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Weekly Pulse: Single-Payer Bills Pass Vermont Senate, House

8:03 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Creative Commons, Flickr, Jobs with Justice

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The Vermont state Senate passed legislation to create a single-payer health insurance system, Paul Waldman reports for TAPPED. Since the state House has already passed a similar bill, all that’s left to do is reconcile the two pieces of legislation before the governor signs it into law.

Waldman stresses that there are still many details to work out, including how the system will be funded. Vermont might end up with a system like France’s where everyone has basic public insurance, which most people supplement with additional private coverage. The most important thing, Waldman argues, is that Vermont is moving to sever the link between employment and health insurance.

Roe showdown

Anti-choicers are gunning for a Roe v. Wade showdown in the Supreme Court before Obama can appoint any more justices. At the behest of an unnamed conservative group, Republican state Rep. John LaBruzzo of Louisiana has introduced a bill that would ban all abortions, even to save the woman’s life. The original bill upped the anti-choice ante by criminalizing not only doctors who perform abortions, but also women who procure them. LaBruzzo has since promised to scale the bill back to just criminalizing doctors. This is all blatantly unconstitutional, of course,. but as Kate Sheppard explains in Mother Jones, that’s precisely the point:

The Constitution, of course, is exactly what LaBruzzo is targeting. He admits his proposal is intended as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional right to privacy included the right to abortions in some circumstances. LaBruzzo says he’d like his bill to become law and “immediately go to court,” and he told a local paper that an unnamed conservative religious group asked him to propose the law for exactly that purpose.

Drug pushers in your living room

Martha Rosenberg poses a provocative question at AlterNet: Does anyone remember a time before “Ask Your Doctor” ads overran the airwaves, Internet, buses, billboards, and seemingly every other medium? Direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug advertising has become so ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget that it was illegal until the late ’90s. In the days before DTC, drug advertising was limited to medical journals, prescription pads, golf towels, and pill-shaped stress balls distributed in doctors’ offices–which makes sense. The whole point of making a drug prescription-only is to put the decision-making power in the hands of doctors. Now, drug companies advertise to consumers for the same reason that food companies advertise to children. It’s called “pester power.”

DTC drug ads encourage consumers to self-diagnose based on vague and sometimes nearly universal symptoms like poor sleep, daytime drowsiness, anxiety, and depression. Once consumers are convinced they’re suffering from industry-hyped constructs like “erectile dysfunction” and “premenstrual dysphoric disorder,” they’re going to badger their doctors for prescriptions.

That’s not to say that these terms don’t encompass legitimate health problems, but rather that DTC markets products in such vague terms that a lot of healthy people are sure to be clamoring for drugs they don’t need. Typically, neither the patient nor the doctor is paying the full cost of the drug, so patients are more likely to ask and doctors have little incentive to say no.

Greenwashing air fresheners

A reader seeks the counsel of Grist’s earthy advice columnist Umbra on the issue of air fresheners. Some of these odor-concealing aerosols are touting themselves as green for adopting all-natural propellants. Does that make them healthier, or greener? Only marginally, says Umbra. Air fresheners still contain formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, and other questionable chemicals.

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: DCCC Ad Shows Grandpa Stripping for Extra Cash to Pay for Medicare

7:58 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5z7FiBsR8OQ[/youtube]

How will the next generation of seniors pay for health care if Republicans privatize Medicare? The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) suggests some options in a darkly funny ad featuring a grandfatherly gentleman mowing lawns and stripping for extra cash. The ad will run in 24 GOP-controlled swing districts, Suzy Khimm reports for Mother Jones.

The ad is a riposte to Paul Ryan’s budget, which would eliminate Medicare and replace it with a system of “premium support”–annual lump sum cash payments to insurers. These payments would be pegged to the growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) +1%, even though health care costs are growing much faster than the economy at large. That means that real benefits will shrink over time. Seniors will be forced to come up with extra money to buy insurance, assuming they can find an insurer who’s willing to sell it to them.

