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Weekly Pulse: Paul Ryan’s Medicare Swindle

7:22 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Creative Commons, Flickr, Jason L. Parks

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

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

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

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

Mitt Romney and health care

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

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

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

Demonizing pregnant users

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

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

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

Hungry women and children

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

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

Big Pharma hikes HIV drug prices

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

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

Weekly Pulse: #DearJohn, Does Banning Abortion Trump Job Growth?

2:25 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

With millions of Americans out of work, House Republicans are focusing in on real priorities: decimating private abortion coverage and crippling public funding for abortion, as Jessica Arons reports in RH Reality Check.

In AlterNet, Amanda Marcotte notes that the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, or H.R. 3, also redefines rape as “forcible rape” in order to determine whether a patient is eligible for a Medicaid-funded abortion. Under the Hyde Amendment, government-funded insurance programs can only cover abortions in cases of rape and incest, or to save the life of the mother. Note that the term “forcible rape” is  legally meaningless. Supporters of the bill just want to go on the record as saying that a poor 13-year-old girl pregnant by a 30-year-old should be forced to give birth.

Feminist blogger Sady Doyle has launched a twitter campaign against the bill under the hashtag #dearjohn, a reference to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). Tweet to let him know how you feel about a bill that discriminates against 70% of rape victims because their rapes weren’t violent enough for @johnboehner, append the hashtag #dearjohn.

Everybody chill out

A federal judge in Florida ruled the entire Affordable Care Act unconstitutional on Monday. However, as political scientist and court watcher Scott Lemieux explains at TAPPED, the ruling is not necessarily a death blow to health care reform:

[T]his ruling is less important than the controversy it will generate might suggest. Many cornerstone programs of the New Deal were held unconstitutional by lower courts before being upheld by the Supreme Court. This ruling tells us nothing we didn’t already know: There is a faction of conservative judges who believe the individual mandate is unconstitutional. Unless this view has the support of five members of the Supreme Court — which I still consider very unlikely — it won’t matter; Vinson’s reasoning would have a much greater impact if adopted by the Court, but for this reason it is even less likely to be adopted by higher courts.

In a follow-up post, Lemieux explains the shaky legal reasoning behind Judge Robert Vinson’s decision. The judge asserts bizarrely that being uninsured has no effect on interstate commerce. That premise is objectively false. Health insurers operate across state lines and the size and composition of their risk pools directly affects their business.

Given the glaring factual inaccuracies, Judge Vinson’s decision may be overturned by a higher court before it gets to the Supreme Court.

Scamming Medicare

Terry J. Allen of In These Times win’s the headline of the week award for an article entitled “Urology’s Golden Revenue Stream.” She reports that increasing numbers of urologists are investing millions on machines to irradiate prostate cancer in the office. The doctors can bill Medicare up to $40,000 per treatment, but they have to use the machines a lot to recoup the initial investment. So what does this mean for patients? Allen explains:

Rather than accessing centralized equipment and sharing costs, physicians are concentrating their own profits by buying expensive in-practice technologies that pay off only if regularly used. One result is overtreatment, which is driving up health care costs, exposing patients to unnecessary radiation and surgeries, and is frequently no better than cheaper approaches.

One third of Medicare patients with prostate cancer undergo the expensive IMRT therapy, as the procedure is known. In 2008, Medicare shelled out over a billion dollars on a treatment that has not shown to be any better for patients than less expensive therapies.

Obstetric fistula in the developing world

Reproductive Health Reality Check is running a special series on the human rights implications of obstetric fistula. Fistula is a devastating complication of unrelieved obstructed labor in which the baby’s head gets stuck in the birth canal and presses against the soft tissues of the pelvis. If labor goes on long enough, the pressure will starve the pelvic tissues of blood, and they will die, creating a hole between the vagina and the bladder, and/or between the vagina and the rectum. Fistula patients face lifelong incontinence, chronic pain, and social ostracism.

The condition is virtually unknown in the developed world, where women with obstructed labor have access to cesarean delivery. However, an estimated 2 million women, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, have untreated fistulas with an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 new cases occurring each year. Without reconstructive surgery, these women will be incontinent for life.

Sarah Omega, a fistula survivor from Kenya, tells her story. Omega sustained a fistula when she delivered her first child at the age of 19. She suffered for 12 years before she finally obtained the surgery she needed. As Agnes Odhiambo explains in another installment in the series, fistula is a symptom of a dysfunctional health care system. Women suffer needlessly because they can’t get access to quality health care.

The most likely victims of fistula are the most vulnerable members of their respective communities. Early childbearing increases a woman’s risk of fistula. Pregnant rape victims may face even greater barriers to a safe delivery, thanks to the social stigma that accrues to victims of sexual violence in many societies. (Not to mention any names, House Republicans…)

Preventing and repairing obstetric fistula is a major human rights issue. The U.S. should make this effort a high priority for foreign aid.

