Thursday, July 30, 2009

Will There be Justice from Unfair Trade?

July 28, 2009

U.S. tire workers in consumer tire-producing operations are at the losing end of a surge in tire
imports from China. This surge has a direct link to the 25 percent decline in U.S. production and the resulting 7,000 workers who are being impacted by factory shutdowns and slated shutdowns.

These are family and community supportive jobs that are disappearing because China isn’t
playing by the rules, and the Steelworkers are taking action through a trade case to help right this wrong.

It’s time to make a break from the failed trade policy of the past.

This case has far-reaching implications for many USW industries beyond just tire. If we lose, we can expect more industries to be harmed. If we win, we start on a course of trade law enforcement where U.S. workers get a fair shot.

China’s Unfair Trading Practices are Not New

The artificial level of imports has a direct connection to China’s distorted, non-market economy and manipulation of its currency. There are numerous cases in the U.S. where China was found to disregard our trade rules and dump or subsidize exports to our market. The impact has been loss of jobs and wages for workers in many industries – just like what is happening in the tire industry now.

The USW Takes Action

Section 421 of the Trade Act of 1974 gives us recourse when a flood of imports from China disrupts our markets and causes harm to U.S. workers and industries. China agreed to these rules when they became a member of the World Trade Organization. Recently, the International Trade Commission affirmed our case, ruling that China violated its WTO commitments on surges related to the U.S. tire market. Now the case moves on to the President for a final determination on whether or not relief will be granted.

The President Now Holds the Key

In four previous 421 cases where the ITC found injury, the President at the time – George W. Bush –refused to provide relief. Currently, President Obama is feeling heavy pressure from the job-exporting crowd to keep the status quo. The President has until September 17 to make his decision. It is very important that he hears from us on this case and understands how important this issue is. This is not just about the tire industry; it’s about the future of American manufacturing!

Act to Support U.S. Jobs!

Write a Note to Ask for Relief in the Tire Trade Case TODAY!

The outcome of this case has farreaching implications for industries beyond just tire. A win means that we can start on a course of trade law enforcement; a loss will send a strong message to China that they can continue these practices without fear of recourse, leading to even more job loss.

• We all have something at stake. This case is about all workers who have lost jobs or are threatened with job loss from import surges from China. It’s also about the other industries that could be impacted if this case is lost, and the families and communities that will be left to deal with the consequences. When we were fighting to save the steel industry, the local that wrote the most letters of any local in the country was a tire local in Union City, Tennessee. Today, that same local is slated to close because of this issue. Let’s stand in solidarity with them – and with all who have been at the losing end in trade fights – to push for a new direction.

• Our timeline is very short! We need our Rapid Response teams to quickly mobilize on
this issue. The President has until September 17 to make a decision whether or not relief will be granted. Letters need to flood the White House well in advance of that deadline so that we can both make our voices heard and counter the job-exporters who are mobilizing to defeat this case.

Action Instructions

1 – Write a note to President Obama. Make sure to ask him to:
Please support a strong remedy in the Section 421 case on passenger and light truck tires.
Other points you might want to make:

• You have said that the future of America is tied to the future of manufacturing in America. Through a strong remedy, you have the opportunity to turn those words into action.

• The world is watching your actions on this case to see if your Administration will stand
up for American manufacturing and American workers.

• As a voting American and a supporter of a strong American manufacturing sector and good manufacturing jobs in the United States, I urge you to act by applying adequate relief to stop the market disruption, such as recommended by the International Trade Commission.

• For too long, China’s violations have not been curbed by any strong and meaningful enforcement. That has resulted in an exodus of manufacturing jobs. It has also encouraged China to continue these violations with impunity.

• Much must be done to stabilize manufacturing and rebuild our capacity to make things
in America. Enforcement of trade rules is a critical part of that rebuilding process. Make sure to include your address at the bottom of your note.

2 – Mail your letter to the White House.

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

3 – Please Act Immediately.

Because of the hard deadline in this case, this action requires a quick response. We need to
generate as many letters as soon as possible to make a swift impact. The sooner we get the letters in, the greater the chance of a win.

4 – Questions?

Call the USW Rapid Response Hotline Toll-Free at:
866-851-9631

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Democrats, be aware

“Any Democrat who upsets the healthcare reform, or any Democrat who stymies a meaningful public option for real competition ought to be targeted in the primary and taken out.”
Leo W. Gerard
President, United Steelworkers

The below ‘direct link’ is a podcast of USW Pres. Gerard’s provocative 30-minute interview segment Friday morning (Jul. 24) with progressive talk radio host Jeff Santos on WWZN-AM’s ‘RevolutionBoston’ that’s a 50,000 watt station with a listening audience in Greater Boston, most of MA, NH, VT and parts of NYC.

Leo cites reports of an estimated $1.75 million per day expenditure by the health insurance lobby in the legislative fight for health care reform as demonstrative of the stakes. He suggests that any Democrat who stymies the public interest in healthcare should be ‘taken out’ in the next election, predicting that if we don’t fix health care now, he expects more personal and corporate bankruptcies. The other issues discussed on the show include auto sector manufacturing, international trade economics and the Employee Free Choice Act.

When accessed, the interview for Leo doesn’t start until 10 minutes into the podcast – so you might want to fast forward to the interview.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Letter For All Americans

July 24, 2009

Barack H. Obama, President of the United States
Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services
All members of the U.S. House of Representatives
All members of the U.S. Senate


Dear Friends,

I am writing to you on behalf of the 340,000 members of the National Union of Public and General Employees (Canada) about the scurrilous misrepresentations of Canada and our single-payer health system in the debate over the future of health care in the United States.

We applaud you for reopening the national discussion of health care reform in the U.S. There are various policy proposals on the table and you’ll have important decisions to make in the months ahead. As legislators, it’s critical that you use the best available evidence to inform your decisions.

