Weekly Pulse: DCCC Ad Shows Grandpa Stripping for Extra Cash to Pay for Medicare

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5z7FiBsR8OQ[/youtube]

How will the next generation of seniors pay for health care if Republicans privatize Medicare? The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) suggests some options in a darkly funny ad featuring a grandfatherly gentleman mowing lawns and stripping for extra cash. The ad will run in 24 GOP-controlled swing districts, Suzy Khimm reports for Mother Jones.

The ad is a riposte to Paul Ryan's budget, which would eliminate Medicare and replace it with a system of "premium support"--annual lump sum cash payments to insurers. These payments would be pegged to the growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) +1%, even though health care costs are growing much faster than the economy at large. That means that real benefits will shrink over time. Seniors will be forced to come up with extra money to buy insurance, assuming they can find an insurer who's willing to sell it to them.

Josh Holland of AlterNet predicts that the GOP is committing political suicide with the its anti-Medicare budget. The more ordinary voters learn about Ryan's budget, the less they like it:

A poll conducted last week found that, “when voters learn almost anything about [the Ryan plan], they turn sharply and intensely against it.” And why wouldn't they? According to an analysis by the non-partisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the Republicans' “roadmap” would “end most of government other than Social Security, health care, and defense by 2050,” while providing the “largest tax cuts in history” for the wealthy.

Holland interviews an economist who estimates that the Medicaid cuts in the Ryan budget alone would cost 2.1 million jobs.

Under the bus

The Democratic spin about the deal to avert a budget shutdown was that Democratic leaders held fast against Republican demands to defund Planned Parenthood. However, as Katha Pollitt explains in The Nation, the Democrats capitulated on other reproductive rights issues in order to save Planned Parenthood.

For example, under the budget deal, Washington, D.C. will no longer be allowed to use local taxes to pay for abortions. Democrats also agreed to $17 million in cuts to the Title X Family Planning Program, Planned Parenthood's largest source of federal funding.

American women aren't alone under the bus. Jane Roberts notes at RH Reality Check that the budget deal slashed $15 million from the U.N. Population Fund, and millions more from USAID's budget for reproductive health and family planning. At least Democrats successfully rebuffed GOP demands to eliminate funding for the United Nations Population Agency.

Roberts observes:

And this is at a time when the whole world is coalescing behind the education, health and human rights of the world’s women and girls. What irony!

Blood for oil

Nearing the one-year anniversary of the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers, Daniel J. Weiss writes for Grist:

The toll of fossil fuels on human health and the environment is well documented. But our dependence on fossil fuels exacts a very high price on the people who extract or process these fuels. Every year, some men and women who toil in our nation's coal mines, natural gas fields, and oil rigs and refineries lose their lives or suffer from major injuries to provide the fossil fuels that drive our economy.

Oil rigs are just one of many dangerous places to work in the fossil fuel industry, Weiss notes. Last year, an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia killed 29 workers. Nearly 4,000 U.S. miners have been killed on the job since 1968.

Natural gas has a cleaner image than coal, but natural gas pipelines are also plagued by high rates of death and injury--892 natural gas workers have been killed on the job and 6,258 have been injured since 1970.

Cheers!

Ashley Hunter of Campus Progress brings you an exciting roundup of the news you need about college and alcohol, just in time for Spring Break. In an attempt to discourage rowdy off-campus partying, the College of the Holy Cross is encouraging its students to drink on campus by keeping the campus pub open later and allowing students under 21 inside as long as they wear different colored wrist bands to show they are too young to be served alcohol.

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.

 

 

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Government Service: Is the Pig Really So Fat?

In times of economic stress, government employees are heavily scrutinized, just as many people in the private sector are. But sacrificing a person’s job on a bean-counters’ altar should be the course of last resort, not the first, and not based on the fact employees belong to a union. However, as the scrutiny goes up, so do many of the famous myths of the “easy” life as a government employee.

