Thursday, December 24, 2009

From Families USA

TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS

By Ron Pollack
Executive Director, Families USA

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the Senate
The Democrats were working for a fundamental tenet:
All Americans should have health care at a reasonable price
By forcing insurance companies to finally play nice.

The reform bill they pushed took some very strong positions,
Like no one denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions.
Premiums, in the future, would need to be fair
With no differences for women and people needing care.

The Democrats made sure that the bill they designed
Would give folks 'cross the nation some real peace of mind.
Health care would not end if jobs changed or were lost
As all could choose health plans at an affordable cost.

For seniors needing medicines, the bill had much to extol:
It plugged gaps in their coverage, like the bad "doughnut hole."
And for empty-nesting parents, there was reason to rejoice
Kids could keep family coverage, this was now a parent's choice.

But all Republicans scoffed and persistently said "no"
With the sometimes exception of their colleague, Ms. Snowe.
With obstructions and filibusters, they tried every delay
To stop the bill and kill reform, before Christmas day.

So Leader Reid called his colleagues from left and from right,
For all 60 to join him, lest they lose this big fight.
Now Nelson, now Lincoln, now Franken and Wyden,
On Lieberman, on Bingaman, on Harkin and Cardin.

Christmas eve turned to night, and when the votes were all counted,
The filibusters and obstructions were completely surmounted.
The vote was inspired by the memory of Ted
Who'd applaud the victory for the cause he had led.

The work isn't over, there's much yet to be done
The Senate and the House bills must be merged into one.
But the vote on Christmas eve offers reason to cheer
'Cause health care reform will pass in the new year.

So call your fine leaders, and let your voice be heard,
With letters and emails, we must spread the word.
Our message is clear, and it shines a bright light.
"Health care coverage for all, and for all it's our right."

Thanks to your tireless dedication and hard work, the health care justice movement continues to advance. May your holidays be filled with much health and happiness.

Best wishes,

Ron Pollack
Executive Director
Families USA

Breaking News - Senate Bill Passes

POLITICO Breaking News:
-----------------------------------------------------

After months of blown deadlines and political near-death experiences, a sweeping health care reform bill that would expand coverage to 31 million currently uninsured Americans cleared the Senate early Thursday morning on a 60-39 party-line vote, putting President Barack Obama within reach of a domestic policy achievement that has eluded Democrats for decades.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays

If you're at all like me, you are looking forward to the holidays as much because it means a chance to get some rest as because it means some gifts and nice social events. I can feel it -- it's almost here -- I can almost sleep as long as I feel like!

But this time of year also heightens my emotions. Maybe it's because I'm exhausted beyond comprehension, but I'm the kind of teary that makes you cry at Hallmark card commercials. I listen to Christmas music (I'm Jewish, but I love the music of the holidays) and it reminds me of my mom and I cry. I listen to my favorite Peter, Paul and Mary and it reminds me of Mary Travers, whom we lost this year, and I cry. I hear that a friend's child with awful cancer has clear scans and I cry. Good tears, tears that mean I'm alive.

This has been quite a year. We lost not only Mary, but Ted Kennedy -- I so wish he was here to vote yes tomorrow morning when the Senate passes its reform bill. It touches me so that his widow will be in the gallery.

And we lost the public option. But in 2010, we will have health insurance reform, and everybody in America with a pre-existing condition will be able to sign up for a high risk pool in a matter of weeks or months, with more changes taking effect over the next few years. 30 million people will get insurance. We just have to make it through conference and it will be done.

Here's what the LA Times said today:

These "insurance reforms ... will open a new chapter in the lives of sick people ... those with mental illness, heart disease, cancer, diabetes -- chronic ailments that touch almost every family in America. Those patients are the ones most likely to lose coverage because their policies impose lifetime limits, or because they have, in industry parlance, a 'preexisting condition.' ... (L)egislation President Obama is expected to sign into law next year will almost certainly ensure they have access to health insurance."

And it's been a busy year in other ways, as well. In October, I was quoted in AARP Magazine and our call volume exploded by 50%. I had two trips in October, one in November, and surgery in November, so the past few months have been absolutely insane. I'm due for a break and I will get one -- Advocacy for Patients will be closed for the holidays so I can recharge my batteries.

It's been a good year, in all. We were overjoyed by the addition of little Amieta to the Advocacy for Patients family. Between Amieta and Emily (the cat), Celeste and I have two good helpers!

Anyway, I'm too tired to do any serious writing, but I wanted to wish you all very happy and HEALTHY holidays, and a wonderful 2010. Maybe next year will be the year when we raise the money to hire a second lawyer! Regardless, though, we'll do our best to be here for you if you need us.

After the holidays!

Wishing you and yours the very best, Jennifer

Charter for Compassion

Please check this out. It's pretty much my answer to everything.

