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.

Plan C? Seriously?

Last night, more Republican Senators made it clear that they would not vote to open debate on the latest version of the health care bill.

Within a couple of hours, Majority Leader McConnell announced that he would bring up a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but delay its taking effect for two years, during which time the Congress would need to pass a replacement plan for the president to sign.

This is a bad idea.

The last time the Congress tried something similar was during a budget impasse. They put in place a sequester program that capped budget allocations for both discretionary and defense spending. The theory was that both parties would want to cooperate so they could allocate more money for their budget priorities. The reality was that no agreement was reached and there were some years that Congress didn’t even pass its appropriations bills, but used a series of continuing resolutions to fund the various departments.

This does not give high confidence that Congress would pass a replacement bill before the deadline.

Insurance companies and health care facilities are upset because this would create so much uncertainty for them.

The general public is concerned because the repeal is expected to immediately raise premiums and reduce the number of people who can afford insurance.

There are senators across the political spectrum calling for a new process to begin, involving input from all senators, along with public health professionals and the public, to craft health care reforms that will increase the availability and affordability of health care.

I hope that Senator McConnell will choose to engage in this more cooperative process which is in line with the way the Senate has traditionally operated.

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.

SoCS: US news

All or nothing tends to be the reaction to watching news coverage in the US these days.

Either people are glued to the breaking news and twists and turns of the current government or studiously avoiding the news.

One facebook friend was discussing this on her timeline this week. She is a “watcher.” She says it is like watching a train wreck; she can’t turn away.

Other friends, who used to watch the news on a regular basis, are taking a mental health break. They are avoiding the news because it is causing too much stress.

I am in the “watching” camp because I am trying to stay on top of developments so I can continue to write to elected officials on a variety of topics of concern. It is stressful, though, especially with the stresses of everyday life in addition.

Who knows? At some point, I may switch over to “nothing.”
*****
Join us for Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturdays! This week’s prompt was “all or nothing.” Details here:  https://lindaghill.com/2017/05/19/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-may-2017/

 

Coming home to Comey news

Because I was out yesterday evening at Bruce Borton’s retirement party, I was blissfully unaware of the news about the firing of FBI Director Comey for several hours until I returned home to hours of breaking news coverage.

In the United States, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is appointed and confirmed for a ten year term in order to insulate the FBI from political pressures. While one past director was removed after a lengthy review process for violating policy, this is the first time that an FBI director has been summarily fired with no notice.

The stated reason is that Director Comey violated policy by revealing information last July and subsequently about the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails. You can read the letter from the Deputy Attorney General here. I am not disputing that this was wrong. The irony is that Donald Trump touted Comey’s revelations on the campaign trail and paid him compliments on his bravery, all while his crowds were chanting, “Lock her up!” Are we really supposed to believe that the President fired Director Comey for behavior that he lauded for months?

Certainly, the timing and suddenness of the firing are suspicious. The administration did not even have the courage to fire Comey to his face. He literally saw the news on television before he was told.

My fear, which is shared by millions of Americans, is that Comey was fired in an attempt to derail the FBI investigation into Russian interference in US electoral process and governance. I have been alarmed about this for months now, and the alarm bells are ringing more loudly all the time.

I hope that there will be an independent commission to fully investigate this issue. The Congressional inquiries are hobbled by political divisions. The Attorney General has had to recuse himself, although he was also supposed to be recused about the Clinton email investigation but somehow was in on Comey’s firing over it. The future of the FBI investigation is now uncertain.

We deserve to know the truth about who was involved with Russian hacking and interference, either wittingly or unwittingly. Our national sovereignty and the integrity of our government are at stake.

Update on May 12, 2017:  The President said in an interview yesterday that he had already decided to fire Director Comey before meeting with the Justice Department officials, so the idea that he was being fired because of the Clinton investigation is bogus. Also, he said in the interview that the Russia investigation was connected to the Comey decision.

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.