Tag Archives: health care reform

Congresswoman Giffords’s Office Was Vandalized on Orders from Former Militia Leader

Mike Vanderboegh, a former 1990s militia leader from Alabama, enouraged readers of his blog to throw bricks through the doors of members of Congress who had supported President Obama’s health care bill last spring. One of the doors broken was that of Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot at a rally in a Tuscon supermarket earlier today.

Police have said the unidentified gunman, who shot Giffords at point blank range in the head along with several other members of her staff, is in custody. He has not been identified or linked to any movement or group, and there is nothing to suggest at this time that his motives were political.

The Washington Post reported on the vandalism at Giffords’s office, and on its subsequent interview with Vanderboegh, on March 25, 2010:

“To all modern Sons of Liberty: THIS is your time. Break their windows. Break them NOW.”

These were the words of Mike Vanderboegh, a 57-year-old former militiaman from Alabama, who took to his blog urging people who opposed the historic health-care reform legislation — he calls it “Nancy Pelosi’s Intolerable Act” — to throw bricks through the windows of Democratic offices nationwide.

“So, if you wish to send a message that Pelosi and her party [that they] cannot fail to hear, break their windows,” Vanderboegh wrote on the blog, Sipsey Street Irregulars. “Break them NOW. Break them and run to break again. Break them under cover of night. Break them in broad daylight. Break them and await arrest in willful, principled civil disobedience. Break them with rocks. Break them with slingshots. Break them with baseball bats. But BREAK THEM.”

In the days that followed, glass windows and doors were shattered at local Democratic Party offices and the district offices of House Democrats from Arizona to Kansas to New York. At least 10 Democratic lawmakers reported death threats, incidents of harassment or vandalism at their offices over the past week, and the FBI and Capitol Police are offering lawmakers increased protection.

Local Democratic Party officials in New York have called for Vanderboegh’s arrest, believing he is implicated in the vandalism in Rochester, but Vanderboegh said he has not yet been questioned by any law enforcement authorities.

Vanderboegh was unapologetic in a 45-minute telephone interview with The Washington Post early Thursday. He said he believes throwing bricks through windows sends a warning to Democratic lawmakers that the health-care reform legislation they passed Sunday has caused so much unrest that it could result in a civil war.

“The federal government should not have the ability to command us to buy something that it decides we should buy,” Vanderboegh said. The government, he added, has “absolutely no idea the number of alienated who feel that their backs are to the wall are out here . . . who are not only willing to resist this law to the very end of their lives, but are armed and are capable of making such resistance possible and perhaps even initiating a civil war.”…

Vanderboegh said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democrats should beware “unintended consequences of their actions.” Vanderboegh outlined a complicated theory that IRS agents will go after people who refuse to buy insurance or pay the fines, ultimately resulting in “civil war.”

“The central fact of the health-care bill is this, and we find it tyrannical and unconstitutional on its face,” Vanderboegh said. “The federal government now demands all Americans to pay and play in this system, and if we refuse, we will be fined, and if we refuse to pay the fine, they will come to arrest us, and if we resist arrest . . . then we will be killed. The bill certainly doesn’t say that, but that’s exactly and precisely what is behind every bill like this.”

He said his call for people to throw bricks is “both good manners and it’s also a moral duty to try to warn people.”

In 2006, Vanderboegh advocated hurling bricks through the windows of members of Congress who supported giving illegal immigrants the same rights as U.S. citizens, according to news reports at the time. He said those bricks should be used to build a wall sealing off the United States from Mexico…

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist and hate groups, has been following Vanderboegh since the mid-1990s, when he first surfaced in Alabama militia groups, said Heidi Beirich, the center’s research director.

“He has been on our radar forever,” she said. “He hasn’t been involved in any kind of violence that we know of ourselves, but these causes that he’s involved in led to a lot of violence. The ideas that Vanderboegh’s militia groups were pushing were the same extreme anti-government ideas that inspired [Timothy] McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing.”

Vanderboegh, who lives in the Birmingham suburb of Pinson, described himself as a “Christian libertarian” and said he has long been a gun rights advocate. He said he joined a clandestine militia group called the “Sons of Liberty” and later became a public leader of the First Alabama Cavalry, Constitutional Militia.

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As Numbers of Uninsured Soar, Health Insurance Companies Plan Rate Hikes

The latest report from the Census Bureau, which shows a significant rise in the number of Americans living in poverty in 2009, is making news today. Less widely reported are the figures for those living without health insurance, which indicate that in 2009 there were 50.7 million uninsured or 16 .7% of population, up from 46.3 million and 15.4% in 2008. Kaiser Health News has a roundup of stories on the sharp rise in the uninsured. The details from the Census Bureau report are as follows.

