26 February 2010

Three Things You Can Do to Advance Health Care Reform

Response to President's Health Care Plan and Summit: Three
Things You Can Do

In order to bridge the differences between the U.S. House and
Senate-passed health care bills - and continue to move reform
forward - President Obama unveiled his Administration's own
health plan on Monday. The plan contains several major steps
toward improving the well-being of current and future retirees.

"President Obama's plan recognizes the millions of seniors who
are struggling to afford to see a doctor or get a prescription
filled," said Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the
Alliance for Retired Americans. "For retirees, continued
inaction would be devastating. Medicare premiums and
out-of-pocket costs would soon eat up more than one-third of
a retiree's Social Security benefits."

For the Alliance's comparison of Obama's health reform bill
with those passed by the U.S House and Senate, go HERE.

On Thursday, President Obama led a televised health care reform
summit, which focused on discussing ideas and grievances about
the proposed health care bill from both parties. White House
officials named 21 lawmakers the president wanted to attend the
summit: the top leaders in the House and Senate and of the
committees with jurisdiction over the health legislation. Obama
also invited the top four leaders to invite four more lawmakers
each, bringing the total to 37; 20 Democrats and 17 Republicans.

For a specific list of the attendees, go to ATTENDEES LIST.

As a follow-up to the summit, concerned senior activists are
encouraged to do 3 things:

1) Contact your U.S. House member and two Senators by calling
202-224-3121. Tell them that President Obama's proposal would
close the "doughnut hole" coverage gap in Medicare Part D;
finally end the $3.60 per month every senior pays in higher
premiums to subsidize the big insurance corporations that run
Medicare Advantage; and make long-term care more affordable for
middle-class families.

2) Write a letter to the editor of your local paper reiterating
the need for reform. You may find it helpful to use this
language Letter as a guide; and

3) Share Alliance materials like the comparison chart and
the fact sheet
with your friends and neighbors.

Further evidence of the need for reform came last Friday, with
the release of a study by a major consulting firm showing that
spiraling costs are a problem even for seniors with solid
insurance. The Avalere Health study found that premiums for
private Medicare Advantage plans offering medical and
prescription drug coverage jumped 14.2% on average for 2010.
Some 8.5 million seniors and disabled Americans who signed up
for the private plans will therefore be facing sharp premium
increases this year, following an increase of 5.2% last year.

25 February 2010

Help for Homeless Female Veterans

Most Americans believe that our women do not serve in combat and that their roles are merely to provide support (ahem) to their male counterparts facing shots fired with intent to kill and that the occasional or accidental event of a woman in a full combat situation is random or accidental.

Today's asymmetrical warfare renders any such assumptions, sensibilities, or rules and regulations in support of those beliefs absolutely irrelevant.

When George W. Bush and his coven of liars, thieves, mendicants, cut-purses and scofflaws began sowing Dragon's Teeth in Iraq, they put the women of Today's Modern Army in the middle of their war of invasion and occupation. Again, in today's asymmetrical warfare, there are rarely any established lines or "rear echelon" areas, which is to say, even cooks, clerks, and other "pogues" can find themselves in the midst of attack whether through IED, ambush, mortar or surprise suicide attack.

The upshot of this is that female veterans suffer the same savage post-combat effects as do males. They are as subject to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, alcoholism, drug-addiction, broken relationships, unemployment and homelessness as are males.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells that there are at least one-and-a-half million (6.3% of the total) post 9/11 veterans mired in deep unemployment. Elsewhere we learn that there are 131,000 homeless veterans of which 13,100 are women. Understand, these are not static numbers, they grow daily with females outpacing males in joining this category.

Indiana Republican Congressman, Steve Buyer, along with 14 other republican co-sponsors have put forth HR293 (Homeless Women Veteran and Homeless Veterans with Children Reintegration Grant act of 2009)

President Obama responded by placing $5-million dollars to support this project in his 2011 Budget request. I would suggest that, despite some of the overtones of posturing---one sponsor has announced a run for the Senate in Arkansas, in the real world of today's politics of acerbic name-calling, and unmitigated republican obstructionism, this is an example of bipartisanship of which all of us can take some comfort.

