Tuesday, March 30, 2010

To Repeal or Not To Repeal -- That Is the Question

This week history will be made when President Obama signs into law a health care reform bill that reduces costs, increases access, and provides critical insurance reforms that will put patients first. This legislation also makes Medicare more solvent and expands prescription drug coverage, all while reducing the deficit and reining in health care costs. Many of these reforms will go into effect immediately, while others will be phased in over the next several years. Even with millions and millions of Americans standing to benefit from this bill, the majority of Republican Senate candidates are on the record pledging to do everything in their power to take away health care reform if elected to the Senate. Will more Republican Senate candidates join them?

“Republicans in Washington want their Senate candidates to run on the repeal of health care reform, and many like Mark Kirk, Kelly Ayotte, and Trey Greyson have succumbed to the pressure from the establishment,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Communications Director Eric Schultz. “Others, like Mike Castle, Jane Norton, and John Boozman have dodged the question. We believe that every Republican should be clear on if they would support the repeal of health care reform if elected to the Senate. If Mike Castle is going to look voters in the eye and pledge to repeal health care reform which will have afforded coverage to 109,000 Delawareans, eliminated the doughnut hole for seniors, offered tax credits to small businesses, lowered the deficit, and ended appalling insurance practices – then good luck to him.”

Not only is the Republican strategy of running on pledging to take away health care reform bad policy, it is also bad politics. Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter calls running on a pledge to repeal health care reform “a losing strategy,” Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank says that the “politics of repeal may not work out as Republicans expect,” comparing the Republican strategy of repeal to Republican presidential nominee Alf Landon’s pledge to repeal Social Security if elected in 1936. Respected political analyst Larry Sabato says that Republicans run a risk on running on repeal, and even conservative commentator David Frum thinks the Republican strategy of repeal is bad politics.

Although many Republican Senate candidates have taken the pledge to repeal health care reform, other have stayed silent. Below is a list of Republican running for the Senate who have pledged to take away health care reform if elected to the Senate. Noticeably missing from this list is Congressman Mike Castle in Delaware, Carly Fiorina in California, Jane Norton in Colorado, Linda McMahon and Rob Simmons in Connecticut, Rob Portman in Ohio, Senator Chuck Grassley in Iowa, John Hoeven in North Dakota, Congressman John Boozman in Arkansas, and Dan Coats and John Hostettler in Indiana.

Florida – Charlie Crist, Marco Rubio

If successful: 4 million Florida residents lose health care; donut hole reappears for 565,000 seniors; 216,000 small businesses lose tax credit; appalling insurance practices reinstated

Would Health Care Reform Help You?

This is a guest post from Barbara O'Brien of The Mahablog, Crooks and Liars, AlterNet, and elsewhere:

Many obstacles and stumbling blocks remain in the way of health care reform. The House and Senate bills will have to be merged, and then the House and Senate both will vote on the final bill. We don’t yet know what will be in the final bill, or if the final bill will be passed into law. Passage will be especially difficult in the Senate, where it will need 60 votes to pass. It is still possible that after all this angst, just one grandstanding senator could kill the whole thing.

But just for fun, let’s look at what conventional wisdom says will be in the final bill and see if there is anything in it that will be an immediate benefit to people with mesothelioma cancer and other asbestos-related disease.

It is likely that the final bill will provide additional funding for state high-risk insurance pools. Currently more than 30 states run such pools, which are nonprofit, state-sponsored health insurance plans for people who can’t buy insurance because of pre-existing conditions. The biggest problem with such pools is that, often, the insurance they offer is too expensive for many who might need it. Both the Senate and House bills provide $5 billion in subsidies for state high-risk pools to make the insurance more affordable.

Under the Senate bill, beginning in 2014, private companies would no longer be able to deny coverage to adults with pre-existing conditions, nor could they charge higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions. Until then, the state high-risk pools could provide some help.

Closing the Medicare Part D coverage gap — also called the “doughnut hole” — is another potential provision that could help some patients with asbestos-related disease. The “doughnut hole” is the gap between the coverage for yearly out-of-pocket expenses provided by Medicare Part D and Medicare’s “catastrophic coverage” threshold.

For example, in 2009 Medicare Part D paid at least 75 percent of what patients paid for prescription drugs up to $2,700. After that, patients must pay for all of their prescription medications until what they have paid exceeds $6,154. At that point, the catastrophic coverage takes over, and Medicare pays for all but 5 percent of the patient’s drug bills. The final health care reform bill probably will provide for paying at least 50 percent of out-of-pocket costs in the doughnut hole.

