For the past three years, Ashley Diamond has been denied health care as well as protection from recurring violence from the men around her. But she has been fighting back — and her fight has been making headlines and wresting small changes from the Georgia Department of Corrections. Her story starkly illustrates the challenges facing trans women behind bars — from frequent violence and sexual assaults to the denial of hormones and other medical neglect. But Diamond’s experiences are far from unique, or even unusual. Nor is her decision to challenge prison policies around trans health care and safety an exception. Across the country, trans people have individually challenged and collectively organized to be free from physical, sexual and medical violence.
The rate of growth in medical costs and insurance premiums has slowed in recent years. However, millions of consumers continue to be saddled with high out-of-pocket health care costs. While the number of underinsured people in the United States held constant in 2014, the steady growth in the proliferation and size of deductibles threatens to increase underinsurance in the years ahead. The Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansions and protections have greatly improved the quality of insurance coverage available to people who lack job-based health benefits. In addition, cost-sharing subsidies significantly reduce deductibles for people with low incomes who buy plans in the marketplaces. But those subsidies phase out quickly, leaving families with deductibles that may be high relative to their incomes.
New disturbing information has surfaced that the House Republicans’ trade adjustment assistance bill, which supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, contains a Medicare poison pill. The bill includes $700 million in Medicare cuts at the end of a 10-year budget period to cover the cost of trade adjustment assistance for displaced workers, Americans who will lose their jobs because of lower cost imports. Please let members of Congress know that they should not support the bill in its current form. Covering the cost of assistance for displaced workers is important. But, in the words of several groups representing older Americans, including the Medicare Rights Center and The Alliance for Retired Americans, “Medicare should not be used as a piggy bank every time the government needs funding for other purposes.”
The health insurance industry took advantage of Washington’s infamous revolving door last week when it named former Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Pennsylvania, perceived by many to be a liberal Democrat, as the face of its latest K Street-operated front group. Schwartz, a former five-term member of Congress who made an unsuccessful bid for Pennsylvania governor last year, announced in an email blast Tuesday that she had found work again, not back home but back inside the Beltway. “Today I will begin as President and CEO of the Better Medicare Alliance,” she told her “friends and supporters.” The Better Medicare Alliance is a so-called 501(c)(3) nonprofit that appears to have been created with funding from insurance companies by APCO Worldwide, a Washington influence firm with a long history of running front groups for its clients.
A University of Georgia student faces sanctions from the school’s student judiciary board after he was arrested in Atlanta for protesting on the steps of the state Capital. Adam Veale, a 20-year-old political science major, said in an interview he was stunned to learn he faced two violations from UGA’s Office of Student Conduct after the March 2 arrest in Atlanta. He was offered a deal with the school that would have included 16 hours of community service and lunches with faculty members, but turned it down. Instead, he said, he’ll take his chances with a hearing before a judiciary panel on April 24. “I was unsatisfied with that offer. We weren’t being reckless. This was an act of symbolic speech,” said Veale. “We were saying we’re not going to stand idly by while the governor and the Legislature refuses to expand Medicaid.”
The Affordable Care Act is a sitting duck. Working with private insurance companies, hospital chains and Big Pharma, Congress superimposed arcane regulations on an already Byzantine system of financing health care. Dr. John Geyman cannot resist this target. His new book, How Obamacare is Unsustainable, confirms that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is not the pathway to a better health-care system. It is one of the biggest impediments. The structure of this critique reflects Geyman’s organized mind. The first of three parts reviews the unhappy history of American health-care reform. The second assesses our health-care landscape five years into the ACA. The last presents a solution: a national single-payer health plan.
Despite claims by the Obama administration that the Affordable Care Act will reduce health insurance companies’ spending on overhead, thereby channeling a greater share of consumers’ premium dollars into actual patient care, insurers’ financial filings show the law had no impact on the percentage of insurer expenditures on such things as administration, marketing and profits. That’s the chief finding of a team of researchers, including two prominent physicians on the faculties of the City University of New York’s School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, in an article published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Health Services. The ACA sets limits on insurers’ overhead, mandating an MLR of at least 80 percent in small-group markets and 85 percent in the large group market. However, the Obama administration changed the traditional yardstick by which the MLR is measured.
In 2010 the giant health insurance company WellPoint created an algorithm that searched its database, located breast cancer patients, and targeted them for cancellation of their policies. A few years earlier Michael Moore’s stunning documentary, “Sicko,” showed an unending list of illnesses that had been used by insurers to refuse to sell people policies, to charge them much more, or to deny payment for “pre-existing conditions.” The public became acutely aware of these harmful, widespread practices and sharply condemned them. So it was not by chance that this insistent popular support resulted in inclusion of a ban on these practices in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that was passed in 2010. The government website explains. “Your insurance company can’t turn you down or charge you more because of your pre-existing health or medical condition like asthma, back pain, diabetes, or cancer. Once you have insurance, they can’t refuse to cover treatment for your pre-existing condition.”
