28 October 2009

SCOTUS Ruling on Corporate Campaign Donations Due Any Day

FROM: Common Cause

We may be just a week away from a Supreme Court decision that could shake the foundation of our democracy, and pave the way for corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on the direct election or defeat of federal candidates.

That's because the Supreme Court could rule as soon as November 3 on the Citizens United case – which began as a narrow fight over funding for a political documentary, but has morphed into a case calling into question a century of campaign finance law. If the long-standing ban on corporate political spending is thrown out, it could unleash a flood of money into the political system. Precisely how much is hard to say, but according to new Common Cause analysis:

* If corporations and unions spend on political ads what they spend now on lobbying, they would be spending four times as much -- $6 billion -- as the $1.5 billion that all congressional candidates spent in the last election.

* The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently launched a $150 million advertising campaign to support a specific version of the health care reform legislation. That is one trade association on one bill -- imagine the implications for federal elections.

* In the 2008 elections, the winning candidates for the House of Representatives spent an average of $1.4 million on his or her campaign, roughly equivalent to what the health care industry spent daily on lobbying during the first six months of 2009.

We have a three-point plan that we will launch as soon as the Citizens United decision is handed down. Common Cause will work to minimize the impact of a bad ruling, prevent Congress from taking counter-productive actions (like increasing contribution limits) and enact an alternative system that allows congressional candidates to run vigorous campaigns without relying on money from big special interests. Without immediate action, ordinary citizens' voices could be drowned out by corporate spending on elections.

27 October 2009

Age 55-64 The Bridge Years > Now There's Help!

Building the Bridge to Secure Health Care

The nation needs health care reform — and, thanks to strong leadership and a lot of hard work by the Administration and Congress — a great deal of progress has already been made.

As the legislative process continues, Congress should remember the 33 million Americans in their "Bridge Years"(between ages 55–64) who are moving from full employment towards what they hope will be a secure retirement. They are workers; they are small business owners; they are parents; they care for their own elderly parents.

If these Americans lose their jobs, they will find it hard to obtain adequate health care coverage. Medicare is, of course, not available — they are "too young." But private insurers view them as "old" and higher risk — resulting in significantly higher premiums and, for many, denial of coverage altogether.

So we have come together — representing tens of millions of America’s workers in all 50 states; as well as manufacturers, large and small businesses, faith groups, non-profits, and more.

We ask Congress to combine the best elements of the Senate Finance, HELP committee and the House Tri-Committee bills to enact real health care reform. Particularly, we urge Congress to adopt fair age rating, create a fully funded reinsurance program, and continue to protect Medicare D reimbursement.

Together, we can ensure Americans in their Bridge Years have permanent access to quality, affordable health care coverage that is not contingent on age, health, or employment status.

Alliance for Retired Americans
Communications Workers of America
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
National Coalition on Health Care
National Consumers League
Small Business Majority
United Parcel Service
Verizon Communications

To read the full text of our letter to Congress, along with data on the health care challenges faced by Americans in their Bridge Years, go to BridgeYears Health Coalition

26 October 2009

Democratic Candidate Hank Gilbert on Reid's Public Option Announcement

TYLER-Hank Gilbert (D-Whitehouse), a candidate Texas Governor, issued the following statement regarding the announcement by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that the Senate would go forward with healthcare reform legislation which includes a public option:

"Contrary to the rightwing noise-boxes that manage to get themselves on television and radio in Texas, Texans overwhelmingly favor legislation which would include a public option.

The Senate's bill contains provisions which will allow states to "opt out" of the public option. What this means for Texas largely depends upon who the governor is and the make up of the Texas Legislature after the plan passes. If we have Rick Perry, Kay Bailey Hutchison, or any of my other opponents, it will be nothing more than remaining at the status quo for us.

I favor the public option. Due to monopolies in many states and other non-competitive practices, there is no other realistic way to force the insurance companies to actually increase efficiency. There is no other way to make sure that everyone has access to affordable coverage which must be a key in any plan to unburden local and state governments from having to pay for indigent care."


