health care

Representative Chris Carney: Keep standing up for us, not the insurance companies

The health reform vote is coming in the House. Representative Chris Carney (PA-10) needs to keep listening to us, not the insurance companies.

In Carney's district, the House's improvements to the Senate health reform bill will [pdf]:

  • Improve coverage for 406,000 residents with health insurance.

Representative Jason Altmire: Listen to us, not the insurance companies

The health reform vote is coming in the House. Representative Jason Altmire (PA-04) needs to listen to us, not the insurance companies.

In Altmire's district, the House's improvements to the Senate health reform bill will [pdf]:

  • Improve coverage for 437,000 residents with health insurance.

“We have completed our underwriting review and are sorry to advise that we must decline your request for insurance coverage"

We have completed our underwriting review and are sorry to advise that we must decline your request for insurance coverage…We regret that we are unable to consider based on medical history as noted in your medical records

I received this letter in the mail from Independence Blue Cross nearly 9 weeks after applying for coverage. As I roll over in bed, nearly two feet of snow lie on the ground and lying on my side trying to fall back asleep, my hand brushes over my chest and I feel it flutter and stop. Thud, thud, th-thud, stop…thud. My heart erratically beats on as my mind scrambles with anxiety. “Jesus, why is this happening to me” I lament, as I wonder if this will be the day that it does not restart.

Stop losing the war on health insurance reform

The Democrats and progressive activist groups that support health care reform need to rethink their approach to getting health care reform passed. If they do manage to keep the pressure on Democratic legislators and get something passed through Congress without finding a way to shore up support for reform among independents, these groups will find in the upcoming general election that they have won one battle at the expense of a severe set back in the ongoing war to improve the nation’s health care system.
What’s at stake is control of both houses of Congress. Right now, Democratic majorities look like they are in severe jeopardy this coming November, in part because the Party has failed to convince independent voters that the kind of health care reform they are pushing in Congress is equitable and meaningful to the average family.

Monday RoundUp: Budget chaos, gambling free for all, immigration and health care, the BRT usual – and city leaders are where?

It’s all budgets all the time with the news that a veto-proof agreement may have been crafted. The compromise however leaves a lot of areas hanging:

Education: The compromise blows a major hole in the education budget as reported by Dan Hardy, confirming rumors that have been swirling for months (edit: a bit of hyperbole there - rumors have been swirling for a few weeks, not months). The School District is expected to be at least $140 million short – a move that one District insider said months ago would be "the end of the world." Hardest hit are likely to be pre-school and help for students looking to return to school and get their diplomas. The SRC meanwhile has chosen to postpone its September meeting dates without explanation. Explaining to the public how you didn’t really have a Plan B is such a chore. Read more at the Public School Notebook.

PICA punts on Plan C: Speaking of a lack of plans, the city buys time when PICA declines to weigh in on Plan C, saving the Mayor an embarrassing rejection as one Councilman notes. But it does highlight a widespread lack of faith in the alternative the Mayor has submitted.

Look on the Bright Side: Now we can play poker to really class up those slots barns! Although it looks like neighborhood bars may not get their video poker, the state believes its second highest revenue generator – expanded gambling through table games – is still the magic bullet to plug holes. Sort of. Actually only briefly. $200 million this year and a 40% drop in revenues next year (casino industry estimates by the way, and we know how reliable those are). Meanwhile, with the political gambling contributions ban eliminated, it’s a virtual free for all for the casino industry to ensure table games are as individually profitable as they are likely.

In other news, the Inky puts another foot on the BRT’s keister with a series of stories on the new tax assessments. Patrick Kerkstra notes that it’s "business as usual" for one city block where some assessments tripled. Meanwhile the BRT follows incompetence with – what else? More incompetence!

Among the findings:

Hundreds of the new commercial numbers were thrown off by mistakes littering the BRT's property records, including incorrectly sized lots and buildings that don't exist. At Seventh and Arch Streets, for example, the BRT calculated a new value of $5.2 million on what the agency thought was a huge, 200-space parking lot. But there is no such lot, just a narrow walkway next to the Federal Detention Center.