May 2010 bring us health and love and peace. Jennifer

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Victoria Reggie Kennedy on Health Reform

On Sunday December 20, 2009, Victoria Reggie Kennedy -- the widow of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, published a moving essay urging Americans -- including but not limited to members of Congress -- to get behind the health reform bill. Here is an excerpt:

The moment Ted Kennedy would not want to lose

By Victoria Reggie Kennedy

My late husband, Ted Kennedy, was passionate about health-care reform. It was the cause of his life. He believed that health care for all our citizens was a fundamental right, not a privilege, and that this year the stars -- and competing interests -- were finally aligned to allow our nation to move forward with fundamental reform. He believed that health-care reform was essential to the financial stability of our nation's working families and of our economy as a whole.

Still, Ted knew that accomplishing reform would be difficult. If it were easy, he told me, it would have been done a long time ago. He predicted that as the Senate got closer to a vote, compromises would be necessary, coalitions would falter and many ardent supporters of reform would want to walk away. He hoped that they wouldn't do so. He knew from experience, he told me, that this kind of opportunity to enact health-care reform wouldn't arise again for a generation.

***

The bill before Congress will finally deliver on the urgent needs of all Americans. It would make their lives better and do so much good for this country. That, in the end, must be the test of reform. That was always the test for Ted Kennedy. He's not here to urge us not to let this chance slip through our fingers. So I humbly ask his colleagues to finish the work of his life, the work of generations, to allow the vote to go forward and to pass health-care reform now. As Ted always said, when it's finally done, the people will wonder what took so long.

The full text of the essay is in the Washington Post, here. Jennifer

Thursday, December 17, 2009

But if we don't do this now ....

The last time health reform was taken up with any seriousness was 1993. That means we may wait another 15 years to get ANYTHING if we don't take as much as we can get NOW.

Senator Reid is not at 60 votes yet. Ben Nelson is still stuck on the abortion issue. Although anti-abortion Senator Casey from Pennsylvania has drafted compromise language, Senator Nelson is not yet on board. As I've already explained below, the issue is the use of federal funds -- subsidies, basically -- to pay for insurance policies that cover abortion. Senator Nelson wants to prohibit any policy covering anybody who receives a subsidy from covering abortion. A majority of the Senate has rejected this because it would essentially eliminate insurance coverage of abortion, even if paid for by a woman's own money. Senator Nelson appears to be the lone Democrat hold-out.

Why should we support a bill even though it won't have a public option?

  • The Senate compromise will result in coverage for more than 30 million people who don't have insurance and cannot afford insurance today.
  • The Senate compromise will allow people to buy insurance through an Exchange so people can see all of their options and make informed choices.
  • The Senate compromise contains subsidies making health insurance affordable for people who otherwise could not afford insurance. This includes people who are unemployed and cannot afford COBRA premiums.
  • Insurers no longer could charge women more than men for the same coverage.
  • The Senate compromise will eliminate lifetime caps on benefits.
  • Children will be covered to age 26.
  • The Senate compromise provides subsidies for small businesses who provide insurance for their employees.
  • The Medicare coverage gap or doughnut hole will be plugged, so people who have high prescription drug costs will not have thousands of dollars of out-of-pocket expenses.

I'm deeply saddened that, due to Senator Lieberman and others, we will not be able to control premium prices by creating a public option that would cost less and, thus, create real competition in the insurance industry. But if the Senate fails to garner 60 votes to end debate and bring the bill to a vote, we will get none of that, and it's likely that we won't have another shot at reform for many years. And cost may be controlled to some extent; there is a push on to require that insurers spend 80 or 85 percent of premium dollars on medical benefits rather than administrative costs and profits. So there's still hope.

So please, please, please CALL YOUR SENATOR TODAY. The first "cloture" vote to end debate and bring the bill to a vote is expected to occur on Monday. You can find your Senator's contact information here. Alternatively, call 1-800-828-0448 and ask to be connected to your Senator's office. Thank you. Jennifer

I stand by my opinion, but here's another point of view

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy



Jennifer

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Reform is dead. Long live refrom

They're whipping out one of Ted Kennedy's favorite sayings a lot lately: Don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good. And so it was that we have danced this dance with a pretty good idea of how it was going to turn out.

There will be no public option. There will be no Medicare expansion. We await Congressional Budget Office figures on the creation of a national, nonprofit plan administered by the Office of Personnel Management, to approximate the state employee plan. We also wait numbers to see if Medicaid will be expanded beyond 133 percent of the federal poverty level, to 150 percent.

