Healthcare Reform Gaining Popularity

So says the latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll:

The July Health Tracking Poll indicates overall public support for the health reform law is steady from June, while unfavorable views of the law have trended downward. Half the public (50%) now expresses a favorable view of the law, while 35 percent say they have an unfavorable opinion (down from 41% in June).

The poll also took a closer look at the views of seniors since they are often assumed to have a uniform view about issues. Below are some of the poll’s key findings about seniors’ views:

While seniors’ views of the new law are more negative than those of their younger counterparts, they remain roughly split about the law with 46 percent of seniors holding an unfavorable view of the law and 38 percent holding a favorable one. While 35 percent of seniors think they will be worse off under reform, a greater share (57%) say they will be better off (20%) or it will make no difference (37%).

Seniors’ awareness about the specific provisions of the health reform law that affect Medicare is mixed. For example, about half are aware that the new law will result in premium increases for some higher income Medicare beneficiaries (52%) and gradually close Medicare’s “doughnut hole” (50%). However, just a third (33% ) know the law will eliminate Medicare’s co-pays and deductibles for some preventive services.

On the other hand, large shares of seniors mistakenly believe the law includes provisions that cut some previously universal Medicare benefits and creates “death panels.” Half of seniors (50%) say the law will cut benefits that were previously provided to all people on Medicare, and more than a third (36%) incorrectly believe the law will “allow a government panel to make decisions about end-of-life care for people on Medicare.”

Despite the fact that Medicare’s actuaries predict the health reform law will extend the life of the Medicare Part A Trust Fund by 12 years (from 2017 to 2029), only 14 percent of seniors know this and nearly half (45%) of seniors think the health reform law will weaken the financial condition of the fund.

In general, seniors with a favorable view of the law are more likely to be aware of some of the law’s benefit improvements for Medicare, while those with an unfavorable view are more likely to be aware of increases in taxes and premiums that occur under the law.

More illustrative is the breakdown by political affiliation. Democrats largely favor the Affordable Care Act while independents split 48/37 in favor. It is only among Republicans that there is significant and still hardening opposition. Among Republicans, opposition to the law remained steady at 69 percent, but the intensity of that opposition ticked upward. Fifty-three percent of Republicans said they had a “very unfavorable” opinion of the law this month, up from 50 percent in June.

Quick Hits

Here are some other stories making news today.

The Los Angeles Times U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton says the provision in Arizona's immigration law that makes lacking immigration documents a crime may violate prior rulings that bar states from creating their own immigrant registration systems.

A House committee has filed ethics charges against Rep. Charles Rangel, the former Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee. An adjudicatory subcommittee will hold a public organizational meeting on July 29th. The story in The Hill.

The Hutch News of Hutchinson, Kansas has withdrawn its endorsement of Tracey Mann in the GOP Primary in the First Congressional District in Kansas citing his birther views.

Fresh off a weekend jaunt to Maine, President Barack Obama and his family will vacation on the Florida Gulf Coast next month, the White House said Thursday. The Obamas are scheduled to travel to the coast on Aug. 14 and stay the weekend. Expect the right wing to go crazy over another Obama vacation. Just to set the record straight, 18 months in his Presidency George W. Bush had taken 120 days of time off. The Obamas, so far, have taken 65 days of vacation.

The Incidental Economist has a post on why the US spends more on healthcare than any other country. Fee-for-service payment arrangements, which predominate the health care industry, are one of the major factors driving the increased service intensity and thus largely responsible for driving up costs.

Must be a record of some kind. From the Las Vegas Sun: "In the warehouse of a family-owned clean diesel manufacturer in Sparks, Angle delivered a three-minute speech on her desire to permanently repeal the estate tax. When invited by the final speaker to stay and answer a few questions, she turned on her heel and rushed out a back door with a small cadre of staff members."

