Tennesseee Health Care Campaign (THCC)

Working for guaranteed affordable choices

Archive for December, 2009

Major Health Reform Despite Status Quo Forces

Posted by Susan McKay on December 18, 2009

The politics of the national health reform debate has been brutal. Despite the majority of Americans expecting Congress to significantly reform our dysfunctional health care system, a minority of obstructionists in Congress have sought to do the bidding the powerful special interests that fund their reelection campaigns, namely the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and protect the status quo.

The health insurance industry is expected to spend more than $10 million this year to defeat reform and are using 50,000 paid lobbyist (contract lobbying firms and their own employees). The pharmaceutical industry is expected to spend even more, with about 2,000 lobbyists (no evidence it is using regular company employees to lobby).  Despite this tremendously influential power, efforts have from ordinary Americans have not been for naught.

The following has been under-reported and has all but been lost in coverage in recent weeks: the cost of the current health care system is $2.4 trillion and this figure has been and will continue to rise about 7 percent each year.  This is not a projection; this is a proven trend that will only get worse if we do not reform the system now. Many economists project long-term debt reduction with reform. The US spends double per person on health care than any other capitalist democracy. An irony not to be missed is that these other countries cover everybody; by contrast, we have 47 million uninsured and rank lower than other countries on a range of health outcomes.  One thing just about everyone agrees passes the common-sense test is that doing nothing equals “head in the sand.”

Both chambers of Congress actually agree on major improvements to the current system and these are expected to be in the legislation that President Obama signs.  Here are ten significant improvements:

1.  Peace of mind for 30 million Americans, who will no longer be uninsured and will have access to guaranteed affordable coverage.

2. Security for all Americans because everyone will be guaranteed comprehensive benefits. Health insurers operating in the individual and small group markets will no longer be allowed sell subprime policies that deny coverage when illness strikes and you need it most.

3. Moves us toward financial responsibility by reducing overall spending on health care and thus help reduce the deficit. Analysis concludes reform would not increase the national debt, rather, would reduce the debt by as much as $408 billion over a decade.

4. End discrimination by insurance companies as they will not longer be able to deny or drop coverage due to pre-existing conditions. They won’t be allowed to cherry pick only healthy people to cover, or rescind coverage, or impose lifetime or annual limits on policy coverage.

5. Reduces the cost burden for most Americans. Analysis projects an 8.4 percent reduction in premium costs, overall.

6. Low- & middle-income Americans will not go without coverage and will not go broke due to lack of coverage or struggling to afford coverage. All adults and children at or below 133 percent of poverty ($26,000/family of 4)  will be insured through Medicaid. Those above and earning up to 400 percent of poverty ($88,200/family of 4) will be offered subsidies to help afford premiums.

7. Prevention will be taken seriously. The Prevention and Public Health Fund will support public prevention programs to prevent disease and promote wellness.

8. Protects seniors and improves Medicare. Reform eliminates the waste and fraud in the Medicare system, gets rid of the special subsidy to private insurers participating in Medicare Advantage, extends the life of Medicare, and closes the doughnut hole.

9. Small Businesses will finally get some relief. Small businesses will get tax credit to help provide coverage to employees and will have access to the Exchange to shop for the best plan for them.

10. Provides parents and young adults peace of mind. Children will be able to continue coverage on family policies up to age 26.


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Corker Does Not Pass the Common-sense Test

Posted by Susan McKay on December 16, 2009

Sen. Bob Corker likes to preface his take on things by saying such and such passes the “common-sense test.” Well, when it comes to his words and actions about national health care reform, he is not passing the common-sense test.

The most obvious failure of the common-sense test is that Sen. Corker and his partisan colleagues in Congress have cast themselves in the role of the sensible ones. They say they have a better way. Yet, their party controlled the White House for eight straight years and controlled Congress for six of those years. So, Sen. Corker and his partisans have little credibility on this issue to begin with, and less so with all their trash talking and road blocking.

Not a single guaranteed Medicare provision is being cut, and Sen. Corker knows it. Yet he has since this summer played the obstructionist by trying to scare seniors into thinking their guaranteed benefits are being cut to fund general reform. Truth is, reform will bring taxpayer funded subsidies for private Advantage Medicare back in line with traditional Medicare—that is the Medicare that 75 percent of seniors like. Such reform will extend Medicare’s solvency for five years at the expense of subsidized gym memberships in the unpopular Advantage plans. Reform that protects seniors passes the common sense of most Americans.

Sen. Corker says reform will add to the national debt.  He is a smart guy so surely his knows that the cost of the current health care system is $2.4 trillion and this figure has been and will continue to rise about 7 percent each year.  This is not a projection; this is a proven trend that will only get worse if we do not reform the system now. Many experts disagree with Sen. Corker and project long-term debt reduction with reform. The US spends double per person on health care than any other capitalist democracy. An irony not be missed is that these other countries cover everybody; by contrast, we have 47 million uninsured and rank lower than most on a range of health outcomes.  One thing just about everyone agrees passes the common-sense test is that doing nothing equals “head in the sand.”

