'Health Care' Archive

Weekly Pulse: Arrests over the Ryan Plan, and the GOP’s Kinder, Gentler Medicaid Cuts

Posted May 4, 2011 @ 11:46 am by
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Creative Commons, Flickr, BeInspiredDesignsBy Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

This week marks the final edition of the Weekly Pulse. I have been writing the newsletter since 2008 and it has certainly been an exciting time to be covering health care in the United States. Thanks to all the Media Consortium journalists whose work I’ve featured over the years, and thanks to our loyal readers, tipsters, Tweeters, and Facebook fans.

As the Pulse winds down, we look ahead to some of the most pressing health care issues facing the nation: The Republican war on Medicare and Medicaid and the anti-choice onslaught.

89 arrested over Ryan plan

Eighty-nine disability activists were arrested following their occupation of the Cannon House Office Building rotunda, Alison Kilkenny reports in The Nation:

The disability rights group ADAPT staged the event to protest Representative Paul Ryan’s Medicaid cuts, which would force people with disabilities to live in nursing homes rather than in their own houses.

Additionally, the House-passed budget resolution would turn Medicaid into block grants and reduce the program’s spending by more than $700 billion over ten years.

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones reports that the Republicans in Congress are putting forward some “kinder, gentler” proposed Medicaid cuts in the hopes that these less extreme proposals will have a better chance of passing that the more extreme cuts Ryan has been touting.

Kinder and gentler by Republican standards is still pretty radical. Republicans in both houses of Congress introduced bills that would make it easier for states to kick people off of Medicaid or erect new barriers to entry. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) claims that “only” 300,000 patients would be kicked off Medicaid rolls under his proposal, many fewer than those would be under the Ryan plan. Gingrey, however, admitted that he didn’t have an independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score to back up his claim.

The war on choice

Sadie Doyle of In These Times takes a closer look at proposed legislation in Ohio that bans abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detectable:

Ohio’s “Heartbeat Bill” is part of a barrage of anti-choice legislation designed to circumvent the fact that abortion is legal by making it nearly impossible to obtain one. But, whereas other bills focus on cutting funding or creating obstacles to abortion, H.B. 125 takes a relatively new tactic: It aims to ban abortions outright if the fetus has a detectable heartbeat—which happens at around six weeks, before many women even realize they’re pregnant.

This bill is one of hundreds of pieces of anti-choice legislation percolating at the state level. Many of these bills seem deliberately engineered to provoke a challenge to Roe v. Wade. Anti-choicers seem eager to get their challenge to the Supreme Court as soon as possible, before Obama can appoint any more justices.

Meet the H.R. 3 ten

At RH Reality Check, Sarah Jaffe introduces us to another one of the 10 Democrats who co-sponsored the so-called “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV). The bill, H.R. 3 would effectively end private abortion insurance coverage in the United States by imposing such onerous bureaucratic regulations on insurers that they would more likely to drop abortion coverage altogether rather than comply.

Michigan vs. teen moms

Pregnant teenagers are bearing the brunt of Michigan’s draconian new “fiscal martial law” bill that authorizes cities to appoint emergency managers with sweeping powers to take over cash-strapped cities, towns, and school boards. Students at the Catherine Ferguson Academy, a high school for expectant mothers, were arrested and manhandled by police as they protested the impending closure of their school.

Amanda Marcotte writes in AlterNet that the move to close the academy epitomizes the contemptuous attitude that so many conservative anti-choicers have toward teen girls who choose to give birth:

The imminent shut down of Catherine Ferguson demonstrates the emptiness of Republican claims that they oppose reproductive rights because they value life.  Instead, Republican policies are rooted in a sadistic desire to punish and control, and to deprive women—especially young women, poor women, and women of color—of any opportunities whatsoever.

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Weekly Pulse: Single-Payer Bills Pass Vermont Senate, House

Posted Apr 27, 2011 @ 10:52 am by
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Creative Commons, Flickr, Jobs with JusticeBy Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The Vermont state Senate passed legislation to create a single-payer health insurance system, Paul Waldman reports for TAPPED. Since the state House has already passed a similar bill, all that’s left to do is reconcile the two pieces of legislation before the governor signs it into law.

Waldman stresses that there are still many details to work out, including how the system will be funded. Vermont might end up with a system like France’s where everyone has basic public insurance, which most people supplement with additional private coverage. The most important thing, Waldman argues, is that Vermont is moving to sever the link between employment and health insurance.

Roe showdown

Anti-choicers are gunning for a Roe v. Wade showdown in the Supreme Court before Obama can appoint any more justices. At the behest of an unnamed conservative group, Republican state Rep. John LaBruzzo of Louisiana has introduced a bill that would ban all abortions, even to save the woman’s life. The original bill upped the anti-choice ante by criminalizing not only doctors who perform abortions, but also women who procure them. LaBruzzo has since promised to scale the bill back to just criminalizing doctors. This is all blatantly unconstitutional, of course,. but as Kate Sheppard explains in Mother Jones, that’s precisely the point:

The Constitution, of course, is exactly what LaBruzzo is targeting. He admits his proposal is intended as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional right to privacy included the right to abortions in some circumstances. LaBruzzo says he’d like his bill to become law and “immediately go to court,” and he told a local paper that an unnamed conservative religious group asked him to propose the law for exactly that purpose.