  • Roughly 12 million people in Texas get health insurance on the job1, where family premiums average $13,525, about the annual earning of a full-time minimum wage job.2
  • Since 2000 alone, average family premiums have increased by 104 percent in Texas.3
  • Household budgets are strained by high costs: 17 percent of middle-income Texas families spend more than 10 percent of their income on health care. 4
  • High costs block access to care: 20 percent of people in Texas report not visiting a doctor due to high costs. 5
  • Texas businesses and families shoulder a hidden health tax of roughly $1,800 per year on premiums as a direct result of subsidizing the costs of the uninsured. 6


  • 25 percent of people in Texas are uninsured, and 75 percent of them are in families with at least one full-time worker. 7
  • The percent of Texans with employer coverage is declining: from 57 to 50 percent between 2000 and 2007. 8
  • Much of the decline is among workers in small businesses. While small businesses make up 70 percent of Texas businesses,9 only 32 percent of them offered health coverage benefits in 2006 -- down 5 percent since 2000. 9
  • Choice of health insurance is limited in Texas. HCSC (Blue Cross Blue Shield ) alone constitutes 39 percent of the health insurance market share in Texas, with the top two insurance providers accounting for 59 percent. 10
  • Choice is even more limited for people with pre-existing conditions. In Texas, premiums can vary based on demographic factors and health status, and coverage can exclude pre-existing conditions or even be denied completely. 11


  • The overall quality of care in Texas is rated as "Weak." 12
    Preventative measures that could keep Texans healthier and out of the hospital are deficient, leading to problems across the age spectrum:
    • 20 percent of children in Texas are obese. 13
    • 25 percent of women over the age of 50 in Texas have not received a mammogram in the past two years.
    • 44 percent of men over the age of 50 in Texas have never had a colorectal cancer screening.
    • 66 percent of adults over the age of 65 in Texas have received a flu vaccine in the past year. 14

The need for reform in Texas and across the country is clear. Texas families simply can't afford the status quo and deserve better. President Obama is committed to working with Congress to pass health reform this year that reduces costs for families, businesses and government; protects people's choice of doctors, hospitals and health plans; and assures affordable, quality health care for all Americans.

(This information is taken from the U.S. DHS's website HealthReform.gov.)


1 U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey. HIA-4 Health Insurance Coverage Status and Type of Coverage by State--All Persons: 1999 to 2007, 2007.
2 Center for Financing, Access and Cost Trends, AHRQ, Medical Expenditure Panel Survey - Insurance Component, 2006, Table X.D.
Projected 2009 premiums based on Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, "National Health Expenditure Data," available at http://www.cms.hhs.gov/nationalhealthexpenddata/.
3 Center for Financing, Access and Cost Trends, AHRQ, Medical Expenditure Panel Survey - Insurance Component, 2000, Table II.D.1.
Center for Financing, Access and Cost Trends, AHRQ, Medical Expenditure Panel Survey - Insurance Component, 2006, Table X.D.
Projected 2009 premiums based on Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, "National Health Expenditure Data," available at http://www.cms.hhs.gov/nationalhealthexpenddata/.
4 Center for Financing, Access and Cost Trends, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, 2006.
5 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey Data. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007.
6 Furnas, B., Harbage, P. (2009). "The Cost Shift from the Uninsured." Center for American Progress.
7 U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey. Annual Social and Economic Supplements, March 2007 and 2008.
8 U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey. HIA-4 Health Insurance Coverage Status and Type of Coverage by State--All Persons: 1999 to 2007, 2007.
9 Center for Financing, Access and Cost Trends, AHRQ, Medical Expenditure Panel Survey - Insurance Component, 2006, Table II.A.1a.
10 Center for Financing, Access and Cost Trends, AHRQ, Medical Expenditure Panel Survey - Insurance Component, 2001, 2006, Table II.A.2.
11 Health Care for America Now. (2009). "Premiums Soaring in Consolidated Health Insurance Market." Health Care for America Now.
12 Agency for Health Care Research and Quality. 2007 State Snapshots. Available http://statesnapshots.ahrq.gov/snaps07/index.jsp.
13 Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative. 2007 National Survey of Children's Health, Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health.
14 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey Data. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007.

