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Posts tagged with 'Health Care'

Weekly Pulse: Public Option on Life Support

Posted Aug 19, 2009 @ 11:20 am by
Filed under: Health Care     Bookmark and Share

By Lindsay Beyerstein, TMC MediaWire Blogger

Will healthcare reform include a public health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance? President Obama campaigned on the promise of a public option, but over the past week he and his top advisers have repeatedly signaled that they aren’t willing to fight for it.

On Saturday, Obama told a town hall meeting in Colorado: “Whether we have it or we don’t have it, [the public option] is not the entirety of health care reform. This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it.”

“I don’t understand why the left of the left has decided that this is their Waterloo,” an unnamed senior White House official gripes in this morning’s Washington Post.

The White House is sorely mistaken if it thinks that the public option belongs in the “nice but not necessary” category. Josh Holland of AlterNet explains why the public option is the pillar of healthcare reform. Without it, there’s little hope of containing costs or reigning in the power of insurance companies:

It may be just one “aspect” of health reform, but without it, the legislation promises to be a massive rip-off; a taxpayer give-away of hundreds of billions of dollars to an unreformed ‘disease care’ industry.

The industry would get millions of new customers thanks to generous government subsidies and a law requiring that (almost) everyone carry insurance. And that windfall would come without the structural changes needed to bend the medical “cost curve” in years to come — without any provisions that might endanger the industry’s bottom line.

In Salon, Robert Reich agrees. Competition between private insurance companies and the public option is the only hope to controlling costs. A public plan could bargain with providers to reduce costs and pass the savings on to taxpayers. The private insurance industry would have to slash its prices to compete.

Without a public option, “reform” would likely involve subsidies to private insurance companies, temporarily dulling the pain as premiums rise unchecked. That’s the worst of both worlds.

Progressives shouldn’t be surprised at the White House’s noncommittal stance, though. Obama campaigned on a public option, but he has always framed it a darned good idea, not as a non-negotiable demand.

Why is it so difficult to get a healthcare bill through the Senate with the supposedly filibuster-proof majority? The simple answer is that the Dems need 100% of their delegation to cooperate in order to break a filibuster. So, the Democrats have 60 seats in the Senate but no way to advance their agenda without capitulating to the conservative Blue Dogs. The Republicans can be counted on to filibuster whatever the Democrats come up with. Which means that conservative Democrats like Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) hold the balance of power.

As Ari Berman of The Nation explains, Baucus and his Republican counterpart Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also rule over the powerful and conservative Senate Finance Committee, which has been tasked with writing the Senate version of the healthcare bill.

Also in The Nation, Tom Geoghegan argues that it’s time to break the stranglehold by abolishing the procedural filibuster. Unlimited debate in the Senate is enshrined in the constitution. In an old school filibuster, senators simply refuse to shut up until the session ends and the bill dies without a vote. In 1975, a group of liberals wrote a rule of Senate procedure that effectively allows senators to “filibuster” simply by saying they want to. In the old days, a filibuster was a grueling public ordeal. Senators slept on cots and spelled each other off. Today, “filibustering” means signing a form. It’s private, easy and cost-free. The Republicans can, and will, filibuster all major Democratic legislation without having to stand in public and risk being branded as obstructionists.

As a result, 60 is the new 50 in the Senate. Since it’s just a rule, the procedural filibuster could be abolished by a simple majority vote. Friends of the filibuster defend it as a bulwark against tyranny. Abolishing the procedural filibuster would discourage frivolous obstructionism, but keep the old school filibuster for cases when legislators actually care enough to lose sleep over it.

Ever wonder why the strongest public option, single-payer, was never on the table? Maybe because even the strongest proponents of the public plan are taking money from the insurance and biomedical industries. Mother Jones Rachel Morris wants to know why UNITEDHealth consultant Tom Daschle was on Meet the Press Sunday. A former Democratic senator, Daschle is a senior adviser to Obama on healthcare reform and a leading advocate of a public plan. However, he recently resumed a private consulting arrangement with UNITEDHealth, America’s largest health insurer.  Even public plan champion Howard Dean is a strategic adviser on healthcare policy to the lobby firm of McKenna, Long, and Aldridge. Dean won’t disclose his clients, but McKenna represents a number of clients in the biomedical and health science industries.

The prospects of a public option are dimming, but not necessarily because of any rapid about-face by the White House. The Senate bill is in the hands of the Blue Dogs, who say they won’t have legislation until November. Obama won’t put the screws to the Blue Dogs, but there’s still plenty of time to for citizens to make their voices heard.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about healthcare and is free to reprint. Visit Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on healthcare affordability, healthcare laws, and healthcare controversy. For the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.Newsladder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

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Weekly Immigration Wire: Healthcare and the Undocumented

Posted Aug 13, 2009 @ 10:47 am by
Filed under: Immigration, Uncategorized     Bookmark and Share

By Nezua, TMC Mediawire Blogger

This week’s Wire will be brief. The MediaWire Bloggers are in Pittsburgh, Pa. for Netroots Nation. We will return to our regular format next week.

