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Last Night Began With You

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.

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See You Tonight!

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.

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Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Enrollment Begins Today

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 benefit sessions a bitter pill for many -- OWH

Medicare drug program enrollment to start -- Kearney Hub

Medicare bill could help rural areas -- Fremont Tribune

Groups sue over Medicare drug benefit -- cnn.com

Here is a recap of the important informational websites:
www.Medicare.gov 1-800-MEDICARE
AARP Nebraska
Access to Benefits Coalition
Nebraska Medicare Prescription Drug Coalition

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Esch: Addressing Health Care's Ailments

My priority in the race to become the Representative from the 2nd District of Nebraska is to lead the effort to reform our beleaguered medical-insurance-hospital system.

Affordable, accessible health care is a fundamental human right. Our aging population makes these programs all the more important. In 25 years, without major changes to our current entitlement programs, the cost of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security will equal roughly the amount spent on the entire federal government today.

Earlier this year, the National Coalition on Health Care (NCHC) issued a report entitled "Building a Better Health Care System." This non-partisan coalition of 90 organizations ranges from the AFL-CIO and the AARP to Blue Shield of California, AT&T, and the Principal Financial Group. These organizations were united by their commitment to the pursuit of a reformed health-care system.

The NCHC priorities:

1. Health Care Coverage for All
2. Cost Management
3. Improvement of Health Care Quality and Safety
4. Equitable Financing
5. Simplified Administration

The coalition laid out 4 scenarios to improve our health care system. One built on the existing employer-financed system, supplemented by requirements for individuals to self-insure. A second expanded Medicare, Medicaid and other public programs. A third was a new program, with a variety of insurance options modeled on the current federal employees' health benefits plan. And, the last was a single-payer, government-financed plan, similar to Canada's or Britain's. It was projected that a change from the current system to any one of these resulted in enormous savings and better health care coverage.

The findings offer real, possible solutions through both proactive programs and mitigating the costs and problems caused by the current state of the system. One of the findings recommended that universal coverage will in itself result in savings when compared to the current system. By providing universal coverage, many health problems and potential health problems will be detected early enough to either prevent the problem all together or greatly reduce the costs by providing early treatment. This proactive care will serve to shorten the overall length and expense of treatment. This is not only beneficial to the patient; but also serves the purpose of reducing administrative costs involved with health care delivery. Kenneth Thorpe, the former top economist at the Department of Health and Human Services, concluded that these systems can result in projected savings of anywhere from $320 billion to $1.1 trillion in the first 10 years.

The two scenarios of this study that would benefit Nebraskans the most would also create the greatest reductions in spending on healthcare. The first scenario, an expansion of Medicare and Medicaid, is projected to result in universal coverage and the greatest projected reduction in spending. The second scenario is modeled on the federal employee's health benefits plan with a variety of benefits and insurance options. Although not projected to result in the same amount of savings as the plan based on the expansion of Medicaid and Medicare, this program would also create a more affordable health care system by efficient, earlier treatment for uninsured Nebraskans.

While there would certainly be upfront costs, the long-term savings in terms of dollars and human suffering are incredible. Furthermore, inaction is not an option as nearly 46 million Americans are currently without health care. I offer that a change to either one of these systems would greatly reduce spending compared to the current system and would go farther to achieve what the current system has failed to in the form of universal coverage

Health care reform must be a national priority and it cannot be done piece by piece. A complete overhaul will not only serve to reach the goal of universal coverage, it will also result in a more efficient and effective use of Nebraskan's tax dollars. Action and accountability in government goes a long way to curing what ails the current health care system.

-Jim Esch
www.jimesch.org

This is the third in a series of guest blog posts touching on various aspects of health care. Jim Esch is running for Congress in Nebraska's 2rd District.

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Kids for Democracy

Hello Fellow Nebraska Democrats,

My name is Jamila Quarles. I am twelve years old. I am a sixth-grader at St. Patrick's Elementary in Elkhorn. I am also one of the Co-Founders for the Nebraska Chapter of Kids For Democracy.

