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“Robert Bork’s Legacy”: The Prototype For Republican Entrenchment And Obstruction

Judge Robert Bork has died. But the tradition started by his failed 1987 nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court has sadly become entrenched.

Bork was a conservative hero and a threat to liberals. His nomination to the high court was thwarted not because of his intellectual fitness for the bench, but for his views and lower-court rulings on issues ranging from civil rights to abortion. In a famous address, the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy warned of the specter of “Robert Bork’s America,” a world in which civil rights and women’s rights were imperiled.

Kennedy was not wrong in his assessment of Bork; nor was he wrong in opposing the nomination of a man who threatened to roll back hard-won advancements in social policy. The senator was criticized for politicizing a Supreme Court nomination, but the same charge could have been made against President Reagan for nominating someone with such a clearly conservative agenda. The trouble is that since then, an ideological witch-hunt has been imposed on a slew of nominees—even those for much less prestigious positions and nonlifetime appointments. The nomination of Donald Berwick, a widely respected physician and health policy maven, was stymied by Senate Republicans who said Berwick shouldn’t head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services because he believed in some version of socialized medicine. The evidence for that was sketchy, based on comments Berwick made praising Britain’s National Health Service. In reality, conservatives just wanted to slow down the implementation of Obamacare while they fought it (unsuccessfully) in court.

Then there was Peter Diamond, who ultimately withdrew his nomination to the Federal Reserve amid threats of a filibuster by GOP Sen. Richard Shelby. Shelby expressed concerns that Diamond’s economic background was not the right sort for the Fed. The Nobel Prize committee had disagreed, awarding Diamond its prize in Economics.

Now, senators are sending subtle threats about putting a former colleague, Chuck Hagel, through the wringer if President Obama nominates him to be Defense Secretary. Hagel is a respected former Nebraska senator, a two-time Purple Heart winner, and was known as an expert on military affairs when he was in office. It’s also a gesture of bipartisanship for Obama to consider someone from the other party to be in his cabinet. But to some lawmakers, Hagel has not been sufficiently toady-like in his allegiance to Israel—actually, his allegiance to the Israeli lobby. The fact that Hagel served his own country in Vietnam and in the Senate seems to have taken a back seat.

Bork may well have been a poor addition to the Supreme Court. But thwarting nominations for the sake of frustrating a sitting president in the other party is the worst legacy his nomination has left.

 

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, December 19, 2012

December 20, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Health Insurance Rules Would Let Consumers Compare Plans In “Plain English”

What would your health insurance cover if you got pregnant? How much could you expect to pay out of pocket if you needed treatment for diabetes? How do your plan’s benefits compare with another company’s?

Starting as soon as March, consumers could have a better handle on such questions, under new rules aimed at decoding the fine print of health insurance plans.

Regulations proposed by the Obama administration on Wednesday would require all private health insurance plans to provide current and prospective customers a brief, standardized summary of policy costs and benefits.

To make it easier for consumers to make apples-to-apples comparisons between plans, the summary will also include a breakdown estimating the expenses covered under three common scenarios: having a baby, treating breast cancer and managing diabetes.

Officials likened the new summary to the “Nutrition Facts” label required for packaged foods.

“If you’ve ever had trouble understanding your choices for health insurance coverage . . . this is for you,” Donald Berwick, a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services, said at a news conference announcing the proposal.

“Instead of trying to decipher dozens of pages of dense text to just guess how a plan will cover your care, now it will be clearly stated in plain English. . . . If an insurer’s plan offers subpar coverage in some area, they won’t be able to hide that in dozens of pages of text. They have to come right out and say it.”

Industry representatives said complying could prove onerous for insurers. “Since most large employers customize the benefit packages they provide to their employees, some health plans could be required to create tens of thousands of different versions of this new document — which would add administrative costs without meaningfully helping employees,” Robert Zirkelbach, press secretary for the industry group America’s Health Insurance Plans, said in a statement.

Insurance shoppers would also have to keep in mind that their actual premiums could change after they finalized their application, particularly in the case of plans for individuals, which can continue to adjust benefits based on detailed analysis of members’ health history over the next three years. (After 2014, the health-care law will essentially limit insurers to considering only three questions about applicants: how old they are, where they live and whether they smoke.)

The regulation, which is subject to a 60-day public-comment period, essentially fleshes out details of a mandate established by the the health-care law. But it also clarifies a question that the law left somewhat ambiguous: How soon into the application process can shoppers get the summary from insurers?

The regulations would require insurers to provide the summary on request, rather than waiting until someone applies for a policy or pays an application fee, a position that drew praise from consumer advocates.

“If consumers are really going to be able to compare their options, they should be able to easily get this form for any plan that they would like to consider,” said Lynn Quincy, senior health policy analyst for Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.

In addition to supplying the summary on demand, insurers would have to automatically provide it before a consumer’s enrollment, as well as 30 days before renewal of their health coverage. Plans must also notify members of any significant changes to their terms of coverage at least 60 days before the alterations take effect.

The summary form, which can be sent by e-mail, must be no longer than four double-sided pages printed in 12-point type. In addition to listing a plan’s overall premiums, co-pays and co-insurance amounts, it must include charts specifying the out-of-pocket costs for a range of specific services. A copy can be viewed at www.healthcare.gov/news/factsheets/labels08172011b.pdf.

By: N. C. Aizenman, The Washington Post, August 17, 2011

August 19, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Consumers, Corporations, Government, Health Care, Health Reform, HMO's, Insurance Companies, Pre-Existing Conditions, President Obama, Public, Regulations | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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