On Monday, President Obama met with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderón. Following the meeting, Obama made it clear that he doesn’t expect immigration reform to pass until 2010, as the Washington Independent reports: Even if legislation is drafted this year, healthcare reform demands attention first. Some say the two issues are too connected to be separated, although there is no denying that the healthcare debate has reached a fever pitch.

Right-Wing pundits are polluting constructive dialogue about healtcare reform, many times citing immigration as mark against it. Protestors are violently disrupting town hall meetings in an attempt to scuttle the approaching legislation and cripple the president’s agenda. Their aggression and confusion indicate that the healthcare and immigration debates are intertwined, as the Colorado Independent reports. Unfortunately, immigrants continue to be scapegoated for nearly every social ill that arises.

Even Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., misses the larger point by arguing that the undocumented should not be insured: A healthier nation is cheaper for everyone in the long run, and simply more humane.

Air America’s Kase Wickman reports that, while the White House has plans to reform detention policy, the administration cautions that the “sequence” of legislation initiaves enacted must be handled in a way “where they don’t all just crash at the same time.”

RaceWire points out that many immigration reform advocates are concerned that, by declaring an intent to simply reform the detention system, the administration is failing to discuss any alternatives to detention.

High Country News reports on the border wall dividing Nogales, Ariz., and Nogales, Sonora. The wall is completely ineffective at preventing migrants from crossing and is seriously impeding “the migration and population growth of desert bighorn sheep and ferruginous pygmy owls.”

Finally, Sojourners illustrates what’s lacking in our approach to healthcare. Author Gareth Higgins, a recent U.S. immigrant, frames healthcare reform as an issue that determines what kind of nation and people the U.S. wants to be. Regadarding the recent conflicts over healthcare reform, Higgins postulates that they are “really just skirmishes about human greed and selfishness, rather than serious discussions about how to ensure that no one goes without.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration and is free to reprint. Visit Immigration.NewsLadder.net for a complete list of articles on immigration, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy and health issues, check out Economy.NewsLadder.net and Healthcare.NewsLadder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.

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Weekly Pulse: Mob Scene

Posted Aug 12, 2009 @ 11:13 am by
Filed under: Health Care, Uncategorized     Bookmark and Share

By Lindsay Beyerstein, TMC MediaWire Blogger

This week’s edition of the Weekly Pulse is shorter than usual. Our team is getting ready for the fourth annual Netroots Nation blogger conference in Pittsburgh, PA. Esther Kaplan, editor of the Nation Investigative Fund, and I are conducting an investigative reporting workshop on Saturday from 1:30-4:15 p.m. Join us and help expose the corporate roots of the Teabagger/Town hall mob movement.

Here’s the latest news on the healthcare front: Republicans and their allies are pressuring Democratic healthcare reformers at townhall meetings around the country. Addie Stan has a blockbuster piece in AlterNet that exposes the network of corporate funders and lobbyists behind the mobs.

The Progressive’s Ruth Conniff explains the mobs’ marching orders, as spelled out in a memo by Bob MacGuffie, a volunteer for the Tea Party Patriots, an anti-reform group with ties to former Republican Rep. Dick Armey’s pressure group Freedom Works. MacGuffie instructs town hall protesters to shout at lawmakers and attempt to throw them off their game as they try to make the case for health care reform. So much for reasoned discussion.

As I reported in In These Times, the teabaggers are trying to scapegoat organized labor as the instigators of confrontations at town hall meetings. On August 6, a scuffle broke out in front of a town hall meeting in St. Louis. The below video clip shows the last 10 seconds of a scuffle in which a man in an SEIU t-shirt lies prostrate on the ground. A 38-year-old conservative activist claims to have been severely beaten, but the video shows him apparently uninjured, darting around to different cops and trying to convince them that he was attacked. The man’s lawyer claims that he saw his client get punched in the face and kicked in the head by SEIU members.

YouTube Preview Image

A spokesman for the St. Louis County police told me that the police hadn’t reviewed the video because nobody had submitted it to them, despite a call to the public to turn over evidence for the investigation. The fact that the videographer hasn’t turned over the video kind of makes you wonder if the teabaggers really take the “evidence” as seriously as they claim.

How’s this for irony? According to Talking Points Memo, the activist was asking for money to pay his hospital bills because he’s uninsured.