Josh Holland of AlterNet predicts that the GOP is committing political suicide with the its anti-Medicare budget. The more ordinary voters learn about Ryan’s budget, the less they like it:

A poll conducted last week found that, “when voters learn almost anything about [the Ryan plan], they turn sharply and intensely against it.” And why wouldn’t they? According to an analysis by the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the Republicans’ “roadmap” would “end most of government other than Social Security, health care, and defense by 2050,” while providing the “largest tax cuts in history” for the wealthy.

Holland interviews an economist who estimates that the Medicaid cuts in the Ryan budget alone would cost 2.1 million jobs.

Under the bus

The Democratic spin about the deal to avert a budget shutdown was that Democratic leaders held fast against Republican demands to defund Planned Parenthood. However, as Katha Pollitt explains in The Nation, the Democrats capitulated on other reproductive rights issues in order to save Planned Parenthood.

For example, under the budget deal, Washington, D.C. will no longer be allowed to use local taxes to pay for abortions. Democrats also agreed to $17 million in cuts to the Title X Family Planning Program, Planned Parenthood’s largest source of federal funding.

American women aren’t alone under the bus. Jane Roberts notes at RH Reality Check that the budget deal slashed $15 million from the U.N. Population Fund, and millions more from USAID’s budget for reproductive health and family planning. At least Democrats successfully rebuffed GOP demands to eliminate funding for the United Nations Population Agency.

Roberts observes:

And this is at a time when the whole world is coalescing behind the education, health and human rights of the world’s women and girls. What irony!

Blood for oil

Nearing the one-year anniversary of the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers, Daniel J. Weiss writes for Grist:

The toll of fossil fuels on human health and the environment is well documented. But our dependence on fossil fuels exacts a very high price on the people who extract or process these fuels. Every year, some men and women who toil in our nation’s coal mines, natural gas fields, and oil rigs and refineries lose their lives or suffer from major injuries to provide the fossil fuels that drive our economy.

Oil rigs are just one of many dangerous places to work in the fossil fuel industry, Weiss notes. Last year, an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia killed 29 workers. Nearly 4,000 U.S. miners have been killed on the job since 1968.

Natural gas has a cleaner image than coal, but natural gas pipelines are also plagued by high rates of death and injury–892 natural gas workers have been killed on the job and 6,258 have been injured since 1970.

Cheers!

Ashley Hunter of Campus Progress brings you an exciting roundup of the news you need about college and alcohol, just in time for Spring Break. In an attempt to discourage rowdy off-campus partying, the College of the Holy Cross is encouraging its students to drink on campus by keeping the campus pub open later and allowing students under 21 inside as long as they wear different colored wrist bands to show they are too young to be served alcohol.

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: Vermont Poised to Pass Single-Payer

7:39 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Creative Commons, Flickr, Lindsay Beyerstein

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Vermont is poised to abolish most forms of private health insurance, Lauren Else reports for In These Times. The state’s newly inaugurated Democratic governor, Peter Shumlin, unveiled his health insurance plan in early February. If the state legislature passes the bill, Vermont will become the first state to ban most forms of private health insurance.

The bill is getting support from some unlikely quarters:

On February 24, the Republican Mayor Christopher Louras, of Rutland, urged the state to adopt the single-payer legislation, noting that more than a third of the city’s $7 million annual payroll is consumed by healthcare costs. “The only way to fix the problem is to blow it up and start over,” Louras said.

A very bad doctor

In the Texas Observer, Saul Elbein tells the bizarre story of small-town huckster Dr. Rolando Arafiles and the nurses who exposed him as a quack and paid with their jobs.

Arafiles came to work at Winkler County Memorial Hospital in 2008. Nurses Anne Mitchell and Vickilyn Galle noticed that patients were walking out of his office with mysterious liquids. Arafiles was selling untested dietary supplements.

Sometimes, he even took patients off their real medicine and directed them to buy his cure-alls, which he sold online, and promoted in seminars at the local Pizza Hut. He prescribed powerful thyroid-stimulating drugs to patients with normal thyroid levels, a potentially lethal practice. He was also performing “unconventional” surgeries, even though he wasn’t a surgeon.

The hospital ignored the nurses’ complaints, so they reported Arafiles to the Texas Medical Board. After the board informed Arafiles that he was under investigation, Arafiles got his golf buddy, the local sheriff, to issue a warrant to search the nurses’ computers. The hospital fired the nurses. The local prosecutor indicted them for “misuse of official information” but these charges fizzled out. In 2010, the two women were awarded $750,000 in compensation from the county, but they still haven’t found new nursing jobs.

