don’t pass that law. I think it’s kind of ironic that a senator from the northeast takes care of my benefits better than someone like Mitch McConnell.”

Sanders told the crowd:

“The Republican bill, it should not be seen as a health care bill, because throwing millions of people off of health care [is not] health care legislation. What it should be seen as is a huge tax break for the wealthiest people in this country.”

Two months ago, DDT promised “insurance for everybody.” He and other Republicans claim insurance access to all—probably the same way that everyone has access to buy a Mercedes-Benz but don’t have the money. Price claimed that Trumpcare would “cover more individuals at a lower cost.” The only way that they can be right is for people to be consigned to crappy insurance plans that may not even cover hospital costs, just as they were before the ACA. To show how obvious DDT is about killing ACA, he sent out an email asking people to “share your Obamacare disaster story.” They have no interest in any success stories or needs from “hard-working Americans like you,” but people have been sending them anyway.

The clearest description of Trumpcare has been provided by comedian John Oliver..

 

February 28, 2017

Whither Health Care?

Filed under: Health Care — trp2011 @ 8:29 PM
Tags: , , ,

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) swears that he has unity among the GOP Congress and executive branch for the proposed health care plan, but reality shows a different picture. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) said that he will have his own plan in two weeks although tonight’s speech gave the feeling that he agreed in someways with the GOP program. GOP Sens. Rand Paul (KY), Ted Cruz (TX), and Mike Lee (UT) want only a full repeal of Obamacare, and Paul called GOP plans “Obamacare lite.” The three senators met with House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker (R-NC) who also vigorously opposed colleagues’ plans, especially on the tax credits. Members of Freedom Caucus and the Republican Study Committee had met with the far-right Heritage Foundation in early February and agreed that the solution was the 2015 repeal bill without any replacement plans. Meadows and Walker announced that they could not recommend votes for the proposed bill without “substantial changes.”

Republicans from the DDT on down have consistently promised the people of the United States a better deal for health care than the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and after years of meaningless repeals, the rubber is hitting the road. What are their plans? Drop coverage, raise prices, and take out every advantage of the health insurance now on the books. And drop all the taxes the raise funds for the ACA.

The replacement as of late February:

Replace subsidies with tax credits based on age instead of income. Under age 30, the credit would be $2,000 and double for those over 60. Wealthy elders, such as Bill Gates worth $83 billion, would get twice as much as poor young people. The ACA tax credit was adjusted by income, age, and the average price of insurance in a person’s market. An example of the importance of the ACA system is Alaska, where people receive double the tax credits as those in the rest of the country because of its scarcity of coverage in a frontier population. Other problematic areas are the rural counties and states in the interior and western frontier, DDT land.

Replace the existing Medicaid expansion in 2020 with capped state payments based on the number of Medicaid enrollees. The current plan provides for eligibility expansion for people who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line. The elimination of federal funds would damage the abilities of states to cope with populations in health crises, such as coal miners in Kentucky and West Virginia; deal with natural catastrophes and outbreaks such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina; and combat human-caused disasters such as the HIV outbreak in southern Indiana after Republicans, including then Gov. Mike Pence refused a clean needle exchange. The GOP plan would also jeopardize coverage for 11 million people who have gained it under the ACA.

Democratic governors and the GOP governors who accepted the expansion are opposed to this measure. The Republican governors who didn’t take the expansion are afraid they’ll get less under the plan than the states that did—and they may be right. At any rate, the plan will cost states billions of dollars that they don’t have.

Provide $100 billion in “state innovation grants” for extremely expensive enrollees. The intent is to cover some of the “pre-existing condition” population without the protections as in the Affordable Care Act.

Leave decisions about mandatory or essential benefits to the states. They could eliminate insurance for such health needs as mental health services, annual exams, prenatal and maternity care, pediatric care, and birth control.

Cap the tax exemption for employer sponsored insurance at the 90th percentile of current premiums and tax amounts above that benefit. This sounds like a good idea until you figure that employees will just pass their costs on to their employees without giving them a wage increase.

Allow insurers to charge older customers up to five times as much as their younger counterparts, an increase from the existing three times as much in premiums.

Assess penalties for people who let their coverage lapse and then decide to enroll with a 30-percent boost in premiums for a year. People who cannot afford to keep paying premiums if they suffer sudden hardship would be punished by this part of the bill. This would also allow people to not buy health insurance and then have no money for health care no matter what happens.

Defund Planned Parenthood to make more women get pregnant.

Allow people to decide if they want health insurance.

On Last Week Tonight, comedian John Oliver broke down an explanation of the GOP plan into four categories: refundable tax credits, high risk pools, block grants, and health savings accounts. None of these ideas will actually work, Oliver argues, breaking them down in financial terms—they all share the same “thong problem.” His view of the GOP’s plan—and pitfalls—is well worth watching.

Missing from the Republican plan is the provision that health care insurance remain “affordable.” The plan benefits people with good health and wealth as well as penalizing areas with disasters or emerging health problems. Rural areas would suffer more because this population relies more heavily on public insurance than people in cities.

Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) doubts that the GOP can manage a full repeal and replace of Obamacare. He predicts a few fixes to the existing ACA, not a bad idea if the fixes help people:

“In the 25 years that I served in the United States Congress, Republicans never, ever, one time agreed on what a health care proposal should look like. Not once. And all this happy talk that went on in November and December and January about repeal, repeal, repeal—yeah, we’ll do replace, replace—I started laughing, because if you pass repeal without replace, first, anything that happens is your fault. You broke it.”

Basically, “GOPcare” supports the “coastal elites” over Middle America that voted for Dictator Donald Trump. Until faced with reality, DDT claimed that his health care would be far better than the existing program. His meeting with governors and insurance CEOs provided insight into his confusion. “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.” Actually almost everyone except the current president understood the complexity of health care.

DDT’s current solution is to allow Obamacare to “implode” and then blame the Democrats and President Obama. As DDT continues to declare the ACA a “failed disaster,” popularity for the program is steadily increasing. A poll in mid-February shows that 54 percent of people surveyed approve of the law while only 43 percent disapprove. And of those who disapprove of the ACA, one-fourth of them want the current law to be changed while only 17 percent want to completely get rid of ACA.

A common Republican claim is that “Obamacare” shackles people to government, and repeal of the health care plan will make them free. Almost 242 years ago, Patrick Henry said some version of “Give me liberty or give me death.” That is the choice that Republicans are pushing onto many people into the United States. The “freedom” of no health care will definitely give many of them death—but legislators aren’t talking about their own death. They’re the ones who already have health care and are wealthy enough that they always have. Almost 30 million people count on the ACA, and that doesn’t include the young people under 26 on their parents’ policies and the people on Medicare who have some benefits from the ACA. These are the people who will suffer from the congressional decision to give them “freedom.”