Drug pushers in your living room

Martha Rosenberg poses a provocative question at AlterNet: Does anyone remember a time before “Ask Your Doctor” ads overran the airwaves, Internet, buses, billboards, and seemingly every other medium? Direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug advertising has become so ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget that it was illegal until the late ’90s. In the days before DTC, drug advertising was limited to medical journals, prescription pads, golf towels, and pill-shaped stress balls distributed in doctors’ offices–which makes sense. The whole point of making a drug prescription-only is to put the decision-making power in the hands of doctors. Now, drug companies advertise to consumers for the same reason that food companies advertise to children. It’s called “pester power.”

DTC drug ads encourage consumers to self-diagnose based on vague and sometimes nearly universal symptoms like poor sleep, daytime drowsiness, anxiety, and depression. Once consumers are convinced they’re suffering from industry-hyped constructs like “erectile dysfunction” and “premenstrual dysphoric disorder,” they’re going to badger their doctors for prescriptions.

That’s not to say that these terms don’t encompass legitimate health problems, but rather that DTC markets products in such vague terms that a lot of healthy people are sure to be clamoring for drugs they don’t need. Typically, neither the patient nor the doctor is paying the full cost of the drug, so patients are more likely to ask and doctors have little incentive to say no.

Greenwashing air fresheners

A reader seeks the counsel of Grist’s earthy advice columnist Umbra on the issue of air fresheners. Some of these odor-concealing aerosols are touting themselves as green for adopting all-natural propellants. Does that make them healthier, or greener? Only marginally, says Umbra. Air fresheners still contain formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, and other questionable chemicals.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: DCCC Ad Shows Grandpa Stripping for Extra Cash to Pay for Medicare

Posted Apr 20, 2011 @ 10:52 am by
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By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

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How will the next generation of seniors pay for health care if Republicans privatize Medicare? The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) suggests some options in a darkly funny ad featuring a grandfatherly gentleman mowing lawns and stripping for extra cash. The ad will run in 24 GOP-controlled swing districts, Suzy Khimm reports for Mother Jones.

The ad is a riposte to Paul Ryan’s budget, which would eliminate Medicare and replace it with a system of “premium support”–annual lump sum cash payments to insurers. These payments would be pegged to the growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) +1%, even though health care costs are growing much faster than the economy at large. That means that real benefits will shrink over time. Seniors will be forced to come up with extra money to buy insurance, assuming they can find an insurer who’s willing to sell it to them.

Josh Holland of AlterNet predicts that the GOP is committing political suicide with the its anti-Medicare budget. The more ordinary voters learn about Ryan’s budget, the less they like it:

A poll conducted last week found that, “when voters learn almost anything about [the Ryan plan], they turn sharply and intensely against it.” And why wouldn’t they? According to an analysis by the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the Republicans’ “roadmap” would “end most of government other than Social Security, health care, and defense by 2050,” while providing the “largest tax cuts in history” for the wealthy.

Holland interviews an economist who estimates that the Medicaid cuts in the Ryan budget alone would cost 2.1 million jobs.

Under the bus

The Democratic spin about the deal to avert a budget shutdown was that Democratic leaders held fast against Republican demands to defund Planned Parenthood. However, as Katha Pollitt explains in The Nation, the Democrats capitulated on other reproductive rights issues in order to save Planned Parenthood.

For example, under the budget deal, Washington, D.C. will no longer be allowed to use local taxes to pay for abortions. Democrats also agreed to $17 million in cuts to the Title X Family Planning Program, Planned Parenthood’s largest source of federal funding.

American women aren’t alone under the bus. Jane Roberts notes at RH Reality Check that the budget deal slashed $15 million from the U.N. Population Fund, and millions more from USAID’s budget for reproductive health and family planning. At least Democrats successfully rebuffed GOP demands to eliminate funding for the United Nations Population Agency.

Roberts observes:

And this is at a time when the whole world is coalescing behind the education, health and human rights of the world’s women and girls. What irony!

Blood for oil

Nearing the one-year anniversary of the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers, Daniel J. Weiss writes for Grist:

The toll of fossil fuels on human health and the environment is well documented. But our dependence on fossil fuels exacts a very high price on the people who extract or process these fuels. Every year, some men and women who toil in our nation’s coal mines, natural gas fields, and oil rigs and refineries lose their lives or suffer from major injuries to provide the fossil fuels that drive our economy.

Oil rigs are just one of many dangerous places to work in the fossil fuel industry, Weiss notes. Last year, an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia killed 29 workers. Nearly 4,000 U.S. miners have been killed on the job since 1968.