Unfortunately, rather than a true debate about its merits, Canada’s single-payer system, and by extension Canada’s reputation, has been the victim of a multi-million dollar tidal wave of special-interest propaganda and scare tactics. You need to know that an objective examination of the evidence reveals that Canada’s single-payer health system is the triumph of values and economics.

Our system speaks volumes about the character of our nation. It provides all Canadians with equal access to care on the basis of need, not wealth or privilege or status. Previous generations understood that sickness doesn’t discriminate and they made the collective moral decision that
health care shouldn’t discriminate either. It was a courageous initiative by visionary men and women that changed us as a nation and cemented our role as one of the world’s compassionate societies. We will always defend the proud legacy we have inherited from previous generations of Canadians.

Indeed, Canadians today still strongly support the core values on which our system is premised - equality, compassion and solidarity. In fact, our Medicare system is now tied to our understanding of citizenship. More than just a social program, Medicare to us represents a birthright and an identifying mark of “Canadian-ness”. It is, we believe, the clearest reflection of who we are and what we value.

But more than that, our single-payer system is, quite simply, a good and sensible idea that serves Canadians extremely well. The overheated rhetoric and outright falsehoods that you’ve heard about the quality and viability of Canada’s system simply do not stand up to scrutiny.

When it comes to health outcomes, on almost every critical measure, whether it is life expectancy rates, infant mortality rates, or potential years of lost life, Canada rates much better than the U.S. and we’re among the best in the world. Notwithstanding the “real life” stories you’ve heard in TV ads launched by the group Patients United Now, a very strong majority of Canadians who use the system are highly satisfied with the quality and standard of care they receive.

In terms of controlling costs, health spending in Canada is on par with most countries in the Western world and it’s substantially lower than in the U.S. And yet we devote a smaller portion of Gross Domestic Product to health care today than we did over a decade ago. It’s totally unthinkable to Canadians to experience bankruptcy due to medical bills, as do over one million Americans every year. Unlike in the U.S., not a single Canadian who is unemployed has lost the ability to access health care during the current economic recession.

In addition, our single-payer system provides both small and large businesses in Canada with a clear competitive advantage. Employers don’t have to provide basic health care for their workers, our single-payer system does that. Our businesses also enjoy the benefits of a healthier
and more productive workforce thanks to our universal system. Unlike in the U.S. where basic health care is a major source of labour relations strife, it’s hardly an issue at the bargaining table in Canada. We also enjoy greater labour mobility because workers who don’t have to worry
about losing health benefits are more willing and able to switch jobs and move to where the work is.

Finally, what you’re being told about government-run health care with patients suffering and dying on wait lists is nothing but lies. No need for emergency or urgent care is ever neglected in Canada. If your doctor says you need the care urgently, you get it, period. Moreover, Statistics
Canada reports that the median wait time for elective surgery is four weeks and the median wait time for diagnostic imaging like MRIs is three weeks. And contrary to popular myth, we’re free to choose whatever doctor we want. And all decisions about care and treatment are left to patients and their doctors, there’s no interference by the government or private insurance companies.

An objective review of the evidence shows that Canada’s single-payer system has consistently delivered affordable, timely, accessible, comprehensive and high-quality care to the overwhelming majority of Canadians on the basis of need, not wealth. It has also contributed to our international competitiveness and the productivity of our workforce.

Times of great need, we are told, are the times when true leaders emerge and display the ability to separate fact from fiction and the courage to set aside political agendas for the sake of the common good. The challenge facing health care reform in the U.S. demands that kind of ability and courage from each of you.

I would be pleased to speak or meet with you at anytime, or if you’re interested we could arrange a “study mission” to Canada, to ensure you have an accurate picture of the benefits and popularity of Canada’s most cherished social program. Please do not hesitate to contact my office.

Sincerely,

James Clancy
National President

Sunday, July 26, 2009

House's Public Option: Good News and Bad News

By Jonathan Walker
July 15, 2009

The House released its America's Affordable Health Choice Act today along with a preliminary CBO scoring. It will include a robust public option. There is some good and bad news about the public health insurance option:

The Good News

-The public option will be available nationwide and from “day one” on the new national health insurance exchange.

-The public plan will be run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

-The public option will pay doctors the same rates as Medicare plus 5% for the first three years.

-The public option will have the power to directly negotiate drugs prices.

-Roughly a third of all people buying health insurance through the exchange are projected to select the public plan (around 11 to 12 million). This is not a high enough percentage that the public plan will “dominate” the exchange. Incredibly important!

-The public option's premiums will be 10% cheaper than a typical private insurance plans.

-The public plan will drive down the cost of overall reform. The size of subsidies will be based on the cost of the three cheapest plans. By offering a cheaper public plan, the size of subsidies are reduced.

-The public plan will self-sufficient and not increase the federal debt.

The Bad News

-The public plan will not be available until 2013. The Health Insurance Exchange will not start until 2013, so no one can purchase the public plan until then.

-The public option will only pay Medicare rates for the first three years. After that it will need to negotiate its own.

-Medicare providers are not required to accept the public plan. (On the positive side: providers that are part of Medicare's network will be part of the public plan's network unless they opt-out.)

-Large businesses will not be allowed to choose the public plan. It is only available to individuals and small businesses getting coverage through the exchange.

-Only 30 million Americans will be able to select the public plan because of the above restriction. (On the positive side: starting in 2016, the Commissioner might allow some larger employers to give their employees insurance through the exchange)

-The public plan's power to negotiate drug/service prices will weaken because of restrictions which strongly limit the number of Americans who can choose to sign up for it.

Overall, I'm fairly happy with the structure of the public option but unhappy with the restrictions on who can sign up for it. Expanding access to the pubic option should be an easier political fight than changing its structure. If I had to choose, I would select a well structured public plan restricted to a few, over a poorly designed public option open to all.

Most importantly, the CBO has determined that the public plan would save individuals, businesses, and the federal government money. The CBO has also concluded that a public plan will not hurt the private insurance market. In effect, the CBO has destroyed the two main arguments against the public option.

