In the USA...United Surveillance America
November 11, 2013
Problems With Federal Health Portal Also Stymie Medicaid Enrollment
By ROBERT PEAR
WASHINGTON — Problems with the federal health insurance website have prevented tens of thousands of low-income people from signing up for Medicaid even though they are eligible, federal and state officials say, undermining one of the chief goals of the 2010 health care law.
The website, HealthCare.gov, is primarily seen as a place to buy private insurance with federal subsidies, but it is also a gateway to Medicaid, which generally provides more benefits at less cost to consumers.
That door has been closed for the last six weeks, with the federal government unable to transfer its files to state Medicaid programs as it is supposed to do.
The delays are affecting people in 36 states that rely on the federal exchange, regardless of whether those states are expanding eligibility for Medicaid as authorized by the health care law. About half of all states have chosen to do so.
Obama administration officials once envisioned a seamless application process in which consumers would use a single form to apply for Medicaid, tax credits and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and most eligibility decisions would be made instantaneously. Under rules issued last year by Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, an exchange must transfer information to Medicaid “promptly and without undue delay,” using a “secure electronic interface.”
The administration is not meeting its own standards.
Marilyn B. Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who oversaw the creation of the troubled federal website, said she decided in September to delay the Medicaid transfers so technicians could “spend more time concentrating on the application process” and other priorities.
The White House has not released enrollment data, but some states running their own exchanges, like Kentucky, Minnesota and Washington, say more people have signed up for Medicaid than for private insurance.
The Obama administration has adopted what it calls a “no wrong door” policy: If a person files an application with the exchange for private insurance but appears to be eligible for Medicaid, the exchange will automatically transfer the full application to the state Medicaid agency, and vice versa.
“We have not seen much progress on the flow of data from the federal marketplace to the state,” said Monica H. Coury, assistant director of the Medicaid program in Arizona. “After a person is assessed as potentially eligible for Medicaid, the application just sits there in the federal marketplace. If you need insurance because you have a serious medical condition, that delay could be harmful.”
People going to an exchange do not necessarily know if they are eligible for Medicaid or for tax credits to subsidize the purchase of private insurance on the exchange. Ms. Sebelius has said repeatedly that “the marketplace will provide consumers and small businesses one-stop shopping for health insurance.”
In fact, many consumers will need to make more than one stop. If the exchange finds them potentially eligible for Medicaid, it may be faster for them to file separate applications with a state Medicaid office than to wait for the federal government to transfer their files to the state.
Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska, a Republican, said the delay was “further evidence that Obamacare is not ready for implementation.”
Matt D. Salo, the executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, which represents state officials, said, “This is not a catastrophe, but it sends a confusing message to consumers.”
“You go to HealthCare.gov and spend 45 minutes or more to set up an account,” Mr. Salo said. “Then you’re told that you’re eligible for Medicaid but can’t get it. You have to start all over again with the state Medicaid agency.”
Some people seeking insurance on the exchanges are already eligible for Medicaid but are not enrolled. They may be shopping for insurance because they have heard about the exchanges through news reports or because they are aware of the requirement that most Americans carry insurance starting next year.
Coverage through the exchanges begins on Jan. 1, but people eligible for Medicaid under current rules could get coverage now if the federal government transferred their applications to state Medicaid programs.
State officials predict that millions of people will apply and be found eligible for Medicaid under existing rules. Some call this a “coming out of the woodwork” effect; others call it the welcome-mat effect of the health care law.
The number of new Medicaid beneficiaries has financial implications for states, which administer Medicaid and share the costs.
For newly eligible beneficiaries, the federal government will pay the full cost of benefits from 2014 to 2016. States will then begin to pay a share, rising gradually to 10 percent in 2020, and the federal government will pay the remaining 90 percent.
However, for those who are already eligible, states will pay their customary share, ranging from 27 percent to 50 percent of costs.
In Ohio, Greg Moody, director of the governor’s Office of Health Transformation, said that the state had begun using a new online Medicaid eligibility system on Oct. 1 to coincide with the opening of the federal website. But, he said, the federal exchange cannot send application files to or accept them from the state.
“This has caused some measure of frustration,” Mr. Moody said. “Our system is ready and waiting to accomplish those transfers when the federal system is ready.”
Stephanie A. Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said the transfers were supposed to start on Oct. 1. “That date slipped to Nov. 1 because of all the technical glitches” with the federal exchange, she said, and state officials believe it may be postponed again to Jan. 1.