January 14, 2017

GOP Health Care Plan: Take from the Poor, Give to the Rich

Filed under: Health Care — trp2011 @ 10:17 PM
Tags: , ,

Without a replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), 24 million people who gained health insurance under the law may lose it. Donald Trump (DT) has promised that no one will lose any health insurance, but GOP members of the Congress aren’t backing up his guarantee.

While the Republicans plan to take health care from the poor, they give tax cuts to the rich. The top 1 percent of earners would get an average tax cut of $33,000 if the ACA is repealed, and those in the top 0.1 percent would get an average cut of $197,000. Repealing ACA’s taxes removes the 0.9 percent Medicare payroll surtax on wages above $200,000 ($150 billion) and the 3.8 percent surtax on investment income above the same threshold ($250 billion). That $800 billion increase in the deficit is about half the loss.

Another quarter of the revenue loss comes from repealing various fees on insurance companies, medical device companies, and drug manufacturers. About $450 billion of the $1.10 trillion of costs in repealing the ACA’s Medicare comes from reversing Medicare Advantage cuts. Another $500 billion would come from ending reductions in the growth of provider payments in fee-for-service Medicare. This is just for future cuts. If past cuts are reversed, about $200 billion to $250 billion more would be lost. In addition, Paul Ryan is struggling to pay for his planned $6 trillion tax cut for the wealthy.

Major losers from an ACA repeal are small business owners. With self-employed people, they represent 50 percent out of ACA customers.

While the GOP wants to repeal the ACA within a month, DT said at a news conference Wednesday in New York City that a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act would wait until after Secretary of Health and Human Services nominee Rep. Tom Price of Georgia wins confirmation.

But the chairman of a key committee involved in both repeal-replace and confirming Price said his confirmation may not take place until around the President’s Day recess in February. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) also doesn’t want to make decisions until he consults with governors who will be in town around Presidents’ Day. Several GOP governors are joining Democrats to oppose the repeal.

health-chart

As Republicans blithely refer to Obamacare repeal, they probably don’t know how many people are covered by the ACA. The above chart shows the health status of people in the U.S. a year ago. Since then, Medicaid has increased from 71 million to about 74.4 million, largely from Louisiana expanding the program.

  • Green sections covering 46 percent of the nation are for government employees, including the military.
  • Orange sections are for Medicare—also threatened—plus Medicaid Advantage and Disability (under 65 years old).
  • Burgundy sections are NON-ACA Medicaid: Adults, Children and CHIP.
  • Blue sections are the greatest areas impacted by the ACA: Medicaid/CHIP expansion, the subsidized individual market exchange enrollees, and BHP enrollees in New York & Minnesota.
  • Yellow sections are the unsubsidized individual market. These people are enrolled in the ACA exchange but paying full price and off-exchange.
  • Gray/silver section is miscellaneous: the Indian Health Service, Student plans, NY’s ‘Child Health Plus’ program, etc.
  • Red sections are those still uninsured, down to about  27 million people. It includes people ineligible for either Medicaid or the exchange in 19 GOP states and undocumented immigrants. Others earn too much for ACA subsidies or cannot get them because of their employers.

In December House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said, “We will give everyone access to affordable health-care coverage.” He added that pre-existing conditions are “a very important feature of any health-care system.” DT’s counselor Kellyanne Conway promised that DT will keep the pre-existing conditions. That, of course, was before the GOP senators voted against it along with other health care provisions to help people. Ryan also promised that the GOP will ensure that “no one is worse off.”

At his press conference this week, DT described his replacement model:

“They can say what they want, they can guide you anyway they wanna guide you. In some cases, they guide you incorrectly. In most cases, you realize what’s happened, it’s imploding as we sit.”

He also made the promise that “we’re going to have a health care that is far less expensive and far better.” He didn’t answer the question about whether everyone covered now will continue to have coverage.

In a letter to the Oregonian (January 14, 2017), Terry Weiss of Philomath superbly explained the idiocy of the proposed health care repeal:

“If a little old lady in Oregon can figure this out, why can’t someone in Washington? Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare account for thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to healthcare providers and suppliers. If any or all are removed, many thousands of living wage jobs will be lost and millions of dollars in income will vanish. Tax losses will be huge to federal and state budgets. If you can’t wrap your mind around the human aspect—letting people die or go untreated for illnesses and injuries—surely the enormous negative effect on the economy should make you pause.

“Spend billions of dollars dismantling a functional and economical system with only three percent overhead to administer Medicaid and medicare. Then spend more billions putting together another system that is untested and unknown and will take place to put in place. This is efficient government spending?

“I can’t figure out why the first order of business for this Congress and president is to tank the economy and take aay living-wage jobs. The opposite of the promises made by one and all. I known campaign promises tend to be less than truthful, but this is unbelievable. Where are the political commentators, representatives of the medical industrial complex, DEOs, and decent human beings?”

As another “little old lady” in Oregon, I worry about the IQ and common sense of the people who are leading our government. For example, Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) suggested that people shouldn’t go to the doctor immediately with an illness or injury. He proudly cited his own experience by making his son wait a day to go to the emergency room for an arm injury. He saved money, but the arm was broken. According to Huizenga, that’s the reason that people shouldn’t get money for health care. Without necessary insurance, they could just wait until the next day—or perhaps longer.

This level of stupidity is not new. Former House Majority Leader dick Armey (R-TX), leader and instigator of the Tea Party, said, “The largest empirical problem we have in health care today is too many people are too over-insured.” That was when almost 40 million people lacked health insurance.

People who complain about the high cost of insurance refuse to accept the fact that the private market is driving up costs. Medicare, a government program, saw its costs rise by an average of 1.4 percent from 2010 to 2015, less than half the cost increase for private insurers even after the ACA forced them to charge less for “administrative costs.” As the above letter stated, these costs are three percent while the ACA allows private insurers to spend up to 20 percent–and that’s less than in the past.

A year ago Paul Ryan signed legislation to repeal the ACA and cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood. The bill didn’t succeed, but Ryan and his colleagues had a good time taking away health care for 24 million people. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images [visual]

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 07:  Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) (3rd L) shares a laugh with Republican members of Congress after signing legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and to cut off federal funding of Planned Parenthood during an enrollment ceremony in the Rayburn Room at the U.S. Capitol January 7, 2016 in Washington, DC. President Barack Obama has promised to veto the bill.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***

Obamacare has been a success: fewer people are uninsured; hospitals’ uncompensated care costs have fallen by over 50 percent;  overall national health spending as a share of GDP has dropped faster than predicted; the growth in spending on health needs has slowed to one-third of the average in the early 2000s; the increase in premiums is only 60 percent of the average during the ten years before the ACA; and “Obamacare” is more popular. Even little old ladies know that.

January 13, 2017

So How’s That Obamacare Repeal Going?

