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“Obamacare, A Question Of Morality”: Indifference To The Needs Of Others Is, Indeed, Immoral

There was a lot of bloviating about the Affordable Care Act on the talk shows last weekend. The Obamacare critics’ chief focus was the open-enrollment fiasco, the un-kept presidential promise and the millions of cancellation notices. Overlaying the palaver was the unrestrained glee of health-reform opponents.

The same weekend, in a section of our nation’s capital where pompous politicians and self-important opinion-makers seldom venture, the Affordable Care Act was the subject of thanks and praise at the First Baptist Church at Randolph Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW.

The talk-show criticism and the pulpit defense crystallized the Obamacare debate. Drawn into sharp relief is the struggle taking place in this country between doing what is right and good and an unashamed indulgence in the immorality of indifference.

The issue couldn’t be put more simply.

Forty-nine million Americans do not have health insurance. For many of them, the ability to deal with their illnesses and injuries depends on their ability to pay. Lacking the money, some of them just go without the care they need. Better to put food on the table for the kids than to check out that awful pain in the gut. Can’t afford to do both.

Which helps explain why the Affordable Care Act is viewed more kindly by the congregation at First Baptist Church, located a few miles from the shadow of the Capitol, than by those within the governmental structure.

First Baptist celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, having been founded in Southwest Washington by freed slaves in 1863 .

The church’s broad ministry includes parts of the city where good health care is an unaffordable luxury.

The Rev. Frank D. Tucker, who has been First Baptist’s pastor for nearly 38 years, used Sunday morning’s service to address Obamacare in terms its critics do not.

He announced that First Baptist, working with the city’s health-care exchange, DC Health Link, would host a health insurance enrollment fair on Saturday. He issued an emotional call to his congregation, young and old, to enroll in the program, resorting to language associated with the battle to win the right to vote.

Tucker noted the decades of unsuccessful efforts by several presidents to extend medical care to all Americans, including those living in dire circumstances beyond their control. Not sugar-coating the problems that President Obama has encountered in bringing about health-care reform, Tucker hammered at the obligation of the uninsured to enroll in the insurance program that Obama and other health-reform advocates have worked so hard to create. The Obama administration and its congressional supporters, Tucker observed, have been opposed every step of the way, taking a beating from people in Congress and around the country. Don’t let their sacrifices be in vain by sitting on your hands, he contended. Get enrolled, he declared.

And Tucker wasn’t even Sunday morning’s featured speaker. That honor fell to William P. DeVeaux, the presiding bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s second district, which covers the nation’s capital. DeVeaux’s presence, however, made Tucker’s appeal more compelling because DeVeaux’s message drew heavily on the scriptural command to serve others. It reinforced Tucker’s appeal to give all Americans the health security they deserve.

Tucker, DeVeaux and other members of the cloth are those whom the opponents of health-care reform are up against.

Gaining access to no-cost preventive services to stay healthy, which Obamacare provides, is not a sign of indifference. Neither is giving senior citizens discounts on their prescription drugs, or allowing young adults to get health insurance on their parents’ plan, or ending insurance company abuses. Those steps represent the caring actions of government.

In his apostolic exhortation this week, Pope Francis said he begged “the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor!” Referring to the “excluded and marginalized,” the pontiff said that “it is vital that government leaders . . . take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare.”

That, too, is where the health-reform resisters come up short. Their horizons are too narrow to notice or care about people who lead lives stunted by lack of opportunity. Stunted lives leave the critics unmoved.

And that’s why, when the bloviators take to the airways, preachers like the Rev. Tucker, Bishop DeVeaux and Pope Francis take to the pulpit.

They know that indifference to the needs of others is, indeed, immoral.

 

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 29, 2013

November 30, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Impoverished Republican Poverty Agenda”: Republicans Don’t Know Where They Are Headed Or What They Can Sell

What are Republicans for? We know they are against health-care reform. They voted en masse against it, shut down the government to stop it and have voted nearly 50 times to defund it. We know they are against government spending. They’ve voted for House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s draconian budgets, which would slash spending so deeply that even some Republicans are in increasingly open revolt. But those budgets don’t go anywhere. So what do Republicans propose that actually addresses the challenges facing the nation or its people?