What are they doing out there?

Lon Newman is the executive director of Family Planning Health Services, a Wisconsin health clinic that offers birth control and other reproductive health care, but doesn’t provide abortions, or even abortion referrals. Anti-choice protesters picket the clinic anyway, Newman reports at RH Reality Check. They carry signs with misleading slogans like “The Pill Kills” and “Stop Chemical Abortion.”

Newman wonders why, given all the pressing problems in Wisconsin, the nation, and the world, some people make it a priority to hang out at Family Planning Health Services and badmouth birth control:

There are so many struggles for freedom, social justice, and disaster relief right now, that I do not think it is justifiable to be blocking access to health care for our uninsured neighbors who want to delay childbearing so they can finish school or take a new job or even wait to have children until they can afford them.

South Dakota institutes 72-hour abortion waiting period

The governor of South Dakota signed legislation this week that will force women seeking abortions in the state to observe a 72-hour waiting period. As Scott Lemieux argues in TAPPED, mandatory waiting period legislation is based on inherently sexist assumptions. By instituting a waiting period, the state is institutionalizing the stereotype that women seeking abortions are acting irrationally and must be coerced into waiting.

Body positive

Body hatred hasn’t been this popular since the days of the hair shirt. Hundreds of millions of women, and no shortage of men, spend billions of hours and billions of dollars despising their bodies. A new movement is afoot to find the political in this very personal issue, Sarah Seltzer reports in AlterNet. This year, the Women’s Therapy Center Institute will hold a series of  summits in New York, London, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, and Melbourne. In keeping with the theme of “Loved Bodies, Big Ideas” participants are discussing a range of ideas for helping to improve body image, including  a so-called “reality stamp,” a seal of approval that would indicate that a photograph hasn’t been digitally altered beyond the bounds of reason. Come to think of it, a “reality stamp” could be useful for all kinds of politics.

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: 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: Giffords Shooting Reveals Flaws in U.S. Mental Health Services

1:26 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was shot in the head at a constituent outreach event in a supermarket parking lot in Tucson on Saturday. In all, the gunman shot 18 people, killing 6, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl.

Jamelle Bouie of TAPPED urges President Barack Obama to take up the issue of mental health care in his upcoming speech on the mass shooting. Several people who knew the alleged shooter came forward with stories of bizarre behavior and run-ins with campus police at his community college. College administrators ordered him to seek treatment before he returned to school, but he does not appear to have done so.

H. Clarke Romans of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Southern Arizona explained to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! that mental health services in Arizona have been devastated by budget cuts.

In 2008 the state eliminated support services for all non-Medicaid behavioral health patients and stopped covering most brand-name psychiatric drugs. At least 28,000 Arizonans were affected. Arizonans with mental illnesses can expect even more cuts in the future as the state slashes spending in an attempt to address its budget shortfall.

In AlterNet, Adele Stan, argues that, while we don’t yet know the gunman’s motives, the right wing’s intensifying campaign of anti-government hysteria and violent rhetoric may have emboldened an already disturbed person:

Had the vitriolic rhetoric that today shapes Arizona’s political landscape (and, indeed, our national landscape) never come to call, Loughner may have found a different reason to go on a killing spree. But that vitriol does exist as a powerful prompt to the paranoid, and those who publicly deem war on the federal government a patriot’s duty should today be doing some soul-searching.

Reform repeal vote on hold

The House Republicans had scheduled a vote to repeal health care reform this week, but the vote has been postponed in the wake of the Giffords shooting. However, the conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce threw its full weight behind the repeal effort on Tuesday, according to Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones. The Chamber is going back on its earlier pledge not to oppose health care reform outright.

CA insurer hikes rates by 59%

Nearly 200,000 policyholders in California are reeling from a 59% rate hike by Blue Shield, Brie Cadman reports for Change.org. According to the company, the increase was not due to health care reform, but rather to “increased utilization.” State insurance officials are reviewing the rate hike, but they can’t reverse it unless they find that Blue Shield fails to meet the legal medical loss ratio (percentage of premiums spent on medical care).

