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Weekly Pulse: Healthcare Reform After Kennedy

10:03 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, TPM MediaWire Blogger

One of healthcare reform’s greatest champions died last night. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) succumbed to brain cancer at the age of 77. During his 46-year career in the senate, Kennedy’s name appeared on virtually every major piece of progressive legislation from civil rights to economic justice, to healthcare. Kennedy called healthcare reform "the cause of my life."

Jack Newfield of The Nation remembers Kennedy as the senate’s fighting liberal, the "best and most effective senator of the past hundred years."

James Ridgeway of Mother Jones laments:

We are left with weak, squabbling, visionless Democratic puppets and a President whose domestic reform policies are adrift—sliding towards the horizon with each passing day.

The loss is a blow to healthcare reform. Alex Koppelman of Salon notes that with Kennedy’s passing, the Democrats have lost one of their most effective bipartisan deal-makers. Democrats will also be down a vote in the senate for the foreseeable future because Massachusetts state law doesn’t allow for the appointment of an immediate replacement.

Naturally, with congress on vacation, wackos are rushing in to fill the media vacuum. Eric Boehlert asks in AlterNet why Republicans the only ones allowed to get angry about healthcare reform, or anything else. He notes that in 2003, the media decided that Howard Dean was too angry for prime time. During the Republican National Convention in 2008, SWAT teams were sent to raid the homes of suspected anarchist protesters. And yet, conservative demonstrators in Arizona are allowed to tote rifles just outside the security perimeter of a presidential event.

RNC Chair Michael Steele raised eyebrows by championing single-payer healthcare in an op/ed in the Washington Post framing the GOP as defenders of Medicare.

Odd that Steele has so much love for Medicare, but none for the nation’s other leading source of government-run healthcare, the Veterans Administration (VA). This week, Steele accused America’s other leading public insurance provider of encouraging veterans to commit suicide, based on a booklet published by the VA which explains living wills, advanced directives and other key concepts in end-of-life care, Rachel Slajda reports for TPM DC.

Progressives have been doing a great job debunking the death panel and death book myths, like this creative photo essay from TPM. But we’re scarcely addressing the misconception that underlies them: The idea government-administered health insurance is inherently more prone to rationing than private health insurance.

Newt Gingrich and other prominent opponents of reform claim that a public option will restrict choices and deny care. What they don’t say is that for-profit insurance is rationing. When your insurance company covers an old drug for your condition, but not a new one with fewer side effects, that’s rationing. The company is restricting your treatment choices to improve its bottom line. When an employer or an insurer decides not to cover mental health care, that’s rationing. The entire business model is predicated on charging people more and giving them less care so there’s more money left over for the stockholders.

No health insurance can cover every treatment, no matter who runs it. But public insurance has two major advantages: 1) Public insurance tends to be cheaper to administer; 2) The tough choices about what to cover are ultimately in the hands of the voters, not health insurance bureaucrats with an eye on the bottom line.

The whole town hall concept is turning out to be a strategic blunder for the White House. The format makes legislators and the media sitting ducks for extremists and astroturfers who want to paint themselves as typical citizens. As Sandy Heierbacher of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation writes in YES Magazine:

[T]he town hall design sets the stage for activist groups and special interest groups to try to ‘game’ the system and sideline other concerned citizens in the process. As Martin Carcasson, director of Colorado State University’s Center for Public Deliberation, recently pointed out, “the loudest voices are the ones that get heard, and typically the majority voices in the middle don’t even show up because it becomes a shouting match.”

How much more clear can the Republicans be? They are not interested in bipartisanship. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), supposedly the Senate’s leading reasonable Republican on healthcare, couldn’t even be bothered to rebuke a town hall participant who hinted about assassinating the president, as Raw Story reports.

If the Democrats want healthcare reform, they are going to have to go it alone. Let’s hope they pass a bill that would make Sen. Kennedy proud.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about healthcare and is free to reprint. Visit Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on healthcare affordability, healthcare laws, and healthcare 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: Public Option on Life Support

9:31 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, TMC MediaWire Blogger

Will healthcare reform include a public health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance? President Obama campaigned on the promise of a public option, but over the past week he and his top advisers have repeatedly signaled that they aren’t willing to fight for it.

On Saturday, Obama told a town hall meeting in Colorado: "Whether we have it or we don’t have it, [the public option] is not the entirety of health care reform. This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it."

"I don’t understand why the left of the left has decided that this is their Waterloo," an unnamed senior White House official gripes in this morning’s Washington Post.

The White House is sorely mistaken if it thinks that the public option belongs in the "nice but not necessary" category. Josh Holland of AlterNet explains why the public option is the pillar of healthcare reform. Without it, there’s little hope of containing costs or reigning in the power of insurance companies:

"It may be just one "aspect" of health reform, but without it, the legislation promises to be a massive rip-off; a taxpayer give-away of hundreds of billions of dollars to an unreformed ‘disease care’ industry.

The industry would get millions of new customers thanks to generous government subsidies and a law requiring that (almost) everyone carry insurance. And that windfall would come without the structural changes needed to bend the medical "cost curve" in years to come — without any provisions that might endanger the industry’s bottom line."

