Category Archives: Health

California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again

Nothing better illustrates the political bankruptcy of the Democratic Party—for all progressive intents and purposes—than California State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon’s announcement on Friday afternoon that he was going to put a “hold” on the single-payer health care bill (SB 562) for the state, effectively killing its passage for at least the year.

The Democratic Party finds itself in a bind in California. They hold the governorship and a supermajority in both houses of the legislature, so they can pass any bill they want. SB 562 had passed the Senate 23-14.

There was enormous enthusiasm among California progressive activists, who, with organizations like Campaign for a Healthy California (CHC,) and  the National Nurses United (NNU,) and the California Nurses Association (CNA) were working tirelessly, and hopeful of success.  After all, Bernie’s people were taking over the California party from the bottom since the election. I recall a night of drinking last year with an old friend who has been spearheading that effort, as he rebuffed my skepticism, and insisted that this time there would be a really progressive takeover of the California party, and single-payer would prove it. After all, once enough progressive pressure was been put on the legislators, the bill would be going to super-progressive Democratic Governor, Jerry Brown, who had made advocacy of single-payer a centerpiece of his run for President in 1992, saying: “We treat health care not as a commodity to be played with for profit but rather the right of every American citizen when they’re born.” Bernie foretold.

Unfortunately, today that Governor is, according to Paul Song, co-chair of the CHC, “doing everything he can to make sure this never gets on his desk.” And it won’t. Unfortunately, all the Democrats like Rendon, who “claims to be a personal supporter of single-payer,” will make sure that their most progressive governor is not put in the embarrassing position of having to reject what he’s been ostensibly arguing for for twenty-five years, of demonstrating so blatantly what a fraud his, and his party’s, progressive pretensions are.

Thus unfolds the typical Democratic strategy: Make all kinds of progressive noises and cast all kinds of progressive votes, while carefully managing the process so that the legislation the putatively progressives putatively support never gets enacted. Usually, they blame Republican obstructionism, and there certainly is enough of that, and where there is, it provides a convenient way for Democrat legislator to “support” legislation they know will be blocked and wouldn’t really enact themselves if they could.

In the California case, the dissembling is obvious. The Republicans can’t be blamed. The only thing standing in the way of single-payer in California is the Democratic Party. As it was on the national level in 2009, when Obama and the Democrats could have passed any healthcare bill they wanted, just as they passed the Republican-inspired, gift to the for-profit health insurance industry, the ACA—without a single Republican vote. It was true-believing capitalist Democrats like Max Baucus, led by Obama and his sidekick Rahm Emanuel (who called leftists “fucking retarded”) who arrested single-payer activists (including doctors) in order to prevent single-payer from even being considered. It was they who strong-armed reluctant Democratic legislators, who had signed an oath not to do so, into passing a bill that leaves 28 million Americans without health insurance, and forces the rest into plans whose premiums rise and networks of coverage shrink every year.

In fact, the perfectly reasonable discontent with that plan probably had more to do with helping Trump win than did any actions of bad-old (as opposed to good-new) James Comey. As Marcy Wheeler pointed out, in a analysis that’s contested but should certainly not be ignored, Hillary’s fatal slide in the polls began before Comey’s notorious letter of October 28th, and coincided with the announcement, four days before, of steep Obamacare premium increases. You decide whether you think Anthony Weiner’s sexting emails, part three, had more effect on voters than anger over being hit with stiff premium increases (22% average, 25% in 20 states, 60% in some) on increasingly crappy policies:

So the Democrats create the ground for Trump by passing a lousy healthcare law that’s sure to piss people off rather quickly, then use the even worse plan that the Republicans come up with to do nothing but trash Trump, while blocking real progressives’ attempts to get the only plan that would actually cover all Americans and save money. In Colorado last November, Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper refused to support a single-payer referendum because he “didn’t want to disrupt” the “strides [made] under Obamacare.” The Democrats’ ACA marched the nation straight into the shoals of Trump and the Republicans’ ACHA, and now the Democrats are blocking the only plan that solves the problems of both.

As Deborah Burger, Co-President of the California Nurses Association put it, Assembly Speaker Rendon, “Acting in secret in the interests of the profiteering insurance companies late Friday afternoon abandons all those people already threatened by Congress and the Trump administration.”