You may have heard the bills include budget cuts to the Medicare program, and this has been a big concern to many people. Proponents of the bill insist that savings can be found to pay for the cuts, and that people who depend on Medicare won’t face reduced services. But this is a complex issue that I want to address in a later post.

The long-term provisions probably will include many other provisions that would benefit patients with asbestos-related disease, including increased funding for medical research. Although there are many complaints about the bill coming from all parts of the political spectrum, on the whole it would be a huge benefit to many people.

— Barbara O’Brien
March 22, 2010

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Saturday, March 27, 2010

National Politics Round-up


This is our regular feature where every day I do a post with the top 5 Florida political blog posts about national stories. They are ranked according to quality, importance of the story and relevance to the present.

1. virtualista's posterous - Quiz for Fuckwits: "So, in the interest of pith, VF Daily has compiled this thoughtful set of questions—a Proof Questionnaire, if you will—to guide elected officials as they attempt to judge how likely it is that their offices have been intentionally attacked."

2. Smooth Like Remy - Punch Them In The Mouth With Their Polling Argument: "The Republicans made up some of the most vicious and vile lies about health care reform over the course of the last year and because the media was unwilling to call them out for these lies, several of them actually took hold with a segment of the population. Even when they were disproven over and over again, shameless Republicans continued to repeat them over and over again and the resulting confusion worked out in their favor...for awhile. The polling numbers for President Obama and the health care reform plans definitely went underwater for a time, even if the poll numbers for the underlying policies remained relatively strong. But Republicans made what could quite possibly be a cataclysmic error when they started using the polling as an argument to vote against health care reform. It was without a doubt an act of desperation as they saw the writing on the wall that health care reform would pass, but even in desperation you would think SOMEBODY would have pointed out how this might come back to bite them in the ass. Thank God, nobody evidently did."

3. Seminole Democrats - Dear President Obama: "Dear President Obama, Well done. Sincerely Yours, Theodore Roosevelt Woodrow Wilson Franklin D. Roosevelt Harry S. Truman Dwight D. Eisenhower John F. Kennedy Lyndon B. Johnson Richard M. Nixon James E. Carter William J. Clinton"

4. Ray Seaman - You Want It. You Buy It. You Got It.: "Now that the main body of health care reform is passed, we're at the end of the beginning of a much larger push to ensure universal access to health care."

5. Incertus (Brian) - Give Them Some Space: "Yes, the reactions coming from conservatives are overwrought. I called out someone last night because he used the word "traitor" to describe House members who voted for the legislation. And in the face of that sort of reaction, it would be easy to gloat, to remember the way it felt to be on the receiving end back in 1994, or 2000, or 2002, or 2004, and to jam it back in their faces. But it would be unwise, and more importantly (to me anyway), it would be unkind."

President's Weekly Address: Two Major Reforms on Health Care & Higher Ed

George W. Bush calls out Grayson

Classic Video

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ten immediate benefits of HCR

From Crooks and Liars:

Here are ten benefits which come online within six months of the President's signature on the health care bill:

Adult children may remain as dependents on their parents’ policy until their 27th birthday

Children under age 19 may not be excluded for pre-existing conditions

No more lifetime or annual caps on coverage

Free preventative care for all

Adults with pre-existing conditions may buy into a national high-risk pool until the exchanges come online. While these will not be cheap, they’re still better than total exclusion and get some benefit from a wider pool of insureds.

Small businesses will be entitled to a tax credit for 2009 and 2010, which could be as much as 50% of what they pay for employees’ health insurance.

The “donut hole” closes for Medicare patients, making prescription medications more affordable for seniors.

Requirement that all insurers must post their balance sheets on the Internet and fully disclose administrative costs, executive compensation packages, and benefit payments.

Authorizes early funding of community health centers in all 50 states (Bernie Sanders’ amendment). Community health centers provide primary, dental and vision services to people in the community, based on a sliding scale for payment according to ability to pay.

AND no more rescissions. Effective immediately, you can't lose your insurance because you get sick.

In our community - half-rural and half-suburb -- 50 community health centers will receive funding to provide health and preventive services to people with no access right now. And that's just one benefit. They're all valuable.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

National Politics Round-up


This is our regular feature where every day I do a post with the top 5 Florida political blog posts about national stories. They are ranked according to quality, importance of the story and relevance to the present.