Sen. Corker’s recklessly calls the proposed Medicaid expansion an unfunded mandate.  Rep. Jim Cooper more accurately calls it a “funded” unmandate, meaning Tennessee is getting a gift of extraordinary funding from the federal government to expand health care insurance for all low-income adults and children. This is a common-sense solution that is sorely needed in a state with a million-plus uninsured, a jobless rate higher than the national average, decreasing employer sponsored insurance, and a state administration that has been unable to handle its health care crisis.

When President Eisenhower created the interstate highway system it was understood that it was a big undertaking that would cost a significant amount initially and would take time to fully implement.  It was an investment in the future of America and all Americans.  No one cried foul that for every dollar invested 90 cents would come from the feds and 10 cents from the states.  Rather, it was celebrated as a good deal.  This coincidentally is the ratio states will get when the reformed Medicaid kicks in.  That’s right, for every dollar Tennessee invests in Medicaid, it will get 9 federal dollars–a deal like Ike’s. Surely Sen. Corker would not accuse former President Eisenhower of flunking the common-sense test!

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Halloween in December

Posted by Susan McKay on December 16, 2009


Viewpoint: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
December 16, 2009
The Hamilton Spectator
(Dec 16, 2009)

What campfires are to spooky ghost stories, congressional Republicans have become to frightening, fabricated urban legends about health-care reform. Death panels! Rationing! Medicare cuts! It’s like Halloween in December.

“Don’t cut grandma’s medicare,” Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican-Tenn., implored his fellow senators the other day. Senator John McCain, Republican-Ariz., fumed about “draconian” Medicare cuts in the Senate health care reform bill — though he proposed even bigger ones while running for president last year. And then there’s the Stephen King of eldercare: Senator Tom Coburn, Republican-Okla. Health care reform, a hysterical Dr. Coburn recently warned elderly Medicare recipients, means “you’re going to die sooner.”

Does it? Is health care reform premised on intergenerational theft? In a word, no.

All that heat arises from a tiny ember of truth: Bills in the House and Senate rely on savings from Medicare partly to pay for health care reform. But neither bill would cut Medicare benefits, deny health care to the elderly or lead to otherwise preventable deaths.

In fact, despite the rhetoric, both the House and Senate health reform bills actually would increase Medicare benefits. The savings come from cutting waste in the program. The health-care reform bills would eliminate copayments and deductibles on most preventive care and, for the first time, add coverage for vaccines.

You’d think that politicians from a party that fumes about “wasteful government spending” would support cutting waste. You’d think that politicians from a party that fumes about huge federal deficits would realize that Medicare liabilities make up a significant part of the projected deficit. Of course they know it. They’d rather play politics by scaring and misleading older Americans.

So where are those massive cuts that opponents of health care reform are warning grandma about? They mostly affect private health insurance companies that offer what are called Medicare Advantage plans. Those are all-in-one insurance options that combine drug coverage and health care traditionally provided directly by Medicare.

Excess payments to private health insurance companies would be reduced by $192 billion over 10 years. Some companies might respond by increasing premiums to enrollees or reducing the extras they offer. This might be an inconvenience. But in every case, basic Medicare still would be available for all people who are eligible.

Reform bills would reduce automatic price increases for hospitals. And they would place stricter oversight on home health agencies. Audits have found widespread abuse and fraud in those programs.

It’s hard to square those relatively modest changes with the dire predictions of doom. But that’s the way all good ghost stories work.

Mysterious scratching sounds in the attic — like overblown rhetoric in the halls of Congress — can be a little frightening.

But Halloween is over. When you turn on the lights, you find it’s just a bunch of blowhards inventing scary stories.

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A Bummer, But I Cannot Disagree

Posted by Susan McKay on December 11, 2009

How a Few Private Health Insurers Are on the Way to Controlling Health Care

Commentary from Robert Reich


The public option is dead, killed by a handful of senators from small states who are mostly bought off by Big Insurance and Big Pharma or intimidated by these industries’ deep pockets and power to run political ads against them. Some might say it’s no great loss at this point because the Senate bill Harry Reid came up with contained a public option available only to 4 million people, which would have been far too small to exert any competitive pressure on private insurers anyway.

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Spirit of season calls for health care reform

Posted by Susan McKay on December 9, 2009

Here’s a health reform Christmas Carol By: Barb Price, Driscoll, N.D.

DRISCOLL, N.D. — As we go into the holiday season and the Senate begins to work on its version of a health care reform bill, I am reminded of “A Christmas Carol.”

The mean-spirited Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserly old man who believes that Christmas is just an excuse for people to miss work and for idle people to expect handouts.

All those who are opposed to health care reform are like Scrooge believing that health care reform is just a handout for idle people. They believe that everyone should be able to take care of themselves, buy their own health insurance and pay for the high costs of health care.

Like Scrooge, opponents of health care reform do not believe that good, hard-working people need help and relief from the greedy health insurance industry.

