Article

Health Care: The Push For Fundamental Reform

Presidential forum this weekend is meant to open the conversation on much-needed health care reform.

  Features
 

GOOD NEWS

“Public housing projects damaged by Hurricane Katrina would not be knocked down until the U.S. government has a plan to replace them” under a bill passed by the House yesterday.


STATE WATCH

LOUISIANA: “The pace of rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina has slowed, leaving New Orleans and some other Gulf Coast areas with less than half the people they had before the storm.”

NEW HAMPSHIRE: State residents vote to reduce greenhouse gases.

HEALTH CARE: Coalition of governors rallies to block the Bush administration’s plan to cut $5 billion in Medicaid funding.


BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Former Reagan U.S. Attorney Bob Barr blasts administration over purge.

BLOG FOR OUR FUTURE: Bloggers react to Al Gore’s testimony on global warming.

BUSH V. CHOICE
: The “horrifying” nomination of anti-choice Richard Honaker for a federal judgeship in Wyoming.

DAILY KOS: What happens when Tom DeLay forgets his reading glasses.


DAILY GRILL

“We feel pretty comfortable with the constitutional argument.”
— Tony Snow, 3/20/07, on the White House’s use of “executive privilege” to keep top aides from testifying to Congress about the U.S. attorney firings

VERSUS

“Taken to its logical extreme, that position would make it impossible for citizens to hold a chief executive accountable for anything. He would have a constitutional right to cover up.”
— Snow, 3/29/98, on President Clinton’s use of executive privilege


ARCHIVES

Progress Report


STUDENTS

Politics with an Attitude: Everyone from Barack Obama to Stephen Colbert talks to Campus Progress. Right-wingers seem scared of us. Find out why here.

  March 22, 2007
The Push For Fundamental Reform
Go Beyond The Headlines
Coffee and Donuts Not Included
ThinkProgress.orgFor news and updates throughout the day, check out our blog at ThinkProgress.org.
Sign up | Contact us | Archive | Mobile


The Push For Fundamental Reform

On Saturday, the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Service Employees International Union will co-host the New Leadership on Health Care presidential forum, featuring Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-ND), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), and Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM). (All the presidential candidates were invited to attend.) The “first of its kind” forum is intended to begin a national conversation about the pressing need for universal health care coverage. Eighty-two percent of primary voters agree that “everyone has a right to quality, affordable health care coverage.” Since 2000, health care premiums have increased four times as fast as wages, and nearly half of small businesses no longer provide health coverage for employees. At the current rate, health benefit costs will soon exceed profits in Fortune 500 companies. In the 2004 presidential election, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) focused on expanding children’s coverage, but failed to propose systemic health care reform that would provide universal heath care coverage for everyone. The 2008 election holds the possibility of bold changes. A majority of Americans say the federal government should guarantee health insurance to every American, especially children, and are willing to pay higher taxes to do it, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. While the war in Iraq remains the overarching issue in the early stages of the 2008 campaign,” access to affordable health care is at the top of the public’s domestic agenda, ranking far more important than immigration, cutting taxes, or promoting traditional values. The poll found Americans across party lines willing to make some sacrifice to ensure that every American has access to health insurance.” Learn more about how you can participate in the Las Vegas health care forum HERE.

BARRIERS TO CARE PERSIST: Broad-based health reforms will benefit those populations who are currently underserved or who are less likely to have health coverage. Since President Bush has taken office, the number of uninsured Hispanic-Americans has increased by more than two million to 14.1 million; the number of uninsured blacks has increased by nearly 800,000 to more than 7.5 million. In 2002 and 2003, nearly 60 percent of Latinos and 40 percent of blacks were uninsured, compared to 23 percent of whites. Despite the existing barriers to care, health care premiums have skyrocketed by 87 percent over the past five years. “My daughter went online to try to get health insurance for me and my husband. It was $799 a month! That’s a house note!” said an uninsured Hurricane Katrina victim in January. Medicaid is particularly crucial in the effort to narrow the minority coverage gap, as it “affords coverage to roughly one in five non-elderly Latinos, African-Americans, and American-Indian/Alaska Natives. … Without this safety net, the numbers of uninsured individuals would undoubtedly be much higher.” “Minority populations rate their overall health worse than whites” as they are disproportionately afflicted by specific health problems, such as HIV/AIDS in the black community. “Medicaid is the largest payer for HIV treatment in the nation, accounting for half of all people in treatment. Sixty- four percent of African-Americans being treated for HIV/AIDS pay for it with Medicaid or Medicare.” But in his 2008 budget, Bush slashed federal funding for Medicaid services by $24.7 billion. “In addition to cuts that would threaten health coverage, the President’s budget also proposes to cut funding for the Office of Minority Health and the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities. …This is the second year in a row that the President has sought to reduce funding for these programs.”