Finally, Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check reports that Kansas Now is calling upon AG Eric Holder to restore the Federal Marshall security detail of prominent late-term abortion provider Dr. Leroy Carhart, a friend and colleague of the late Dr. George Tiller. Carhart was placed under protection after Tiller was shot. But the feds didn’t even wait for the trial of Tiller’s alleged assassin to wrap before pulling Carhart’s detail. Now he’s on his own, just as the alleged killer’s links to a broader coalition of violent anti-choicers are coming to light.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about healthcare and is free to reprint. Visit Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on healthcare affordability, healthcare laws, and healthcare controversy. For the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.Newsladder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

Weekly Pulse: Angry Mobs Demand Status Quo

Posted Aug 5, 2009 @ 10:51 am by
Filed under: Health Care, Uncategorized     Bookmark and Share

by Lindsay Beyerstein, TMC MediaWire Blogger

By now it’s clear that the Senate Finance Committe won’t cough up a heathcare bill before the summer recess. As Nick Bauman points out in Mother Jones, the delay is sure to sap momentum for reform. Worse, the break will give healthcare reform’s opponents more time to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Disinformation is already running wild.

Dave Weigel of the Washington Independent points to July 31 memo from House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) entitled “A Very Hot Summer,” in which he announces that the GOP has launched an “entrepreneurial insurgency” against healthcare reform.

2009-08-04-recess-roastings-dc-embedAnd now the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is openly celebrating the angry mobs of anti-reform protesters that are disrupting town hall meetings and shouting down pro-reform Democrats, as Eric Kleefeld of TPM DC notes. “Roaring Chants Interrupt Healthcare PR Campaign As Dems Lose Their Cool and Town Halls Turn Into ‘Town Hells’,” gloats one NRCC email message to reporters. This campaign’s official logo depicts a donkey being roasted alive (image at right) .

If the reformers used the NRCC’s playbook, reporters would be deluged with retaliatory tweets claiming that teabaggers are killing babies and raping old women, but facts are stubborn things. As of press time, the Pulse is not aware of any ritual sacrifices by teabaggers at townhall meetings.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly warns that the GOP’s strategy to egg on the wingnuts could have unintended consequences:

It’s probably the one angle the corporate interests and their lobbyists haven’t considered: the unintended consequences of rallying confused right-wing activists to shout down policymakers who’ll improve their health care coverage. Once you wind up the fanatics and point them in the direction of a town-hall meeting, you never really know what they’re going to say, do, wear, or hold. In at least one case at the Doggett event, there really was a sign with Nazi “SS” lettering.

Top Obama adviser David Axelrod denounced groups like Conservatives for Patients Rights for stoking the protesters. Axelrod pledged to aggressively combat misinformation about the Obama administration’s reform plan, as Rachel Slajda of TPM reports. Is it a coincidence that Axelrod was abruptly issued a Secret Service detail this week without explanation?

In the American Prospect, Paul Waldman describes how Republican members of Congress are promulgating the urban legend that the healthcare bill includes mandatory euthanasia:

In some tellings, government bureaucrats will visit the elderly to force them to choose their manner of death. In another, their doctors will be required to “tell them how to end their life sooner” (this one is being popularized by Betsy McCaughey, as despicable a merchant of lies as has ever slithered through our public debate). One GOP member of Congress after another has simply dispensed with all the complexity and said that the Democratic health plan will cause seniors to be “put to death by their government” or some variation thereof.

The rumor grew out of a provision to reimburse doctors for end-of-life care, including discussions of living wills, as Waldman explains.

Speaking of misinformation, Rep. Kent Sorenson (R-Iowa) is tweeting nonsense about a shadowy healthcare commissioner who decide’s everything for you, as Jason Hancock of the Iowa Independent reports. “Page 42 healthcare bill ‘Health Choices Commissioner’ will decide health benefits for you. You will have NO choice,” Sorenson breathlessly informed his followers. In fact, according to an analysis by the Pullitzer Prize-winning website PoliFact, the healthcare commissioner would regulate insurance companies to make sure they don’t exclude people for preexisting conditions.

At the rate misinformation is mutating, perhaps Republicans will have convinced themselves that the bill will create Health Care Commissar who will involuntarily euthanize you and make your grandmother have an abortion by tomorrow morning.

Congress will return from summer break on September 4. Expect heated rhetoric and increasingly frenzied political theater in the weeks ahead.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about healthcare and is free to reprint. Visit Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on healthcare affordability, healthcare laws, and healthcare controversy. For the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.Newsladder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

Weekly Pulse: Health Bill Poised to Suck

Posted Jul 29, 2009 @ 11:02 am by
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by Lindsay Beyerstein, TMC MediaWire Blogger

The Senate Finance Committee is reportedly very close to finishing its healthcare legislation. But as the bill’s details leak, anticipation is quickly turning to dejection in progressive healthcare circles. Early word has it that the almost finished a bill includes no public option, no employer mandate, and no insurance exchange. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly explains why the Senate Finance Committee bill is going to suck.

At TAPPED, Scott Lemieux argues that if the Senate legislation doesn’t have a public option or an employer mandate, we’d be better off not passing a healthcare bill. Conventional wisdom is that even a bad bill would be better than nothing: Once we get the basic infrastructure for universal healthcare in place, it will be easier to build on that rather than starting from scratch. However, as Lemieux points out, a bill with no public option would only further entrench the insurance industry and make it easier for them to block reforms in the future.

