Thursday, September 24, 2009

We Should All Stand Up For Insurance Companies

After all, Michigan Rep. Dave Camp is standing up for insurance companies and, along with fellow Republicans, has "mounted a ferocious defense of the market's right to continue burning through taxpayer dollars."

Camp is also standing up for the pharmaceutical/health products/health professionals industries that donated money to his campaign committee for 2009-2010 and 2007-2008.

If Camp is standing up for insurance companies, we should too. As this PSA relates, insurance company CEOs have the right to their American dream just like the rest of us. They've looked out for our best interests for so long and now we should look out for theirs.

Besides, what's so American about competition?

(Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Right-Wing Extremist Shapes Glenn Beck's Worldview

I wonder if the MI Chamber of Commerce knows this. According to TPM, a right-wing extremist heavily influences Glenn Beck. They point to a fascinating article in Salon which "reveals that a book by a Mormon "historian" deemed too extreme even by the modern conservative movement -- which argues that the U.S. constitution is based primarily on natural law -- has played a major role in Beck's "thinking.""
For several years, Beck has actively promoted "The 5000 Year Leap," by the late Cleon Skousen, on his radio and TV shows, and he recently wrote the foreword for a newly-released edition of the book, which was first published in 1981.
The Salon article describes Skousen as the man who changed Glenn Beck's life. They also described him as too extreme even for the conservative activists of the Goldwater era.

Who is Skousen? From the Salon article:
W. Cleon Skousen was not a historian so much as a player in the history of the American far right; less a scholar of the republic than a threat to it. At least, that was the judgment of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, which maintained a file on Skousen for years that eventually totaled some 2,000 pages. Before he died in 2006 at the age of 92, Skousen's own Mormon church publicly distanced itself from the foundation that Skousen founded and that has published previous editions of "The 5,000 Year Leap."
Skousen was admired by leaders of the John Birch Society and spoke at their events. He also authored "more than a dozen books and pamphlets on the Red Menace, New World Order conspiracy, Christian child rearing, and Mormon end-times prophecy."
It is a body of work that does much to explain Glenn Beck's bizarre conspiratorial mash-up of recent months, which decries a new darkness at noon and finds strange symbols carefully coded in the retired lobby art of Rockefeller Center. It also suggests that the modern base of the Republican Party is headed to a very strange place.
TPM added one other interesting note about Cleon Skousen: "As reader J.S. notes, Beck isn't the only conservative leader with a taste for Skousen. In 2007, then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney expressed his affinity for his fellow Mormon."

Republicans and organizations like the MICOC may want to reconsider their courting of these extremists and the people who promote them. They just may come to the same decision conservatives did in 1963, when they decided Skousen's extremism was too much. "No conservative organization with any mainstream credibility wanted anything to do with him."

(Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

Our Nation's Lost Decade

If you feel like a hamster on a wheel getting nowhere fast, there's an explanation for it according to this NYT's op-ed columnist.
For average Americans, the last 10 years were a lost decade. At the end of President George W. Bush’s eight years in office, American households had less money and less economic security, and fewer of them were covered by health care than 10 years earlier, the Census Bureau reported in its annual survey.

The poverty rate in 2008 rose to 13.2 percent, the highest in 11 years, while median household income fell to $50,303. Ten years earlier, adjusted for inflation, it was $51,295.
In fact, income for the median American household fell for the first time in four decades. The Great Recession gets some of the blame, but the decline started well before the housing and financial sectors collapsed.

Harvard economist Lawrence Katz explains what happened: "We had a plutocratic boom. Then we have egalitarian recessions. Taken together, only the top ends up growing, on average." And the top did very well indeed: "During the same period, the average income of the richest tenth of a percent increased by about $2 million, or about 35%." They can thank President Bush for his $1.3 trillion tax cuts.

How did average Americans fare? People in their prime earning years (age 45 to 54) took "the biggest hit in the last years of the Bush Administration, their median income fell by $5,000. And the region that suffered most — the South."

Income went down for all races, but "Hispanics experienced some of the biggest losses. Income declined 5.6 percent for Hispanic households, 4.4 percent for Asians, 2.8 percent for African American families and 2.6 percent for non-Hispanic whites. Hispanics and Asians also showed the biggest increases in poverty rates."