In addition, Ms. Goodman said, the federal exchange has not tested its links to the state, so “we do not know if we will get the information we need” to determine eligibility.
Kelly Gunderson, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Medicaid program, said: “We are not getting files from the federal government. Those handoffs are just not occurring.”
Senator Kay Hagan, Democrat of North Carolina, who is up for re-election next year, drafted a letter on Monday to the Government Accountability Office and the inspector general of the Health and Human Services Department calling for thorough investigations of the website’s opening.
November 11, 2013
Official at Health Site Says He Didn’t Know of Potential Risk
By ROBERT PEAR
WASHINGTON — The chief digital architect for the federal health insurance marketplace has told congressional investigators that he was not aware of tests that indicated potential security flaws in the system, which opened to the public on Oct. 1.
The official, Henry Chao, made the statement Nov. 1 to investigators for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, led by Representative Darrell Issa of California.
Mr. Issa, a Republican and a fierce critic of the 2010 health care law, released excerpts from the interview late Monday. Mr. Chao and other administration officials are scheduled to testify Wednesday at a committee hearing on technical problems with the website, HealthCare.gov, that have frustrated millions of Americans trying to use it.
In the interview, Mr. Chao said he had not seen a Sept. 3 memorandum describing potential security risks in the online insurance marketplace. The memo, from Tony Trenkle, the chief information officer at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, noted six security problems, two of which were described as posing high risks.
Mr. Chao, the deputy chief information officer at the Medicare agency, said he was surprised he had not been informed of the findings, based on tests by the Mitre Corporation, a contractor responsible for assessing the website’s security controls. The controls help prevent unauthorized access and identity theft.
On Sept. 27, Mr. Chao and another official sent a memo to the head of the agency recommending that the website go live on Oct. 1, even though security testing was “only partly completed.” At that time, he said, he was not aware of the test findings that indicated possible risks to security.
In the interview, Mr. Chao said that government documents and his recollection suggested “a failure to communicate” within the agency, and that it was “disturbing” that he had not been told of the potential security risks.
“I’m surprised,” he said when he was shown the Sept. 3 memo.
The White House had no immediate comment. Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, has told Congress that consumers need not worry about the security of their personal information because the government runs continual security scans on the site.
Jennifer Hoffman, a spokeswoman for Democrats on the oversight committee, said Mr. Issa’s staff had “basically sandbagged this witness with a document he had never seen before” and then tried to scare the public by exaggerating its significance.
November 11, 2013
Insurers Press for Way Around Healthcare.gov
By REED ABELSON, SHARON LaFRANIERE and SUSANNE CRAIG
Some major health insurers are so worried about the Obama administration’s ability to fix its troubled health care website that they are pushing the government to create a shortcut that would allow them to enroll people entitled to subsidies directly rather than through the federal system.
The idea is only one of several being discussed in a frantic effort to find a way around the technological problems that teams of experts are urgently trying to resolve.
So far, the administration has resisted the idea, partly because of concerns about giving insurance companies access to personal data. People familiar with the matter said no such modifications are planned, and even some insurers are not holding out much hope.
But senior White House officials said the administration was open to ways in which insurers could handle more enrollments and had stepped up efforts to make that possible because of the technical problems with the site.
“It was something we were always doing,” one official said, but it is “of additional value now.”
In a statement, Chris Jennings, a senior health care adviser to President Obama, said the administration was “continuing to pursue additional avenues by which people can enroll, such as direct enrollment through insurance companies, that will help meet pent-up demand.”
In proposing the idea, the insurers said a bypass giving them direct access to the federal platform that determines a consumer’s eligibility for a subsidy would alleviate the traffic on the website, healthcare.gov, and provide more breathing room to fix complicated technical problems that threaten to persist beyond a crucial, self-imposed Dec. 1 deadline.
But even if such a shortcut could be designed, federal officials are concerned about protecting personal data, such as confidential financial and tax information and immigration status. The security and privacy issues are likely to overshadow any possible compromise, according to people briefed on the discussions.
A more likely solution is for consumers to be able to work directly with an insurer to estimate their qualifications for a subsidy, leaving federal verification to a later date, some insurers said. Insurance executives declined to speak on the record because of company policies and concerns about alienating political officials.
Time is running out. Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services, has promised to have the website’s technical problems largely solved by the end of the month. But inside the White House, there is increasing anxiety that the troubled rollout of the health care site could imperil the remainder of Mr. Obama’s presidency.