Why did people hate the Affordable Care Act, a law that helped people have better health care and live longer? Conservative leadership fed lies to their constituents—like this one from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) at a town-hall event this week–because they feared a Democratic plan would be popular. Ryan’s mistake was taking a question from a man who owns a small business in a red state, worked for the Reagan and Bush campaigns, and opposed the ACA. That was before the ACA saved his life after his life-threatening cancer was treated, thanks to “Obamacare.” Jeff Jeans said, “I want to thank President Obama from the bottom of my heart because I would be dead if it weren’t for him.”

Ryan’s response? The flat-out lie that the ACA is a “death spiral” because people won’t buy insurance when it gets too expensive.  If Ryan were right, enrollment numbers would be dropping. But instead they’re skyrocketing. The proportion of young adults is steady, proving that the mix of people enrolling this year is less likely to be sicker and more expensive. And this is happening despite the uncertainty about the future of health care for the people in the United States, thanks to the unhealthy obsession in the GOP Congress about a repeal.  Lies are failing with the public, however, because 75 percent object to repealing if there isn’t even a replacement.

Today, the U.S. House began their process of destroying health care for the millions and millions of people in the United States. A vote of 227-198 with only nine GOP defectors approved the budget resolution that the Senate passed in the dark of night earlier this week. The bill doesn’t specifically address the ACA, but the passed “budget reconciliation” is needed to kill off the ACA because of the danger from a Senate filibuster.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) warned that their action could send insurance markets into a collapse. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) tweeted, “Most massive budget in U.S. history passed 227-198. It adds more than $9 TRILLION to the debt over the next decade.” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) argued that the House had to pass the bill because they had campaigned on it.

The Senate vote allowed non-binding amendments showing the chamber’s position. These are positions that the GOP Senate oppose:

Protect people with pre-existing conditions: 52 million people in the U.S.—25 percent of non-elderly people—have pre-existing conditions. Before ACA, they were frequently denied any coverage. Only two Republicans voted in support of keeping these conditions in a health care plan.

Let young adults stay on their parents’ plan: Over six million young people 26 years old and younger have gained health insurance since this plan went into effect in 2010. Surveys show 85-percent approval of this provision. Again only two Republicans support this condition.

Maintain access to contraceptive coverage: The ACA has caused spending on contraceptive health care to drop 20 percent. Only two Republicans vote in favor of this amendment.

Ensure Medicaid expansion stays in place: 11 million low-income people benefited from this provision in 2015, and thousands of jobs were created for direct care workers.  Republicans unanimously defeated this amendment.

Protect children on Medicaid or CHIP: GOP Senators blocked this amendment.

Protect veterans’ health care: Republicans blocked an amendment to make it harder to restrict veterans’ access to VA health care.

Republicans demonstrated that they oppose insurance that requires pre-existing conditions, puts children up through age 26 on the parents’ policy, provides free contraceptive care, helps low-income people and children, and protects veterans. These are the leaders who want to take people’s health care: Vice President-elect Mike Pence with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. John Barrasso (AP Photo/Cliff Owen).

health-care-killers

The public opposition to ACA repeal began when more and more people understood that the congressional goal was to take away health care without any new plan. Sen Bob Corker warned that repeal without replacement would be “not very appealing.” Even ultra-conservative Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) asked for a replacement “game plan.” Passing the repeal/replacement also requires 60 votes in the Senate because of the filibuster.

The derailing of the grand repeal plan began just four days after the GOP Congress took over the country. That’s when Republicans determined that the GOP project to Make America Sick Again would cost more than four times than the extremely expensive Iraq War while it kills millions of private sector jobs. Republicans had a solution: hide the cost of their repeal. Page 25 of the new rules package passed by GOP House members stated that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) should estimate the cost over $5 trillion—except Obamacare. Unfortunately, that plan didn’t work either: the word got out that what the GOP calls an “appropriate” level of public debt is actually an unnecessary anti-job debt spike.

Add to that problem Ryan’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood through a bill to repeal Obamacare, and the bill riled more conservatives. Two moderate female GOP senators opposed this suggestion, and the program is highly popular throughout the nation.

Some of the most conservative senators—Rand Paul (R-KY), Bob Corker (R-TN), and Tom Cotton (R-AR) for example—are reluctant to vote for the repeal because of the increasing deficit. Paul wants an immediate repeal but isn’t happy about the $10 trillion dollars added to the deficit. Even ultra-conservative Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Health Committee, declared that it’s not smart to repeal without a replacement.  Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and John McCain (R-AZ) don’t like Repeal without Replace. Six dubious senators will put the 48 Democrats opposing the repeal to a majority of the chamber. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) might join them because she, like Collins, doesn’t like the idea of defunding Planned Parenthood.

The repeal is rapidly coming to a head because GOP leadership wants to force the development of legislation by January 27. Wanting to postpone the deadline until March 3 are at least five GOP senators: Bill Cassidy (LA ), Susan Collins (ME), Bob Corker (TN), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Rob Portman (OH).

Congressional Republicans are also facing opposition from GOP governors. John Kasich (OH) and Rick Snyder (MI) have already complained about the loss of Medicaid. Kasich said the hospitals need Medicaid that “has worked very well in this state.” He said that the program covers 700,000 of his residents; Snyder agreed when talking about his 642,000 people in Michigan. Other GOP governors opposing the repeal thus far are Charlie Baker (MA),  Asa Hutchinson (AR), and Brian Sandoval (NV).

Kasich eloquently expressed his concern:

“Let’s just say they just got rid of it, didn’t replace it with anything.” What happens to the 700,000 people [in Ohio]? What happens to drug treatment? What happens to mental health counseling? What happens to these people who have very high cholesterol and are victims from a heart attack? What happens to them?”

The GOP desire to balance the federal budget occurs only with Democratic presidents. Republican legislators showed no longing for “fiscal responsibility” during the Reagan/Bush years. Under Clinton, their need for zero deficit returned, but unfortunately for them, Clinton showed a surplus by the end of his two terms. In the two following Bush/Cheney terms, Republicans asserted that “deficits don’t matter.” They ran up trillions of costs for two wars, two tax-cut packages, Medicare expansion, and the Wall Street bailout.

During the two terms of Democratic President Obama, conservatives screamed about the ballooning deficit set in place by his predecessor. The GOP even lowered the credit rating of the United States and then closed down the country because of their demand for a balanced budget. With a prospective GOP president, the majority of GOP Congressional legislators started to repeal a law vastly increasing the deficit, a law that keeps people alive. Their plans would put the public debt to at least $29.1 trillion by 2016, according to the budget resolution they passed.

People are already losing jobs because of the GOP’s declaration that they will “repeal Obamacare.” The loss of health care for millions of people is already sending shock waves throughout the $3 trillion-a-year health system. Hospitals estimate that the repeal will cost them $165 billion within five years and trigger “an unprecedented public health crisis” if sick people can’t get care. The Advisory Board Company, providing services to health care firms, has already laid off 200 people partly because hospitals vastly decreased spending after the election.

