The Watering Hole: Tuesday, September 13 – Republican Election Machine

The Debate is over. Nothing new, except for Ron Paul being even more callous than I thought possible. Isn’t he a doctor by profession? Wasn’t there a thing called the hypocratic oath? (ht: peteIngh)

This is our Open Thread. Give us your take on yesterday’s, today’s or tomorrow’s news.

All cartoons are posted with the artists’ express permission to TPZoo.
Matt Davies

President Obama’s Weekly Address: Veterans

Among other things like support and education for veterans, the President and VA are implementing a new policy that will make it easier for veterans with PTSD to get the help they need — by not requiring that they document a specific incident that caused the condition.

I fully support this new policy.  I’ve always felt that anyone who served in the military should have life-long access to free health care — and not just at VA hospitals, but at ALL hospitals and clinics.

Also, ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would do wonders for limiting the number of service members with PTSD.  Just sayin’…

Health Insurance Not So Profitable, Article Says

“Profits [for health insurance companies] barely exceeded 2 percent of revenues in the latest annual measure. Health insurers posted a 2.2 percent profit margin last year, placing them 35th on the Fortune 500 list of top industries.”

However, according to the article, “The industry’s overall profits grew only 8.8 percent from 2003 to 2008, and its margins year to year, from 2005 forward, never cracked 8 percent.”

Ok, so what’s the difference? Well, for one thing, the industry may have lost a bundle in it’s investment portfolio, along with everyone else.

But another, not mentioned in the article, yet certainly affecting the bottom line: spending over $1 million per day lobbying against reform.

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Our Work Is Not Done

President Obama reminds us of the first nine months and all that was accomplished in that time.  We need to keep our sleeves rolled up because our work is not done.   (Obama’s remarks begin about 9 minutes into this video).

This was our President’s speech to Organizing for America.

(h/t Muzikal203 at DailyKos)

Are you fired up and ready to go?

Big Pharma Wins – You lose I&II

There have been two stories in the Swiss newspaper “Tagesanzeiger” lately, which get my goat. I do not deny the benefits of modern pharmaceuticals. Compared to my childhood days, modern medicines are way more efficient and ailments, that constituted a death sentence then, can now be cured or at least made more bearable. But I refuse to think of the pharma industry as a big benefactor of humankind. Here’s why.

Big Pharma wins, you lose I

Medicines are there to cure you.

Wrong. Medicines are there to treat your chronic condition for as long as possible for a prize as high as possible. Thousands suffer from neurodermatitis here in Switzerland and millions more, of course, elsewhere. The affliction goes from mild to almost unbearable. From small ulcers if you eat the wrong stuff to inflamed excema that cover most of a patient’s body. I have a very mild form, which can easily be controlled by good skin treatment products and avoiding food such as shellfish or nuts. I’ve seen other cases much worse.

There is a cure. Two students Karsten Klingelhöller and Thomas Hein have developed a skin cream made from Avocado oil and vitamin B12. A pink coloured ointment, which has no side effects and was successfully tested in clinical tests. The product has been patented and even given a brand name “Regividerm” the patent’s worth is estimated at 936 Mio US Dollars.

Those two have made it! Helped the suffering!


Not a single parmaceutical company contacted was interested in taking the cream into their product portfolio. The thing is: You don’t earn money by healing the chronically ill at a low price.

Big Pharma wins, you lose II

If you want to put health reform under the microscope, why not use Europe. We all have a public health care scheme, but to different degrees. And the differences show. Take today’s headline on one of Switzerlands most popular newspapers the “Tagesanzeiger”: “The Swiss pay thirty times the price for generic medicine as the people in the Netherlands do.”

So why would that be?

Switzerland’s public health system mandates insurance for everybody, but is run through private insurance companies. There is no public option, however and the control of drug prices is not in the hands of the insurers.

The Netherlands’ system is not so very different today, but they have reformed it only three years ago from a public option system.

What is the difference now?

