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Weekly Pulse: GOP Would Privatize Medicare, Gut Medicaid

2:38 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Creative Commons, Flickr, Robbie Kennedy

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

On Tuesday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveiled a draft budget resolution for 2012. Ryan’s program would privatize Medicare and gut Medicaid.

“Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, is waging radical class warfare and ideological privatization schemes and selling it as a debt reduction plan,” writes Karen Dolan in AlterNet. Indeed, Ryan’s plan is larded with tax cuts  for wealthy citizens and profitable corporations, which according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), would actually increase the national debt over the next decade. The CBO projects that the debt would reach 70% of GDP by 2022 under Ryan’s plan compared to 67% under the status quo.

At TAPPED, Jamelle Bouie predicts that Ryan’s budget plan will become the de facto platform for the GOP in the 2012 elections. Presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty is already gushing about the plan. He notes the irony in Republicans seizing upon a plan to eliminate Medicare when they campaigned so hard to “protect” the program during the fight over the Affordable Care Act.

Attacking Medicare is politically risky. The conventional wisdom is the program is all but invulnerable because it is so popular with the general public, and especially with senior citizens–who reliably turn out to vote in large numbers.

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones argues that, in order to win this political fight, the Democrats need to emphasize what they’re doing to grapple with the rising costs of Medicare–such as creating an independent board to regulate the reimbursement rates for all procedures covered under Medicare. Republicans have harshly criticized such a board as an example of health care rationing. Their proposed plan, however, would ration care far more severely, based on ability to pay. Ryan’s plan would give seniors a voucher to defray part of the cost of buying private health insurance. The voucher wouldn’t cover care equivalent to that which is offered under Medicare. So, under Ryan’s plan, care would be rationed based on each person’s ability to pay for extra coverage.

In a separate piece, Khimm notes that the GOP is taking a further political gamble by proposing massive cuts to Medicaid. She cites a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation which found that only 13% of respondents favored major cuts to Medicaid. Republicans may be betting that they can cut Medicaid because they associate it with health care for the very poor, a constituency with little political capital and low voter turnout. But while Medicaid does serve the poor, a large percentage of its budget covers nursing home care for middle class retirees and services for adults with major disabilities–care that their families would otherwise have to pay for.

How to save $15 billion in health care costs

New research suggests that the federal government could save $15 billion by reducing unnecessary emergency room visits through investment in community health centers, Dan Peterson of Change.org reports:

This week, new research, from the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative, pinpoints just how much we stand to lose in health care efficiency savings if the funding is cut as proposed; $15 billion. Put another way, for every $1 invested in CHC expansion, there is a potential savings in health care costs of $11.50.

Peterson reports that money to expand the CHC program may be cut from the budget. The report explains that if the funding is lost, then CHCs will not be able to serve the 10-12 million additional patients who were supposed to get care through expanded CHCs under the Affordable Care Act. If Congress refuses to allot $1.3 billion for cost-effective primary care, $15 billion in projected savings will evaporate.

If Republicans are serious about balancing the budget, they should happily expand the Community Health Center network.

Danish Antibiotic Resistance Education

D.A.R.E. to keep pigs off drugs. The U.S. hog industry is heavily dependent on low-dose antibiotics to keep its swine infection-free. This practice comes at the cost of increased antibiotic resistance. Sixteen years ago, the government of Denmark, the world’s largest exporter of pork, took the bold step of asking its pork industry to reduce the amount of antibiotics given to pigs. Ralph Loglisci of Grist notes that the experiment has been a huge success: The industry has slashed antibiotic use by 37%, antibiotic resistance is down nationwide, and production has held steady or increased.

Gay-bashed, uninsured

Twenty-nine-year-old Barie Shortell’s face was shattered in an apparent anti-gay attack in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in February. Joseph Huff-Hannon reports on AlterNet on an obstacle in Shortell’s already-long road to recovery:

After blacking out, and spending 10 hours in surgery and five days in the hospital, Shortell is now taking another whipping from one of the insidious antagonists of 21st-century American life—the private health-care system. Shortell, like many of his fellow American twentysomethings, is uninsured.

Up to 30% of people in their twenties are uninsured. The Affordable Care Act should reduce the number of uninsured twenty-somethings, but as Huff Hannon notes, the number of uninsured young adults is expected to continue to rise for some time. The ACA allows young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26, but this reform is of little help to the millions of families who lost job-linked health coverage during the recession.

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.

