Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us | TIME.com – 1. Routine Care, Unforgettable Bills
When Sean Recchi, a 42-year-old from Lancaster, Ohio, was told last March that he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, his wife Stephanie knew she had to get him to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Stephanie’s father had been treated there 10 years earlier, and she and her family credited the doctors and nurses at MD Anderson with extending his life by at least eight years.Because Stephanie and her husband had recently started their own small technology business, they were unable to buy comprehensive health insurance. For $469 a month, or about 20% of their income, they had been able to get only a policy that covered just $2,000 per day of any hospital costs. “We don’t take that kind of discount insurance,” said the woman at MD Anderson when Stephanie called to make an appointment for Sean.
GOP Has Trouble Settling on Candidates Who Can Win – One of the interesting things about recent elections is that Republicans have tended to do better the farther you go down the ballot.They’ve lost the presidency twice in a row, and in four of the last six contests. They’ve failed to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, something they accomplished in five election cycles between 1994 and 2006.But they have won control of the House of Representatives in the last two elections, and in eight of the last 10 cycles.And they’ve been doing better in elections to state legislatures than at any time since the 1920s.
One reason for this is that, as I have written, Democratic voters are clustered in large metropolitan areas, which helps them in the Electoral College but hurts in legislatures with equal-population districts.
But there’s another reason, which has been particularly glaring in races for the U.S. Senate: candidate quality.
The future of free-market healthcare – Over nearly a century, progressives have pressed for a national, single-payer healthcare system. When it comes to health reform, what have conservatives stood for?For far too long, conservatives have failed to coalesce around a long-term vision of what a free-market healthcare system should look like. Republican attention to healthcare, in turn, has only arisen sporadically, in response to Democratic initiatives.Obamacare is the logical byproduct of this conservative policy neglect. President Barack Obama’s re-election was a strategic victory for his signature healthcare law. Once the bulk of the program begins to be implemented in 2014 — especially its trillions of dollars in new health-insurance subsidies — it will become politically impossible to repeal. And as the baby boomers retire and Obamacare is fully operational, government health spending will reach unsustainable levels.The great irony of Obama’s triumph, however, is that it can pave the way for Republicans to adopt a comprehensive, market-oriented healthcare agenda. The market-oriented prescription drug program in Medicare has controlled the growth of government health spending. Similarly, conservatives can use Obamacare’s important concession to the private sector — its establishment of subsidized insurance marketplaces — as a vehicle for broader entitlement reforms.
The Pro-Growth Sequester – The Obama administration is whipping up hysteria over the sequester budget cuts and their impact on the economy, the military, first providers, and so forth and so on. Armageddon. But if you climb into the Congressional Budget Office numbers for 2013, you see a much lighter and easier picture than all the worst-case scenarios being conjured up by the administration.For example, the $85 billion so-called spending cut is actually budget authority, not budget outlays. According to the CBO, budget outlays will come down by $44 billion, or one quarter of 1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP is $15.8 trillion). What’s more, that $44 billion outlay reduction is only 1.25 percent of the $3.6 trillion government budget.
Ted Cruz knocks Obama on immigration – Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) says President Barack Obama wants to “scuttle” immigration reform by injecting a path to citizenship into the debate so Democrats can keep the issue alive for political gain.“The president has been focusing on amnesty — a path to citizenship that skips ahead of the line,” the freshman tea party senator said Wednesday at a speech in Dallas, according to The Dallas Morning News. “That, he knows, is a position not supported by a great many Americans and not a position that will achieve bipartisan cooperation. It’s designed to scuttle the bill.”
Foreign Buyers Hop on Rental Trend – US Masters, a real-estate investment trust that has raised $276 million, primarily from Australian retirees, is one of a handful of foreign firms that are betting on the U.S. housing recovery by buying houses at discount prices.The business of buying-and-renting houses, long dominated by local mom-and-pop investors, has morphed over the past two years into one of the hottest investments on Wall Street. Dozens of pension investors and private-equity firms, such as Blackstone Group LP BX -2.19% and Colony Capital LLC, are clamoring to buy homes in beaten-up markets, sometimes using money from foreign co-investors.
Majority of U.S. citizens say illegal immigrants should be deported – More than half of U.S. citizens believe that most or all of the country’s 11 million illegal immigrants should be deported, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday that highlights the difficulties facing lawmakers trying to reform the U.S. immigration system.The online survey shows resistance to easing immigration laws despite the biggest push for reform in Congress since 2007.