Switzerland is the home of pharmaceutical industry giants Novartis and Roche. The fact that Switzerland is a small country makes two giants like that huge contributors to the GDP.

The Health Ministry is in charge of drug prices and asks for prices of generic medicines to be 40% – 50% lower than the listed prices of the originals. But: The listed prices are a phantom. No insurance company in the Netherlands, nor in Germany or in Denmark, nor France or England accepts those prices, they have long since negotiated much lower ones with the drug industry. They either get a rebate on the originals or mandate the use of generics, unless the doctor prescribes the original. They got there (The Netherlands, too in the recent past) by using the power of a public option. Which affects, of course the price of healthcare.

The Swiss authorities refuse to change their method of determining  prices and we are paying the higher insurance premiums.

The thing is: No public option, you pay the price!

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Give Us Single Payer

In the current health care reform discussions, the one option that would have solved everything that’s wrong with our health care system was taken off the table virtually from the beginning – Single Payer. Ill-informed people from all over the country have been flocking to their local town hall discussions with their Congressmen and Senators to tell them, for reasons no sane person can explain, that they don’t want a government-run, Single Payer health care system, but whatever you do, don’t touch their Medicare because they love it (oblivious to the fact that Medicare is a government-run, Single payer health care system.) Fueling the opposition to any kind of meaningful health care reform is the health insurance industry. They are fighting for what they think is their right to make money off your medical problems. It’s not like they make the medications and medical equipment you sometimes need; they are nothing more than an intermediary between you and your doctor’s billing office. Yet, if they have their way, you will have to pay 35% of your medical bills, even if you are paying them for insurance coverage. Are they barely making any money? Hardly, as they seem to have hundreds of millions of dollars to pay the people who sit on their executive boards. Then there’s they way they fix the system to cheat you out of money. You know how they always say they’ll pay 80% of “reasonable and customary charges”? Well, there’s two companies that are in the business of determining what would be considered “reasonable and customary.” And one insurance giant, United Health Care, owns them both. So, if they decide that a reasonable and customary charge for an x-ray is $100, they’ll only cover $80 of it, even if the actual charge is $150. You pick up the $70 difference. One simple change would save $350 billion a year – standardize the forms used, which is what would happen with Single Payer. It really is the best way to go.

In the meantime, enjoy this song parody of Bon Jovi’s “Living On a Prayer.”

Give Us Single Payer
Original words and music “Living on a Prayer” by Jon Bon Jovi,
Additional lyrics by Wayne A. Schneider, 2009

Once upon a time not so long ago:

Tommy loves his work as a doc.
Patients have all griped,
Insurance is not enough.
It’s tough.

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Is The Public Option Dead? (No.)

The question everywhere today seems to be whether Barack Obama is backing away from the public option. The main piece of evidence in support of this theory is HHS Secretary Sebelius’ statement on Meet the Press over the weekend that the public option is “not essential.” I basically agree with Ezra on this point. I’ve heard similarly fence-straddling statements out of various administration officials for pretty much the entire time this issue has been discussed.

I like Howard Dean’s take on this (starts around 3:00 mark, but the whole, interview is good). He should really be a major face in this campaign (and it’s a shame he doesn’t have a presence in this administration):

It makes sense, seems completely do-able, and it’s pretty easy to defend the public option provision on budgetary grounds. Get it out of the Senate and into conference, which is what Obama has been telling leaders all along — “just get me to the table” — put the public option back in, and pass it under reconciliation in the Senate. A little messy, but it gets us where we need to go.

As for concerns that there might not be even 50 votes for the public option in the Senate? I’m aware that there were at last count fewer than 50 committed votes, but it’s easy to not support the public option in theory, quite another to be one of those responsible for killing the bill once it hits the floor out of conference.