With much lower health coverage, hospitals and health providers could find themselves on the hook for up to $1.1 trillion for uncompensated care in the next decade, causing the collapse of finances in hospitals serving needy populations. Their only solution would be to curtail services and reduce workforce, impacting health care access even for the insured. Illinois alone would suffer a loss of 95,000 jobs and $13.1 billion. Forty percent of the state’s hospitals are already in the red or close to it.

The question is whether the GOP can get over its gridlock and lack of bipartisanship to pass a “repeal and replace” law. I wouldn’t bet on it.

December 8, 2016

FDA’s Losses

I’m addicted to The Rachel Maddow Show, as anyone who knows me can tell you. She’s one of the very few bright lights since November 9, 2016. Last night she had a particularly spectacular segment on Donald Trump’s (DT) proposal for the head of the Food and Drug Administration. As we’ve watch the attempted destruction of the United States through DT’s nominees, this one—hard as it may be to believe—seems to stand out.

The transition team is considering Jim O’Neill, a managing director for Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel’s Capital Management. Thiel himself is an interesting figure who believes that the United States was destroyed in the 1920s when women got the vote. Last summer he was the first openly LGBT person to speak at the GOP convention and endorsed the platform that opposes hate-crime laws, HIV funding, and appropriate bathroom use by transgender people, calling it a “distraction.” At the same time, he supports laws to deny services to LGBT people.

Thiel pays students to drop out of college and sponsored Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against the Gawker that outed Thiel almost ten years ago. The lawsuit was an objection to the “damaging way of getting attention by bullying people even when there was no connection with the public interest”—odd when one considers that this is DT’s MO. The co-founder of PayPal donated $1.25 million to DT’s campaign and was appointed to the highly homophobic transition team where he worked with Ken Blackwell who compares homosexuals to arsonists.

But I digress. Back to Jim O’Neill. As a board member of the Thiel-backed Seasteading Institute, he supports creating mini-cities at the bottom of the ocean to save the world from the devastating place that the United States has become. In a 30-minute speech, O’Neill said, “We can all wish that existing governments will somehow stumble into freedom, but if we want to achieve freedom, seasteads are by far the best prospect.” The video of this speech has magically disappeared from the Seasteading website since he was considered for the FDA position but is still available here. Thiel’s reason for Seasteading is to avoid taxes because he could use the “cities” to morph offshore companies into offshore countries with no responsibility or accountability to any government.

With no medical or scientific background, O’Neill thinks that drugs don’t need to be independently tested before they go on the market. Two years ago, he announced that his idea to reform the FDA was “approving drugs after their sponsors have demonstrated safety—and let people start using them, at their own risk, but not much risk of safety. Let’s prove efficacy after they’ve been legalized.” When he was in George W. Bush’s Health and Human Services Department, he opposed the regulation of companies that perform laboratory-developed drug tests with algorithms. Another of O’Neill’s beliefs is that anti-aging medication will reverse aging and that people can live forever.

The FDA has control over regulations for food, drugs, medical devices, dietary supplements, cosmetics, and tobacco—much of the consumption in the U.S. O’Neill claims that the lack of a free market in health care causes negative health consequences that would not occur in a free market. At the same time DT is attacking the free market system. Republicans decry DT’s interference that brought $7 million to Indiana’s Carrier as “crony capitalism” as well as his pride in dropping stock prices for Boeing with one tweet. DT also claims that he will “bring down drug prices,” against causing drops in pharmaceutical stocks.

O’Neill has also said that organ donors should be allowed to be paid. “There are plenty of healthy spare kidneys walking around, unused,” he said in a speech at a 2009 Seasteading conference.

This week, Congress readied the weakening of the FDA for DT by passing the 21st Century Cures Act. On the surface—and from the mainstream media—the public may believe that it should embrace the bill. To do so would ignore the ability of ineffective or dangerous medicines to easily reach people without reining in drug prices. Passing the bill, however, was a given because it funds Vice-President Joe Biden’s “Cancer Moonshot” initiative which covers all the rank stench of its other effects.

Some of the bill’s promises are already in existence, for example a six to ten month turnaround for evaluations of almost all new drug applications. There is also no evidence that current requirements cause higher drug prices. These are some of the negative provisions:

  • The funding for such programs such as addressing the opioid addition is not guaranteed for next year or after that.
  • The promised “patient-focused” drug development merely means that a brief statement about this experience will be made public.
  • Earlier provisions helping the public have disappeared from the final bill: (1) requiring third parties to certify the safety of medical devices after modification by companies; and (2) granting permission for shorter or smaller clinical trials for medical devices.
  • A provision allowing the FDA to use “real world evidence” for drug testing relies on the Secretary’s discretion. (Consider O’Neill’s “discretion” as Secretary of the FDA.)
  • The act eliminates “informed consent” when “the proposed clinical testing poses no more than minimal risk to the human subject and includes appropriate safeguards to protect the rights, safety, and welfare of the human subject.” The FDA gets to decide “minimal risk.”
  • Stem-cell therapies are slightly expedited through cutting back testing and permitting these in the marketplace before they have been proved effective and safe. This provision benefits wealthy Texan Ed Bosarge, who runs a stem-cell firm, gave $3 million to GOP Mitch McConnell’s super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund and donated another $4.7 million to other GOP super PACs since Citizen United.
  • The bonus for the pharmaceutical company is their new ability to promote “off-label” uses of drugs, widely expanding their markets and avoiding the requirement of FDA approval for new indications.
  • The act cuts $3.5 billion, or about 30%, from Obamacare’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, which fosters work to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, hospital-acquired infections and other conditions.

Promoters of the act complained that the FDA acted as a bottleneck for drug companies, but the agency usually acts as a rubber stamp for them: it approved 89 percent of last year’s applications for new drug uses. Lessened scrutiny is demonstrated by such events as the need to pull Merck’s Vioxx, a painkiller and arthritis drug the FDA approved in 1999, five years later because it raised the risk of heart attacks. By then, 88,000 people in the U.S. suffered from heart attacks, and 38,000 of these people died.

Essure, a device implanted in women’s fallopian tubes as an alternative to permanent surgical sterilization and marketed by Bayer, received expedited approval in 2002 based on “two nonrandomized, nonblinded, prospective studies that lacked a [control] group and enrolled a total of 926 women.” Since then, research shows serious potential side effects and concerns that it is not safer than tubal ligations as well as appearing less effective in preventing pregnancy. Essure is still on the market but is required to have health risks warnings on the label.

Winners of the bill are the drug companies, medical device manufacturers, the National Institutes of Health, and Joe Biden. Losers are the FDA, aging and deteriorating labs, randomized clinical trials, customer advocacy groups, and regenerative medicine that would expand treatments for stroke victims and people suffering from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and diabetes. The final draft does not permit new regenerative medicine products to skip the Phase 3 trials.