Natural gas has a cleaner image than coal, but natural gas pipelines are also plagued by high rates of death and injury–892 natural gas workers have been killed on the job and 6,258 have been injured since 1970.

Cheers!

Ashley Hunter of Campus Progress brings you an exciting roundup of the news you need about college and alcohol, just in time for Spring Break. In an attempt to discourage rowdy off-campus partying, the College of the Holy Cross is encouraging its students to drink on campus by keeping the campus pub open later and allowing students under 21 inside as long as they wear different colored wrist bands to show they are too young to be served alcohol.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: Paul Ryan’s Medicare Swindle

Posted Apr 13, 2011 @ 10:33 am by
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Creative Commons, Flickr, Jason L. ParksBy Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Robert Parry in In These Times examines how Paul Ryan’s budget test would turn healthcare for the elderly into one big free-market death panel.

Ryan’s plan privatizes Medicare, replacing it with premium support for insurance companies. That means the government would kick in a fixed amount of money towards insurance premiums for Americans over age 65. Ryan also wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which requires insurers to cover people with preexisting conditions. Ryan’s plan doesn’t guarantee that Americans over 65 could get insurance in the first place. Even if they could find an insurer willing to take them, there is no reason to believe that premium support would cover more than part of the cost.

Maybe the plan is to save money by pricing most seniors out of health insurance entirely. If you can’t get insurance in the first place, you don’t qualify for premium support.

Mitt Romney and health care

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney kicked off the exploratory phase of his campaign this week, Lynda Waddington reports in the Iowa Independent. Ironically, this prospective frontrunner is best known for bringing Obama-style health care reform to Massachusetts.

Aswini Anburajan of TAPPED wonders whether Romney’s record on health care will hurt him in the primary. Repealing health care reform is one of the major themes for the Republican Party, and Romney is the architect of a similar system. However, Anburajan notes, campaigning to all but abolish Medicare hasn’t hurt GOP Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s political status, even though seniors are a big part of the GOP base..

Part of the reason why Ryan hasn’t felt a backlash from seniors is that his plan preserves Medicare for people who are currently over 55 and will only decimate the program for younger people.

Demonizing pregnant users

At RH Reality Check, Lynn Paltrow takes the New York Times to task for a sensationalized story about children born to women who are dependent upon prescription painkillers. Paltrow notes that the same alarmist language was used to hype a non-existent epidemic of crack babies in the 1980s. The evidence suggests that the impact of drug use during pregnancy on the developing fetus is relatively minor compared to the effects of other factors that are correlated with drug use, such as poverty, poor nutrition, and lack of prenatal care.

If we assume there’s a clear causal relationships between using drugs and hurting babies, it’s easier to lay all the blame on the mother. The truth, Paltrow argues, is much more complicated. Drug use is just part of a constellation of unhealthy factors that conspire to give the children of poor and marginalized women a worse start in life.

Positing a distinct syndrome caused by drug abuse is often a first step towards stigmatizing, and even criminalizing, poor women who give birth to sick children.

Hungry women and children

Speaking of threats to the health of poor women and their children, the new budget deal slashes $500 million from nutrition programs, with the Women Infants and Children (WIC) food support program at the USDA taking the hardest hit, Tom Laskawy reports for Grist.

If you get your meals through an umbilical cord, the Republicans want to protect you; but if you have to eat groceries, you’re on your own.

Big Pharma hikes HIV drug prices

Elizabeth Lombino at Change.org reports that more than 8,000 people nationwide are on the waiting list for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), a government program that helps poor people living with HIV/AIDS pay for medications. Lombino notes that even as the ranks of patients who can’t cover their drugs continues to swell, pharmaceutical companies continue to raise their prices. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is calling upon pharmaceutical companies to lower prices to help grapple with what has come to be known as the ADAP crisis. So far, it’s been to little effect.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: GOP Would Privatize Medicare, Gut Medicaid

Posted Apr 6, 2011 @ 11:07 am by
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Creative Commons, Flickr, Robbie KennedyBy Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

On Tuesday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveiled a draft budget resolution for 2012. Ryan’s program would privatize Medicare and gut Medicaid.

“Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, is waging radical class warfare and ideological privatization schemes and selling it as a debt reduction plan,” writes Karen Dolan in AlterNet. Indeed, Ryan’s plan is larded with tax cuts  for wealthy citizens and profitable corporations, which according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), would actually increase the national debt over the next decade. The CBO projects that the debt would reach 70% of GDP by 2022 under Ryan’s plan compared to 67% under the status quo.

At TAPPED, Jamelle Bouie predicts that Ryan’s budget plan will become the de facto platform for the GOP in the 2012 elections. Presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty is already gushing about the plan. He notes the irony in Republicans seizing upon a plan to eliminate Medicare when they campaigned so hard to “protect” the program during the fight over the Affordable Care Act.

Attacking Medicare is politically risky. The conventional wisdom is the program is all but invulnerable because it is so popular with the general public, and especially with senior citizens–who reliably turn out to vote in large numbers.