Instead of trying to figure out a property's real worth, the BRT's assessors slapped the same percentage increases on thousands of parcels across the city. More than 500 would get the same 40 percent increase - properties as different as a $6 million shopping center on Castor Avenue and a long-empty hoagie shop in North Philadelphia.

More than 6,000 commercial properties - a quarter of the total - are missing entirely, left undone as the BRT rushed to send the AVI numbers to impatient city officials last spring.

Apparent glitches in the BRT's computer models produced some bizarre results. Parking lots in a drug-ravaged section of Frankford, for example, were valued at a steep $140 per square foot - more pricey than many lots in Center City.

The most telling line:

Mayor Nutter, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment.

And finally, Michael Smerconish, who when googling past columns of his, I came across the unfortunate nature of his Philly Mag profile. I do not advise.

Anyway, he takes on the Joe Wilson-immigrant reform-Obama health care controversy, even though not a one links logically to the another.

Now for the record, Smerconish actually published a column about his diversifying of America paranoia:

I know I'm not alone in my belief that today's immigrants - those here both legally and illegally - are not assimilating the way my forefathers did when they arrived.

And before I'm shouted down as a xenophobe, hear me out. My intent isn't to amplify the shrill debate surrounding illegal immigration. What I'm interested in is defending the tradition to which my grandparents adhered: the one that led them to a new name and a better life in this country.

I fear we are leaving it behind.

Leaving aside the philly.com comment stream, and they are particularly colorful whenever immigration is raised – Smerconish nevertheless raises sensible points about why the far right’s call to completely deny undocumented people from receiving health care is bad policy:

  1. It would require the undoing of the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act requiring care for anyone who visits an emergency room.
  2. It would require doctors and caregivers to function as immigration agents first, and health care professionals second.
  3. It wouldn’t keep with our national rep to deny health care to people who were gunshot victims, or giving birth, or in a car accident, or suffering from a communicable disease, say.
  4. And it doesn’t help the fact that what health care professionals are more concerned about are insurance protections than verifying legal status.

Smerconish omits one other important reality, and that’s the fact that so many families in the U.S. are of mixed immigration status. Back in 1999, the Urban Institute reported that as many as one in ten American families had at least one family member who was undocumented. A more recent Pew study shows that 75% of the children of undocumented immigrants are U.S. citizens. So it kinda makes it complicated when you start trying to deny citizen kids health care check-ups for school when their parents don't have the right paperwork.

In the end, though, Obama’s health care reform bill is meant to address health insurance plans and medical coverage in general. It’s not meant to rewrite every single law that deals with health care. And although Smerconish raises some good points, it’s just plain misdirection to raise the 1986 law and try to hang it on the president’s neck.

Get Away (from Political Madness) at Home: Live Arts/Philly Fringe Arrives Tonight!

Some years we need it to beat the heat. This year we need it to get away from the evil State Budget and the idiotic politics and discourse related to health care.

The 2009 Live Arts/Philly Fringe arrives tonight, not a moment too soon and wow, does this year’s festival look amazing. Mad art, frequently in mad spaces. World class performers, international and local performers, at their best: good art is its own kind of health care.

But it looks to me like a lot of the really great shows from reliable artists are early.

So I’ll make some suggestions now, and then you check out the site to make some further choices. When you see something great, post about it. Ok?

Patrick Murphy on Ending Don't Ask/Don't Tell at Philly For Change Meetup

Wednesday night's Philly For Change Meetup offers a chance to meet, talk to, and show your support for an important leader working on a huge Civil Rights issue as Congressman and Iraq War vet Patrick Murphy stops by to discuss the legislation he's sponsoring to end the nation's bigoted Don't Ask/Don't Tell policy.

State Senator and Appropriations Committee member Larry Farnese explains the biggest local issue of the moment -- the State Budget -- from the inside and answer questions about what we can do the get the best possible State Budget.