Army. Lt. Dan Choi, one of the most outspoken critics of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy that bars gays and lesbians from serving openly in the US Military, has been honorably discharged from the Army. More from CNN.

Beyond the Rampant Hypocrisy

Norman Orstein, the Congressional scholar and the liberal in residence at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, has a short must read post:

Any veteran observer of Congress is used to the rampant hypocrisy over the use of parliamentary procedures that shifts totally from one side to the other as a majority moves to minority status, and vice versa. But I can’t recall a level of feigned indignation nearly as great as what we are seeing now from congressional Republicans and their acolytes at the Wall Street Journal, and on blogs, talk radio, and cable news.

It reached a ridiculous level of misinformation and disinformation over the use of reconciliation, and now threatens to top that level over the projected use of a self-executing rule by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the last Congress that Republicans controlled, from 2005 to 2006, Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier used the self-executing rule more than 35 times, and was no stranger to the concept of “deem and pass.”

That strategy, then decried by the House Democrats who are now using it, and now being called unconstitutional by WSJ editorialists, was defended by House Republicans in court (and upheld). Dreier used it for a $40 billion deficit reduction package so that his fellow GOPers could avoid an embarrassing vote on immigration.

I don’t like self-executing rules by either party—I prefer the “regular order”—so I am not going to say this is a great idea by the Democrats. But even so—is there no shame anymore?


The answer to Dr. Ornstein's question is no, not on that other side of the aisle.

It's gone beyond hypocrisy however. The rhetoric emanating from the Republicans is as if some prelude to civil war. You have Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota openly calling on citizens not to pay taxes and to engage in acts of civil disobedience. At her "Kill the Bill" rally on the St. Paul Minnesota State Capital steps, she compared President Obama to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez and then called the healthcare reform bill "illegitimate" before suggesting that such illegitimate bills need not be followed.

"In their bill they have the IRS enforcing the Health Care Bill", said Rep. Bachmann. "We're not going to pay their taxes..." "We don't have to follow a bill that isn't law."

Watch it:

There's more...

The Invasion of Public Lands by Mexican Drug Cartels

Last year, a wildfire in Santa Barbara's Los Padres National Park consumed more than 136 square miles. That fire was sparked by a cooking fire started by the employees of a Mexican drug cartel tending to some 30,000 marijuana plants in the remote and rather inaccessible canyons of central California. It was far from an isolated incident according to US law enforcement agents and the fire highlighted an alarming trend: the unseen invasion of California wilderness and public lands by Mexico's ruthless drug cartels that has taken place underneath our very noses over the past two decades.

Today, the Associated Press takes a look at the invasion of public lands by Mexican drug cartels.

Pot has been grown on public lands for decades, but Mexican traffickers have taken it to a whole new level: using armed guards and trip wires to safeguard sprawling plots that in some cases contain tens of thousands of plants offering a potential yield of more than 30 tons of pot a year. "Just like the Mexicans took over the methamphetamine trade, they've gone to mega, monster gardens," said Brent Wood, a supervisor for the California Department of Justice's Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement. He said Mexican traffickers have "supersized" the marijuana trade.

Interviews conducted by The Associated Press with law enforcement officials across the country showed that Mexican gangs are largely responsible for a spike in large-scale marijuana farms over the last several years.

Local, state and federal agents found about a million more pot plants each year between 2004 and 2008, and authorities say an estimated 75 percent to 90 percent of the new marijuana farms can be linked to Mexican gangs.

In 2008 alone, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, police across the country confiscated or destroyed 7.6 million plants from about 20,000 outdoor plots. Growing marijuana in the U.S. saves traffickers the risk and expense of smuggling their product across the border and allows gangs to produce their crops closer to local markets.

Distribution also becomes less risky. Once the marijuana is harvested and dried on the hidden farms, drug gangs can drive it to major cities, where it is distributed to street dealers and sold along with pot that was grown in Mexico.

About the only risk to the Mexican growers, experts say, is that a stray hiker or hunter could stumble onto a hidden field.

