California Shortchanged On Healthcare Reform

The following editorial appeared in today’s San Franciso Chronicle.

Editorial: High cost of politics

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

At last, the U.S. Senate is within reach of health care reform. Over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., nailed down the last few votes he needed to begin a round of voting on the plan. President Obama’s wish for a Christmas health reform package appears to be coming true.

Regrettably, the deals that Reid had to cut may leave Californians clutching a lump of coal. California was already receiving the lowest federal match for Medicaid dollars in the nation – a 50-50 split – a large part of the reason our state’s provider reimbursement rates are also among the lowest. Experts estimate that the low federal match rate costs California about $2.3 billion every year.

Under the new health care reform package, states with recalcitrant senators will receive especially large subsidies to expand their Medicaid programs, or, in the case of Nebraska – whose Democratic senator, Ben Nelson, was a key holdout – Uncle Sam will pick up the entire tab. In sum, California will be subsidizing health care reform in other states, and we won’t even be able to pay our own bills.

If there was ever a moment for California’s congressional delegation to step in and insist on equity for California, this is it.

The state budget won’t be getting any healthier for many years. If we’re to expand the Medicaid population – as is required by both the House and Senate health care bills – we’ll have no choice but to increase our provider reimbursement rates. (There aren’t enough providers who are willing to accept the Medicaid patients we have now, because the reimbursement rates are so low. It will be impossible for us to add more patients to the Medicaid rolls without adding more providers, too.) But we simply don’t have the money to do that, and it’s unfair that we should have to shoulder so much more of that burden than other states.

Most outrageously, it seems that California is being punished for not playing political extortion on the issue. Its top leaders in Washington – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer – have been adamant about getting health care reform all along. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has spoken up in support of reform. Because California’s votes – and voters – could be counted on to support health care reform, we’ve gotten far less than states with “moderates,” who are able to bully Congress into handing over more and more treats for their constituents.

Of the two bills, the House version is more generous to California. Feinstein and Boxer must push for its provisions in conference. And in the long run, all of California’s congressional leaders must push for an end to the inequities in federal funding that contribute to California’s budget shortfalls.

A Train To Nowhere?

 It Takes A Pillage  Nomi Prins, the author of “It Takes A Pillage” and former Managing Director at Golman Sachs,  just put in an appearance on CNN to say “we’re sitting on a pile of subsidized public risk” that’s only going to get worse.   Prins says the amount of risk being taken by Wall Street has increased and so have their profits. That’s why the price-per-share value of the Wall Street firms has been rising.  At the same time all the indicators on main street she says, point to things getting worse, with more people falling behind in their mortgage payments and an increased number of foreclosures.   The situation out on main street she says, is worse now than it was before the feds forked over all that cash to bail out the banking industry.

” The Second Great Bank Depression has spawned so many lies, it’s hard to keep track of which is the biggest. Possibly the most irksome class of lies, usually spouted by Wall Street hacks and conservative pundits, is that we’re all victims to a bunch of poor people who bought McMansions, or at least homes they had no business living in. If that was really what this crisis was all about, we could have solved it much more cheaply in a couple of days in late 2008, by simply providing borrowers with additional capital to reduce their loan principals. It would have cost about 3 percent of what the entire bailout wound up costing, with comparatively similar risk.”  -From “It Takes A Pillage”

Most troubling perhaps, is that according to Prins the government hasn’t done much to bring the situation under control.

Kinda sounds like a runaway train, doesn’t it?  What a shock.   Could it be there has been no meaningful legislation to control the financial industry because lobbyists for the bankers have sent truckloads of cash over to the hill?   You know, the same thing the insurance and pharmaceutical companies have been doing to shoot down meaningful health care legislation?  In any other environment it would be called exactly what it is.  Bribe money.

Time for a reality check.    This is now a nation of, by and for investment and commercial bankers, insurance companies, multi-national pharmaceutical manufacturers and anybody else with millions to throw at the House and Senate.  The rest of us are basically screwed.   And the greed driven train wreck it would seem, is on the way.