Missile Defense Tests Successful, but Future of Program in Doubt – The unanswered question is whether the Missile Defense Agency will be permitted to advance this space-based missile defense capability—whether through the STSS program or the PTSS program—to a deployed constellation at all. There should be little doubt that arms control advocates, both inside the Administration and out, are livid that this test took place at all, let alone that it was successful. This is because a space-based missile defense capability is incompatible with the Administration’s arms control agenda.
Gov. Scott agrees to expand Florida Medicaid program – Gov. Rick Scott announced plans Wednesday to expand Medicaid coverage to roughly 900,000 more people under the federal health overhaul, a surprise decision from the vocal critic of President Barack Obama’s plan.Scott said he will ask the Legislature to expand the program under a bill that would expire in three years, after which it would require renewed legislative support. He’s the seventh Republican governor so far to propose expanding the taxpayer-funded health insurance program.
How former Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. Spent His Campaign Funds – Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) pleaded guilty today “to a conspiracy to siphon about $750,000 in federal campaign funds for their personal use,” the Chicago Tribune reports.”About 3,100 personal purchases were made on campaign credit cards, totaling $582,772.58… Prosecutors said $60,000 was spent on restaurants, nightclubs and lounges; $31,700 on personal airfare; $16,000 on sports clubs and lounges; $17,000 on tobacco shops; $5,800 on alcohol; $14,500 on dry cleaning; $8,000 on grocery stores and $6,000 at drug stores.””In one of the more exotic purchases, Jackson used campaign funds in the spring of 2011 to pay a taxidermist in Montana $7,058 for two mounted elk heads to be shipped to his office in Washington. This was the beginning of an FBI sting, according to court documents.”
The sequester blame game – Much depends on the timing of any economic turndown. If it occurs this year, but is followed by improvement in 2014, the political consequences are not likely to be significant. If the economy is in trouble in mid-2014, then all bets are off. For this reason, among others, Republicans should reject out of hand the president’s efforts to postpone the sequester for a year. In any event, the sequester would make the Republicans a full partner with Obama when it comes to the state of the economy.In the end, though, Republicans are committed, as they should be, to cutting government spending. This is never a politically risk-free proposition. But it’s better to get a head start now, when blame might well be shared, than to save all the work for when (if) Republicans gain control of the government and will absorb all of the blame.JOHN adds: My own view is that Republicans should happily take credit for the spending cuts represented by the sequester. They aren’t anywhere near enough, but they are the most substantial spending cuts, I believe, in my lifetime. I think 75% of the population will be pleasantly surprised to learn that Congress is actually capable of cutting spending.
The GOP’s astonishingly bad message on sequester cuts – None of which addresses the Republican problem on the sequester. If the problem is one of substance — that is, if GOP leaders truly believe the cuts threaten national security but are nevertheless supporting them — then Republicans have put themselves into an untenable situation. If, as is more likely, the problem is one of message — that is, if Republicans believe the cuts are not only manageable without threatening national security but are also desirable as a first step toward controlling spending — then the Boehner article is sending all the wrong signals.
These are my links for July 24th through July 25th:
Obama Thanks ‘Gay-Porn Kingpin’– “I want to thank someone who put so much work into this event, Terry Bean,” President Obama said as the crowd began to cheer. “Give Terry a big round of applause.”Terry Bean is, according to the New York Post, a “gay-porn kingpin.””ONE of the ‘bundlers’ who has raised $50,000 to $100,000 for the Barack Obama presidential campaign is Terrence Bean, who once controlled the biggest producer of gay porn in America,” the Post reported in 2008, during the president’s first run the office. “Bean, the first gay on Sen. Obama’s National Finance Committee, is the sole trustee of the Charles M. Holmes Foundation, which owned Falcon Studios, Jock Studios and Mustang Studios, the producers of about $10 million worth of all-male pornography a year.”