Remember that the bill that comes out of the Finance Committee still has to be reconciled with other versions, like the version from the Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee. So, it’s possible that progressive Senators will win some concessions. However, as we’ve discussed before, the Senate is the key to passing healthcare reform, and the Blue Dogs are the key to passing the bill in the Senate. Whatever comes out of the Finance Committee is going to carry a lot of weight with the Blue Dogs.

It’s no wonder we’re fighting over a bunch of lackluster options. As Isabel MacDonald observes in AlterNet, corporate-run media has virtually banished all talk of single-payer healthcare. If you’re a single-payer advocate and you want to get on TV, you have two options: Be Bernie Sanders or get arrested in the Senate.

Democrats should try implementing a radical progressive agenda one of these days—they’ll be accused of doing so, anyway. Amanda Marcotte of RH Reality Check notes that even though universal healthcare is more likely to cover iPods than abortions, mainstream media and the anti-reform brigade insist on discussing abortion funding as if it were a live option. Here in the real world, pro-choicers don’t even have the votes in Congress to overturn the Hyde Amendment, which bans the usual sources of federal funding for abortion. According to some experts I interviewed a few weeks ago for a forthcoming article, there might be a clever legal way to set up the healthcare program so that its funding wouldn’t fall under the Hyde Amendment, but no one expects the Democrats to even try.

Make sure to keep an eye out for Ms. Magazine‘s summer issue, which contains a moving profile of assassinated abortion provider Dr. George Tiller by Michele Kort. The piece is titled “The Man Who Trusted Women” after Dr. Tiller’s credo, a phrase that one admirer paid their last respects with, via a funeral wreath with the words “Trust Women” emblazoned in the center. Kort quotes Tiller explaining what that quotation means in practice:

Chromosomal abnormalities make up about 24 percent of our [late abortion] patients, and sometimes the heart, the lung, the intestines, all of this is outside of the body [of the fetus]. Most places in the United States say that even if you have this kind of a problem you may not have a termination of pregnancy. …What this says is that…women are not smart enough, they are not tough enough and they do not love enough to make these family decisions about their children and their families.

James Ridgeway of Mother Jones reported that Tiller’s alleged assassin, Scott Roeder, was savoring his moment in the media spotlight while he sat in prison, awaiting his first court date on Tuesday. Roeder has been bragging lately about his bigshot anti-choice friends and hinting at a broader conspiracy. Maybe he’ll take a few more terrorists down with him. That would be a bright spot on a bleak healthcare landscape.

If the Finance Committee produces a bill with no public option, no employer mandate, and no insurance exchange to bring down costs, then insurance industry gets everything and we get nothing but orders to buy their crappy product. Let’s hope things shake out for the best.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care. Visit  Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on healthcare affordability, healthcare laws, and healthcare controversy. For the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and
Immigration.Newsladder.net
.

This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

Weekly Pulse: The Rocky Road to Reform

Posted Jul 22, 2009 @ 10:49 am by
Filed under: Health Care, Immigration     Bookmark and Share

by Lindsay Beyerstein, TMC MediaWire Blogger

Healthcare is dominating domestic politics this week, as Congress and President Obama outline their visions for reform. The president is pushing Congress to pass a bill that keeps healthcare costs in check before the August deadline. Obama must have been disappointed when the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) announced last week that the Dem’s healthcare bills won’t cut spending. The president won’t sign a bill that doesn’t contain cost cuts, so legislators know they’ll have to tweak the bill.

Obama’s strenuous efforts to pass healthcare reform have invited comparisons to Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal, which created the American social safety net. In Salon, Michael Lind argues that Obama’s insistence on tying health insurance to employment actually betrays the legacy of the New Deal:

We decided that when it came to benefits our guiding principle should be a “citizen-based social contract.” We chose this phrase, not to discriminate against non-citizens, but to express two ideas: first, that benefits like healthcare ought to be not a privilege but rather an entitlement of all citizens in our democratic republic, and second, that all benefits should be detached from employers and follow individuals through their lives. In thinking about healthcare, we rejected various options that would not move us toward a citizen-based social insurance system. Unfortunately, the health plan being promoted by Obama and Congress is based on one of those bad options.

Special interests are sparing no expense in their final campaign to influence healthcare reform. Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus, D-Mont., was charged with crafting a public plan for a bipartisan seal of approval, but raked in more than $3 million from healthcare lobbyists and industry groups between 2003 and 2008, according to Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent. Baucus announced that he was swearing off healthcare bucks after June 1 in order to avoid the “appearance” of conflict of interest.

