US Healthcare Update

Overnight, the Senate defeated the Affordable Care Act repeal bills. It wasn’t pretty, with 49 Senators willing to take health insurance away from millions of Americans, but 51 Senators stood up for us.

Now, we need Congressmembers from across the spectrum to engage with each other to craft legislation that improves and expands the Affordable Care Act so that everyone has access to affordable, quality health care. There are already some bill drafts that do that available as a starting point.

Let’s go.

Open letter to Congressional Republicans

Dear Republican Members of Congress,

During the Independence Day recess, please reflect on the the Preamble to the Constitution.

How well do you think you are carrying out the tasks that “We the People” have set before you?

You are in Congress to represent all of us, from my newborn granddaughter to the 108-year-old neighbor of my parents.

You do not just represent other Republicans.

Or people who voted for you.

Or your party apparatus.

Or your political donors.

“…in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

Other than the common defense, these goals are mired in either inaction or regression.

Exhibit A is your attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act which would increase the number of uninsured, decrease coverage, raise premiums and deductibles dramatically for older adults, force small rural hospitals and hospitals and nursing homes that treat large numbers of lower income folks into bankruptcy, and squeeze spending on Medicaid which pays for health care for those living in poverty, people with disabling conditions, and long-term care for the elderly and ill.

It does not “promote the general Welfare.”

It is opposed by a large majority of “We the People of the United States” whom you are supposed to be representing.

Even worse, you are trying to pass it under budgetary rules, making spending cuts that will hurt millions of Americans in order to give a large tax break to the wealthiest taxpayers. And, by the way, precluding the possibility of a filibuster in the Senate.

You have also used a totally anomalous process to create this legislation, forgoing the usual months of committee hearings, expert testimony, public discussion, revision, and amendments. And you seem to have forgotten that the Affordable Care Act followed that regular order process and that the final bill included Republican amendments and met the threshold of sixty votes in the Senate.

Your excuse that you have to adjust to being a governing majority party is disturbing. You have been in the majority in Congress for years, but instead of crafting legislation that would serve the American people, pass in both the House and Senate, and be signed by the President, you chose partisanship over actual governing, eschewing the tradition of other Congresses where the majority party was not the party of the president.

You have proved in the last few months that you can’t even govern with a president from your own party, albeit a president, who, as a candidate, campaigned against much of the Congressional Washington agenda, and who, as president, sends mixed signals of his priorities and opinions.

We the People deserve better.

During your Independence Day recess, I call on you to reflect on your duty to the American people and return to Washington ready to serve all the people in a way that really does “promote the general Welfare.”

Sincerely yours,
Joanne Corey
July 4, 2017

Senate shenanigans

While we have been dealing with our own family health issues, I have also been keeping my eye on the sorry spectacle unfolding in Congress.

Last week, the Senate Republicans made public their version of a health care bill to replace the Affordable Care Act. It was drafted by a small group of the most conservative male red-state Republican Senators, without hearings, public debate, the input of health care experts, and contributions of the other 87 Senators, who are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.

The bill would cut Medicaid over time, raise deductibles, decrease the comprehensive nature of insurance, increase premiums, make insurance unaffordable for millions of people, and give massive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.  It faces major opposition from doctors, nurses, hospitals, insurers, public health organizations and advocates, and the general public.

Still, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans a vote on the bill this week. It seems that the main reason is to have the first major piece of legislation enacted in the new administration, not to actually improve medical care access or affordability for the American people.

One of the things that has been most annoying is the Republican members of Congress and some pundits and reporters who equate the current process on this healthcare bill to the process that produced the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act was passed after almost a year of public discussion, numerous Congressional committee hearings, expert testimony, amendments from both Democrats and Republicans, Congressional debate, floor votes, the creation of a bill to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions, and a final round of voting with met the 60 vote total in the Senate to avoid filibuster.

Contrast this with the current Republican bill, which was written behind closed doors by a small group of Republicans. There are no hearings, plans for only limited debate, and the invocation of budget bill rules which make it impossible to filibuster.

There are two Republican Senators who are opposing the bill because it will hurt their constituents and other Americans. Four other Senators oppose it as not conservative enough. After the Congressional Budget Office analysis came out yesterday, with projections of 22 million people losing coverage and costs skyrocketing especially for those with low incomes and those who are in their late fifties to mid-sixties. there is hope that Senator McConnell will pull the bill or, at least, slow down the process to allow for more debate and revision and to put the bill under regular order instead of trying to reform healthcare through the budget process.

Many of us are inundating our Senators with pleas to protect and improve our healthcare. We’ll see if they listen.

Eighth anniversary of the ACA shootings

Three years ago, I wrote the post below. Sadly, it is even more relevant today on the eighth anniversary, with so many expressing animus against immigrants and refugees in the United States and in Europe. Here in the Binghamton, New York area, ACA stands for not only the Affordable Care Act but also the American Civic Association. Today, we remember in a special way all those who died or who were injured that day and re-commit to welcoming immigrants and refugees to our communities.