Regardless of how the court rules, the unfortunate reality is that the ACA won’t be able achieve universal coverage. It won’t make care affordable or protect people from medical bankruptcy. Nor will it be able to control costs. The ACA is fundamentally flawed in these respects because, by design, it perpetuates the central role of the private insurance industry and other corporate and for-profit interests (e.g. Big Pharma) in U.S. health care. In contrast, a single-payer system – an improved Medicare for All – would achieve truly universal care, affordability, and effective cost control. It would be simple to administer, saving approximately $400 billion annually by slashing the administrative bloat in our private-insurance-based system. That money would be redirected to clinical care. Copays and deductibles would be eliminated.
According to the plan, low- and middle-income families would pay much less in health care costs if Green Mountain Care was implemented. A family with an income of $50,000 per year, for example, would pay 40% less for health care costs on average under Green Mountain Care. The plan proposes taxing wealthier people’s unearned investment income in order to give a bigger break to low- and middle-income families. It also proposes implementing a graduated payroll tax that requires large employers and businesses with highly unequal salary structures to pay more than smaller and more wage-equitable businesses. The payroll tax takes into account the difference between the top 1% of wages and the bottom half of wages in each company, and lowers the tax rate for companies with more equitable wage structures.
The ability to access quality health care services for the majority of the black population has been largely due to federal government policies and initiatives designed to address long-standing, systemic barriers to medical care for African Americans. As part of the White House’s Black History Month panel co-hosted by the Association for the Study for African American Life and History (ASALH) this past Wednesday, I had an opportunity to elaborate on this history by discussing the significance of the Affordable Care Act and rejection of the Medicaid expansion by southern states within the context of the ongoing struggle for health equity in the U.S. While my research examines the interaction of racial politics with efforts to pass large-scale health reform from the New Deal to the ongoing opposition to the ACA, focusing on this year’s 50th anniversary of the passage of Medicare and Medicaid offered an opportunity to shine light on how important these programs have been in reducing the discrimination and institutional racism that were once hallmarks of American health care.
Over 100 students occupied Day Hall for at least four hours Monday, clashing with administrators as they packed offices and opposed the new $350 annual health fee. Throughout the hours-long Day Hall occupation, students and administrators found themselves in numerous heated confrontations over University policy. The protest — named “#FightTheFee” and organized by the Save the Pass coalition, which previously held protests in support of free first-year Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit bus passes — started slowly in Willard Straight Hall at noon. Before the protest began, several administrators were already at the site. Denise Cassaro, associate director for student leadership, engagement and campus activities, was the event manager for the protest and said she wanted to ensure the “safety” of all students at the protest.
A national physicians group today hailed the reintroduction of a federal bill that would upgrade the Medicare program and swiftly expand it to cover the entire population. The “Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act,” H.R. 676, introduced last night by Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., with 44 other House members, would replace today’s welter of private health insurance companies with a single, streamlined public agency that would pay all medical claims, much like Medicare works for seniors today. Proponents say a Medicare-for-all system, also known as a single-payer system, would vastly simplify how the nation pays for care, improve patient health, restore free choice of physician, eliminate copays and deductibles, and yield substantial savings for individuals, families and the national economy.
During a series of YouTube interviews Thursday, President Obama demonstrated a remarkably laissez-faire attitude toward marijuana legalization experiments in the states. And he signaled strongly that the Obama administration wouldn’t be taking to the hustings to try to beat back legalization efforts, as previous administrations had been wont to do. Indeed. Legalization bills are already popping up in state legislatures around the country, and while it’s unlikely—though not impossible—that any of them will pass this year, 2016 looks to be the break-out year for freeing the weed. One state is going to be the first to legalize it through the legislature, and next year seems reasonable. And the presidential election year is also likely to see successful legalization initiatives in several more.
Proving that its long-planned assault on a women’s right to control their own bodies was too contentious even for some of its own members, the Republican majority in the House on Wednesday night withdrew plans to debate a bill that would have banned nearly all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Citing dissent among some female GOP lawmakers and others who acknowledged that the bill would have turned off women voters. The failure of the bill was characterized by some as a political “embarrassment” for the party which for first time in more than eight years now controls both chambers of Congress. Dana Milbank, at the Washington Post, described the attempt to pass the extreme law as a classic case of “bait and switch,” in which the party tried to ram through a policy it knows is unpopular with a majority of voters, especially women.