Crossposted on The Walker Report

Friday, July 24, 2009

Another great demonstration for Universal Healthcare

Another great rally yesterday for Universal Healthcare took place at Senator Evan Bayh's office in Hammond, Indiana.

Here's a photo of Cheryl DeCero, an active Steelworker and Bill Cantrell, a member of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees.

The demonstration was a great success and we got our message across to Senator Bayh.

Thanks to all who were able to attend.

There were a few opponents to Universal Healthcare in attendance claiming that they didn't want a government run program.

The interesting thing about them is that those I spoke to had health insurance, and as a matter of fact, had Medicare which is a government run health system. Another told me that his health care while serving in the military was great. He didn't seem to realize that that too is a government run health system. Pretty sad, huh?

Another interesting thing that I noticed was their use of the flag that you see here.

After some research into this flag, one of our members found the following:

This flag was originally used in wartime by the coastguard. It's a U.S. Civil flag. It was flown on civilian ships during wartime so that the enemy would know that they were not warships. The person who did the research believes that by flying this flag yesterday, our opposition feels that they are at war with us.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rally for Healthcare

Rally for Health Care

5400 Federal Plaza, Hammond,In
Hohman and Douglas
Hammond, IN 46324
Thursday, July 23, 2009, 12:00 PM

We will stress to Senator Evan Bayh that we are active in Indiana and we would like to demonstrate how much support we have in the region. We will be delivering a letter supporting Public Option and rallying outside his Hammond office.

We are one of several events in Indiana. It is time to drive the message home to Senator Bayh that we need him to support a public option for health care and clean energy jobs.

We are going to meet at the corner of Hohman and Douglas at 12:00. There is a lot of free parking behind the Federal Court House which is right around the corner on Douglas. Be sure to leave home early, traffic can be a mess. Please ask a friend to come with you.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Health Care for All.....NOW!

All of the roughly 170 million Americans with private health insurance share concerns about skyrocketing costs and shrinking benefits. But there are even greater challenges for the roughly one in four Americans who either purchase their insurance on the individual market or have considered doing so. The individual market is confusing, complex, and typically costs more for less coverage—if coverage is available at all.

Conservatives claim that comprehensive health care reform will lead to government control and rationing of care. Yet private insurers already effectively limit and deny the health care that their policyholders can access, especially those who have to find coverage in the individual market. And make no mistake—the insurance companies are well aware that just 20 percent of patients are responsible for 80 percent of health care costs in the United States. That’s why insurers try to limit the coverage of this 20 percent, especially in the individual insurance market.

The recent testimony of former insurance company executive Wendell Potter before the Senate Commerce Committee offers insight into the practices that protect insurers’ economic interests at the expense of their policyholders’ best interests. In an effort to limit their costs, Potter explained the techniques that insurers use to try to drop sick individuals from coverage. One approach is “purging,” where the monthly costs for some individuals are significantly increased in the hopes that the individual will choose to drop coverage.

Health reform will bring an end to insurers’ practices that limit care and bring stability to families’ insurance coverage. To their credit, the health care insurance industry has stated that they would accept changes to improve the stability of coverage under certain circumstances. But the industry actively opposes the creation of a public health insurance plan as part of an insurance exchange that will enable employers and individuals to purchase insurance as a group under market reforms that prohibit screening for pre-existing conditions and other conditions that insurers like to use to deny coverage. These reforms will finally make insurance affordable and available for all while creating a marketplace that has a choice of plans that will have to compete with one another.

In addition, to make the market more efficient and fair, specific changes will be made in the health care marketplace that will make insurance easy to obtain, easy to keep, affordable, and a meaningful source of protection when people need care. For too long, our system of market rules has allowed insurance companies to deny and limit health care. It’s time to fix the problem to bring down health care costs in the United States so they are fair and affordable for everyone.

There are four basic problems with our current health care system that allow insurers to limit our access to health care: insurance policies are too expensive, too easily manipulated in order to limit or deny coverage, too hard to keep, and too weak to be effective. Comprehensive health care reform offers four solutions that will improve the system by making insurance affordable, available to everyone, easy to maintain, and adequate for all medical situations. Let’s consider each of these problems and solutions in turn.

Problem: Health insurance is too expensive

Health insurance premium costs put coverage out of reach for too many American families, and many more have problems paying their medical bills because they are underinsured. The fact is, more and more Americans fail to get the care they need based on their inability to pay.

Over the past decade, health insurance premiums have risen 119 percent nationally, while wages (adjusted for inflation) have remained relatively flat. Today, the average family premium for employer-sponsored health insurance exceeds $13,000, while total average medical costs can account for as much as 16.2 percent of income for low-income families. High premium costs contribute to the number of uninsured Americans.

While premiums have been growing so too have out-of-pocket costs, or those costs not covered by insurance such as deductibles and copays. High out-of-pocket costs have contributed to the total estimated 25 million underinsured Americans—those with insurance but not enough to protect them from financial risk. Paying for the rising cost of health care is a particularly severe problem for people without coverage through their employers. Those individuals who have to buy their insurance on the individual insurance market face:

  • High premium costs. Insurers in 31 states have no limit at all on what they can charge for individual insurance. This leaves families vulnerable to not being able to afford their coverage over time, or to spikes in insurance costs from one year to the next.
  • High out-of-pocket costs. Health insurance on the individual market also tends to come with high out-of-pocket cost sharing. Deductibles, for example, average about $2,000 per person for so-called Preferred Provider Organization plans, the managed care health insurance networks many Americans receive care through. Being underinsured—facing very high out-of-pocket costs—is often little better than being uninsured in terms of having access to health care services. Higher deductibles and other cost-sharing requirements make it less likely that individuals will seek out health care—even if they need it.