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

Weekly Pulse: White House Takes Offensive Against Health Care Repeal

3:14 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

This week, House Republicans will hold a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The bill is expected to pass the House, where the GOP holds a majority, but stall in the Democratic-controlled Senate. In the meantime, the symbolic vote is giving both Republicans and Democrats a pretext to publicly rehash their views on the legislation.

At AlterNet, Faiz Shakir and colleagues point out that repealing health care reform would cost the federal government an additional $320 billion over the next decade, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. The authors also note that despite Republican campaign promises to “repeal and replace” the law, their bill contains no replacement plan. Health care reform protects Americans with preexisting conditions from some forms discrimination by insurers. At least half of all Americans under the age of 65 could be construed as having a preexisting condition. No wonder only 1 in 4 Americans support repeal, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll released on Monday.

Perhaps that explains, as Paul Waldman reports at TAPPED, why the White House is vigorously defending health care reform. The Obama administration is making full use of the aforementioned statistics from The Department Health and Human Services on the percentage of Americans who have preexisting conditions:

As the House prepares to vote on the “Repeal the Puppy-Strangling Job-Vivisecting O-Commie-Care Act,” or whatever they’re now calling it, the White House and its allies actually seem to have their act together when it comes to fighting this war for public opinion. The latest is an analysis from the Department of Health and Human Services on just how many people have pre-existing conditions, and thus will be protected from denials of health insurance when the Affordable Care Act goes fully into effect in 2014

Republicans are fuming that Democrats are “politicizing” a policy debate by bringing up the uncomfortable fact that, if the GOP’s repeal plan became law, millions of people could lose their health insurance. As Waldman points out, the high incidence of preexisting conditions is an argument for a universal mandate. It’s impossible to insure people with known health problems at an affordable cost unless they share the risk with healthier policy-holders. Hence the need for a mandate.

Anti-choice at the end of life

In The Nation, Ann Neumann explains how anti-choice leaders fought to re-eliminate free end-of-life counseling for seniors under Medicare. The provision was taken out of the health care reform bill but briefly reinstated by Department of Health and Social Services before being rescinded again by HHS amid false allegations by anti-choice groups, including The Family Research Council, that the government was promulgating euthanasia for the elderly.

As seen on TV

The Kansas-based anti-choice group Operation Rescue is lashing out at the Iowa Board of Medicine for dismissing their complaint against Dr. Linda Haskell, Lynda Waddington reports in The Iowa Independent. Dr. Haskell attracted the ire of anti-choicers for using telemedicine to help doctors provide abortion care. The board investigated Operation Rescue’s allegations, which it cannot discuss or even acknowledge, but found no basis for sanctions against Haskell. Iowa medical authorities said they were still deliberating about the rules for telemedicine in general.

Salon retracts RFK vaccine story

Online news magazine Salon.com has retracted a 2005 article by Robert Kennedy, Jr. alleging a link between childhood vaccines and autism, Kristina Chew reports at Care2. The article leaned heavily on now discredited research by Dr. Andrew Wakefield. His research had been discredited for some time, but only recently did an investigative journalist reveal that Wakefield skewed his data as part of an elaborate scam to profit from a lawsuit against vaccine makers.

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

Weekly Pulse: On Health Care Repeal, House GOP Full of Sound and Fury

6:46 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

House Republicans will hold a symbolic vote to overturn health care reform on January 12. The bill, which would repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and set the nation’s health care laws back to the way they were last March, has no chance of becoming law. The GOP controls the House, but Democrats control the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the Senate Democrats will block the bill.

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones reports that the 2-page House bill carries no price tag. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the ACA would save $143 billion dollars over the next decade. The GOP repeal bill contains no alternative plan. So, repealing the ACA would be tantamount to adding $143 billion to the deficit. So much for fiscal responsibility.

Why are the Republicans rushing to vote on a doomed bill without even bothering to hold hearings, or formulate a counter-proposal for the Congressional Budget Office to score? Kevin Drum of Mother Jones hazards a guess:

[Speaker John] Boehner [(R-OH)] knows two things: (a) he has to schedule a repeal vote because the tea partiers will go into open revolt if he doesn’t, and (b) it’s a dead letter with nothing more than symbolic value. So he’s scheduling a quick vote with no hearings and no CBO scoring just so he can say he’s done it, after which he can move on to other business he actually cares about.

An opportunity?

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly argues that all this political theater around repealing the Affordable Care Act is an opportunity for Democrats to remind the public about all the popular aspects of the bill that the GOP is trying to strip away.