  • The number of people with health insurance decreased from 255.1 million in 2008 to 253.6 million in 2009. Since 1987, the first year that comparable health insurance data were collected, this is the first year that the number of people with health insurance has decreased.
  • Between 2008 and 2009, the number of people covered by private health insurance decreased from 201.0 million to 194.5 million, while the number covered by government health insurance climbed from 87.4 million to 93.2 million. The number covered by employment-based health insurance declined from 176.3 million to 169.7 million. The number with Medicaid coverage increased from 42.6 million to 47.8 million.
  • Comparable health insurance data were first collected in 1987. The percentage of people covered by private insurance (63.9 percent) is the lowest since that year, as is the percentage of people covered by employment-based insurance (55.8 percent). In contrast, the percentage of people covered by government health insurance programs (30.6 percent) is the highest since 1987, as is the percentage covered by Medicaid (15.7 percent).
  • In 2009, 10.0 percent (7.5 million) of children under 18 were without health insurance. Neither estimate is significantly different from the corresponding 2008 estimate.
  • The uninsured rate for children in poverty (15.1 percent) was greater than the rate for all children.
  • In 2009, the uninsured rates decreased as household income increased: from 26.6 percent for those in households with annual incomes less than $25,000 to 9.1 percent in households with incomes of $75,000 or more.
  • These figures are sure to reignite the health care squabbling in Congress, and add to the Tea Party shrieks that Obamacare won’t cure the health care mess, which is now more of a disaster than ever. While their analysis is flawed, the Tea Partisans’ conclusion is, sadly, pretty much on the mark. 

    In the wake of health care reform, insurance companies are raising their rates–apparently, in preparation for the tepid new rules that won’t go into effect for years, and thus give the industry plenty of time to jack up their prices and protect their profits.  The Wall Street Journal reports that premiums for individuals and small businesses will go up in 2011, in some cases by as much as 20 percent. 

    Once the reform measures do go into full effect, the government is supposed to turn the 50 million uninsured into new customers for the price-gouging private insurance companies, which will enjoy no competition from a public option. As I have been arguing since this so-called debate over the future of health care began, it all looks like a sham exercise by Congress that will only end up extending the grip of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries in the health care market. 

    Any serious economic recovery will be stopped in its tracks by these numbers. And with more price hikes in store, God only knows what the 2011 figures will look like.

    Conservative Agenda Plays Out Through Health Care Reform

    Conservatives may complain bitterly about “Obamacare,” but they “are winning more than even they may realize in the current health care equation.” That’s the point made by Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, in a recent column.

    [F]or all of the frustration and even anger within the conservative movement about where health care is headed, the fact of the matter is that they are winning more than even they may realize in the current health care equation. That’s because the nature of health insurance itself is being redefined and moving gradually but seemingly inexorably in the direction conservatives have long advocated: more consumer “skin in the game” through higher patient deductibles.

    Item: In our recent survey of people in the non-group insurance market, we found that the average deductible for an individual policy is now $2,498, and for families it’s $5,149. These are very high thresholds by any standard. Consider, for example, that a family with median income facing such a deductible would be spending almost 10% of their annual income just for their deductible before their insurance kicked in.

    Item: The percentage of workers facing high deductibles — $1,000 or more for single coverage —  has been growing rapidly. It doubled from 10 percent to 22 percent between 2006 and 2009, and increased from 16 percent to 40 percent in small firms.

    Item: Indications are that the share of workers with high deductibles is continuing to grow, a trend I expect our 2010 employer survey to confirm when we release it in September as we have every year for more than a decade now. And a substantial number of these high deductible plans are paired with tax-advantaged savings accounts, which conservatives have long advocated. Facing cost pressures without alternative answers, employers are moving to plans with less comprehensive coverage to reduce their expenses for employee benefits.

    Item: Health reform is unlikely to reverse these trends. Large employers will continue to look for ways to address the rising cost of health care. And, for the basic “bronze” insurance plan that people will be required to buy, deductibles could run several thousand dollars for individuals and double that for families. To be sure, other aspects of health reform cut the other way. For example, there will be no cost sharing for preventive services in newly-purchased plans, and insurers will be required to cap consumer out-of-pocket costs at defined levels. And, of course, there are substantial subsidies to reduce premium and out-of-pocket costs for lower-income people. But, for the first time, the government will be defining the threshold that decent insurance must meet, and that minimum coverage will have the kind of high deductibles that conservatives favor.

    There’s still another facet to all of this: While many of the effects of health care reform may actually suit a conservative agenda, Republicans will use this self-same health care reform as a “socialistic” bogeyman to help them win the 2010 Congressional elections.