About 1,455 lobbyists on behalf of over 400 companies and other organizations at a cost of $500,000 succeeded in pushing through the legislature. It offers “something for everyone,” funding important projects while adding danger and unnecessary expenditures that benefit drug companies. If O’Neill is nominated and confirmed as the FDA Secretary, he will create more danger for people in the United States.

The bill passed the House in 392-to-26 with my representative, Kurt Schrader, in the majority and preening about his “success.” The Senate supported it in a 94-5 vote, and I’m proud of both my Oregon senators who voted in the minority, agreeing with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) who said that she knows “the difference between compromise and extortion.” She called the NIH funding a fig leaf, “and most of that fig leaf isn’t even real. Most of the money won’t really be there unless future Congresses pass future bills in future years to spend those dollars.” Warren knows that most of her Democratic colleagues were bought off with false promises.

August 12, 2016

Equal Pay for Women’s Soccer Team; ACA Makes People Healthier

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team has won three World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals, but they are still get paid just 72 percent per game as the U.S. men’s team—that didn’t even qualify for the current Olympics. The women’s team generated almost $20 million more in revenue than the men’s team, and their World Cup final last year was the most watched soccer game in history. Liza Bayless wrote:

“The US women’s national team collectively earned $2 million for their 2015 World Cup win. The US men’s national team — who has not made it past the quarterfinals of a World Cup in more than eight decades, and has never won — earned $9 million for their loss in the round of 16 at the 2014 Men’s World Cup in Brazil. Germany, the winning team, collected $35 million….

“The women’s team brought in more revenue in the 2016 fiscal year (granted, a World Cup year) and is also projected to outperform the men in revenue and profit in 2017, when neither team is playing a World Cup. US Soccer expects they will bring in almost twice as much as the men–$17.6 million versus $9 million. And yet the federation pays its female players $1,350 for winning an exhibition match while the men receive up to $17,625 for doing the same. For a loss, men receive $5,000. Women receive nothing. For making the World Cup roster, a male player makes $68,750 while a woman makes $15,000.

“The women do receive a base salary of $72,000 for playing on the national team and some benefits that the men do not. However, if both teams were to win all 20 exhibition games–the matches they play outside of tournaments–in a year, a female player would be paid $99,000 total (including base salary) while a male player would be paid $263,320. Additionally, sponsors compensate men hundreds of dollars more per game appearance.”

If you think that the women deserve equal pay for their winning as the men do for their losing, please sign this petition.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

While Republican candidates march around claiming that they will do away with the Affordable Care Act, ACA has provided health insurance to about 20 million people and made people healthier.

  • People are less likely to have medical debt or postpone care because of care.
  • People are more likely to have a regular doctor and get preventative health services.
  • Low-income people in Arkansas and Kentucky, which expanded Medicaid insurance to everyone below a certain income threshold, are healthier than peers in Texas, which did not expand.

These are the findings from a study during the last two years. A 2015 survey found that the people in Arkansas and Kentucky, states with Medicaid expansion, are almost five percent more likely than peers in Texas, a state without Medicaid expansion, to say they are in excellent health, a bigger difference than the 2014 survey. Another study in Oregon tracked people for two years who received Medicaid insurance and those who remained uninsured. People with insurance were much more likely to be in good or excellent health as well as more financially secure. The most recent state to expand its health care program, Louisiana, became the 31st in the nation.

Trump - New Yorker - leftTrump Watch: Two covers reflect Trump’s downward trajectory since the GOP convention only three weeks ago. The New Yorker shows rain falling on Trump to indicate the increasing disaster of his campaign. Time is considering Trump as “person of the year,” defined as a person, group, idea or object that “for better or for worse…has done the most to influence the events of the year.”

 

Trump - Time cover

 

Message to Republicans and Bernie supporters who plan to vote for Trump: The risk of having Donald Trump for president is far worse than Hillary Clinton’s nominating liberals to the Supreme Court. That message comes from conservative legal scholars. They claim that Trump is totally unfit to deal with “foreign affairs and domestic crises”—much of a president’s job—and that it’s doubtful that he’ll keep his word about his justice nominees.

According to Ilya Somin, Trump’s picks could undermine the constitution and turn the country into “a big-government xenophobic party hostile to civil liberties and opposed to most constitutional constraints on government power–much like the far-right nationalist parties of Western Europe, whose platforms are very similar to his.”

Republicans who defiantly defended Donald Trump’s statement that President Obama is the “founder of ISIS” found themselves thrown under the bus after Trump said that he was just joking—two days after he repeated the statement over and over. It the same thing that he says after many of  his statements bringing negative publicity–yelling at a baby to leave his rally, calling violence on Hillary Clinton and her supporters, etc.

Trump may have listened to Clinton’s criticism that his entire economic team is male; he has added nine names to the group, eight of them female. Still no people of color, however. And still as conservative.

People who listen to Trump touting his program for child care need to realize that this is only for guests at his resorts. Although he said that he provides on-site child-care service for employees, called Trump Kids, no one can find evidence of such programs. Yet this service, also called Trumpeteers, caters to his hotel and gold club patrons.

For the people who believe that Trump will stop outsourcing, here’s a list of countries where Trump product are manufactured: furniture – Turkey; shirts – Bangladesh and other Asian countries; vodka – Netherlands; suits – Mexico; tie clips – china; barware – Slovenia; glass and building materials – China; elevator parts – Japan; shampoo – Hong Kong; beach furniture – China; artificial turf – United Kingdom; marble – Italy; pens – Norway; slippers and cutlery – China. Trump could make all these things in the U.S., as this website shows. Yet Trump swore he would never eat Oreo cookies again after Nabisco moved to Mexico and said, “Our people should have more pride in buying made in the USA.”

Repeating his accusation that he might lose Pennsylvania because the voting is rigged, Trump told his audience that the people need to “go down to certain areas … and make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times.” Donald Trump declared today that there’s only one way he could lose the state of Pennsylvania: if he’s cheated out of it. At this time, Clinton is ahead of Trump in Pennsylvania polls by ten points.

A team at the conservative Washington Post will publish Trump Revealed: An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money, and Power on August 23. Amazon is offering pre-orders, and it’s sure to instantly hit the best-seller list! An excerpt is available on-line for impatient readers.

What makes Trump the angriest? The media repeating his words. His description for journalists doing their job makes them “the lowest form of life.” He said, “I tell you, the lowest.”They are the lowest form of humanity.”

March 31, 2016

“Small Government” in Kentucky, Alabama

bevins hammerWhen GOP Matt Bevin ran for Kentucky’s governor, he promised to save the people by doing away from the dreaded “Obamacare” in the state. Republicans elected him, and he kept his promise. Under the former governor, the state’s health care, KYNECT, was a model for the country in its coverage for over 500,000 people.

