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Health Care That Is Always There

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."

-Richard Lombardi

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.

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Stenberg, Small Schools Praise Judicial Activism

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.

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Dake: Life, Liberty, and Happiness Not Covered by Heath Care Policy

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

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A Winning Team?

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!

The same Jeff Fortenberry who voted to slash funding for the USDA, accepted $20,000 from Tom DeLay, and said he'd support privatizing Social Security.

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.

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Achelpohl: Omaha Party a Success

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.

-Steve Achelpohl
Nebraska Democratic Party Chair

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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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