Solution: Health reform will make insurance affordable

Health care reform will help families to buy comprehensive health insurance at an affordable rate and strengthen employer-based insurance. In addition, health reform can mandate maximum out-of-pocket costs for private insurance. Under the plans being discussed by progressives, health care reform will:

  • Control the cost of health care by promoting competition and increasing efficiency. With a new health insurance exchange in place, consumers will receive better information about health insurance plans. This means insurers will have to compete for policyholders by bringing down costs while offering quality coverage. And with a public health insurance plan on offer, consumers will have a benchmark for quality insurance at a competitive price, which will also drive competition by offering a quality insurance product but without the higher administrative costs and profits of private insurers. With individuals able to freely choose from a range of plans, competition will drive improvement in plan offerings. Health reform also will lower costs by redesigning care payment systems that will, for example, increase the incentives to providers to offer chronic care and preventive services.
  • Offer subsides for health insurance premiums. Tax credits or subsidies to help low- and middle-income families will make health insurance affordable for all Americans.
  • Cap out-of-pocket costs. This will ensure costs do not prevent families from seeking needed care, and will protect Americans from excessive medical debt and medical bankruptcies if they get really sick.
  • Support small business. Small businesses and the self-employed today pay more for health insurance and get less coverage than those who work for large businesses with employer-sponsored health care plans. A health insurance exchange will help small businesses by improving their purchasing power with subsidies to offset employee premium costs. The health exchange also will improve the purchasing power of the self employed and individuals who do not have employer-sponsored coverage by enabling them to buy into a health insurance pool, which will attract discounts from health care providers similar to those now enjoyed by big employer-sponsored plans. One recent report estimates that health care reform could save small business up to $855 billion in costs.

Problem: Insurance companies use a range of reasons to charge some people more for health insurance or deny it altogether

Health insurance is supposed to protect us when we get sick. Yet study after study documents that people with pre-existing conditions find it nearly impossible to get the coverage they need. One survey shows that 89 percent of the people who tried to purchase coverage on the individual market ultimately did not, either because it was unavailable or it was unaffordable. In the vast majority of states, insurers can refuse to sell coverage to individuals based on their health status, and insurers face few restrictions on the rates that they can charge.

Then there’s the application process. Insurers want to limit their exposure to customers that could need medical care—and cost the insurer money. So insurers use long and confusing insurance applications to look at all aspects of an applicant’s life and medical history to identify factors that could make them more costly. Insurers then charge higher premiums for those with real or perceived risk factors. Insurers look specifically for:

  • Health status and chronic illness. It is common practice for health insurers to use the application process to determine an individual's health status to decide both how much coverage to offer and at what cost. In one survey, half of those in fair or poor health found it very difficult or impossible to find the coverage they needed. And for those offered coverage, poor health status is used as a reason to charge higher premiums or limit coverage.
  • Prescription drug use. Taking prescription medications makes millions of Americans ineligible for coverage on the individual market. Case in point: Insurance companies in California bar individuals from coverage if they take any of 8 of the 20 most popular prescription medications sold in the United States. That list includes the top-selling drug in the country, Lipitor, which has been prescribed to more than 26 million Americans to treat cholesterol.
  • Height and weight. For the approximately one-third of adults who are medically obese—defined by a body mass index of 30 or higher; a recommended BMI ranges from 19 to 25—health insurance will cost more if it is available at all. Those with a BMI of more than 35 are simply denied coverage. But it isn’t just the obese who can be turned down. Coverage can more expensive, or denied, for those deemed too short, too tall, or too skinny.
  • Age. Age discrimination is prevalent in the individual market. On average, someone 60 to 64 years old and healthy is going to pay significantly more for health insurance than an 18- to 24-year-old. Of course, that is only for those who are offered coverage. Of those ages 60 to 64, 29 percent are turned down for individual coverage compared to just 4 percent of those ages 18 to 24.
  • Gender. Women are more likely to have to seek coverage on the individual market than men as they are less likely to qualify for employer-sponsored coverage. However, being a woman means paying more for health insurance. Pregnancy has long been a reason insurance companies use to charge women higher rates for health insurance, even though many individual insurance policies don’t even cover maternity benefits.
  • Occupation. Insurers will use your occupation to decide if you can buy insurance. Roofing, window cleaning, lumber work, and asphalt work are occupations that insurers will sometimes not cover. Volunteer firefighters, a common occupation in rural areas, can be denied coverage even if their full-time occupation only involves office work.
  • Hobbies. Even hobbies such as scuba diving and skydiving can mean being denied coverage.

If individuals are offered coverage after clearing all of these hurdles, the next challenge they face is the scarce information on how to compare benefit packages. Given the number of ways insurers can vary benefit packages to limit coverage—from not including some services to high cost sharing to low-benefit limits—successful applications find it hard to truly understand what coverage they are purchasing. One study showed that 75 percent of policyholders didn’t understand the policy they purchased, and more than 50 percent didn’t know if their policy limited out-of-pocket spending.

Solution: Health reform will make insurance more available

Comprehensive health care reform will make it much easier for families to find insurance, compare benefit packages, and then purchase the one that works best for them. Under the plans being discussed by progressives, health care reform will:

  • Make insurance available to everyone. Insurers will be required to offer insurance to all individuals and employers who apply for coverage, and will no longer be able to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, or price coverage out of reach for people with health problems.
  • Make insurance understandable. Minimum benefit standards and a guarantee that all policies will offer meaningful insurance will create tools for helping families sort through insurance plans and understand their benefits and out-of-pocket costs.

Problem: Health insurance is hard to keep

When individuals lose their health coverage just when they need it the most, care is being rationed. In the vast majority of states it is possible for insurance companies to cancel individual market coverage once it is found that expensive claims are being made on the policy. Such claims often trigger post-claims underwriting, insurance jargon for insurers investigating a policyholder’s already-completed application and medical history to find evidence of preexisting conditions. Even if errors or omissions on an application were unintentional, in many states they can be grounds to cancel coverage going forward, rescind or retroactively cancel coverage, or limit coverage to exclude the preexisting condition.