Here is what happened with the Tea Party’s new state computer system:

  • Benefind—Bevin’s new system to replace KYNECT for—has shut people out of their online accounts or entirely eliminated their health coverage with no warning and no explanation.
  • Children have been cut off from Medicaid coverage.
  • People who visit overcrowded state offices where they are forced to wait hours—sometimes an entire day—to see anyone. Or they are forced to come back the next day after the computers crash.
  • The helpline is available only from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm, limiting access for people who work those hours.
  • The recorded message sends people to a website which has many glitches, is hard to use, and provides no help for people without computers or Internet access.
  • People looking for help in public benefits now are forced to wait hours or days as they repeatedly call the helpline that gives them only a recorded message before hanging up.
  • People who can’t get coverage are cutting back on their medications and ending up in the hospitals’ emergency rooms multiple times.
  • Over 500 workers statewide trained to help people sign up for health coverage cannot access Benefind and thus cannot help people to apply for coverage or fix problems with their coverage.
  • People who formerly provided proof of citizenship can no longer get health coverage until they resubmit the documentation.

Bevin’s answer? On YouTube, he says, “I’m aware of and sensitive to your frustrations.”

Republicans who say that big government doesn’t work may be right—when they’re trying to operate it.

[Personal comment: Today I spent over two hours on the telephone with insurance companies and pharmacies on behalf of my partner. One of her medications cannot be generic; therefore she needs prior approval from her insurance company to pay for the brand medication. She has prior approval, but the insurance company will not send her anything in writing to prove it. Even after that, the cost of the medication with differs from $87 to $1500 for a ninety-day supply—with insurance.

I called three pharmacies multiple times to find the prices. All of them started out by stating that they couldn’t do that without the prescription although one of them said on the opening telephone message that it would give the prices of medications for Medicare. The cheapest pharmacy, gave three different prices on three different calls, but refused to give any written verification. It will take faxes for the prescription but won’t send a fax to request the prescription from the pharmacy that holds the prescription. That pharmacy will fax the prescription on but only after it is asked. Another prescription will require a doctor’s visit.

I’m retired—sort of—and have the time to make the calls during the daytime when these places are open. I’m also determined and willing to take on the problems of these calls. After a drastic increase in my blood pressure over the two hours, I can’t imagine the pain that people in Kentucky are now enduring—just because the GOP doesn’t like “big government” and probably people. Then there’s the issue of a different in almost $6,000 for a prescription from a local pharmacy and the “mail-in” part of a huge insurance company. These problems are something that could be changed by single-payer or universal health care, but it might violate our freedom. Big business loves our freedom because it gives them trillions of dollars.]

Did I mention that Republicans hate “big government”? Here’s a fine example of how they legislate it. Mississippi just passed the “Religious Liberty Accommodations Act,” yet to be signed by GOP Gov. Phil Bryant, allowing discrimination against sex by anyone except a male/female couple after marriage. According to the language, an unmarried couple having sex in their personal bedroom is breaking the law if signed by Bryant.

In another Southern state, the big story out of Alabama less than two weeks ago showed GOP Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley governing the state by giving an 80 percent increase in salary to four cabinet members, an extra $73,405 each, after signing a bill banning all cities from raising the minimum wage—the federally mandated $7.25 an hour. These salary increases were the biggest, but dozens of other people—cabinet and staff members—also got sizeable raises.

Last August Bentley defunded Planned Parenthood in the state before a federal judge overturned his move. Taxpayers had to pay for the legal fees. Last December Bentley diverted funding from the 2010 BP oil spill recovery effort to renovate a second Governor’s mansion on the Gulf Coast. In January he took 45,000 people off food stamps if they weren’t supporting minor children. Each of these people had received only $194 a month.

bentleyThis month, however, things got very bad for Robert Bentley after it was revealed that he is having phone sex—and maybe more—with his top aide, Rebecah Mason, on “burner” phones bought at Best Buy. (To find details, just Google the situation.) Rumors have been swirling about his infidelities for quite a while, but they became much more open after his wife of 50 years filed for divorce. He first denied the accusations, despite the tapes played on the media, and then asked for forgiveness. Just for his infidelity and not for refusing poor women health care, causing people to go hungry, appropriating funds for his own personal use, and trying to block LGBT rights in the name of “family values.” Bentley supporters complain that the emphasis in the country shouldn’t be on sex—no problem as long as conservative laws don’t prioritize sex in their “big government” prohibitions.

Although some lawmakers talk about impeaching Bentley, he says he won’t quit. His former Baptist pastor talked about “church discipline” and said that Bentley is no longer a member of the Tuscaloosa congregation where he was once a deacon. The subject of Bentley’s desire has resigned, wanting to spend more time at home with her family, but her husband, state director of the state faith-based initiative office, remains at his job.

Mason’s company was paid over $328,000 during the past three years, more than his cabinet members before their 80 percent raise. She may have been received much more than this. Although Mason served as Bentley’s top aide, she didn’t have to file financial disclosure forms because she wasn’t designated as a state employee.

Alabama has trouble with politicians: a former governor is in prison for corruption, and the speaker of the State House of Representatives is to stand trial this year on 23 felony charges of ethics violations.

Bentley is using his position to investigate two men for blogging about his alleged affair with political adviser Rebekah Mason. He ordered the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and the Law Enforcement Tactical System (LETS) to find incriminating evidence against attorney Donald V. Watkins, and Legal Schnauzer blogger, Roger Shuler. Some people question whether Bentley broke any laws in his love fest, but Watkins claims investigations will find “wire and mail fraud, money laundering, conspiracy, and racketeering violations under federal law, among other charges …[in circumventing] public oversight, transparency and competitive bid laws by channeling millions of public dollars into entities like the Workforce Councils of Alabama and others legitimate agencies and then directing the recipient agency to execute vendor contracts with certain special friends and supporters.”

The U.S. House Freedom Caucus, each making an annual salary of $174,000, is working toward “small government”by not going to work. Despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’s claim that the entire last year of the presidential term is a “lame-duck session,” the HFC understands that this time is only the approximately 75 days between the general election and the new president’s inauguration. Members hope to not go into session for this time, causing only 17 days in session after July 15 and  zero days after September 30. They have to wait until April 12 to do this because they aren’t in session.

Conservative House members have already killed the budget and the appropriations process for the year, and the government can’t operate after September 30 without a continuing resolution to maintain last year’s spending levels. HFC board member Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) described the lame-duck session as “a bunch of people who have already either quit, retired or been fired by their constituents decide they still want to vote on major stuff.” He admitted that quitting work that early this year wouldn’t look good for the legislators. He also said, “When you’re one of the people who tends to think most of what we do here is screwed up in the first place, then the less we do, maybe the better.”

That’s life in the world of conservatives who want “small government.”