Many believe unions bear the bulk of the problem regardless of the fact that some employees can’t strike. A union without the prospect of a strike, is pretty toothless. I believe I can speak with some authority on the issue because I was once a federal worker.

In my unionized shop, pay rates weren’t set by collective bargaining. The feds set them by comparisons with “equal” private sector jobs. I was a fully licensed aircraft mechanic. I rebuilt state of the art Navy F-14 fighters, engines, and components. My “equivalents” were unlicensed, low-skilled, and low-compensation floor workers at a local Mrs. Smith pie bakery. At the time, salaries for private sector aircraft mechanics were about 3X what the Apple Dumpling Gang got.

And fabulous benefits? Boy howdy! New workers received 1 week of vacation at the end of their first year. If illness or family emergencies left you short of time for the mandatory “vacation”,  you paid for the time you “wasted”.

In the Shallow End of the Social Security Pool
At the time, there was a de rigueur defined benefit pension similar to the private sector’s. During a hiatus in my government service, the pensions died and replaced by Social Security without benefit of a 401k style plan. Although I was grandfathered under the old pension system, the government required me to pay the equivalent amount of Social Security paid during my hiatus. Fair enough, but they’d only take a lump-sum payment and if you couldn’t pay that you went straight to the shallow end of the Social Security pool.

Health insurance? Proportionally, I paid far more for roughly equal insurance than I do today. So much in fact, I had enter the private sector when I got married because we couldn’t afford the insurance on a pie maker’s salary.

But perhaps the biggest issue was the work conditions. And even there, the union didn’t hold much sway. Employees were routinely subjected to treatment that would’ve guaranteed strikes, or big lawsuits, in the private sector.

For example, management removed doors from toilet stalls so they could see anyone with an unusual number of bouts with the squitters. In some shops, employees had to raise their hands and ask permission to take a dump like a third grader. Managers also attached magnets to bits of string and randomly tossed them onto people’s shoes to make sure they were steel-toed. But the last indignity was downright dangerous working conditions.

I worked mandatory 10-12 hour shifts, including many Saturdays, for months on end. My shop was a non-air conditioned, poorly ventilated room with outside temperatures running in the upper 90s and live steam pipes running under the floor. The average summertime temperature in the room averaged about 120 degrees. The government’s method for stemming the number of heat-related injuries was to offer salt pills served in open buckets.

We also inhaled atomized heptane and Freon. We were protected from the heptane only by an unsealed plastic baggy over the equipment and our skin with nothing at all (including gloves). Although told we needed no safety equipment, hazmat workers pumped out the waste tanks wearing full protective gear and oxygen masks (not simply respirators).

In the end, the union had no real effect on pay or any of these bizarre workplace rules.

American Jobs Fly Away
Eventually, I left government for the private sector. It was a good thing too. All but one of the Navy’s similar facilities closed shortly after I left and the work turned over to private companies. Oh, and maintenance for those F-14s? Much of it went off shore, leaving a potential wartime capability gap while exposing high-tech airplanes to easier espionage attempts. The decision lost tens of thousands of American jobs too. And unions? They couldn’t do a thing about it.

Yes, my government service was long ago. I’m sure much has changed, but the union wasn’t the sole problem then and it’s not the whole problem now. It’s a mistake to think every government worker lives in the lap of luxury or that mean unions harass and stymie the government at every turn.

Government workers are like workers in the private sector. They work hard. They sometimes put up with squalid work conditions and bad management.  They find themselves increasingly ill-equipped to live the middle class American dream, because the dream costs money. They understandably want to keep theirs – just as non-unionized workers aren’t flocking to front offices to voluntarily sacrifice their jobs to a CEO with bulging pockets who screws not only the taxpayers, but the workers as well.

I approve of examining spending cuts – clearly we need some. But, I’d also ask that the examination not be run by those with far better compensation and agendas far beyond rational budget cutting. I want a fair assessment, built on truth and honesty, by people who don’t have unreasonable demands and minds made up before they even look at things. I expect unions to recognize the challenges of deficit spending too. And if we need layoffs, we shouldn’t carry them out with a crude butcher knife in place of a good, sharp scalpel.