The excuse, of course, from California Democrats and Governor Jerry Brown is that they don’t know how they are going to pay for it, especially on the state level. That would be the same Jerry Brown who explained in 1992 exactly how single-payer would cut costs:

You cut out all the private health insurance. You have one single payer either at the national level or through the 50 states. And that one single payer will be the one that negotiates with the doctors, the hospitals, and the other providers. And since you have only one source of income in the whole medical establishment, you can drive down the cost.

Leaving aside the indispensable point that healthcare, like education and clean water, should be considered a non-discretionary expense, one of the main advantages of single-payer is precisely that it’s the only plan that can cut costs significantly. Not having single-payer will not mean healthcare will cost less; it will cost more every year, for every person and in the aggregate. It just means the for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical companies won’t care. The real problem with single-payer isn’t about costs to the people or to the state; it’s about profits for those companies.

Besides, an economy the size of California has immense power. We’re not talking about Utah. All the hospitals and doctors and pharmaceutical companies are not going to stop selling their goods and services in California. And once single-payer becomes a reality in California, it will catalyze a movement in every other state and on the national level. That—the fact that it will start a wildfire of imitation—and not the fact that it’s too expensive, is what the California Democratic Party is desperate to avoid, and what its donors and lobbyists are ordering it to block.

This is the Democratic Party. Lying losers who will do anything to avoid taking an effective stance for a healthcare policy that would immediately solve one of the worst horrors American families face every day, that would be immediately and concretely helpful to everyone, and, to top it all off, would be immensely popular. The dissembling Democrats are throwing away just about the most popular policy anyone could imagine—something people are literally dying for. As Charles Idelson, spokesman for the NNU, says: “There is broad support for single-payer not only in California, but nationally, even among registered Republicans and Republican and conservative business leaders.”

Passing single-payer in California and fighting for it everywhere else would guarantee the Democrats electoral victories. But they will not do it—they’ll say they will, but they will not—because they are fervent supporters of the capitalist market system in healthcare (and everything else), and they are corrupt agents of the health insurance and pharma industries.

Because it captures and cages the energies of so many well-meaning progressives, the Democratic Party is the most effective obstacle to, and enemy of, single-payer, and it has to be fought. People in wheelchairs and cancer patients and all their healthy friends should be sitting in and obstructing Democrat Rendon’s, as well as any Republican’s, office, until he lets the bill through. Then they should move on to the Democratic governor’s office. And thence to Pelosi’s and Schumer’s offices as well as Graham’s and Ryan’s. This is not a Trump problem, and not a Republican problem, it’s a bipartisan capitalist elite problem.

We have to engage in this kind of fight against all of these politicians. Anyone who thinks such a fight can be avoided in order to play the Democrats’ game of defending the for-profit insurance plan called Obamacare while obsessing about Trump being a Russian spy, is helping to perpetuate this rotten healthcare system. Twenty-eight million people are now without healthcare, and, if the Republicans’ edited version of Obamacare passes (which it probably won’t, because even many Republicans know they can’t get away with making things worse than they are), there’ll be twenty-four million more. There is no time for either of these contemptuous parties and their contemptuous bullshit.

by JIM KAVANAGH/CounterPunch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Senate GOP Health Care Bill Would End Obamacare Penalties and Taxes

(WASHINGTON) — Senate Republicans would cut Medicaid, end penalties for people not buying insurance and erase a raft of tax increases as part of their long-awaited plan to scuttle President Barack Obama’s health care law, congressional aides and lobbyists say.

After weeks of closed-door meetings that angered Democrats and some Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell planned to release the proposal Thursday. The package represents McConnell’s attempt to quell criticism by party moderates and conservatives and win the support he needs in a vote he hopes to stage next week.

In a departure from the version the House approved last month, which President Donald Trump privately called “mean,” the Senate plan would drop the House’s waivers allowing states to let insurers boost premiums on some people with pre-existing conditions. It would also largely retain the subsidies Obama provided to help millions buy insurance, which are pegged mostly to people’s incomes and the premiums they pay.