January 21, 2016

Flint’s Poisoned Water Problems Not Disappearing

In the wake of his PR disaster—and the Flint residents’ water disaster—Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder released 249 emails to show that he was not to blame. Heavy redactions in the emails don’t hide the administration’s dismissive and belittling attitude toward people concerned about health issues from the brackish water coming into their homes. After traces of “coliform and fecal coliform bacterium” appeared in the city’s water plant, officials just added chlorine to the water. An email from Snyder’s Chief of Staff shows how the administration refused to take responsibility:

 “I can’t figure out why the state is responsible except that [State Treasurer] Dillon did make the ultimate decision so we’re not able to avoid the subject.”

The emails accused residents of using their children’s health as a “political football” and refused action after a hospital and a university stopped using Flint water because it was corroding their metal instruments.  An email stated that Flint residents were only concerned about the aesthetics of the water, “taste, smell and color being among the top complaints.”

According to Snyder, the released emails represent all the Flint-related correspondence in 2014 and 2015. Missing are the ones from 2013 which began the debacle through key decisions. Aides have been non-committal when asked about release of these emails. Snyder has been “invited” to appear in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on February 3, 2016 regarding the poisoned water that government has provided Flint residents. He has not been “called” to appear because only Republicans can do this.

The EPA may also be asked to appear at a congressional hearing.

A few missing pieces from yesterday’s blog on the Flint water travesty:

In December 2011, Snyder appointed Michael Brown as emergency manager of Flint to replace elected Flint officials and act unilaterally as an extension of state executive power. Brown was George W. Bush’s head of FEMA during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. He sent untrained rescue workers to the disaster area while telling fire and rescue departments not to send trucks or emergency workers without a direct appeal from state or local governments. Three days after the disaster, he told the media that he was not aware that the New Orleans Convention Center housed thousands of evacuees who lacked food and water and blamed those stuck in the city of not choosing to leave the city, despite the lack of transportation. Brown quit the FEMA job days after the hurricane. Later he declared that President Obama wanted the Deepwater Horizon oil spill so that he could “pander to the environmentalists.” Brown lasted in Flint for only nine months.

In March 2013, State treasury and Department of Environmental Quality officials ignored external reports showing that changing the water to the Flint River would not save money Three months later Flint’s emergency manager abandoned Detroit water.

In August 2014, Flint River water violated National Primary Drinking Water Regulations twice with more violations in September and December of that year. Last September, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services claimed that spikes in illnesses from lead were “seasonal and not related to the water supply.”

The first cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Flint in five years appeared two months after the water source was changed. After a year with 47 cases and five deaths, Snyder declared that the epidemic was over, but the numbers doubled in the next months. The incidence of this waterborne bacterial infection that can be deadly for between 5 to 30 percent of those who contract it is nine times greater in Flint than the national average. Doctors had predicted the onslaught of the disease because of iron caused by corrosion. No one will ever know the source of the Legionnaires’ disease because Michigan failed to take the appropriate cultures. The disease could return with warm weather because the state has not done any testing.

EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman, the director overseeing a region including Flint, resigned after it was discovered that she told the former Flint mayor that a report from one of its own scientists be concealed until it was vetted and revised.

The EPA has announced an emergency order requiring that the state and city “take a series of immediate steps to address the drinking water contamination in Flint.” It said the city and state’s response to the crisis has been “inadequate to protect public health.” The EPA will take over lead sampling because of repeated delays and a lack of transparency in the water crisis continue to pose “an imminent and substantial” danger to residents. Months after the EPA required corrosion controls be added to Flint’s water system and the water source be shifted back to Lake Huron water from the Flint River, “underlying problems” and “fundamental deficiencies” remain. The state has one day to comply with the order.

Michigan is also ordered to create a public website for all reports and sampling results, and the state is to inventory all homes in Flint with lead service lines. The EPA told Flint and Michigan to establish an independent advisory panel on drinking water issues and required that the city must show “technical, managerial, and financial capacity” before moving to a new Lake Huron water system.

At the U.S. Conference of Mayors, President Obama announced that the federal government will send at least $80 million next week, some of it to be used to rebuild water lines and other city infrastructure. The funding comes from a federal revolving loan fund that provides low-cost loans to eligible entities, including municipalities for water infrastructure projects. Replacing lead service lines and making other infrastructure repairs could cost as much as $1.5 billion.

The EPA, which could also be called to appear at a congressional hearing said to be set for early next month, also requested that its Inspector General evaluate Region 5’s supervision program for public water systems, a move U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., applauded as a way to “better understand how EPA could have helped prevent Flint’s water crisis and what they can do to keep this situation from ever happening again.”

Last September, a Flint lawmaker asked Michigan’s attorney general, Bill Shuette, to investigate the Flint water situation. Schuette, a Republican thought to be considering a gubernatorial run, refused. In December, his staffer said that an investigation was not necessary. Five months after building negative publicity about Flint water, Shuette said he would launch an investigation the day after Snyder asked the president to declare a federal emergency in Flint.

In the weeks after Schuette refused to investigate, national media attention on Flint increased, and on Jan. 14, Republican Governor Rick Snyder asked President Barack Obama to declare a federal emergency. The next day, Schuette had changed his tune. He said that he would launch an investigation “without fear or favor.” He office is already defending state officials in a lawsuit generated by protesting Flint residents alleging that officials ignored evidence of the toxic water.

Under state law, the AG has to represent emergency managers when they are sued, but the entity that the manager runs has to pay for the legal costs. Thus the same person who investigates the water poisoning also protect the officials who did it while the people bringing the law suit must pay for the defense’s legal costs. Schuette has not said whether he will bring in outside counsel.

Gov. Snyder was an accountant with no elected office experience before he took over a state with a population of almost 10 million people. Before the Flint water crisis, he had contemplated a run for president. Snyder is a prime example of what happens when the private sector attempts to take over government functions.

After almost two years of Flint water’s fiasco, the state Department of Environmental Quality Director Keith Creagh said that “we should have been more aggressive. He blames two top officials in the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance for the misinterpretation of the federal Lead and Copper Rule, but both officials still have state jobs. They just been reassigned to keep away from the Flint water issues. No one has been fired over the catastrophe.

flint safe to washTen days ago, Rick Snyder told the media that the Flint water is so safe that he would let his grandkids bathe in it. It’s a safe assertion because he doesn’t have grandchildren. This poster on the right has been removed from the government website.

This is Republican leadership at its “finest.”

After I wrote the above, I went into the kitchen and ran the water a few seconds, grateful that I don’t live in a state with governor-appointed emergency managers instead of elected officials.

 

January 20, 2016

Michigan Governor Poisons Flint Residents, Wants Federal Money

“If the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water, we would have done something about it.” That was Hillary Clinton’s comment about the poisoned water in Flint (MI) thanks to the man assigned by Gov. Rick Snyder to run the city.

