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Weekly Pulse: South Dakota’s Legislative Attack on Abortion Providers

1:21 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The South Dakota House of Representatives will soon vote on a bill that would expand the definition of justifiable homicide to include killing to protect the life of a fetus. The plain language of the bill would appear to legalize the murder of abortion providers for performing legal abortions on women who request them.

Kate Sheppard explains in Mother Jones:

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Phil Jensen, a committed foe of abortion rights, alters the state’s legal definition of justifiable homicide by adding language stating that a homicide is permissible if committed by a person “while resisting an attempt to harm” that person’s unborn child or the unborn child of that person’s spouse, partner, parent, or child. If the bill passes, it could in theory allow a woman’s father, mother, son, daughter, or husband to kill anyone who tried to provide that woman an abortion—even if she wanted one.

“The bill in South Dakota is an invitation to murder abortion providers,” Vicki Saporta, the president of the National Abortion Foundation told Mother Jones.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Phil Jensen, vehemently denies that his bill would legalize the murder of abortion doctors, Sheppard reports in a follow-up post. Jensen did not return Mother Jones’s calls for comment before the original story ran, but he now claims that he simply wants to update the state’s fetal homicide legislation.

Jensen’s stated intent is irrelevant, however. The plain language of his bill expands the category of “justifiable homicide” to protect certain people who kill to save a fetus.

There is no question that many radical anti-choicers will interpret this legislation as a license to kill. If this bill becomes law, it is only a matter of time before one of these terrorists travels to South Dakota to test that interpretation.

As Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check notes, the bill codifies the same legal argument that anti-choice terrorist Scott Roeder deployed unsuccessfully at his trial for the assassination of the prominent late-term abortion provider and pro-choice activist Dr. George Tiller. Technically, the bill would only protect people who killed to “protect” a fetus being carried by their partner or family member, not strangers like Roeder who killed to “protect” fetuses in general, but the veiled threat to abortion providers is clear.

The bill cleared the legislature’s judiciary committee by a party-line vote of 9-3. The legislation is co-sponsored by 22 state legislators and 4 state senators. The full state house is scheduled to vote on the bill on Wednesday.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly sees the legislation as a sign of a “radical turn” in the culture war.

“Birth or Die Act” advances

Meanwhile, at the federal level, the anti-choice bill H.R. 358 passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Miriam Perez reports for Feministing. H.R. 358 is controversial on two fronts. First, it appears to create an opening for hospitals to refuse abortion care and abortion referrals, even when a woman’s life is at risk. Second, the bill would effectively end private insurance coverage for abortion as we know it.

Fruitwashing

You’ve heard of “greenwashing,” the marketing trend where companies repackage their old polluting inventory as planet-healthy products? The latest corporate marketing gambit is to convince consumers that sugar, starch, and red food dye are good for us, a process dubbed “fruitwashing,” by Brie Cadman of change.org.

Cadman takes food giant Kellogg’s to task for touting the “real fruit” in its frosted mini Pop Tarts, now available in 100-calorie packs. Of course, these rosy toaster pastries contain only a minuscule amount of fruit.

Kellogg’s is a repeat offender when it comes to fruitwashing. The box of the company’s Frosted Mini Wheats Blueberry Muffin cereal features photos of real blueberries, but the actual “blueberry crunchlets” in the box are made of sugar, soybean oil, red dye #40 and blue dye #2.

Play with your food

In an article called “Why Playing With Your Food is Serious Business,” Carol Deppe of Grist argues that processed fare is driving us to overeat by cheating us out of our instinctive drive to interact with our foods before we eat them:

I also tend to overeat the delicious bean soup on that day I effortlessly thawed a portion from the freezer, compared with the day that I made the soup from scratch myself. The act of preparing food seems to actually be one of my satiety mechanisms. That is, to avoid overeating, to feel satisfied with normal, healthful amounts of food, I have to play with my food.

A highly processed diet enables us to practically inhale our calories, leaving us unsatisfied.

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: Finance Committee Passes Health Bill

9:28 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

Yesterday, the Senate Finance Committee finally passed its health care bill. John Nichols of the Nation reacts:

If every kid in class finishes their homework except for one, guess which kid will get the most attention. That’s right, the slacker.

