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988: A New Lifeline for Mental Health Emergencies

By BEN WHEATLEY

Miles Hall, a 23-year-old Black man experiencing a psychotic episode, was shot and killed by police after 911 received calls of a disturbance in his Walnut Creek, California neighborhood. His mother Taun Hall had taken steps to warn the local police that her son had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and that he might be prone to mental health crises. She believed she had done enough to ensure that, in the event of a crisis, her son would be treated with care. But when the crisis came, authorities viewed Miles’ behavior through the lens of public safety, not through the lens of mental health, and it cost him his life. 

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State-Based Marketplaces 2.0 Part 2: Engines of Innovation, Competition, and Consumerism

By ROSEMARIE DAY and DAVID W. JOHNSON

Within the current political reality, how can America implement policies that increase access to health insurance while also reducing premium costs and enhancing responsiveness to consumer priorities and needs? 

Large-scale healthcare reform appears off-the-table for the Biden Administration. Yet, given the impact of the COVID pandemic on people who have lost (or have worried about losing) their employer-based insurance coverage and the intensifying pressure to reduce overall healthcare costs, solutions that increase health insurance access and affordability have become more important than ever. A significant answer to this complex puzzle can be found at the state level. 

Enabled by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, state-based marketplaces (SBMs) currently operate in 14 states and the District of Columbia. Another six states operate as SBMs using the federal government’s HealthCare.gov technology platform. Three states, Kentucky, Maine, and New Mexico, will become full SBMs by 2022.

While federal measures to improve insurance access have stalled or been reversed over the past eight years, SBMs have quietly implemented programming modifications for stabilizing local markets that improve the quality and marketability of health insurance offerings to the benefit of consumers.

In Part 2 of our series on marketplace health plan innovations, we examine how SBMs have operated as experimental policy laboratories. They’ve taken their own paths to expand consumer choice, increase access to vital healthcare services, and lower premiums.

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In “Riding” Abortion, Is Greg Abbott Driving Texas Toward Divestiture?

By MIKE MAGEE

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been on a tear lately, and his central theme appears to be “revanchism.” Faced with declining demographics, he is retaliating against enemies and newcomers alike, aligning himself with slippery politicians and vigilantes. As they say in Texas, “He’s on a first-name basis with the bottom of the deck”, and the game he’s playing appears to be “South Africa – 1950.”

The formal establishment of apartheid in South Africa occurred in 1948, though racial injustice had been baked in centuries earlier. Violence and intimidation, embedded in legislation supported by a 15% white minority, led to the creation of the African National Congress (ANC) which launched what they called their “Defiance Campaign.” By 1962, their party had been outlawed, and their dynamic leader, Nelson Mandela, was imprisoned.

And yet resistance continued to grow, inside and outside the country. Religious leaders, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, took to the street, organizing huge, peaceful rallies. In 1976, images of Black children being attacked and killed in Soweto township during a protest spread like wildfire around the world. 176 died and thousands were injured. In response, the United Nations called on its member states to divest and impose economic sanctions. Only 2 leaders did not. (More on that in a moment.)

Minority rule, oppression, vigilantism, and disenfranchisement are eventually losing propositions as Greg Abbott is learning. A majority of 52% now say his state is moving in the wrong direction. The list of grievances is long and continues to grow. Catholic bishops decried his inhumane handling of immigrant families this year. Baptist minister Rev. Frederick Haynes III spotlighted the Republican legislature’s voter suppression law recently suggesting they were “dressing up Jim and Jane Crow in a tuxedo.” Only 39% approve of his handling of the pandemic, and many Texans find the renewed endorsement of “vigilante justice” for unfortunate women and girls seeking abortions to be a disturbing and dystopian new reality. By the way, 1 in 5 Texans lack health insurance, and Texas is one of twelve Republican-led states that continue to refuse federal offers to expand Medicaid coverage of their citizens.

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Biden Should Extend a “Public Option” as a Message to “Health Care Royalists”

By MIKE MAGEE

In this world of political theatrics, with Democratic legislators from Texas forced into exodus to preserve voters’ rights, and Tucker Carlson rantings about Rep. Eric Swalwell riding shirtless on a camel in Qatar streaming relentlessly, Americans can be excused if they missed a substantive and historic news event last week.

On Friday, July 9th, President Biden signed a far-reaching executive order intended to fuel social and economic reform, and in the process created a potential super-highway sized corridor for programs like universal healthcare. In the President’s view, the enemy of the common man in pursuit of a “fair deal” is not lack of competition but “favoritism.”