All three of these steps ration care for those who need medical attention. Rescissions go further by sticking former policyholders with the bill for services they sought believing they had coverage. At a recent congressional hearing, it was revealed that just three insurers rescinded at least 20,000 individuals between 2003 and 2007. In one case, a nurse had her coverage rescinded when she developed breast cancer—after failing to disclose that she had seen a dermatologist for acne. When insurance industry executives were asked if they would end the practice of rescissions, the answer was “no.”

Individuals and families also are at risk of losing insurance during life transitions that limit their access to coverage. Losing a job, going through a divorce, or graduating from college can automatically make some individuals or families ineligible for employer-sponsored coverage. While federal law offers some protections for individuals and families who are moving from one job to another, or from group insurance to the individual market, how those protections are enforced varies by state. Families uncertain of their options, or those without the resources to pay often very high premiums, are at risk of becoming uninsured.

Solution: Health reform will make insurance easy to keep

Comprehensive health care reform will ensure individuals always have access to coverage no matter their health status. Health care reform will:

  • Make insurance always available. The new insurance exchange will make it possible for everyone to have access to health insurance and give applicants more details about the kinds of coverage they can purchase. If policyholders pay their premiums, insurers will be required to keep their side of the bargain to pay for covered benefits. Insurers will be required to accept all applicants and maintain coverage for all policyholders no matter their health status.
  • Help families transition between insurance plans. The new insurance exchange can promote auto enrollment to ensure seamless health insurance coverage. Also, the new exchange will conduct outreach and consumer education so that families understand their options, including new subsidies that can make coverage more affordable.

Problem: Health insurance benefits are weak

Health insurance that does not cover the services individuals and families need, at cost-sharing levels they can afford, is a way of rationing care. Thirty-four percent of people seeking coverage on the individual market reported having trouble finding coverage that met their needs. And almost half have trouble when they have a pre-existing condition. Insurance companies limit their risk by limiting benefits. Specifically, insurers:

  • Exclude basic benefits. Insurance companies ration care by offering coverage on the individual market that covers fewer services than coverage available through employer-sponsored plans. Today, every state mandates a different set of medical services be included in every health insurance policy, but there is no national minimum for what services health insurance must cover. The result: depending on the state, families with coverage on the individual market may not have access to needed services such as chemotherapy or even well-child visits, which are so critical for basic preventative care.
  • Cap lifetime benefits. Insurance companies can limit the total amount a policy will pay out for policyholders over the course of their lives. While these lifetime limits are in the millions of dollars, if individuals with serious illnesses reach those limits they essentially no longer have health coverage. Over 90 percent of Preferred Provider Organization policies on the individual market have lifetime limits, putting individuals at risk for costs.
  • Exclude preexisting medical conditions. Insurers try to limit benefits by selling people policies that specifically exclude care for the medical conditions they already have. In nine states, insurers are allowed to permanently exclude preexisting conditions from coverage. Just four states limit the waiting period insurers can impose to less than a year. In 32 states and the District of Columbia, having a symptom of a medical condition, even if it went undiagnosed or untreated, counts as a pre-existing condition. All of these exclusions mean there are cases where an individual is found to have a pre-existing condition when they didn’t even know they had one. To determine if there is a preexisting condition, 25 states and the District of Columbia say that insurance companies can review your medical history going back further than a year. Thirteen have no limit on how far back they can look.

Solution: Health reform will make coverage adequate

Health reform will include the basic medical services that families need, such as the services listed in the health reform bill being drafted in the house, which include:

  • Hospitalization.
  • Prescription drugs.
  • Maternity benefits.
  • Well-child care.

This comprehensive coverage will ensure all families can purchase insurance that covers the benefits they need and deserve. No one plans to get sick, or knows what kind of medical care they may one day need. Comprehensive health care reform will ensure that no one has to find out when they get sick that a necessary treatment has been excluded from their coverage.

Conclusion

Comprehensive health care reform will ensure all American know they can purchase health coverage that will meet their needs today and in the future. Our health care system will no longer allow insurance companies to ration care based on who is healthy enough not to need it, or wealthy enough to pay for it.

Source: Center for American Progress

Sunday, July 19, 2009

I Got Mine, To Hell With You

Went to a demonstration in Valparaiso, Indiana at Senator Lugar's office in support of National Healthcare last week. On the other side of the street was a counter demonstration against National Healthcare.

Out of curiosity, I moseyed over to the counter demonstrators to speak to some of them and read the signs they were carrying. Low and behold, each and every person I spoke to had health insurance. So those who considered themselves all set, and OK as far as their own health insurance was concerned, for some reason, were satisfied with the uninsured or underinsured staying just the way they were and just going without.

Let me try some of my Hobart High School math again......The population of the United States is about 300 million........It's said that about 50 million people are without health insurance.
That means that one sixth of the American people are without health insurance.

We can't afford National Health Care?

We are the most powerful nation on the face of the earth?

Every other industrialized country on earth provides health insurance for their people.

We could, if we wanted to. I think that understanding what it must be like to be unable to afford health insurance is what the meaning of empathy is.

It's sort of like speaking badly of a person, or demeaning a person for having to ask for food stamps, or government aid........until you lose your job......then it's a different story...

I met a lady yesterday who works part time in a local hospital as an xray technician. She can't afford to purchase health insurance. Now that's pitiful.

But so many right wingers think that the emergency room is good enough for those who can't afford health insurance. Just like former Congressman Chris Chocola here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

What is RAGBRAI

RAGBRAI®, is The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, is an annual seven-day bicycle ride across the state. Heading into its 37th year, RAGBRAI is the longest, largest and oldest touring bicycle ride in the world. RAGBRAI is sponsored by The Des Moines Register.

Tomorrow, bicycle riders will begin cycling across the south Iowa farm lands for a total of about 472 miles averaging 68 miles per day. They’ll do this in seven days. They are limited to 8,500 week-long riders and 1,500 daily riders.