The House’s tax credits were tied to people’s ages, a change the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said would boost out-of-pocket costs to many lower earners. Starting in 2020, the Senate version would begin shifting increasing amounts of tax credits away from higher earners, making more funds available to lower-income recipients, some officials said.

The emerging Senate bill was described by people on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Facing uniform Democratic opposition, the Senate plan would fail if just three of the chamber’s 52 Republicans defect. More than half a dozen GOP senators have expressed problems with the measure, and a defeat would be a humiliating setback for Trump and McConnell on one of their party’s top priorities.

“We have a responsibility to move forward, and we are,” said McConnell, R-Ky.

GOP Senate leaders were eager for a seal of approval from Trump, who had urged them to produce a bill more “generous” than the House’s.

“They seem to be enthusiastic about what we’re producing tomorrow,” No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas said Wednesday of White House officials. “It’s going to be important to get the president’s support to get us across the finish line.”

Democrats say GOP characterizations of Obama’s law as failing are wrong, while the Republican effort would boot millions off coverage and leave others facing higher out-of-pocket costs. The budget office said the House bill would cause 23 million to lose coverage by 2026.

The sources said that, in some instances, the documents McConnell planned to release might suggest optional approaches for issues that remain in dispute among Republicans.

That could include the number of years the bill would take to phase out the extra money Obama provided to expand the federal-state Medicaid program for the poor and disabled to millions of additional low earners.

The House-passed bill would halt the extra funds for new beneficiaries in three years, a suggestion McConnell has offered. But Republicans from states that expanded Medicaid, like Ohio’s Rob Portman, want to extend that to seven years.

The Senate proposal would also impose annual limits on the federal Medicaid funds that would go to each state, which would tighten even further by the mid-2020s. Unlimited federal dollars now flow to each state for the program, covering all eligible beneficiaries and services.

The Senate would end the tax penalties Obama’s law created for people not buying insurance and larger employers not offering coverage to workers. The so-called individual mandate — aimed at keeping insurance markets solvent by prompting younger, healthier people to buy policies — has long been one of the GOP’s favorite targets.

To help pay for its expanded coverage to around 20 million more people, Obama’s law increased taxes on higher income people, medical industry companies and others, totaling around $1 trillion over a decade. Like the House bill, the Senate plan would repeal or delay many of those tax boosts.

The House waiver allowing higher premiums for some people with pre-existing serious illnesses was added shortly before that chamber approved its bill last month and helped attract conservative support. It has come under widespread criticism from Democrats and helped prompt some moderate House Republicans to vote against the measure.

Conservatives like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., have warned they could oppose the bill if it doesn’t go far enough in dismantling Obama’s law. Moderates including Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, have expressed concern that the measure would cause many to lose coverage.

From Alan Fram & Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar / AP/Time

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Lead and the Black Community: How The Flint Water Crises May Be Just the Beginning

Water is essential for life. Without it, the average person would die after four days.

In the aftermath of the Flint, Mich., water crisis, which saw 15 people die and more than 100,000 exposed to lead due to a forced switch of Flint’s water source from the Detroit Water Authority to the Flint River, questions about the health of the nation’s water infrastructure have filled political discussions. The Flint water crisis, which was caused in part due to aged, rusted delivery pipelines, exposed problems that many cities across the United States now have: a delivery infrastructure that has exceeded its utility age and a lack of funding and political will to effectively address the issues.

The long shadow inequality casts on policy making compounds this issue. “Black and Hispanic neighborhoods exhibited extraordinarily high rates of lead toxicity compared to white neighborhoods at the start of our study in 1995, in some cases with prevalence rates topping 90 percent of the child population,” Robert J. Sampson and Alix S. Winter wrote in their 2016 research paper “The Racial Ecology of Lead Poisoning: Toxic Inequality in Chicago Neighborhoods, 1995-2013.”

“Black disadvantage in particular is pronounced not only relative to whites but even relative to Hispanics in every year from 1995-2013. The profound heterogeneity in the racial ecology of what we call toxic inequality is partially attributable to socioeconomic factors, such as poverty and education, and to housing-related factors, such as unit age, vacancy and dilapidation. But controlling these factors, neighborhood prevalence rates of elevated BLL (Blood Lead Levels) remain closely linked to racial and ethnic segregation.”

