Weekly Pulse: GOP Would Privatize Medicare, Gut Medicaid

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

On Tuesday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveiled a draft budget resolution for 2012. Ryan’s program would privatize Medicare and gut Medicaid.

“Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, is waging radical class warfare and ideological privatization schemes and selling it as a debt reduction plan,” writes Karen Dolan in AlterNet. Indeed, Ryan’s plan is larded with tax cuts  for wealthy citizens and profitable corporations, which according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), would actually increase the national debt over the next decade. The CBO projects that the debt would reach 70% of GDP by 2022 under Ryan’s plan compared to 67% under the status quo.

At TAPPED, Jamelle Bouie predicts that Ryan’s budget plan will become the de facto platform for the GOP in the 2012 elections. Presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty is already gushing about the plan. He notes the irony in Republicans seizing upon a plan to eliminate Medicare when they campaigned so hard to “protect” the program during the fight over the Affordable Care Act.

Attacking Medicare is politically risky. The conventional wisdom is the program is all but invulnerable because it is so popular with the general public, and especially with senior citizens–who reliably turn out to vote in large numbers.

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones argues that, in order to win this political fight, the Democrats need to emphasize what they’re doing to grapple with the rising costs of Medicare–such as creating an independent board to regulate the reimbursement rates for all procedures covered under Medicare. Republicans have harshly criticized such a board as an example of health care rationing. Their proposed plan, however, would ration care far more severely, based on ability to pay. Ryan’s plan would give seniors a voucher to defray part of the cost of buying private health insurance. The voucher wouldn’t cover care equivalent to that which is offered under Medicare. So, under Ryan’s plan, care would be rationed based on each person’s ability to pay for extra coverage.

In a separate piece, Khimm notes that the GOP is taking a further political gamble by proposing massive cuts to Medicaid. She cites a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation which found that only 13% of respondents favored major cuts to Medicaid. Republicans may be betting that they can cut Medicaid because they associate it with health care for the very poor, a constituency with little political capital and low voter turnout. But while Medicaid does serve the poor, a large percentage of its budget covers nursing home care for middle class retirees and services for adults with major disabilities–care that their families would otherwise have to pay for.

How to save $15 billion in health care costs

New research suggests that the federal government could save $15 billion by reducing unnecessary emergency room visits through investment in community health centers, Dan Peterson of Change.org reports:

This week, new research, from the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative, pinpoints just how much we stand to lose in health care efficiency savings if the funding is cut as proposed; $15 billion. Put another way, for every $1 invested in CHC expansion, there is a potential savings in health care costs of $11.50.

Peterson reports that money to expand the CHC program may be cut from the budget. The report explains that if the funding is lost, then CHCs will not be able to serve the 10-12 million additional patients who were supposed to get care through expanded CHCs under the Affordable Care Act. If Congress refuses to allot $1.3 billion for cost-effective primary care, $15 billion in projected savings will evaporate.

If Republicans are serious about balancing the budget, they should happily expand the Community Health Center network.

Danish Antibiotic Resistance Education

D.A.R.E. to keep pigs off drugs. The U.S. hog industry is heavily dependent on low-dose antibiotics to keep its swine infection-free. This practice comes at the cost of increased antibiotic resistance. Sixteen years ago, the government of Denmark, the world’s largest exporter of pork, took the bold step of asking its pork industry to reduce the amount of antibiotics given to pigs. Ralph Loglisci of Grist notes that the experiment has been a huge success: The industry has slashed antibiotic use by 37%, antibiotic resistance is down nationwide, and production has held steady or increased.

Gay-bashed, uninsured

Twenty-nine-year-old Barie Shortell’s face was shattered in an apparent anti-gay attack in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in February. Joseph Huff-Hannon reports on AlterNet on an obstacle in Shortell’s already-long road to recovery:

After blacking out, and spending 10 hours in surgery and five days in the hospital, Shortell is now taking another whipping from one of the insidious antagonists of 21st-century American life—the private health-care system. Shortell, like many of his fellow American twentysomethings, is uninsured.

Up to 30% of people in their twenties are uninsured. The Affordable Care Act should reduce the number of uninsured twenty-somethings, but as Huff Hannon notes, the number of uninsured young adults is expected to continue to rise for some time. The ACA allows young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26, but this reform is of little help to the millions of families who lost job-linked health coverage during the recession.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.



The Danish Miracle

In the above video, World Focus Producer John Larson reports from Copenhagen, Denmark on how changing lifestyles, taxing energy and subsidizing alternative technologies have reduced the country's dependency on oil and created thousands of new job.

In just over 30 years, Denmark has gone from being a net importer of energy to net exporter. Denmark had the political will to decide that on economy built on oil imports was unsustainable and prone to economic disruption -- and to follow through to educate its population on the merits of energy conservation. Beginning in 1979, the government began a determined program of subsidies and loan guarantees to build up its nascent wind industry. The central government covered 30 percent of investment costs, and guaranteed loans for large turbine exporters such as Vestas, the world's largest manufacturer of wind turbines. The Danish government also mandated that utilities purchase wind energy at a preferential rate. Energy taxes were channeled back into research and development.

The aim of the first energy strategy, Danish Energy Policy 1976, was to secure Denmark against crises in supply such as the energy crisis of 1973-74 by tightening demand through increased taxation on fuel. The second oil shocks in 1979-80 led Denmark to revise its energy policy again with Energy 81 emphasised socio-economic and environmental considerations. After a period of building up large projects for facilities and markets for natural gas and heat and power generation, Denmark updated its policies, Energy 1990, setting a goal of 10 percent national energy production from wind power by the year 2000. The country's latest energy plan, Energy 2000 introduced the goal of a sustainable development of the energy sector that is carbon neutral. Today, Denmark meets 19 percent of its energy needs from wind.

This is how state planning can work:

An investment subsidy introduced in 1979 covered 30% of investment costs in wind turbines, subject to approval by the National Energy Research Centre. The investment subsidy was not only a stimulus for the construction of wind turbines but also a stimulus for market forces to better develop a wind turbine industry. Wind turbines became an attractive investment, and manufacturers enjoyed a customer base of 200 to 300 wind turbines per year. By 1989 government support was no longer necessary to make private investment in wind turbines attractive, and the subsidy was abolished. Small- and medium-sized wind turbines quickly became reliable and cost-effective. Technological problems associated with large wind turbines were more complicated than expected, however, and large wind turbines (1,000 kW or more) are still not commercially viable due to technical problems. Subsidies were only used to stimulate the development of privately owned wind turbines. No direct financial support was given for wind power investments to the larger power generating companies, though support was provided indirectly for research and development. At present, privately owned wind turbines represent about 80% of the installed capacity.

The Danish government provided the initial subsidies to the industry and then as the sector grew, it pulled back support. Today, Denmark is the world leader in wind energy technology. It should be noted that over the past 20 years the Danish economy has grown 78 percent while maintaing its energy use level constant and cutting their carbon emissions in half. That's the sort of miracle we need to replicate.

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Flemming Rose the man behind the Mohammed bashing cartoons

Crossposted from Dameocrat Blog

Flemming Rose - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "Flemming Rose" the man who published those cartoons depicting Mohammed as a suicide bomber, has some disturbing ties to campus watch, and seems to be obsessed with the "clash of civilizations".

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