Reproductive rights in the states

Rachel Gould and Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute recap reproductive rights in the states at RH Reality Check. Last year, 44 states and the District of Columbia considered 950 repro rights-related measures on issues ranging from abortion to sex ed. By year’s end, 89 new laws had been enacted in 32 states and DC. Of these, 39 were abortion laws.

The vast majority of new abortion laws served to further restrict women’s access to abortion. The passage of the Affordable Care Act spurred several states to pass laws restricting insurance coverage for abortions. The District of Columbia’s decision to reinstate public funding was one of the few exceptions to the trend of restrictive new laws.

Autism/vaccine study based on “deliberate fraud”

The author of a discredited study purporting to link autism and vaccines schemed to profit from his tainted research from the very beginning, according to new research published in the British Medical Journal.

It turns out that the lead author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, was secretly working on a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers when he published a study in The Lancet that appeared to show a link between vaccines and autism. We now know that Wakefield falsified the findings that sparked a global panic over the safety of childhood vaccines.

The journal retracted the paper last year. Wakefield was stripped of his license to practice medicine.

Some observers think these revelations will finally put the debate over vaccines and autism to rest. Kristina Chew of Care2 is doubtful:

I am very sure that, even with all the facts, data, and evidence laid before them, those who believe that vaccines or something in vaccines caused or somehow ‘contributed’ to their child becoming autistic will stand by their claims, and by Wakefield.  Some of these persons are my friends. They are parents, as am I, of autistic children.

Wakefield’s die hard supporters weren’t swayed by earlier revelations of shoddy research and unethical conduct. It seems unlikely that this new found conflict of interest will change their minds.

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.

Weekly Pulse: Sharron Angle Mocks Insurance for Autism; The Fight to Save Food Stamps

8:04 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The woman gunning for Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-NV) job doesn’t believe that autism exists.

Yes, you heard right. Sharron Angle believes that the neurodevelopmental disorder know to medical science as "autism" is actually a government-backed hoax to redistribute wealth from hardworking health insurers to pesky kids and their greedy parents.

Angle was caught on tape promising to abolish mandatory insurance coverage for autism. "Everything that they want to throw at us is covered under ‘autism’," Angle told the American Association of Underwriters this summer, tracing scare quotes with her fingers as she said "autism."

Care2′s Kristina Chew, the mother of a 13-year-old boy with autism, responds to Angle’s airy dismissal:

…By saying that you don’t think there should be health care for autism, I take it that you don’t think that children, and individuals, with disabilities are in need of such things—living with their families and in their communities, healthy and safe, being loved and cared for? Being treated as we would all like to be?

The fact that Angle opposes mandated coverage for private insurers should concern voters, especially since she wants to privatize all government health care programs. In other words, Angle wants to turn health care over to the private sector and stamp out public competition. And yet, Angle’s campaign admits that the candidate and her husband receive both government health care and a Civil Service pension, according to Eric Kleefeld of TPM. If Angle is so morally opposed to government health care, she should set an example by declining the coverage.

Andy Kroll of Mother Jones has more on Angle’s record: She once told impregnated rape victims to buck up and make "lemons out of lemonade" by bearing their attacker’s child. Angle also denounced people on unemployment insurance as "spoiled."

Food vs. health care

It may soon get even harder for poor families to make ends meet. The Senate is poised to slash the extra food stamp benefits in the stimulus before they expire. The Senate already raided $6.7 billion from the the so-called "food stamp cookie jar" to bail out Medicaid and save teachers’ jobs at the state level. Now they want to take even more money to fund the child nutrition bill.

The cuts would fund a marginal improvement in school lunches, notes Monica Potts of TAPPED. That’s all well and good, but why provide slightly better weekday lunches if the poorest children get less at every other meal?

Annie Lowery of the Washington Independent interviews anti-hunger activist Joel Berg about the cuts. Berg says that if the cuts go through, families will have to make do with considerably less than the current $4.50 per person per day. He notes that Congress wants to cut food stamp benefits in the face of rising food prices.