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones argues that, in order to win this political fight, the Democrats need to emphasize what they’re doing to grapple with the rising costs of Medicare–such as creating an independent board to regulate the reimbursement rates for all procedures covered under Medicare. Republicans have harshly criticized such a board as an example of health care rationing. Their proposed plan, however, would ration care far more severely, based on ability to pay. Ryan’s plan would give seniors a voucher to defray part of the cost of buying private health insurance. The voucher wouldn’t cover care equivalent to that which is offered under Medicare. So, under Ryan’s plan, care would be rationed based on each person’s ability to pay for extra coverage.

In a separate piece, Khimm notes that the GOP is taking a further political gamble by proposing massive cuts to Medicaid. She cites a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation which found that only 13% of respondents favored major cuts to Medicaid. Republicans may be betting that they can cut Medicaid because they associate it with health care for the very poor, a constituency with little political capital and low voter turnout. But while Medicaid does serve the poor, a large percentage of its budget covers nursing home care for middle class retirees and services for adults with major disabilities–care that their families would otherwise have to pay for.

How to save $15 billion in health care costs

New research suggests that the federal government could save $15 billion by reducing unnecessary emergency room visits through investment in community health centers, Dan Peterson of Change.org reports:

This week, new research, from the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative, pinpoints just how much we stand to lose in health care efficiency savings if the funding is cut as proposed; $15 billion. Put another way, for every $1 invested in CHC expansion, there is a potential savings in health care costs of $11.50.

Peterson reports that money to expand the CHC program may be cut from the budget. The report explains that if the funding is lost, then CHCs will not be able to serve the 10-12 million additional patients who were supposed to get care through expanded CHCs under the Affordable Care Act. If Congress refuses to allot $1.3 billion for cost-effective primary care, $15 billion in projected savings will evaporate.

If Republicans are serious about balancing the budget, they should happily expand the Community Health Center network.

Danish Antibiotic Resistance Education

D.A.R.E. to keep pigs off drugs. The U.S. hog industry is heavily dependent on low-dose antibiotics to keep its swine infection-free. This practice comes at the cost of increased antibiotic resistance. Sixteen years ago, the government of Denmark, the world’s largest exporter of pork, took the bold step of asking its pork industry to reduce the amount of antibiotics given to pigs. Ralph Loglisci of Grist notes that the experiment has been a huge success: The industry has slashed antibiotic use by 37%, antibiotic resistance is down nationwide, and production has held steady or increased.

Gay-bashed, uninsured

Twenty-nine-year-old Barie Shortell’s face was shattered in an apparent anti-gay attack in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in February. Joseph Huff-Hannon reports on AlterNet on an obstacle in Shortell’s already-long road to recovery:

After blacking out, and spending 10 hours in surgery and five days in the hospital, Shortell is now taking another whipping from one of the insidious antagonists of 21st-century American life—the private health-care system. Shortell, like many of his fellow American twentysomethings, is uninsured.

Up to 30% of people in their twenties are uninsured. The Affordable Care Act should reduce the number of uninsured twenty-somethings, but as Huff Hannon notes, the number of uninsured young adults is expected to continue to rise for some time. The ACA allows young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26, but this reform is of little help to the millions of families who lost job-linked health coverage during the recession.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: Florida Governor Wants to Drug Test All State Employees

Posted Mar 30, 2011 @ 10:43 am by
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By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott plans to force public workers and welfare recipients to undergo random drug testing every three weeks. Why? Because he doesn’t like either group, Cenk Uygur argues on the Young Turks. “It’s an attempt to stigmatize, demonize, and punish those people,” Uygur says:
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Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones explains why Scott’s plan is almost certainly unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has ruled that public employees cannot be forced to take drug tests unless public safety is at stake. The government can impose random drug testing for bus drivers, but not clerks at the DMV. Scott wants to spend millions of dollars testing all state employees. The only beneficiary of Scott’s plan will be the drug-testing industry.

From vitamins to purity balls

Martha Kempner of RH Reality Check profiles Leslee Unruh, the eccentric vitamin saleswoman-turned-crisis pregnancy center maven and abstinence crusader who is spearheading the drive for increasingly draconian abortion restrictions in South Dakota.

Unruh founded a crisis pregnancy center in 1997. Gradually, she became convinced that cajoling unhappily pregnant women to give birth was backwards. What she needed to do was save women from sex in the first place:

As Amanda Robb explains in her 2008 expose on Unruh published in MORE Magazine: “after working with hundreds of women who got pregnant unintentionally, she says she began to realize that this kind of counseling put the cart before the horse in women’s lives. To truly empower women, she became convinced, you have to ‘save them from sexual activity.’”

Unruh’s Abstinence Clearinghouse is famous for sponsoring “purity balls” at which fathers promise to guard their daughters’ sexual purity until marriage.