Last weekend several key provisions of the ACA took effect, including help for middle income seniors who are running up against the prescription drug “donut hole.” Until last Saturday, their drugs were covered up to a relatively low threshold, then they were on their own until they spent enough on prescriptions for the catastrophic coverage to kick in again. Those seniors will be reluctant to give up their brand new 50% discount on drugs in the donut hole.

Another crack at turning eggs into persons

A Colorado ballot initiative to bestow full human rights on fertilized ova was resoundingly defeated for the second time in the last midterm elections. Attempts to reclassify fertilized ova as people are an attempt to ban abortion, stem cell research, and some forms of birth control. Patrick Caldwell of the American Independent reports that new egg-as-person campaigns are stirring in other states where activists hope to take advantage of new Republican majorities.

Personhood USA, the group behind the failed Colorado ballot initiatives, claims that there is “action” (of some description) on personhood legislation in 30 states. Caldwell says Florida may be the next battleground. Personhood USA needs 676,000 signatures to get their proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. Right now, they have zero, but they promise a “big push” in 2011.

Ronald McDonald = Joe the Camel

In AlterNet, Kelle Louaillier calls for more regulation of fast food industry advertising to children. New research shows that children are being exposed to significantly more fast food ads than they were just a few years ago. Other studies demonstrate that children give higher marks to food products when they are paired with a cartoon character. Louaillier writes of her organization’s campaign to prevent fast food companies from using cartoons to market fast food to kids:

For our part, my organization launched a campaign in March to convince McDonald’s to retire Ronald McDonald, its iconic advertising character, and the suite of predatory marketing practices of which the clown is at the heart. A study we commissioned by Lake Research Partners found that more than half of those polled say they “favor stopping corporations from using cartoons and other children’s characters to sell harmful products to children.”

Local elected officials are joining the cause, too. Los Angeles recently voted to make permanent a ban on the construction of new fast food restaurants in parts of the city. San Francisco has limited toy giveaway promotions to children’s meals that meet basic health criteria. The idea is spreading to other cities.

2011 trendspotting: Baby food

The hot new snack trend for 2011 is mush, as Bonnie Azab Powell reports in Grist. In an attempt to burnish its portfolio of “healthier” snack options for kids Tropicana (a PepsiCo company) is introducing a new line of pureed fruit and vegetable slurries. The products, sold under the brand name Tropolis, feature ground up fruits and veggies, vitamin C, and fiber in a portable plastic pouch. These “drinkified snacks” or “snackified drinks” will be priced at $2.49 to $3.49 for a four-pack, making them more expensive than fresh fruit.

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

Weekly Pulse: End-of-Life Counseling Returns, But Death Panels Still Nonsense

9:36 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

A proposed program to cover counseling sessions for seniors on end-of-life care has risen from the ashes of health care reform and found a new life in Medicare regulations, Jason Hancock of the American Independent reports.

In August, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin started a rumor via her Facebook page that the the Obama administration was backing “death panels” that would vote on whether the elderly and infirm had a right to live. In reality, the goal was to have Medicare reimburse doctors for teaching patients how to set up their own advance directives that reflect their wishes on end-of-life care.

Patients can use their advance directives to stipulate their wishes for treatment in the event that they are too sick to make decisions for themselves. They can also use those directives to demand the most aggressive lifesaving interventions.

Waste not, want not

Though end-of-life counseling was ultimately gutted from the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the legislation will eventually ensure health coverage for 32 million more Americans. However, Joanne Kenen in The American Prospect argues it will do comparatively less to curb the high costs of health care. The architects of the ACA had an opportunity to include serious cost-containment measures like a robust public health insurance option to compete with private insurers, but they declined to do so.

Kenen argues that the government should more aggressively target waste within the health care delivery system, especially Medicare and Medicaid. Unchecked and rising health care costs through Medicare and Medicaid are a significantly greater driver of the deficit than Social Security or discretionary spending:

“The waste is enormous,” says Harvard health care economist David Cutler. “You can easily convince yourself that there is 40 to 50 percent to be saved.” Squeezing out every single bit of that inefficient or unnecessary care may not be realistic. But it also isn’t necessary; eliminating even a small fraction of the current waste each year over the next decade would make a huge difference, he added. Health care would finally start acting like “a normal industry.” Productivity would grow, in the one area of the economy where it has not, and with productivity gains, prices could be expected to fall.

The new end-of-life counseling program will help reduce waste in the system, not by pressuring people to forgo treatments they want, but by giving them the tools to refuse treatments they don’t want.

Teen births down, but why?

The teen birth rate has dropped again, according to the latest CDC statistics. Births to women under the age of 20 declined by 6% in 2009 compared to 2008. One hypothesis is that the reduction is an unexpected consequence of the recession, an argument we pointed to in last week’s edition of the Pulse. John Tomasic of the Colorado Independent is skeptical of the recession hypothesis. He writes:

Emily Bridges, director of public information services at Advocates for Youth, agrees with other observers in pointing out that teens aren’t likely to include national economics as a significant factor in pondering whether or not to have unprotected sex. Peer pressure, badly mixed booze, general awkwardness, for example, are much more likely than the jobless recovery to play on the minds of horny high schoolers.