In cities that have limited resources for infrastructure repairs, the picking of winners and losers has historically fallen upon racial biases, with minority neighborhoods and communities being overlooked in favor for more-affluent communities. As pointed out by the research paper, as white neighborhoods are more likely to gentrify and receive infrastructure repairs than nonwhite neighborhoods, there is a greater risk of lead exposure and prolonged health complications that comes with the water made available in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirming that there is no safe identified level of lead for the blood, and with minuscule amounts of lead being shown to affect intelligence, attention span and academic achievement, the question of the safety of the nation’s water has never been so pertinent. With most of the nation’s water-delivery infrastructure compromised and in need of replacement, questions of how these repairs can be made in this current political climate and if these repairs will be equitably allocated remain concerns of both high importance and high complexity

“Racism in regards to water access was certainly a factor of our past. Just look at some places in the South, especially along the Mississippi Delta, where you have white communities side by side with Black communities but the white communities have adequate water infrastructure and the Black communities do not,” said Cecil Corbin-Mark, Deputy Director of WE ACT. “That is not the result of the Black communities saying we don’t want water infrastructure, it is a legacy of racial discrimination. If you travel in indigenous land or heavily Latino communities in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, you can also see the disparity in water infrastructure.”

Flint

To a certain extent, Flint is your prototypical Northern industrial city. It is the former home of many of General Motor’s facilities, including its headquarters and the majority of its manufacturing plants. Prior to the deindustrialization of the 1960s, Flint was a wealthy city within a stone’s toss of the wealthiest city in the United States during the early part of the 20th century, Detroit.

The downturn of the nation’s industrial base, along with “white flight” and the 1973 oil crisis — which saw a popular switching from American-made car to fuel-efficient Japanese cars — threw Flint into a debt spiral. The result of this was two state-declared financial emergencies.

It was under the second emergency that the water crisis, which has to date led to 17 criminal indictments, several lawsuits, the resignation of a litany of state officials and a federal state of emergency, happened. In an attempt to save money, the state-approved emergency financial manager for Flint approved the adoption of an emergency plan to draw water from the Flint River as the primary water delivery scheme for the city while Flint’s own pipeline to Lake Huron was being completed. Before this, Flint received its water from Detroit, which sourced it from the Detroit River and Lake Huron.

Unfortunately, no one took the time to consider if switching the water supply would change the delivered water’s composition. While the water was treated, it was found that the water was more corrosive than the water received from Detroit. This was the result of bacterial growth from fertilizer and pesticide runoffs and it caused exposed lead in the city’s pipes to bleed into the water.

It would take two years and a MSNBC investigation for the state to admit there was a problem.

While the governor himself has dodged criminal responsibility for now, the crisis gave the Republican administration a black eye. Michigan Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon and Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells are among those who have been arrested on charges that include involuntary manslaughter, misconduct in office, obstruction of justice and providing false testimony to a special agent.

“We’re getting it right,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said during a meeting with the Detroit Free Press editorial board. “There are voices out there who would like Flint to go away, that it might be inconvenient and Flint should be swept under the rug and there are voices that view Flint as as chessboard and want to see who can take advantage. Both of those voices are incredibly callous.”

Schuette pointed out that racism may have had a role in what happened in Flint. “I think about the Flint where I used to play sports when I’d come from Midland and it was basically all white,” he said. “I think about all those things and I think about my sister [who adopted two mixed-race children] and how it broadened my perspective. I think about all those things when I drive down the road and go into Flint and think about these charges and meet with these people and try to listen.”

Flint is a majority-Black city. The loss of manufacturing jobs led to a mass exodus of the city’s white residents, leaving behind a city that is 56.6-percent African American, 41.2-percent impoverished and with a median household income of $24,862, 50.1 percent of the state’s average of $49,576.

A Crumbling Infrastructure

The nation’s one million miles of drinking water pipes were laid during the first half of the 20thcentury, largely in massive public works projects. While the quality of the drinking water is regarded as being high, the pipe infrastructure carrying this water to the tap is in a state of disrepair, with most of the pipelines having reached the end of their expected lifespans. This results in an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in this country.

