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Meaningful healthcare reform is within our grasp!

Posted on October 27th, 2009 in Health,Politics by Robert Miller

Now that Harry Reid has agreed to bring the public option plan to the Senate floor for a vote, we still have hurdles to overcome to get a meaningful bill passed through Congress. Reid’s choice to bring the public option plan forward as part of the Senate bill, means that this will be a Democrat-only bill, with probably every Republican opposed to it. We will need all 60 Democrats to get the bill to the floor for a vote, after which, we will need only a majority to get it passed. As Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under Clinton now advocates, the time to push even harder for a meaningful bill has arrived. Relaxing at this point will be fatal. As he points out in his video, an email is good, a phone call is better, a personal letter is better still and a personal visit to the office of your Senators and Representatives is the best of all.

This week, I am headed for Washington DC and plan to meet with members of the congressional delegation from Minnesota, or with as many as I can. Although the focus of my meeting will be primarily on congressional support for research, I plan to emphasize the importance of a strong public option and how much national expectation their is for such a solution. Right now the states “opting-out” option that will be attached to the bill is cloaked in mystery and obfuscation. But, who knows, maybe we can start chiseling on Mount Rushmore after all (if Obama takes the public option and runs with it). It would be nice if Obama finally put some of his personal capital on the line for a good public option plan–one that truly gives us meaningful healthcare reform.

Let’s remember one feature of this historic vote that we should not be afraid to embark on: those Democrats who vote for a strong public option, and will run again in 2010, will need our support for the election next year, because they probably will receive strong opposition from corporatist-sponsored candidates. As a result, we need to make sure they are identified and supported on an internet donation scale that puts what we did for Obama in second place, right behind what we will do for all those candidates who voted with us. We will need a powerful demonstration that we take care of our own! But, that’s all about tomorrow. Let’s think about today!


The high price and the deep hole of torture

Posted on October 25th, 2009 in Culture,Politics,War by Robert Miller

When George W. Bush and Tony Blair declared the “war on terror,” it gave the green light to all despotic regimes to increase the level of torture they applied to their own citizens and encouraged all other nations to adopt torture techniques as proven methods for increasing the security of their own country. As we started using torture on a grand scale, we provided the permissive cover for every other country to look at torture quite differently. Those that were already well versed in torture techniques had the green light to do more of the same and the countries that did so, were rewarded as recipients of our “rendered captives.” In the process of developing our own torture methods, we have encouraged the rest of the world to join us in sliding down the slippery slope of torture techniques, often applied indiscriminately to people whose only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, more importantly, torture has now become an approved method for going after your political opponents and that is what happened in many countries, including Uzbekistan. This deep look into the abyss of torture continues, as our own ex-Vice-President Cheney still extols the virtues of torture as a productive technique that has saved American lives, despite the complete lack of evidence that favors such an interpretation and despite the fact that experts in this field claim that torture merely brings out answers from those tortured that have no value, except for that of stopping the torture.

The coming crescendo of health care reform

Posted on October 24th, 2009 in Health,Politics by Robert Miller

Now that all five of the healthcare bills in Congress have come out of their respective committees, dramatic alignments and re-alignments are taking place over the public option. Nancy Pelosi claims to have the votes in the House to pass a public option bill, but what kind of option will that be? Hopefully one strong enough to give every private health insurance company competition for those already signed up through their place of employment. The behavior of the insurance industry over the past week, with their report predicting large premium increases, even with the Baucus plan, has angered Congress; they are now threatening to remove the antitrust immunity that was given to them decades earlier.

Health care benefits are evaporating before our eyes as co-pays increase and benefits dwindle: this is true whether you live in a state that allows for-profit health insurance companies to operate, or one, such as Minnesota, that does not. Physicians who have worked in both for-profit and non-profit companies have told me there is very little difference between the two–it’s just a matter of whether the profits go to shareholders and executives or executives only–a profit motive exists for both kinds of insurance companies and abuse is commonplace.
Only in the state of California do the health insurance companies have to reveal their claims denial rates and in the first six months of this year three of the six largest health insurance companies in California reported 30% denial rates. If people are going to shop for their own health insurance through the new healthcare reform plan, they will surely want to know the denial rates for coverage, something only available in California. In other states they refuse to reveal denial rates. Another bad mark for private insurance companies.
As the anger towards insurance companies grows, on the Senate side, Majority Leader Harry Reid was, at one time, perfectly content to let the Baucus bill become the Gold Standard for the Senate healthcare bill. This meant that, to insure 60 votes to prevent a possible GOP filibuster, he needed Olympia Snowe’s (Maine Senator) vote and, in effect, this meant that she was writing the Senate Healthcare bill. Her preference is the “trigger” mechanism in which a public option would trigger in only if private health insurers failed to insure the majority of Americans. All of us know that such a mechanism will never reach threshold because it will be politically determined and the health insurance companies will learn how to asymptotically approach the trigger threshold without ever reaching it. Snowe is naive about health insurance companies and the power of their lobbying system (or perhaps not). But Snowe has cast some doubt as to her final vote on any bill with a public option; more to the point, she has threatened to filibuster any health care plan that includes a public option. It is unclear what the White House is willing to support, as two interpretations emerged from a meeting this week with Senate leaders. But with Snowe’s announced filibuster threat, the White House seems likely to jump on board a stronger public option plan and many in the Senate are claiming they have 60 votes without Snowe to prevent a filibuster. Olympia Snowe cannot filibuster without at least one Democrat switching over, and, unfortunately, there are several conservative Democrats that are suspect traitors. But, as Howard Dean points out on the Rachel Maddow show, though some conservative Democrats may vote against the bill, it is traditional that party lines are adhered to when dealing with procedural issues. Thus, though only a single Democrat could sink the bill by allowing a filibuster to take place, tradition dictates that such a move would seriously undermine the Democratic Party and its leadership, rendering a severe blow to Harry Reid. Conservative Democrats that are unlikely to vote for a public option bill, have stated that they will not vote for a filibuster. So, right now, today or perhaps yesterday,  it looks as though things are not moving in a direction favorable to the health insurance industry or the Republicans. Olympia Snowe comes from the 40th most populous state and it looks like her supremacy in leading healthcare reform was alive for about one day until she announced she would opt for a filibuster if a public option was part of the bill. Hello and goodbye Olympia and good riddance!

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