23 October 2009

Older? Live in the country or a small town? Too bad!

Bad news for rural & small town seniors;

The Senate voted 47-53 against invoking cloture on a Medicare doctors' reimbursement bill on Wednesday, falling 13 votes short of stopping a filibuster.

The bill, S. 1776, would have fixed a formula in Medicare that currently would have doctors' reimbursements cut 21% in 2010 and another 5% in years beyond 2010. All Republicans voted against the bill, as well as the following 13 Democrats: Evan Bayh (IN), Robert Byrd (WV), Kent Conrad (ND), Byron Dorgan (ND), Russ Feingold (WI), Herb Kohl(WI), Joe Lieberman (CT), Claire McCaskill (MO), Bill Nelson(FL), Jon Tester (MT), Mark Warner (VA), Jim Webb (VA), and Ron Wyden (OR).

Congress for the last several years has stopped the cuts in a piecemeal fashion - often one year or 18 months at a time, and S. 1776 would have permanently fixed the problem. It is likely that the Senate will now go back and again do a one-year fix. Opponents wanted the bill "paid for" in budget terms, although this Congress had passed a resolution earlier this year exempting this and other crucial issues, like war funding, from the normal budget process.

"Seniors need certainty and security to know that their doctor will always be there for them. This bill would have given seniors on Medicare the security they need," said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance for Retired Americans. The bill was especially important in smaller communities and rural areas, where there are fewer patients and where seniors need to make sure that there are enough doctors to treat them.

This issue deserves a permanent fix. Rural areas and small towns already have a difficult time recruiting family-practice physicians and since the populations of these areas are top heavy with older Americans who rely on Medicare for their health care, it is patently obvious that until a permanent fix is in place these people will see a decline, if not an exodus, of family practise physicians.

21 October 2009


Insurance Companies Should Stop Scaring Seniors

As I travel about and speak to various organizations, groups and individuals, I find that many older people are scared and confused, fearful of the change that health care reform may bring.

But this isn’t because they are bad people. They are scared and confused because the big insurance companies are spreading myths and falsehoods to frighten seniors into opposing health care reform. Halloween may be just around the corner, but Texas seniors should demand an end to these scare tactics.

What we are seeing is the 11th hour desperation of an industry that knows momentum is growing to pass a health care bill. While the final legislation is still being written, a political consensus is building to rein in these big corporations who profit by denying medical care and discriminating against those who need help the most.

A few weeks ago Humana sent out mailings to seniors across the country, falsely ringing alarm bells about how retirees would be hurt by health reform. These shameful letters drew rebukes from both federal regulators and the Connecticut Attorney General. What Humana conveniently ignored was how it receives millions in taxpayer subsidies – on average $3.60 per month from every senior – to operate Medicare Advantage programs at a cost nearly 20 percent higher than if Medicare directly provided these same services.

These deceptive mailings were followed by a Washington lobby group, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), launching a multi-million dollar television ad campaign [mention here if they are running in your state] to once again mislead seniors about health reform. Curiously missing in AHIP’s slick 30-second spots is any mention of how insurance premiums have risen four times faster than wages over the past decade. The reality is that the only thing at risk in health reform is the outrageous profits these companies are making at our expense.

Here is the truth that Texas seniors need to know: this year we finally have an opportunity to close the Medicare Part D doughnut hole, lower prescription drug costs, help early retirees afford health care coverage, and assist middle-class families with the costs of long-term care. Retirees have much to gain from health care reform.

But older people care about more than just themselves. We worry about our children and grandchildren in these tough economic times. What would happen if they lost their job? Would they be able to afford health insurance, particularly with the sky-high premiums and the prejudice against people with even minor health problems?

It is time to end the scare tactics. Americans deserve the truth – health care reform will help Americans of all ages. It is time for Congress to finish the job.