To understand the far-reaching implications of this subtle shift in emphasis, let’s review a bit of history. It is easy to forget that this nation was the byproduct of British induced tyranny and economic favoritism. In 1773, citizens of Boston decided they had had enough, and dumped a shipment of tea, owned by the British East India Company, into the Boston Harbor. This action was more an act of practical necessity than politics. The company was simply one of many “favorites” (organizations and individuals) that “got along by going along” with their British controllers.  In lacking a free hand to compete in a free market, the horizons for our budding patriots and their families were indefinitely curtailed.

Large power differentials not only threatened them as individuals but also the proper functioning of the new representative government that would emerge after the American Revolution. Let’s recall that only white male property owners over 21(excluding Catholics and Jews) had the right to vote at our nation’s inception.

Over the following two centuries, power imbalances have taken on a number of forms. For example, during the industrial revolution, corporate mega-powers earned the designation “trusts”, and the enmity of legislators like Senator John Sherman of Ohio, who as Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, led the enactment of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890.

He defined a “trust” as a group of businesses that collude or merge to form a monopoly. To Sen. Sherman, J.D. Rockefeller, the head of Standard Oil, was no better than a monarch. “If we will not endure a king as political power, we should not endure a king over the production, transportation and sale of any of the necessities of life”, he said.   The law itself stated “[e]very contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal.”

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“Necessitous Men Are Not Free Men” – Words to Remember

By MIKE MAGEE

In the second half of the 19th century, Emily Dickinson wrote a short poem that could easily have been a forward looking tribute to two American Presidents – one from the 20th, the other the 21st century.

Dickinson’s poem “A WORD is dead” is hardly longer than its title.

“A WORD is dead

When it is said,

  Some say.

I say it just

Begins to live

  That day.”

She certainly was on the mark when it came to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s signature legislation. FDR’s New Deal, extending from 1933 to 1939, ultimately came down to just three words – the 3R’s – Relief , Recovery, and Reform.

He promised “Action, and action now!”  This included a series of programs, infrastructure projects, financial reforms, a national health care program and industry regulations, protecting those he saw as particularly vulnerable including farmers, unemployed, children and the elderly.  And he wasn’t afraid to make enemies. Of Big Business, he said in a 1936 speech in Madison Square Garden, “They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred.”

But he was also a political realist. And by his second term of office Justice Hughes and his Conservative dominated Supreme Court had begun to undermine his legislative successes and were threatening his signature bill- the Social Security Act. So FDR compromised, and in the face of withering criticism from the AMA, postponed his plans for national health care.

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Time to Reboot “Medicare-For-All”

By MIKE MAGEE

In the fog of the Covid pandemic, many are wondering what ever happened to prior vocal support for universal coverage and Medicare-for-All. Expect those issues to regain prominence in the coming months. A bit of recent history helps explain why.

The January 6th insurrection, followed by the past weeks two mass shootings, have served to remind our citizens that we must address a range of issues while continuing to confront the pandemic threat.

Modern civilized societies rely on a double-armed approach to maintain order, peace and security. The first arm is laws. But laws are of little value without even and unbiased enforcement.

The second guardrail of civility is culture. MIT professor Edgar Schein described it this way: “Culture has three layers: the artifacts of a culture — our symbols and signs; its espoused values — the things we say we believe; and, most important, its underlying assumptions — the way things really are.”

In the Senate chamber this week, and in Republican controlled state houses across the nation, Americans witnessed a colossal collision of reality and ideals in the form of new Jim Crow laws to suppress minority voting rights, and refusal to address gun violence.  In the wake of a constant stream of racial animus and mass shootings, this lethal epidemic demands a response as well.

Were these the only flashing alerts signaling danger ahead, that would be enough to cause sleepless nights. But unenforced or unevenly enforced laws, and value dissonance in America, do not occur in isolation, but are supported by an even more erosive underpinning – greed-induced economic inequality.

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Wiping the Sleep From Our Eyes: The Pandemic Plan Trump Ignored

By MIKE MAGEE

When awakening from a long sleep, there is a transition period, when the brain struggles momentarily to become oriented, to “think straight.” When the sleep has extended four years, as with the Trump reign, it takes longer to clear the sleepy lies from your eyes.

We are emerging, but it will take time and guidance. This week President Biden and our First Lady showed us the way. As we together observed the startling passage of a half million dead, many needlessly, from the pandemic, the President gave us a crash course on grief. He compared it to entering a “black hole”, and acknowledged that whether you “held the hand” as your loved one passed on, or were unable (by logistics or regulation) to be there to offer comfort, time would heal. “You have to believe me, honey!”, as he is so prone to say.