To do otherwise isn’t good for workers or the country.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

Government Service: Is the Pig Really So Fat?

In times of economic stress, government employees are heavily scrutinized, just as many people in the private sector are. But sacrificing a person’s job on a bean-counters’ altar should be the course of last resort, not the first, and not based on the fact employees belong to a union. However, as the scrutiny goes up, so do many of the famous myths of the “easy” life as a government employee.

Many believe unions bear the bulk of the problem regardless of the fact that some employees can’t strike. A union without the prospect of a strike, is pretty toothless. I believe I can speak with some authority on the issue because I was once a federal worker.

In my unionized shop, pay rates weren’t set by collective bargaining. The feds set them by comparisons with “equal” private sector jobs. I was a fully licensed aircraft mechanic. I rebuilt state of the art Navy F-14 fighters, engines, and components. My “equivalents” were unlicensed, low-skilled, and low-compensation floor workers at a local Mrs. Smith pie bakery. At the time, salaries for private sector aircraft mechanics were about 3X what the Apple Dumpling Gang got.

And fabulous benefits? Boy howdy! New workers received 1 week of vacation at the end of their first year. If illness or family emergencies left you short of time for the mandatory “vacation”,  you paid for the time you “wasted”.

In the Shallow End of the Social Security Pool
At the time, there was a de rigueur defined benefit pension similar to the private sector’s. During a hiatus in my government service, the pensions died and replaced by Social Security without benefit of a 401k style plan. Although I was grandfathered under the old pension system, the government required me to pay the equivalent amount of Social Security paid during my hiatus. Fair enough, but they’d only take a lump-sum payment and if you couldn’t pay that you went straight to the shallow end of the Social Security pool.

Health insurance? Proportionally, I paid far more for roughly equal insurance than I do today. So much in fact, I had enter the private sector when I got married because we couldn’t afford the insurance on a pie maker’s salary.

But perhaps the biggest issue was the work conditions. And even there, the union didn’t hold much sway. Employees were routinely subjected to treatment that would’ve guaranteed strikes, or big lawsuits, in the private sector.

For example, management removed doors from toilet stalls so they could see anyone with an unusual number of bouts with the squitters. In some shops, employees had to raise their hands and ask permission to take a dump like a third grader. Managers also attached magnets to bits of string and randomly tossed them onto people’s shoes to make sure they were steel-toed. But the last indignity was downright dangerous working conditions.

I worked mandatory 10-12 hour shifts, including many Saturdays, for months on end. My shop was a non-air conditioned, poorly ventilated room with outside temperatures running in the upper 90s and live steam pipes running under the floor. The average summertime temperature in the room averaged about 120 degrees. The government’s method for stemming the number of heat-related injuries was to offer salt pills served in open buckets.

We also inhaled atomized heptane and Freon. We were protected from the heptane only by an unsealed plastic baggy over the equipment and our skin with nothing at all (including gloves). Although told we needed no safety equipment, hazmat workers pumped out the waste tanks wearing full protective gear and oxygen masks (not simply respirators).

In the end, the union had no real effect on pay or any of these bizarre workplace rules.

American Jobs Fly Away
Eventually, I left government for the private sector. It was a good thing too. All but one of the Navy’s similar facilities closed shortly after I left and the work turned over to private companies. Oh, and maintenance for those F-14s? Much of it went off shore, leaving a potential wartime capability gap while exposing high-tech airplanes to easier espionage attempts. The decision lost tens of thousands of American jobs too. And unions? They couldn’t do a thing about it.

Yes, my government service was long ago. I’m sure much has changed, but the union wasn’t the sole problem then and it’s not the whole problem now. It’s a mistake to think every government worker lives in the lap of luxury or that mean unions harass and stymie the government at every turn.

