Weekly Audit: A Progressive Deficit Fix?

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The co-chairs of the 18-member deficit commission issued a preliminary presentation two weeks ago that favored tax breaks for the wealthy and left open the possibility of deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other social programs. But there’s still time for the commission to radically reshape its message before it issues its final report.

Jan’s plan

That’s exactly what progressive Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) is trying to bring about. Schakowsky is a member of the commission and she has an alternative, progressive plan to rein in the deficit, as David Moberg reports for Working in These Times:

It would not go into effect until 2015 or after unemployment subsides, and it provides for $200 billion of job-creating investments during the next two years, in addition to reducing the deficit by $441 billion in 2015, nearly double Obama’s target. Slightly more than a third of Schakowsky’s proposed deficit reduction would come from new revenue (mostly tax changes hitting the wealthy and corporations but also from cap-and-trade carbon emission controls), 30 percent from ending or reforming tax expenditures (again, mainly benefiting rich taxpayers), a quarter from defense cuts, and 9 percent from mandatory programs (like offering a public option for health insurance and requiring Medicare to bargain over drug prices). Though Social Security does not contribute to the deficit, Schakowsky plans to secure future payouts without benefit cuts by increasing how much the wealthy pay into the retirement program.

A public option for health insurance would keep rising health care costs in check because insurers would have to compete with non-profit, government-administered insurance. Instead of cutting Social Security benefits for the needy, Schakowsky would simply eliminate the arbitrary payroll tax ceiling on high earners. Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it?

A coalition of progressive groups calling itself Our Fiscal Security unveiled its own alternative proposal for cutting the deficit on Monday, Luke Johnson reports for the Colorado Independent. Key planks of the platform include repealing the Bush tax cuts, reinstating the estate tax for married couples with assets greater than $4 million, and capping itemized deductions at 15%. Coalition members include Demos, the Century Foundation, and the Economic Policy Foundation.

Generation Recession

Young adults have the highest unemployment rate of any demographic. At the National Radio Project, Rina Palta examines the impact of joblessness on the nation’s 80 million “Millennials.” (Audio) Palta talks to young people who are weathering their first layoffs mere weeks or months after landing their first professional jobs.

Mark Kirk: Tax Cuts for the Rich “No Matter What”

The day before 2.5 million Americans stand to lose their unemployment benefits, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) went on TV to insist that unemployment insurance is misguided and that the government must cut taxes for the rich “no matter what,” Julianne Escobedo Shepherd reports in AlterNet.

Oddly enough, Kirk fancies himself a moderate by Republican standards, according to Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly. Kirk believes that extending unemployment insurance would “just add to the deficit.” In fact, as Benen notes, extending unemployment benefits would be a very efficient way to infuse billions of dollars into the economy. Unemployed people will spend their extended benefits on food, gas, rent, and other necessities. That money doesn’t just disappear into the ether, it feeds local businesses, who in turn keep other Americans working.

The Republican Party line is that the rich need tax cuts because they create jobs. If tax cuts for the rich created jobs, we should already have a full employment economy. As the Bush tax cuts are set to expire, taxes for the rich are at all time lows and unemployment is at historic highs. It is crazy to assume that allowing these tax cuts to continue will magically produce jobs that have yet to materialize, or even bring back the jobs that have disappeared since the Bush tax cuts went into effect.

Ireland’s Billion Dollar Bailout

Over the weekend, the world’s financial institutions agreed to spend $90 billion to bail out Ireland. Tim Fernholz of TAPPED worries that this sum is too small to bring Ireland back from the brink of its sovereign debt crisis. He argues that the world financial community is making the same mistake it made in the 1990s when it forced debtor nations into fiscal austerity without forcing creditor nations to restructure their loans on more sustainable terms.

Once again, bondholders are being spared while Irish taxpayers are being expected to shoulder the heaviest burdens. The economic argument for saving the bondholders is that a bond is an ironclad promise, and that if you start expecting bondholders to accept less than 100% of what was promised to them (no matter how ill-advised they were to take that promise), the entire system will fall apart. It’s ironic that the promises that governments make to their citizens are endlessly renegotiable while bond deals are ironclad. Worldwide, citizens outnumber bondholders. Having citizens lose faith in their government seems far more dangerous than expecting bondholders to take a haircut.