As important, we saw the First Lady, without fanfare or concious need for attention, at one moment, draw close to him, as she sensed that he was about to be overcome by his own sadness, and place her hand simply on his back, patting him gently, knowing that this was enough to get him through. She, by then, had done this many times before.

And we saw the Vice President and her husband, across from the first couple, there only for support. This was neither a speaking role or super-ceremonial. It was humble. It was supportive. It was human, and far away from a predecessor who for four years had to fawn, and lie, and grovel to satisfy his Commander-in-Chief.

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Saints, Sinners, & the Spirituality of the SPAC Church | Politics, Policy, Power

By EMILY EVANS

Takeaway: Policy changes have overtaken many health care SPACs but that won’t stop a lot of telegenic advocates; something is sure to go wrong.

Politics. Something is sure to go wrong.

Over 400 SPACs have formed and about 100 business combinations announced. At least as far as health care goes, excluding biotech and pharma, the quality of the business combinations has thus far been uninspiring.

Deerfield’s CareMax/IMC Medical, Jaws’ Cano Health are focused on the very crowded Medicare Advantage market just as demographic realities require attention to shift toward younger people. Falcon’s ShareCare, GigCapital2’s Uphealth/Cloudbreak, Hudson’s Talkspace are yet more digital platforms to manage care. VG’s 23andMe wants to monetize all the genetic data it has collected through drug development.

Absent durable business models that address the core challenges of health care such as price, efficiency and quality, SPACs seem to be relying on charismatic personalities to win over investors, great and small, regardless of their experience or credibility. So much so, Twitter entreaties from Chamath Palihapitiya’s fan-base have taken on the tone of religious followers. “@chamath give @Clover_Health some love on Valentine’s Day what’s your position are you optimistic, excited, hopeful of its future? We would love to hear from you…”

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We’re Ready for Mamala

By DEB GORDON and ROSEMARIE DAY

With the long-awaited inauguration day behind us, America is finally getting something we desperately need: an elected woman in the White House.

On the heels of chaos and violence at the Capitol and after four years of the Trump Administration, we are ready for strong female leadership in the executive branch to help put the country on the right course. In fact, it is long overdue.

Kamala Harris didn’t just need our votes to make history as America’s first female Vice President. To be successful, she’ll need every ounce of our ongoing support as she steels herself to direct threats to her life and faces the challenge, along with President-elect Biden, of healing a deeply fractured nation.

Female leaders around the world have modeled that strong leadership through 2020’s most difficult times. Women have led some of the most effective pandemic responses worldwide. Countries led by women leaders had six times fewer confirmed COVID-19 deaths — and fewer days with confirmed deaths — than countries led by men. New Zealand, Taiwan, Germany, and Iceland — all led by women — are among the coronavirus management success stories.

These women acknowledged the threat from coronavirus rather than underplaying it. They were decisive, and used data and science to drive their decision-making. They took a long-view when designing their response, prioritizing long-term well-being over short-term economic pain. They listened to outside voices to ensure they had the best possible input and solutions for their countries. And they showed empathy. Having a female leader became a symbol of inclusive, open-minded, effective leadership.

And the world took notice, lauding leaders like Jacinda Ardern, who was rewarded with a decisive victory in New Zealand’s October national elections.

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The Cost of Free Speech

By KIM BELLARD

Well, you’d have to say that the past week has been interesting.  It’s not every week that Joe Biden “officially” won the 2021 election, again, as Congress certified the election results.  It’s not every century when the U.S. Capitol is overrun by hostile forces.  And it’d never been true before that Twitter and Facebook banned President Trump’s accounts, or that various tech companies belatedly acted on the threat that Parler poses.  Oh, and we hit new daily records for COVID-19 deaths (over 4,000) and hospitalizations (over 132,000) in case you’d forgotten there is still a pandemic going on. 

Yes, all in all, a very “interesting” week.

I’m going to skip talking about the horror that was the Capitol insurrection, in part because I fear that we’re going to find out more details that will make it clear that it was even worse than we now know.  Similarly, I’m not going to dwell on the shame that Republicans should feel about the fact that two-thirds of their House members still voted to object to certifying the election results even after they’d been forced to flee from the terrorists who sought that very goal with their violence.

Instead, let’s talk about “free speech,” and the social media platforms that helped foster the violence and are now trying to do something about that. 

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