My uterus is a closed shop

Last weekend the Wisconsin AFL-CIO held a rally with Planned Parenthood in Madison, Wisconsin, Mike Elk reports for Working In These Times. Elk writes:

The labor movement, at its core, is about class struggle – the working class overcoming the power of the owning class in order to take control over their own lives. For women, class struggle historically has centered on overcoming the oppression of men who want to have control over their lives.

It makes sense that organized labor and the reproductive rights movement are being drawn closer together. Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker has declared war on unions and reproductive health care. Walker’s notorious anti-collective bargaining bill also declared war on the state’s highly successful, money-saving family planning program.

The Walker administration declared the union-busting bill to be law last Friday, in defiance of a court ruling, Matthew Rothschild reports in The Progressive. A court had ruled that the legality of the bill was in question because it seems to have been passed in defiance of the state’s strong open meetings laws.

De-funding family planning

Some Minnesota Republicans are taking a page from Scott Walker’s playbook, Andy Birkey reports in the Minnesota Independent. A group of Republican state senators are working to de-fund the state’s family planning programs by cutting off state funding and refusing federal dollars to fund these initiatives. An estimated 40,000 people receive reproductive health care each year through programs that the GOP is trying to eliminate. Their position is surely not motivated by concerns about the deficit. Joint state-federal family planning programs have been shown to save money for the state and the federal government.

HIV/AIDS at 30

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. At Colorlines.com,  LaShieka Purvis Hunter profiles a distinguished community leader in the struggle against HIV, Rev. Edwin Sanders of the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Sanders and his congregation have been engaged in the struggle for 26 years, ever since one of the founding members of this predominantly black church died of the virus.

Saunders says that, as far as he knows, his is the only African American congregation operating an HIV/AIDS primary care clinic:

“There are other congregations with primary care clinics that do other things, but ours is exclusively focused on HIV/AIDS,” he explains. “We were really fortunate to get a planning grant from the URSA Institute  about 10 years ago, and have a fully operating clinic four years after that. Now we are able to serve a population in our community that represents those who are truly disenfranchised.”

The URSA Institute is a non-profit social interest consulting firm which supports HIV/AIDS-related research and prevention programs.

Dig for victory

Spring is here. Ellen LaConte of AlterNet explains why gardening is good for your health and your pocketbook. Produce prices are rising, thanks to increasing oil prices, dwindling  soil reserves, monoculture, and other factors. LaConte predicts that gardening and small-scale collective farming will become an increasingly important source of fresh fruits and vegetables for average Americans in the years to come.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: Vermont Poised to Pass Single-Payer

Posted Mar 23, 2011 @ 11:02 am by
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Creative Commons, Flickr, Lindsay BeyersteinBy Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Vermont is poised to abolish most forms of private health insurance, Lauren Else reports for In These Times. The state’s newly inaugurated Democratic governor, Peter Shumlin, unveiled his health insurance plan in early February. If the state legislature passes the bill, Vermont will become the first state to ban most forms of private health insurance.

The bill is getting support from some unlikely quarters:

On February 24, the Republican Mayor Christopher Louras, of Rutland, urged the state to adopt the single-payer legislation, noting that more than a third of the city’s $7 million annual payroll is consumed by healthcare costs. “The only way to fix the problem is to blow it up and start over,” Louras said.

A very bad doctor

In the Texas Observer, Saul Elbein tells the bizarre story of small-town huckster Dr. Rolando Arafiles and the nurses who exposed him as a quack and paid with their jobs.

Arafiles came to work at Winkler County Memorial Hospital in 2008. Nurses Anne Mitchell and Vickilyn Galle noticed that patients were walking out of his office with mysterious liquids. Arafiles was selling untested dietary supplements.

Sometimes, he even took patients off their real medicine and directed them to buy his cure-alls, which he sold online, and promoted in seminars at the local Pizza Hut. He prescribed powerful thyroid-stimulating drugs to patients with normal thyroid levels, a potentially lethal practice. He was also performing “unconventional” surgeries, even though he wasn’t a surgeon.

The hospital ignored the nurses’ complaints, so they reported Arafiles to the Texas Medical Board. After the board informed Arafiles that he was under investigation, Arafiles got his golf buddy, the local sheriff, to issue a warrant to search the nurses’ computers. The hospital fired the nurses. The local prosecutor indicted them for “misuse of official information” but these charges fizzled out. In 2010, the two women were awarded $750,000 in compensation from the county, but they still haven’t found new nursing jobs.

What are they doing out there?

Lon Newman is the executive director of Family Planning Health Services, a Wisconsin health clinic that offers birth control and other reproductive health care, but doesn’t provide abortions, or even abortion referrals. Anti-choice protesters picket the clinic anyway, Newman reports at RH Reality Check. They carry signs with misleading slogans like “The Pill Kills” and “Stop Chemical Abortion.”