Frankly, I think this bill without a public option is better than no bill at all (I wouldn’t want to see progressives kill it, even though they’re right about the usefulness of the public option), but I see no reason to believe that it’s not possible to get this bill (public option included) to the president’s desk. And Obama gained more than enough trust from me during his campaign (and on the balance has kept it during his tenure so far) that I will allow him the opportunity to play this out without me screaming “betrayal” at the top of my lungs. Which is really all I have to say on this subject until something comes out of conference.

The British Fight Back

The UK has tired of the United States trashing their universal health care system and are speaking out.

Contrary to what Americans are being told, the British love their universal health care system.  I used to work for a British owned corporation and my counterparts in the UK always received good health care and never complained about how they were treated.

How many countries are clamoring for our health care system?  If our health care was so great, other countries would be eager to switch from their universal coverage to our “you’re not covered” system.  Do keep paying your premiums because the insurance companies might change their minds, maybe, and cover your treatments (if you are lucky).

It’s on…

Truthout, Robert Reich

Yesterday the American Medical Association came out against a public option for health care. And yesterday the President reaffirmed his support for it. The next weeks will show what Obama is made of – whether he’s willing and able to take on the most formidable lobbying coalition he has faced so far on an issue that will define his presidency.

And make no mistake: A public option large enough to have bargaining leverage to drive down drug prices and private-insurance premiums is the defining issue of universal health care. It’s the only way to make health care affordable. It’s the only way to prevent Medicare and Medicaid from eating up future federal budgets. An ersatz public option – whether Kent Conrad’s non-profit cooperatives, Olympia Snowe’s “trigger,” or regulated state-run plans – won’t do squat.

The last president to successfully take on the giant health care lobbies was LBJ. He got Medicare and Medicaid enacted because he weighed into the details, twisted congressional arms, threatened and cajoled, drew lines in the sand, and went to war against the AMA and the other giant lobbyists standing in the way. The question now is how much LBJ is in Barack Obama.

If past is prologue, I have very little hope of a public option making it through this fight.  President Obama spends too much time and political capital trying to be bipartisan and concilliatory.  Now is not the time.

In my opinion, the President under-played his hand regarding health care for all Americans.  He should have gone in with, “Single payer is the only way to go, that’s what I want for this country,” and bargained down from there — or fought like hell ala LBJ.  Now the ideologues, big insurance, and corporate health care will spend billions to chip away at affordable health care for all — money that could be spent to actually fix the problem — if they really wanted to do so.  But they don’t, so they won’t.

President Obama will only get one chance to fix health care.  If he succeeds, he’ll be remembered for generations as one of the greatest, most successful presidents in this country.  If he fails, it will be one more feather in the cap of the Right Wing Corporate America, and we will pay the price, because no one will ever try to fix the health care mess again.

Some congressional Democrats are willing and able to stand up to this barrage. Many are not. They need cover from the White House.

The President can’t do this alone. You must weigh in and get everyone you know to weigh in, too. Bombard your senators and representatives. Organize and mobilize others. And let the White House know how strongly you feel. This is one of those battles that define a presidency. But more importantly, it’s one of those battles that define the state of American democracy.

This is the battle we need to win.  Our country has been slip-sliding into ill-health and ill-education since the 80s, and we absolutely must stop it, because our children are already paying the price.

The health care issue affects all of us (except those in the top 1%, I would guess), and while they have most of the money, we have more votes.  It’s time to flood our Senators and Representatives — and the White House — with phone calls and letters, reminding them that they don’t represent Big Pharma or Big Insurance — they represent US.

Obama’s Bad Stem Cell Research Compromise

This particular issue is very important to me for the same reason, Alzheimer’s disease, as it is to Marion Roach who authored the article. The only difference is that it was my grandfather I took care of and watched slowly change before my very eyes. Who on bad days would get very stubborn, cantankerous, and decide to flush his medicine – which would then cause him to have Grand Mal Seizures.

It was a few years before the sale of the silver that I first wrote about us, in a 1983 magazine article that, impossible as it may seem now, introduced Alzheimer’s disease to millions of people who didn’t know what it was, including the seasoned magazine editor to whom I first pitched the story.