The difficulty in bringing the nation’s pipes up to date is typically a monetary one. For most communities, repairs to the water infrastructure is funded by the delivery rate the local community charges water users, along with state funding and federal loan programs such as the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.

Following the recent Great Recession, the states and local governments deemphasized infrastructure in order to deal with falling tax revenues. From 2009 to 2014, for example, capital spending for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure dropped 22 percent. While federal legislation in 2014 and 2016 has allocated up to $1 billion in credit assistance and $2 billion in water infrastructure investment, it is estimated it will take about $1 trillion over the next 25 years to bring the nation’s water infrastructure up to speed.

The condition of the national water system, as it stands today, is responsible for the average loss of over six billion gallons of drinking water from leakage per day.

Race and Picking Winners

The municipal delivery system, however, is only the public half of the national water delivery system. The other half is what happens after the water crosses the water meter. The responsibility of property owners, the conditions of these pipes — particularly in low-income or impoverished areas — can make a significant difference in the quality of the delivered water.

Prior to efforts in the 1970s to remove the substance, lead was a popular additive due to its molecular density. Lead regularly appeared in paints, plastics, piping, woodwork and other building supplies across the country. In older properties where these lead-based products have not been removed, such as inner-city low-income Black housing, young children may come in contact with this toxic substance daily.

“Right now, most middle-class white families feel relatively immune from the dangers of lead, although the gentrification of old neighborhoods and the renovation of old homes can still expose their children to dangerous levels of lead dust from the old paint on those walls,” David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz wrote for Mother Jones. “However, economically and politically vulnerable Black and Hispanic children, many of whom inhabit dilapidated older housing, still suffer disproportionately from the devastating effects of the toxin. This is the meaning of institutional racism in action today.”

While there is less “winner-picking” involved in the allocation of infrastructure funding today, more affluent or “gentrified” neighborhoods have been the neighborhoods least likely to be affected by lead poisoning. Not only were these communities more likely to receive updates to their infrastructure and receive more attention, such as regular lead testing, the increased demand to live in these areas compelled property owners to make critical improvements to their properties. Owners in non-gentrified properties typically can get away with ignoring these repairs and replacements by offering a cheaper rent.

The net effect of all of this adds up to health crisis for the Black and Hispanic communities. The CDC projects that 11.2 percent of all Black children and 4 percent of Mexican-American children have lead poisoning, compared to just 2.3 percent of white children. With more than half of the residents living within 1.86 miles of toxic waste facilities being Black and with Blacks being almost twice as likely as whites to live within the fence line zone of an industrial facility, African-Americans are uniquely challenged with the health consequences of unhealthy water.

Privatization and Other Options

Finding solutions to fix this may be difficult, primarily because there is not the political will to do it. In 2015, for example, Maryland’s Secretary of Housing, Community and Development Kenneth Holt told an audience at the Maryland Association of Counties that a mother could fake a lead poisoning test for her child by putting a lead fishing weight in the child’s mouth before the test. He made the statement, falsely suggesting that the potential positive test would make a landlord liable for providing the child with housing until the age of 18.

Maryland state law only makes the property owner liable for providing safe lodgings until the lead abatement concludes and Holt himself admitted that he was not speaking from evidence but from what a developer told him was possible.

Resolving the drinking water problem will be a costly, difficult proposition that will leave little for politicians to build political capital on. However, finding a viable solution is a life-or-death proposition.

“Water isn’t very sexy,” Nick Danby wrote for the Harvard Political Review. “Sure, it’s necessary for life, and sometimes threatens life, but there’s no political appeal. Unemployment, terrorism, unions, taxes — those are just a small smorgasbord of hot-button issues that make our partisan and politically charged brains tingle, while water’s controversies merely bore us. The problem, however, is that if our ignorance of water’s contentious situation continues, the four aforementioned political topics will become obsolete — and so will we.”

One suggested possibility is to make the water-delivery system private. In 2014, former President Barack Obama examined the possibility of partnerships between public agencies and private companies to improve the infrastructure problem. Privatization would take this one step farther by allowing municipalities to lease access to the water-delivery infrastructure to private entities, who would then be responsible for any needed upgrades or repairs. These entities would then collect water usage fees directly from the customer.