Aides for Baucus told The Post that the Finance chairman stopped accepting contributions from healthcare PACs after June 1 to eliminate the appearance of conflicts of interest. But he’s not doing a very good job following through. On June 15, according to the Federal Election Commission, Baucus accepted $5,000 from the Schering Plough Corporate Better Government Fund.

Baucus’s staff say the Schering Plough money has since been returned. No word on whether the money got sent back before or after the story hit the media.

Advocates of single payer did score a victory last week. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) managed to pass an amendment to the House bill that gives states the option of creating their own single payer healthcare systems. John Nichols of The Nation explains that the Kucinich amendment opened the door to single payer. As Nichols points out, Canada didn’t start with a national single payer system. The province of Saskatchewan created its own healthcare program that became the model for Canada’s celebrated Medical Services Plan.

Josh Holland of AlterNet says the Kucinich amendment may salvage healthcare reform. That sounds a bit hyperbolic, but it’s definitely a step forward. For additional background, check out Truthdig’s interview with Kucinich.

Abortion was back in the news this week. The Prospect‘s Dana Goldstein notes that the White House appears to be vacillating as to whether abortions will be covered by national healthcare. Health and budget guru Peter Orzag danced around the issue on the last Meet the Press. This kind of equivocation is part of a pattern: Back in March, senior Obama domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes, a former Planned Parenthood board member, insulted the intelligence of viewers of the Christian Broadcasting Network by claiming that she hadn’t even discussed the issue with Obama.

Should the anti-abortionist zealot accused of gunning down Dr. George Tiller be charged as a domestic terrorist? I weigh the pros and cons in my new piece at RH Reality Check.

Finally, Laura Miller of Salon favorably reviews Ryan Grim’s new book, This is Your Country on Drugs, an offbeat social history of America’s twin love affairs with drugs and moral panics over drugs.

With the August deadline looming, legislators will be scrambling to get their respective bills in shape in time to pass healthcare reform through the budget reconciliation process. Odds are that the bills will be further scaled back and watered down in the process.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care. Visit Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on healthcare affordability, healthcare laws, and healthcare controversy. For the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.Newsladder.net.

This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

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Weekly Pulse: The Bill the House Built

Posted Jul 15, 2009 @ 10:47 am by
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The House Democrats unveiled their eagerly anticipated healthcare bill on Tuesday. That’s right, three key committees managed to agree on a single bill. Beltway insiders think this show of unity is a big deal. But remember, the House Dems can be expected to pass whatever legislation is put in front of them because they have a healthy majority and no filibuster. The real challenge is getting the bill through the Senate.

The House bill would create an insurance exchange where the self-employed and small employers could order off a “menu” featuring a public plan and various private options. The hope is that insurance companies would offer better rates in order to put their plan on the national menu. Private options would also compete against the public plan.

Healthcare reform could look very different by the time the Senate gets through with it, but that’s not slowing down the prognosticators. In the Prospect, Dana Goldstein considers what the new bill might mean for reproductive healthcare. One of the most important questions is whether the public option will cover abortions. Under the new bill, an independent medical commission would decide what’s covered, so abortion wouldn’t become a political football. Goldstein calls this a victory for reproductive rights.

Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo reports that the progressive Healthcare for America Now supports the House healthcare reform bill.

Feministing’s Miriam Zoila Pérez has an update on the newly-appointed surgeon general, Regina Benjamin. Benjamin, an African American from Alabama, has as strong background in clinical medicine and rural healthcare. Like so many of Obama’s nominees, Dr. Benjamin has an engaging personal story.  She’s the past president of the American Medical Association, and the recipient of a McArthur Genius Grant for her work on rural healthcare.

But after Hurricane Katrina, Benjamin bartered with patients who couldn’t pay cash, exchanging checkups for oysters and homemade goodies. A former colleague told the New York Times that she routinely prescribed birth control, but that the clinic didn’t have abortion facilities. As Steve Benen notes in the Washington Monthly, Benjamin’s track record of working with the poor and the uninsured sets her apart from early favorite Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon and chief medical correspondent for CNN. The job of the Surgeon General is largely symbolic. Obama may be hoping that Benjamin’s record of altruism will lend credibility to the administration’s call to doctors to temper their self-interests in the name of the public good.

Phillip Longman argues in the Washington Monthly that open source code could make the difference between a triumph and a boondoggle in the race to digitize America’s health records. Longman contrasts two hospitals, one which used open-source code and another that chose a closed, copyrighted program. The former could be modified and improved by tech-savvy doctors and nurses who actually used the software, so it got steadily better. The latter, an expensive solution devised by a private contractor, started bad and stayed that way. Unfortunately, according to Longman, the Obama administration is leaning towards the closed option.

And finally, Terry Allen of In These Times reports on the massive homeopathy FAIL that robbed untold numbers of people of their sense of smell. A zinc-containing preparation called Zicam was marketed as a homeopathic cold remedy. The FDA doesn’t require homeopathic remedies to be tested for safety and efficacy. Homeopathic tinctures are generally so heavily diluted as to no traces of the ostensible active ingredient. However, Zicam contained enough zinc to damage the olfactory nerves.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive
reporting about health care. Visit Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on healthcare affordability, healthcare laws, and healthcare controversy. For the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.Newsladder.net.