Poverty really hit children according to the EPI:
A Sept. 10 report from the Census Bureau shows that the child poverty rate rose to 19.0% in 2008, from 18% in 2007. That translates to 14.1 million children living in poverty in the richest nation on earth.

In 2008, more than one in three - 35.3% - of all people living in poverty were children. EPI projects that with the continuing deterioration in the labor market, by 2009 a quarter of all children in this country will be living in poverty and by 2010 the child poverty rate will be 26.6%.

This would represent an increase of 10.4 percentage points from 2000 to 2010 – truly a lost decade.
Speaking of the labor market, the Bush administration failed miserably on job creation according to Market Watch:
...the private sector didn't just lose jobs over the last month or the last year -- it's lost jobs over the last decade.

Yes, the very segment of the economy that was supposed to thrive under the Bush administration ended up with a net loss of 223,000 jobs since August 1999, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, the nation's population has grown by 33.5 million people.

That's the worst job-creating performance by the private sector since, you guessed it, the Great Depression.

On top of that, the government created 2.1 million jobs. Wait, you say -- isn't that a positive? Well, no, because it's the worst performance by the government over a 10-year period since the last major recession of the early 1990s.
And something bad happened to young workers over the past decade too:
Since 1999, more of them now have lower-paying jobs, if they can get a job at all; health care is a rare luxury and retirement security is something for their parents, not them. In fact, many—younger than 35—still live at home with their parents because they can’t afford to be on their own.
Heckuva job, President Bush. Heckuva job, Republicans. You get credit for our "lost decade" and we get to live with the results. Some deal.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Max Baucus Delivers - For the Insurance Industry

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus finally released his health care plan after months of haggling. I'm not too impressed, especially on the matter of affordability.
It would extend benefits to millions of people who are uninsured by broadly expanding Medicaid, the state-federal insurance program for the poor, and by offering subsidies to individuals and families with modest incomes to help them buy insurance.

The proposal would also set limits on out-of-pocket health care expenses. It would cap at 13 percent of household income — not including cost-sharing such as co-payments and deductibles — the cost of insurance premiums for middle-class Americans who just miss qualifying for the new government subsidies.

Starting in 2013, it would require nearly all Americans to obtain coverage or face a penalty of up to $3,800 a year for families.
Did the committee see this item in yesterday's USA Today?
An average family health insurance policy now costs more than some compact cars, and four in 10 companies will likely pass more of that expense on to workers, according to a closely watched survey of businesses released Tuesday.

The average cost of a family policy offered by employers was $13,375 this year, up 5% from 2008, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust survey found. By comparison, wages rose 3% over that period, the study said.
Or this information from Kaiser?
Let's do some very simple arithmetic. Start with a fairly conservative assumption: If we assume that premium increases over the next ten years will average what they did over the last five (about 6.1% per year), the average premium for a family policy in 2019 will be $24,180. That's a big number. On the other hand, if we assume increases revert to the average of the last ten years—an average annual increase of about 8.7% and a very plausible scenario—premiums in 2019 will average a whopping $30,803, a very scary number.
If my employer doesn't provide health insurance, I'd be better off paying the $3,800 penalty. No wonder Democrats and Republicans have raised all kinds of objections. In fact, Democrat Jay Rockefeller expressed very strong opposition to various features of the bill, including affordability, and he was supported by Yale Professor Jacob Hacker.
Have To Ensure That Coverage Is Affordable: Hacker pointed out a public option would save approximately $150 billion over 10 years and allow the government to invest those savings into better and stronger subsidies.
Hacker is the person widely credited with coming up with the idea for a public option. Did I mention Baucus's plan doesn't include one?
The Baucus plan calls for the creation of private, nonprofit health insurance cooperatives to compete with private insurers, a compromise aimed at bridging the gap between Democrats who want a government-run insurance plan and Republicans who adamantly oppose that idea.

As insurers, the cooperatives could offer their coverage plans on the exchanges.