THE MINORITY GAP:
“The nation’s diversity is growing over time.” Nearly one-third of Americans identify themselves as a member of a racial or ethnic minority group; this proportion is expected to increase to nearly 50 percent by 2050. While people of color increasingly compose the country, they are underserved by our health care system. “The extent and breadth of racial and ethnic health disparities is staggering. People of color are less likely to have health insurance coverage, see a provider on a regular basis, and receive preventative screenings or routine health care services.” “The forces that contribute to health disparities are complex, ranging from broader societal issues such as poverty (and) racism�???to factors such as lack of health care coverage, lack of workforce diversity, and a weakening safety net.” Today, the most prominent barrier to health care access is lack of health insurance. Consequently, “while a multi-pronged approach is needed to address this issue�???increasing access to coverage is key, and public programs provide the best chance for improving the health of communities of color.”

NEGLECTING CHILDREN’S HEALTH: “Through the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), many minority children have experienced increases in access to health care services…yet, 5.5 million minority children still remained uninsured in 2005.” “The President’s fiscal year 2008 budget proposes to reauthorize the SCHIP for five years but provides less than half of the funding needed for states to maintain their existing SCHIP caseloads.” Because children of racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to rely on SCHIP for health coverage, a failure to fund the program disproportionately hurts minority health access. “Sixty percent of uninsured children belong to a racial or ethnic minority group,” and over half of SCHIP recipients today are children of color. “Since its inception in 1997, SCHIP has been successful in narrowing the coverage gap for minority children.” For example, “from 1996 to 2005, the proportion of black children with health insurance rose from 82.4 percent to 88.7 percent in 2005…the proportion of Hispanic children with health coverage rose from 71.9 percent to 80.3 percent.” But if states continue to face federal funding shortfalls, children will remain uninsured, and the progress made over the past 10 years may be reversed as states consider scaling back their SCHIP and Medicaid programs. The effects of negligence in children’s health care will be devastating: “Without insurance, children are more likely to lack a usual source of health care, delay or have unmet health care needs, use less preventive care, receive poorer quality care, and have poorer health compared to children with insurance.”

Under the Radar

CLIMATE CHANGE — GORE SMACKS DOWN GLOBAL WARMING DENIERS AT CONGRESSIONAL HEARINGS: Yesterday, former Vice President Al Gore testified about climate change before the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. At the House hearing, Gore slammed climate change deniers, saying, “The planet has a fever. If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor. If the doctor says you need to intervene here, you don’t say, well I read a science fiction novel that tells me it’s not a problem. If the crib’s on fire, you don’t speculate that the baby is flame-retardant. You take action.” (Watch his full introductory statement here, as well as other highlights from his testimony here.)  Gore’s appearance before Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA) committee was a lively one, with infamous climate “skeptic” Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) trying to cut off Gore’s testimony. Boxer would have none of it, telling Inhofe, “You’re not making the rules. You used to when you did this. Elections have consequences. So I make the rules.” Inhofe also tried to repeat the right-wing smear against Gore for not signing a “Personal Energy Ethics Pledge” to “consume no more energy than the average American household.” Joe Romm of Climate Progress explained why Inhofe’s attack is nonsense: “[W]hy should Gore take such a pledge? Gore is a champion of greenhouse gas reductions, not energy reductions. Gore explained he buys 100 percent renewable power and is planning to build a solar power system. Thus the electricity Gore consumes in his Tennessee home does not contribute to global warming.”

