This is the sixth in a series of guest blog posts touching on various aspects of health care. Maryjean Lyon is the Universal Health Care Chair for the Omaha Branch of the American Association of University Women.
There is no sound reason for the scandalously expensive and inadequate health care system in the U.S. A "landslide" percentage of Americans want a government administered system that would cover all citizens. We already have the money. It only needs to be redirected.
Models for national health systems have been working for decades in all other industrialized countries in the world. They protect their entire populations at half or less of our per capita cost and have better health outcomes. Our own "pre-drug-law" Medicare is another usable model. We don't need to reinvent the wheel.
The steadily increasing cost of health care is undermining our nation's physical and economic well-being. The number of uninsured stands at 45 million and rising. Health connected bankruptcies are growing. Companies are cutting back employee insurance coverage, reducing numbers of workers and/or moving overseas. Eighteen thousand people are dying each year for lack of insurance. Even young millionnaires worry about the effects of health care costs on their futures.
Compounding the problems, the solvency of Medicare, our popular health program for seniors and the most effectively administered part of our entire private/public health care system, is endangered by the nefariously complicated 2003 Medicare drug law now going into effect. The Bush White House insisted it would cost "only" $400 billion, but Medicare's chief actuary now estimates it will cost $1.2 trillion ($720 billion from taxpayers) over the next ten years. Much of this is a giveaway to drug and insurance corporations. Since the law does nothing to curb drug prices, the one thing for which seniors were pleading, that estimate is most likely low. Some think the intent of this law is to destroy Medicare.
The drug law should be repealed and replaced with "Medicare for All" legislation that would include power for negotiating lower drug prices, as other countries have, and extend the program to cover all citizens just as it now covers all seniors.
It is time for compassionate common sense leadership on this issue.
Universal Health Care Chair for the Omaha Branch of the American Association of University Women
Richard Lombardi was the Kansas/Nebraska Coordinator for the National Health Care Campaign in 1993 and 1994. The slogan was "Health Care that is always there."
The National Health Care Campaign, proposed by President Bill Clinton, was the last 50 State-Campaign by the Democratic National Committee. From the Fall of 1993 through the Summer of 1994 the Democratic National Committee operated a national field campaign known as the National Health Care Campaign to support President Clinton's Health Care Security Act, which if passed, would have provided every American citizen with ‘health care that would always be there'. To date, this bill was the most heavily lobbied legislation in the history of the United States. Somewhere between $150 million to $225 million was spent primarily to stop this legislation from passing. A majority of those funds were expended for the most comprehensive grassroots campaign short of a Presidential election this country has ever seen.
This fight for America's hearts, minds and votes on America's most precious issue…health…continues 10 years after the defeat of the national health care proposal. All the fear that was sowed by opponents of national health care coverage has actually come to pass even without the passage of national health care. More employers than ever don't provide health care: employers providing health care plans fell from a high of 85% in 1988 to 59% in 2004. The current Health Care Finance System delays care and shifts costs to more expensive medical expenditures. This has become the major factor in our lack of competitiveness in the international marketplace. General Motors will tell you that the cars produced in Canada are produced for $1500 cheaper because Canada provides a rational health care system for their citizens. America ranks 22nd in the world in life expectancy rates despite spending the most on the business of health care. Statistics prove a basic fact: if you don't have health care coverage, you die sooner. Currently, 45.8 million Americans do not have health insurance coverage. This is equal to the cumulative population of twenty-four states.
Universal health care in the United States is an issue worth fighting for. Even at the lowest point of the national campaign to discredit the Clinton Plan, over 50% of the people said they still wanted some kind of universal health coverage. The National Democratic Party should have stayed the course on this issue because this issue is about our soul. It is the fundamental test of all of us as a community. Although some may see this as a right, I see it as an obligation we have to one another. To provide the opportunity for all citizens to access the essential health care services is an act of justice. Too many politicians got scared away from this issue, when we needed them most.