Kids for Democracy is a new group created by kids all across the country. Many of us started as Kids for Kerry/Edwards during John Kerry and John Edwards' campaign during the 2004 Presidential Election. We are now Kids for Democracy, and we support all Democratic nominees in all elections whether local or nationwide. Our major goals as Kids for Democracy are to give kids the opportunity to meet Democratic candidates and leaders, support Democratic ideals, develop leadership skills, and most importantly let kids know that even though they can't vote they can still have a voice in the politics of our country.

Our mission statement is made up of three parts, Education, Involvement, and Advocacy.

Education

We, as part of Kids for Democracy, want every member of our organization to be educated about politics and the Democratic Party. Every kid should try their hardest to make sure that they are fully informed about the political system in our country.

Involvement

As part of Kids for Democracy, we hope you participate in politics to your best ability, and thrive to understand the basic ideas of the democratic process. Also, it is very important that kids are involved in political campaigns, and learn what it means to be a part of an ongoing, spirited, excited, and vital team racing toward a big goal--to win! In any way, as a member of Kids for Democracy, it is essential to be committed to a cause within the Democratic Party--and act on it and get involved!

Advocacy

Within Kids for Democracy, every member should have one main goal: to work on behalf of Democratic youth. We hope that you will help ensure that the voices of kid Democrats are being heard throughout the country. All kids that participate in Kids for Democracy should support issues and ideas that are committed to fairness and justice. Your job as a member of Kids for Democracy is to make America a safer, healthier, and overall better place for children.

I am inviting all children ages 8-13 years to become involved in Kids For Democracy. Why wait until you are old enough to vote to make a difference in Politics? It is my goal to have a chapter in every elementary and Junior High School in Nebraska. We are currently looking for members for what my mom says is the 3rd and 1st CD. Of course more people from the 2nd are welcome.

If you are a parent and have further Questions check out the Kids for Democracy website.

Sincerely,
Jamila Quarles
Co-founder Nebraska Chapter of Kids For Democracy

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Veteran Health Care Facts

I hope everyone has taken time today to think about the men and women who have risked their lives serving our country as well as those who have given their lives. So far, 24 Nebraskans have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, including three in the last week. You can read a statement made from NDP State Chair Steve Achelpohl in the Press Release section of the Communications Center.

In honor of Veterans Day, we have focused our attention on veterans' health care. Hopefully you have already read the blog post from Senator Nelson who is one of the nation's staunchest supporters of veterans benefits.

I have also posted two new talking points memos focusing on veterans that can be found in the Communications Center and on the Health Care page. Senate Republicans voted five times this year against adequate funding for veterans' health care. Yet at the same time, 25,000 veterans of the Iraq war have returned home and are forced to sit on waiting lists to get medical attention in VA hospitals. On top of that, veterans are forced to wait six months to two years to receive disability compensation. Read more facts in the talking points Chuck Hagel and the Senate GOP Get Failing Grade on Vets Issues and Republicans Break Their Promise to Nebraska's Men and Women in Uniform.

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Senator Nelson: Veterans' Health Care

Since coming to Washington I have taken a special interest in issues affecting health care for our veterans. Combat in Iraq and Afghanistan has only served to increase my involvement in these issues. When a country sends its young into harms way, they deserve the best of medical care.

One of the heartbreaking health issues that we recently dealt with in the U.S. Senate had to do with Americans who have been wounded in action. When those who are injured return home many will require modifications to their houses to accommodate their physical limitations. Until recently the government would pay for such modifications only if the wounded person owned a home. The sad reality is that many of todays wounded are young enough never to have owned a home. They may return to their parent

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Health Care Kick-Off

Today is the official kick-off of our in-depth focus on health care. We will be posting new information everyday on the blog and will cross-post and archive the information on a new section of our site devoted to health care. You can access that page by clicking here.

3rd District Congressional Candidate Scott Kleeb is our first guest blogger. Tomorrow, Senator Ben Nelson will post about veterans' health care.