The remote plots are nestled under the cover of thick forest canopies in places such as Sequoia National Park, or hidden high in the rugged-yet-fertile Sierra Nevada Mountains. Others are secretly planted on remote stretches of Texas ranch land.

All of the sites are far from the eyes of law enforcement, where growers can take the time needed to grow far more potent marijuana. Farmers of these fields use illegal fertilizers to help the plants along, and use cloned female plants to reduce the amount of seed in the bud that is dried and eventually sold.

Mexican gang plots can often be distinguished from those of domestic-based growers, who usually cultivate much smaller fields with perhaps 100 plants and no security measures. Some of the fields tied to the drug gangs have as many as 75,000 plants, each of which can yield at least a pound of pot annually, according to federal data reviewed by the AP.

I've noted this before but the war on drugs is a forty year failure. Prohibitionist policies based on eradication, interdiction and criminalization of consumption simply haven't worked. The war on drugs is an enormous waste of resources. The United States now incarcerates people at a rate nearly five times the world average. In large part, that’s because the number of people in prison for drug offenses has risen from under 50,000 in 1980 to over half million today. Until the war on drugs with their draconian drug laws came along, our incarceration rate was roughly the same as that of other countries. Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard economist, has found that federal, state and local governments spend $44.1 billion annually enforcing drug prohibitions. We spend seven times as much on drug interdiction, policing and imprisonment as we do on treatment. It's time to treat drug addiction as healthcare problem and not a law enforcement problem. It is also high time to consider legalization, not as a panacea but as the least worst option.

Lack-of-Insurance Deaths on the Rise

A new study from Families USA finds the number of deaths attributable to a lack of health insurance is on the rise as more and more Americans lose their health insurance. While a 2000 study by the Institute of Medicine estimated that 18,000 people and a 2006 Urban Institute study found that 22,500 people were dying on annual basis due to the lack of health insurance, the Families USA, a liberal healthcare advocacy group, puts the number at 27,500.

From the New York Times:

“This is only the tip of the iceberg, and the most severe consequence, which is death,” said Kathleen Stoll, director of health policy at Families USA. In addition, thousands of other citizens, perhaps millions, are experiencing a reduction in the quality of their lives and their health because they lack insurance, she said.

Not surprisingly, many of the states with the largest number of projected premature deaths also have the largest populations. The top 12 states, in order of estimated premature deaths, are: California (34,600), Texas (31,700), Florida (25,400), New York (13,900), Georgia (11,500), North Carolina (9,600), Illinois (9,400), Ohio (8,900), Louisiana (7,700), Michigan (7,600), Pennsylvania (7,500) and Tennessee (7,500).

In 2008, roughly 46 million people in the United States lacked health insurance, according to the Census Bureau. The new report estimates that currently 68 adults under age 65 die every day because they don’t have coverage. Absent a significant change in coverage, the figure will climb to 84 by 2019, the study projects.

A growing body of research has explored the connection between a lack of health insurance and an increased risk of death. Uninsured people are more likely to skip screenings and other preventive care, so their medical problems are often diagnosed later, when they are more advanced and tougher to treat. The uninsured are also more likely to skimp on necessary medical care, whether it’s prescription drugs to keep their blood pressure in check or surgery to clear up clogged arteries.

“The bottom line is that if you don’t get a disease picked up early and you don’t get necessary treatment, you’re more likely to die,” said Stan Dorn, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and the author of the organization’s earlier study.

Experts say that the new study’s estimates of premature death likely err on the conservative side. The report calculated that lack of insurance increased mortality rates by 25 percent. But research conducted using more recent data found that not having insurance increases death rates by 40 percent.

The other impact that is likely to come from our current healthcare is a rise in premature deaths. We may have the first generation of Americans to have on average shorter lifespans the preceding one. If that's not a sign of a society in reverse, I don't know what is.


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