    Kagan on Health Care

    Undercurrents in Elena  Kagan’s improv performance suggest that if the new health care law comes before the courts, she might be partial to one part of it. Of course, knowing what she thinks about most anything is a guessing game. Anyhow, I note this entry from the Kaiser Health News, the invaluable service that aggregates news in the health sphere every day. 

    Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan suggested at her confirmation hearing Tuesday “that a controversial requirement in the new federal health-care law that most Americans obtain insurance has a legal basis — a question that is likely to come before the courts.” In answering Republican senators, Kagan “signaled” that she supported “enacting a health-care law that for the first time will require most legal residents of the United States to obtain insurance. Some Republicans contend that such a mandate is unconstitutional, and GOP-led states are threatening to file lawsuits challenging the provision,” according to the Post. “Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) asked Kagan whether she supports the argument that the mandate is allowed under the Constitution’s interstate-commerce clause. Kagan declined to address the requirement but made clear that she supports an expansive reading of Congress’s regulatory authority”

    No sooner had  I read this, than Kaiser recorded a string of planned Republican challenges along with nutty Tea Party stuff: Minority Leader John Boehner and Whip Eric Cantor want to repeal the act. California  GOP Senate candidate Carly Fiorina is against it. Rick Barber, the nut case congressional candidate in Alabama, said the new law was “slavery.”  And naturally, Sarah Palin was saying how horrible it all is because it raises costs, especially for children with special needs (proponents, of course, say it will lower costs).

    Docs and the Drugs They Push

    As I wrote earlier in the week, members of the medical profession are moaning and groaning about how once again they are taking an unfair beating at the hands of the mad socialists in Washington. For years now docs have been acting as salesmen for drug companies, in some cases,working with the drugsters to outmanuever FDA regulations–not that it’s very difficult to outmanuever that regulatory body which has become little more than an industry pr shop.

    Hopefully the Sunshine Act, which is part of health reform legislation, and which requires drug companies to disclose who they buy research from and for how much, will help put a stop to doctors as drug  salesmen. The problem is horrendous. On March 14, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a lengthy detailed account of the relationship between Wisconsin doctors and the drug industry. It is well worth reading in full. Here are a few bits:

    When looking for a doctor to travel the country and tout its costly prescription fish oil pill, GlaxoSmithKline didn’t select a heavyweight university researcher.

    Instead, it wrote checks to Tara Dall, a Delafield primary-care doctor who entered private practice in 2001.

    For just three months of speaking engagements last year, GlaxoSmithKline paid Dall $45,000, ranking her among the most highly paid of more than 3,600 doctors nationwide who spoke for the company, which released records for only one quarter of the year…..

    Dall hedged when asked in an interview if she fully disclosed her financial relationship with GlaxoSmithKline to all the patients for whom she prescribes the company’s high-priced fish oil product, known as Lovaza.

    “I think I would (disclose) if I was going to do anything off-label,” she said. “Whether I tell every single patient, I’m not sure.”

    The next day she called back and made a short statement, but hung up without answering questions.

    “It is absolutely disclosed to patients that I am a speaker and that I speak for pharmaceutical companies, and it is listed on my Web site,” she said…..

    The story describes the cozy dealings between companies and docs, citing other cases, before returning to Dall:

    According to her résumé, Dall does talks for five other drug and medical companies in addition to GlaxoSmithKline as well as community talks, including an unpaid speech on heart disease she gave to General Electric Co. employees in Wisconsin last August.

    There, she made an eyebrow-raising statement about heart disease.

    “As soon as we identify what puts you at risk, we can absolutely fix it,” Dall assured them in the talk, a video of which is posted on her Web site. “We can totally prevent cardiovascular disease from happening. We can completely trump genetics.”

    That’s wrong, according to Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, and Raymond Gibbons, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

    At best, cholesterol-controlling statin drugs reduce heart attacks and strokes by about one-third, Nissen said.

    “We cannot trump genetics,” Nissen said. “If she was right, we could wipe this disease out just by giving drugs to people. Even if we put statins in the water supply, cardiovascular disease would still be the leading cause of death.”

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    Health Care Reform Will Not Wreck the Budget

    Perhaps the hysteria surrounding the new health care reform will soon begin to die down. But even then, what will remain is a huge, complicated piece of legislation. To get to its heart, you really have to proceed slowly, step by step, looking into different nooks and crannies. And you have to decide which guides you trust.

    The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the liberal-minded Washington think tank, has been tracking the changing legislation as it made its way through Congress. So it knows something about the behind-the-scenes manuevering as well as what’s gone on in public. More importantly, the Center is the one think tank which has maintained a firm historic grasp of the shredding of the nation’s safety net over the years, closely paralleled by the growth in income disparities and numbers of poor and struggling Americans. It is conscious of how this sort of legislation actually affects people.