This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

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Weekly Pulse: Public Health Insurance Option not Optional

Posted Jun 24, 2009 @ 11:09 am by
Filed under: Economy, Health Care     Bookmark and Share

During a press conference yesterday, President Obama voiced support for government-administered health insurance for all who need it (aka the “public option”), as a key component of healthcare reform. Though Obama stopped short of threatening to veto a bill that didn’t contain such an option, he said that a public option is needed to enforce market discipline. If the system is going to reform, the health insurance companies can’t just keep selling the same bad coverage with bigger public subsidies for their monopolies. Essentially, Obama isn’t about to force taxpayers to buy overpriced insurance from private companies.

“The public plan, I think, is an important tool to discipline insurance companies,” Obama said during yesterday’s White House news conference. “I think there is going to be some healthy debate about the shape that this takes.” He outlined three options: Get insurance through your employer, buy insurance on your own, or buy insurance from a marketplace where public and private insurance providers compete for business.

In the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen notes the central irony of the standard insurance industry criticism of Obama’s plan:

A public option, critics tell us, would provide a horrible, bureaucratic service for customers, including rationing and long waiting times. But here’s the follow-up: if that’s true, no one would choose the public option and insurance companies would be just fine for the indefinite future.

Except, of course, insurance companies and their policymaking allies know better. Which is why they’re panicking.

As Senate Democrats continued to cast about for an elusive bipartisan compromise on healthcare reform, their colleagues in the House are pushing ahead on their own. House Democrats are holding hearings this week on draft legislation and is written without Republican input. The house bill would require all Americans to have health insurance and put new restrictions on employers as well. The Uptake is covering the hearings live.

By allowing the proliferation of multiple healthcare bills, the Obama administration is deliberately avoiding the mistakes that the Clintons made in 1994, according to Mark Schmitt in the American Prospect. Instead of submitting its own 1300-page bill to Congress, the Obama administration is letting the legislative branch hash out the details while the executive branch hovers above the fray:

The Obama White House has a huge advantage that the Clinton administration didn’t: The plan is basically written, and it has a constituency. Everything Clinton spent a year on is done. All the work to build consensus around fundamental features – a regulated insurance market, an individual mandate, and a public plan to provide a competitive benchmark – made up the outlines of every Democratic presidential candidates’ proposals. They have been further developed at the think tanks and various “strange bedfellow” coalitions that have been at work in Washington for at least four years. There are some questions about details and cost containment, but all the major alternatives have fallen by the wayside. It’s an extraordinary accomplishment, and a real testament to the infrastructure that’s been constructed for progressive policy as well as politics.

The big picture approach gives the administration room to shore up key allegiances with powerful interest groups. Last week, many feared the public option was DOA when congressional budget analysts announced that the proposal would cost more than expected. Mike Madden explains in Salon that things were looking grim until Obama struck a deal with Big Pharma to save $80 billion on drugs for seniors:

So the deepest significance of the deal between the government and PhRMA, the drug lobby, may well have been what it meant politically. Yes, the announcement means Medicare patients will no longer have to deal with an odd “doughnut hole” in their drug coverage; before Monday, the government pays for seniors’ prescriptions if their annual cost is under $2,700 or more than $6,100, but not if the price is in between. But more important, the news gave the administration a public relations victory — the president just saved the government, and seniors, $80 billion — to kick off a week where Obama plans to play offense, not defense, on healthcare.

Mike Lillis of the Colorado Independent explains why filling the donut hole isn’t a big sacrifice for the industry: Drug companies have already profited handsomely from the prescription drug program. Furthermore, Lillis notes, the companies may still come out ahead if seniors begin to buy donut hole drugs that they previously couldn’t afford. Even at half price, Big Pharma still does okay.

Finally, Eleanor Bader of RH Reality brings us the story of how the Women’s Medical Fund helps women who can’t afford abortions. The Pennsylvania fund was established in 1985 after state Medicaid cut off abortion funding. The Fund is one of over 100 abortion access funds nationwide providing options for poor women that anti-choicers sought to take away by manipulating healthcare coverage for political ends.

Healthcare reform, priority one on Obama’s domestic agenda, is finally getting its moment in the spotlight. Competing healthcare bills are taking shape and a vigorous public debate is underway. Keep checking The Pulse for play-by-play coverage of the most important policy battle in a generation.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care. Visit
Healthcare.newsladder.net
for a complete list of articles on healthcare affordability, healthcare laws, and healthcare controversy. And for the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net and Immigration.Newsladder.net.

This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

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Weekly Pulse: Sotomayor an enigma on abortion?

