Will Bingaman Support a Public Option?

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The Progressive Change Campaign Committee released a new ad today that calls out New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) and other Senate Democrats on campaign contributions they’ve received from the health and insurance industries. The Campaign is trying to put some pressure on the lawmakers to support a public-option in health-care reform legislation currently in Congress:

Well, popping over to Sen. Bingaman’s official site this afternoon, the first thing you see is a policy statement on, wait for it, health-care reform. Specifically, a public option:

Much attention has been given to whether the bill we send to the president should have a “public option.” I strongly support a public option.  The most critical elements of such a plan are that it would be established and overseen by the federal government, and made available to all Americans. The primary purpose of the public plan is to ensure that there is at least one option for Americans that is affordable and would provide meaningful care. By leveraging competition, a public plan would also safeguard against unscrupulous insurances practices.

Of course, the devil’s in the details, but if you like the idea of a public option you should head over to WeWantThePublicOption.com to register your support. And if you can find Sen. Tom Udall talking about a public option, let me know in comments.

Daddy knows best

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I saw Jenna Bush on the Today Show last week (it’s good background noise when I’m awake two hours earlier than I need to be) and she seemed a bright and well-reasoned young woman. Jenna was promoting her new book, Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope, and doing a bang up job of it.

This weekend, Dana Goldstein’s column in The American Prospect sheds some more insight into the contradiction that is Jenna Bush:

As her father threatens to veto the entire $34 billion 2008 foreign aid budget just because congressional Democrats have finally snuck in loopholes providing condoms and abortion services to women in the developing world, Jenna is on a nationwide book tour and media blitz, spreading the message that safe sex and education are some of the most important tools in fighting disease.

Did the apple really fall far from the tree?

Robbing the poor to give to the rich

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Or, as we here in the U.S. call it, Medicare:

Private insurance companies participating in Medicare have been allowed to keep tens of millions of dollars that should have gone to consumers, and the Bush administration did not properly audit the companies or try to recover money paid in error, Congressional investigators say in a new report.

That sort of behavior is, by now, to be expected from Bush & Co. the administration. However, the article goes on:

In separate action, the Bush administration is vigorously pursuing money that it says is owed to insurance companies by Medicare beneficiaries. The Medicare agency has sent letters to more than 135,000 people saying they still owe premiums for prescription drug coverage provided in 2006. In most cases, the premiums were supposed to have been withheld from monthly Social Security checks, but the government withheld the wrong amounts or nothing at all.

Kerry Weems, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said, “I am intently focused on this matter and will make it a priority to correct the errors and minimize them in the future.”

And, yet, somehow, I’m not surprised. Oh, and by the way, Weems — a New Mexico native — was appointed in May to head up Medicare.

Compassionate Conservatism – gutting children’s health care

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Back in January, I linked to a story about the Bush administration making moves to eliminate experts from the policy-making process. It was a move designed to give partisans Bush more control over the regulatory agencies that are tasked with protecting Americans.

Today, we’re seeing the president using federal controls to interfere with states’ efforts to improve access to health care for uninsured children.

Administration officials outlined the new standards in a letter sent to state health officials on Friday evening, in the middle of a month-long Congressional recess. In interviews, they said the changes were aimed at returning the Children’s Health Insurance Program to its original focus on low-income children and to make sure the program did not become a substitute for private health coverage.

After learning of the new policy, some state officials said today that it could cripple their efforts to cover more children by imposing standards that could not be met.

Ann Clemency Kohler, deputy commissioner of human services in New Jersey, said: “We are horrified at the new federal policy. It will cause havoc with our program and could jeopardize coverage for thousands of children.”

The Republican way: identify programs (like SCHIP and Social Security) that are popular and effective, but don’t fit the mold for conservative principals, and then try to trim or slash them.

I’m open to debate when people don’t think we shouldn’t have a national, single-payer health plan. But trying to prevent uninsured children from getting insurance, just because they’re not “low-income,” is ludicrous. This is the ‘principled’ Republican position!

No Answers

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One year ago today, a passing motorist found the body of 25-year-old Dusty Shuck — a Silver City woman who had walked away from a clinic here nine days earlier — near a truck stop on Interstate 70, south of Frederick, Maryland. I’ve mentioned Shuck’s case before, in the context of reforming the way police interact with the mentally ill.

Well, in the past year there have been no leads into Shuck’s death. This week I spoke with Sgt. Arthur Betts, spokesman for the Maryland State Police. He said there are still no witness or suspects. Investigators traveled to New Mexico last year in an attempt to track the victim’s cross-country movements with little success. Police have long thought that she may have hitched one or more rides with a trucker.

“The investigation would be vast and wide,” Betts said, “trying to find out which trucks had loads that originated in New Mexico with an east coast destination.”

The investigation has since been transferred to the Cold Case Unit, which “works to solve homicide cases that have remained unsolved for a significant period of time.”

I’ve been unable to reach Shuck’s mother to see if she has heard anything from police in the past year. She sat with me for an interview last May, and detailed the events that led to Shuck’s disapperance.

Shuck shouldn’t be forgotten. There were 6,326 unsolved homicides in the U.S. in 2005 (the latest year with complete data). That means more than 37% of murders resulted in no arrest. Still, she should be more than a statistic, because her case exemplifies the way our system fails those who are mentally ill.

Health care across the globe


Our friend Ezra has a great article in The American Prospect this month detailing the benefits of health care systems around the world. He touches on Canada, France, Great Britain, Germany and the U.S. Veterans Health Administration (VHA), showing that each system spends less on care than the U.S. as a whole, all while providing quality care:

Putting aside the VHA, America’s annual per person health expenditures are about twice what anyone else spends. That actually understates the difference, as our 45 million uninsured citizens have radically restricted access to care, and so the spending on the median insured American is actually quite a bit higher. Canada, France, Great Britain, and Germany all cover their entire populations, and they do so for far less money than we spend. Indeed, Canada, whose system is the most costly of the group, spends only 52 percent per capita what we do.

The article is pretty concise, and delivers a relatively damning blow to the health care system in the U.S., and our focus on making money off of sick people:

This makes it hard to move toward a preventive system, as Canada has, because preventive medicine pays less. It makes it hard to address moral-hazard issues wisely, as the French have, because it’s unprofitable to insure diabetics, and less profitable still to make their care essentially free. It makes it hard to institute the cost savings that Great Britain has, because with less money flowing into the system, there would be far less profit to be made. It makes it hard to harness market forces while protecting against individual risk, as Germany has, because insurer business models are predicated on shifting risk to employers and individuals, and profits are made when insurers can keep that risk from being shifted back onto them. And it is impossible to implement the practices that have so improved the VHA, because doing so would require a single, coherent health system that stuck with its members through their life cycles rather than an endlessly fractured structure in which insurers pawn off their members as they grow old, ill, or unemployed.