Government workers are like workers in the private sector. They work hard. They sometimes put up with squalid work conditions and bad management.  They find themselves increasingly ill-equipped to live the middle class American dream, because the dream costs money. They understandably want to keep theirs – just as non-unionized workers aren’t flocking to front offices to voluntarily sacrifice their jobs to a CEO with bulging pockets who screws not only the taxpayers, but the workers as well.

I approve of examining spending cuts – clearly we need some. But, I’d also ask that the examination not be run by those with far better compensation and agendas far beyond rational budget cutting. I want a fair assessment, built on truth and honesty, by people who don’t have unreasonable demands and minds made up before they even look at things. I expect unions to recognize the challenges of deficit spending too. And if we need layoffs, we shouldn’t carry them out with a crude butcher knife in place of a good, sharp scalpel.

To do otherwise isn’t good for workers or the country.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

Weekly Pulse: Paul Ryan’s Medicare Swindle

 


By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Robert Parry in In These Times examines how Paul Ryan’s budget test would turn healthcare for the elderly into one big free-market death panel.

Ryan’s plan privatizes Medicare, replacing it with premium support for insurance companies. That means the government would kick in a fixed amount of money towards insurance premiums for Americans over age 65. Ryan also wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which requires insurers to cover people with preexisting conditions. Ryan’s plan doesn’t guarantee that Americans over 65 could get insurance in the first place. Even if they could find an insurer willing to take them, there is no reason to believe that premium support would cover more than part of the cost.

Maybe the plan is to save money by pricing most seniors out of health insurance entirely. If you can’t get insurance in the first place, you don’t qualify for premium support.

Mitt Romney and health care

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney kicked off the exploratory phase of his campaign this week, Lynda Waddington reports in the Iowa Independent. Ironically, this prospective frontrunner is best known for bringing Obama-style health care reform to Massachusetts.

Aswini Anburajan of TAPPED wonders whether Romney’s record on health care will hurt him in the primary. Repealing health care reform is one of the major themes for the Republican Party, and Romney is the architect of a similar system. However, Anburajan notes, campaigning to all but abolish Medicare hasn’t hurt GOP Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s political status, even though seniors are a big part of the GOP base..

Part of the reason why Ryan hasn’t felt a backlash from seniors is that his plan preserves Medicare for people who are currently over 55 and will only decimate the program for younger people.

Demonizing pregnant users

At RH Reality Check, Lynn Paltrow takes the New York Times to task for a sensationalized story about children born to women who are dependent upon prescription painkillers. Paltrow notes that the same alarmist language was used to hype a non-existent epidemic of crack babies in the 1980s. The evidence suggests that the impact of drug use during pregnancy on the developing fetus is relatively minor compared to the effects of other factors that are correlated with drug use, such as poverty, poor nutrition, and lack of prenatal care.

If we assume there’s a clear causal relationships between using drugs and hurting babies, it’s easier to lay all the blame on the mother. The truth, Paltrow argues, is much more complicated. Drug use is just part of a constellation of unhealthy factors that conspire to give the children of poor and marginalized women a worse start in life.

Positing a distinct syndrome caused by drug abuse is often a first step towards stigmatizing, and even criminalizing, poor women who give birth to sick children.

Hungry women and children

Speaking of threats to the health of poor women and their children, the new budget deal slashes $500 million from nutrition programs, with the Women Infants and Children (WIC) food support program at the USDA taking the hardest hit, Tom Laskawy reports for Grist.

If you get your meals through an umbilical cord, the Republicans want to protect you; but if you have to eat groceries, you’re on your own.

Big Pharma hikes HIV drug prices

Elizabeth Lombino at Change.org reports that more than 8,000 people nationwide are on the waiting list for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), a government program that helps poor people living with HIV/AIDS pay for medications. Lombino notes that even as the ranks of patients who can’t cover their drugs continues to swell, pharmaceutical companies continue to raise their prices. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is calling upon pharmaceutical companies to lower prices to help grapple with what has come to be known as the ADAP crisis. So far, it’s been to little effect.

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.

 

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.

 

 

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