"Health Care that is always there" is the only direction on health care that America hasn't taken yet, thus fulfilling the Winston Churchill observation: "Americans will ultimately do the right thing, but only after they have tried everything else."
This is the fifth in a series of guest blog posts touching on various aspects of health care. Lombardi worked as an advisor on President Clinton's 1993 Healthcare Initiative.
From our Friend Kyle at New Nebraska Network
This week, former Nebraska Attorney General and three-time Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate Don Stenberg won a surprising victory on behalf of rural, elementary-only "Class I" school districts, at least temporarily saving them from forced consolidation under a 2005 legislative bill.
The AP reports:
A state law requiring all elementary-only schools to merge with larger districts was put on hold by a judge Monday.
If the schools are dissolved as current law requires in June 2006, "a fair opportunity to vote in a meaningful manner will not be available," Lancaster County District Judge Paul Merritt Jr. ruled.
Supporters of the elementary-only, or Class I schools, sought the injunction to have the law suspended in case voters repeal it in the November 2006 election. The school merger repeal will be on the ballot, thanks to a successful petition drive.
The law requires the districts to be dissolved in June, 4 1/2 months before the vote.
Should the law be allowed to continue, the November vote would then "represent a meaningless exercise in futility," Merritt said in his ruling….
"Obviously we're happy about the decision but also feel it's fair," said Matt Nessetti with Nebraskans for Local Schools, a group that spearheaded the drive to repeal the law. "Our whole goal initially was to give the people a voice about this."
While enough signatures to put the question of repealing the law on the ballot, petition circulators fell about 26,000 short of enough to have automatically suspended the law without legal action….
The judge agreed with arguments made by Don Stenberg, a candidate for the U.S. Senate and a former three-term state attorney general who represented the small schools. He said that because a vote to repeal the law would be meaningless unless the law were suspended, the court would be justified in issuing the injunction.
This all comes on the heels of a November 4th Omaha World-Herald editorial, providing some much needed historical context to this legal battle:
Backers of Class I schools collected enough valid signatures this year to put Legislative Bill 126 on the November 2006 ballot. That would be almost exactly 20 years after voters destroyed LB 662, the last attempt to force mergers of Class Is with K-12 school districts.
But small-school backers failed where their 1980s predecessors succeeded: They were unable to get enough signatures to suspend the merger law pending the vote.
The state constitution, to put it bluntly, couldn't be more clear. Article III, Section 3, says petitioners need valid signatures equal to 5 percent of the state's registered voters to put a law passed by the Legislature on the next general-election ballot -- but 10 percent if they also want the law suspended until then.
These percentages have been in place since 1920…The differing thresholds, then, have been known for 85 years.
So, first, congratulations Mr. Stenberg. There's just one problem here -- your "victory" flies in the face of one of the most fundamental principles on which your campaign for the Senate is supposedly founded -- putting a stop to activist judges.
As Stenberg's campaign website vows, "JUDGES SHOULD BE LAW ENFORCERS, NOT LAW MAKERS."
In this situation, the law was perfectly clear, and Stenberg -- for all his empty campaign promises -- specifically asked the judge to disregard Nebraska's constitution. He didn't just want law made -- he wanted it violated….and that's exactly what he got.
To be honest, I'm not all that eager to see these school districts closed and I certainly don't mind voters, on principle, having a say in their government. But, the Constitution was clear here -- it had stood this way for 85 years! What, might I ask, could possibly be a more "activist" decision than this show of blatant disregard for Nebraska's most fundamental rules of law?
Right decision, wrong decision -- who can say? Likely, that now rests in the hands of the voters. But, what is clear here is Don Stenberg's utter and complete hypocrisy. I can appreciate different perspectives on the role of the judge and the courts in public policy, but this case should forever preclude Stenberg from ever again condemning judicial activism because that's exactly what he asked for and got -- no question about it.