Republican leaders are clearly concerned that their policy house is largely vacant. In his dissection of the lost 2012 campaign, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus noted that Republicans suffer a “major deficiency” – the “perception that the GOP does not care about people.” He urged a renewed effort to become “the champion of those who seek to climb the economic ladder.”

All that advice was lost in the anti-Obama venom that unifies Republicans. But after the government shutdown sent Republican poll numbers plummeting to new depths, a new effort – or at least a new public relations push – has been launched. The early reports make the administration’s botched health-care takeoff look smooth by comparison.

Politico noted that Republicans trooping into House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s office received a paper titled “Agenda 2014.” The paper was blank. As of now, Politico reported, details are scant, but Republicans seem to be focused more on identifying the problems than the solutions. “The beginning should always be what are the problems we’re trying to fix,” said Republican policy chair James Lankford (Okla). Or as a GOP aide involved in the planning sessions was quoted: “Cantor wants to take us in a new direction, which is good. The problem is that we don’t know where we are headed, and we don’t know what we can sell to our members.”

Luckily, Cantor isn’t the only game in town. The Post published an adoring article on Ryan, Mitt Romney’s former running mate. The Post reported that Ryan and his staff have been “quietly” visiting “inner-city neighborhoods” and conservative think tanks, looking for creative ways to address poverty that can replace the “bureaucratic top-down anti-poverty programs” that Ryan’s budget would gut.

But the new ideas can’t include any new taxes or new spending – Ryan is staunchly against both. That doesn’t leave much. According to The Post, “his idea of a war on poverty so far relies heavily on promoting volunteerism and encouraging work through existing federal programs, including the tax code.” He’s repackaging private-school vouchers. And Ryan assumes that charity might take the place of the food stamps he’s cutting. “You cure poverty eye to eye, soul to soul,” he told a Heritage Foundation forum. “Spiritual redemption: That’s what saves people.” Prayer is good, but when it comes to public policies, as The Post story concluded, “Ryan’s speeches have been light on specifics.”

Some of those “specifics” are being offered by the tea party. Ryan and Cantor may be casting about for ways to look compassionate, but the tea party remains on the hunt. Politico detailed that Rep. Tim Heulskamp (Kan.) and a group of conservatives are gearing up for yet another assault on health-care reform. Assuming that the budget negotiations don’t reach an agreement by the December deadline, Congress will have to pass a continuing resolution by mid-January to keep the government open and funded. Huelskamp and his allies think that’s a perfect time to cut $20 billion out of Medicaid and transfer it to the Pentagon. That would eliminate Medicaid expansion – the one part of Obamacare that is working well – and placate Republicans worried about the cuts the military faces next year.

Cut health protection for the working poor and give the money to a Pentagon that is the largest center of waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government? Or slash food stamps while fending off every effort to close the tax dodges that allow companies like General Electric to avoid paying any taxes? The Republican “war on poverty” looks a lot like a war on the poor. It will take a lot of charity and volunteers and a lot more than “messaging” and “rebranding” to erase that indelible “deficiency.”

 

By: Katrina vandel Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 26, 2013

November 30, 2013 Posted by | Poverty, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Rick Scott Stands Alone”: No One Wants To Be The Governor’s Running Mate In 2014

Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) re-election bid will be challenging. Between his poor record, weak poll numbers, and credible challenger, the Republican is going to need some help to get another four years in Tallahassee.

But if he’s hoping on getting that help from his lieutenant governor, Scott should prepare a back-up plan.

In March, an ugly scandal unfolded and Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll (R) was forced to abruptly resign from office. Though Carroll has not yet faced criminal charges, her company is accused of helping oversee a fraudulent veterans’ charity and using gambling at Internet cafes to launder money.

The governor wasn’t connected to the scandal, but it nevertheless left Scott looking for a new #2 in his administration, who can also serve as his running mate during the 2014 campaign. How’s the search going? Not well (thanks to my colleague Tricia McKinney for the heads-up).

Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger on Monday formally declined Gov. Rick Scott’s offer to be considered as a possible lieutenant governor, becoming the second person on Scott’s four-person short list to turn him down.

Eslinger sent an email to his staff saying he was “flattered and honored” to be considered but that he will keep the job that he was first elected to in 1990. Last week, St. Johns County Superintendent of Schools Joseph Joyner also rejected Scott’s offer.

