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“Prudence Or Cruelty?”: Slashing Food Stamps Is A Mark Of Shortsighted Cruelty

When members of Congress debate whether to slash the food stamp program, they should ask if they really want more small children arriving at school having skipped breakfast.

As it is, in the last few days of the month before food stamps are distributed, some children often eat less and have trouble focusing, says Kisha Hill, a teacher in a high-poverty prekindergarten school in North Tulsa, Okla.

“Kids can’t focus on studying when their stomachs are grumbling,” Hill told me.

Some 47 million Americans receive food stamps, including some who would otherwise go hungry — or hungrier. A recent government study found that about 5 percent of American households have “very low food security,” which means that food can run out before the end of the month. In almost a third of those households, an adult reported not eating for an entire day because there wasn’t money for food.

Meanwhile, 14 percent of American toddlers suffer iron deficiency. Malnutrition isn’t the only cause, but it’s an important one — and these children may suffer impaired brain development as a result. This kind of malnutrition in America is tough to measure, because some children are simultaneously malnourished and overweight, but experts agree it’s a problem. We expect to find malnourished or anemic children in Africa and Asia, but it’s dispiriting to see this in a country as wealthy as our own.

Let me take that back. It’s not just dispiriting. It’s also infuriating.

“The cutback in food stamps represents a clear threat to the nutritional status and health of America’s children,” says Dr. Irwin Redlener, the president of the Children’s Health Fund and a professor of pediatrics at Columbia University. Dr. Redlener said that one result of cutbacks will be more kids with anemia and educational difficulties.

Food stamp recipients already took a cut in benefits this month, and they may face more. The Senate Democratic version of the farm bill would cut food stamps by $4 billion over 10 years, while the House Republican version would slash them by $40 billion.

More than 90 percent of benefits go to families living below the poverty line, according to federal government data, and nearly two-thirds of the recipients are children, elderly or disabled.

Let’s remember that the government already subsidizes lots of food. When wealthy executives dine at fancy French restaurants, part of the bill is likely to be deducted from taxes, which amounts to a subsidy from taxpayers. How is it that food subsidies to anemic children are more controversial than food subsidies to executives enjoying coq au vin?

Meanwhile, the same farm bill that is hotly debated because of food stamps includes agricultural subsidies that don’t go just to struggling farmers but also, in recent years, to 50 billionaires or companies they are involved in, according to the Environmental Working Group, a Washington research group.

Among the undeserving people receiving farm subsidies has been a New York Times columnist. Yes, I have been paid $588 a year not to grow crops on wooded land I own in Oregon (I then forward the money to a maternity hospital in Somaliland). When our country pays a New York journalist not to grow crops in an Oregon forest, there’s a problem with the farm bill — but it’s not food stamps.

Granted, safety-net spending is more about treating symptoms of poverty than causes, and we may get more bang for the buck when we chip away at long-term poverty through early education, home visitation for infants, job training and helping teenagers avoid unwanted pregnancies.

That said, food stamps do work in important ways. For starters, they effectively reduce the number of children living in extreme poverty by half, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington.

By improving nutrition of young children, food stamps also improve long-term outcomes. In recent years, mounting scholarship has found that malnutrition in utero or in small children has lasting consequences. One reason seems to be that when a fetus or small child is undernourished, it is programmed to anticipate food shortages for the remainder of its life. If food later becomes plentiful, the metabolic mismatch can lead to diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

An excellent study last year from the National Bureau of Economic Research followed up on the rollout of food stamps, county by county, between 1961 and 1975. It found that those who began receiving food stamps by the age of 5 had better health as adults. Women who as small children had benefited from food stamps were more likely to go farther in school, earn more money and stay off welfare.

So slashing food stamp benefits — overwhelmingly for children, the disabled and the elderly — wouldn’t be a sign of prudent fiscal management by Congress. It would be a mark of shortsighted cruelty.

By: Nicholas D. Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, November 16, 2013

November 18, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Poverty, SNAP | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Such Noble Sentiments”: Why Republicans Suddenly Care, Deeply, About All Those Canceled Health Policies

Amid the current national uproar over the troubles of the Affordable Care Act, it is almost uplifting to hear the deep concern expressed by politicians, pundits, lobbyists, and corporate leaders over cancellation of existing health insurance policies. They empathize loudly with the millions of potential victims, whose plight infuriates these worthy observers. They fill hours of television and pages of print with expressions of outrage.