20 October 2009

Cumpulsive Gambling & Sexual Cravings & Prescription Drug Ads

Am I the only one here wondering if there is not a connection between the brutally high costs of prescription medicines and the amount of prime-time television advertising bought by drug companies to bypass physicians and go directly to the consumer?

Their blandishments range from pills for erectile dysfunction to incredibly serious ailments such as manic/depressive states and even to life threatening conditions including heart disease, high-blood pressure and diabetes. And...

Some include cautionary warnings that the drug might result in or induce: compulsive gambling, unnatural sexual cravings, hallucinations, heart palpitations, heart attack and/or stroke, erections of longer than four hours and chasing cars, biting hub caps and baying at the moon. OK, OK, I exaggerated a little there with that moon-barking thing, but, the rest of it I hear coming from my TV on a daily, almost hourly basis, whether I'm watching a drama, comedy, news or sports event.

Frankly, I really do not know many lay people who are sufficiently qualified to self-diagnose and self-prescribe. No strike that! I do not know anyone, except for my physician!

Aside from the obvious strain and dense fog in communication this sort of thing must create between patients and their physicians, isn't it an unnecessary cost which could be best spent in reducing the cost of prescriptions drugs; particularly for older Americans who all too many must make daily decisions between their meds and eating a balanced meal.

16 October 2009

There's A Million Stories in the Naked City

This morning, I was featured in the Tyler Morning Telegraph's lead story about the fact that Social Security recipients will get no cost-of-living increase next year. Before the morning shadows had regressed more than a few inches, I got a phone call at home from Mrs. Bxxxxxxxx, an 81-year old widow living in a local long-term care facility...(isn't long-term a bit of an oxymoron when you're 81?).

But, never mind that, for the nonce, there's more important issues involved. Mrs. B is a bright, intelligent and well-spoken person with an utterly charming European accent. She is also the sort of person that does not want to "burden" her children but admits that from time-to-time she has considered presenting them a bill for every time she changed one of their diapers.

I write this description so you will know that she is not the sort of old, doddering, foolish and flighty stereotypical "old women in a home" that younger, more crass individuals so often conjure up in their mind. She is a sharp woman, and she is pissed because she's been badly served by the system.

Back when the Medicare prescription plan (Part D) was enacted she got a publication from Medicare that told her that in Texas there were certain insurance companies that would provide her coverage. Since Medicare provided the information, the companies must be legit, right? One wants to assume such, regardless one's age. Well, Mrs. B and her adult children got together and studied the situation and decided that since the premium charged by Humana (around $11.00) was the lowest and their coverages seemed in line with other company's, they would go with Humana.

Yesterday, she received notice from Humana that next year's premium would rise to $41.40 from the $37.30 that it was this year.

"Hold on Shane", you bellow, "we know you're weak on math being a liberal arts major and all, but how did we get from $11.00 to $37.30 in a period of only four years or so?" About a 400% increase isn't it?"

Rather unabashedly, I answer, "Yep, therein is the problem. Humana jacked up her rates as they did every other senior they suckered into their Medicare prescription drug plan". And, just so you know, I do have a dog in this scrap, as the same damned numbers apply to my wife's Humana policy.

Her story gets even uglier. When she retired, her H.R. people told her she would remain on their health insurance plan through Prudential, so she declined Medicare Part B. Yet, when she submitted a claim to Prudential they kicked it back saying it was denied because her coverage terminated when she left active employment. Badly frightened, she called in the big guns, her lawyer son, who leaned on Prudential and got them to pay the claim and extend coverage for one year based on a "misunderstanding."

Medicare, however, doesn't do "misunderstandings". When she went to sign up for Part B, she was penalized 10% for failing to sign up when it was first available to her a couple of years earlier, and that penalty established her Part B rate for the future--it was not a one-time bite or penalty!

Now, since Social Security is her only source of income, that "bite" for Part B, and the Humana premium all come out of that monthly check. Which proves my point in the newspaper story that a one-time boost of $250 or even a COLA adjustment would be welcome, seniors face bigger problems with daily decisions regarding health care costs versus basic necessities such as food and shelter.