Fifth Anniversary of the ACA shootings

Last night, when the news broke about the shooting at Fort Hood, the first thought many people had was “not again.” Not again at Fort  Hood, and not again in general.

The timing was especially poignant for those of us in the Binghamton NY area, because today marks the fifth anniversary of the American Civic Association shootings, in which fourteen people died, including the mentally ill gunman, and four were wounded.

Despite the tragic loss of life, the ACA shooting is usually not present in the list of mass shootings that gets recited in the media when the next horrible shooting comes along. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Aurora. Newtown. Fort Hood.

I am not saying that we should not be remembering these other mass shootings. We should, and we should be doing more to avert similar deaths and injuries in the future.

What I do find disturbing is that so many have forgotten about the ACA tragedy. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why.

I am afraid that the primary reason is that the gunman and most of the dead were immigrants. Most of them were gathered in one of the American Civic Association’s classrooms, taking a class to improve their English skills, when they were shot. They were from Vietnam, China, Pakistan, Iraq, Haiti, Brazil, The Philippines. Two were in Binghamton as visiting scholars. Others had been resettled in the area as refugees. The ACA is well-known in the area as a gathering place for immigrants to study English or prepare for citizenship tests. Several of those who were shot were employees or volunteers who had embraced this important mission. Somehow, though nearly all of us in the United States are descended from immigrants or are immigrants ourselves, the story of the ACA shootings did not embed itself into our minds as have some of the other tragedies that took place in schools or other public settings. I’m sorry to say that I think people see themselves or their grand/children as being just like those gathered in an elementary school or at a movie theater, but that they don’t see themselves as people from a different country, with a different skin color, speaking with an accent, working toward citizenship.

Five years on, I don’t want these people to have been forgotten. I want them to be remembered – and to be remembered as neighbors, as members of our community, as people like us.

 

US health care update

While I write about US political issues sometimes, I haven’t been recently, not because there hasn’t been a lot to write about, but because there has been too much – and not enough time, as I have been dealing with multiple family health issues.

I can’t bring myself to try to elucidate the increasingly alarming tangle of DT’s campaign, transition, and administration with Russian government and oligarchs, Cypriot banks, Turkey, surveillance, investigations, and the firing of justice officials, but I do want to comment on the failure of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal.

The ACA has been an important law that has had a positive effect on my family and on many millions of Americans. We have all benefited from provisions that all insurance cover a suite of important health care provisions without deductible and copayments, that there be no annual or lifetime caps on coverage, and that pre-existing conditions must be covered. While premiums have increased as projected, the rate of increase has been lower than in the years before the ACA and the subsidies based on income have kept pace with the premium increases to keep insurance affordable for most people.

There have been some problems, the biggest being the gap caused when some states chose not to expand Medicaid eligibility as designed in the original legislation, a provision that was overturned by the Supreme Court. This left low-income folks in those states without a path to get subsidies for their insurance.

If Congress had been functional, the ACA would have been amended to deal with the various problems and to enhance the programs for the benefit of the public, as happened with other large programs, such as Social Security.

However, Congress has not been functional for years. The Republican leadership has refused to bring bipartisan legislation up for a vote, deciding that the ACA should be repealed in its entirety. Instead of enacting fixes and enhancements, the House voted dozens of times to repeal the ACA, a meaningless gesture as it would not pass the Senate and be signed by the President.

With DT’s inauguration and the Republicans in the majority in both houses of Congress, many of us feared that the ACA would be repealed and a more expensive and less extensive health care insurance program be put in its place.

The bill that was proposed was even worse than we had feared, with projections that 24 million people would lose insurance coverage, even more than were without coverage before the ACA.

And then it got worse, due to wrangling among the Republicans. Even the essential benefits were put on the chopping block.

The people had not been silent during this whole debate. Congressional offices, which had already been flooded with calls, visits, town hall attendance, emails, letters, faxes, postcards, and the occasional delivery of pizza or baked goods with a message attached, experienced even higher volumes of contact, with pro-ACA messages outnumbering repeal/replace messages by margins of hundreds or thousands to one.

DT got involved, pressuring House members to vote yes. The vote, scheduled for Thursday, which was the seventh anniversary of the signing of the ACA by President Obama, was postponed until Friday morning, then Friday afternoon.

Then, at the time it was supposed to begin the voting process, the announcement came that the bill had been pulled.

There was a huge sigh of relief.

And a cloud of uncertainty.

The best outcome at this point would be for Congressional committees to consult with health care providers and policy experts to craft repairs and enhancements for the ACA to benefit public health and well-being and to pass those amendments into law.

Which many of us have been advocating for years.

Maybe the Republicans will finally cooperate in this process.