Suddenly everyone in Washington is intensely concerned about Americans who are losing their health insurance.

The outpouring of noble sentiment would be laudable — indeed, long overdue — if only there was any reason to believe these protestations are sincere. Sadly, the evidence points in the opposite direction, for a single obvious reason: Millions of people in this country have been losing health insurance for many years, resulting in untold thousands of serious illnesses, bankruptcies, and early deaths – but until insurance cancellations became a political embarrassment for Barack Obama, the usual right-wing reaction was silence. (Except for that awkward and revealing outburst during the Republican debates of 2012, when a live audience howled its approval for the “let him die” plan.)

For anybody who ever honestly cared about people losing their health coverage – for instance, President Obama or his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton – the depressing statistical reality has long been plain. Every day of every year, thousands of people leave the rolls of the private insurance industry in this country, almost never voluntarily.

People often forfeit insurance after losing a job, which happened to millions during the Great Recession. At the recession’s height, when the Tea Party Republicans were fighting to kill Obamacare in the cradle, more than 44,000 people were losing their health coverage every week. In May 2009, the policy journal Health Affairs published a projection that nearly 7 million Americans would lose coverage by the end of 2010.

People also lose insurance because their insurance company doesn’t want to pay the cost of a grave illness (having gorged on costly premiums for years), which has happened to many thousands more. The most recent congressional report on the subject found that three major insurance companies had saved at least $300 million through “rescission” of policies held by 20,000 seriously ill clients, while their profits mounted.

Or people lose insurance because the cost rises and they can no longer afford it, which happens routinely to nearly half the population at some point during every decade. A report released by the Treasury four years ago found that “nearly half of non-elderly Americans” had lived without health coverage at some point between 1997 and 2006, a period of relative prosperity and high employment.

The consequence, as everybody ought to know by now, is that upward of 45 million Americans have gone without health insurance at any given moment since 2007. And the further consequence is that many of those uninsured – men, women, and children — go without needed health care, leading to untold suffering and premature deaths for as many as 45,000 annually, perhaps more.

But such dismal facts have never seemed to trouble the Republicans who are screaming so loudly now about the terrible toll of Obamacare. The perennial GOP attitude was set forth by neoconservative eminence Bill Kristol back in 1993, when the prime objective was to kill the nascent Clinton health plan. “There is no health care crisis,” Kristol famously declared, and for him — then a well-paid flack in the Murdoch empire — that was true enough.

After two decades of medical costs skyrocketing above inflation, threatening fiscal and economic ruin, while millions went without insurance, such smug right-wing complacency remains largely intact. The only “health care crisis” ever feared by Republicans like Kristol is the prospect that reform will help Americans – as Obamacare is already doing, despite their worst efforts.

Let’s hope that the president’s team swiftly solves the inherent problems of providing universal coverage through private insurers. It is certainly possible, if never optimal, as Massachusetts and other states seeking to advance that goal are already proving.

And meanwhile, let’s please have no illusions about this momentary flurry of concern on the right over insurance lost. It would disappear instantly and permanently — if only Obamacare could be repealed.

 

By: Joe Conason, Featured Post, The National Memo, November 15, 2013

November 18, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Can We Please Get A Grip?”: Having The Backbone To Set Minimum Standards For Health Insurance

Democrats are showing once again they have the backbones of banana slugs.

The Affordable Care Act was meant to hold insurers to a higher standards. So it stands to reason that some insurers will have to cancel their lousy sub-standard policies.

But spineless Democrats (including my old boss Bill Clinton) are caving in to the Republican-fueled outrage that the President “misled” Americans into thinking they could keep their old lousy policies — and are now urging the White House to forget the new standards and let people keep what they had before.

And some congressional Republicans are all too eager to join them, and allow insurers to offer whatever crap they were offering before — exposing families to more than $12,700 in out-of-pocket expenses, canceling policies of people who get seriously sick, failing to cover prescription drugs, and so on.

Can we please get a grip? Whenever industry standards are lifted — a higher minimum wage, safer workplaces, non-toxic foods and drugs, safer cars — people no longer have the “freedom” to contract for the sub-standard goods and services.

But that freedom is usually a mirage because big businesses have most of the power and average people don’t have much of a choice. This has been especially the case with health insurance, which is why minimum standards here are essential.