Some states with weak economies actually saw a rise in teen birth rates, Tomasic notes. However, this year’s sharp downturn in teen births parallels a drop in fertility for U.S. women of all ages, which seems best explained by economic uncertainty.

It’s true that prospective teen moms are less likely to have jobs in the first place, and so a bad job market might be less likely to sway their decisions. However, young women who aren’t working are unlikely to have significant resources of their own to draw on, which means that they are heavily dependent upon others for support. If their families and partners are already struggling to make ends meet, then the prospect of another mouth to feed may seem even less appealing than usual.

Abortion is the elephant in the room in this discussion. The CDC numbers only count live births. Logically, fewer live births must be the result of fewer conceptions and/or more terminations. Some skeptics doubt that economic factors have much to do with teens’ decisions about contraception. However, it seems plausible that decisions about abortion would be heavily influenced by the economic health of the whole extended family.

Last year’s decrease was notably sharp, but teen birth rates have been declining steadily for the last 20 years. The Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based non-profit that specializes in research on reproductive choice and health, suggests that successive generations of teens are simply getting savvier about contraception. Births to mothers between the ages of 15 and 17 are down 48% from 1991 levels, and births to mothers ages 18 to 19 are down 30%.

Stupid drug dealer tricks

Martha Rosenberg of AlterNet describes 15 classic dirty tricks deployed by Big Pharma to push drugs. These include phony grassroots patient groups organized by the drug companies to lobby for approval of dubious remedies. Another favorite money-making strategy is to overcharge Medicare and Medicaid. Pharmaceutical companies have paid nearly $15 billion in wrongdoing settlements related to Medicare and Medicaid chicanery over the last five years.

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

Weekly Pulse: Egg Salad Surprise! Congress Votes to Clean Up Food Supply

5:11 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

It’s a Christmas-week miracle! The Senate, in a vote that astonished everyone, brought the Food Safety and Modernization Act back from the dead on Monday, as Siddhartha Mahanta reports in Mother Jones. The bill, which will enact tougher consumer protections against E. coli and other deadly contaminants in staples like eggs and peanut butter, died in the Senate last week when the omnibus spending bill it had been folded into kicked the bucket.

At Grist, Tom Philpott explains the initial demise, and the basis for the ultimate resurrection of the bill. The House passed the bill on Tuesday, having already passed it twice before.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law, which will usher in the first major overhaul of the country’s food safety system in more than 70 years. Food poisoning strikes 48 million Americans (1 in 6), lands 128,000 in the hospital, and kills 3,000 ever year, according to CDC figures released last week. Now that’s something to talk about with your relatives around the holiday dinner table.

Wisconsin clinic backs off 2nd trimester abortion care

A clinic in Wisconsin has reneged on its commitment to provide second trimester abortion care, as Judy Shackelford reports in The Progressive. Shackelford is outraged that the Madison Surgery Center walked back on its promise to patients. She knows first hand how important later term abortion access can be.

Shackelford found herself in need of a second trimester abortion when she developed a blood clot in her arm during her second, much-wanted pregnancy. She decided to terminate rather than risk leaving her 7-year-old son motherless. It was hard enough to find an abortion provider when she needed one, but if she needed the procedure today, she would have nowhere to turn.

Teen birth rate at record low

The birth rate for women ages 15-19 fell to 39.1 per 1000 between 2008 and 2009, the National Center for Health Statistics announced Tuesday. Many commentators, including Goddessjaz of feministing attribute the drop to the recession. The economy seems to be an important factor because birth rates dropped in all age groups, not just among teens.

Predictably, proponents of abstinence-only-until-hetero-marriage are trying to take credit for the falling birth rate. It’s not clear why they think ab-only is finally starting to work after years of unrelenting failure. Perhaps it was Bristol Palin’s electrifying performance on “Dancing With the Stars”?

Get the government out of my Medicare

We’ve become accustomed to the ironic spectacle of senior citizens on Medicare-funded scooters decrying the “government takeover of health care.” Medicare is wildly popular, even among those who decry “socialized medicine.” When the Affordable Care Act is finally implemented, it won’t feel like a government program, either. Paul Waldman of The American Prospect wonders if this “private sector” feel will undermine support for the program:

The Republican officials challenging the ACA in court have characterized its individual insurance mandate as an act of tyranny ranking somewhere between the Stalinist purges and Mao’s Cultural Revolution. But in the “government takeover” of health care (recently declared the 2010 “Lie of the Year” by the fact-checking site PolitiFact), Americans will continue to visit their private doctors to receive care paid for by their private insurance companies. The irony is that if the ACA actually were a “government takeover,” people would end up feeling much better about government’s involvement in health care. But since it maintains the private system, conservatives can continue to decry government health care safe in the knowledge that most people under 65 won’t know what they’re missing, or in another sense, what they’re getting.