Please Don’t Shoot The Snowman

With heavy snow falling along the eastern seaboard a call went out for a big snowball fight at 4th and U. in Washington, D.C.   A man showed up and started waving a gun around, apparently after his SUV had been pelted with snowballs.  The crowd started chanting “Don’t bring a gun to a snowball fight.”  The man with the gun turned out to be an off duty police officer who can be seen talking to someone over a walkie-talkie.  Apparently he was calling for backup as uniformed police began arriving at the scene of the…what?  Man with gun vs. kids with snowballs?  The off duty cop who was waving his firearm around has reportedly been assigned to desk duty while the police department tries to sort it all out.

It’s Nice Being Mayor

 Antonio Villaraigosa  My old friend and former colleague at KTLA-TV, Eric Spillman,  reports that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spent something over $120,000 on a nine-day trip to London, Berlin and Copenhagen.  The interesting part in this of course is that Los Angeles has a huge homeless population, unemployment is running around 12.4%, and as Eric points out in his piece, the City is running a serious deficit.  Oh well, I’m sure the mayor’s presence was key to the non-agreement agreement that was reached in Copenhagen?  I’m sure he wouldn’t go there with an entourage in tow, you know…just for kicks?  Good job Mr. Mayor, we’ll expect to see investment money start pouring in from the three countries you and your half-dozen staffers visited at the the taxpayer’s expense.   Anyway, you’re in good company.  Tom Bradley was famous for his junkets around the Pacific Rim.  Junkets that built the downtown skyline.   Your trip or trips (you just getting started?) will undoubtedly have a similar impact on the City.   I think I’ll run for office.

An Outstanding Film

Invictus Movie  With “Invictus,” director Clint Eastwood has again stepped up to the plate and knocked the cover off the ball.  Or in this case, I should probably  say he’s kicked it squarely over the goalpost.  The story about Nelson Mandela using South Africa’s fervor for rugby to pull the country together following the end of apartheid really needs no metaphorical boost and is nothing short of inspirational.

This time the critics got it right.  This is one of the best films to come along in some time.    Could be talking Oscar nominations for best picture and best director.  Also for Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of Mandela and possibly for Matt Damon who plays rugby team captain  Francois Pienaar.   The movie is based upon the book “Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation,” by John Carlin.   South Africa went from being a non-contender to winning the Rugby World Cup in 1995.

And don’t be overly concerned about not understanding the game of rugby.   The film shows the South African national rugby team going out into a township to teach the basics of the game to kids as part of a public relations effort.   The movie’s audience gets a brief rugby lesson in the process.  Clint Eastwood’s a clever guy.  Or maybe it was screenwriter Anthony Peckham.  Either way it was a smart move.

The Big Healthcare Con Job

Amid smiles and much back patting, the Democrats, it appears, have finally been able to get the 60 votes they need to pass healthcare reform in the Senate.   It’s a big win for President Obama who will now now be able to sign the bill into law before Christmas.  That’s what he said he wanted.  But what’s in the bill?

The New York Times is calling it a “partial win” for the president.   It has yet to go to conference committee but reports coming out of Washington are troubling to anyone who believes adequate healthcare is a right and not a privilege.

It appeared as though the Democrats started this process with the best of intentions.  With their majority they should have been able to dictate terms.  Most, wanted to expand healthcare coverage to more Americans while reigning in the escalating cost due to excessive fees charged by the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries.   At one point, the push for healthcare reform had the backing of the AARP,  the Council of Catholic Bishops, the AMA and a majority of the American people.   Most Americans in fact, said they were in favor of the so-called “public option.” 

But then, as the legislative process moved forward everything fell apart.    There was opposition from Republicans and from Independent Joe Lieberman.  That was expected.  The “party of no” is, well, the party of no.  And Lieberman’s home state Connecticut, is home to a number of big health insurance companies.   Smilin’ Joe Lieberman, is clearly their guy in the Senate.  The real problem is the Democrats themselves.  Many have accepted large campaign contributions from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries.  All that money bought big business the loyalty it paid for as Democrats caved and came down on the side of corporate profits.

Key elements in the original bill included a so-called  “public option” that would have created competition for private insurance companies by letting the federal government sell insurance coverage directly to the American people, and an extension of Medicare benefits to people age 60 to 65.  It’s important to know that the administrative costs of the  Medicare program are estimated at around 5-6% while the same costs for private insurers can run as high as 30%.