And, when the slacker finally does turn in the assignment, it is invariably a slapdash job that fails to meet minimum standards.

So it is in the U.S. Senate, where the Finance Committee finally got around to finishing its health care reform assignment.

The bill passed by a vote of 14-9. All the Democrats, plus Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) voted in favor. As we know, it doesn’t include a public option.

Robert Scheer, also of the Nation, sums up the bill as written:

The main thrust of the proposal is to forcibly submit even more customers to the tender mercies of the insurance industry while doing nothing significant to cut costs. Insurers will now pretend that the burdens on them are onerous and will demand concessions to make this an even bigger boondoggle for the medical profiteers than George W. Bush’s prescription drug coverage initiative.

Sheer sees the Finance Committee bill as a sop to the health insurers. If it were to pass in its present form, it would deliver millions of new customers to private insurers by requiring everyone to carry insurance. The free market keeps costs down when companies compete to give the best value for the lowest price. But most health insurers operate as monopolies on their home turf. If insurers had to compete for customers, they’d have an incentive to lower their prices. That’s why progressives want to introduce competition in the form of a public option.

An all-private insurance system gives power to an industry that it is indifferent to the needs of the people it claims to serve.

Before we go any further, our warmest congratulations to Robin Marty, who is expecting her second child. In a piece for RH Reality check, Marty details how the private insurance industry toys with people’s lives in pursuit of profit. For Marty and her husband, joy is mixed with apprehension because their maximum out-of-pocket insurance cost just doubled. By the time the baby arrives, Marty’s husband expects to pay 10% of his pre-tax income just to keep his family insured. And they’d better hope that bundle of joy is of an actuarially-approved size. An insurance company in Colorado refused to cover a 4-month-old baby because he was “too fat,” according to the boy’s father. The company relented after media pressure, but there’s no indication that they plan to drop their general rule that babies whose weight is above the 95th percentile don’t get covered.

Earlier this week, the insurance industry broadsided the Obama administration by releasing a “report” warning that health care reform would cause premiums to skyrocket.

As economist Robert Reich explains in TAPPED, the industry was upset that the Senate Finance Committee was considering more lenient punishments for young healthy people who don’t buy health insurance. (They would still be fined, just not as much.) The industry report claimed that if the government spares the rod, only old sick people will sign up, and premiums will be higher for everyone. Reich argues that the report inadvertently makes the case for the public option:

But the bomb went off under the insurers. The only reason these costs can be passed on to consumers in the form of higher premiums is because there’s not enough competition among private insurers to force them to absorb the costs by becoming more efficient. Get it? Health insurers have just made the best argument yet about why a public insurance option is necessary.

Steve Benen of the Washington Independent notes that former Democrat Joe Lieberman (I-Conn) went on Don Imus’s syndicated shock jock radio show to echo the insurance industry’s talking points. “I’m afraid that in the end, the Baucus bill is actually going to raise the price of insurance for most of the people in the country,” Lieberman said.

With all this hypothesizing and posturing, it’s easy to forget that neither Lieberman–nor anyone else—is going to vote on the Baucus bill as written. The Finance Committee bill is just one of several proposals to have passed their respective committees. In the Senate, the more liberal Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) passed a bill with a public option this summer. All the House health reform bills also include a public option.

As Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent explains, the tone of the debate is expected to shift dramatically: Now that the various bills have cleared their bipartisan committees, power shifts to the Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate who are in charge of shaping the final legislation.

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

Daily Pulse: Astroturfing the Public Option

9:22 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

The Senate Finance Committee is slogging through literally hundreds of proposed amendments to the Baucus health care reform bill. The bill still doesn’t have a public option, but there’s a good chance that insurance subsidies will be revised upwards, as Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly reports.

Last Sunday, President Obama made his pitch for health reform on five national TV talk shows. John Nichols of the Nation criticizes Obama for his uninspired and frankly unappealing depiction of the public option:

Indeed, as Obama describes his notion of a public option, it is so constrained, under-funded and uninspired in approach as to be dysfunctional.

While there is no question that the right reform remains a single-payer "Medicare for All" system that provides quality care for all Americans while eliminating insurance company profiteering, if the best that can be hoped for is a government-supported alternative to the corporate options, then it should be robust enough to compete.