We, the people, will continue to demand that they do.

 

Another Congressional office visit goes awry

On February 21st, I wrote about going to Representative Claudia Tenney’s new Binghamton office to deliver my message about health care, which involved my sliding my message under her locked door.

Representative Tenney has refused repeated invitations to meet with constituents and to attend town hall meetings on this topic, so there was a planned event near her office this morning to try again to get our message to her.

I arrived early and met up with several people in the hall outside her office. The office door was locked, but there was a doorbell and people, presumably staff, were arriving and being let in.

To our surprise, Rep. Tenney herself appeared, hurried past us, and tried to open the locked door, before a staffer arrived to let her in. She did not acknowledge that there were constituents of hers standing there with our signs about saving our health care.

Word got to us that a larger group had gathered down in the first floor atrium, so we went to join them, just as they were being re-located to the outdoors, with temperatures in the teens Fahrenheit.

But, we, the people, are intrepid and would not be silenced!  We had our signs, some media coverage, leadership from Citizen Action, and a portable sound system. People were sharing stories about how the Affordable Care Act had helped them and what it would mean to their health and their lives to lose the health insurance and medical care access they had gained through the ACA, detailing specific problems with the current House Republican bills dealing with health care, and writing messages to deliver to Tenney’s office (despite it being so cold that our pens weren’t working). We were supposed to be able to deliver messages to the office in groups no larger than three people.

When I went back into the building to warm up, one of the longtime leaders in the Catholic social justice community was on her way to the office, so I joined her. While we were still in the hallway, a woman who was with the management of the building met us, saying that Representative Tenney was no longer accepting visitors to her office, that she did not want us there, and that she was calling the police so that we could not gather outside the building, either. (She also told us that Representative Tenney was in Washington, which was odd as it certainly looked like her entering the office an hour earlier and we had thought that the official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the office was scheduled for today.)

We went back outside and stood our ground. We thought that the entrance plaza where we were gathered was public property and we were not blocking the entrance to the building, so we were within our rights of assembly, freedom of speech, and petition. Two police officers arrived, spoke to a couple of people from our group, and confirmed that we were fine to continue as we were.

Rep. Tenney is apparently not very familiar with the law.

By trying to silence us, she actually gave us an even stronger voice for our message as the rally went on longer than anticipated and will draw more media attention.

She also did not endear herself to the other tenants in the building because she had the management lock the main doors into the building, presumably to keep her constituents at bay. I’m sure the other offices, including the Chamber of Commerce, were not amused about the inconvenience to their clients.

So, Representative Tenney, I ask you once again to vote against any repeal of the Affordable Care Act and to take action to enhance the ACA by permanently securing Medicaid expansion in all states, by making a public option available to everyone, and by negotiating drug prices for Medicare and other public programs so that medications become more affordable.

My thanks to my fellow protesters, the great people of Citizen Action, the Binghamton police officers, and the kind people of Bistro 163, the new coffee shop and boutique that is tucked next to Metrocenter who gave us free coffee and a place to warm up.

And Representative Tenney, you will be hearing more from us, your constituents, on health care and many other vital issues.

a visit to a congressional office (door)

I had wanted to write last week about political developments, including the resignation of DT’s national security adviser, the failure of Republican leaders in Congress to step up to investigate the relationship between DT’s campaign/administration and Russia, the confirmation of Scott Pruitt as EPA chief, and DT’s bizarre press conference and continued attacks on the free press, which should be guaranteed by the US Constitution.

I couldn’t muster the energy to do it.

This morning, I attended a monthly meeting of the Catholic Peace Community, where we discussed a community health care town hall being held this evening. Our member of Congress has been invited to attend, but there has been no indication that she will do so.

She is a Tea Party Republican and wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act. I had already written to her about the ACA, asking that it be retained and improved, not repealed. Her reply to my letter was somewhat disingenuous, faulting the ACA for not solving problems that it was not designed to solve in the first place.  She also did not give concrete ideas on how a replacement plan would work.

Before the meeting, I had seen a post on Facebook about the town hall which gave the location of her new local office, which I shared with the people at the meeting. After we finished, I proceeded downtown to the new office, to ask that the Representative attend the town hall and to share my further thoughts on health care.

It was a bit difficult to locate the office. There was no listing on the directory, no arrow pointing down the appropriate hallway, and no sign on the door, although I knew it was the right place because there was a Congressional seal on the wall beyond the glass door.

The lights were on, but the door was locked.

Not having any idea how long it would be before someone returned and not wanting to waste a visit, I found a bench, pulled out some paper from my pocketbook, and composed a several-paragraph-long note.

I walked back to the office and slipped my note under the still-locked door.

When I returned home, there was a phone message from one of the staff members, so at least I know that my message was received.

Whether it, along with the opinions of many, many others in our district, has any impact on her Congressional votes remains to be seen.