And in a nod to the stiff Republican opposition, the proposal does not include a trigger calling for the creation of a public plan if the legislation fails to make affordable health insurance widely available, a compromise step that Mr. Obama has indicated he could accept.
No trigger. No public option. Unrealistic subsidies. This isn't reform. It's a handout to the insurance industry. That's not to say the public option is dead in the water.
Instead, Mr. Baucus seems to have left the public option to the alternate health care legislation developing in the House, where more liberal Democrats strongly support the idea and the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has called it crucial to getting a bill adopted in her chamber.
We really need Pelosi to deliver on the public option. The bottom line on affordability according to Ezra Klein is that the premium subsidies aren't where they need to be, but are pretty good, particularly for folks making up to 300 percent of the poverty line. However, ...
The question is what happens when you get sick. And the answer is pretty much that people making more than 200 percent of the poverty line will be less ruined than they'd be under current law, but still facing tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses a year.

Medical bankruptcy, in other words, isn't going away. One fairly dramatic way to think about this is that health-care costs are so high in this country that we can talk about spending almost $900 billion helping low-income Americans afford coverage and still be left with a situation where coverage is unaffordable and illness rips through a family's savings.
So after months of wrangling and innumerable compromises meant to attract Republican never existed support, this is what we get from the Finance Committee. Baucus isn't crying though. In fact, he's laughing all the way to the bank where he's depositing the $3 million he got from the insurance industry.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Protest Racism, Glenn Beck and the MI Chamber of Commerce

Today, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce is hosting keynote speaker Glenn Beck at their 2009 "Future Forum" even though 62 companies have withdrawn their ads from his show, and he's now lost over 50 percent of his ad dollars. Major corporations dropped Beck because his extremist views don't align with their values or corporate culture. Beck called our president a racist with a "deep-seated hatred of white people." (The president is working hard to provide health care to all Americans, regardless of color. What's so racist about that?)

I've been writing about Beck and the Chamber for several weeks now and it wasn't until today that the media reported on it. Kathy Barks Hoffman reported that the MSU College Democrats and other groups would be protesting at the East Lansing event tonight, and she quoted Progress Michigan as saying the visit "brings shame" to the state. Chamber President Rich Studley sees it differently.
Chamber President Rich Studley says his group has a tradition of inviting speakers from across the political and ideological spectrum.

State Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer spoke last year, and Democratic strategist James Carville has spoken in the past.

Studley says the dinner is all about "ideas and healthy debate."
I'm pretty sure Brewer and Carville have never called a president or Supreme Court Justice a racist, or prayed for a politician to burst into flames. Beck said all of those "healthy" things and then some.

The Chamber chose a keynote speaker known for his inflammatory, over-the-top, racist rhetoric to speak at a forum sponsored by businesses. Racism is unhealthy and businesses should be sending that message loud and clear, not promoting it by choosing a keynote speaker known for those sentiments.

Healthy is standing up to racism. Healthy is being strongly committed to diversity. This is what AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka said earlier this week at the AFL-CIO National Summit on Diversity in Pittsburgh:
The union movement is becoming more diverse and the new leadership of the AFL-CIO is committed to working harder to reach out to young workers, people of color, women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers...
And this is what voices across the union movement said:
...we as a union movement need to look out for justice and fairness for every worker—on the job, in the community and in the union structure itself.

That includes not just race and gender, but also national origin, ability, sexual orientation, age and gender identity. And it doesn’t just mean talking with workers from various backgrounds—it means making sure that the leadership and the decision makers in unions reflect the members they represent.
By inviting Glenn Beck to speak to Michigan's business community, the Chamber leadership sends the message that they don't have a problem with racism. That's wrong, and it's not healthy for our state.

The MSU Dems are asking people to join them in protesting Beck's appearance night. You can RSVP on their Facebook page or contact Mitchell Rivard, President of the MSU College Democrats, at (989) 450-2534 or Please consider joining them.

(Cross-posted at Blogging for Michigan.)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

More Advertisers Drop Glenn Beck; The MI Chamber of Commerce Stands by Their Man

Six new advertisers have pledged not to run ads on Glenn Beck's show, bringing the total to 62. today confirmed that six new companies whose ads aired recently during Fox News Channel's Glenn Beck program have pledged to not to run ads on the show going forward. The additions -- Aegon, Ashley Furniture, Humana, Luxottica Retail (retail parent of LensCrafters and Pearle Vision), United States Postal Service and Wyeth Consumer Healthcare -- bring the number of companies boycotting Glenn Beck to 62. launched its campaign against Beck last month after the Fox News Channel host called President Obama a "racist" who "has a deep-seated hatred for white people" during an appearance on Fox & Friends.
Advertisers may be withdrawing their support, but Glenn Beck's racist rants and fear-mongering haven't dissuaded the Michigan Chamber of Commerce from hosting him as their keynote speaker at the Chamber's annual "Future Forum," scheduled for Tuesday, September 15 at Michigan State University's Kellogg Center.