They’ll begin somewhere near Iowa’s western border and end along the eastern border at the Mississippi River.


www.ragbrai.org

Monday, July 13, 2009

Retirees Laud House Move to Close Medicare Donut Hole

Alliance for Retired Americans Member Speaks at House Press Event


Speaking today at the U.S. Capitol, Maryland retiree Phil Feaster today praised House Democrats for their plan to improve the lives of millions of retirees by closing the so-called donut hole in Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage.

Feaster, a member of the Alliance for Retired Americans, spoke at a press conference to unveil a sweeping health care reform bill introduced today by the Democratic leaders in the U.S. House. Among its key provisions is closing the donut hole, which forces many retirees to pay
both their monthly Medicare premiums and full price for their prescriptions.

The donut hole costs Feaster $700 per month. Along with 3.4 million other retirees, I am in what is known as the Medicare donut hole. More than one out of four seniors falls into the donut hole, so this is no fluke thing that is unique to just me. Let me tell you, the donut hole
is no treat for seniors, he said.

My generation likes to tell it like it is: the donut hole is a rip-off. You pay money, but get nothing in return. Can you imagine going to a restaurant where all they give you is an empty plate - but yet they still force you to pay for a full meal? Of course not.

Below is Mr. Feasters full statement:

My name is Phil Feaster, and I am a retired truck driver from Fort Washington, Maryland and a member of the Alliance for Retired Americans.

Like many seniors, I struggle to stay healthy. I must take eight daily prescriptions. I have high blood pressure, diabetes and a sinus condition.

Along with 3.4 million other retirees, I am in what is known as the Medicare donut hole. More than one out of four seniors falls into the donut hole, so this is no fluke thing that is unique to just me. Let me tell you, the donut hole is no treat for seniors.

My generation likes to tell it like it is: the donut hole is a rip-off. You pay money, but get nothing in return. Can you imagine going to a restaurant where all they give you is an empty plate - but yet they still force you to pay for a full meal? Of course not.

For the first six months of the year, I pay $85 in monthly premiums, and in exchange I receive my Part D benefits for my eight daily medicines. But then I hit the donut hole. For the remaining six months of the year, I must pay both my $85 monthly premiums and full price for
my medicines. These drugs cost me $700 per month when I am forced into the donut hole. And again, this is $700 per month on top of the $85 monthly premiums I must pay. For half of the year, I am forced to pay these premiums while receiving absolutely nothing in return.

Why do I keep paying these premiums? Under the Medicare Part D rules, if I stop paying my premiums, I am out of the program for next year. The donut hole sure seems like a sweetheart deal for the big drug and insurance companies.

When I look around at my friends and neighbors in Prince Georges County, Maryland, I see so many of them struggling. Health care keeps costing more, while Medicare and private insurance keep covering less.

My mother was one of those people. She kept having to cut all the wrong corners with her health. She had a stroke and was paralyzed for the last four years of her life because she had to stretch her medicines far too thin just to make ends meet. This is America, the greatest country ever. Why do we still allow this to happen?

I am hopeful that this will finally be the year we fix our health care mess. We have been talking about this for decades. None of us are getting any younger. We need help, and we need help now.

I am grateful that this legislation will start closing the Part D donut hole and finally finish it off. This bill will millions of people like me as soon as it becomes law. Let's make this the year we finally reform health care.

Thank you.

# # #

The Alliance for Retired Americans is a national organization that advocates for the rights and well being of over 3.5 million retirees and their families.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Health Care Demonstration





Valparaiso, Indiana

On July 9, 2009, SOAR members joined other community organizations in a demonstration at Senator Richard Lugar’s office in Valparaiso, Indiana.
After the demonstration, we presented his office with 1,700 signatures in support of a public health care plan.
Motorists honked their horns in support and the police were on hand to protect the demonstrators.
The fifty or so demonstrators cheered and shouted “Health Care Now”! and “What do we want? Healthcare! When do we want it? Now!
The rally was organized by moveon.org
Steve Skvara, SOAR board member in District 7 was one of the speakers.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Faith Leaders Statement

A MATTER OF HEALTH...A MATTER OF WHOLENESS

Today health care reform has become an urgent priority, with many Americans
fearful about the health care they now hold and more than 45 million lacking
coverage altogether. Rising unemployment, underemployment and a decline in
employment benefits have deprived many more of health care. The health of our
neighbors and the wholeness of the nation now require that all segments of our
society join in finding a solution to this national challenge.

"...Learn to do good, seek justice; rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan,
plead for the widow." Isaiah 1:17

"...Love your neighbor as you love yourself." Matthew 22:39

"...Ye who believe! Stand up firmly for Allah, witness to justice...be just,
that is next to piety." Qur'an 5:8

Our diverse communities of faith -Jewish, Christian and Muslim- are each shaped and
guided by our respective sacred texts which compel us to speak out on behalf of the
most vulnerable members of our society. Today that means making comprehensive
and compassionate health care reform an urgent priority so that all of our neighbors,
especially the people living in poverty, children, and the aged, can be assured of the
fullness of life that is central to the holy vision of a beloved and peaceable
community.

No longer can we afford to squander the hopes and dreams of the American people
through a much-too-costly system that contributes to economic despair. Families
and individuals must be able to rely on affordable care in times of illness or accident
and preventative care to safeguard health and well-being. Those who are ill need
the assurance that coverage will not be canceled by illness or employment
circumstance. They should also be afforded the dignity of selecting their own
caregivers.

Today we pray, each in our own custom, for discernment, boldness, clarity and
leadership in each segment of our society so that we may find the resolve to achieve
health reform worthy of this land. As we together pursue this vision our direction is
certain-it is toward the common good. The prospect of high-quality, affordable
health care for everyone is a measure of our wholeness as a nation.

We pray that our best minds and kindest hearts might be joined in this effort so that
all men, women and children will have the health care they need to live the lives for
which they were created. We stand ready to give our support and energies to its
achievement.