Those two provisions wouldn’t bring healthcare standards in the U.S. up to the rest of the industrialized world, but it was a start.  And yet, in order to get the 60 votes they need for passage, the Democrats agreed to kill some of the bills most important provisions.

-The final version of the Senate bill contains no public option, so there is no competition for private health insurance companies, and consequently no incentive for them to lower their prices.   In addition, it appears to contain no adequate control over health insurance pricing.  The fox will continue to guard the hen house.  So you can expect the cost of insurance to keep rising even though healthcare costs currently eat up a full 16% of the U.S. economy.

-The provision to extend Medicare to Americans age 60-65 has been eliminated, at a time when more and more older Americans are facing unemployment and losing their insurance coverage in the process.   The older you are, the greater the difficulty in finding a new job, and it’s those older Americans who are more likely to face serious illness.  Connect the dots.

Topping it all off is a provision that feels downright fascist.    All of America will be legally obligated to buy into this lousy plan.  That’s right, we will now be forced to buy health insurance from one of the same companies that are now being broadly criticized for ravaging the land with their excessive fees or we will be breaking the law.   Home of the free and land of the brave?   Buy health insurance from a private company or what?   Be fined or go to jail?  In America?  What’s next?  A misdemeanor penalty for failing to visit the dentist every six months?

They can talk all they want but basically that’s what the bill your U.S. Senate and President are calling their big victory.  But a victory for who?  The health insurance and pharmaceutical industries that continue to bribe the Senate into doing their bidding, that’s who.  For the American people it’s nothing but a big  healthcare con job that will funnel more business than ever to the health insurance industry.  At the same time, the Democrats will be able to claim they have accomplished healthcare reform as they head into the mid-term elections in 2010.  They have not.  The Senate has failed in its obligation to the American people.

The bill still must go to conference committee where the House and Senate will hammer out the differences between their two versions of the bill.  The House version still contains a public option.  Odds are, it will be stripped from the bill before coming back out of committee.  They’ll have to take it out or the Republicans, Joe Lieberman and the bribery-prone Democrats in the Senate will refuse to send it along to the President for his signature.

The common wisdom at this point appears to be that any health care reform bill is better than no bill at all.  Maybe not.

The Senate has failed in it’s obligation to the American people.   It is likely that the bill that comes out of conference committee will be stripped of both the public option and a provision extending Medicare to more of the nation’s elderly.

President Obama’s only real option at this point is to make it known that he will veto any health care reform bill that comes to his desk without those two provisions.  If he does that, if he finally starts playing hardball, he might get not both, but one or the other.  That would be real change.  That’s what he ran on and it’s time for him to stand up for it.  It’s time for him to stop trying to compromise with people who have no interest in being reasonable.   It is not working.  It’s time for him to get tough and cut a real deal for the American people.

This president must take a stand for real reform following his party’s abject failure in their responsibility to put the interest of millions of Americans above the interest of a handful of private insurance and pharmaceutical companies.  If he does not,  his image will suffer over the short term and his party will suffer at the polls in 2010.  The winners will be the insurance and pharmaceutical companies and the Republican Party.

Two Wins And A Standoff In The Desert

An interesting morning.  The United Nations climate talks have concluded in Copenhagen, with what the New York Times calls “a grudging accord” after California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger put in an appearance and then President Obama showed up to end a deadlock and broker the deal.   Schwarzenegger and Obama?  Interesting combination of international star power and American politics.  Not everyone is happy with the result.

The U.S. Senate appears to have its 60th vote to pass the healthcare reform bill.   Passage before Christmas was what the Obama Administration wanted.  They got it done after Ben Nelson came on board following a compromise on abortion.  Not everyone is happy with the result.

With compromises all over the place, it appears  nobody is completely happy with the results on healthcare reform or the climate change agreement.  Question is, are we better off now than we were say…..14 months ago, when the Bush Administration’s “flat-earthers” continued to deny the existence of climate change and pushed hard against any proposed change to the health insurance industry while insisting it was the responsibility of the U.S. to democratize all of the Middle East?  A mess they were leaving for the incoming administration to clean up?