 

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Will Medicare and Medicaid End Up Paying For J&J's Hip Replacement Recall?

Drug giant Johnson & Johnson's subsidiary DePuy Orthopaedics recently issued a massive hip replacement recall of 93,000 hip implants.  DePuy now admits that the recalled hip implants have a failure rate of at least 13%, which means that more than 12,000 people will have to undergo a surgery to remove an replace the defective devices.

Who will pay for these surgeries, each which can cost $50,000 or more?  Government programs (Medicaid and Medicare) already have paid substantial costs to surgically remove the recalled hip replacement parts, and assuming $50,000 for each surgery, the total medical costs of DePuy's hip implant recall could exceed $600 million.  DePuy tells patients that these costs should be submitted to the patient's insurance company for payment.  In many cases, this will be the federal government through Medicare or the State governments through Medicaid system.

There's more...

Record Number of Americans Seeking Government Help

That the private sector has failed should be obvious but the takeaway that conservatives will draw from the news that one in six Americans, or 17 percent, is now aid-dependent for some or all of their needs is that these Americans are somehow lazy. 

The four government social safety programs most being accessed are Medicaid, Food Stamps, Unemployment Insurance and Welfare. USA Today breaks down the numbers:

More than 50 million Americans are on Medicaid, the federal-state program aimed principally at the poor, a survey of state data by USA TODAY shows. That's up at least 17% since the recession began in December 2007.

The program has grown even before the new health care law adds about 16 million people, beginning in 2014. That has strained doctors. "Private physicians are already indicating that they're at their limit," says Dan Hawkins of the National Association of Community Health Centers.

More than 40 million people get food stamps, an increase of nearly 50% during the economic downturn, according to government data through May. The program has grown steadily for three years.

Caseloads have risen as more people become eligible. The economic stimulus law signed by President Obama last year also boosted benefits.

"This program has proven to be incredibly responsive and effective," says Ellin Vollinger of the Food Research and Action Center.

Close to 10 million receive unemployment insurance, nearly four times the number from 2007. Benefits have been extended by Congress eight times beyond the basic 26-week program, enabling the long-term unemployed to get up to 99 weeks of benefits. Caseloads peaked at nearly 12 million in January — "the highest numbers on record," says Christine Riordan of the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for low-wage workers.

More than 4.4 million people are on welfare, an 18% increase during the recession. The program has grown slower than others, causing Brookings Institution expert Ron Haskins to question its effectiveness in the recession.

As caseloads for all the programs have soared, so have costs. The federal price tag for Medicaid has jumped 36% in two years, to $273 billion. Jobless benefits have soared from $43 billion to $160 billion. The food stamps program has risen 80%, to $70 billion. Welfare is up 24%, to $22 billion. Taken together, they cost more than Medicare.

The necessity of jump-starting the economy should be obvious. Conservatives worry that government programs won't contract after the recession and that we're creating some of sort lasting dependency to government assistance. "They're much harder to unwind in the long term," says Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. I guess Mr. Tanner and his libertarian ilk would prefer that Americans line up for private charities and soup kitchens. This isn't just the poor that we are talking about. Increasingly those accessing these social safety net programmes are those who formerly comprised the middle classes.

In 2006, the SEIU and the Center for American Progress published a report entitled Middle Class in Turmoil (pdf) that warned that "despite an economic recovery well into its fifth year, middle class families are struggling to pay for a home, health insurance, transportation and their children’s college education due to a weak labor market and sharply higher prices. To pay for these necessary expenditures, middle class families are borrowing record amounts of money, leaving them unable to put away hardly any cash for a rainy day."

Well, guess what that rainy day is here and it's not just a deluge but a monsoon.

Weekly Pulse: What Would Jesus Insure?

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Christian groups are trying to create a run around health care reform by setting up alternative, unregulated religious health care bill collectives—and movement conservatives are cheering them on.