We can look at this as a loss. It is a lost opportunity, for sure, that won't come again for a long time. Those of us who are intimately acquainted with health insurance know that we have lost the opportunity to control cost, and that's a big problem. There will be subsidies for people up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level (almost $40,000 for an individual and $80,000 for a family of four), so for them, the cost will be more bearable. But for those of us who earn more than that, we can still expect to pay in the neighborhood of $600-1000 per month. Without a public option, there's nothing to change that.

However, people with pre-existing conditions will have more choices because all insurers will have to cover them. And we will be able to research our choices on the Exchange. There will be no lifetime caps, and although there is an obnoxious loophole in the Senate bill that would allow "reasonable" annual caps, I am hopeful that those kinds of small tweaks will be taken care of in the Conference Committee. There will be out-of-pocket caps at about $5000 for individuals and $10,000 for families, virtually eliminating medical bankruptcies -- EXCEPT that no reform proposal has even tried to address denials of coverage, which will continue unabated. Indeed, I suspect, as insurers try to find new ways to profit, that we will see MORE coverage denials under a reformed system.

Is there anything to be happy about here? Yes. Millions of people who don't have insurance now will get it. People with pre-existing conditions will be able to chose their insurance. Do we accomplish all that we set out to do? In particular, did we curb insurance company abuse? No -- the insurance companies will have gotten exactly what they wanted -- pretty close to the status quo. They knew they had to give on pre-existing conditions and so they did. In exchange, they get an individual mandate requiring young, healthy people to buy insurance; they get a whole lot of new enrollees with no controls on premium prices -- they're even walking away with their antitrust exemption in place (although I'm really hoping this will go in Conference).

Still, our primary goal was universal coverage. We will get something close to that. It's not perfect, but it's too much to walk away from.

If Ted Kennedy were here, I suspect Joe Lieberman might not have gotten away with what he did, killing the public option and then Medicare expansion. But right now, he would be telling us not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. What we're getting is far from perfect. But it's still good. Jennifer


Monday, December 14, 2009

Senator Flip-Flop

And here's the illustrious Senator Lieberman speaking IN FAVOR OF EXPANDING MEDICARE in an interview with the Connecticut Post only three months ago:


Thanks to Huffington Post for digging up the video.

Thanks to Senator Lieberman for making himself such an easy target. Jennifer

Say It Ain's So Joe . . . er. . . Mr. President

Yesterday, Connecticut's embarrassment -- Joe Lieberman -- made it clear that he's still not happy with health care reform. He killed the public option, but that's not good enough. Now, he needs to kill Medicare expansion, as well. He seems to be determined to protect the insurance companies no matter what the cost.

I'm mad, but I've come to expect nothing more from our Joe.

And then comes the following into my Inbox:

POLITICO Breaking News:
-----------------------------------------------------

The White House is encouraging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to cut a deal with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), which would mean eliminating the proposed Medicare expansion in the health reform bill, according to an official close to the negotiations. Lieberman threw health care reform into doubt Sunday when he told Reid that he would filibuster the bill if it allowed Americans ages 55 to 64 to purchase coverage in Medicare.

For more information...http://www.politico.com
-----------------------------------------------------

For the full story, go here.

I try hard not to be overly political here, but I have to say: Is this the change we voted for? Really? Jennifer

Friday, December 11, 2009

Completely Crazy

I can't believe today's wrinkle. Well, okay, yes I can. After all, it's the Congress of the United States. They do things like this.

A Democrat, Senator Dorgan, proposed an amendment permitting drug reimportation from Canada as part of the health care reform package. Reformers love this idea because it will greatly reduce the cost of prescription drugs in the United States.

But Pharma, the lobbying arm of the drug industry (and why do they get to operate as a single entity, in violation of antitrust laws, from which they have no exemption? A story for another day), has a war chest full of money that they've pledged to run ads favorable to health care reform in exchange for their deal with the White House -- they will cut the cost of drugs in the US by $80 billion, but not one penny more. Now, they are making it clear that they will use their war chest to run ads AGAINST reform if reimportation is permitted.

And so the Republicans have jumped on the reimportation bandwagon. After all, if they can kill health care reform by pretending to care about prescription drug costs, that's fine with them.

So now the White House and Senators committed to passing reform are BEGGING Democrats to vote AGAINST reimportation. Indeed, there is now a hold on Senator Dorgan's amendment, so all progress has ground to a complete hault.

And so the Republicans checkmate the Democrats on health reform by being stronger reformers than the Democrats, at least some of whom find themselves having to defend Pharma because doing so is the only hope of getting us to something -- anything. And, of course, we don't even know what that something is any more because the Congressional Budget Office hasn't yet scored (figured out the costs of) the latest compromise, which eliminates the public option in exchange for a nationwide nonprofit plan and Medicare expansion.

And oh -- by the way -- Medicare expansion? Lieberman, Snowe, and others think they might have a problem with that.