When families make do with less, healthy foods like fruits and vegetables will be the first casualty. Berg argues that it is economically short-sighted to prematurely terminate one of the most efficient economic stimuli in the entire stimulus package:

And we know that we aren’t only feeding people. We come at this from a moral position, a nutritional position, and an economic recovery position. This cut is so insane from an economic position as well — we know food stamps are the most effect form of stimulus. The jury is still out on parts of the stimulus — but the jury isn’t out on food stamps. It was a 1,000 percent, beyond home run grand slam success, if you’ll excuse me mixing metaphors. The money went to people who needed it, rapidly, and without a lot of bureaucracy.

In the Progressive, Ruth Conniff has a personal take on the politics of improving school lunches. Her kids’ school got a USDA Fresh Fruits and Vegetables grant to introduce more local produce into school meals.

"Bridalplasty"

The laws of Reality TV: 1) The most important thing in life is to be very beautiful so that a man will want to marry you; 2) You have until your wedding day to make yourself look like someone else.

The E! network is launching a new reality show in which brides-to-be receive free cosmetic surgery to make them look acceptable for their Special Day, as Stephanie Hallett reports at Ms. blog. Hallett notes that armchair psychiatrists are already diagnosing the contestants with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a condition that causes sufferers to become obsessed with imagined physical imperfections.

Hallett also argues that competitive plastic surgery shows like Bridalplasty and The Swan are dramatic exaggerations. Labeling the contestants as "sick" or "crazy" implies that they are limited-edition freaks, not individuals on the extreme end of a continuum of self-loathing that affects most women.

Ectopic pregnancy

Anti-choicers have already attacked hormonal birth control as crypto-abortion. Their next target may be lifesaving surgery for a deadly complication of pregnancy. At RH Reality Check, Lon Newman writes about a young woman that survived a life threatening ectopic pregnancy.

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg takes root outside the uterus, nearly always in a fallopian tube. Tubal pregnancies are among the deadliest gynecological emergencies because the woman can rapidly bleed to death if the tube ruptures. Obviously, once a fertilized egg takes root outside the uterus, there is no chance that it will survive. However, some anti-choice extremists still maintain that treating ectopic pregnancies is a kind of abortion.

One of the ectopic pregnancy survivor’s friends actually told her that she should have respected "God’s will" and refused lifesaving surgery. “I have had friends who said that I should have ‘gone with God’s will,’ imposing their beliefs on my will to live,” the woman said.

Some friend.

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: Uncovered Abortions, Toxic Mani-Pedis, and Kagan’s a Go

2:30 pm in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Weekly Pulse: Uncovered Abortions, Toxic Mani-Pedis, and Kagan’s a Go

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Last week, the Obama administration preemptively caved to the anti-choice lobby by declaring that new high-risk insurance pools, a byproduct of recent health care legislation, will not cover abortions, even if states or patients pay for that coverage with their own money. Under health care reform, states must create high-risk insurance pools for people with preexisting conditions. These pools will be phased out in 2014 when the new insurance exchange comes online.

As you may recall, the Nelson amendment to the health care reform bill says that the federal government can’t pay for abortion coverage in the exchanges, but it doesn’t mention the high-risk pools. There is no overarching ban that would preclude federal funds for abortion coverage in the high-risk pools. The Obama administration’s ruling is purely a lack of political courage. In fact, as Jessica Arons explains at RH Reality Check, the pool rules are even stricter than Nelson’s rules for the exchange.

Hey, you! Outta the high-risk pool!

The Nelson amendment was hailed as a compromise because it gave women the option of buying their own abortion coverage. Now, the Obama administration has taken that option away from women in high-risk pools. This is especially troubling because high-risk pools are supposed to help people with chronic medical conditions—who might be more likely to need an abortion. That means that more women with diabetes and cancer will have to pay out of pocket for abortions to preserve their health.

Michelle Chen of ColorLines accuses the Obama administration of selling out women of color to avoid the wrath of the anti-choice lobby. She predicts that women of color will be disproportionately affected by these restrictions because they are more likely to end up in the high-risk pools in the first place.