In case this wasn’t obvious, the Tampa Bay Times report added that the withdrawals from two of Scott’s top contenders “create the perception that no one wants to be the governor’s running mate in 2014.”

Yes, actually it does. Indeed, the Miami New Times added, “It seems almost too obvious to state that a key requirement of being lieutenant governor is actually wanting to be lieutenant governor, but that’s apparently something Gov. Rick Scott didn’t take into account during his long, dragged-out search to replace disgraced ex-Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll…. It’s not exactly good news when the two lowest-profile candidates on the list announce they have no interest in the job.”

The governor apparently had a short-list of four, which is now down to two – a state senator and a county commissioner, both of whom are from the Tampa area.

If they also decline, I’d just note that Florida has a 7% unemployment rate, so presumably the Republican governor will find someone who’s available and willing to stand alongside Rick Scott for the next five years.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 27, 2013

November 30, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Rick Scott | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Demanding The Right To Oppress”: Is Forced Religious Belief Coming To An Employer Near You?

The Supreme Court just can’t seem to quit the Affordable Care Act.

On Tuesday, it announced it would hear challenges to the law’s “contraception mandate,” which requires employers that provide health insurance to include contraceptives in their plans, including birth control pills and emergency contraception. At stake is whether for-profit companies can be exempted from the mandate because of their owner’s religious beliefs.

This controversy centers on a lawsuit by Hobby Lobby, an arts & crafts chain whose owners—David Green and his family—are devout Christians who believe life begins at conception and that using certain kinds of birth control violates their religious beliefs.

Obamacare contains an exemption for churches and other religious nonprofits, but the Greens want it extended to for-profit companies like their own, who are otherwise required to include FDA-approved contraceptives in their health insurance plans. They claim that the requirement would “substantially burden” their ability to practice their religion.

This gets to the core of the lawsuit. Hobby Lobby isn’t just fighting for an exemption from the contraception mandate, it’s arguing that, as a business, it shares in its owners religious beliefs and has its rights as a corporate person protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law mandating that strict scrutiny be used when determining if the free exercise clause of the First Amendment has been violated. By requiring companies to cover women’s contraception, Hobby Lobby argues, the federal government is violating their religious rights. In short, the Greens are asking the court to classify for-profit corporations as having religious consciences.

It should be said that the Greens aren’t Catholics; they’re evangelical Christians who don’t share Catholicism’s doctrinal opposition to birth control. Condoms and diaphragms aren’t an issue. Instead, the Greens—who see fertilized eggs as persons—object to Plan B and other forms of emergency contraception, which they believe prevent embryo implantation in a woman’s womb, and are tantamount to abortion.

But medical science is clear: emergency contraception is not an abortifacient. As explained in an amicus brief by Physicians for Reproductive Health, pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg attaches itself to the uterine lining, a process that occurs within five to nine days of sexual intercourse, if the egg is fertilized. “Emergency contraception,” notes the organization, “refers to a drug or device that is used after intercourse, but before pregnancy, to prevent pregnancy from occurring.” Abortifacients, by contrast, are used to terminate an existing pregnancy.

According to the brief, the two FDA-approved forms of emergency contraception—Plan B and “ella”—work by preventing, disrupting, or prohibiting ovulation, which stops fertilization altogether. In the doses approved for contraceptive use, neither terminates a pregnancy.

This is important. For Catholic groups, who oppose all contraception regardless of circumstance, the science is irrelevant. The mechanism of birth control is less important than the theological commitment to all pregnancies. But evangelicals—like the Greens—are in a different boat. Their objection depends on the science of pregnancy. If what’s true—emergency contraception doesn’t cause abortion—contradicts their beliefs, then what basis do they have for the objection? It’s fine if the Greens oppose abortion out of their sincere religious convictions—they can believe whatever they want—but that doesn’t give them license to redefine abortion (or contraception) to fit those beliefs.

Indeed, allowing them the privilege opens the door to a whole host of actions that would burden the liberty—religious or otherwise—of employees or customers. In a world where corporations have First Amendment protections for their religious beliefs, can they win exemptions for any law they disagree with? If Congress passes the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, can Hobby Lobby decline to follow its dictates—and say, refuse to hire to gays and lesbians—out of its sincere religious beliefs? Could it refuse to hire blacks out of a belief that they are cursed by God?