The upshot of our conversation was that she wasn't asking for help or sympathy, she just wanted to express gratitude that the Alliance for Retired Americans was fighting on her behalf to change things.

15 October 2009

Watching Babies Sleep - Social Security COLA & Health Care Reform

Some random thoughts:

Since the Baucus Bill is so badly flawed the main advantage of getting it out of the Finance Committee lies in the fact that at last the wait is over and Congress can get on with the business of crafting health care reform that includes; a strong public option, closing the Medicare donut hole, reducing prescription drug costs for older Americans by allowing Medicare to bid in bulk for lower prices as now does the V.A., extending the Medicare option to people aged 55-64, and assisting working and middle class Americans with long term health care costs.

No COLA increase for Social Security recipients. Fine. The consumer price index is down and a cost-of-living adjustment is not warranted. BUT! The real issue for older Americans lies with health care reform. See above.

I guess it's a sign of growing "maturity" (ahem), but I'm noticing that every generation that comes along seems to think that they've "discovered" the one true perfect and best way to raise children. I look at today's parents and all the expensive plastic contraptions they use to tote around their little offspring. What ever happened to just carrying your baby in your arms so you can smell its sweet breath on your cheek, feel its warmth as it snuggles in to keep warm, or the little whispering breaths and odd little gurgles it makes as it sleeps.

As a parent I would have felt deprived without that experience and wonder about what sort of people babies who do not get that nurturing early human contact will become.

And, I really wonder if these "sanitised" hands-off parents ever slip into baby's room late at night and watch in wonderment as baby sleeps. If not, they're depriving themselves of one of life's sweetest experiences.

12 October 2009

Nobel Peace Prize, Racism, & the "N-Word (Caution: Profanity abounds herein)

Permit me a bit of quite profane self-indulgence as I air a few thoughts and enlarge on some things that came up on my "Face Book" page over the weekend.

Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize:

Regardless one's opinion of whether, at this point in his life of public service, he deserves the honor or not, a few simple facts are there:

  • It is certainly better to see our president having an accolade thrown at him rather than a shoe!
  • Anything that irks the Republicans and their lick spit Corporate Media sycophants so severely and puts them into such a "panties-waded-up" snit has to have some good in it.
  • And, Americans generally are so provincial and parochial in their world views that they do not recognize how refreshing it is for the rest of world to see our foreign policy shifting to one of inclusion and away from the exclusion and unilateralism of the past three decades.
Racism and the "N-Word".

Being a bit of a curmudgeon and iconoclastic wretch, I have to admit to being a lot more than mildly peeved by the pervasive use of the "N-word" ("nudge-nudge", "wink, wink") to describe the use by others of the word "Nigger".

The word is "Nigger". It is now, and it always has been been a hateful, ugly, obscene, disgusting, and wretchedly hurtful and demeaning term based in mental and spiritual sickness, sheer stupidity, and overt and outright racism. Mitigating it, lessening the awfulness of it through use of the euphemistic term, "The N-Word" lessens the impact of the word and somehow lessens the revulsion one should feel when it is used. And does nothing to eliminate the ugliness that lies behind its use--in fact, I think, in some ways, it helps perpetuate its use by softening the description of it with a euphemistic term. People who use it should be held accountable for their efforts to perpetuate a verbally violent hate crime!

No, it is not protected speech! It is a criminal act!

Sometimes, just sometimes Shit is Shit, not "poo", not "duty, not "poo-poo" or all the other cutesy-wootsy euphemisms employed by people to somehow lessen the impact of the fine old Anglo-Saxon word for excrement.

All this is to say that those who use the word "nigger" to describe fellow human beings have "shit for brains". But, get this will you? these "shit-for brains" idiots use the word "nigger", not the "N-word".

So please do not tell me that some "shit-for-brains" asshole in Georgia described our President's attempts to get health care reform legislation through congress as an attempt to create "N-Word rich" people. What the son-of-a-bitch's sign said was, "Nigger-Rich".