Posted May 27, 2009 @ 11:03 am by
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Yesterday, Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina and the third woman ever nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. She is currently a federal judge on New York’s 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. Born to Puerto Rican immigrant parents and raised by her mother in the housing projects of the South Bronx, Sotomayor went on to attend college at Princeton and law school at Yale. George H.W. Bush appointed her to the U.S. District Court in 1991 and Bill Clinton “promoted” her to the 2nd Circuit in 1998.

Political Scientist Scott Lemieux writes for TAPPED that, in light of her distinguished resume and inspiring biography, Sotomayor’s confirmation is all but assured:

[…] Obama cited three criteria in choosing Sotomayor: 1) her intellectual capacity (as demonstrated in her sterling academic record, her success as an assistant district attorney, and her distinguished service as a federal judge); 2) her approach to judging based on her opinions, which represent a high level of craftsmanship and attention to detail; and 3) her compelling personal story, rising from poverty in the Bronx to Princeton to being an editor at the Yale Law Journal. This combination of factors will, I think, make her confirmation inevitable.

In the Nation, John Nichols says that the Sotomayor pick “reflects America”. Within hours of the announcement of Souter’s resignation, conventional wisdom had pegged Sotomayor as the odds-on favorite for the nomination. There were a few bumps along the way, though. Brian Beutler of TPM reports on the anatomy of a preemptive whispering capaign starring anonymous law clerks quoted in the New Republic questioning Sotomayor’s intelligence and temperament.

While Sotomayor has a reputation for being a liberal jurist, her record contains few hints about her views on abortion. Attorney and feminist writer Jill Filipovic reviews Sotomayor’s record on abortion for RH Reality Check. Sotomayor has only ruled on one major abortion-related case in her time as a judge, Center for Reproductive Law and Policy v. Bush, and as Filipovic says, Sotomayor’s conclusion “isn’t going to warm the hearts of reproductive rights activists.”

But, as Filipovic explains, abortion wasn’t the issue at stake in this case. Rather, the question was whether the Bush administration’s Global Gag Rule was violating the constitutional rights of American NGOs. The gag rule threatened to revoke their federal funding for working with foreign NGOs that discussed abortion. For various technical reasons, Sotomayor concluded that the rule was constitutional after all. Filipovic continues:

If anything, CRLP v. Bush highlights precisely why Sotomayor should, in a sane world, be an easy confirmation: She sticks to the rule of law, respects precedent and writes thoughtful and reasoned opinions. She was nominated to the federal district court by George H.W. Bush. Her decisions are left-leaning insofar as she generally seeks to protect Constitutional rights by supporting religious freedom and free speech, and she often sides with the plaintiffs in discrimination cases – hardly “activist” material.

Emily Douglas, also of RH Reality Check, notes that the conservatives aren’t buying the “common ground” abortion rhetoric the White House has been pushing. Even if the White House has the votes to confirm Sotomayor, and everyone knows it, a Supreme Court nomination battle is a golden fundraising opportunity for the right wing, so expect a lot of sound and fury from that quarter. It makes them feel relevant.

In other reproductive health news, Dana Goldstein discusses a recent literature review by the Guttmacher Institute arguing that coitus interruptus is an under-studied and possibly underappreciated form of birth control. The paper got a lot of discussion because the conventional wisdom is that withdrawal is ineffective. The study cites a figure that couples who use withdrawal perfectly have a 4% yearly chance of getting pregnant vs. 2% for couples who use condoms perfectly. However, the study doesn’t compare what percentage of couples who try to use withdrawal actually achieve perfect use compared to couples attempting to use condoms or other methods. Sex educators’ main concern, apart from the fact that withdrawal doesn’t protect against STDs, is that an unusually large number of people attempting it fail to achieve the desired results. If you only count the efficacy for successes, you get a distorted picture. In a follow-up post, Goldstein asks whether doctors might be biased against non-hormonal birth control.

It’s not just big businesses like GM that shoulder the burden of expensive private health insurance. In a special issue of the Washington Monthly, Jonathan Gruber argues that a universal healthcare program could increase American competitiveness by giving people the security they need to start their own businesses without having to worry about whether they can afford health insurance for themselves or their workers.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care. Visit Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on healthcare affordability, healthcare laws, and healthcare controversy. And for the best progressive reporting on the Economy, and Immigration, check out Economy.Newsladder.net andImmigration.Newsladder.net.

This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

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Weekly Pulse: Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer

This week, the White House teamed up with healthcare industry giants for a two-day PR blitz on health reform. A coalition of industry leaders sent a letter to president Obama over the weekend, pledging to help contain healthcare costs. The signatories include PhRMA (drug makers), Advamed (device manufacturers), the AMA (doctors), the AHA (hospitals), AHIP (health insurance), and SEIU’s Health Care project. The corporate signatories are the very same interest groups that have fought U.S. healthcare reform for generations. AHIP, America’s Health Insurance Plans, helped torpedo the Clinton plan in the 1990s with the infamous “Harry and Louise” TV spots.