This is all on top of the implications for employees. If you work at Hobby Lobby, could the company require you to attend Bible study? What if your employer is a Christian Scientist? Could they refuse to provide health insurance at all, citing their religious beliefs? These become real scenarios if the Court decides that belief trumps all other considerations, including actual fact.

Over the last few years, corporations have accumulated more and more power, under the guise of “freedom.” At the moment, employers can fire employees for their political views, require employees to attend political rallies, and even volunteer for candidates they disagree with. Hobby Lobby is asking the Supreme Court to extend this even further, to forcing employees to choose health insurance that matches the religious preferences of their employers.

All of this raises important questions. Is this about securing religious liberty, or expanding it for a particular group? And if it’s the latter, is Hobby Lobby fighting for “liberty,” or is it demanding the right to oppress?

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, The Daily Beast, November 27, 2013

November 30, 2013 Posted by | Contraception, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Sobering Reminder”: The Number Of Uninsured Americans Increased By 7.9 Million Under George W. Bush

The week President Obama took office, initial jobless claims, the statistic that immediately gauges layoffs, hit a 26-year high with 637,000 applying for unemployment insurance in one week. It was clear that the president was inheriting a record deficit, a cratering economy and two floundering wars. But buried in all those crises was an unspoken slow-motion disaster that people rarely mentioned: the steady crumbling of our health care system.

“When [former president Bill] Clinton left office, the number of uninsured Americans stood at 38.4 million,” Ron Brownstein wrote in 2009. “By the time [former president George W.] Bush left office that number had grown to just over 46.3 million, an increase of nearly 8 million or 20.6 percent.”

The numbers were just as bad when you looked at the share of the uninsured.

When Clinton left office, 13.7 percent of the population was uninsured. Bush left with 15.4 percent lacking coverage. And the only health reform the last Republican to occupy the White House enacted in his eight years was to add an unfunded prescription drug benefit that guaranteed cuts would need to be made at some point.

So the 15.4 percent of Americans Bush left uninsured in 2008 continued to rise in 2009 to 16.1 percent, then peaked at 16.3 percent in 2010. In 2011, it dipped to 15.7 percent, the biggest drop since 1999. The last census report showed that 48.6 million Americans were uninsured – that’s 15.4 percent. Exactly where it was in 2008.

It would be easy to credit the recovering economy for the rise of insured Americans — initial jobless claims last week were half of what they were when Obama took office. But the percentage of the uninsured is now lower than it was in 2006, before the Great Recession hit.

The New York Times‘ Paul Krugman calls the Affordable Care Act’s role in bringing health-cost growth to its lowest rate on record the law’s “secret success.” But the other secret success is how Obamacare is helping to reverse the growth of the uninsured population. This began in 2011 with children and young adults being able to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26, covering more than three million. And it continues this year with millions of Americans being added to the Medicaid rolls and millions likely to sign up for private plans, if the law’s health care exchanges begin working well enough.

Still Republicans are playing up the estimated 5 million cancellations of plans due to Obamacare the same way they played up the deficit and faltering economy President Obama inherited as if it had been his fault.

We won’t know how many of these people end up in new plans until next year, but we do know that nearly all of them will pay the same or less with a new plan that cannot deny them coverage or charge them more if they get sick.

“To sum up, lots of people losing coverage are losing policies they never liked much, that they would have dropped soon anyway, and that would have left them facing potential financial ruin if they got sick,” The New Republic‘s Jonathan Cohn wrote. “Even those with truly good policies had no guarantees that in one year, let alone two or three, they’d still be able to pay for them.”

Now, millions of Americans are being offered affordable health insurance possibly for the first time in their lives, promising to cut the ranks of the uninsured by millions in just a few years.

Uninsured1

While Republicans are mourning cancellations of the exact kinds of plans that left massive holes in our health care system, the question is: Where were those crocodile tears when almost 8 million Americans became uninsured under George W. Bush… and Republicans did nothing to stop it?

 

By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, November 29, 2013

November 30, 2013 Posted by | Health Care, Uninsured | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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