If people don’t realize that they’re benefiting from government programs, they are less likely to support those programs. In an attempt to deflect Republican criticism, the Democrats assiduously scrubbed as much of the aura of government off of health reform as they could. This could prove to be a disastrously short-sighted strategy. If health reform works, the government won’t get the credit, but rest assured that if it fails, it will take the full measure of blame.

Funding for community health centers at risk

One of the lesser-known provisions of the Affordable Care Act was to expand the capacity of community health centers (CHCs) from 20 million to 40 million patients by 2015. This extra capacity will be key for absorbing the millions of previously uninsured Americans who are slated to get health insurance under the ACA.

CHCs have been praised by Democrats and Republicans as an affordable way to provide quality health care. However, state budget crises are threatening to derail the plan, as Dan Peterson reports for Change.org. States must contribute to the program in order to qualify for federal funding. However, state funding for CHCs has plummeted by 42% since 2007. So far this year, 23 states have cut funding for CHCs and eight have slashed their budgets by 20% or more.

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

Weekly Pulse: Judge Rules Against Health Reform, Takes Cash from Opponents

11:36 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The Virginia federal judge who ruled against a key component of health care reform on Monday has ties to a Republican consulting firm. Judge Henry Hudson is a co-owner of Campaign Solutions, as Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! reports.

Hudson, a President George W. Bush appointee, has earned as much as $108,000 in royalties from Campaign Solutions since 2003. A cached version of the firm’s client roster lists such vocal opponents of health reform as Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Jim DeMint (R-SC), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), the Republican National Committee and the American Medical Association.

In November, Collins and Snowe joined McConnell in signing an amicus brief to challenge the constitutionality of health care reform in a separate suit in Florida. Campaign finance records show that Campaign Solutions has also worked for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is spearheading the lawsuit. Tiahrt added an amicus brief to Cuccinelli’s lawsuit.

Today, the mandate. Tomorrow, the regulatory state?

Hudson ruled that the individual mandate of health care reform is unconstitutional. The mandate stipulates that, after 2014, everyone who doesn’t already have health insurance will have to buy some or pay a small fine. The judge argues that this requirement exceeds the federal government’s power to regulate interstate commerce.

The Commerce Clause gives the federal government the power to regulate commerce between the states and international trade. Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones explains that this clause underpins the power of the federal government to regulate the economy in any way:

But the issues at stake in Cuccinelli v. Sebelius (Ken Cuccinelli is the conservative attorney general of Virginia; Katherine Sebelius is President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, or HHS) are actually far broader. Hudson’s ruling doesn’t just show how the Supreme Court could gut the health law—it shows how the court could neuter the entire federal government.

Is it constitutional?

Chris Hayes of The Nation interviews Prof. Gillian Metzger, a constitutional law scholar at Columbia University, about the merits of challenges to the constitutionality of health care reform. According to Metzger, “the argument that [the mandate] is outside the commerce power is also pretty specious given the existing precedent.”

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly accuses Judge Hudson of committing an “inexplicable error” in legal reasoning. There is a longstanding precedent that the federal government can regulate economic activity under the Commerce Clause. Hudson acknowledges this, but he maintains that this power doesn’t cover regulations of “economic inactivity” (i.e. not buying health insurance). As Benen notes, people who don’t buy insurance aren’t opting out of the market, they’re opting to let society absorb their future medical costs. Everyone who does buy insurance pays more because freeloaders coast without insurance and hope for the best.

Luckily for the Obama administration, the judge did not bar the implementation of health reform while the case works its way through the courts. The Supreme Court will ultimately hear this case. In the meantime, the federal government can continue building the infrastructure that will eventually support health care reform.

This is the third time a federal judge has ruled on the constitutionality of health care reforms and the first victory for the anti-reform contingent.

Mandatory mandate

Paul Waldman reminds TAPPED readers why the mandate is critical to any health care reform based on private insurance. With a single-payer system, you don’t need a mandate because everyone is automatically covered. A mandate only comes into play when you have to force people to buy insurance.

Without a mandate, healthy risk-takers who don’t buy insurance will starve the system of premiums while they are well and bleed the system for benefits when they get sick. Meanwhile, people who already know they’re sick will sign up in droves, and the Affordable Care Act will force insurers to accept them.  Without a mandate, the private health insurance industry would collapse and take health care reform down with it.

Is expanding Medicare the answer?