Nail in the Coffin

In the latest of a series of videos on occupational health and safety, Brave New Films shines a spotlight on toxic chemicals in the nail salon industry. Currently, there are almost no federal regulations on what manufacturers can put in professional beauty products. The nail care industry is booming. There over a hundred thousand manicurists in California alone, most are female, and a large percentage are Vietnamese immigrants. Salon workers breathe a toxic soup of chemicals, many of which have never been tested on humans. Brave New Films is circulating a petition calling on Congress to protect workers by supporting safe cosmetics legislation.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M10iraYa41o&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

Kagan gets the nod

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court by a vote of 13-6. The outcome of Tuesday’s vote was never in doubt. Many were mildly surprised to see that Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) voted in Kagan’s favor. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly predicts that the vote will ensure that Graham will get a conservative primary challenger. But Benen also doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.

[...] I still find the right’s outrage over Graham to be pretty silly. He’s voting for a qualified Supreme Court nominee? The horror! Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed on a 96 to 3 vote when her nomination was sent to the floor. How many of those Republicans were threatened with primary challenges because of it?

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: Abortion Doctor’s Assassin Goes to Court

9:07 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

The man who admitted to gunning down Dr. George Tiller in church last May went on trial in Kansas on Friday. Tiller was one of a small number of doctors performing late term abortions in the U.S.

Scott Roeder admitted to shooting the Tiller, but he is pleading not guilty to murder, as Robin Marty reports in RH Reality Check. Yesterday, Judge Warren Wilbert shocked observers by allowing Roeder’s lawyers to argue that their client is guilty of voluntary manslaughter, not premeditated murder.

Kansas law allows the accused to plead "imperfect self-defense" if he had an "honest but unreasonable belief" that deadly force was necessary to protect innocent third parties. Roeder says he killed to protect the unborn. Pro-choice activists are alarmed that the judge allowed Roeder to use this defense. If he beats the murder rap, Roder could face just five years in prison. In the unlikely event that his legal gambit is successful, the precedent could be tantamount to declaring open season on abortion providers.

No doubt Nidal Hussein sincerely believed that he was protecting innocent lives when he murdered 12 soldiers at Fort Hood last November. Somehow, I doubt the Army will be as deferential to Hasan’s crazy religious ideas as Judge Warren Wilbert has been to Roeder’s.

In other health care news, Robert Reich of TAPPED asks whether the rich or the middle class will pay for health reform:

There’s only one big remaining issue on health care reform: How to pay for it. The House wants a 5.4 percent surtax on couples earning at least $1 million in annual income. The Senate wants a 40 percent excise tax on employer-provided “Cadillac plans.” The Senate will win on this unless the public discovers that a large portion of the so-called Cadillacs are really middle-class Chevys—expensive not because they deliver more benefits but because they have higher costs.

Reich cites a shocking statistic: Less than 4% of the variation in the cost of insurance coverage is based on differences in benefits provided. Most of the difference in price is based on the perceived riskiness of the beneficiaries. So, if you’re in a high risk pool comprised of, say, retired autoworkers, you’re going to pay a lot more for the same benefits than someone in a younger, healthier risk pool. When you look at it that way, it seems unfair to pay for reform on the backs of people who are already paying more for the same thing due to circumstances beyond their control.

President Barack Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are meeting with top labor leaders on the "Cadillac tax," as Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo reports. Obama and Sebelius are trying to hash out a compromise that would be acceptable to the unions, who so far, have been implacably opposed to taxing expensive health care plans. The unions are reluctant to give any ground on this issue because so many of their members have accepted expanded health care benefits in lieu of wage increases over the years. Taxing those benefits now would effectively erase some hard-won gains by workers. Obama and the unions are reportedly discussing some kind of grandfather clause proposal that would exempt existing plans and only tax new plans.

Elsewhere in our high-deductible democracy, it turns out that health insurers secretly steered more than $20 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to oppose health reform while publicly professing to support the effort, according to Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones. The bagman was America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP). While AHIP was soliciting donations to run attack ads, AHIP’s top lobbyist, Karen Ignagni penned an op/ed in the Washington Post assuring the public that AHIP supported reform.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly hopes that the scandal will give ammunition to Democrats in the last big push to pass health care reform: "Policymakers struggling to resolve differences on the final reform bill may want to keep a simple adage in mind: Don’t let AHIP’s duplicitous campaign win."

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.