Newman wonders why, given all the pressing problems in Wisconsin, the nation, and the world, some people make it a priority to hang out at Family Planning Health Services and badmouth birth control:

There are so many struggles for freedom, social justice, and disaster relief right now, that I do not think it is justifiable to be blocking access to health care for our uninsured neighbors who want to delay childbearing so they can finish school or take a new job or even wait to have children until they can afford them.

South Dakota institutes 72-hour abortion waiting period

The governor of South Dakota signed legislation this week that will force women seeking abortions in the state to observe a 72-hour waiting period. As Scott Lemieux argues in TAPPED, mandatory waiting period legislation is based on inherently sexist assumptions. By instituting a waiting period, the state is institutionalizing the stereotype that women seeking abortions are acting irrationally and must be coerced into waiting.

Body positive

Body hatred hasn’t been this popular since the days of the hair shirt. Hundreds of millions of women, and no shortage of men, spend billions of hours and billions of dollars despising their bodies. A new movement is afoot to find the political in this very personal issue, Sarah Seltzer reports in AlterNet. This year, the Women’s Therapy Center Institute will hold a series of  summits in New York, London, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, and Melbourne. In keeping with the theme of “Loved Bodies, Big Ideas” participants are discussing a range of ideas for helping to improve body image, including  a so-called “reality stamp,” a seal of approval that would indicate that a photograph hasn’t been digitally altered beyond the bounds of reason. Come to think of it, a “reality stamp” could be useful for all kinds of politics.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: Japan’s Nuclear Crisis Deepens

Posted Mar 16, 2011 @ 11:00 am by
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Creative Commons, Flickr, simon.huckoBy Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

A second reactor unit at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan may have ruptured, authorities announced on Wednesday. This is on top of their earlier revelation that the containment vessel of a separate reactor unit had cracked.

As of Tuesday, four nuclear reactors in Japan seem to be in partial meltdown in the wake of an earthquake and tsunami, according to Christian Parenti of the Nation:

One of them, reactor No. 2, seems to have ruptured. The situation is spinning out of control as radiation levels spike. The US Navy has pulled back its aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, after seventeen of its crew were exposed to radiation while flying sixty miles off the Japanese coast.

But despite three major explosions—at reactor No. 1, then No. 3, then No. 2—the Fukushima containment vessels seem to be holding. (Chernobyl lacked that precaution, having only a flimsy cement containment shell that collapsed, allowing the massive release of radioactive material.)

So, the good news is that only one out of four of the reactors is teetering on the brink of a full meltdown, and engineers might still be able to stave off disaster. The bad news, Parenti explains, is that spent fuel rods on the reactor sites could pose grave health hazards even if the threat of meltdown is averted. Even so-called “spent” rods remain highly radioactive.

The big question is whether the facilities that house this waste survived the earthquake, the tsunami, and any subsequent massive explosions at the nearby reactor. Given the magnitude of the destruction, and the relatively flimsy facilities used to house the spent rods, it seems unlikely that all the containment pools emerged unscathed. Parenti explains:

Unlike the reactors, spent fuel pools are not—repeat not—housed in any sort of hardened or sealed containment structures. Rather, the fuel rods are packed tightly together in pools of water that are often several stories above ground.

A pond at the Fukushima Daiichi plant is overheating, but radiation levels were so high that the Japanese military has postponed a helicopter mission to douse the pond with water.

Journalist and environmental activist Harvey Wasserman tells the Real News Network that the housing the spent rods (a.k.a. nuclear waste) is a chronic problem for the global nuclear industry.

Wasserman told GRITtv that the west coast of the United States has reactors that could suffer a similar fate in the event of a sufficiently large earthquake.

“If I were in Japan, I would at least get the children away from the reactor, because their bodies are growing faster and their cells are more susceptible to radiation damage. I would go out to 50 kilometers and at least get the children away from those reactors,” nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen told DemocracyNow! on Tuesday. At the time he said this, 70,000 residents had already been forced to evacuate their homes, and another 140,000 were ordered to stay indoors.

Mainstreaming anti-contraception

Kirsten Powers, Fox News’ resident self-proclaimed liberal, took to the pages of the Daily Beast recently to make the bizarre case that Planned Parenthood should be de-funded because the 100-year-old organization doesn’t really prevent the half-million abortions that it claims to prevent by supplying millions of clients with reliable birth control. (Powers was forced to concede that a gross statistical error rendered her entire piece invalid.) At RH Reality Check, Amanda Marcotte describes how Powers attempted to repackage fringe anti-contraception arguments for a mainstream audience. At TAPPED, I explain why Planned Parenthood’s abortion-prevention claim is rock solid.

Diet quackery

Unscrupulous doctors are cashing in on the latest diet fad: hormone injections derived from the urine of pregnant women, Kristina Chew notes for Care2.com. Patients pay $1,000 for consultations, a supply human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), and a 500-calorie-a-day diet plan. There is no evidence that hCG increases weight loss more than a starvation diet alone. But paying $1,000 to inject yourself in the butt every day does evidently work up a hell of a placebo effect.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: 911 Is a Joke (Because It’s Broke)

Posted Mar 9, 2011 @ 11:45 am by
Filed under: Health Care     Bookmark and Share

Creative Commons, Flickr, alecaniBy Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

As the Great Blizzard of 2010 blanketed New York City, most residents were blissfully unaware that their city’s 911 system was on the brink of collapse. The system fielded 50,000 calls in a single day, and at one point the backlog swelled to 1,300 calls. The mayor was called to account for the slow service and promised that it wouldn’t happen again.