Too Big To Fail, Obama and Dodd-Frank– The two-year anniversary of Dodd-Frank has come and gone, and Too Big To Fail is only growing.Sure, President Obama assured us the sweeping law would reform the sleaze and mindless risk-taking of the banking business — but all it’s given us is the certainty of future bailouts.Actually, that’s not fair: It’s also producing reams and reams of rules and regulations that force banks out of certain profitable lines of business, like proprietary trading, that had little to do with the shenanigans that led the financial crisis.But the biggest problem is the expansion of the largest single contributor to the banking collapse: The government’s protection of the remaining big financial institutions, a k a Too Big To Fail.The reason Too Big To Fail is so dangerous is that it provides a level of comfort to the Wall Street risk takers — enabling them to act like riverboat gamblers and simply bet more and more until the system comes crashing down, as it did four years ago. Why fear, when the taxpayer is on the hook for your losses?
Dodd-Frank was supposed to end the bank-protection racket. Everyone from the president to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner (who’s due up on Capitol Hill this week to discuss the law) to its chief sponsors, then-Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank, said so.
They tell us the law makes certain that the next time the big banks take too much risk, there will no taxpayer bailout: The bankers (and those who trusted them) will have to pay for their risk-taking sins in bankruptcy court, just like any other business in America.
Don’t buy it. A relatively open secret on Wall Street is that the megabanks that survived the financial crisis — JP Morgan, Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo — are still very much protected by the federal government and the American taxpayer.
California cities’ bankruptcies: Blame the housing bust– The reporting and commentary on the bankruptcies of California cities over the last month haven’t been journalism’s finest hour. From reading the voluminous accounts of the fiscal woes of Stockton and San Bernardino, you’d think that municipal unions and feckless city officials are primarily what led these cities down the path to fiscal ruin.But you’d be wrong. What bankrupted Stockton and San Bernardino were the most severe housing busts in the nation. What bankrupted those two cities were banks peddling subprime mortgages to poorly paid workers.That story has been missing from most accounts of the debacle, which instead focus on the preferred narrative of the right and center-right: that of fiscal irresponsibility and overpaid public employees. “Another city sinks in pension morass,” the Orange County Register editorialized. The problem common to the cities, wrote Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters, is that “elected leaders and appointed managers succumbed to hubris and political pressure, particularly from their employee unions.”Even most of the straightforward reporting has emphasized the errors of city managers and the burdens of having to pay city workers andBut that narrative is “Hamlet” without the prince. Yes, some elected and appointed officials were indifferent or insensible to their city’s fiscal plight. But lots of cities have negligent public officials, and even more have police officers and firefighters with those demonized defined-benefit pensions. What sets Stockton and San Bernardino apart is a far narrower set of circumstances: They were at the epicenters of the American housing bubble and the American housing bust.
To Move Polls, Romney Needs to Go Positive– Every once in a blue moon, a pollster asks exactly the right questions and brings some clarity to a number of important “big picture” issues in an election. Such is the case with the latest Pew poll. In particular, this survey helps us answer:– Is this election a choice or a referendum?
Marijuana Dispensaries Banned in L.A. Per City Council Vote– The L.A. City Council today voted to put an end to the city’s infamous and numerous marijuana dispensaries, citing neighborhood concerns and court rulings that have questioned a city’s right to regulate the retailers.Most of all, however, the council argued that L.A’s for-profit pot shop scene was never envisioned by state lawmakers whom the City Attorney says wanted to legalize the nonprofit growing and sharing of cannabis among the seriously ill.That interpretation, of course, is up for debate, but …… for now the city of L.A. is having things its way: No more weed retailers in the pot shop capital of the nation. Maybe. (See more below).At one point LA Weekly counted about 550 of them, and in light of a lack of city regulation, it seems that the number has remained fairly constant to us. In fact sources have told us that some rogue shops have taken advantage of City Hall’s lack of action –it has been trying to regulate dispensaries since at least 2007 — to open illicit pop-up shops that come and go quickly.
Gov. Scott Walker knocks Mitt Romney’s campaign– Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker criticized Mitt Romney’s campaign Wednesday for being too cautious and for assuming the election could just be a referendum on the president.“I think there’s a lot of caution. I think the mistake that they’ve made is the feeling like it can just be a referendum on the president,” said Walker, a Republican, on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “It’s certainly a part of it for any incumbent, it’s got to be a referendum on, do you like or dislike, not just the president, but his policies… but there’s got to be something more. People don’t just vote somebody out, they’ve got to vote somebody in
Nearly one in 10 employers to drop health coverage– About one in 10 employers plan to drop health coverage when key provisions of the new health care law kick in less than two years from now, according to a survey to be released Tuesday by the consulting company Deloitte.Nine percent of companies said they expect to stop offering coverage
to their workers in the next one to three years, the Wall Street Journal reported. Around 81 percent said they would continue providing benefits and 10 percent said they weren’t sure.