1. Leaflet Descending - San Francisco Fiasco: "Two related cases appeared before the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, a place where legislation has been known to lean left. The panel unexpectedly delivered a combo (c-c-c...combo) breaker that afternoon when they upheld "In God We Trust" to remain on US currency and "Under God" in the pledge of allegiance. Michael Newdow, an atheist and activist from Sacramento, declared the use of God was unconstitutional and disrespectful of his beliefs."

2. Re/Creating Tampa - Politics Monday – Go Smuck Yourself: "Once upon a time there was a brand named Smuckers. Smuckers didn’t like gay people (or men who act too “feminine”), and so it made up a lie about the importance of “family values” (or something vague and disingenuous and meaningless like that) and used that lie to justify its unkind actions toward a certain incomparably gifted and adorable figure skater. This story will take us from Mississippi to Wyoming to Canada and back, full of details and scandal and unitards(!) and even a moral at the end, I promise."

3. Pensacola Beach Blog - Why Can't the Press Stop Orrin Hatch from Lying?: "Gregory should be deeply ashamed of himself. No -- more than that. NBC ought to fire his ass. Not even a cub reporter interviewing a local coach for the Hometown Homily would have a job if he allowed him lie as shamelessly as Hatch lies to the viewers of Meet the Press."

4. Smooth Like Remy - The REAL Reason People Aren't Behind Health Care Reform: "Its because our media refuses to do its fucking job."

5. The Spencerian - It's a Numbers Game: The Visual Edition: "If you're a Democrat and you're either running for office, or you're a campaign staffer for a Democratic candidate for office, you should print out these charts and carry them around wherever you go. At the very least, I don't want to hear any more about how Democrats either can't govern, or Obama doesn't know what he's doing on the economy."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Obama's Grade

Robert P. Watson, Ph.D. Coordinator of American Studies Lynn University

I am always being asked to grade Obama's presidency. In place of offering him a grade, I put together a list of his accomplishments thus far. I think you would agree that it is very impressive. His first six months have been even more active than FDRs or LBJs the two standards for such assessments. Yet, there is little media attention given to much of what he has done. Of late, the media is focusing almost exclusively on Obama's critics, without holding them responsible for the uncivil, unconstructive tone of their disagreements or without holding the previous administration responsible for getting us in such a deep hole. The misinformation and venom that now passes for political reporting and civic debate is beyond description.

As such, there is a need to set the record straight. What most impresses me is the fact that Obama has accomplished so much not from a heavy-handed or top-down approach but from a style that has institutionalized efforts to reach across the aisle, encourage vigorous debate, and utilize town halls and panels of experts in the policy-making process. Beyond the accomplishments, the process is good for democracy and our democratic processes have been battered and bruised in recent years.

Let me know if I missed anything in the list (surely I did).