The horror in Flint started six years ago when businessman Rick Snyder was elected governor because he claimed to create jobs and run the government like a business—similar to what Donald Trump promises in his current presidential campaign.

The purpose of business is to make money for the owners and cut costs by eliminating jobs; the purpose of government in a democracy is to make people’s lives better, not to profit off them. Business and government require different skills and philosophies, and Snyder is an example of this difference. When he was on the board of the computer company Gateway, it went from 21,000 U.S. workers to 7,400 in about a decade. Gateway no longer exists.

Under Snyder, GOP legislators passed a law allowing the government to replace elected officials with an “emergency manager” picked by the governor. The manager makes all the decisions—just like in a business. The law was repealed by referendum in 2012 but replaced with a new law in a GOP-controlled legislative session that prevented it from being subject to a voter referendum.

The first time that Snyder used his dictatorial powers was in Benton Harbor where a park had been deeded to the city in 1917 “in perpetuity.” The new emergency manager in 2011 took over part of waterfront park for a luxury golf resort, with the help of a development group. It’s board included the sponsor of the new law. That success of stripping elected officials of any powers for the benefit of private business moved on to Detroit, Flint, Highland Park, and other Michigan municipalities.

Michigan residents couldn’t successfully protest the new dictator approach in its state, and the rest of the United States pretty much ignored the problem until MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow began to show the way that the new “business-like” system allowed massive amounts of lead in the city water that Flint residents pay to receive.

flint-waterFlint’s problem started almost two years ago when its manager “saved” $8.5 million over five years by switching the water source from Detroit through a pipeline to drawing water from the polluted Flint River. The acidic water that leaches lead and other metals from pipes could have been chemically treated to control corrosion, but the manager chose not to spend the $100 a day for that safety.

For 18 months people complained about the taste and smell of the brown water piped into their homes while they got rashes and their hair fell out from showering in it. As any good businessman, the manager denied any problems and said that the water was fine.

Not until Flint pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha compared blood test results for 1,746 Flint children before and after the change in water was any whiff of concern evidenced. Even then, Michigan politicians called her an “irresponsible researcher” who caused “near hysteria.” Not until a September 2015 study from Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards did city officials admit there was something wrong with the water and told people not to drink it.

The manager did try to minimize the problem by testing water in a way designed to minimize lead readings by flushing the water several minutes before taking a sample and using very low flow rates. Edwards, however, found readings as high as 13,000 ppb (parts per billion of lead); 5,000 ppb is considered to be “toxic waste.” The EPA set 15 ppb has a point where steps should be taken to reduce the level although levels as low as 5 ppb can be concerning. A few miles away, Troy (MI)’s lead in the water measures 1.1 ppb.  [Pipes from a Flint water study]

flint-water-study-photos

Everyone suffers for exposure to lead, but children are particularly susceptible. Symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Memory loss
  • Pain and tingling in hands and/or feet
  • Weakness

Exposure while a woman is pregnant damages the nervous system of the developing fetus. It can also cause miscarriage, stillbirths, and infertility in both men and women. Children suffer from lasting neurological and behavioral damage, intellectual disabilities, serious difficulty controlling impulses, retaining information, and learning in school. It is difficult or impossible for them to later have thought-intensive jobs. Lead keeps the body from absorbing nutrients for cell development and the growth of strong teeth and bones. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) stated:

“The lead builds up in soft tissue — kidneys, bone marrow, liver, and brain — as well as bones and teeth. … Some scientists believe that low-level chronic lead exposure in childhood can alter secretion of the human growth hormone, stunting growth and promoting obesity.”

People in Flint started in April 2014 to persuade the city to take action about the poisonous water. In May 2014, the city learned that trihalomethanes ( TTHMs) were above levels allowed in the Clean Water Act but didn’t tell residents for another eight months and didn’t change to safe water. In October 2014, GM noticed that the water was corroding engines and started trucking in water from outside the city. While Flint continued to deny any problems with the water, the governor’s office secretly ordered that Flint be supplied filters. The discrepancies between reports of toxicity in the water from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the city of Flint during last year indicate a cover-up by the governor’s appointed manager.

Snyder’s business-like approach became such a PR disaster that he started reluctantly thinking about a solution. Although he switched back to Detroit water last October, the damage to the pipes was most likely done by then. Snyder waited until Jan. 5, 2016 to declare a state of emergency and another week to mobilize the National Guard to distribute bottled water and water filters–starting with seven guardspersons—one per 14,285.7 people.

Finally Snyder asked President Obama to declare a federal emergency. Through FEMA, taxpayers will pay up to $5 million for water, filters and cartridges and other items, but Snyder has been refused an additional $96 million because the Flint water crisis is not a natural disaster. Snyder, his emergency manager, and the GOP legislators who voted for a dictatorship caused the entire calamity, and Snyder finally admitted that he knew about the problems with water for several months, perhaps as much as a year.

Yet in his State of the State speech this week, Snyder blamed the problem on “entrenched bureaucrats.” He also said, “Government failed you at the federal, state and local level.” The problems came entirely from a state decision to create a legislatively created dictatorship in Flint. Michigan residents elected their representatives who allow travesties such as the poisoning of water in one of its cities.

As if the lead in the water wasn’t enough, an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in Flint, seemingly a consequence of Flint’s water, has hit 87 people. Ten of these people are dead. Yet Flint is still charging customers for the poisoned water and sending shut-off notices threatening to cut off their water if they don’t pay for it.

In a peculiar coincidence, the office of the public works director who resigned last November during the developing crisis was broken into in late December. No one knows what was taken, and surveillance videos didn’t show anyone breaking into the office.

Distressed by Clinton’s call to do something about Flint’s water, Snyder tweeted, “Political statements and finger pointing from political candidates only distract from solving the Flint water crisis.” He forgets that the problem was caused by politics and that without the growing transparency surrounding the “Flint water crisis,” people would still be receiving the brown, nasty water.

Asked about the problem in Flint,” GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio hemmed and hawed before he talked about not having an opinion because he hadn’t been briefed on it. At the same time, federal GOP legislators voted to overturn provisions of the Clean Water Act—the same provisions that they voted to repeal last June.

As President Obama said about Flint while he was visiting Michigan, “It is a reminder of why you can’t shortchange basic services that we provide to our people and that we together provide as a government to make sure that public health and safety is preserved.” Flint is also a reminder of why people can’t run government like a business.

Reversing the damage to the pipes will cost $1.5 billion. Reversing the brain damage and other health issues is impossible.

Heckofajob, Snyder. And same to all your cohorts.

Snyder has moved Darnell Farley, the emergency manager who switched Flint’s water from the Detroit system to the Flint River, to the new emergency manager of Detroit’s public schools. Here are a few photos of the Detroit schools. (More disgusting ones here.) We’ll see what Farley makes of this.

flint stairway

flint urinals

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