Matthew Rothschild of the Progressive argues that the legal headaches over the individual mandate illustrate why it would have been legally and procedurally easier to achieve universal health care by simply expanding Medicare to cover everyone.

At Truthout, Thom Hartmann argues universal health insurance in the form of “Medicare Part E” would spur economic growth and innovation because entrepreneurs could start businesses without worrying about how to provide health insurance for their employees.

Meanwhile, Brie Cadman reports at Change.Org, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is trying to defund health care reform by cutting funds for preventive health care. Coburn is urging his fellow Republicans to vote against a House-passed measure that would allocate $750 million for the 2011 Prevention and Public Health Fund. Cadman notes the irony of a medical doctor like Coburn, who also claims to be a fiscal conservative,  trying to scuttle funds to control preventable diseases which would otherwise cost society billions of dollars a year.

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

Weekly Pulse: DADT, Vampire Bees, and Other Hazards to Your Health

9:16 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Dr. Kenneth Katz recently published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine titled “Health Hazards of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” This week, he penned an op/ed for RH Reality Check about his experiences treating U.S. military at an STD clinic in San Diego. Dr. Katz sees the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” rule for LGB members of the military as a huge roadblock to good medical care. He’s pretty confident that his military patients feel safe divulging their sexual histories to a civilian doctor like himself. But when those troops go overseas, they are cared for by military doctors. Technically, doctor-patient communication is exempt from DADT, but many patients don’t realize that they can tell their military doctors about gay sex without fear of reprisals (at least in theory). Dr. Katz’s patients have told him that they won’t go for recommended follow-up STD screening after they ship out because they’re afraid to be honest with their doctors. He worries about how many troops are suffering from treatable infections in war zones because they aren’t allowed to serve openly.

Food stamp use skyrockets, swordfish sales unaccountably flat

Monica Potts of TAPPED points to the alarming statistic that in the last month alone an additional 500,000 Americans went on food stamps. She notes that the right wing website Daily Caller is alarmed not by the fact that fellow citizens can’t afford food, but rather that there’s no gruel-only foodstamp program available:

Meanwhile, the conservative news site The Daily Caller is shocked, shocked, to learn that you can use food stamps to buy all manner of food. The government, apparently, doesn’t restrict you from purchasing an $18-per-pound swordfish steak from Whole Foods. But that kind of discovery, like almost everything else in the “debate” over food stamp use, is the sort of ridiculous one that comes from a person who’s never been hungry.

The Hyde Amendment

In Campus Progress, Jessica Arons and Madina Agénor call for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment for being an assault on the reproductive rights of poor women and women of color. The Supreme Court declared abortion to be a constitutional right in 1973, yet nearly 40 years later, the Hyde Amendment still prohibits nearly all federal funding for abortions. In practice, the women most affected by the Hyde Amendment are those who depend on government health care programs like Medicaid and the Indian Health Service:

Former U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), the law’s sponsor, admitted during debate of his proposal that he was targeting poor women because they were the only ones vulnerable enough for him to reach. “I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman,” he said. “Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the … Medicaid bill.”

Meanwhile, ultra-conservative Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is calling on Congress to de-fund the reproductive health provider Planned Parenthood, Andy Birkey reports in the Minnesota Independent. In an interview with a conservative news site, Bachmann doubled down on that idea, suggesting that all of health care reform be de-funded because it funds abortions. This is not true. The aforementioned Hyde Amendment guarantees as much. Furthermore, even though health reform never would have funded abortions, President Obama signed an eleventh-hour executive order guaranteeing that health care reform would not fund abortions.

Brooklyn bees gorge on maraschino cherry run-off

Home beekeeping is the hottest new trend for health-conscious locavores. New York City recently changed the law to accommodate beekeepers in the five boroughs. Just because you live in an industrial neighborhood in Brooklyn is no reason to miss out on this sweet action, right? Well, actually, there is a catch. That nice honey at the farmers’ market tastes like lavender because that’s what those rural bees ate. What do bees in Red Hook, Brooklyn eat? Run-off from a maraschino cherry factory. The overindulgent bees “look like vampires” according to one local keeper and their honey runs bright red. Maraschino honey sounds like a delicious mash-up of high and low culture. Unfortunately, Sarah Goodyear reports in Grist that the end product doesn’t taste nearly as good as it looks. Arthur Mondella, the owner of Dell’s Maraschino Cherries, wants to do right by the beekeepers. He initially suggested putting out vats of different colored syrup to “help” the bees make rainbow honey. His proposal was not well-received by the crunchy set. Instead, he has agreed to work with the beekeepers to keep the bees out of the vats next year.