The challenge in this proposition is whether we are willing to put life-and-death matters into the hands of a business where the first priority is the bottom line.

Whatever solution is found to address this problem, it is important that it is discovered soon and applied quickly. Water is critical for life; only air is more important. The consequences of not being able to have ready access to clean water is one that must be considered and taken seriously in policy planning and in discussions over funding priorities.

For an entire subsection of Americans, the lack of access to safe water means a life subject to crippling physical and mental limitations, all because a politician did not want to spend money on what cannot be seen.

By Frederick Reese/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

EpiPen maker’s losses on coal investments earn massive tax credits

EpiPen maker’s losses on coal investments earn massive tax credits

Hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits are going to Mylan, an allergy treatment producer that sparked controversy for hiking the price of its EpiPen. The completely legal financial scheme is based on “clean coal” credits approved by Congress.

Reuters has reviewed Mylan NV’s company filings and reported Wednesday that the pharmaceutical company has been boosting its bottom line since 2011 on refined coal investments. The investments themselves have been losers, but in 2004, as part of an effort to promote “clean coal,” Congress passed tax credits for those willing to invest enough capital in them anyway.

Mylan reportedly confirmed Reuters’ figures, the news agency said.

From 2014 to 2016, Mylan garnered around $300 million in “clean energy and research” tax credits, Reuters reported. Overall, the company’s total tax benefit last year was reportedly $358 million.

The pre-tax losses on the coal investments were $92.3 million in 2016, $93.2 million in 2015 and $78.9 million in 2014, all of which were deductible, according to tax experts, and this scheme helped make up about 9 percent of the company’s earnings last year, Reuters reported.

The tax credit program expires in 2021.

Mylan holds 99-percent stakes in five LLCs, or limited liability companies, which own the following refined coal plants: Canton Fuels Company in Illinois, Marquis Industrial Company in Indiana, Chouteau Fuels Company in Oklahoma, Deogun Manufacturing Company in Utah and Powder Street LLC in West Virginia.

Reuters also cited an unnamed person “familiar with the matter,” who said that Mylan produced approximately 16 million tons of refined coal last year, as the government issued $6.81 in tax credits per ton. The source also said that the company’s expenses amounted to about 60 percent of gross credits earned.

The company’s annual board meeting on Thursday may see a clash between investors and board members, as Reuters reports that investors are upset with Mylan Chairman Robert Coury’s nearly $100 million pay package last year.

Leading the move to vote against the board is New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who oversees New York City pensions funded by 1.1 million shares of Mylan stock, and who told Reuters: “From the EpiPen pricing debacle to embracing complex tax avoidance strategies, Mylan’s board appears more focused on financial engineering than on the company’s core business.”

Mylan has avoided high US tax rates since 2015 by relocating its headquarters overseas, paying “just over four percent in 2014 and 7.4 percent in 2015,” according to Reuters.

From RT

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Gutting Health Care in Darkness

WASHINGTON—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell once had passionate views about how carefully Congress should consider sweeping changes to the health care system.

“Fast-tracking a major legislative overhaul such as health care reform or a new national energy tax without the benefit of a full and transparent debate does a disservice to the American people,” McConnell said in 2009, referring to the two big issues of the moment. Democrats using such means, he added, “would make it absolutely clear they intend to carry out their plans on a purely partisan basis.”

Republican hypocrisy is now so rampant that it’s typically ignored or, worse, granted the political class’s all-purpose form of absolution: “Everybody does it.”

But everybody doesn’t do it. McConnell is trying to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act using methods completely at odds with how the law was originally brought to life seven years ago. The ACA was debated for more than a year and went through an elaborate hearing and amendment process, including some changes urged by Republicans.

By contrast, the bill Senate Republicans are writing is being held as close as the nuclear codes. In the meantime, President Trump and his administration (including, most recently, Attorney General Jeff “I don’t recall” Sessions) keep providing McConnell excellent cover as their assorted outrages dominate the news and deflect attention from Capitol Hill. The wrecking squad works in the shadows knowing that if the public were given time to absorb the damage in store for millions of Americans, the pushback would be enormous.