That other huge issue -- Health Care Reform -- gets an update from Health Care for America Now's (and YPP's) Marc Stier, who'll discuss Thursday's big event and plot the preservation of the public option and what we can do to help get it to the finish line.

Will Chaka Fattah Stand Tough? Where is Bob Brady?

By now, everybody has seen that the Obama administration is wilting under pressure, and sending signals that the public option is not essential to health care reform. The whole thing is shameful. People like Sarah Palin say ridiculous things, stir up the crazies, and as a result, we pull back on a once in a generation opportunity to give every single American decent health care? Instead, with a mandate to buy insurance still likely, and with runaway premiums that will keep rising, we will have a Barack Obama mandated transfer of wealth from middle and working class American’s straight to the pockets of insurance companies. Again, shameful. This is not why we elected these people, and if at this unique time in history they cannot stand tough, when will they ever?

Which brings me to the last, best hope for real health care reform this generation: two Philadelphia Congressmen from West Philly, Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady.

Fattah is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and as such, he signed a letter to the President demanding that a public option be included in the healthcare bill. At this point, there are around 60 members of Congress who have demanded the same thing. They have said that if the President is more concerned with being “bipartisan” with a group of people who have zero intention of ever voting for a health care bill, rather than actually making sure we have a good bill, that the CPC will stop this thing dead in its tracks. The CPC is known for perpetually being rolled by Democrats, who demand that they ‘play ball’ as law after law is weakened. Well, now, they have decided to make a stand. And standing with them is our own Congressman Fattah.

If you are a constituent of Rep. Fattah, call him, and tell him that in the next couple of months, his legacy will be made. Will he and the CPC fundamentally change the power structure in our country? Or will they give in?

And then there is Congressman Brady, who has been largely absent from this debate. Is there a single issue that should be more important to Philadelphia than this? Either we get this right, right now, or we lose our chance for 20 or 30 years. Rep. Brady easily has more than 100,000 people in his district right now who are uninsured. It is time that he held the line, too, and told the President that there is no deal with no public option to keep insurance companies honest.

Over the next few months, the legacy of these men stands in the balance.

Marc Stier: Keeping It Real

I'm disappointed by this, Marc:

We are in the fight of our lives, for health care reform, for the progressive movement and for the soul of this country. This week, in Philadelphia and in Kittanning, over a thousand of supporters of health care outnumbered the opposition and, particularly in Kittaning, stood up to racist and anti-Semitic thugs while keeping the focus on guaranteeing quality, affordable, health care to all.

Read the reported full text of Marc's letter

I think we've all come to expect this kind of cheap broadbrushing from random Average Joes at protests, but from the state director of one the Obama Administration's staunchest allies?

Way to "keep the focus."

A thing I wish I had not done: A report from Sunday's Health Care Reform Town Hall

After all of the hullabaloo the past week about chaos and disruptions at health care oriented town halls across the country, here's a somewhat tardy account of last Sunday's Philadelphia event, one of the very first to be over-run with anti-reform protesters.

On Sunday, I went to what was billed as "a town hall meeting on health insurance reform" at the Constitution Center, with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and recent-D Senator Arlen Specter. The event was also billed as being devoted largely to "taking questions from the audience," but "questions" is far too generous a term to describe the reality, and, I suppose, so was "audience." An ample crowd packed into a limited space (not the auditorium, but a large open area on the second floor) and tittered as we awaited the event's start, with ample stickers and shirts, and animated conversations too numerous for me to effectively eavesdrop on.

Sestak Health Care Meeting: Will you let the nut jobs win?

Joe Sestak is going to hold a meeting on universal health care this Wednesday. Like every other town hall meeting on healthcare, insurance companies will partner with crazy, racist, nut jobs to try to disrupt any actual meeting from taking place. It is a holy alliance of the fringes of society, spurred on by Glen Beck, Sarah Palin, and a too compliant national media, with the power and money of the insurance companies goading them on. All to stop every American from getting to see a doctor.