When I first wrote about Alzheimer’s, I searched out some of the best minds of the time, including Lewis Thomas, the great science writer, former dean of Yale Medical School and then-chancellor of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He called Alzheimer’s disease “the disease of the century” because, he said, “of all the health problems in the 20th century, this one is the worst.”

That quote got people’s attention, as did the words “angry, incompetent, hostile and incontinent,” which is how I described my mother. She was then 51, two years younger than I am now. I exposed her for who she had become in exchange for the attention I hoped the article might bring for her disease.

It is very difficult for the families who have a loved one that get this dreaded disease.  Your free time is no longer your own.  Starting at the age of 18, all my personal days and part of my vacation were used taking my grandfather to the hospital or sitting with him trying patiently to calm him down — to reason with him — because he was reliving an event that happened over 35 years ago.  Or, he wouldn’t take his medicine for his epilepsy because according to him, “he was fine and didn’t need it anymore.”    My grandmother would call me at work and I would rush over and help her time his seizures, if they lasted too long we would have to call the paramedics to take him immediately into the hospital.   If they stopped, that’s when the back-breaking task of moving him and changing him and the sheets would kick in.   My grandmother was very small and petite — it would take both of us to get him cleaned up and comfortable again.   When grandpa would wake up and realize what had happened — on a good day — he would apologize and get depressed about his actions.  This horrible disease would not allow him to think clearly.   It was truly heartbreaking, and I would reassure him it was no bother and grandma and I had a good visit.

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Arlen Specter reveals his true agenda — his own re-election

Today on Meet the Press:

GREGORY: It was reported this week that when you met with the president, you said, “I will be a loyal democrat. I support your agenda.” Let me test that on probably one of the most important areas of his agenda, and that’s health care. Would you support health care reform that puts up a government run public plan to compete with a private plan issued by a private insurance company?

SPECTER: No. And you misquote me, David. I did not say I would be a loyal Democrat. I did not say that. And last week, after I said I was changing parties, I voted against the budget because the budget has a way to pass health care with 51 votes, which undermines a basic Senate institution to require 60 votes to impose closure on key issues. …I did not say I am a loyal Democrat.

This is from Specter’s speech announcing his defection from the Republican party:

I am not making this decision because there are no important and interesting opportunities outside the Senate. I take on this complicated run for re-election because I am deeply concerned about the future of our country and I believe I have a significant contribution to make on many of the key issues of the day, especially medical research. NIH funding has saved or lengthened thousands of lives, including mine, and much more needs to be done. And my seniority is very important to continue to bring important projects vital to Pennsylvania’s economy.  (Emphasis added)

The lesson, boys and girls, is that Arlen Specter is not interested in being loyal to the sad sack Pennsylvanian Republicans who have been keeping him in office for over 40 years, and he’s not interested in being loyal to the party to which he chose to defect.  Surprise!

Those of us who read something hopeful in his words about medical research saving or extending thousands of lives were sadly mistaken in thinking Specter was interested in changing the health care system in this country.  No no no no, let’s not have any of that silliness.  What were we thinking anyway…?

Arlen Specter is loyal to one person — ARLEN SPECTER.

Daily Dirt in Business & Politics

H-1b visa holders, since we are accepting TARP funds, we can no longer ignore that you are displacing U.S. workers. We may have let you go, because of political pressure.  With deepest regrets, Wells Fargo.

Jack Cafferty speaks his mind:  “War on Drugs is Insane.” Since we are spending $44 billion a year fighting this war on drugs, I’m thinkin’ hell ya it’s insane!

Since we are on the subject of insanity, Glenn Beck wants you to know he feels your pain.  This coming from a guy who is quoted as saying “Believe in something. Even if it’s wrong.”

Uh-Oh, Phillip Morris lost it’s 10-year battle in paying out millions in damages. Oregon Supreme Court citing “extraordinarily reprehensible” conduct by Philip Morris officials.  This is one company that deserves some public humiliation.