Weekly Pulse: Palin Revives Death Panels; Boobs Against Breast Cancer; and the Anti-Gay Bullying Crisis

8:53 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Don’t look now, but Sarah Palin is back on her death panel kick, just in time for Halloween. No, really, don’t look. It just encourages the former governor of Alaska to recycle the exhaustively debunked allegation that health care reform will involve bringing the elderly and the disabled before “death panels” who will judge whether they are fit to live.

David Corn of Mother Jones caught Palin referencing the thoroughly debunked myth in her latest interview with the conservative website Newsmax. Oh, and she says she won’t rule out a presidential run in 2012.

Boobs against breast cancer

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. The National Cancer Institute estimates that over 207,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and that nearly 40,000 will die of the disease this year. Breast cancer is the second-most common form of cancer in women.

Amie Newman of RH Reality Check notes that even Kentucky Fried Chicken is getting in on the awareness action with pink chicken buckets “for the cure.” This month, KFC is donating 50 cents from each rosy-hued tub of Original Recipe chicken to Susan G. Komen For The Cure, a leading breast cancer advocacy group. The promotion is expected to raise between $1 million and $8 million for breast cancer research and activism. That’s between 2 million and 16 million buckets of chicken. It’s more of a barometer than a donation, really.

The fewer buckets they sell, the more awareness has been raised. Newman notes that KFC’s french fries are an unusually rich source of acrylamide, a probable human carcinogen found in deep fried foods. In a recent study, women with the highest acrylamide intakes were at 43% greater risk for hormone-positive breast cancers.

Some marketers have decided that the root cause of our society’s lack of breast cancer awareness is our lack of breast awareness in general. This doesn’t seem quite right, especially because the breasts most likely to get cancer (those of women over 50) are seldom the breasts featured in the the various “save the gazongas” campaigns we’re subjected to every October.

Martha Pitts of the Ms. Blog wonders whose bright idea it was to “raise awareness” about breast cancer by inviting women to list their bra color as a Facebook status update. Pitts wonders how learning about friends’ underwear will motivate anyone to learn more about breast self-exams or mammograms. According to Ann Pietrangelo of Care2, the latest breast cancer “awareness” meme took a turn for the Dada-esque. This year, women were invited complete the sentence: “I like it on the…” referring, of course to where the Facebook user likes to keep her purse. Obviously, they need a meta-awareness campaign to explain what this has to do with breast cancer.

Monica Potts of TAPPED reminds us that while activists and policy makers are wrangling about access to mammograms, which may or may not improve women’s odds of surviving breast cancer, about 4000 women a year still die of cervical cancer in the US, despite the fact that the disease is almost completely preventable with routine Pap smears.

Anti-gay bullying

In other public health news, anti-gay bullying is making headlines all over the country. A series of high-profile suicides by bullied gay youth have riveted national attention on the issue. The statistics are sobering. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, and LGBTQ youth are at significantly higher risk of suicidal behavior than their straight peers.

Nine out of ten LGBTQ youths told researchers that they had been harassed at school and two out of three said they felt unsafe at school because of their orientation, Jessica Strong reports for Campus Progress.

In Minnesota, three gay students the Anoka-Hennepin school district have committed suicide this year and the district is facing increasing pressure to crack down on homophobic bullying. However, not everyone’s on board.

Andy Birkey of the Minnesota Independent reports that the head of a Christian rock ministry called “You Can Run But You Can’t Hide” is opposing the anti-bullying programs, which he considers to be a recruiting tactic for gays, and by extension, child molesters (?!). Birkey also reports that Minnesota’s Republican gubernatorial hopeful, Tom Emmer, has said he won’t sign an anti-bullying bill if he is elected. Emmer has a strongly anti-gay record as a state legislator. The department store chain Target drew the ire of national gay rights groups when it gave a major donation to a pro-Emmer PAC.

Coming out for…

Monday was National Coming Out Day. To mark the occasion, Richard Kim published a piece in The Nation arguing that tougher criminal penalties aren’t necessarily the solution to anti-gay bullying. Bullies are, after all, mirroring the prejudices they see in adult society:

It’s tougher, more uncertain work creating a world that loves queer kids, that wants them to live and thrive. But try—try as if someone’s life depended on it. Imagine saying I really wish my son turns out to be gay. Imagine hoping that your 2-year-old daughter grows up to be transgendered. Imagine not assuming the gender of your child’s future prom date or spouse; imagine keeping that space blank or occupied by boys and girls of all types. Imagine petitioning your local board of education to hire more gay elementary school teachers.

Kim argues that simply heaping more punishment onto bullies is an easy way out for a society that doesn’t want to grapple with widespread homophobia.

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.