Obama advocates a public option open to the uninsured only, not to anyone who wants to buy in. If the goal of the public option is to reduce costs through competition, a limited public option would be self-defeating. A public option is supposed to drive down prices through competition. Obama’s version of a public option couldn’t compete: It would only take cases the insurers already rejected!

Speaking of insurers, Brian Beutler and Zach Roth report in Talking Points Memo that insurance company Humana is under fire for trying to scare senior citizens into resisting health reform, specifically cuts in Medicare Advantage, a federally subsidized private insurance plan. If so, Humana is in big trouble. Astroturfing seniors is a violation of the strict rules the government imposes on communications with Advantage beneficiaries.

Public News Service reports that health care activist Joe Szakos goes on trial in Virginia today for allegedly trespassing while protesting insurance rate hikes. Szakos is a member of the Virginia Organizing Project, a non-profit social justice group seeking accountability from insurers.

Obama made his first speech to the United Nations (UN) yesterday at the UN Summit on Climate Change in New York. Nearly a hundred heads of state met to iron out differences face-to-face before the official negotiations on a global climate pact begin on Copenhagen on Dec 18. In RH Reality Check, Karen Hardee and Kathleen Mogelgaard explain the link between reproductive freedom and climate change. New research reaffirms that contraception could be a powerful tool to help fight global warming:

So how does reproductive health fit into this picture? A new study by the UK-based Optimum Population Trust and the London School of Economics shows the connection between contraceptives and climate change. The study concludes that universal access to reproductive health could be one of the most cost effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. A Population Action International report from May detailed how population dynamics, not just overall growth, contribute to climate change.

Note that population activists aren’t saying that women in the developing world ought to have fewer children for the sake of the planet. They’re saying that societies grow in smarter, healthier, and ultimately greener ways when women have the power to control their own fertility.

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

Daily Pulse: Uncharted Territory

8:57 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

The public option remains in limbo. The Senate Finance Committee is fine-tuning the bill it unveiled last week, which does not include a public option. However, Brian Beutler of TPM reports that Democrats have already submitted three separate amendments that might add a public option.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) submitted what he calls a "level playing field" amendment, which would, incongruously, create a public option that couldn’t set its own rates. A second amendment submitted by Schumer and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) would create a public option much like that outlined the HELP Committee bill. Finally, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) submitted an amendment that would create a robust public option, much like the one originally drafted in the House.

It’s pretty clear that no bill containing a public option in its first draft will get 60 votes in the senate. However, as Beutler reports in a second TPM piece, the Democrats are seriously revisiting the prospect of using budget reconciliation to get a health care bill through the senate with a simple majority. However, Beutler explains that Democrats are reluctant to go the reconciliation route because senate rules restrict the kind of bill that can be passed through reconciliation. For example, only provisions that "materially affect" spending can be passed through reconciliation. But what qualifies as a material effect?

Meanwhile, President Obama continues to insist that the public option isn’t dead yet, Steve Benen reports in the Washington Monthly.

In other news, women’s health remains a hot topic in health care reform. To understand why health care reform is especially critical for women, Public News Service interviewed Dr. Susan Wood, a scientist who famously resigned from the Bush-era Food and Drug Administration over the politicization of the approval of Plan B. Since leaving the government, Wood has returned to academia to study women’s health. Some of her key findings include:

About 20 percent of women under the age of 65 have no health care insurance; in some states, women are denied coverage if they have experienced domestic violence; and when women do have coverage, they are charged higher premiums and often see a long list of preexisting conditions that are excluded, with pregnancy sometimes on that list.

If there is a public option, will it cover abortion? Rep. Lois Capps has written an amendment addressing that question. She explains her proposal in her own words at RH Reality Check.

Uncertainty remains high as the senate inches towards a bill.

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

Daily Pulse: It Could Happen to You

9:47 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

Opponents of health care reform are trying to pit the insured against everyone else. Conservative Republicans like Rep. Mike Pence warn that if we get a public option, millions of Americans will lose their private coverage because so many employers will stop offering private insurance. What Pence doesn’t say is that right now, employers can stop providing insurance at any time and their workers will have nothing to fall back on. As costs rise, fewer and fewer employers are providing any health insurance at all.

Most insured people have no idea how fragile their coverage is under the status quo.