24 February 2010

Ask Obama: Why His Stranglehold on Mediocrity?

How did we go from an avalanche of support for Barack Obama's soaring and inspired rhetoric and promised progressive reform, which carried him into office and created the largest House and Senate majorities since the post-Nixon years, to this mega-monument of mediocrity now being erected by his administration and dysfunctional national Democrats?

Ask Obama!

Or better yet, ask Howard Zinn, who wrote in The Nation, last month; "I think people are dazzled by Obama's rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president--which means, in our time, a dangerous president--unless there is some national movement to push him in a better direction."

Since Mr. Obama was elected, we (progressives, liberals, Democrats, and informed independents) have witnessed the loss of Ted Kennedy's Senate seat to the GOP, breaking the filibuster proof margin the Democrats held in the Senate; the counter productive tax-cut laden stimulus bill, which was designed that way to induce Republican support, has cleverly been turned against the President by those same Republicans he sought to woo; the loss of Governorships in Virginia and New Jersey; an administration riddled with remnants of Bush's failed neo-liberal economists from the Friedman philosophy of deregulation and unrestrained capitalism; and what is an overly generous description (given the stench) of "business as usual" in Washington; and expansion of the war in Afghanistan, to name just a few of the more unsettling things about this administration after only one year in office.

Even one-term Jimmy Carter has protested any comparison of his administration to Mr. Obama's--"c'mon now, we weren't all that bad", he seems to say.

But for me, Mr. Obama's greatest failure is in what was to be his signature domestic victory: a meaningful comprehensive health care reform bill that would for once-and-all break the stranglehold of the giant insurance company Tsars and their partners in crime, the oligarchs of the international pharmaceutical conglomerates.

There will be lot of analysis of how Mr. Obama squandered this unique and historic opportunity to finally arrive at this particular dismal failure, but for me it is very simple. Mr. Obama was tepid and tentative in his early support of any real and meaningful change..single-payer (Medicare for All) was taken out of the planning. Even with that, there were floated several credible "Public Option" plans, which if implemented, would have provided the leverage to bring about the promised change, but this president voiced no support for such plans. Furthermore, when flagrantly dissed by the likes of Senators Baucus and Lieberman he failed to exercise the presidential option of taking to the "woodshed" these two simpering renegades and all but handed the process over to those very drug and insurance company villains who profit so greatly from our sicknesses, accidents and infirmities.

There was a memorable and historic effort by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, and House Whip Steny Hoyer to craft, over a year ago, a meaningful and comprehensive health care reform bill. This president, intent on who knows what, stood by in silence as Senators Baucus, Lieberman along with Minority Leader John Boehner waged the Republican war of disinformation, prevarication, lies and misinformation including claims of "death panels", "socialized medicine", "loss of Medicare benefits for seniors" at contrived and staged "Town Hall Meetings" during summer recess..

One hates to, but feels compelled to compare this president to his predecessor, that dry-drunk sociopath George W. Bush. Bush barely squeaked into office only with the help of a conservative packed Supreme Court and after losing to Gore in the popular vote, yet he governed as though he had a mandate and in so doing accomplished much of what he set out to do--to the detriment of this country and the world. Obama, with a clear majority of the popular and electoral vote, a majority House and Senate behaved, and behaves, as though any affront to the Republicans will reverse the results of the election.

Now the question remains, will progressives unite and make their voices heard and break this president's grasp on mediocrity and force him to dare to venture into excellence?

This president likes to compare himself to Lincoln who, during a hiatus in the Civil War, asked of his commanding general of the moment, "General if you're not going to use your army, I should like to". With that in mind, Mr. President if you're not going to use the presidency, there are those of us who would!

22 February 2010

"Greedy Geezers" or Pawns In Deficit Shell Game

President Establishes Debt Commission to Look at Social Security
and Medicare

Last Thursday, President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order
establishing a commission to tackle the federal debt. The
commission's purpose is to reduce the federal budget deficit
from 10% to 3% by 2015 and to propose ways to contain costs
related to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

As co-chairs of the commission, the president named former Bill
Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former
Republican Senator Alan Simpson. Bowles, president of the
University of North Carolina, worked to pass the Balanced Budget
Act of 1997 with Republicans in Congress when he was White House
Chief of Staff. He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in
2002 and 2004.