For example, word got out that Sestak's meeting would actually be held in Philly, and so, there was this tweet:

CON SESTAK PA 7TH DISTRICT IS NOT HAVING MEETING IN AREA OF VOTERS THAT ELECTED HIM HE IS MAKING US GO 2 PHILLY WHERE THE BLACK PANTHERS R

Oh, where the black panthers are!?

And, if that was a little to subtle for you, it was followed by this one:

@glennbeck iTS A BLACK CHURCH IN ANOTHER DIS. SESTAK IS GOING TO SAND BAG US

Um, yeah. It is even directed at Glenn Beck. That is too, too, too perfect. That is who will be at the town hall, hoping to drown out any conversation from actually happening.

We can sit back and watch the carnage, or we can show up to these forums and make sure that the insurance companies and the birthers don't win. Here are the details:

Broad Street Ministry proudly presents an Avenue of the Arts Forum:

A Health Care Townhall Featuring Joe Sestak

This Wednesday, August 12th | 6:30 - 7:30pm

Location:
Broad Street Ministry
315 S. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA
b/t Spruce and Pine (across from UArts and Kimmel Center)

This event is FREE and OPEN to the Public. PLEASE COME and SPREAD the WORD!!

After being a guest of our “Vision of a Just Society” forum, Congressman Sestak returns for a candid conversation hosted by Rev. Bill Golderer to answer your questions about Health Care Reform.

Be there.

Hey Patrick Murphy: At some point, you have to pick sides. (And right now you are on the wrong one.)

I like Patrick Murphy, Philly and Bucks County's young Congressman. He seems fairly responsive and upfront, he has a good personal story, he is likable, and many people think at some point, he will run for higher office. But he should be careful, because if the Congressman is ever going to be able to re-engage progressives on a level that he achieved in his 2006 election win, the time is coming for him to pick sides.

What I am I talking about? His membership in the so-called Blue Dog caucus.

The Blue Dogs are, in theory, simply supposed to be fiscally conservative Democrats. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. But the reality is much, much different. What they really do is frequently kill or water down good actual progressive legislation, usually with the needs of big business in mind. So, despite the fact of of our impending global catastrophe, they made the climate change bill a weak, almost do-nothing, embarrassment. But they did it with a smile, and by calling themselves moderate.

And now, they have their hands around the neck of health care reform, and are squeezing as tight as they can to make good bills into bad ones.

How?

As a first example, the House suggested that we pay for health care by taxing the wealthy. This would not only make the healthcare plan deficit neutral, it would make the plan actually produce a surplus. So, if you are primarily concerned about deficits, as the Blue Dogs supposedly are, you would like that, right?

But, what if you are really concerned with helping high income earners, or big business at the expense of others? Then no, you don't like that option. So instead, the Blue Dogs effectively proposed a middle class tax increase, and that the government should insure less lower income people. Again, effect on the deficit: the same. But to the Blue Dogs, helping less people, and taxing more from the middle class? A good day's work.

As a second example, the Blue Dogs have been trying to oppose a real public option for universal healthcare. As most people know, a real public option is crucially important to achieve real reform, and not to simply fatten the coffers of the insurance companies. It is also supported by a large majority of the country. But still, the Blue Dogs persist.

Oh, and on a completely unrelated note, there is this:

The Blue Dog's political action committee has collected $1.1 million in the first six months of the year -- more than any other political action committee, according to CQ. (Subscription required.) Nearly 54% came from the energy, financial services and health care industries, according to an analysis by the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity. That's up from 45% in 2004. The center's reporting appeared in Politico.

Right now, the biggest obstacle to universal healthcare for all Americans, paid for in a sane way, is not the GOP. It is the Blue Dogs. Which brings me back to Patrick Murphy...

Yes, on occasion, Rep. Murphy has said he disagrees with his own caucus, including on the public option. And he is doing some good stuff- like picking up the mantle on "Don't ask, don't tell." But at some point, the fact that he caucuses with- and therefore lends power to- a group that has stood against a real climate change bill, real mortgage reform, real financial oversight, and that is now slow walking health care to its doom, matters.