The Republicans and those Democrats saying “Bah! Humbug!” to health care reform should closely evaluate their views by seeing that a majority of people in the U.S. are like Tiny Tim, a courageous boy filled with kindness and humility. The health insurance industry is like Marley, who, because of his greedy and self-serving life, was condemned as a spirit to wander the Earth weighted down with heavy chains.

Give us a real Christmas present: Pass a health care bill that will provide quality, affordable health care for all of us. Then, we can proclaim, as Tiny Tim did, “God Bless us, everyone!”

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Sen Alexendar #3 GOP Spinner

Posted by Susan McKay on December 9, 2009

The Tennessean commentary: “Lamar Alexander coordinates GOP offensive on health care” states: To understand Sen. Lamar Alexander’s role in the ongoing debate in the Senate on health-care reform legislation, you have to go back to a floor speech Alexander made in July.

“We are talking about Medicare cuts and spending grandma’s Medicare money on somebody else,” Alexander said back then. His comments received no press coverage.

During the next six months, Alexander repeated some version of that phrase 13 more times during floor speeches.

By last week, he had refined the message: “If we are going to take money from grandma’s Medicare, let’s spend it on grandma.”

Bingo. That comment was picked up by The Washington Post, USA Today, wire services and Capitol Hill publications….

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Confused about how the Senate works?

Posted by Susan McKay on December 4, 2009

Check out this bit of whimsy, which breaks down the mysteries of parliamentary maneuvers.

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GOP Scare Tactics Continue

Posted by Susan McKay on December 4, 2009

Those with no hope or vision for a better way can offer only fear and darkness for tomorrow and today.

Did you catch any of the Senate debate yesterday?   The GOP senators continued their strategy of trying to scare seniors & their families by, shall I politely call it, delivering misinformation.  Sen. Dodd challenged them to show one–just one–example of where there were going to be cuts to the currently guaranteed Medicare programs or services. A challenge, which was of course ignored because there is not example.

Truth is the American taxpayer has been subsidizing the PRIVATE Medicare Advantage plans and all the reform bill is bring funding for private Advantage in line with traditional Medicare–which BTW most seniors prefer.

Oh, and BTW, AARP, the Medicare Rights Center, and Center for Medicare Advocacy are supporting the reform bill and opposing GOP attempts to spread untruths.  Read this joint letter from MRC & CMA. , which likely helped in defeating McCain’s amendment to keep the pork in Medicare.

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TN 4th Estate Still Not Asking the Right Questions

Posted by Susan McKay on December 4, 2009

I appreciate The Tennessean reporting about the state closing enrollment for Cover Kids; however, I wish it would have probed a bit deeper to include asking and getting answers to the following:

1) Cover Kids (CHIP) gets a 3:1 federal match, meaning we get $3 in federal funds for each $1 the state invests. It is penny-wise pound foolishness on the state’s part to close this program and then turn around and open Access TN high-risk pool as a poor substitute.  Access TN has never met its modest enrollment goals, not because there is not a great need (one million uninsured Tennesseans) but because it is too expensive for those who need it.  What’s more, the state is now willing to offer premium assistance for this program, which does not qualify the 3:1 match, thus, all funding would come from Tennessee taxpayers. Our state budget goes from July 1 through June 30, so why is the state forced to close this program in the mid term of the budget year–presumably the program has been funded through June 30, 2010.

2) TennCare (Medicaid) has apprx. $350 million reserve (was $450 million last year), so it is disingenious for the state to say it can’t open the program until it has money to do so.  The fact is the state would have even reserve on hand, but has been dipping into the reserve for years to shore up other parts of the budget. Meanwhile, this year the state is looking to create another 154,000 uninsured through removal from the SSI/Daniels TennCare coverage, with virtually nowhere to turn. Just this week parents of children, including one that I know of with Down’s syndrome, are receiving letters from the state warning that they may be losing essential health care coverage.

The BIG story should be that Tennessee is the ONLY state to close enrollment for CHIP. Now more than ever families need this safety net.

Another BIG story that never seems to get pursued is how backward Tennessee has become when it comes to pursing public health care policy the benefits the common good and serve us all in the long run.

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McCain A Flip-flopper

Posted by Susan McKay on December 2, 2009

It is soooooo easy to be a high & mighty critic, especially when you count on the fact that most Americans have trouble remembering their own names let alone what a candidate for president had promised to do with Medicare.

McCain Dec. 2009: Champion of Seniors — offers an amendment to strip out cuts to over-funded private Advantage plans, claiming he “cares” about seniors.

McCain: 2008 Presidential Candidate – Promised, if elected, he would impose $1.3 trillion in cuts from the two government-administered programs over the course of 10 years — well more than the half trillion he says Democrats are pushing.

McCain, A History of “Caring” for Seniors: 1997, McCain voted in favor of raising the eligibility age for Medicare recipients (from 65 to 67) as a way of promoting cost containment within the health care system. In 2005, meanwhile, he backed a budget reconciliation bill that reduced spending on Medicare by $6.4 billion.

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