But David Rosen and Bruce Kushnick report in AlterNet that New York’s close call is an example of a much broader and deeper problem. Cash-strapped state and local governments are raiding funds set aside for 911 service, and the system is hurting badly:

Hundreds of millions of dollars are collected annually by states and localities to support 911 services and much of it is diverted to plug state budget holes and meet a host of other demands. Most disturbing, 911 services are technologically bankrupt, held together by duct-tape and workarounds.

States siphoned nearly $400 million earmarked for 911 between 2001 and 2004. The law demands that the money, raised by a tax on every phone line, has to be set aside for 911-related services. Some states fudge the definition of “911-related” to fund things that had nothing to do with emergency services, like raises for courthouse staffers. Others just brazenly redirected the money into their general funds. New York collected $82.1 million in 911 taxes on phone lines in 2007, but only 19 cents out of the $1.20 monthly fee was spent on 911.

At least New York can account for its misdirected funds. South Dakota simply has no idea where its 911 money went, Rosen and Kushnick report.

Walker: Hurry up and die

Seemingly determined to cast himself as a Dickensian villain, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker presented a budget last week that would slash millions in funding for health care for the poor and the elderly. However, as I reported in Working in These Times, Walker recommended an increase in funding for a program that buries Wisconsinites who die destitute.

Medicaid roulette

Some governors are clamoring for more control over Medicaid, the joint state/federal health insurance program for the poor, Suzy Khimm reports for Mother Jones. Currently, Medicaid funding is allocated primarily by a matching system, with the federal government kicking in a certain number of dollars for every dollar the state spends. The states must abide by federal rules in order to qualify. Now, some Republican governors want to see Medicaid funding doled out in block grants. The states would get a fixed amount of money, which they could spend as they saw fit.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the fourth highest-ranking Republican in the House, is a leading proponent of this new scheme. She claims it would increase “flexibility” for states. In this case, flexibility is a euphemism for “massive cuts.” Washington’s Democratic governor, Christine Gregoire, has already convinced the Obama administration to exempt her state from certain Medicaid rules. McMorris Rodgers applauds the move.

Crisis Propaganda Centers

New York City City passed a landmark “truth in advertising” bill last Wednesday that would force so-called crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) to disclose that they are not health care facilities. CPCs are anti-choice ministries posing as reproductive health clinics. Among other things, the law will require city CPCs to inform potential clients that they do not refer for abortions or emergency contraception, Noelle Williams reports for the Ms. Magazine blog.

The logic of our sex laws

The cover story of this month’s Washington Monthly is a provocative analysis of Dan Savage, America’s most influential sex advice columnist, as an ethicist of contemporary sexual mores. The author, Benjamin J. Dueholm, is a Lutheran pastor and a longtime fan of Savage’s syndicated column “Savage Love.” Dueholm does a good job of summarizing some of the core principles of Savage’s ethos: disclosure, autonomy, mutual pleasure, and personal commitment to achieving sexual competence. His central critique is that Savage’s attitude is too consumerist and businesslike.

I would argue that there’s nothing inherently capitalist about Savage’s ethics. Yes, Savage’s ideal sexual world is based on consensual, mutually beneficial exchanges, like an idealized free market–but that doesn’t mean that realizing one’s sexual identity, or finding true love, is on par with picking a brand of laundry detergent. In consumerism, the customer is always right. Savage is constantly urging his readers to be active participants in a mutually satisfying sex life, not passive consumers who expect their partners to cater to them without giving anything in return.

USDA hearts Michael Pollan

Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issues guidelines for healthy eating. Parke Wilde of Grist explains why this year’s edition is, in many ways, a radical and surprising document:

The new edition has a fascinating chapter on eating patterns, focusing on real foods and not just nutrients. This chapter on eating patterns provides a nice counterpoint to the reductionism — what Michael Pollan calls “nutritionism” — of scientific discussion of diet and health. The guidelines’ healthy eating patterns may or may not include meat. For example, the USDA Food Patterns and the DASH diet each include moderate amounts of meat and plenty of low-fat dairy. At the same time, the guidelines explain clearly that meat is not essential, and near-vegetarian and vegetarian diets are adequate and even “have been associated with improved health outcomes.”

This is a big departure for an agency that has historically been criticized for acting as a propaganda outlet for the livestock and dairy industries. But Wilde notes that, despite its enlightened discussion of the perils of “nutritionism,” the USDA hasn’t broken the habit of referring to nutrients rather than foods. The guidelines still recommend that Americans eat less saturated fat, without dwelling at length on which foods actually contribute most of the saturated fat to the American diet.