We've heard quite a bit from the MCoC in recent days - they've argued against Michigan tax increases and given their ideas on budget reform - but not a single word about Glenn's racist comments. Kraft Foods spoke out, and so did General Mills and Mercedes-Benz. His extremist views don't align with their values or corporate culture.

Beck's racist views shouldn't align with the MCoC's either. African-Americans comprise 14.2 percent of our state's population, and minorities represent nearly 20 percent overall. They deserve a business community that has their best interests in mind too, not just those of white people.

Michigan deserves a Chamber that doesn't alienate minorities either. We're trying to attract new businesses and jobs to the state, not chase them away, but that's essentially the message being sent across the country. Thinking of relocating to Michigan? Minorities not welcome.

(Cross-posted at Blogging for Michigan.)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

What About Tort Reform?

Tort reform is getting lots of attention. It was brought up at Gary Peters' and Pete Hoekstra's town hall meetings yesterday. I don't know what either gentleman said in response, but I hope they pointed out that in 2004 the Congressional Budget Office pegged the costs of malpractice lawsuits at less than 2 percent. They also noted that “even a reduction of 25 percent to 30 percent in malpractice costs would lower health care costs by only about 0.4 percent to 0.5 percent, and the likely effect on health insurance premiums would be comparably small.”

Small savings add up and shouldn't be discounted, but if a doctor mistakenly amputates your wrong leg that's life changing. How do you put a price tag on something so horrific? And don't believe the hype about frivolous lawsuits. Health Beat reports the following facts from a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“The great majority of patients who sustain a medical injury as a result of negligence do not sue.” Indeed, the New York Times reports, although “recent studies have found that one of every 100 hospital patients suffers negligent treatment, and that as many as 98,000 die each year as a result . . . only a small fraction of injured patients — perhaps 2 percent—press legal claims.
And it appears that doctors are paying high malpractice insurance rates in part because of a few bad apples:
“Just 1.1 percent of all doctors accounted for 30 percent of all malpractice payments made between 1990 and 2002, while only 5.2 percent of doctors were responsible for 55 percent of all payouts.” A very small group of doctors are losing or settling malpractice lawsuits, but they are losing big.

“Eighty percent of claims involved injuries that caused significant or major disability (39 percent and 15 percent, respectively) or death (26 percent).”
According to the Washington Independent, tort reform is unlikely to cut health care costs since studies show malpractice awards are not the big driver of skyrocketing costs, and Bloomberg reported that malpractice lawsuits are a red herring.
...annual jury awards and legal settlements involving doctors amounts to “a drop in the bucket” in a country that spends $2.3 trillion annually on health care, said Amitabh Chandra, a Harvard University economist. Chandra estimated the cost at $12 per person in the U.S.
Besides, as Barbara O'Brien of Mahablog blog points out, most tort laws are state laws, and tort reform is primarily a state-level issue; a great many of the "tort reforms" conservatives insist are necessary to bring down health care costs already have been enacted in most states, and in many states, malpractice suits have been significantly reduced; and the fact is, in recent years malpractice claims have dropped significantly, but health care costs continue to rise.

So why all the talk about tort reform? I suspect O'Brien hit on the real reason:
In the 1980s Karl Rove identified tort reform as a strategic wedge issue for Republicans, for two reasons. First, trial lawyers tend to be Democratic voters, and demonizing trial lawyers could help smear the Dems by association. Second, the industries pushing tort reform had a whole lot of money to give to campaigns.
Just once I wish Republicans would do what's best for people, not themselves or special interests. Tort reform may need to be tweaked at some point in the future, but our immediate need is to get people high-quality, affordable care while reforming the insurance industry. Enough with the misleading talk; it's time to take action.