As this situation illustrates, Stenberg is an empty suit personified willing to say anything to get elected. His complete reliance on Republican talking points and "talk radio" rhetoric is so devoid of honest and critical thought that it almost makes me sorry for the man. Then, I remember that he served three terms as Attorney General and still holds out hope to be a Senator, and suddenly I realize it's the people of Nebraska with whom my sympathies truly lie.
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to 21st Century America, the land where all are created equal. Just make sure that you can pay the premiums on a good health insurance policy so you can be on the "greater than" side of that equation.
Thanks to Scott Kleeb and Jim Esch for making health care such an important focus in their campaigns. As supporters of their positions, Democrats need to use some real numbers to demonstrate how great the problem has become. A look beyond past years of rhetoric (most recently the failed Clinton Health plan) should prove to everyone that American health care, like so many of the industries which we once lead the world in, has gone by the wayside. The following numbers are from 2003, the latest date for which the data is available.
● Total national health expenditures increased by 7.7% over 2002. That was four times the rate of inflation in 2003.
● In 2004, employer health insurance premiums increased by 11.2%, nearly four times the rate of inflation.
● The annual premium for an employer health plan, covering a family of four averaged nearly $10,000.
● The annual premium for single coverage averaged $3,695.00.
● Between 2001 and 2003, increases for national spending for prescription medications averaged 14%.
● Health care spending is 4.3 times the amount spent on national defense.
● In 2000 the United States spent 15.3% of its gross domestic product on health care. It is projected that the percentage will reach 18.7% in 10 years.
● Although nearly 45 million Americans are uninsured, the United States spends more on health care than other industrialized nations and those countries provide health insurance to all their citizens. In comparison, health-care spending accounted for 10.9% of the gross domestic product in Switzerland, 10.7% in Germany, 9.7% in Canada and 9.5% in France.
● Employees spending for health insurance coverage has increased 126% between 2002 and 2004.
● For businesses owners, keep this in mind, the premiums for employer-based health coverage rose by 11.2% in 2004, the fourth consecutive year of double-digit increases.
● The annual premium that a health insurer charges an employer for health plan covering a family of four averaged $9,950, or $829 a month in 2004.
Six times in the past century efforts have been made to introduce some kind of universal health insurance in America, and each time those efforts have been rejected. Instead the United States has opted for a makeshift system of increasing complexity and dysfunction. Americans spend $5,267 per capita on health care every year, almost 2
Do you remember this picture?
Yep, it's the same Dick Cheney who's being grilled by the press over Independent Counsel Fitzgerald's report of the outing of CIA agent Valarie Plame. And he's with…Congressman Jeff Fortenberry!
Why start publicizing this picture now?
Well, maybe because a majority of voters in Fortenberry's district can't stand Dick Cheney. You heard me right…Vice President Dick Cheney's approval rating in Nebraska is at a whopping 41%. It's pretty obvious that this poll and last month's poll of President Bush are evidence that the Nebraska Republicans are being squeezed for their lack governing.
Let's see if Fortenberry will extend an invitation to the VP to come back to the district, now that Cheney has a lower approval rating than he does.
Last evening I attended the Organizing Party hosted by Frank Barrett in Omaha. I was very pleased to see all the new faces at the event. About 40-45 people showed up to share their concerns about the way our State and federal governments are being led. Like I said, there were several people I have never seen at NDP events, who expressed interest in getting Democrats elected in 2006, and doing what they can to help out.
State Senator Gwen Howard, Second Congressional District Candidate Jim Esch, Board of Regents Candidate Lawrence Bradley and other Democratic candidates were present for the event.
Before the 6:30 p.m. conference call with Governor Dean, I explained what the DNC's "50 State Strategy" is doing for states like Nebraska and how this strategy is translating to our own "93 County Strategy." We also talked about the opportunities for 2006, including State legislative races, defending Sen. Ben Nelson's seat, promoting and electing our other great candidates, and building the NDP. After the call, we held a 30 minute interactive session so that folks could learn more about what the NDP is working on and how they can contribute, and we learned about some of their ideas on how collectively we can elect Democrats.