In the Middle East this morning, Iran and Iraq are at loggerheads over an oil well on the border.  Iraq says the well is theirs but the site has been seized by the Iranian military.   Reuters reports they are seeking a diplomatic solution rather than a military confrontation pitting Iranian forces against the Iraqis’.  Oh wait, that would be us, wouldn’t it?   Golly.  I wish Dubya had taken care of that and a few other minor details before firing “Rummy” and leaving for Crawford.   Well, he never really did understand that “legacy thing” did he?   Except maybe, when he needed to get into an Ivy League school?  That’s okay George, don’t trouble yourself with the facts.  We’ll just let the historians sort it all out.

Arnold Goes To Copenhagen

 Arnold Schwarzenegger

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, showed up at the conference on global warming in Copenhagen and called for a “planetary transformation.”

“The desire and hope and desperate need for planetary transformation is what brought me here. Is it a dream, a fairly tale, a false hope? If not how can we make it real?   The self-styled “climate action hero for the globe” said a deal in Copenhagen should not only make the world “more liveable” but help poor countries who have done the least to cause climate change to fight floods and droughts.”  -The Telegraph


Chuck Norris: Healthcare Reform Would Have Killed Jesus

 Chuck Norris

“What if Mother Mary had Obamacare?” Chuck Norris writes in an article published on the “Human” website. Well,  in the mind of Norris, it appears to mean Jesus might never have been born.

 “Lastly, as we near the eve of another Christmas, I wonder: What would have happened if Mother Mary had been covered by Obamacare? What if that young, poor and uninsured teenage woman had been provided the federal funds (via Obamacare) and facilities (via Planned Parenthood, etc.) to avoid the ridicule, ostracizing, persecution and possible stoning because of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy? Imagine all the great souls who could have been erased from history and the influence of mankind if their parents had been as progressive as Washington’s wise men and women! Will Obamacare morph into Herodcare for the unborn?” -Chuck Norris

Obama Brokers Deal To Fight Global Warming

They were deadlocked in Copenhagen until President Barack Obama showed up and cut a deal with China and several other emerging powers. 

“The five-nation agreement includes a method for verifying reductions of heat-trapping gases — a key demand by Washington, because China has resisted international efforts to monitor its actions.  The agreement, which also includes India, South Africa and Brazil, requires industrial countries to list their individual targets and developing countries to list the actions they will take to cut global warming pollution by specific amounts. Obama called that an “unprecedented breakthrough.” -AP

The NY Times reports the deal falls short of satisfying all the parties involved-  “No country is entirely satisfied with each element,” the administration’s statement said, “but this is a meaningful and historic step forward and a foundation from which to make further progress.”

Al Franken Shuts Down Smilin’ Joe Lieberman

In a rare and noteworthy moment, as Republicans, Blue Dogs and Joe Liberman, continue to do all they can to stall passage of healthcare reform in the Senate, Minnesota’s junior Senator Al Franken tells insurance industry puppet Joe Lieberman that his time is up and  he has no alternative but to stop talking.    John McCain, feigns shock and surprise as he issues a protest.   Pay particular attention to what McCain has to say in his complaint, because he’s complaining about something he’s done to Democrats in the past (Sen. Dayton of MN).   And now he says he doesn’t know what’s going on.  What nonsense.  Franken, by the way, is one of only a relative few in the United States Senate who have not been bought off by the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.   Kudos to Al Franken.

(Thanks to Rachel Maddow for the historical info on McCain and Dayton.)

L.A. Times Employees Lawsuit To Proceed

“A federal judge in Chicago today ruled that key parts a lawsuit by current and former Los Angeles Times employees can proceed against Tribune Company chairman Sam Zell and the bank that oversaw Zell’s take-over of the media giant.  Tribune’s team of lawyers had hoped to stop the case against Zell and GreatBanc by winning the motion to dismiss, something that could have ended the matter. Thursday’s ruling allows the case to proceed.”  -Protect Consumer

FRC “Prayercast” To Kill Healthcare Reform

Here is some of the Family Research Council’s “prayercast” featuring Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota (doing most of the praying in this clip),  Senators Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Sam Brownback (R-KS).   Others, including Randy Forbes (R-VA) and  Todd Akin (R-MO) took part either in person or via pre-recorded message in the plea for God to intercede and kill congressional healthcare reform.  Not that it matters, but Congresswoman Bachmann has received more than $70,000.00 from insurance companies and the health products and pharmaceutical industries in the 2009/2010 fundraising cycle. They are among her biggest contributors.