Got it?

08 October 2009

Sample Letter to Senators - Free Download

October _?_, 2009

Senator _______________
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator ____________

During the coming weeks, the full Senate will debate and vote on health care reform. There are several key issues in health reform that affect retirees and older Americans.

We ask that you enact health reform that:

Does not tax health benefits. Taxing benefits could actually cause a reduction in coverage, and it would especially penalize retirees, as well as active workers and their employers that provide coverage.

Has a public plan option. Please vote for a plan that is at least as strong as the HELP Committee provisions. It will make coverage more affordable, make private plans more competitive and drive quality improvements in the health care delivery.

Ends Medicare Advantage Overpayments. Please support the Finance Committee provisions to end these unnecessary subsidies to insurance companies.

Closes the Medicare doughnut hole. Seniors need drug coverage all year long.

Allows 55-64 year old retirees to buy into Medicare at affordable premiums. Five million Americans need this coverage now.

Begins Long Term Care Coverage. The HELP Committee bill provisions begin to provide for long term services and supports coverage.

The Senate has the unique ability to improve health care and the quality of life for retirees and all Americans. We ask that you support these important provisions for older Americans.

Sincerely yours,

07 October 2009

National Call-In Day


Call and tell your senators

and representative to support

real health care reform:


Insurance company lobbyists and the Chamber of Commerce are doing everything they can to slow down the process and ultimately kill reform. Don’t let them block reform. The time for waiting is done. We want quality and accessible health care for all now.

06 October 2009

Humana Slams Door In Face of Outraged Seniors

FLORIDA ALLIANCE FOR RETIRED AMERICANS CALLS OUT HUMANA ON LIES & SCARE TACTICS: Florida Alliance members joined with allies in the progressive and labor communities last Tuesday outside of a Palm Beach Humana office to protest the company's recent mailings that falsely warned seniors that their benefits would be cut by health insurance reform. Florida Alliance president Tony Fransetta and AFSCME's Willie Pouncy Jr. led a rally outside the building, but when they and other activists tried to deliver an open letter to the insurance giant, they were rebuffed and had a door closed in their face by a Humana official. Check out the video here: "Our tax dollars and Medicare premiums overpay Humana and other insurance companies by nearly 20 percent. We must blow the whistle on this wasteful spending and outrageous corporate behavior," said Alliance Executive Director Edward F. Coyle.

ARIZONA AT CENTER OF HEALTH REFORM DEBATE : Last Friday in Phoenix members of the Arizona Alliance will held their 2009 Biennial Convention to educate and mobilize Grand Canyon State retirees on key state and national issues, particularly health insurance reform. Attendees received updates on the latest developments in Washington and discussed ways to work with a wide range of progressive groups in support of a strong pro-retiree, pro-worker health care bill. Meanwhile, Senator JonKyl (R-AZ) has become one the lead opponents of congressional efforts to improve health care and curb excesses by big insurers. Angered by Medicare criticism of false and misleading mailings by Medicare Advantage companies (see above), Kyl thisweek sponsored an amendment to, "protect the First Amendment rights of health plans." Kyl also raised eyebrows during a Senate Finance Committee debate when he said, "I don't need maternity care, so requiring that on my health insurance policy is something that I don't need and will make the policy more expensive." Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) quickly shot back, "I think your mom probably did." Ruben Burks, Alliance Secretary-Treasurer, said, "it is more important than ever that we know where our elected officials stand.

05 October 2009

Busting The Myths about Medicare & Reform!

Health insurance reform opponents continue to spread myths about America’s Affordable Health Choices Act including the outrageous myth that the House bill will harm America’s seniors, cutting their Medicare benefits.

America’s Affordable Health Choices Act will actually improve Medicare for seniors – targeting waste, fraud, and inefficiency – and reinvesting many of the savings achieved into better benefits.

MYTH: The Democrats’ health insurance reform bill will harm America’s seniors – cutting their Medicare benefits and the quality of services they receive under Medicare.