Simpson served as a Wyoming senator from 1979 to 1997 and as
Senate GOP Whip from 1985 to 1995.

Alliance for Retired American's Executive Director Edward F. Coyle
said, "Retirees fully support President Obama on the critical need
to reduce our nation's budget deficit. Older Americans have always
been uncomfortable with large debt, both in government and in their
own families.

We are, however, wary of the objectivity that Commission Co-Chair
Alan K. Simpson will bring to this important assignment. As a
Senator, Simpson referred to older Americans as "greedy geezers"
and launched bitter and protracted assaults against advocacy
groups for seniors.

Social Security benefits would have been cut under his plan to
change the statistical formula used to calculate Cost-of-Living
Adjustments." Mr. Coyle continued, "We believe that if the
Commission takes a thorough and honest look at Social Security
and Medicare, it will conclude that these vital programs should be
strengthened, not weakened. Social Security and Medicare are two
of our nation's greatest success stories, helping generations of
seniors stay healthy and out of poverty." For Coyle's full
statement, go to Coyle Statement.

18 February 2010

Arrogant Republicans Violate Defense Department Directive!

Aside from their arrogance and obstructionism, I think the thing I find most objectionable about Republicans is their ghastly sense of entitlement. They behave as though the rules just do not apply to them.

Take for example Virginia's Republican Governor, Bob McDonnell's, efforts on behalf of the Republican's in their response to President Obama's State of the Union Message to Congress last month. And let's go on record here in making what ought not be considered a fine point: SOTUS is an official process of state and mandated by the Constitution (Article II, Section 3). The Republican response is just that, a political party's reaction to official government business. Therefore, the first is part of governance and the second is purely political. Hold that thought, it is important.

In the highly vetted and theatrically staged audience for McDonnell's tepid effort was a military person in full uniform nodding and applauding...sometimes before and sometimes minutes after what should have been the applause line. Well staged it was, but not well directed. But put that aside.

The uniformed soldier was in obvious violation of Defense Department Directive 1344.10, which says that while a military person may participate as a "spectator" at political events, rallies and meetings they may not do so while in uniform!

McDonnell is a former light colonel in the army and the son of a military officer. He knows the rules. So too should have Army Staff Sergeant, Robert Tenpenny. If I know anything at all about staff sergeants it is that they "know the rules" and are as eager and quick as second lieutenants to enforce them--the more arcane the rule or regulation all the better. The fact that he served in Iraq with McDonnell's daughter, Jeanine, is laudable and deserves absolutely no scrutiny or adverse comment--he had a right to be there, and he had a right to be proud. BUT! He had no right to don his uniform in order to serve as a backdrop to what was a purely political speech.

Had he have been in mufti, nary a word of criticism would be warranted.

But we'll not hear from the American Legion or any veteran's organization about how utterly inappropriate and shameful was his exploitation. Nor will we hear a word from any Republican anywhere about parading the military for purely political purposes...believe me, we will not!

That is because the Republicans believe they are entitled to do as they damned well please and that the rules do not apply to them. Their ghastly level of arrogance is appalling!

The Bird is a Word!

Since time immemorial fighters have asked each other, "What's the word?" Since Vietnam, the word is "Bird"!

Another generation! But, it is all the same!

17 February 2010

Compulsory Birth Control for Welfare Recipients? Hell No!

How is it that usually decent, thoughtful people can come up with the most atrocious notions and then defend them as though they were holy writ?

Here's an example of what I'm talking about.

Several days ago a Facebook "friend" proved for me once again that there is a clearly and solidy marked line separating "friends" from "acquaintances" and why I choose so few to call friend.

I had observed this person's posts in the past and found her to be moderately liberal in her views, a cat and dog lover, and a self-described Catholic and Yellow-Dog Democrat. She seems to have a wide-circle of loyal "friends" and hardly a person you would suspect of harboring the outrageous and despicable thoughts she put forth a couple of days ago.