Aside from the direct enrollment option, insurers and federal officials are examining other ways in the coming weeks to sign up the millions of Americans looking for health insurance. However, none of the options represent a quick fix. One idea being considered would allow people to enroll before the paperwork is completed. At the extreme, despite strong resistance from the insurance industry, there is even talk of extending the deadline for obtaining insurance on the exchanges by months.
Consumers must now enroll by Dec. 15 for insurance coverage that would begin Jan. 1. The open enrollment period is to end on March 31. The main stumbling block for some consumers is the need to determine their eligibility for subsidies, and the amount. Insurance companies can now only estimate the amount for them. It is up the government to verify eligibility, using personal financial information from tax returns and the like.
“The question is, can they create a separate direct pathway so consumers can get that information on their subsidies?” asked one industry official. “If they don’t have Healthcare?.gov up and running by the end of the month, direct enrollment is critical.”
The other option, allowing consumers to obtain their own estimates, seems more palatable. It is unclear whether that proposal is possible. Insurers are worried that they will have offered coverage to individuals whose actual subsidies are less than they have estimated, potentially leaving the insurers or the people themselves financially exposed.
“I think there are potential work-arounds,” said an executive of a major insurer. “I think we have some leeway here so long as people are not in a situation where individuals have to pay significantly more than expected or plans end up in a position with cash-flow issues.”
Insurers are opposed to the idea of extending the enrollment period. They say it encourages people to wait to sign up, particularly the young and the healthy, an age group that insurers need to balance the cost of insuring people with expensive health conditions. They are also worried about the effect of the delay on their ability to price plans for 2015.
By all accounts, the administration is making an enormous effort to rescue the website. The appointment of Quality Software Services late last month as the project’s general contractor has established a sense of order amid chaos. Henry Chao, the technology official from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, who had managed the project since its infancy, has been sidelined, people involved in the effort said.
Specialists say software engineers now have a clear set of priorities and are steadily crossing items off a three-tier list for repairs. On Friday, Jeffrey D. Zients, the administration’s point man on fixing Healthcare.gov, said “a couple dozen” high-priority fixes would be made over the weekend. He repeatedly declined to say how many critical fixes had been identified, saying the list continually changes.
“We are making progress across those priority items, and the site is getting better each week, and will be at the standard that we set for the end of the month,” Mr. Zients said.
Specialists said that most of the effort so far had been focused on eliminating the delays and timeouts that have so frustrated consumers trying to shop for and enroll in plans. More challenging, one person said, are the repairs to the more complex, invisible part of the system that draws information from various federal and state databases into a central base to determine eligibility and subsidies and confirms enrollment data.
The technological effort cited by the White House, that person said, is actually a swell of software engineers. Red Hat, which makes Linux operating systems, and the database giant Oracle, already had sent specialists to help out.
Quality Software has assigned one senior engineer, from Google, to edit website software fixes, he said.
Some software engineers on the job have been replaced simply because they were too burned out to continue the late-night schedule. “A lot of the stuff people are doing now is going through the checklists they should have gone through before Oct. 1,” one specialist said.
On the two floors at an office building in suburban Virginia, visible evidence of President Obama’s promised new “tech surge” is slight. About 350 employees are hunkered over their computers — roughly 70 more than last month — trying to repair Healthcare.gov.
Several White House technology fellows, young enough to be mistaken by some as students, have taken over one office. Another change, said one person closely involved in the repair effort: “A lot of suits are walking around.”
The scene at the office building, for one of the two main contractors that built the troubled website, illustrates the bind in which the Obama administration now finds itself. Despite the White House’s suggestions that a cavalry from the Silicon Valley has arrived to save the day, specialists say that the online system cannot be fixed by adding manpower. Some experts argue that an influx of software engineers at this stage would slow down, not speed up, the repair effort.
“If you have got nine women that doesn’t mean you can have a baby in a month,” said Frederick P. Brooks, a computer science professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and one of the world’s leading authorities on software development. Rather, he and others said, fixing the system involves a painstaking slog through line after line of software code.
No one at this point can be certain how many fixes need to be made, specialists said, because some fixes expose new problems.
In PracticeTracking the Affordable Care Act
In Kentucky, a Glimpse of Health Insurance Help
Jennifer Albrecht and her husband, Bob, walked through their Louisville, Ky., neighborhood on Friday. Ms. Albrecht signed up for Kentucky's health exchange with the help of a Luke Sharrett for The New York Times Jennifer Albrecht and her husband, Bob, walked through their Louisville, Ky., neighborhood on Friday. Ms. Albrecht signed up for Kentucky’s health exchange with the help of a “kynector.”