Progressive healthcare writers are divided as to whether Obama’s rapprochement is a good sign. One school of thought is that the interest groups have finally seen the writing on the wall. Arguably, the industry realizes that some kind of healthcare reform is inevitable and they hope to get the best possible deal by cooperating. Another perspective, not necessarily incompatible with the first, is that this kind of “cooperation” will ultimately co-opt Obama’s reform program.

Mike Madden summarizes the main thrust of the industry charm offensive in Salon:

Some of the organizations that have fought hardest against changing the system in the past are — for now, at least — saying they’ll work for it this time around. To demonstrate how serious they are, they joined Obama Monday to say they’ll work voluntarily to cut the growth rate of healthcare costs by 1.5 percent each year for the next decade. Unchecked, costs would increase by more than 6 percent a year, so the administration says the country — private employers and the government combined — would save $2 trillion from the effort. An average family of four could save $2,500 a year within five years.

The letter itself offers few details as to how the industries will actually go about saving money. More to the point, there’s nothing forcing these groups to follow through on anything they’ve pledged to do.

Still, if you parse the platitudes, the industry is diverging slightly from Republican anti-reform rhetoric. The GOP has been crusading against comparative effectiveness research (CER) ever since the stimulus bill set aside a billion dollars to fund it. CER is just research to discover which treatments give the best outcomes for the money, but the GOP would have us believe that it’s a stalking horse for rationing. Whereas, the industry coalition’s letter talks about cutting costs by “aligning quality and efficiency incentives” and “adherence to evidence-based best practices”–basically, big words for “studying the evidence” and “trimming the fat”–the core of the CER agenda.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly thinks the new conciliatory posture is encouraging evidence that the Republican opposition to reform is in such disarray that the industry is prepared to make nice with the Obama administration:

…I’m encouraged anyway, in part because it suggests the right’s opposition is completely falling apart, as the reform push picks up needed momentum, and in part because it brings these heavy-hitters into the tent, where they’re far less likely to start launching vicious attacks.

Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), also secured a seat at the table. As Ezra Klein suggests in the American Prospect, the fact that Stern is in the room is a testament to his skill as a coalition builder. SEIU represents millions of Americans, including many healthcare workers. Stern told Klein that the group had set itself a June 1 deadline to put forward concrete proposals that can be assigned dollar figures. The Finance Committee’s first bill drops in June, so the committee will have to work fast if they want to see their suggestions incorporated.

Josh Holland of AlterNet says we should beware of the healthcare execs’ blandishments. Holland notes that they promise to reduce the growth in costs to “only” 4.7% a year:

There’s no news here — “voluntary” codes  of conduct, self-regulation and industry-driven initiatives for the private sector to address complex policy issues have long been a standard tactic for heading off real regulation, real accountability measures, systemic reforms.

In Mother Jones, James Ridgeway agrees that the initiative is a mere publicity stunt, seeing as there’s nothing but the threat of public embarrassment to hold the group to any of its pledges.

“Public embarrassment”? From Big Pharma and the health insurance companies–-two of the most shameless industries in the history of corporate capitalism? In any case, even if the $2 trillion reduction is achieved, it clearly won’t come out of industry profits.

Even if we do get healthcare reform this year, what would the end product look like? In the Nation, Trudy Lieberman, director of the health and medicine reporting program at CUNY, takes a hard look at the messages the president has sent so far. She foresees a package that’s congenial to Obama’s corporate allies:

It’s becoming clearer that reform will include some or all of these options: requiring everyone to carry health insurance (an individual mandate à la Massachusetts); subsidizing a portion of the 85 percent of the uninsured who can’t afford to buy a policy; taxing some of the health benefits workers now get from employers to pay for insurance for the uninsured; letting people keep the coverage they have even though it’s likely to cover less as time goes on; shoving more people onto Medicaid; and trying to get insurers to insure sick people. There may or may not be a public insurance option–maybe like Medicare, or maybe not–that would compete with private insurers and theoretically reduce the cost of insurance.

All this conciliation is not cost-free. In the following video, economist Richard Wolff tells The Real News that Obama risks a grassroots backlash if he caters to corporate interests on healthcare. People want better healthcare, not just a choice of bad options. If the result of “reform” is an inferior public plan alongside the private system, employers will have an incentive to push their workers onto the public plan, and we’ll all be worse off.

The president may not support a true national healthcare plan, but don’t count the friends of single payer out yet. Doctors and other advocates for single-payer healthcare crashed a Senate Finance Committee meeting this week to protest their exclusion from a series of roundtable discussions on healthcare policy, as Laura Flanders reports on GRITtv. “Every lobbyist in America is at the table, when are the American people going to be heard?” shouted one activist. A handful of activists were arrested when they refused to come to order.

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