If you are shopping around for health insurance, make sure you are not taking certain medications.  People with gallstones, acne & sleep deprivation will be shunned.

First Chevy Volt will be rolling off the assembly line on June 1st, the catalytic converter will fail within first week, next you will hear terrible grinding noise, within a month the car will be recalled.

Only in Ohio, man arrested for DUI riding a motorized bar stool.  I know this has nothing to do with politics or business, this rated on the bizarre scale.  Link is to Youtube video.

Another Reason Why We Need National Health Care

There was a story today in my local newspaper updating the readers about a sad event and a happy event that happened all within  twenty-four hours to a woman named Trisha Urban.  Tragedy struck Trisha on the same day that she gave birth to her daughter, Cora.  As Trisha prepared to go to the hospital, her husband went outside to feed their animals.  When he didn’t return, Trisha stepped outside and found him lying in the yard.  Her husband, Andrew, died of a heart attack.  The complete story of how events unfolded that day can be read by clicking here

The story doesn’t end there.  Andrew Urban had a congenital heart defect and he skipped a cardiology appointment about a month before the baby was due because he didn’t want to add to their already mounting medical bills.

From the Reading Eagle

“I’ll always have that regret that he missed that appointment,” said his widow, Trisha A. Urban.

Even though the Urban’s had been paying premiums on their health insurance, it wasn’t enough.

According to Trisha, it wasn’t until three weeks ago – about seven months after the family’s coverage began – that the company began paying the Urbans’ claims, and even then it paid only about $2,700 of the $28,000 in claims they filed.

Trisha called it a constant battle.

She estimated the total debt could be more than $50,000.

The Urbans purchased UnitedHealthcare insurance through Immaculata University in Chester County, where Andy was working toward his doctorate.

United Healthcare insurance issued this statement…

In a written statement, United Healthcare said the health plan Andrew Urban purchased provided a set amount of coverage for annual medical expenses and that the company has paid the expenses allowed by his plan.

The company also said students who need extensive coverage should consider options beyond the university’s offering, such as individual policies.

Some people believe that just making health insurance mandatory would be enough to take care of this national health care problem.  Not necessarily so.  United Healthcare insurance wanted the Urban’s to purchase additional health insurance.  Hmm, nice try, but “no cigar”.  As you can see, the Urban’s were ineligible for additional insurance.

She said the couple could not purchase an individual policy because Andrew had a heart defect and she was pregnant, both of which are pre-existing conditions an individual policy wouldn’t cover.

What has happened to Trisha Urban is tragic.  Fortunately, the community has stepped up to help her.  You can read the complete story of how the community rallied behind Trisha here.

Each night, when Trisha puts Cora to bed, she kisses her twice.

“I give (her) a kiss,” Trisha said, “and the first kiss is from her father … and the second kiss is from me.”

No one can say for sure that things would have turned out differently for the Urban’s if Andrew had kept his cardiology appointment.  What we do know is that Andrew was concerned about mounting medical bills and that the Urban’s could not purchase additional health insurance because of the “pre-existing conditions”.  If we had national health care, then Andrew Urban would have kept his appointment with the cardiologist and things may have been different or they may be the same.  Either way, Andrew Urban still deserved the chance to receive the medical care that he needed and didn’t received because he couldn’t afford it.

Pentagon Redefines Combat Disabilities – Wounded Vets Lose Benefits

Just when you think the government can’t possibly cause more problems for veterans than they already have, the Pentagon gives them a surprise and sinks to an all new low.

In a little-noticed regulation change in March, the military’s definition of combat-related disabilities was narrowed, costing some injured veterans thousands of dollars in lost benefits — and triggering outrage from veterans’ advocacy groups.