Organizers say they hope the coordinated events will mark a spring resurgence of the movement after a quiet winter. Calls for a general strike with no work, no school, no banking and no shopping have sprung up on websites in Toronto, Barcelona, London, Kuala Lumpur and Sydney, among hundreds of cities in North America, Europe and Asia.
In New York, Occupy Wall Street will join scores of labor organizations observing May 1, traditionally recognized as International Workers’ Day. They plan marches from Union Square to Lower Manhattan and a “pop-up occupation” of Bryant Park on Sixth Avenue, across the street from Bank of America’s Corp.’s 55-story tower.
“We call upon people to refrain from shopping, walk out of class, take the day off of work and other creative forms of resistance disrupting the status quo,” organizers said in an April 26 e-mail.
Occupy groups across the U.S. have protested economic disparity, decrying high foreclosure and unemployment rates that hurt average Americans while bankers and financial executives received bonuses and taxpayer-funded bailouts. In the past six months, similar groups, using social media and other tools, have sprung up in Europe, Asia and Latin America.
After Last Night – WH Correspondent’s Dinner – Politically, the most interesting phenomenon last night was the dog jokes. The President himself made three jokes about eating dogs. This represents a victory for new media and especially for Jim Treacher, since liberal news sources like the New York Times and Jon Stewart had studiously tried to pretend that the dog controversy didn’t exist. Obama and Kimmel evidently recognized that Twitter made such pretense impossible. (The New York Times, however, is still holding out.)
Events like last night’s always leave me feeling in need of a shower. Partly it is because there some truth to Kimmel’s joke, after noting that the room was full of politicians, members of the media and celebrities, that “Everything that is wrong with America is here in this room.” Partly is is due to the sense that everyone involved in the event is pretending. The politicians pretend to engage in self-deprecation that shows they don’t take themselves too seriously. The comics pretend that they are just trying to be funny, lampooning politicians impartially in search of laughs. But, even though some of the lines are indeed funny, the premise of the event is fundamentally false. In fact, politicians, comedians and even the celebrities present are pursuing an agenda that is both self-aggrandizing and political. That is why, I think, such events always leave me feeling unclean.
The Auto Bailout Bust – President Barack Obama has made the auto bailout a centerpiece of his reelection campaign, using it to bash Republican nominee Mitt Romney. But the tactic may backfire as the general election heats up, public opinion surveys suggest.
Recent polling from Rasmussen indicates that 59 percent view the bailouts as a “failure” and only 44 percent think the bailouts were “good for America.”
The administration has already written off $7 billion in taxpayer losses in the American takeover of Chrysler and General Motors; those losses are expected to climb as high as $23 billion—27 percent of the $85 billion spent on the bailout.
While the bailout is widely credited with saving the two companies, increasing taxpayer losses have made it nearly as unpopular in 2012 as it was when Obama was elected. More than half of Americans still disapprove of the auto bailout compared with 61 percent in 2008.
On Second Thought, Maybe N.C. Was a Mistake – If national Democratic strategists chose Charlotte, N.C., for the party’s national convention because they liked the facilities, the hotel accommodations or the weather in early September, then I guess I can’t yet quibble with the choice.
But if David Axelrod and the president’s other political advisers picked the Tar Heel State to make some broader political point, then they goofed.
Simply put: North Carolina looks like a mess for Democrats.
Shiller, the co-creator of the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index, said a weak labor market, high gas prices and a general sense of unease among consumers was outweighing low mortgage rates and would likely keep a lid on prices for the foreseeable future.
Amazon Softens Stance on Taxes – Amazon.com Inc. reached an agreement with Texas officials Friday to begin collecting sales taxes in the state starting in July and appears to be backing away from its long-held opposition to tax collection in states where it has warehouses and other facilities.
With the deal, the Seattle-based company is on track to collect sales taxes in 12 states, which make up about 40% of the U.S. population, by 2016. Amazon currently collects taxes in five states. Since 2011, it has reached agreements with seven other states, including Texas, to begin tax collection over the next four years.
Reuters reports that the giant e-tailer will start collecting sales tax in Texas come July 1, as part of a settlement that requires Amazon to bring 2,500 jobs and $200 million in capital investment to the state over the next four years.