Here, in her words, " Why of (sic)why do people that are already on public assistance continue to have more babies that they cannot afford?????? Norplant should be a requirement for public assistance. Take it out when they are no longer on the public tit!!!!!!!!

"What?", I replied, "Are we to deny welfare recipients the basic humanity and comfort of family and children?" and thus stirred the hornet's nest as she and her friends set out to put me in my place. And, because I suggested that there was always a sub-text of race in such talk, I was quickly castigated as introducing race issues where none were intended.

I was then told that those children were a "burden on society" and if I felt so strongly about it, "Why don't you adopt a mixed-race, mongoloid, crack-baby or shut up!" So much for the racial neutrality of the original remark. And so much for reasoned debate about a serious issue of concern. One respondent told me she was "offended" by my pointing out that since humankind originated in Africa and dispersed throughout the world, in effect, we are all "mixed race".

I was, by this time, thinking about check-book liberals and "blue-eyed soul" wherein the "do-gooders" enjoy a sense of superiority to those they claim to support or assist and continued my argument that compulsory, state-mandated contraception was only slightly removed from state-sponsored sterilization of targeted demographics.

When I wrote out that Norplant required a surgical procedure (implantation) with close medical supervision which would carry with it an additional cost to tax-payers and that Norplant carries some very serious serious side-effects and hideous health risks, I was told, "So does my blood pressure medicine".

And strangely...or maybe not, I got no answer to my query about why only women were being targeted, surely men carry an equal responsibility.

By this point, I bailed out of the exchange seeing that whatever reason and good sense this woman had was being overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment and the need to be right despite the outrageously horrible depths which, if carried out, her notion would take society.

Do we want the sort of society in which the state can dictate who can and cannot have children based on their economic status? Do we want to live in a society in which the children of the poor are regarded as "burdens on society"? Do we want a society in which the state can compel a woman to undergo medical procedures to prevent having children?

For me the answer is a very loud and very decided HELL NO!

At the same time, you would find me the heartiest proponent of education, family planning, and counseling and guidance as to the consequences of having children which one has no way of supporting, except though state stipends or charity. You would also find me a supporter of strong unions, jobs creation, educational assistance, and other programs to rebuild the middle-class and to give working families the assistance they need to advance themselves and their children into safe, comfortable and rewarding lives.

Compulsory contraception would provide none of that.

15 February 2010

Social Security is Solid, Despite Recession

Social Security Trust Fund Analysis: Need to Look at the Long

Social Security took in only $3 billion more in taxes last year
than it paid out in benefits - a $60 billion decline from 2008,
according to federal data.

The recession is blamed in part, as it added to the hundreds
of thousands of workers retiring or claiming disability. USA
Today, using Congressional Budget Office numbers, reports that
the impact of the recession is likely to reduce Social
Security revenues again this year and next.

The slide in revenues occurred sooner than Social Security
actuaries had expected, for several reasons: Payroll tax
revenue that was growing at a 4.5% average annual clip along
with wages flattened out in 2009 because of rising unemployment
and disappearing pay raises; the number of retired workers who
began taking benefits increased by 20%; those taking disability
jumped by 10%; and monthly Social Security benefits were raised
5.8% due to a spike in energy prices the year before.

Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired
Americans, responded, "The overall surplus of the Social
Security Trust Fund is still $2.5 trillion; this is not a
cataclysm. We must look at the financial picture of Social
Security as actuaries do, over the long-term, which would be
over a 75-year timeline. We cannot allow privatizers to use
temporary recessions - even deep ones - to ruin the system that
has worked for millions of seniors over several decades.

Health Care Reform - Need Becomes More Critical

Insurance Premium Increase of 39% in California Adds to Health
Reform Urgency

The health care problem remains on the center stage now that
Anthem Blue Cross of California has unveiled rate increases of
up to 39 percent for its 800,000 individual policyholders.

These increases, which will take effect on March 1, far outpace
the increases of 10 to 25% seen in previous years among most
insurers offering individual policies.