Religious right-watcher Sarah Posner reports on so-called Christian health care-sharing ministries in the American Prospect. Health-sharing ministries (HCSM) bill themselves as godly alternatives to health insurance. HCSM are groups of Christians who promise to cover each other’s heath care costs. About a hundred thousand people nationwide belong to these collectives. The Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries and its army of lobbyists convinced Senate lawmakers to exempt HCSMs from health care reform’s individual mandate.

Obliterating patient privacy

According to Posner, anti-reform conservatives are talking up these groups because they see them as a way to undermine the individual mandate. But if you think HCSM are a convenient loophole to avoid paying for insurance, think again. Posner describes the criteria for joining Samaritan Ministries International (SMI), one of the largest HCSM:

“To join the HCSM, applicants must agree to a statement of faith that they are a ‘professing Christian, according to biblical principles’ set out in Romans 10:9-10 and John 3:3. They must agree to adhere to guidelines that include no sex outside of “traditional Biblical marriage,” no smoking or drugs, and mandatory church attendance.

SMI members pay their own health care costs out of pocket and seek reimbursement from the group. What about privacy? In order to get reimbursed, they have to publish their health care “needs” in a monthly newsletter and hope someone sends cash. Lifetime benefits are capped at $100,000. Members waive their right to sue for any reason. SMI won’t cover treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, addictions, or the pregnancies of single mothers.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that this free-for-all won’t end well. You can’t just start a quasi-health insurance scheme in your garden shed and expect it to work out. Real insurance companies are subject to oversight to make sure that they have enough money on hand to cover their claims. Who knows what HSCM are doing with people’s money? These outfits have all the disadvantages of private insurers and none of the benefits. Members are a single major illness away from bankruptcy.

Bartering for health care?

Speaking of wacky alternatives to health insurance, Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-NV) main Republican challenger, Sue Lowden, insists that patients can pay for their health care via a barter system, as Rachel Slajda reports for TPMDC. Great! How many chickens for an appendectomy?

Medicare expansion doesn’t equal bankruptcy

At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum debunks the latest right-wing myth about health care reform, that Medicare expansion will bankrupt the states. States pay part of the cost of Medicare, so it’s true that any expansion of the program will cost the states some money. However, the talking point is that the expansion will push state budgets to the breaking point. That’s false.

Drum explains that the health care reform bill exempts states from the extra cost until 2016. Even after that, the costs to the states will be minimal:

“[Health care reform] won’t cost states an extra dime through 2016, by which time our recession will presumably be over, and even after that states will only pay for a tiny fraction of the increased costs. As CBPP points out, states will pay about 4% of the total costs of Medicaid expansion over the next ten years. This represents an increase in overall state Medicaid spending of slightly over 1%.”

Abortion and ‘convenience’

Jessica Valenti of Feministing has been taking on manipulative, anti-choice ads in the New York City subway. These ads are sponsored by an anti-abortion group. They feature various distraught-looking models staring wistfully into space. The tagline is “Abortion Changes You.” The message is that if you have an abortion, you will be a guilt-racked wreck for the rest of your life. Some feminist with a wry sense of humor and a little glue pasted in another sentence on the ad (pictured above): “Now I can go to college and fulfill my dreams.”

Anti-choice blogger Lori Ziganto was scandalized by the anonymous culture jammer’s message. She sneered at the idea that women’s lives and hopes actually matter: “Want to go to college, but there is a pesky baby growing inside of you? Abort! A life is far less important than your co-ed fun and career plans, right?”

Valenti’s response: “It isn’t that anti-choicers don’t understand why women get abortions – it’s that they care so little about women’s lives that any reason given to obtain an abortion is seen as “convenient.” Some things that are convenient: Providing for your existing children. Going to college. Having enough money to eat, pay rent, keep the electricity on. Not dying.”

HSCMs and the subway ads are part of an enormous rift in contemporary politics: Opponents of health care reform say that they’re defending freedom, but in reality, they’re advocating control.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Weekly Pulse: What Would Jesus Insure?