The rest of the evening was spent watching the new Wal-Mart movie, courtesy of Chris Jerram and the Douglas County Democratic Party. Overall, the party was a great success and I am delighted to hear similar reports from around the state.
Finally, many thanks to my dear friend Frank Barrett for opening up the best place in town, Castle Barrett, for our get-together. Frank reported his eighth grandchild was born yesterday. Best to you Frank.
Nebraska Democratic Party Chair
Last night, Democrats braved the cold and snow to attend one of the Nebraska Democratic Party's National Organizing Kickoff Events.
Many of our events were held in Democratic homes, where hosts spoke of their hopes for the Democratic party and our candidates in 2006. Tom McFarland set up a power point presentation at his home with information on voter turnout. He remarked that if his precinct had turned out 18 more Connealy voters, he would have carried that precinct. Imagine if we had done that in every precinct for every election, how many more Democrats we would have elected?
Other events were held at coffee shops and meeting rooms across the state. One such event had a tremendous turnout and featured our State Chair, Steve Achelpohl. Another event in Omaha discussed the importance of contacting voters door-to-door and shared stories of work in previous campaigns. Later, they listened into a conference call with Governor Howard Dean, DNC Chair. You can read Kyle's thoughts on the call here.
Michael, a host in Lincoln, was hesitant at first when asked to host a party. He opened his home and was pleasantly surprised by what he received -- two State Senators, neighbors, and even a few new faces. After the success of his event, he mentioned hosting another party next month!
Grassroots, neighborhood organizing is going to be the key to our victory here in Nebraska in 2006. If we want our candidates to be successful, it is up to each one of us to start talking to our friends, co-workers, and neighbors about the values and issues that make us Nebraska Democrats. We are asking for people to take the energy from our Kickoff Events last night and continue to host informal coffees in your home or other meeting place. Take Michaels advice do not wait for someone else to host a coffee when you can host your own. Sign up on our Event Center and contact me so we can help make your event a success.
Thanks to all of our hosts who gave their time and hard work. Thanks also to each of you who attended these events.
In case you haven't received an email about tonight's National Organizing Kickoff, go right now to the Event Center and check out and see if there are any events in your neighborhood.
With the kickoff of the 93 County Strategy and our statewide candidate recruitment efforts--tonight should be a great time to further our ongoing efforts to build a grassroots infrastructure throughout our state.
Please check back as guest bloggers post from various house parties across the state.
Today is the first day of enrollment for the new Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. Folks have until May 15, 2006 to select which plan is more appropriate for their lives. Unfortunately, with over 40 plans to choose from, many seniors feel like it will take them until May to figure out which one they should sign up for. This quote from yesterday's Omaha World Herald says it all:
"I have a Ph.D., and it's too complicated to suit me," said William Q. Beard, 73, a retired chemist in Wichita, Kan., who takes eight prescription drugs, including several heart medicines. "I fervently wish that members of Congress had to deal with the same health care program we do."
While there is a lot of controversy surrounding the new Medicare Plan (and I would love for you to comment with your own thoughts), I want to provide folks with information they need to learn more about what plan is best for them.
Around 9:30am, I tried logging on to the Medicare website this morning, and I was discouraged when it was inaccessible because of "high traffic." A little later, I tried again, and was able to get on. Hopefully, it will remain available the rest of the day, but I suspect there will be more problems.
You can also visit AARP Nebraska where they have information to help you sort through the plans.
There are also a lot of meetings being held across the state by the Nebraska Medicare Prescription Drug Coalition where you can go to learn more about each plan. You can find a meeting in your town by clicking here.
I have also collected a list of news stories and informational sites that might shed some light on the plans and the politics surrounding them.
Medicare drug program enrollment to start -- Kearney Hub
Medicare bill could help rural areas -- Fremont Tribune
Groups sue over Medicare drug benefit -- cnn.com