Kaiser Health News and The San Diego Union-Tribune report that
as the economy slowly recovers, health insurance costs for
those with individual policies continue to increase due to
larger numbers of unemployed and those relying on government
health care programs. As a result, "hospitals and doctors are
passing on more of their uncompensated costs to patients with
private insurance."

The San Francisco Chronicle adds that "California physical,
occupational and speech therapists are also taking issue with
Anthem. The therapists said the insurer cut their reimbursement
rates by 30 to 50% on February 1. In addition, the Chronicle
reports that patients covered by other health insurers, including
Health Net and Aetna, are reporting being hit with sky-high

"This is exactly the kind of news that proves we need health
care reform immediately," said Barbara J. Easterling, President
of the Alliance for Retired Americans.

09 February 2010

Benefit of Doing Crosswords: I Know the Meaning of "Ort."

Century Dictionary (5)

  1. A fragment; a scrap; a piece of refuse: usually in the plural. Let him have time a beggar's orts to crave. Shak., Lucrece, l. 985. Hang thee, thou parasite, thou son of crumbs And orts! B. Jonson, New Inn, v. 1. I wouldn't give a fiddlestick's end for all the Constitutions in creation. They take the best of everything, and leave us only the orts and hog-wash. S. Judd, Margaret, ii. 7.
Beggars, parasites, sons of crumbs and hog-wash should be familiar words to many of America's older people. After all, aren't those the hidden words which define the attitudes of our politicians, and the monied interests who own them, toward seniors and retirees.?

Instead of being honored; we are patronized, instead of being venerated; we are subjected to snickering; instead of respect we receive impatience; instead of meaningful and effective programs to insure that every older American lives out their later years in peace, comfort, safety and economic well-being; we get the "Orts" from the economic table.

Yes, we get, despite more than a century of hard-work by activists and politician's promises to each passing generation what we get is the refuse, the crumbs, the leavings and the scraps from the rich repast enjoyed by those who own our economic system and the politicians who set the policies of that system.

Oh but, you say, there's Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and meals-on-wheels and senior centers. OK, I reply, those are the "Orts" of which I speak.

Let's talk first about Medicare. How often are you told that Medicare is rife with fraud and waste and will shortly be bankrupt? Medicare, while essential in cushioning the effects of catastrophic illnesses or accidents, fails in so many ways to meet the needs of today's older persons and their families. The program enriches insurance, drug and health care providers but leaves older people holding the bag for deductibles, co-pays and high-cost premiums for supplemental insurances to lighten the effect of some of those burdens. Medicare's failure to provide an equitable drug, vision, dental, or preventative programs and in-place assistance to families with frail or sickly aged family members are very well documented. Compared to what the wealthy get, or for that matter, the coverage Congress has given its self, Medicare is nice, but hardly the sort of treat one wants to set up and beg for.

Social Security is a highly effective way of preventing seniors, the disabled, widows and orphans from sliding entirely into poverty. But, it does not come close to meeting all the needs of retirees or older people who have left the work force due to infirmity or the effects of age. Yet, we see the insurance moguls and robber barons of wall street cackling like jackals in the night at the thought of privatizing this important program. Imagine General Motors, Enron or AIG overseeing your Social Security Insurance. But even at that, Social Security fails to meet the test of providing a safe and secure retirement for most older people. Too many are left hovering right at or below the poverty line as they struggle to pay their Medicare, their supplemental insurances, their medicines, their food, their lodging and the run away costs of unregulated utilities.

Getting the picture? Older Americans get the scraps...huh? Oh yeah. Medicare. Well, let's be kind and just say Medicare is woefully underfunded and those who rely on it are considered as beggars and parasites.

Now, let me provide the solution. Do not expect anything to happen to change this without your action to bring about that change. Join grassroots organizations which fight for seniors, run for office yourself and stay on the phone to your representatives telling them what you want, what you deserve, what you're entitled to, what you've earned!

Tell them you don't want their damned "Orts", and snicker while they race for the dictionary. But don't expect to run across any of them at a senior center or relying on "Meals-on-Wheels" for a least one decent, hot meal each day!