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Jennifer Albrecht lost her job after being given a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis last year – a turn of events that her husband, Hugh, described as feeling like “a building fell on us.” She stretches out her medicine because she cannot afford the refills, suffering worse flare-ups as a result. But last month, after seeking the help of a “kynector” – one of Kentucky’s counselors certified to help people sign up for insurance under the federal health care law – Ms. Albrecht found she qualified for Medicaid. Her coverage will take effect at the beginning of 2014.
“I know that starting Jan. 1 there’s some hope, there’s some relief there,” she said.
Ms. Albrecht, 42, is among the roughly 1,000 people a day who are signing up for coverage through Kentucky’s online insurance marketplace, or exchange, a volume that state officials say has far exceeded their expectations. The success of the exchange, known as Kynect, contrasts sharply with the technical failures of the federally run exchange serving 36 states. Even some state-run exchanges, including those in Maryland and Oregon, have struggled so far.
But to watch the sign-up process last month in Louisville, a city of 600,000, was to get a glimpse of how the rollout of the exchanges was supposed to work from coast to coast.
There are caveats. Most enrollments in Kentucky – about 85 percent – have been in Medicaid, the government program that provides health care to the poor, which is expanding under the law. The rest have been in private health plans offered through the exchange, with many applicants qualifying for federal subsidies to help cover the cost. If only the sickest people end up buying private coverage, the cost of premiums could rise and the exchange could fail. And if Medicaid enrollment under the expansion exceeds projections, the state could be on the hook for higher costs than it expected.
It is the job of people like Samantha Davis – the kynector who helped Ms. Albrecht sign up for Medicaid – to reach as many uninsured Kentuckians as possible over the coming months. Ms. Davis spends most of her time enrolling patients at Family Health Centers, a network of clinics here that serves thousands of uninsured residents. The organization used a $300,000 federal grant to hire Ms. Davis, eight other kynectors and an enrollment coordinator.
But Ms. Davis also helps out at community sign-up events, including one where she met Mrs. Albrecht on Oct. 1 and another where she met Patricia Bond, a breast cancer survivor whose daughter had pressed her to attend. Ms. Bond, 62, said she was paying $837 a month for health insurance, a cost that had leapt since her diagnosis.
“It’s been really hard to come up with that,” Ms. Bond, a seamstress, said. “I mean, that’s higher than my house payment.”
With Ms. Davis’s help, she found that she would qualify for a premium subsidy of $377 a month if she bought an exchange plan. “That’s the highest I’ve ever seen,” Ms. Davis said of the amount. Of the 24 plans that the exchange offered her, the most expensive would be a silver plan for $263 a month after the subsidy, with an $800 deductible. She went home to study her options, planning to meet with Ms. Davis again once she had narrowed them down.
Not every shopping experience on Kynect is so painless. Elaine Osborne, 57, who works at a discount store that does not offer her insurance, qualified for $212 in premium assistance when she applied with the help of Kelli Cauley, another kynector. She gasped when she saw that the plan with the lowest premium — $97 a month, including her subsidy – had an annual deductible of $6,300.
Donald Mucci, an insurance agent who is certified to enroll people in health plans through Kynect, said most people needed a lot of help understanding the different costs and deciding which amounts were right for them. He also said he worried that people signing up on their own would choose a plan without checking whether it covered their preferred doctors and hospitals.
“They have to make educated decisions about what they’re signing up for,” Mr. Mucci said, “and we need to help them do it.”
NBC Gives Sarah Palin a Disgraceful Platform to Lie About Obamacare
By: Jason Easley
Monday, November, 11th, 2013, 11:51 am
The corporate media helped to spread more lies about the ACA, when NBC gave Sarah Palin an unchallenged platform for her Obamacare lies on Today.
Palin was supposedly on the Today show to promote her book, but the interview really was a forum for her to lie about the ACA. Palin was asked President Obama’s apology for the website, and said, “What apology? He kind of acknowledged a bit that there’s a broken website. The broken website is the least of America’s worries. This broken website I think is symbolic of a broken administration. Take over one-sixth of our economy and the socialized medicine that’s being crammed down our throat, that’s what’s broken.”
She falsely claimed that most Americans will be losing their health insurance, “”Where do you get this five percent? It’s not five percent. It’s most Americans will not be able to keep the healthcare policy and programs that they had desired. The new programs that are being forced down our throat are unaffordable. Some of them are still being told, ‘Well if you like that insurance policy and that coverage, you still will be able to keep it, it’s just going to cost you a little bit more.’ That’s the point. If it’s going to cost you more, then it’s not the same policy.”