The Pentagon said the change was consistent with Congress’ intent when it passed a “wounded warrior” law in January. Narrowing the combat-related definition was necessary to preserve the “special distinction for those who incur disabilities while participating in the risk of combat, in contrast with those injured otherwise,” William J. Carr, deputy undersecretary of Defense, wrote in a letter to the 1.3-million-member Disabled American Veterans.

The men and women need to be given difficult problems and rigorous training so that when they get into combat they are better prepared and equipped for the circumstances they will encounter. Under such hard training you expect to have some injuries, and those who are injured should be treated the same as the veterans wounded in combat, because that is reason for training.

Participation in life-threatening duties while not necessarily related to combat should be a no brainer when it comes to health coverage for those injuries – if these functions were not performed by military personnel who does the Pentagon think is suppose to do the work?   Or should they think twice about taking the risk because, heaven forbid, if while performing their duties they get seriously injured the government isn’t going to pay for the surgeries that are required to correct the damage done.  Could the government get any more heartless in their interpretation.  This reminds me of the movie Article 99.

Marine Cpl. James Dixon was wounded twice in Iraq — by a roadside bomb and a land mine. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, a concussion, a dislocated hip and hearing loss. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Where Barack Obama stands on 10 key issues


In accepting the Democratic Party presidential nomination Barack Obama laid out his philosophy on the role of government.

Newsday examined Obama’s positions
on 10 key issues:

On the economy: Would inject $75 billion into the economy through tax cuts and direct spending, targeting working families, seniors, homeowners and the unemployed. He contends this would prevent 1 million Americans from losing their jobs. The plan includes an immediate $250 tax cut for workers and their families and an immediate, temporary $250 bonus to seniors in their Social Security checks. 

On Iraq/Afghanistan: Pledges to withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months, by the end of next year, four months earlier than his previous pledge. A residual force would remain to conduct targeted counterterrorism missions against al-Qaida, protect American diplomatic and civilian personnel, and support Iraq’s security forces. Opposed use of military force in Iraq, as well as the January 2007 “troop surge,” saying that while it improved security, a political accommodation in the country is the ultimate solution. 

On National Security: Would implement 9/11 Commission recommendations. Would close controversial prison at U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, which holds hundreds of suspected terrorists and other detainees. Voted to reauthorize Patriot Act in 2006, but would revise it. Pledges to secure chemical plants and ensure safe, secure disposal of nuclear waste.

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Biden Looking Forward to Debate with Palin

Democrat Joe Biden says he’s debated “an awful lot of tough, smart women” throughout his career and that next month’s vice presidential debate with Republican Sarah Palin will be no exception. But he’d like to know where she stands on issues.

The Democratic senator from Delaware and the Republican governor of Alaska are scheduled to debate Oct. 2 at Washington University in St. Louis.

Asked whether he’d debate Palin differently than he would Republicans Mitt Romney or Tom Ridge, two former governors who figured into speculation about John McCain’s running mate, Biden said the only difference is that he knows their positions on issues.

“I have no idea what her policies are. I assume they’re the same as John’s. I just don’t know,” he said of Palin.  Biden said she delivered a great speech to the Republican National Convention last week in St. Paul, Minn., but “her silence on the issues was deafening.

“She didn’t mention a word about health care, a word about the environment, a word about the middle class. They never parted her lips … so I don’t know where she is on those things.”

My answer to that is because, Sarah Palin’s appeal to working class women is limited. Can’t talk about the issues of Pro-Life, no Abortions in the case of Rape and Incest, Health Care Policy to Nowhere, and they’re not swayed by the fiery dramatic speeches or compelling personal biographies that marked both the Republican Convention. Instead, they were thinking about the price of milk — nearly $5 a gallon — or the healthcare coverage that many working families here cannot afford.

Even if they admire Palin’s attempt to juggle political ambition, an infant son with Down syndrome and a pregnant unwed daughter, these women say that maternal grit is not enough to win their votes.  A National Journal/Hotline daily tracking poll released Friday found that 49% of male voters say Palin is prepared to be president but that only 41% of female voters think so.

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