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

The Weekly Pulse: Michael Pollan’s Rules for Thanksgiving, Plus Whole Foods’ Healthcare Lies

11:19 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Editor’s Note: Happy Thanksgiving from the Media Consortium! This week, we aren’t stopping The Audit, The Pulse, The Diaspora, or The Mulch, but we are taking a bit of a break. Expect shorter blog posts, and The Diaspora and The Mulch will be posted on Wednesday afternoon, instead of their usual Thursday and Friday postings. We’ll return to our normal schedule next week.

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Wednesday is the heaviest travel day of the year in the United States, as millions of Americans head home to celebrate Thanksgiving. Some of you are probably reading this dispatch on PDAs as you wait in an interminable line at airport security. Here’s some food for thought.

At Grist, food writer Michael Pollan officially declares himself a Rules Guy. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean he won’t accept a Friday dinner invitation offered after noon on Wednesday. Pollan thinks that our healthy eating skills are passed down to us as part of food culture. In this era of drive-through windows and meal replacement bars, a lot of the old wisdom is falling by the wayside and Americans are finding themselves adrift in a sea of calories. On the eve of Thanksgiving, Pollan provides some helpful guidelines for avoiding the food coma:

[M]any ethnic traditions have their own memorable expressions for what amounts to the same recommendation. Many cultures, for examples, have grappled with the problem of food abundance and come up with different ways of proposing we stop eating before we’re completely full: the Japanese say “hara hachi bu” (“Eat until you are 4/5 full”); Germans advise eaters to “tie off the sack before it’s full.” And the prophet Mohammed recommended that a full belly should contain one-third food, one-third drink, and one-third air. My own Russian-Jewish grandfather used to say at the end of every meal, “I always like to leave the table a little bit hungry.”

But wait, there’s more!

  • Unions representing airline pilots and flight attendants are advising their members to avoid the the TSA’s new backscatter x-ray scans because of concerns about the long-term health effects of x-ray radiation. Crew members who refused scans have been subjected to new “enhanced” pat-down searches. This week, the TSA granted an exception to pilots, but not to flight attendants. As I reported for Working In These Times, all crew members go through the same FBI background check and fingerprinting process. “Don’t touch my junk!” has become a rallying cry for passengers, particularly white men, who are not accustomed to being asked to give up any part of their body’s autonomy for the greater good. Is it a coincidence that 95% of pilots are men and three-quarters of flight attendants are women? [Update: The TSA has relented. The agency announced Tuesday that flight attendants will now get the same exemption as pilots.]
  • Adam Serwer argues in The American Prospect that it’s easy to demand tough security measures when the presumed targets are faceless Muslims in a distant country. When air travelers are asked to compromise their own privacy in the name of security, the tradeoff suddenly seems very different.
  • Employee health insurance deductibles are skyrocketing at Whole Foods and CEO John Mackey is trying to blame the increase on health care reform. “This is very important for everyone to understand: 100% of the increases in deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums in 2011 compared to 2010 are due to new federal mandates and regulations,” Mackey wrote in a corporate memo. In fact, as Josh Harkinson reports in Mother Jones, Mackey’s memo is pure, organic BS. The provisions in the Affordable Care Act that might increase costs won’t go into effect until 2014, so it’s hard to figure out how federal policies could be responsible. Health insurance costs were rising by about 5% per year, year after year, before the Affordable Care Act passed. The truth is that health insurance is getting more expensive because health care is getting more expensive. As Harkinson points out, one of the reasons that health care is getting more expensive is because corporations like Whole Foods are pushing more of their employees into part-time work to avoid covering them. Of course, when those workers get sick, someone has to pick up the cost of their care. So those who have insurance, including some of Whole Foods’ own employees, have to pay more to make up the difference.

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

Weekly Pulse: The Coming War on Health Reform, Government Cheese, and how CPCs Incubate Anti-Choice Violence

8:26 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Republicans don’t have the votes to repeal health care reform, but they are determined to use their newly-won control of the House to fight it every step of the way. Marilyn Werber Serafini gives Truthout readers a sneak-peek at the GOP playbook to attack healthcare reform in 2011.

Who are some of the top contenders in this coming battle? Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) is a leading candidate to chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Barton is vowing, if elected chairman, to use the oversight powers of the committee to hold a flurry of hearings on alleged misconduct in the crafting of the Affordable Care Act. Barton plans to show that budget experts “covered up” the true projected costs of health care reform. In Barton’s world, the fact that there’s no evidence to support this allegation is all the more reason to investigate.

Other key players include James Gelfand, the director of health policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who has already compiled a wishlist of 31 investigations that he wants the newly Republican-controlled House to undertake. The Chamber spent millions to elect Republicans this cycle. Barton’s hearings will have to compete for political oxygen with those of Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), the chair apparent of the Investigations Committee, who is promising to gum up the works of government with at least to seven hearings a week for 40 weeks, a projected rate nearly triple that of his predecessor Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Ca).