08 February 2010

Superbowl Questions...

This year's Superbowl left me wondering a few things.

Why are the sports writers so enthralled with Sean Payton's call for an onside kick and the earlier fourth-down attempt at a TD rather than field goal? They're calling those "courageous" decisions. Crap and nonsense, courageous is living your life effectively while facing adversity or overcoming tragedy, fear or grief with grace and resolve. It is not making smart decisions in a football game.

If the Saints had failed with the onside kick, they would have been in no worse shape than if there had been a long run back on a kick off. Risky?, yes. Courageous?, no! The fourth-down attempt left the Colts backed up to their end zone with the pressure on them to play conservatively and not to turn over the ball in their own red zone. Again, good aggressive coaching, but nothing particularly courageous.

Do others think that maybe the Colts came into the game with a sense of entitlement and got smacked in the mouth buy a tough, confident group of blue-collar players?

Am I the only person, except for my wife, who thinks those talking baby commercials are ghastly and creepy?

Do these jocks that jab their finger skyward every time they do that for which they get handed an unrealistic amount of money actually believe that their deity is watching them and would give a hoot about such? Seems to me that if such an omniscient deity as that were to actually exist, it would have less mundane things to pay attention to. After all, it would surely be up in the sky-boxes with the rest of the hoi-polloi and thus would be too wrapped up in all the drinking, carousing, gorging and eying of the tightly-coiffed, face-lifted, skin-peeled, trophy wives of the fat, red-faced, blustery, middle-aged white guys who own the teams to notice what was going on down on the field.

And under the category of, "What in the name of hell could they have been thinking?"...The Who! One could sum up their Superbowl Half-Time show as an appearance by The Was! Now, I'm an old guy, and I applaud old guys who can still do the things they did when they were young. But, when one can no longer do those things, one ought to quit doing them. If you persist, and can't pull it off you look very foolish.

And, as we focus on old dudes, whoever thought that putting a bunch of fat, middle-aged guys on TV wearing only their skivvies would be a clever notion should be shopping around his resume this morning. Not as ghastly, but nearly as creepy as talking babies.

Where were the Clydesdales? Yeah, yeah, I know, but that wasn't enough and not very good at that. Frankly, this year's commercials all seemed a bit tired and lame. They were probably aimed at old men who wander around in their skivvies, sucking on light beer while eating Doritos and heartily laughing at the antics of ghastly and creepy talking babies while nattering endlessly about courageous coaches and on-side kicks and fourth-down TD attempts.

05 February 2010

Obama: $250 to Seniors in Budget

President's Budget Includes $250 Stimulus Payment for Social
Security Recipients

President Obama's Fiscal Year 2011 budget proposes a $250 payment to
Social Security recipients. The relief would come at a time when Social
Security beneficiaries will not be receiving a normal cost-of-living
adjustment (COLA) because of a formula that forbids adjustments during
times of negative inflation.

"Without a COLA, far too many of America's seniors will find it even
more difficult to purchase basic necessities, heat their homes and pay
for their medications," said Barbara J.Easterling, President of the
Alliance for Retired Americans. "We urge Congress to similarly work to
provide much-needed economic relief to older Americans who are
struggling to make ends meet during these difficult times," she
continued. "The President's budget proposal will provide Social
Security beneficiaries with the equivalent of a 2% increase in benefits
and will help greatly to bolster their financial security."

As expected, the budget also calls for a Bipartisan Fiscal Commission
that will address the growth of entitlement spending, including Social
Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. A plan to freeze non-security
discretionary spending for three years to address the budget deficit
would not affect those programs.

"We must watch this fiscal commission development carefully, so that
the budget is not balanced on the backs of seniors," said
Edward F. Coyle, Executive Director of the Alliance.

Other items in the budget are aimed at supporting seniors. These include
$3.3-billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP);
funds to reduce Social Security backlogs; and money to help families
care for aging relatives at home. Retirement security initiatives
include establishing automatic workplace IRAs, with employees being able
to "opt-out" if they choose; doubling the credit for small employers
starting a retirement plan; and providing a 50-percent match on the
retirement savings of families that earn less than $85,000.