The Uptake carries President Obama’s address on the uninsured, in which he hammered home the message that anyone under 65 can lose their coverage at any time. Luckily for those over 65, they have a popular public option, Medicare.

There are lots of ways to become uninsured, including job loss, employers cutting off benefits, or insurers kicking customers off the rolls. As Obama said:

Over the last twelve months, nearly six million more Americans lost their health coverage – that’s 17,000 men and women every single day. We’re not just talking about Americans in poverty, either – we’re talking about middle-class Americans. In other words, it can happen to anyone. And based on a brand-new report from the Treasury Department, we can expect that about half of all Americans under 65 will lose their health coverage at some point over the next ten years.

It’s common knowledge that insurance companies drop customers with preexisting conditions and cut paying customers off when they get sick. It might surprise you to learn that domestic violence counts as a preexisting condition in many states.

Amie Newman of RH Reality Check reports that the insurance industry figured out what feminists have been saying for decades: Once a man becomes a batterer, chances are he’ll continue to abuse his wife with increasing brutality. If you’re a human being, that’s an outrage and a tragedy. If you’re a conscience-free health insurance provider, it’s a big red flag to drop victims because their wounds will cost you money. This is the logic of for-profit health insurance in a microcosm: Identify the most vulnerable and purge them because they hurt your bottom line.

Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee is set to unveil its long-awaited bill today. The committee will vote on the bill next week. We’ll examine the bill in tomorrow’s Pulse.

After a seemingly endless quest for a bipartisan bill, Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont) is signaling that he’s prepared to move ahead without GOP support. Good thing, too. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) swears he’s serious about bipartisanship, according to the Iowa Independent, but he spent the summer telling tall tales of death panels and fundraising as an opponent of "Obamacare." Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one potential Republican swing vote, now says she rejects the very idea of public/private competition, according to Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly.

Finally, you can use the Washington Independent’s new Public Option Scoreboard to keep track of every senator’s position, based on their public statements.

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

Daily Pulse: Baucus Coughs Up a Bill

10:22 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

Big news broke over the weekend: Evidently, the president lit a fire under Max Baucus (D-Mont) and the Senate Finance Committee by unexpectedly announcing last week that he’d be laying out his own vision for health care reform this Wednesday. Just weeks ago, committee member Kent Conrad (D-ND) predicted the Finance Committee wouldn’t have a bill until November. But Baucus circulated a legislative framework over the weekend.

Baucus’s bottom line: There will be no public option. Instead, the government will spend hundreds of billions of dollars to subsidize the same old expensive, inadequate private insurance system that health care reform was supposed to reform. The insurance companies get 46 million new customers, and in return, they will pay higher taxes to offset the cost of the subsidies—a kickback to Uncle Sam.

Last week Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo and I sat down to discuss some burning questions in health care reform: What’s the president’s thinking on the public option? What leverage does he have over the progressives in the House who demand single payer and/or the Blue Dogs in the senate who reject it? Why is Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) the last best hope for bipartisanship? (The transcript of our discussion has been edited for brevity and clarity.)

You said the [week of September 1] really stood out from the last month in terms of the health care debate. How so?

Maybe the last two days just stood out from the previous month. … Obama’s approval [rating] slid and popular support for the idea of healthcare reform slid. And August came to an end and the President’s vacation is winding down, and suddenly the administration realizes that Congress is coming back and they are going to have to do something. And so, it seems they start leaking to a bunch of high profile reporters that they are going to perhaps ditch the public option as part of a grander move to regain control of the debate.

Are the anonymous leakers saying in so many words that they want to ditch the public option?

Well, it’s unclear what they are actually going to do. The Public Option would die with dignity. [If] that is accomplished, the President could maybe win over some Republicans, grab the debate and spell out in clearer terms what he wanted [beyond] the public option. He could do this all in a big speech for Congress which is scheduled to happen Wednesday.

Isn’t this just a repeat of what we saw during the week of August 20, when the White House seemed to be doing a good cop/bad cop routine where an anonymous aide would leak "to hell with the liberals and the public option" and then another adviser would say on the record how much the president loves the public option?