1. Ordered all federal agencies to undertake a study and make recommendations for ways to cut spending
2. Ordered a review of all federal operations to identify and cut wasteful spending and practices
3. Instituted enforcement for equal pay for women
4. Beginning the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq
5. Families of fallen soldiers have expenses covered to be on hand when the body arrives at Dover AFB
6. Ended media blackout on war casualties; reporting full information
7. Ended media blackout on covering the return of fallen soldiers to Dover AFB; the media is now permitted to do so pending adherence to respectful rules and approval of fallen soldier's family
8. The White House and federal government are respecting the Freedom of Information Act
9. Instructed all federal agencies to promote openness and transparency as much as possible
10. Limits on lobbyist's access to the White House
11. Limits on White House aides working for lobbyists after their tenure in the administration
12. Ended the previous stop-loss policy that kept soldiers in Iraq/Afghanistan longer than their enlistment date
13. Phasing out the expensive F-22 war plane and other outdated weapons systems, which weren't even used or needed in Iraq/Afghanistan
14. Removed restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research
15. Federal support for stem-cell and new biomedical research
16. New federal funding for science and research labs
17. States are permitted to enact federal fuel efficiency standards above federal standards
18. Increased infrastructure spending (roads, bridges, power plants) after years of neglect
19. Funds for high-speed, broadband Internet access to K-12 schools
20. New funds for school construction
21. The prison at Guantanamo Bay is being phased out
22. US Auto industry rescue plan
23. Housing rescue plan
24. $789 billion economic stimulus plan
25. The public can meet with federal housing insurers to refinance (the new plan can be completed in one day) a mortgage if they are having trouble paying
26. US financial and banking rescue plan
27. The secret detention facilities in Eastern Europe and elsewhere are being closed
28. Ended the previous policy; the US now has a no torture policy and is in compliance with the Geneva Convention standards
29. Better body armor is now being provided to our troops
30. The missile defense program is being cut by $1.4 billion in 2010
31. Restarted the nuclear nonproliferation talks and building back up the nuclear inspection infrastructure/protocols
32. Reengaged in the treaties/agreements to protect the Antarctic
33. Reengaged in the agreements/talks on global warming and greenhouse gas emissions
34. Visited more countries and met with more world leaders than any president in his first six months in office
35. Successful release of US captain held by Somali pirates; authorized the SEALS to do their job
36. US Navy increasing patrols off Somali coast
37. Attractive tax write-offs for those who buy hybrid automobiles
38. Cash for clunkers program offers vouchers to trade in fuel inefficient, polluting old cars for new cars; stimulated auto sales
39. Announced plans to purchase fuel efficient American-made fleet for the federal government
40. Expanded the SCHIP program to cover health care for 4 million more children
41. Signed national service legislation; expanded national youth service program
42. Instituted a new policy on Cuba , allowing Cuban families to return home to visit loved ones
43. Ended the previous policy of not regulating and labeling carbon dioxide emissions
44. Expanding vaccination programs
45. Immediate and efficient response to the floods in North Dakota and other natural disasters
46. Closed offshore tax safe havens
47. Negotiated deal with Swiss banks to permit US government to gain access to records of tax evaders and criminals
48. Ended the previous policy of offering tax benefits to corporations who outsource American jobs; the new policy is to promote in-sourcing to bring jobs back
49.. Ended the previous practice of protecting credit card companies; in place of it are new consumer protections from credit card industry's predatory practices
50. Energy producing plants must begin preparing to produce 15% of their energy from renewable sources
51. Lower drug costs for seniors
52. Ended the previous practice of forbidding Medicare from negotiating with drug manufacturers for cheaper drugs; the federal government is now realizing hundreds of millions in savings
53. Increasing pay and benefits for military personnel
54. Improved housing for military personnel
55. Initiating a new policy to promote federal hiring of military spouses
56. Improved conditions at Walter Reed Military Hospital and other military hospitals
57. Increasing student loans
58. Increasing opportunities in AmeriCorps program
59. Sent envoys to Middle East and other parts of the world that had been neglected for years; reengaging in multilateral and bilateral talks and diplomacy
60. Established a new cyber security office
61. Beginning the process of reforming and restructuring the military 20 years after the Cold War to a more modern fighting force; this includes new procurement policies, increasing size of military, new technology and cyber units and operations, etc.
62. Ended previous policy of awarding no-bid defense contracts
63. Ordered a review of hurricane and natural disaster preparedness
64. Established a National Performance Officer charged with saving the federal government money and making federal operations more efficient
65. Students struggling to make college loan payments can have their loans refinanced
66. Improving benefits for veterans
67. Many more press conferences and town halls and much more media access than previous administration
68. Instituted a new focus on mortgage fraud
69. The FDA is now regulating tobacco
70. Ended previous policy of cutting the FDA and circumventing FDA rules
71. Ended previous practice of having White House aides rewrite scientific and environmental rules, regulations, and reports
72. Authorized discussions with North Korea and private mission by Pres. Bill Clinton to secure the release of two Americans held in prisons
73. Authorized discussions with Myanmar and mission by Sen. Jim Webb to secure the release of an American held captive
74. Making more loans available to small businesses
75. Established independent commission to make recommendations on slowing the costs of Medicare
76. Appointment of first Latina to the Supreme Court
77. Authorized construction/opening of additional health centers to care for veterans
78. Limited salaries of senior White House aides; cut to $100,000
79. Renewed loan guarantees for Israel
80. Changed the failing/status quo military command in Afghanistan
81. Deployed additional troops to Afghanistan
82. New Afghan War policy that limits aerial bombing and prioritizes aid, development of infrastructure, diplomacy, and good government practices by Afghans
83. Announced the long-term development of a national energy grid with renewable sources and cleaner, efficient energy production
84. Returned money authorized for refurbishment of White House offices and private living quarters
85. Paid for redecoration of White House living quarters out of his own pocket
86. Held first Seder in White House
87. Attempting to reform the nation's healthcare system which is the most expensive in the world yet leaves almost 50 million without health insurance and millions more under insured
88. Has put the ball in play for comprehensive immigration reform
89. Has announced his intention to push for energy reform
90. Has announced his intention to push for education reform

Oh, and he built a swing set for the girls outside the Oval Office