Archbishop Vicken Aykazian
Armenian Apostolic Church
President of the National Council of Churches

Bishop Wayne Burkette
Moravian Church in America, Southern Province

Rev. Dr. Miriam Burnett
Medical Director
African Methodist Episcopal Church Health Commission

Rev. Jerry D. Campbell, Ph.D.
President
Claremont School of Theology

Sister Simone Campbell, SSS
Executive Director
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Margurite Carter
National Board President
Church Women United

Dr. Iva E. Carruthers
General Secretary
Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Inc.

The Right Reverend John Bryson Chane
Episcopal Bishop of Washington
District of Columbia

Bishop Ronald M. Cunningham
Ecumenical Officer
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

Amy Echeverria
Director
Columban Center for Advocacy & Outreach

Matthew Ellis
Executive Director
National Episcopal Health Ministries
National Episcopal AIDS Coalition

Bishop Christopher Epting
Deputy for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations
The Episcopal Church

Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell
Ecumenical Officer
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.

Rabbi Steve Gutow
President
Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Dr. Richard L. Hamm
Former General Minister & President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the US & Canada

Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Dr. Michael Kinnamon
General Secretary
National Council of Churches

Dr. Ken Brooker Langston
Director, Disciples Justice Action Network
Coordinator, Disciples Center for Public Witness

Elaine Lee
Vice President at Large
Health Ministries Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.

Rabbi Michael Lerner
Rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in San Francisco
Chair of the Interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives

Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner
Connectional Presbyter
Presbytery of the Palisades (NJ)

Rev. Michael E. Livingston
Executive Director, International Council Community Churches
Immediate Past President, National Council of Churches

Marie Lucey, OSF
Associate Director for Social Mission
Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Felton Edwin May United Methodist Bishop Retired
Executive Director
Multi-Ethnic Center for Ministry

Dr. David McAllister-Wilson
President
Wesley Theological Seminary

Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley
General Secretary
American Baptist Churches

Stanley J. Noffsinger
General Secretary
Church of the Brethren

Harriett Jane Olson
Deputy General Secretary, Women's Division
General Board of Global Ministries
The United Methodist Church

Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk
Presbyterian Church USA

Rev. Dr. Tyrone Pitts
General Secretary
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.

Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader
Ecumenical Officer
United Methodist Church

Nancy Ratzan
President
National Council of Jewish Women

Rabbi David Saperstein
Executive Director and Chief Legal Counsel,
The Union for Reform Judaism's Religious Action Center

The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
Episcopal Church

Dr. Robert Seymour
Minister Emeritus
Binkley Memorial Baptist Church

Ronald J. Sider
President
Evangelicals for Social Action

Rev. Dr. T. DeWitt Smith
President
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.

Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed
National Director
Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances
Islamic Society of North America

Russell M. Testa
Executive Director
Franciscan Action Network

Rev. John H. Thomas
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ

Daniel Vestal
Executive Coordinator
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

Bishop George Walker, Jr.
Senior Bishop
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

Dr. Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada

Dr. Robert Welsh
President, Council on Christian Unity
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada

The Rev. David L. Wickmann
President
Moravian Church-Northern Province

Jim Winkler
General Secretary
General Board of Church and Society
United Methodist Church

Bishop Gabino Zavala
Bishop President
Pax Christi, USA

Updated June 28, 2009

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Debunking Canadian health care myths

By Rhonda Hackett

As a Canadian living in the United States for the past 17 years, I am frequently asked by Americans and Canadians alike to declare one health care system as the better one.

Often I'll avoid answering, regardless of the questioner's nationality. To choose one or the other system usually translates into a heated discussion of each one's merits, pitfalls, and an intense recitation of commonly cited statistical comparisons of the two systems.

Because if the only way we compared the two systems was with statistics, there is a clear victor. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to dispute the fact that Canada spends less money on health care to get better outcomes.

Yet, the debate rages on. Indeed, it has reached a fever pitch since President Barack Obama took office, with Americans either dreading or hoping for the dawn of a single-payer health care system. Opponents of such a system cite Canada as the best example of what not to do, while proponents laud that very same Canadian system as the answer to all of America's health care problems. Frankly, both sides often get things wrong when trotting out Canada to further their respective arguments.

As America comes to grips with the reality that changes are desperately needed within its health care infrastructure, it might prove useful to first debunk some myths about the Canadian system. 



Myth: Taxes in Canada are extremely high, mostly because of national health care.

In actuality, taxes are nearly equal on both sides of the border. Overall, Canada's taxes are slightly higher than those in the U.S. However, Canadians are afforded many benefits for their tax dollars, even beyond health care (e.g., tax credits, family allowance, cheaper higher education), so the end result is a wash. At the end of the day, the average after-tax income of Canadian workers is equal to about 82 percent of their gross pay. In the U.S., that average is 81.9 percent. 



Myth: Canada's health care system is a cumbersome bureaucracy.

The U.S. has the most bureaucratic health care system in the world. More than 31 percent of every dollar spent on health care in the U.S. goes to paperwork, overhead, CEO salaries, profits, etc. The provincial single-payer system in Canada operates with just a 1 percent overhead. Think about it. It is not necessary to spend a huge amount of money to decide who gets care and who doesn't when everybody is covered. 



Myth: The Canadian system is significantly more expensive than that of the U.S.

Ten percent of Canada's GDP is spent on health care for 100 percent of the population. The U.S. spends 17 percent of its GDP but 15 percent of its population has no coverage whatsoever and millions of others have inadequate coverage. In essence, the U.S. system is considerably more expensive than Canada's. Part of the reason for this is uninsured and underinsured people in the U.S. still get sick and eventually seek care. People who cannot afford care wait until advanced stages of an illness to see a doctor and then do so through emergency rooms, which cost considerably more than primary care services. 