Cleverly, Senate Republicans say their coverage-destruction bill will be better than the one Speaker Paul Ryan pushed through the House. (Trump helpfully described the House measure as “mean” during a meeting Tuesday with Republican senators.) Well, great, and a Category 4 hurricane is a bit less harrowing than a Category 5. Most of us would prefer to avoid both.

One of the so-called “improvements” that has leaked out: People will be thrown off Medicaid more slowly under McConnellcare than under Ryancare. But they’ll still be thrown off, and to pay for this reprieve, the Senate would reportedly include additional cuts to Medicaid elsewhere. To finance all their tax cuts for the rich, Republicans will have to gut insurance for a lot of people one way or another.

Why all the secrecy? McConnell is trying to keep the pressure off the many Republican senators who have offered pledges of varying degrees of specificity to protect Medicaid and other aspects of the ACA that benefit their constituents.

They include Dean Heller of Nevada and Jeff Flake of Arizona, both up for re-election next year, as well as Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. So far, Susan Collins of Maine has stood honorably as one of her party’s firmest skeptics of this fiasco-in-the-making, but even she seems to be wobbling.

Since Democrats have 48 votes against dismantling the existing law, any three Republican senators could put a stop to this fantastically anti-democratic process. They could walk into McConnell’s office and say they’ll oppose any bill that is not made public for at least a month of real scrutiny and discussion. Is this too much to ask of legislation that could threaten the health care of countless Americans (the exact number being unknowable because the bill’s architects won’t admit to what they’re doing)?

There is work here for activists, politicians and the media. Activists must understand that they have less time to save the Affordable Care Act than they might think. Democratic Senators must take every opportunity to force this issue to the fore. Disruption in the face of this violation of legislative norms is no vice.

As for the media, Jacob Leibenluft, a former Obama administration official, described the problem well in an interview: “If you don’t have hearings, and you don’t have big moments for television, you don’t have bandwidth for coverage.” Leibenluft, now at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says individual reporters on the health care beat are doing good work, but their stories are getting limited attention.

He added: “I hate to think that looking back on this period, we’ll realize that the most regressive piece of social legislation in modern American history was passed, and no one was paying attention.”

We know that the Trump/Russia story will still be there in a month. We cannot say the same about the health insurance millions of Americans count on. By then, it may be on the road to extinction.

By E.J. Dionne Jr./Truthdig

Posted by The NON-Confromist

Michigan’s Top Health Official, Four Others Charged with Manslaughter In Flint Water Investigation

Five Michigan state officials will finally be held responsible for their roles in the widespread water contamination crisis that crippled the city of Flint.

Michigan’s health department director and four other officials involved in the crisis were charged Wednesday, June 14, with involuntary manslaughter, the most severe charges so far in the criminal investigation, according to The Detroit News.

Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon was accused of misconduct in office in addition to the involuntary manslaughter charge, making him the highest–ranking member of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration to go down in the water probe. Both offenses are felonies in the state.

Water Supervisor Stephen Busch, former Flint Water Department Manager Howard Croft and ex-Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Drinking Water Chief Liane Shekter-Smith also were charged with manslaughter for failing to notify the public about an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in the Flint area. The outbreak, which some experts have attributed to a state emergency manager’s decision to switch the city’s water supply in 2014, left 12 people dead and 79 others severely sickened, the newspaper reported.

Each of the manslaughter charges carry a penalty of up to 15 years behind bars and a $7,500 fine, while the misconduct charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

“The families of Flint have experienced a tragic, tragic health and safety crisis for the past three years,” Attorney General Bill Schuette said at a news conference Wednesday, adding that Lyon and the others had failed to protect the people of Flint. “Many people have died because of the decisions [other] people made.”

Schuette launched an investigation into the water crisis in January of 2016 to determine if any laws were broken in the state’s decision that created “the contamination crisis currently forcing Flint’s residents to rely on bottled water for drinking, cooking and bathing, as they fear for their health.”