    Note to Tea Party adherents: This is not some pinko outfit. It was started by people around Jack and Bobby Kennedy and managed by  public servants who actually ran government programs, and who call on others with the same backgrounds to help figure out what’s what. CBPP has proven year after year to be thoroughly credible. At least, that’s what I think, and that’s why I pay attention to what it has to say and cite it a fair amount of the time.

    A new report from CBPP on the budget impact of the health legislation begins as follows:

    Despite an official estimate by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to the contrary, some critics of the new health reform legislation — such as Rep. Paul Ryan and former CBO director and McCain campaign adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin — charge that it will not reduce federal budget deficits because it relies on budgetary gimmicks or games. Careful analysis of these charges shows them to be misleading or inaccurate. They do not withstand scrutiny.

    CBO estimates the legislation will reduce the deficit by $143 billion over the ten years from 2010 through 2019.  In the following decade, 2020 through 2029, it estimates that the legislation will reduce the deficit by an estimated one-half of 1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), or about $1.3 trillion. CBO also anticipates that health reform “would probably continue to reduce budget deficits relative to those under current law in subsequent decades, assuming that all of its provisions continue to be fully implemented.

    The report goeds on to examine the specific claims–i.e. falsehoods–about the legislation in detail. In particular, it debunks attempts at fearmongering among older people, with claims that the reform bill threatens Social Security. I’ve included some highlights, but you can find the full report here.

    Claim: Health reform covers up long-term deficit increases by front-loading revenues and back-loading spending.

    Fact: Health reform will reduce deficits in the legislation’s second ten years and in subsequent decades.

    In claiming that health reform front-loads revenues and back-loads spending, critics selectively cite just a few provisions and fail to consider the legislation as a whole. The assertion that short-term gimmickry covers up long-term deficit increases is flatly contradicted by CBO’s assessment that the legislation will reduce the deficit in its second ten years and in subsequent decades.

    Claim: The legislation uses revenues from Social Security and premiums from long-term care insurance to offset the cost of health reform.

    Fact: Health reform reduces the deficit even without counting long-term care insurance premiums and additional Social Security payroll tax collections.

    CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation have concluded that the health reform legislation will reduce employer spending on health insurance, in part because the new excise tax on high-cost insurance plans will lead employers to shift some employee compensation from health insurance to cash wages. Workers will pay Social Security payroll contributions and income taxes on the additional wages.

    The legislation also establishes a new, voluntary program of long-term care insurance, called the CLASS Act. Benefit payments from CLASS will be fully financed by premiums that beneficiaries pay and interest earnings. In its early years, as the program starts up, premium collections will substantially exceed benefit payments.

    Congressional leaders crafted the health reform bill so that it would be fully paid for without relying on these additional Social Security payroll contributions or the CLASS Act premiums. The CBO estimate clearly shows that if one excludes the net revenues of $29 billion from Social Security contributions and $70 billion from CLASS Act premiums, health reform still reduces the deficit by $44 billion over the first ten years.

    The Health Reform Bill Cuts Medicare. Not.

    As you may have read or heard, the health reform legislation cuts Medicare by about $500 billion. What this means, exactly, is up for grabs. The conservative opposition to the cuts is clearly a political ploy, since they’ve been trying to destroy Medicare for decades. But even I get my hackles up when I hear that more than half of the health care reform’s $940 billion cost is being covered by cuts to Medicare, while the drug and insurance companies get a free ride (or in fact, a boost).

    A closer look, however, reveals that a lot of the cuts are to private Medicare Advantage plans, which I’ve long opposed as a mammoth rip-off. The legislation’s supporters swear it won’t compromise benefits, and the Medicare Rights Center (which I trust a lot more than I do AARP) is all for it. 

    I’ll be writing more about this in the future–but for now, Factcheck.org, the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s project that aims to straighten out some of the more egregious misconceptions about public policy, lays out the basics:

    Whether these are “cuts” or much-needed “savings” depends on the political expedience of the moment, it seems. When Republican Sen. John McCain, then a presidential candidate, proposed similar reductions to pay for his health care plan, it was the Obama camp that attacked the Republican for cutting benefits. Whatever you want to call them, it’s a $500 billion reduction in the growth of future spending over 10 years, not a slashing of the current Medicare budget or benefits. It’s true that those who get their coverage through Medicare Advantage’s private plans (about 22 percent of Medicare enrollees) would see fewer add-on benefits; the bill aims to reduce the heftier payments made by the government to Medicare Advantage plans, compared with regular fee-for-service Medicare. The Democrats’ bill also boosts certain benefits: It makes preventive care free and closes the “doughnut hole,” a current gap in prescription drug coverage for seniors.