In Salon, Robert Reich agrees. Competition between private insurance companies and the public option is the only hope to controlling costs. A public plan could bargain with providers to reduce costs and pass the savings on to taxpayers. The private insurance industry would have to slash its prices to compete.

Without a public option, "reform" would likely involve subsidies to private insurance companies, temporarily dulling the pain as premiums rise unchecked. That’s the worst of both worlds.

Progressives shouldn’t be surprised at the White House’s noncommittal stance, though. Obama campaigned on a public option, but he has always framed it a darned good idea, not as a non-negotiable demand.

Why is it so difficult to get a healthcare bill through the Senate with the supposedly filibuster-proof majority? The simple answer is that the Dems need 100% of their delegation to cooperate in order to break a filibuster. So, the Democrats have 60 seats in the Senate but no way to advance their agenda without capitulating to the conservative Blue Dogs. The Republicans can be counted on to filibuster whatever the Democrats come up with. Which means that conservative Democrats like Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) hold the balance of power.

As Ari Melber of The Nation explains, Baucus and his Republican counterpart Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also rule over the powerful and conservative Senate Finance Committee, which has been tasked with writing the Senate version of the healthcare bill.

Also in The Nation, Tom Geoghegan argues that it’s time to break the stranglehold by abolishing the procedural filibuster. Unlimited debate in the Senate is enshrined in the constitution. In an old school filibuster, senators simply refuse to shut up until the session ends and the bill dies without a vote. In 1975, a group of liberals wrote a rule of Senate procedure that effectively allows senators to "filibuster" simply by saying they want to. In the old days, a filibuster was a grueling public ordeal. Senators slept on cots and spelled each other off. Today, "filibustering" means signing a form. It’s private, easy and cost-free. The Republicans can, and will, filibuster all major Democratic legislation without having to stand in public and risk being branded as obstructionists.

As a result, 60 is the new 50 in the Senate. Since it’s just a rule, the procedural filibuster could be abolished by a simple majority vote. Friends of the filibuster defend it as a bulwark against tyranny. Abolishing the procedural filibuster would discourage frivolous obstructionism, but keep the filibuster for cases when legislators actually care enough to lose sleep over it.

Ever wonder why the strongest public option, single-payer, was never on the table? Maybe because even the strongest proponents of the public plan are taking money from the insurance and biomedical industries. Mother Jones Rachel Morris wants to know why UNITEDHealth consultant Tom Daschle was on Meet the Press Sunday. A former Democratic senator, Daschle is a senior adviser to Obama on healthcare reform and a leading advocate of a public plan. However, he recently resumed a private consulting arrangement with UNITEDHealth, America’s largest health insurer. Even public plan champion Howard Dean is a strategic adviser on healthcare policy to the lobby firm of McKenna, Long, and Aldridge. Dean won’t disclose his clients, but McKenna represents a number of clients in the biomedical and health science industries.

The prospects of a public option are dimming, but not necessarily because of any rapid about-face by the White House. The Senate bill is in the hands of the Blue Dogs, who say they won’t have legislation until November. Obama won’t put the screws to the Blue Dogs, but there’s still plenty of time to for citizens to make their voices heard.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about healthcare and is free to reprint. Visit Healthcare.newsladder.net for a complete list of articles on healthcare affordability, healthcare laws, and healthcare 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: Mob Scene

9:50 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, TMC MediaWire Blogger

This week’s edition of the Weekly Pulse is shorter than usual. Our team is getting ready for the fourth annual Netroots Nation blogger conference in Pittsburgh, PA. Esther Kaplan, editor of the Nation Investigative Fund, and I are conducting an investigative reporting workshop on Saturday from 1:30-4:15 p.m. Join us and help expose the corporate roots of the Teabagger/Town hall mob movement.

Here’s the latest news on the healthcare front: Republicans and their allies are pressuring Democratic healthcare reformers at townhall meetings around the country. Addie Stan has a blockbuster piece in AlterNet that exposes the network of corporate funders and lobbyists behind the mobs.

The Progressive’s Ruth Conniff explains the mobs’ marching orders, as spelled out in a memo by Bob MacGuffie, a volunteer for the Tea Party Patriots, an anti-reform group with ties to former Republican Rep. Dick Armey’s pressure group Freedom Works. MacGuffie instructs town hall protesters to shout at lawmakers and attempt to throw them off their game as they try to make the case for health care reform. So much for reasoned discussion.

As I reported in In These Times, the teabaggers are trying to scapegoat organized labor as the instigators of confrontations at town hall meetings. On August 6, a scuffle broke out in front of a town hall meeting in St. Louis. This video clip shows the last 10 seconds of a scuffle in which a man in an SEIU t-shirt lies prostrate on the ground. A 38-year-old conservative activist claims to have been severely beaten, but the video shows him apparently uninjured, darting around to different cops and trying to convince them that he was attacked. The man’s lawyer claims that he saw his client get punched in the face and kicked in the head by SEIU members.
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