Thursday, September 26, 2013

Editorial: Death Panel’s Last Stand?


In his professed crusade to derail Obamacare, Sen. Ted Cruz, the Canadian-American charlatan who is seeking to broaden his base from Texas to the nationwide Tea Party, played to the rubes Sept. 24-25 with his fake filibuster that, ironically, was supposed to block Senate consideration of the House bill that would defund Obamacare.

Cruz stayed on the Senate floor for more than 21 hours, delivering a rambling spiel that at one point included a reading from Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham. He apparently was oblivious to the irony that the children’s story is about someone who says he does not like a food he has never tried, until he tries it and finds that he likes it. In the end, after declaring that “a vote for cloture is a vote to fund Obamacare,” Cruz ended up voting with the rest of the Senate, 100-0 for cloture.

Cruz and other Republicans went through this charade in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law in May 2010 over unanimous GOP opposition and, among other things, required insurance companies to actually make good on their promised coverage while helping lower- and middle-income Americans get affordable health coverage when their skinflint employers refuse to provide it.

Of course, some of us were unhappy in 2010 that the Democrats didn’t go ahead and expand Medicare to cover everybody, or at least provide a public option for Americans who don’t want to be forced to buy private insurance. But Vice President Joe Biden congratulated President Obama at the May 23, 2010, signing ceremony, telling him in what he thought was a private aside that the health care reform “is a big f***ing deal.” The ferocity of Republican opposition to the law, and the lies they have told about the reforms over the past three years in order to scare the working people the law was designed to help ought to validate Obamacare for progressives.

The reforms already have required insurance companies to provide free preventive care and annual health exams, allowed parents to include their children in their insurance plans until the kids are 26 and required insurance companies to provide rebates when their administrative costs and profits amount to more than 20% of premiums. Insurers also no longer can cancel policies if you get sick or made an honest mistake on your application; consumers can appeal insurance company decisions to an independent reviewer; and insurance companies no longer can limit an individual’s medical benefits. In 2014, insurers also no longer will be able to deny coverage to applicants with pre-existing conditions.

When Republicans were unable to come up with a Senate majority to repeal the reforms, they resorted to sabotage and now hostage-taking. As Tara Culp-Ressler noted at ThinkProgress, Republican governors at the state level have refused to extend health coverage to the working poor by rejecting the law’s optional Medicaid expansion, which is supposed to cover people below the poverty level (including those working at minimum wage), with the federal government paying more than 90% of the costs.

Republicans have undermined national public outreach efforts to teach Americans about their options under the law, and they have slashed the state-level budgets dedicated to marketing the new insurance plans. They’ve attempted to slow down enrollment by placing unnecessary restrictions on the people who are supposed to help Americans sign up for new Obamacare coverage. For example, in Texas, where 25% of workers are uninsured — the highest uninsured rate in the country — and health insurance is practically unregulated by the state, Gov. Rick Perry has chosen to impose draconian regulations on the health marketplace “navigators.”

Republicans have disseminated misinformation about the law and confused people about what it actually does. Some states have even simply refused to implement Obamacare’s provisions altogether. And as the state health insurance exchanges prepare for their debut on Oct. 1, Republicans are even advising young people to break the law by refusing to get insurance.

If you already have insurance through your employer, are enrolled in a government program like Medicare or if you purchase insurance on your own, the “individual mandate” won’t affect you — though if you buy your own insurance you might find a better deal on the exchange. If your employer cuts your insurance benefits or increases your share of the cost, it probably is because your company is run by a skinflint using Obamacare as an excuse to cut costs, but mom-and-pop businesses with 25 or fewer employees qualify for tax credits to help them offer health insurance to their employees. Small businesses with up to 100 employees can shop for health plans in the exchange. And if health care costs continue to rise, as some Obamacare critics predict, well, they were rising for a decade before the health reform was enacted, but at least the rate of increase has been reduced.

Democrats should work with labor unions to allow tax credits for union-sponsored multi-employer plans, also known as Taft-Hartley plans, that are bargained by unions and jointly administered with employers, usually for low-income, part-time and seasonal workers who might work for several employers during a year.

The mandate will affect 48 million Americans who are uninsured — 15.4% of the general population, according to the Census Bureau, but 25% of people in households with an annual income of less than $25,000. Many of those households will now qualify for Medicaid coverage — unless their Republican state officials have left them adrift by refusing Medicaid expansion. Families living in poverty won’t be required to pay for insurance, but they won’t get health care either, because of the Republican obstinance. Families above the poverty level are required to be insured but they will qualify for subsidies to help them buy insurance if they make less than $94,200 for a family of four (or $45,960 for a single person).

You can find out the truth about the Affordable Care Act and how to find your state’s health insurance marketplace online at healthcare.gov or by calling toll-free 1-800-318-2596, where help is available 24/7. Signup starts Oct. 1 for coverage starting Jan. 1.

And if the program is implemented without the disruptions that Republicans are predicting, Ted Cruz likely will claim the credit.

Republicans might not get Obama and the Senate Democrats to agree with dismantling the Affordable Care Act, but Senate Democrats did agree to keep the job-killing austerity budget going into the new fiscal year with previously scheduled sequesters. The Congressional Budget Office in July reported that keeping sequester cuts in place through 2014 would cost the economy as many as 1.6 million jobs.

In case the “deficit hawks” try to take another run at “entitlement reforms” — that is, cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits so the richest 1% of Americans don’t have to pay the taxes they deferred during the Bush II administration — Dems need to remind their representatives in Congress that they paid for Social Security and Medicare and they are entitled to those promised benefits.

Richard Eskow noted at OurFuture.org that leaders of “Fix the Debt,” a group of corporate executives who are trying to push the costs of budget cuts onto the working class, recently met to discuss the possibility of ramping up their campaign for a Grand Bargain to cut entitlements.

If expansion of the tax base is required to stabilize Social Security, that can be accomplished by lifting the cap on taxable income for the payroll tax from the current $113,700. Imposing a relatively small tax of 3 cents per $100 traded on Wall Street would be unnoticed by most investors but would curb market speculators and raise an estimated $352 billion over the next decade.

Anybody who professes concern about the federal deficit, then turns the discussion to “fixing” Social Security and/or Medicare without the option of lifting the cap on the payroll tax and/or the financial transaction tax is a fraud. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2013


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