At some point, Patrick Murphy has to pick sides. He can have it both ways for only so long...

Whole Foods: Anti-Union and Anti-Universal Health Care

I frequently shop at Whole Foods. It is the closest grocery store to my house. They have excellent cookies, good produce, etc. They employ or have employed a bunch of my friends, and seem to pay them fairly well, even if they do not always treat them as kind as their image would suggest. And, after reading any Michael Pollan book, it is pretty hard to totally buy into Whole Food's take on organics. But still, despite all that, and that it creates a (w)hole in my wallet (badda boom!), I end up going there a lot.

But that said, it is worth remembering a few things for when you have a choice of where to shop. First, in an industry that is largely unionized, Whole Foods stands out as being anti-labor. This is a comment from their CEO:

The union is like having herpes. It doesn't kill you, but it's unpleasant and inconvenient, and it stops a lot of people from becoming your lover.

Well that is just so sweet of him. As the quote would suggest, Whole Foods has been working to kill Employee Free Choice, a hugely important reform for working families.

And now, the same whack-job is lobbying against true universal healthcare:

John Mackey, chief executive of Whole Foods, said that while his company offers coverage, he worries that an employer mandate would lead to more stringent federal rules on what employer plans must include.

He said that would drive up the cost of employer benefits, motivating companies to end their benefits and instead let employees sign up for the public insurance option, figuring that paying a penalty would be less costly. This would result in eventual domination by the public insurance plan -- something Mackey suspects is reformers' secret hope.

"It's a Trojan horse," he said.

As Jake McIntyre notes, if you take an employee mandate and a public option out of health care reform, you are basically left with nothing except a huge payout to insurance companies, with millions upon millions of people still uninsured.

Does the fact that the CEO of Whole Foods is anti-labor or anti-universal health care mean I will never shop there again? No. But, there are a considerable amount of grocery stores that are much more friendly to labor, and presumably, to health care for all. From the United Food and Commercial Workers 1776 page, we see for example, that the following grocery stores are unionized:

Acme Markets
Giant Eagle
Shop Rite Supermarkets
Super Fresh Food Markets

It doesn't list Fresh Grocer. I have no clue about them. But either way, that is a big portion of our city's groceries stores.

And when you combine that list with the 30 or so farmers markets around Philly, most of which sell organic, locally made, fresher than Whole Foods goods, you kind of realize, yes, you do have a choice.

Will I forever boycott Whole Foods? No. Will I try to be more conscious of where I am shopping in the future? You better believe it.

The Transformative Moments in Politics: Health Care and the Neighborhood Networks Town Hall

This is, many of us keep saying, the moment we have been waiting for, the transformative moment in our politics when dramatic change is possible, when we will finally guarantee quality affordable health care for all.

As we keep saying it, we hear the other voices tell us that, no, we have to wait, that the economic crisis we face is too severe, requires too much attention, and will be too costly.

But a close look at history, at our present crisis and our politics, should teach all of us, including President-elect Obama that the pessimistic voices are wrong. This is the moment for health care reform.

And that is one reason you should come to the Neighborhood Networks Town Hall meeting tomorrow. For whether we actually we take advantage of this moment for health care reform is, in large part, up to us.

Date: Monday, November 17, from 7-9 PM.

Place: First Unitarian Church, 2125 Chestnut Street

Here is why I think a major commitment on the part of the citizens of this country to health care reform will finally get us there.

How We Won Health Care Reform In Pennsylvania

I was in the audience at a taping of a program on WHYY TV on health care reform tonight.

And now I know how we managed to get PA ABC, Governor Rendell’s program to insure another quarter of million people, through the Senate.

The representative from Aetna said that the company thinks everyone should be insured.

The representative from the Hospital Association said that everyone should be insured.

The representative from the Pennsylvania Medical Society said that everyone should be insured.

And it was the support of these wonderful representatives of the insurance and medical establishment that helped us overcome the ideological opposition of the Republican Senate leadership, got the bill that passed the House in March to the Senate floor, and got it passed with bipartisan support.

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