Sebelius warns insurers on denying coverage to sick kids

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote to the head of the insurance industry's lobbying arm yesterday warning against efforts to continue to deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. Excerpt from the letter, which you can download as a pdf file at Greg Sargent's blog:

Health insurance reform is designed to prevent any child from being denied coverage because he or she has a pre-existing condition. Leaders in Congress have reaffirmed this in recent days in the attached statement. To ensure that there is no ambiguity on this point, I am preparing to issue regulations in the weeks ahead ensuring that the term "pre-existing condition exclusion" applies to both a child's access to a plan and to his or her benefits once he or she is in the plan. These regulations will further confirm that beginning in September, 2010:

*Children with pre-existing conditions may not be denied access to their parents' health insurance plan;

*Insurance companies will no longer be allowed to insure a child, but exclude treatments for that child's pre-existing condition.

I urge you to share this information with your members and to help ensure that they cease any attempt to deny coverage to some of the youngest and most vulnerable Americans.

A spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent Sargent the following statement:

The intent of Congress to end discrimination against children was crystal clear, and as the House chairs said last week, the fact that insurance companies would even try to deny children coverage exemplifies why the health reform legislation was so vital. Secretary Sebelius isn’t going to let insurance companies discriminate against children, and no one in the industry should think otherwise.

Let's hope this works. I wouldn't be surprised to see insurance companies challenge the new regulations in court. They were probably counting on that loophole.

A Historically Memorable Speakership

Today is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's birthday, and in light of the occasion -- as well as the monumental achievement over the past few days that was the passage of healthcare reform legislation (with student lending reform, to boot) -- I thought it worthwhile to take a moment to lay down a few thoughts on the Pelosi speakership.

When Nancy Pelosi was first elected Democratic leader in late-2002, the time was bleak for her party. The Democrats, who had been expected to fare well in the midterm elections -- perhaps even retaking the House of Representatives -- not only lost seats in the House but also lost control of the Senate. Indeed, the party's caucus in the chamber (205 members, including Independent Bernie Sanders) was as small as it had been in 54 years.

Today, after two straight elections in which Republicans sought to make Nancy Pelosi an issue, the Democratic caucus is strong and robust. At its peak earlier in this Congress, before retirements and a death marginally reduced the Democrats' numbers, the Democratic majority stood larger than any Republican majority in the House since just after the 1928 elections. Think about that. The current Democratic majority is larger than the Republicans have had in nearly 80 years -- this, after Republicans sought to make the last two battles for the House about Nancy Pelosi. Yes, there were hiccups along the road, and House Democrats lost further ground during the 2004 election. Still, today, it's quite clear that Pelosi has been, at least on an electoral level, a boon for her party rather than the albatross Republicans sought to make her.

And over the past few days, weeks and months, we have come to see that Nancy Pelosi has been a historically effective leader of the House. This week, the President signed the most monumental piece of domestic legislation in nearly a half-century. Just as Barack Obama was able to do what no President in more than 100 years had been able to do in making the case for universal healthcare coverage, so too was Nancy Pelosi able to do what no other Speaker in more than 100 years had been able to do in shepherding such legislation through the House. And not just healthcare reform legislation. The House has also passed, with the agreement of the Senate, major legislation in the areas of student lending reform, economic stimulus, jobs, anti-discrimination, credit reform, and tobacco regulation. The House under Pelosi's Speakership has also moved the ball forward on important climate change legislation, which while not yet passed by the Senate has nonetheless kept the issue at the fore. 

This is an historic Speakership -- there's no other way of describing it. So happy birthday Nancy Pelosi, a leader of the House of Representatives whose name is now firmly on path to join the names like Henry Clay, Joseph Cannon, Champ Clark, Sam Rayburn and Tip O'Neill.

Thank you, Mr. President.

How’s this for history? The first black President and the first female Speaker of the House just brought America’s health insurance system from the 19th century to the 21st century, doing what no politician before them was able to achieve.

The new law, while insuring 30 million and lowering the deficit, is not perfect. It does little to address cost containment. It contains a mandate without strong enough subsidies. The Medicare reimbursement issue persists. You might blame Barack Obama for these imperfections. You might say that had he shown more forceful leadership, he would have had a stronger bill. And you might be right. But consider this:

In 1993, President Clinton tried to pass health care reform, and didn’t even get a floor vote.

In 1974, President Nixon tried to pass health care reform, but couldn’t quite close the deal with the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson opted to pass Medicare rather than universal coverage, believing it more politically doable.

In 1945, President Truman, like Clinton, proposed universal health care but was unable to get a vote.

In 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to pass universal health care, but thought it too politically unpopular and didn’t even try.

In 1912, former President Theodore Roosevelt campaigned on the promise of universal health care and couldn’t even recapture the White House.

You can claim that the bill’s inadequacies are proof that President Obama failed to show true leadership on this issue, but history will tell you otherwise. He showed the courage that LBJ and FDR lacked, and his persistance did what Clinton, Nixon, and Truman were unable to do. I call that leadership.

Some things are worth losing over, and this is one of them. To last night’s 219 heroes and to President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Majority Leader Reid: thank you. This is the most important progressive victory since the Civil Rights movement. Sleep well knowing that whether you lose your next re-election or retire in 30 years, it was worth it.

Weekly Pulse: Pelosi Makes Her Move; Republican Rep. Calls for Coup

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has laid out a strategy to pass health care reform in the next couple of days by allowing the House to vote on the details of the reconciliation package instead of the Senate bill itself. As usual, progressives are fretting that winning will make them look bad. On the other hand, conservatives are baying for blood and calling for revolution.