No public option. No Medicare expansion. No drug reimportation. I guess it will be good to eliminate pre-existing condition exclusions, but I think Congress probably had the votes for that a long time ago.

Only in Congress. Only in America. Jennifer

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Death of the Public Option

The Huffington Post reports that the public option died a quiet death on Thursday December 10, 2009 at 11:12 a.m. After the Senate Democrats appeared to reach a compromise that does not involve a public option, but that does include (tentatively, at least) a private nonprofit option and expansion of Medicare, and President Obama stated that he approves of this compromise, the public option died, finally, when Nancy Pelosi -- who previously said that the House could not pass a version of reform that did not include the public option -- said that, in fact, the House will support an option that ensures affordability for the middle class, security for seniors, and responsibility to our children, without adding to the deficit. The public option is now effectively dead.

Thanks so much to Joe Lieberman for killing it. Jennifer

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Do we have a deal?

The Senate defeated the abortion amendment. Senator Reid says they have reached "broad agreement" on a plan to abandon the public option, though. Instead, there will be a national plan that will be made up of private insurers who negotiate rates with the federal Office of Personnel Management, which would oversee the plan. A government run option would be triggered if this national plan was not cost-effective. And they're still talking about allowing people age 55 and over to buy into Medicare.

People are going to be upset with me, but I don't think this is the worst thing that could happen. There was never any way the Senate could pass a public option once Joe Lieberman said he would vote to filibuster with the Republicans. I don't know that I've ever been angrier at another human being than I am at him. But we've known this for weeks. I've never seen a way around it. I'm not happy; but I think I'm being realistic. Make no mistake -- I (and thousands of others) will never forget that this is Joe Lieberman's fault. But he doesn't seem to care. And of the non-public options that have been discussed, this seems relatively inoffensive.

However, I don't know if the Democrats have the votes to end a filibuster (vote for cloture) without the abortion amendment. Senator Nelson has said he'll vote against it without the strict abortion ban. Unless Senator Reid picked up a couple of Republicans to vote for cloture -- perhaps Senator Snowe, who likes the public option with a trigger, perhaps Senator Voinovich who is retiring and so he won't be pressured to stick with the party line like some of the others -- I don't know if there are 60 votes to close debate even on this watered down bill.

We'll keep an eye on things over the coming days. Once Senator Reid has the votes to cut off debate, they will do so. They want to go home for Christmas, and Senator Reid is not taking a break until this is done.

Check back for updates. Jennifer

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Quick Update

Things are pretty hectic here on the ground, where real people who can't afford their health care or have some other health-related problem are calling us for help at an unprecedented rate, so I only have time for a quick update.

As you know, the Senate is considering the health reform proposal put forth by Senator Harry Reid, summarized in detail below. The two most difficult obstacles are (1) the public option; and (2) abortion.

An amendment that would preclude any woman receiving subsidies to use her own money to buy a plan that covers abortion services has been introduced. It's identical to the House version that was passed. However, the votes aren't there to pass it in the Senate. So there are a handful of Senators striving for a compromise. Democrat Sen. Nelson of Nebraska is needed to cut off debate and bring the bill to a vote and he says he won't vote to allow the bill to go forward unless it has something pretty close to this language included. That means Senator Reid needs at least one Republican to cut off debate and bring the bill to a vote (called cloture).

As for the public option, it seems to be all but dead in the Senate. Right now, a group of 10 Democrat Senators -- 5 moderate, 5 liberal -- are working on a compromise. The latest word I've heard is that they are talking about creating a national insurance plan to be offered by several health insurers at non-profit rates, administered by the Office of Personnel Management, EXACTLY the same as the federal employee plan. This is not considered a public option because the insurance would be offered by private health insurance companies, even though it would be overseen by a federal government agency. Works for me -- I've never lost a health insurance appeal to OPM, so if they're in charge, I'm comfortable with that. But this is not yet a done deal.

Liberals are pushing for more. Earlier today, there was talk of expanding BOTH Medicare and Medicaid -- people age 55 and over would be allowed to buy into Medicare, and Medicaid would be available to individuals up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level (as opposed to 133 percent in the Senate bill). The Medicaid piece of that took less than a day to die because Medicaid is partly funded by the states, and most states are cash strapped already. The Medicare expansion is opposed by the hospitals and other health care providers because Medicare reimbursement rates are lower than insurance reimbursement rates, so providers don't want to have to accept lower reimbursement rates for a whole lot more people.

As best I can tell, there are several variations on these themes being bandied about. My own (yuk) Senator Lieberman has said he's open to the look-alike federal employee plan, but Republican Olympia Snowe is saying no deal, according to Politico. That takes us back to Senator Nelson and abortion.

And the beat goes on. Updates to follow. Jennifer

Tuesday, December 1, 2009