The Center for American Progress released new talking points on health care today based on two new studies comparing America's health care system to those in other countries. Former Senator Tom Daschle conducted one study and the other is from the Commonwealth Institute. According to the findings, the U.S. health care system ranks 37th in the world, and the U.S. has a higher infant mortality rate then 41 other countries. I was particularly enlightened by the Daschle study which debunked several myths about the American health care system. I also appreciated that he did not ignore some of the good things the American system has to offer.

You can also find talking points about the 46 million Americans living without health insurance by clicking here.

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Kleeb: Restoring Balance to Health Care

The last 20 years have seen amazing advances in medical science. As a result of new diagnostic technologies, new treatments and new drugs, people our living longer and more comfortably than ever before. But there is another side to this coin, and that is rising costs that are making it increasingly difficult for Americans to afford access to care.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, total health care expenses in this country are projected to increase from $1.55 trillion in 2002 to $3.34 trillion by 2013--an average increased more 10 percent per year. Not surprisingly, health care insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays are also on the rise, increasing at a rate as much as six times the rate of inflation.

More and more insured individuals struggle to pay their monthly medical expenses. More and more small business employers cannot afford to offer health care coverage at all, a trend that is particularly alarming when one considers that small businesses accounted for 75 percent of new jobs created between 1990 and 1995. The number of uninsured Americans has grown by 6 million in just five years to reach its present level of 46 million. Fully 80 percent of the uninsured are in working families.

There is an urgent need to restore balance to the American health care system. We cannot allow the United States to follow the path of Latin American countries, where world-class hospitals open their doors only to the wealthy, while run-down and over-crowded public hospitals attempt--with limited success--to administer health care to the majority of the population. But, unless we act now to change course, this is exactly where we are headed.

The solutions to these problems are not as complex as they have been portrayed to be by Washington politicians. There is a tendency among policy makers to adopt an ‘all or nothing' stance around health care. Some say the government should take over the whole system. And we have only to look to Europe to see what a disaster that would be. Others say we should do away with all government ‘interference' and let the free market reign. And we have only to look at our present number of uninsured, and under-insured, to understand that this is not a realistic solution either.

There are practical steps that we can take right now to control health care costs and expand insurance coverage. Did you know, for example, that administrative costs (paper work) make up more than 7 percent of health care costs? These costs are growing faster than virtually any other component of health care expenses. If we make a one time investment in shifting to a comprehensive electronic record keeping system, we could save billions of dollars per year. The costs of hospitalization and doctor visits would, in turn, be reduced.

Or did you know that of the 46 million uninsured, more than half are in households headed by someone who is self-employed or who works for a small business (fewer than 100 employees)? Legislation currently working its way through Congress would allow small businesses to band together to purchase health care coverage for their employees at more reasonable and sustainable rats. Such a move would help guarantee that more small businesses can offer quality health care coverage to employees in the years ahead.

Through these and other innovative ideas, we can begin to get our health care system under control. But first, there has to be the will in Congress to take on the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies. Today, CEOs are using their fabulous profits to pay an army of lobbyists to whisper in the ears of our Congressman and Senators. And, unfortunately, the tactic has been all too successful.

If I am elected to Congress, I will put communities first. I will fight for measures that can reverse the alarming trends in our health care industry--before it is too late.

-Scott Kleeb
www.scottkleeb.com

This is the first in a series of guest blog posts touching on various aspects of health care. Scott Kleeb is running for Congress in Nebraska's 3rd District.

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Happy Blogoversary, UNO College Dems

If you haven't had a chance yet, please stop over at the UNO College Democrats Blog and help celebrate their one year blogaversary.

Perhaps being the second most active blog in Nebraska (nice try guys), they've done some great analysis and research over the last year on a variety of issues and candidates--as well as re-energize the College Democrats on the University of Nebraska-Omaha campus.

So please, go wish them a Happy Blogoversary, comment on one of their "24 posts to remember", and join the blogosphere movement.

Sincerely,

Your Friends at the NDP

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