It could just be a replay. Once those stories came out, the picture sort of fogged up. [There were] secondary reports that the President was courting Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) again—as if maybe one Senate Republican would vote with him on health care reform. Snowe’s idea [includes a] public option, but you attach it to a trigger mechanism so that it is only enacted if the rest of healthcare reform is unsuccessful at bringing down prices and expanding coverage. And that’s sort of been unacceptable to reformers and progressives, but … that might be the pound of flesh that she yields from the bill. It fits in with the picture that the leakers painted … that the public option was no longer going to be one of the key features of the bill.

You wrote about how budget reconciliation could be used to get around the filibuster. How would that work?

The greater problem is the structure in the Senate, where legislation can pass with a majority vote—but only after Senators have debated the bill for as long as they want. As long as 60 Democrats aren’t there to shut the minority up, debate can go on and on and on. [ED note: AKA filibustering.] And for every major piece of legislation you see. this happens. …

There’s this de facto 60-vote rule on most legislation, at least in this Congress and the previous Congress since the Democrats took it over. It’s extremely difficult to pass a bill through just the regular procedure without either having to concede a bunch of substantive provisions … or just give up on the bill entirely. [There are] 59 members of the Democratic caucus right now, and maybe 10 of them are mushy on the more progressive part of the President’s agenda. Even if all of them are onboard, you’re still one vote short of what you need to end debate. And that is why Olympia Snowe matters right now.

So the House would pass the bill and the Senate would pass a bill with budget reconciliation?

They could in theory. Budget reconciliation is sort of like a magic bullet. Every year, the Congress can pass what is known as a budget reconciliation bill. It sets new taxes, or moves money around within the federal budget to basically do what the Congress’s budget lays out. It … was made exempt from the filibuster because Congress [has to] set a budget. … They need to make sure that money is there and can’t have Senators filibustering it just because they’re in a fit of peak. So that bill can’t be filibustered, but at the same time, the legislation that can be passed in it has to be relevant to the budget, it has to move money around in some way.

So you can pass a lot of elements of healthcare reform in theory—you can pass subsidies to poor people and middle-income people. And you can pass Medicaid expansion, and you might even be able to pass the public option because the public option may need subsidies of its own and could drive down other costs and be a big moneysaver.

How might the president pressure progressives into accepting the bill?

My sense is that the President [will pressure] progressives to back off on the public option. But that could change. Trying to figure out what is going to happen is kind of like trying to move 23,000 moves ahead in a game of 17 dimensional chess. …

[Obama can] say is that what he’s planning will, while not perfect, help a lot of people make the healthcare system more progressive than it was. … But it would really harm the democratic party and his presidency if the whole project failed and nothing passed. Obama doesn’t have a tremendous amount of leverage. [Many] progressive members of Congress are progressive because they don’t have viable challenges. They come from progressive districts, with constituents like them, approval ratings in the 60s, 70s, and they aren’t going to lose to a member of the opposite party. So in that sense, they can do what they want.

How can Blue Dogs say that progressives should suck it up and vote for every bill when they are never prepared to do the same thing?

… It would at least be a good experiment, for the party and the country, for the [Blue Dogs] to be put on the spot. They believe that their jobs are on the line if they vote for controversial legislation. I don’t know how those conversations go when political members of the administration confront these guys and say ‘You got into politics to make the world a better place, not to just have a tenure job on Capital Hill. So you’re going to vote yes on this and if you lose your jobs as a result, then you did the right thing and we’ll make sure that the Democratic party infrastructure is there for you … .’ But that’s not the way the party thinks. [It's a] game of building an unstoppably large coalition, and that becomes the goal in the end. And at some point you lose sight of why you are amassing this giant congressional majority and you’re never willing to say, well we built this 70 whatever majority so that we could sacrifice some of these seats and do something really impressive and progressive for the good of the country.

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

Weekly Pulse: The Bill the House Built

9:01 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

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

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

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

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

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

But after Hurricane Katrina, Benjamin bartered with patients who couldn’t pay cash, exchanging checkups for oysters and homemade goodies. A former colleague told the New York Times that she routinely prescribed birth control, but that the clinic didn’t have abortion facilities. As Steve Benen notes in the Washington Monthly, Benjamin’s track record of working with the poor and the uninsured sets her apart from early favorite Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon and chief medical correspondent for CNN. The job of the Surgeon General Read the rest of this entry →