ETHICS — JUSTICE DEPARTMENT WITHHOLDS DOCUMENTS FROM KEY 18-DAY PERIOD IN PROSECUTOR PURGE: Earlier this week, the Justice Department released over 3,000 pages of e-mails relating to the Bush administration’s prosecutor purge. But there are almost no e-mails from Nov. 16 to Dec. 7, “a critical period as the White House and Justice Department reviewed, then approved, which U.S. attorneys would be fired while also developing a political and communications strategy for countering any fallout from the firings.” One of last e-mails before the gap, on Nov. 15, is from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s former chief of staff Kyle Sampson to then-White House Counsel Harriet Miers, asking, “Who will determine whether this requires the president’s attention?” On Dec. 7, the Justice Department fired seven of the U.S. attorneys. “In contrast, there are hundreds of pages from the weeks after the dismissals.” Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said, “I’ve been led to believe that there’s a good response for” the gap, and referred reporters to the Justice Department. But Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse’s response in this morning’s New York Times was hardly “good.” He stated, “The department has provided or made available to Congress all the documents responsive to Congress’s requests over the time period in question … To the extent there was a lull in communications concerning the U.S. attorney issues, it reflects the fact that we have found no responsive documents from that time period, which included the Thanksgiving holiday.”

ETHICS — BUSH LOYALISTS INTERFERED IN GOVERNMENT’S TOBACCO COMPANY INVESTIGATION: “The leader of the Justice Department team that prosecuted a landmark lawsuit against tobacco companies said yesterday that Bush administration political appointees repeatedly ordered her to take steps that weakened the government’s racketeering case.” Sharon Y. Eubanks, who served for 22 years as a Justice Department lawyer, was in the middle of a government investigation claiming that the tobacco industry had conspired to lie to smokers when “Bush loyalists in Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales’s office began micromanaging the team’s strategy in the final weeks of the 2005 trial. … She said a supervisor demanded that she and her trial team drop recommendations that tobacco executives be removed from their corporate positions as a possible penalty.” Eubanks said top Justice officials largely ignored the case until it became clear that the government might win against the tobacco companies, recalling that she received an “angry phone call” about the case from Kevin McCallum, the then-Associate Attorney General. Eubanks’s supervisors instructed her to tell key witnesses to alter testimony and “read verbatim a closing argument [the Attorney General’s office] had written for her.” Eubanks said she is revealing the interference now because of the recent revelations about the administration’s prosecutor purge. “Political interference is happening at Justice across the department,” she said. “When decisions are made now in the Bush attorney general’s office, politics is the primary consideration…The rule of law goes out the window.”


Think Fast

Bob Novak reports conservatives are angry at CIA Director Michael Hayden for telling Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) that Valerie Plame was covert. “Waxman’s statement astounded Republicans whose queries about her had been rebuffed by the agency. That confirmed Republican suspicions that Hayden is too close to Democrats. �??? When Hayden’s role was pointed out to one of the president’s most important aides, there was no response.”

A review 1,400 veterans hospitals has turned up more than 1,000 reports of substandard conditions. In response, Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson this week ordered “immediate corrective action” to fix the problems. Bobby Muller of the Veterans for America said, “There is a social contract between a country and those it sends to war, and America’s social contract is broken.”

Three of the eight federal prosecutors ousted by the Justice Department as poor performers ranked in the top 10 for prosecutions and convictions by the nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys, an analysis of court records shows.” A fourth prosecutor “ranked among the top third of all U.S. attorneys during four of the past five years.”

House Democratic leaders pressed undecided lawmakers yesterday to support the Iraq war supplemental spending bill, which House leaders expect to vote on this evening. One House Democratic leadership aid said, “We’re close, but not there yet.” The leadership’s vote round-up was given a boost this week by MoveOn.org’s decision to back the bill.

“In a stinging, wide-ranging assessment,” Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen found the United States was “unprepared for the extensive nation-building required after it invaded Iraq, and at each juncture where it could have adjusted its efforts, it failed even to understand the problems it faced.” 

3,000: Number of military sexual assault reports filed in 2006, compared to 2,400 in 2005. “Action was taken against 780 people, from courts-martial and discharges to other administrative remedies.”

Hurricane Katrina drained nearly 300,000 people from coastal areas between Texas and the Florida Panhandle, according to new government population estimates that tally for the first time the storm’s devastating toll on the Gulf Coast.”

The Pentagon is “quietly seeking congressional approval for significant new military sales to US allies in the Persian Gulf region” to counter Iranian influence. The sale of arms -could “spark concerns that further military buildup in the volatile region would bring Washington closer to a confrontation with Iran.”

And finally: NoDoz is no longer just for “hard-partying college students leaving their homework to the last possible moment.” Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) takes them “like candy” — two a day “at 200 milligrams of caffeine a pop.” Wilson explained, “I love coffee, but I don’t have time to drink it.”