In exchange for the jobs and money, Texas State Comptroller Susan Combs is dropping the state’s demand for $269 million to cover sales taxes from 2005 to 2009, Reuters reports.
Amazon struck a deal with the state of Nevada earlier in the week whereby it will begin collecting sales taxes there on January 1, 2014. It also reached an agreement with California last September that gave it another year before it has to begin collecting sales taxes in that state.
Things went the other way in Illinois yesterday, when a judge there called unconstitutional a law designed to let the state collect sales tax from out-of-state, online retailers.
The Performance Marketing Association, which represents affiliate marketers such as those working with Amazon, had challenged the 2011 law that created the Illinois Affiliate Nexus Tax. A Cook County Circuit judge ruled the law unconstitutional because, according to Crain’s Chicago Business, “simply having an affiliated company in the state that makes sales or refers customers to an online retailer doesn’t create enough of a presence, or nexus, for tax purposes.”
The judge also said the law was unenforceable because of a federal Internet tax moratorium that is in place through 2014.
CA-26: NRCC gives 3 ‘contender’ status – The National Republican Congressional Committee has given three GOP House challengers “contender” status, the third out of four steps in the “Young Guns” program to recruit new and viable Republican candidates.
Republicans Tony Strickland in California, Jason Plummer in Illinois and Matt Doheny in New York were all elevated to the next level of the program Thursday.
The candidates will face new benchmarks for fundraising and recruiting before attaining “Young Guns” status.
CA-26: Dog Is as Dog Does – How a live-free-or-die dude like Strickland came to be a born-again Nanny State zealot, however, is not so mysterious. It turns out he’s now running for a congressional seat in Ventura, and his chief Democratic rival, Julia Brownley, led the charge to ban plastic bags statewide while in the Assembly. Not only that, but Brownley is now pushing a much softer and kinder bill to define what constitutes a reusable bag. Brownley’s bill would require such bags be strong enough to carry 22 pounds more than 100 times for a distance of 175 feet. Rather than require a warning label designed to scare off possible users, Brownley’s bill would mandate bags to come with a tag identifying its country of origin and stating no lead, cadmium, other toxic heavy metals designed to sap one’s wits were used in its manufacture.
Just remember there are 41 shopping days left between now and the June primary. I’ll do my part by shopping with a cross-contaminated, lead-based bag. You can spot me huffing by the broccoli section at Trader Joe’s. Please do not disturb. I already am.
These are my links for June 20th from 15:01 to 15:07:
Sarah Palin® Trademarks Her Name – A few months ago, an attorney for Sarah and Bristol Palin put in an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to trademark their names. (One of many things that suggests that profit, and not the presidency, is what's motivating Palin.) For Sarah Palin, the intent was a little less clear cut than it was for her daughter, as this article in Politics Daily made clear:
For Sarah Palin's application, there are two classes of commercial service for which her name would be a registered trademark. One is for "information about political elections" and "providing a website featuring information about political issues." The second is for "educational and entertainment services … providing motivational speaking services in the field of politics, culture, business and values."
The "Bristol Palin" application is for "educational and entertainment services, namely, providing motivational speaking services in the field of life choices."
According to the same reporter, the deadline to challenge Palin's application passed on Friday and — amazingly — nobody seems to have challenged it. So it looks like the Patent and Trademark Office will award both patents in the near future.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the nonprofit NeighborWorks America said the program will provide hundreds of local borrowers with interest-free loans of up to $50,000 over a two-year period. In some cases, the money will not have to be paid back.
The $1 billion national program is expected to benefit 30,000 unemployed homeowners in 27 states and Puerto Rico with financial assistance.
Note: In some cases the money will NOT have to be paid back
Beginning today, homeowners in 27 states can file preliminary applications for the Emergency Homeowner's Loan Program (EHLP). Eligible homeowners can obtain interest-free loans of up to $50,000 to help cover mortgage expenses for up to two years.
The program is available to homeowners who have seen their incomes fall and who could lose their homes to foreclosure due to circumstances beyond their control, including involuntary unemployment, underemployment, economic conditions or an illness.
The program is a counterpart to the $7.6 billion Hardest Hit Fund and is available only to homeowners in states not covered by that program. The Hardest Hit Fund provides foreclosure avoidance assistance to homeowners in states that have been most seriously affected by the declining housing market and economic downturn.