As nutritionist Marion Nestle explains in her seminal book, Food Politics, this mealy-mouthed advice is measured to avoid offending any lobby group that might take offense at the suggestion that Americans eat less of their product. There is no saturated fat lobby, but there are plenty of lobby groups representing the interests of industries tied to the major sources of saturated fat in the American diet, which include cheese, pizza, bakery products, ice cream, chicken, and burgers.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: GOP Campaign Against Birth Control Officially Too Crazy for Scaife

Posted Mar 2, 2011 @ 12:14 pm by
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Creative Commons, Flickr, PrettyKateMachineBy Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

We all have our limits. The GOP’s crusade against Planned Parenthood is officially too crazy for right-wing philanthropist and media baron Richard Mellon Scaife.

In a recent op/ed column, Scaife broke with House Republicans over their resolution to de-fund Planned Parenthood and the entire Title X family planning program, Scot Kersgaard reports in the Minnesota Independent. Scaife writes that Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was friends with his grandmother.

Sanger was apparently a good influence on young Richard. Scaife reminisces in the Pittsburgh Union Tribune:

I met Sanger several times before her death in 1966 and was impressed by her intellect and her commitment to many issues, not the least of which was enabling every woman to be “the absolute mistress of her own body,” as she put it.

As Scaife points out in his column, the campaign to de-fund Planned Parenthood is being orchestrated by anti-abortion activists, but abortion is only a small part of the organization’s mission. He notes that over 90% of Planned Parenthood’s budget goes towards preventing unplanned pregnancies. Furthermore, 0% of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding goes toward abortions.

Peeping Toms

Amanda Marcotte writes in AlterNet about the lecherous face of the modern anti-choice movement. Humiliating women in the name of saving fetuses has become a cherished project of the anti-choice movement. Since Roe v. Wade, states have been limited in their ability to directly restrict abortions. So, one tried and true strategy to separate women from their constitutional rights without actually banning abortions is to throw up as many degrading hurdles as possible.

Some states force women to view their own ultrasounds before they can terminate their pregnancies. Others make health care providers deliver a canned speech about how abortion is killing a person. South Dakota, Marcotte notes, is weighing a bill to force women to attend so-called “crisis pregnancy centers,” which are not health care facilities at all, but rather anti-choice propaganda outlets.

Marcotte also details a new bill in Kansas that would require minors seeking abortions without parental permission to submit to interrogation by a mental health professional–as if seeking an abortion were evidence of a mental illness. Ostensibly, this interview is to determine whether the teen is mature enough to make her own decision about abortion, but the real impetus seems to be to make the bypass process as humiliating as possible in the hopes that more young women will give up and bear children.

The larger context

Ilyse Hogue of The Nation explains why the right went after Planned Parenthood, ACORN, and the public sector unions:

[W]hile it’s obvious that the right wing is out to break the back of the progressive movement, it’s easy to miss the strategy that guides their selection of specific targets. Their attacks are all carefully aimed at the same critical juncture: institutions that work for people in their daily lives and in the political arena, those that connect people’s personal struggles across the country to the political struggle in Washington. Once we recognize the critical role these progressive service organizations play in building progressive politics, the right’s broader strategy in Wisconsin and elsewhere becomes clear. Scott Walker is a soldier in the same army as James O’ Keefe and Lila Rose, the right-wing video pranksters who tried to smear ACORN and Planned Parenthood.

Drug fiends

Pharmaceutical companies are getting sweet taxpayer subsidies, Terry J. Allen reports for In These Times. The Obama administration is poised to spend $1 billion to help pharmaceutical companies develop new drugs. Of course, developing new drugs could be a great investment, but not the way the government wants to set up the program. Allen explains:

The new project “is outrageous,” says Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. Public subsidies for drug research, she says, mean that “taxpayers pay twice, first for research and development [R&D], and then they pay high prices at drugstore.”

If the federal government is going to invest tax dollars in drug development, it should only do so with a guarantee that all Americans will share in the benefits of this research in the form of affordable, accessible drugs.

“Dangerous gifts”

What is a mental illness? Making Contact talks to people whose thoughts and feelings set them apart, and who may meet psychiatry’s criteria for mental illness, but who are questioning the labels that have been applied to them. The program also examines the work of the Icarus Project, a group of mental health activists who are looking beyond traditional models of defective brain chemistry and psychopathology.

These activists argue that reductive biological explanations for mental illness can be used to overshadow other equally important contributing factors. A strict biological or pschyodynamic model of mental illness depoliticizes profound questions about suffering and community. The Icarus Project is not opposed to psychiatric drugs, but encourages its members to regard drugs as one tool among many.

Also on Making Contact: What does mental health look like in a community where virtually everyone has been seriously traumatized by war? Andrew Steltzer goes inside a Somali refugee community in Minnesota to find out how residents are using modern and traditional strategies to heal themselves.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.