04 February 2010

Guest Article - From Barbara O'Brien

Would Health Care Reform Help You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Barbara O’Brien::

Barbara O'Brien
is a well known liberal blogger whose book "Blogging American Political Discourse in a Digital Nation" takes on the left-right debate and how blogging influences and changes the dichotomy. She led the way in using blogging to oppose the Iraq War and giving citizens power in the media. She has a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri. She writes the blog Mahablog.

This was the first in what will be an ongoing effort to bring you the thoughts of other progressive writers, thinkers and activists.

03 February 2010

Public Option - Very Much Alive

Hard-Hitting Progressive Representatives Tell Senate:
Use Reconciliation & House Will Pass It!

Armed with petitions signed by over 225,000 Americans from several progressive action groups, Freshman Representatives, Jared Polis (D-CO) and Alan Grayson (D-FL) delivered this message to Senator Harry Reid.

01 February 2010

The Deficit and Seniors

We are entering a period in which budget cutting and reducing the federal deficit will become the knee-jerk watch words of politicians of all stripes. Seniors, whose life experiences have taught them the dangers of careless budgeting, are very uncomfortable with our country's large deficits and do not want to leave behind such debt to burden our children and grandchildren.

At the same time, we know that the programs which provide safety-nets and safe and secure retirements for Older Americans did not create those deficits. Reckless, neo-liberal economics with their unconscionable tax breaks to the very wealthy and large, stateless corporations combined with two unfunded and unnecessary wars did that.

You can expect politicians mouthing the budget and deficit buzz words to utter in their next breath "entitlements" which freely translates to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Already the way is being paved with virtually daily dire warnings about Social Security and Medicare bankruptcy and collapse. Do not expect them to go after giant corporations with no national boundaries or loyalties beyond unrestrained and unregulated growth and profit. They will target the quick and simple and will promise that their cuts will not affect today's seniors, only coming generations whose very participation threaten to bring down these vital programs from their sheer number.

Seniors need to be aware of this and be prepared to once again fight for the welfare and protection of our children and grandchildren with exactly the same zeal with which we staved off Bush's coterie of liars, thieves, cut-purses and mendicants when they attempted to purloin Social Security and sneak off with it to give to Wall-Street speculators under the mantle of "privatization".

Right now, even with these programs, too many seniors struggle to get by and we do not want to see future generations of Americans loose these essential support systems.

Take, for example, the Social Security Trust Fund. Despite what you may have heard or read from conservatives, it is actually running a surplus, and would have an even greater surplus had not our government raided it for other purposes.

Medicare costs have risen and continue to rise because health care costs continue to spiral upward, virtually out of control, making even richer the massive insurance and drug companies which profit from our illnesses, conditions and accidents. The simple truth is that unscrupulous "for-profit" health care providers have exploited and cashed in on a program originally designed to keep America's seniors and retirees from economic catastrophe in their later years.

Today 50-million Americans receive monthly Social Security benefits and 90% of those are 65 and older. Tragically one-in-five of recipients have only that monthly benefit to look forward to in order to buy food, shelter, and medication.

These programs are the bedrock of income security for nearly all Americans, providing guaranteed benefits to retirees, those with disabilities, and the survivors (widows and children) of retired and deceased workers. They are essential to the well-being of our nation and must be honored for present and future generations of Americans.

Seniors should urge congress to strengthen--not weaken--retirement savings including private pensions and 401Ks while, at same time, protecting them from the predatory recklessness of Wall Street financiers. We, must also demand that congress pass a strong health reform bill ASAP to break the hold on health care by the insurance Tsars and drug oligarchs. We're living the results of their unchecked decade of greed!

We must also insist that serious action be taken to properly fund these life-support programs by properly taxing the wealthiest Americans who benefit the most from capitalism and we should demand an exploration of the ways to raise the wage cap on social security taxes. Right now, a millionaire pays no more in Social Security taxes than does a working family earning $106,000.

The message is really quite simple: Do not balance the budget on the backs of America's seniors!