Yes, the President might have spelled this out a bit more clearly beforehand, explaining that 95 percent of us aren’t in the private insurance market to begin with and won’t be affected, and that most of the 2 percent who lose their lousy policies and have to take better and more expensive ones will be subsidized.

But right now the President needs all the political support he can muster to hold insurers’ feet to the fire. Democrats should stand firm for a change.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, November 15, 2013

November 18, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Democrats | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“How We Got Obamacare To Work”: We Urge Congress To Get Out Of The Way And Support Efforts To Make Health-Care Reform Work

In our states — Washington, Kentucky and Connecticut — the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” is working. Tens of thousands of our residents have enrolled in affordable health-care coverage. Many of them could not get insurance before the law was enacted.

People keep asking us why our states have been successful. Here’s a hint: It’s not about our Web sites.

Sure, having functioning Web sites for our health-care exchanges makes the job of meeting the enormous demand for affordable coverage much easier, but each of our state Web sites has had its share of technical glitches. As we have demonstrated on a near-daily basis, Web sites can continually be improved to meet consumers’ needs.

The Affordable Care Act has been successful in our states because our political and community leaders grasped the importance of expanding health-care coverage and have avoided the temptation to use health-care reform as a political football.

In Washington, the legislature authorized Medicaid expansion with overwhelmingly bipartisan votes in the House and Senate this summer because legislators understood that it could help create more than 10,000 jobs, save more than $300 million for the state in the first 18 months, and, most important, provide several hundred thousand uninsured Washingtonians with health coverage.

In Kentucky, two independent studies showed that the Bluegrass State couldn’t afford not to expand Medicaid. Expansion offered huge savings in the state budget and is expected to create 17,000 jobs.

In Connecticut, more than 50 percent of enrollment in the state exchange, Access Health CT, is for private health insurance. The Connecticut exchange has a customer satisfaction level of 96.5 percent, according to a survey of users in October, with more than 82 percent of enrollees either “extremely likely” or “very likely” to recommend the exchange to a colleague or friend.

In our states, elected leaders have decided to put people, not politics, first.

President Obama announced an administrative change last week that would allow insurance companies to continue offering existing plans to those who want to keep them. It is up to state insurance commissioners to determine how and whether this option works for their states, and individual states will come to different conclusions.

What we all agree with completely, though, is the president’s insistence that our country cannot go back to the dark days before health-care reform, when people were regularly dropped from coverage, and those with “bare bones” plans ended up in medical bankruptcy when serious illness struck, many times because their insurance didn’t cover much of anything.

Thanks to health-care reform and the robust exchanges in our states, people are getting better coverage at a better price.

One such person is Brad Camp, a small-business owner in Kingston, Wash., who received a cancellation notice in September from his insurance carrier. He went to the state exchange, the Washington Healthplanfinder, and for close to the same premium his family was paying before got upfront coverage for doctor’s office visits and prescription drug , vision and dental coverage. His family was able to keep the same insurance carrier and doctors and qualified for tax credits to help cover the cost.

Since Howard Stovall opened his sign and graphics business in Lexington, Ky., in 1998, he has paid half the cost of health insurance for his eight employees. With the help of Stovall’s longtime insurance agent and Kentucky’s health exchange, Kynect, Stovall’s employees are saving 5 percent to 40 percent each on new health insurance plans with better benefits. Stovall can afford to provide additional employee benefits, including full disability coverage and part of the cost of vision and dental plans, while still saving the business 50 percent compared with the old plans.

In Connecticut, Anne Masterson was able to reduce her monthly premiums from $965 to $313 for similar coverage, including a $145 tax credit. Masterson is able to use her annual premium savings of $8,000 to pay bills or save for retirement.

These sorts of stories could be happening in every state if politicians would quit rooting for failure and directly undermining implementation of the Affordable Care Act — and, instead, put their constituents first. Health reform is working for the people of Washington, Kentucky and Connecticut because elected leaders on both sides of the aisle came together to do what is right for their residents.

We urge Congress to get out of the way and to support efforts to make health-care reform work for everyone. We urge our fellow governors, most especially those in states that refused to expand Medicaid, to make health-care reform work for their people too.

 

By: Jay Inslee, Steve Beshear and Dannel P. Malloy, Opinion Pages, The Washington Post, Published: November 17, 2013: Jay Inslee, a Democrat, is governor of Washington. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, is governor of Kentucky. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, is governor of Connecticut.

November 18, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Congress, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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