FACT: The House bill includes provisions to make U.S. taxpayer dollars go further by targeting inefficiency, waste, and fraud in Medicare. None of the provisions cut basic Medicare benefits. Rather than weakening the Medicare program, these provisions will improve value for seniors and strengthen Medicare’s financial footing – extending the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by five years. In addition, many of theMedicare savings achieved are reinvested into improving Medicare –including helping close the donut hole in the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Currently, at least 5 percent of Medicare spending goes to waste, fraud and inefficiency.

This waste is driving up seniors’ health care costsand threatening Medicare’s long-term security – so it this 5 percent that is targeted for elimination in the House health insurance reform bill. The Medicare savings in this bill are simply about a 5 percent reduction overall in what Medicare is expected to spend over the next 10years.

America’s Affordable Health Choices Act protects seniors by improving Medicare benefits across the board and strengthening the fiscal stability of Medicare over the long term. Under the bill, many of the savings achieved by going after waste and inefficiencies in Medicare are reinvested in a broad range of provisions to make Medicare work even better for America’s seniors, as summarized below.

BETTER BENEFITS: Lowers drug costs by gradually closing the “donuthole” for prescription drug reimbursement. Computerizes medical records so seniors won’t have to take the same test over and over or relay their entire medical history every time they see a new provider. Ensures free preventative care – eliminating copayments – and better primary care. Improves low-income subsidy programs, including under the part D program, to help ensure Medicare is affordable for those with low and modest incomes.

GUARANTEED ACCESS TO YOUR DOCTOR: Eliminates the 21 percent pay cut your doctor was facing for Medicare reimbursements, ensuring these doctorswill still be able to care for seniors – especially in rural areas. Expands the medical workforce so seniors will have more doctors to choose from and an easier time getting an appointment.

STRENGTHENED FINANCIAL STABILITY OF MEDICARE: Extends the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund by five years.· Cuts waste, fraud and abuse in Medicare and reinvests those savings in benefit improvements.· Focuses health care dollars on care and benefits, instead of overpayments to private insurance companies.

01 October 2009

Public Option - Where Are We Today?

Earlier this week a skirmish in the battle for a "Public Option", as a part of health care reform was lost. This does not mean that the battle is lost or that the war is over. Far from it.

Numerous senators took to the floor during a long debate on the amendments to add the "Public Option" to the Baucus bill in the Senate Finance Committee. The pro arguments were strong and made vigorous moral and intellectual cases for the "Public Option".

The Finance Committee then voted on two public health insurance option amendments offered by Senators Rockefeller and Schumer.

In the end, 10 out of 13 Democrats on the committee - John Rockefeller (WV), Jeff Bingaman (NM),
John Kerry (MA), Ron Wyden (OR), Charles Schumer (NY), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Maria Cantwell (WA), Bill Nelson (FL), Robert Menendez (NJ), and Tom Carper (DE) - voted for a public health insurance option.

Three "Blue Dog" Democrats - Max Baucus (MT), Kent Conrad (ND), and Blanche Lincoln (AR) - sided with the Republicans to defeat these amendments. The final roll call was 10-13.

In the most conservative committee in the Senate, which is itself the most conservative house of Congress, a public health insurance option got the support of an overwhelming majority of the governing party. And there were some surprises - we picked up more votes than we had originally expected.

So what's next?

A public health insurance option has been passed by four out of five committees in Congress dealing with health care, and received a huge amount of support in the Senate Finance Committee. The next time the public health insurance option will come up for consideration is when Majority Leader Harry Reid merges the Finance bill with the HELP bill.

So, what happened earlier was no more than a preliminary fire-fight. Clearly, the idea has weight - even self-described moderates such as Bill Nelson and Tom Carper voted for it. As we move to the floor and into conference, with Schumer, Rockefeller, and other champions pledging support and whipping their colleagues, those numbers can and will continue to grow.

There are hundreds of organizers and thousands of supporters around the country, and we have the American people on our side. As Senator Schumer says, "a public health insurance option will be in the bill President Obama signs into law."