Health care freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose

If they can’t undo health reform in the corridors of Washington, conservatives are looking to the states and the federal courts. In The Nation, Nicholas Kusnetz reports on how a coalition of hard right groups are organizing against health care reform at the state level.

A group known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is at the forefront of the drive to pass so-called “health care freedom acts” in the states to preemptively outlaw federal health reform before it can be implemented. ALEC claims to have filed or pre-filed bills in 38 states and passed 6 so far. Few expect these laws to stand up in court, if challenged, but they are part of ALEC’s long term strategy to fight health reform itself in the federal courts. A Virginia judge recently ruled that an ALEC-sponsored “freedom” law gave the state standing to challenge federal reform.

Kusnetz shows the close ties between ALEC officials and Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, and other Koch-Industries-funded conservative activist groups that are campaigning against health care reform in various capacities.

What about Medicare?

At the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen notes that many Republicans, including Senator-Elect Rand Paul (R-KY) successfully campaigned on a platform of repealing health care reform to save Medicare. Benen explains that repealing the Affordable Care Act would actually put Medicare in worse financial straights than staying the course. The Republican rhetoric of defending Medicare and railing against socialized medicine is a flagrant self-contradiction. It’s not hard to see which of these two projects they are more committed to.

As Brie Cadman points out at Change.org, the self-proclaimed “Young Guns” of the Republican Party are keen to privatize Medicare all together.

Government cheese: Corporate welfare edition

The USDA is scheming to make you eat more cheese. Tom Philpott of Grist explains how it works. Big Dairy produces more milk than Americans care to drink. Plus, consumers are increasingly demanding reduced-fat milk. That leaves a lot of milk left over to make cheese, but Americans aren’t eating enough cheese to make a dent in the national milk fat surplus.

Unsold milk fat could become a toxic asset on the books of Big Dairy. So, the USDA created a non-profit corporation called Dairy Management (DM) to convince fast food companies to spike their products with millions of tons more cheese every year. With the help of DM, Domino’s Pizza created a line of “Legend” pizzas with 40% more cheese. Who can forget the epic 2002 “Summer of Cheese” when DM teamed up with Pizza Hut to boost cheese consumption by an astonishing 102 million pounds? The average American now eats 33 pounds of cheese per year, three times as much as in 1970.

Officially, the USDA is supposed to help Americans eat better and support the agriculture industry. Cheese can be part of a healthy diet, but not in ever-increasing quantities. In practice, supporting the profits of Big Agra should not take precedence over preventing obesity or reducing the incidence of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

CPCs: Incubators for anti-choice violence

In Ms. Magazine, Kathryn Joyce explores the shadowy world of “crisis pregnancy centers,” anti-choice ministries that pose as full-service reproductive health clinics, but offer no real health services. CPCs have a business model built on deceit. They seek to prevent abortions by tricking women seeking comprehensive reproductive health care, which might include abortion.

Activism rooted in such deceit and contempt for women’s autonomy can flare into violence. Joyce reveals that CPCs also serve as incubators for radical anti-choice activism. Radical groups like Operation Rescue encourage their supporters to volunteer. Scott Roeder, the assassin of Dr. George Tiller, got his start accosting women on the street outside abortion clinics as a volunteer “sidewalk counselor” for a crisis pregnancy center.

Just the presence of a CPC near an abortion clinic is correlated with increased violence against the clinic, as Joyce reports:

A recent survey by the Feminist Majority Foundation of women’s reproductive-health clinics nationwide found 32.7 percent of clinics located near a CPC experienced one or more incidents of severe violence, compared to only 11.3 percent of clinics not near a CPC. (Severe violence includes clinic blockades and invasions, bombings, arson, bombing and arson threats, death threats, chemical attacks, stalking, physical violence and gunfire.)

Doctors on the front line see the overlap between CPCs and more virulent forms of anti-choice activism every day. “[CPCs and violent anti-choice activists] have two different spheres,” OB-GYN Dr. LeRoy Carhart, one of the nation’s last remaining specialists in late-term abortions, told Joyce. “The underlying theory of both is never let the truth stand in the way of getting your point across. If you distort facts to women, there is no difference.”

Flip Benham’s slap on the wrist

One of the activists Joyce interviews in her piece is Rev. “Flip” Benham, director of Operation Save America/Operation Rescue. Robin Marty of RH Reality Check reports that Benham was found guilty of stalking an abortion provider and posting “Wanted” posters with the doctor’s picture on them, accusing him of being a baby killer. Benham was sentenced to 24 months probation.

In his defense, Benham claimed that this was a harmless gesture that never killed anyone. In fact, “wanted” posters for abortion doctors are a time-honored intimidation tactic that has been used repeatedly before the murders of abortion providers. Benham is deliberately cultivating a climate of fear and rage is conducive to violence.

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