To date, more than 13 current and former state and local officials have been criminally charged in connection with the crisis. The Detroit News reported that Busch, Croft and Shekter-Smith also were charged with less-serious crimes last year. Moreover, Shuette made it clear that he hasn’t ruled out possible charges against Snyder.

“There are two types of people in the world — those who give a damn and those who don’t,” Special Prosecutor Todd Flood said. “This is a case where there has been willful disregard” for the health and safety of other people.

By Tanasia Kenney/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Senate Republicans Hope You Won’t Notice They’re About to Repeal Obamacare

With GOP “moderates” caving on Medicaid cuts, the skids are greased.

Quickly and in secret—that’s how lawmakers operate when they’re about to pass legislation that is both harmful and deeply unpopular.

This week, while everyone was distracted by former FBI director James Comey’s testimony, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell put the Republican health-care overhaul on fast track. His caucus is writing its bill in secret, and McConnell’s move means he could bring the legislation up for a vote anytime, without holding a single public hearing. All signs indicate that Senate Republicans are preparing to copy their colleagues in the House and jam through a massively destructive piece of legislation before the public knows what’s going on.

Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill raised the alarm during a Thursday hearing on the Department of Health and Human Services budget. “Will we have a hearing on the health-care proposal?” McCaskill asked pointedly of a flummoxed Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who turned to his staff for help. After Hatch sputtered that Democrats were invited to participate regardless of whether a hearing was held, McCaskill retorted by recounting the months-long process of public hearings and amendments that the Affordable Care Act went through. Then she launched into a fiery, indignant speech.

“I heard you, Mr Secretary, just say, ‘I’d love your support’—for what?” McCaskill asked, holding up her hands. “We don’t even know. We have no idea what’s being proposed. There’s a group of guys in a back room somewhere that are making these decisions.” She went on, “We’re not even going to have a hearing on a bill that impacts one-sixth of our economy. We’re not even going to have an opportunity to offer a single amendment.”

McCaskill’s warning was not overwrought: The Republican effort gained sudden momentum this week, as so-called moderates began to cave. Just a few days ago GOP leaders sounded glum about their bill’s prospects. “I don’t know how we get to 50 [votes] at the moment,” McConnell lamented late in May. North Carolina Senator Richard Burr sounded even more pessimistic last week: “I don’t see a comprehensive health-care plan this year.” There was too much infighting, too much daylight between the GOP’s various factions. As the GOP prepared for a lunch meeting on Tuesday, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham predicted his party’s effort was “more likely to fail than not.”

But something was served at the lunch that gave Republicans who’d been queasy about cuts to Medicaid a new appetite for them. Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, a doctor who’s tried hard to paint himself as a moderate on health care, emerged to say that he was “very encouraged” about the plan. Since then at least three other Republicans who’d been skeptical of the House bill, and represent states that benefit from the Medicaid expansion, have signaled they’ll consider cuts to the program. Ohio’s Rob Portman, West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito, and Nevada’s Dean Heller all said they could support phasing out the expansion over seven years, beginning in 2020. While that’s more gradual “glide path” (to use Capito’s word) than the three-year phase-out proposed by McConnell, the result is the same: the end of federal funding for the expansion, which could affect as many as 10 million people.

According to a recent briefing from the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Delaying or phasing in the cost shift to the states under the AHCA would not stop the eventual end of the expansion and steep reductions in Medicaid enrollment. The bill still would reverse the historic gains in health coverage and access to care that have been made under the expansion.” The longer glide path is only for the benefit of swing-state Republicans who want to delay the political repercussions of cuts beyond the next few election cycles.

The Senate bill—whatever’s in it—is not a done deal. A provision related to abortion mayviolate Senate rules, while axing it could be a deal breaker for the most conservative members. And Medicaid remains fraught territory. But there are ways Republicans could skate over internal differences, for instance by passing a vague bill that omits details of the Medicaid cuts, leaving them to be worked out in the conference committee with the House—a process even more shielded from public scrutiny. At any rate, McConnell and company are moving forward at an alarming pace. And if we learned anything from the House’s rushed, narrowly successful vote on health care, it’s this: For today’s GOP, the desire for a “victory” is far stronger than the spines of party moderates.

By Zoë Carpenter/TheNation

Posted by The NON-Conformist