What the American taxpayer may not realize is that such care costs about $45 billion per year, and someone has to pay it. This is why insurance premiums increase every year for insured patients while co-pays and deductibles also rise rapidly.



Myth: Canada's government decides who gets health care and when they get it.

While HMOs and other private medical insurers in the U.S. do indeed make such decisions, the only people in Canada to do so are physicians. In Canada, the government has absolutely no say in who gets care or how they get it. Medical decisions are left entirely up to doctors, as they should be. 



There are no requirements for pre-authorization whatsoever. If your family doctor says you need an MRI, you get one. In the U.S., if an insurance administrator says you are not getting an MRI, you don't get one no matter what your doctor thinks — unless, of course, you have the money to cover the cost. 



Myth: There are long waits for care, which compromise access to care.

There are no waits for urgent or primary care in Canada. There are reasonable waits for most specialists' care, and much longer waits for elective surgery. Yes, there are those instances where a patient can wait up to a month for radiation therapy for breast cancer or prostate cancer, for example. However, the wait has nothing to do with money per se, but everything to do with the lack of radiation therapists. Despite such waits, however, it is noteworthy that Canada boasts lower incident and mortality rates than the U.S. for all cancers combined, according to the U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group and the Canadian Cancer Society. Moreover, fewer Canadians (11.3 percent) than Americans (14.4 percent) admit unmet health care needs. 



Myth: Canadians are paying out of pocket to come to the U.S. for medical care.

Most patients who come from Canada to the U.S. for health care are those whose costs are covered by the Canadian governments. If a Canadian goes outside of the country to get services that are deemed medically necessary, not experimental, and are not available at home for whatever reason (e.g., shortage or absence of high tech medical equipment; a longer wait for service than is medically prudent; or lack of physician expertise), the provincial government where you live fully funds your care. Those patients who do come to the U.S. for care and pay out of pocket are those who perceive their care to be more urgent than it likely is.

Myth: Canada is a socialized health care system in which the government runs hospitals and where doctors work for the government.

Princeton University health economist Uwe Reinhardt says single-payer systems are not "socialized medicine" but "social insurance" systems because doctors work in the private sector while their pay comes from a public source. Most physicians in Canada are self-employed. They are not employees of the government nor are they accountable to the government. Doctors are accountable to their patients only. More than 90 percent of physicians in Canada are paid on a fee-for-service basis. Claims are submitted to a single provincial health care plan for reimbursement, whereas in the U.S., claims are submitted to a multitude of insurance providers. Moreover, Canadian hospitals are controlled by private boards and/or regional health authorities rather than being part of or run by the government.

Myth: There aren't enough doctors in Canada. 



From a purely statistical standpoint, there are enough physicians in Canada to meet the health care needs of its people. But most doctors practice in large urban areas, leaving rural areas with bona fide shortages. This situation is no different than that being experienced in the U.S. Simply training and employing more doctors is not likely to have any significant impact on this specific problem. Whatever issues there are with having an adequate number of doctors in any one geographical area, they have nothing to do with the single-payer system.



And these are just some of the myths about the Canadian health care system. While emulating the Canadian system will likely not fix U.S. health care, it probably isn't the big bad "socialist" bogeyman it has been made out to be. 



It is not a perfect system, but it has its merits. For people like my 55-year-old Aunt Betty, who has been waiting for 14 months for knee-replacement surgery due to a long history of arthritis, it is the superior system. Her $35,000-plus surgery is finally scheduled for next month. She has been in pain, and her quality of life has been compromised. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Aunt Betty — who lives on a fixed income and could never afford private health insurance, much less the cost of the surgery and requisite follow-up care — will soon sport a new, high-tech knee. Waiting 14 months for the procedure is easy when the alternative is living in pain for the rest of your life. 

Rhonda Hackett of Castle Rock is a clinical psychologist.

Rhonda Hackett of Castle Rock is a Clinical Psychologist

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Healthcare Rally

Public Option Now! Rally

Sen. Richard Lugar's District Office
Thursday, 9 Jul 2009, 12:00 PM
We will rally outside Senator Lugar's Valparaiso office.
Lets join our voices in support of a public option!

Address:
175 West Lincolnway, Suite G-1
Valparaiso, IN

"Never confuse motion with action."
Ben Franklin

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Karl Malden 1912-2009 - Union Man



KARL MALDEN UNION QUOTE

"I am thrilled to be honored by the Screen Actors Guild because I've been with it for such a long time. The Screen Actors Guild is sort of a highfalutin name for a union, and this union was always wonderful to work for. For the rank-and-file of the union to honor me is the best compliment I can receive."

Friday, July 03, 2009

Conservatives and the Party of Death

Do we have pitiful priorities?

According to the National Priorities Project, the war in Iraq since 2001 has cost us about 684 billion dollars or an average of a little over 7 billion dollars per month and 5,000 U.S. deaths.

This mornings paper indicates that the Congressional Budget Office in an analysis released Thursday put the net cost of the congressional proposal for universal health care at 597 billion dollars over 10 years which would be about 5 billion dollars per month.

7 billion dollars per month to invade and occupy a country for eight years plus 5,000 dead.

Versus

5 billion dollars per month to reform our failed and cruel health care system for the people of the United States for 10 years and saving countless lives.

You be the judge.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Samuel Gompers Monument



Although I’m not a student of Samuel Gompers, there’s something about his life that has fascinated me.

Just about every time I go to Washington D.C. I at least think of getting some photographs of the Samuel Gompers monument, but something always messes up the attempt. Once, I had no camera. Once the camera I had didn’t have fresh batteries, and once, although photos were taken, I just didn’t get them.

While attending the Alliance for Retired Americans legislative conference June 15-18, Elaine and I arrived on June 14 by train and she advised me to see what was most important that first day, otherwise I might not have time later in the week, so off we went.

Next time you’re in Washington, and have a few extra minutes, you might think about visiting it. It’s not far from the Washington Hilton and Towers hotel, and is located near 11th and Massachusetts Avenue, NW.