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Christian groups are trying to create a run around health care reform by setting up alternative, unregulated religious health care bill collectives—and movement conservatives are cheering them on.

Religious right-watcher Sarah Posner reports on so-called Christian health care-sharing ministries in the American Prospect. Health-sharing ministries (HCSM) bill themselves as godly alternatives to health insurance. HCSM are groups of Christians who promise to cover each other’s heath care costs. About a hundred thousand people nationwide belong to these collectives. The Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries and its army of lobbyists convinced Senate lawmakers to exempt HCSMs from health care reform’s individual mandate.

Obliterating patient privacy

According to Posner, anti-reform conservatives are talking up these groups because they see them as a way to undermine the individual mandate. But if you think HCSM are a convenient loophole to avoid paying for insurance, think again. Posner describes the criteria for joining Samaritan Ministries International (SMI), one of the largest HCSM:

“To join the HCSM, applicants must agree to a statement of faith that they are a ‘professing Christian, according to biblical principles’ set out in Romans 10:9-10 and John 3:3. They must agree to adhere to guidelines that include no sex outside of “traditional Biblical marriage,” no smoking or drugs, and mandatory church attendance.

SMI members pay their own health care costs out of pocket and seek reimbursement from the group. What about privacy? In order to get reimbursed, they have to publish their health care “needs” in a monthly newsletter and hope someone sends cash. Lifetime benefits are capped at $100,000. Members waive their right to sue for any reason. SMI won’t cover treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, addictions, or the pregnancies of single mothers.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that this free-for-all won’t end well. You can’t just start a quasi-health insurance scheme in your garden shed and expect it to work out. Real insurance companies are subject to oversight to make sure that they have enough money on hand to cover their claims. Who knows what HSCM are doing with people’s money? These outfits have all the disadvantages of private insurers and none of the benefits. Members are a single major illness away from bankruptcy.

Bartering for health care?

Speaking of wacky alternatives to health insurance, Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-NV) main Republican challenger, Sue Lowden, insists that patients can pay for their health care via a barter system, as Rachel Slajda reports for TPMDC. Great! How many chickens for an appendectomy?

Medicare expansion doesn’t equal bankruptcy

At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum debunks the latest right-wing myth about health care reform, that Medicare expansion will bankrupt the states. States pay part of the cost of Medicare, so it’s true that any expansion of the program will cost the states some money. However, the talking point is that the expansion will push state budgets to the breaking point. That’s false.

Drum explains that the health care reform bill exempts states from the extra cost until 2016. Even after that, the costs to the states will be minimal:

“[Health care reform] won’t cost states an extra dime through 2016, by which time our recession will presumably be over, and even after that states will only pay for a tiny fraction of the increased costs. As CBPP points out, states will pay about 4% of the total costs of Medicaid expansion over the next ten years. This represents an increase in overall state Medicaid spending of slightly over 1%.”

Abortion and ‘convenience’

Jessica Valenti of Feministing has been taking on manipulative, anti-choice ads in the New York City subway. These ads are sponsored by an anti-abortion group. They feature various distraught-looking models staring wistfully into space. The tagline is “Abortion Changes You.” The message is that if you have an abortion, you will be a guilt-racked wreck for the rest of your life. Some feminist with a wry sense of humor and a little glue pasted in another sentence on the ad (pictured above): “Now I can go to college and fulfill my dreams.”

Anti-choice blogger Lori Ziganto was scandalized by the anonymous culture jammer’s message. She sneered at the idea that women’s lives and hopes actually matter: “Want to go to college, but there is a pesky baby growing inside of you? Abort! A life is far less important than your co-ed fun and career plans, right?”

Valenti’s response: “It isn’t that anti-choicers don’t understand why women get abortions – it’s that they care so little about women’s lives that any reason given to obtain an abortion is seen as “convenient.” Some things that are convenient: Providing for your existing children. Going to college. Having enough money to eat, pay rent, keep the electricity on. Not dying.”

HSCMs and the subway ads are part of an enormous rift in contemporary politics: Opponents of health care reform say that they’re defending freedom, but in reality, they’re advocating control.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

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