‘Deem and pass’

Nick Baumann of Mother Jones discusses the parliamentary tactic known as “deem and pass” (D&P), which House Democrats plan to use to avoid voting for the Senate bill before the Senate fixes the bill through reconciliation. The House doesn’t want to sign a blank check. If the health care bill passes the House first, there’s no guarantee that the Senate will make the fixes as promised.

Originally, the hope was that the Senate could do reconciliation first. The problem is that you can’t pass a bill to amend a bill that isn’t law yet. That would be like putting the cart before the horse. To clear that hurdle, the House will invoke a rule that deems that Senate bill to have passed if and when the House passes the reconciliation package.  It’s sort of like backdating a check. Ryan Grim explains the process in more detail on Democracy Now!

D&P does not equal treason

Progressives like Kevin Drum worry that D&P will make the Democrats look bad. Meanwhile, the Tea Party crowd is calling for Nancy Pelosi to be tried for treason, as TPM reports. The bottom line is that D&P is no big deal. Republicans used the process 36 times in 2005 and 2006; Democrats used it 49 times in 2007 and 2008. D&P is constitutional. We know because it has already been upheld by the Supreme Court. Kevin Drum writes, “If you have a life, you don’t care about the subject of this post and have never heard of it.”

Teabag revolution

There is no joy in Tea Party Land, as Dave Weigel reports in the Washington Independent. The tea baggers are frantically lobbying to stop the bill, but the reality is starting to sink in. Their leaders are shifting from trying to kill the bill to planning the tantrum they’re going to throw when it passes:

While many held out hope that plans to pass the Senate’s version of reform in the House would stall out, others pondered their next steps. Some, like Rep. Steve King (R-IA), took a dark view of what might come.

“Right now, they’re civil, because they think they have a chance of stopping this bill,” said King to reporters, waving his arm at a pack of “People’s Surge” activists forming a line to enter the Cannon House Office Building. “The reason we don’t have violence in this country like they do in dictatorships is because we have votes, and our leaders listen to their constituents. Now we’re in a situation where the leaders are defying the people!” Later, King would expand on those remarks and speculate on a possible anti-Washington revolt in which Tea Parties would “fill the streets” of the capital.

Sounds like King is calling for a revolution, doesn’t it? As it turns out, that’s exactly what he says he wants if health care reform passes. Eric Kleefeld of TPMDC reports that King is hoping for something akin to the uprising that overthrew the Communists in Prague in 1989. “Fill this city up, fill this city, jam this place full so that they can’t get in, they can’t get out and they will have to capitulate to the will of the American people,” King said in an interview with the Huffington Post.

Women and health care reform

Health care reform seems poised to pass. Amid the heady excitement, there’s a sense of gloom in the reproductive rights community. Bart Stupak was defeated, but health care reform will probably end private insurance coverage for abortion.

In The American Prospect, Michelle Goldberg urges feminists to support reform anyway. She argues that the women suffer disproportionately under the status quo. If reform passes, it will insure 17 million previously uninsured women. Expanding health care coverage might help reverse rising maternal mortality rates in the United States.

A recent report by Amnesty International found that at least two women die in childbirth every day in the U.S., a much higher rate than most developed countries. The anti-choicers had the advantage because they were willing to kill health reform over abortion. The pro-choice faction did not allow itself the luxury of nihilism.

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.

 

 

First Rangel, Now Stark: Levin Named New Chair of Ways & Means

The Chairman of the powerful House Ways & Means Committee resigned his post today.

Oh, what's that? You say I must mean yesterday? Well, yes, the chairman did resign his post yesterday. But it happened again today. Two chairs in two days - and given who those two chairs were, that's not necessarily a bad thing. From The Hill:

Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) will be the acting chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced to her caucus on Thursday.

The startling announcement comes a day after Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) appeared ready to take the reins of the committee from Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.).

Stark was the next in line for the post in terms of seniority, but some panel members recoiled at the idea of his leading the committee. Stark is known for making controversial and eccentric remarks, and in 2007 he apologized on the House floor for comments about President George W. Bush and the Iraq War...

The shuffling of chairmen is sure to raise questions about how Pelosi handled the issue.

Yesterday I wrote that Stark was a lousy choice but that nonetheless, "anyone’s got to be better than Rangel, even if not by much." Still, better than Rangel or not, Stark does have major issues: he's attacked his "Jew" colleagues, claimed that a black Bush 1 administration was a "disgrace to his race" (Stark himself is white), and more. Levin will be a much better chair. His past does not include such scandals, and the National Journal ranks him as the 94th most progressive House member, compared to Stark's 140th.

It would have been better for us if Levin took over right away rather than going through Stark first, but either way, this does show that our caucus is dealing with its scandals and corruptions in a better way than the 2005-6 Republicans ever did, and that we're doing it well before the election or even Labor Day.

The bigger question is what this means for Nancy Pelosi's leadership. Her entire handling of the Rangel, and now general Ways & Means, scandal is her biggest political misstep since her extremely aggressive backing of Jack Murtha for House Majority Leader over Steny Hoyer. Political missteps won't hurt her much outside the Beltway, but they will strike a blow at her credibility within. Whether or not ramming the Senate health care bill through the House helps her image as someone who gets things done or takes her down a peg with bitter progressives remains to be seen. My own take is that she's Nancy Pelosi - she'll bounce back from anything, it's what she does - but this will make for an unpleasant few weeks.

I'll also be interested to see what effect having a Michigan Congressman in charge of the House's finance panel will have on future auto industry discussions. (And yes, he is related to Carl; they're brothers.)

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