Sarah Palin was lying on all counts. The ACA is not socialized medicine. It is a change that allows people to participate in the free market so that they can have access to affordable healthcare. The 5% number is a fact. Sarah Palin came up with a very unique and untrue definition of losing your health insurance. She claimed that if your policy changes in any way, you’ve lost your health insurance.
As anyone who has health insurance knows, policies change every year. New things are no longer covered. Co-pays change. This happened every single year before the ACA. The difference is that the changes that are happening now are adding services and lowering costs, which is the opposite of the past.
During the course of the six minute interview, Lauer and Palin spent a little more than one minute talking about her book. Sarah Palin’s appearance on Today that was supposed to be about promoting her book was really a national morning show platform to lie about the ACA.
NBC should be ashamed to have given Sarah Palin a platform to tell her lies about the ACA to a national morning show audience that isn’t the most politically knowledgable. Matt Lauer didn’t bother to correct Palin, or pushback against her obvious lies. He let her continue to misinform and deceive the American people about a new that will be beneficial to the vast majority to them.
What happened on Today was another example of the “liberal” media helping Republicans promote their lies about the ACA. NBC should be held accountable for helping Palin mislead America. It’s stunts like this that should make every American who cares about facts and truth turn off Today.
The Real Villains Behind the Criticisms of Obamacare
By: Deborah Foster
Sunday, November, 10th, 2013, 3:36 pm
The President has taken a hit to his approval rating recently, and the media keeps pointing to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act as the culprit. The video replay of the President saying, “If you like you’re plan, you can keep it,” is ubiquitous, juxtaposed against the stories of people receiving notifications that their insurance plans are being cancelled. The media eats it up as they dig up both real stories of people who have been dropped from their insurance or a whole host of easily fact-checked stories that turn out to be pure misinformation. Republicans are licking their lips, thinking that Obamacare is sinking; they believe they will finally get a chance to reclaim voters who have turned away from their radical agenda and foolish behavior. However, Rachel Maddow presented an excellent segment dissecting this argument, and it turns out that people are slowly increasing their approval of Obamacare, not increasingly rejecting it. The polls show that since the rollout, the approval numbers of the Affordable Care Act have risen from 44% to 47% according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll and have risen from 37% to 44% according to Gallup. Considering that the Gallup Poll predicted a Romney win, it’s worth considering if their results don’t have a conservative bias as well. Given the admittedly botched rollout of the healthcare.gov website, the perceived “broken promise” by the President, and the non-stop negative media coverage, most Americans could be giving up on healthcare reform, but they are still willing to give it a chance. Meanwhile, the true villains in the healthcare reform saga, the ones who made the President’s words about “keeping your insurance” incorrect -insurance companies— are being protected by most media outlets.
As soon as the shutdown ended, the media needed the next big story to fill air time. The problems with healthcare.gov were ready-made for ridicule and non-stop derision. It wasn’t just the conservative media, either; the mainstream media piled on as well. Of course, the federal website wouldn’t have had so many people to serve if there weren’t so many states refusing to set up their own exchanges. Had they done so, there may well have been far fewer people encountering the website glitches. It’s true some states with their own state health care exchanges did experience problems with their website (e.g. Oregon). However, many other states have had a successful start-up for their health care exchange website. For that reason, Kentucky has been showcased as a success story, because not only is it a red state with a functioning healthcare website, it bucked the conservative trend of throwing a tantrum and refusing to set up a state health exchange.
After the website was old news, the media began searching for horror stories related to the implementation of Obamacare. Fox News was quick to bring on guests that allegedly had lost their health insurance and were going to have to pay dramatically higher premiums to replace their policies. Of course, when fact-checked, a significant percentage of these stories fell apart. By now, we all know that there are people being dropped from their plans, but often because they had really crappy plans that really didn’t cover anything meaningful. The remaining stories of woe need to be reckoned with, but this must be done honestly, and the truth is, insurance companies, not the Affordable Care Act, are responsible for a lot of the misery people are attributing to healthcare reform.
Joshua Holland explains at BillMoyers.com,
“Far too many breathless news stories about insurance plans being “canceled” or people facing “sticker shock” fail to convey even the most basic context: this is almost exclusively a phenomenon of the individual insurance market, which covers between 5 to 6 percent of the population.”
Holland further notes that about half of this population is going to end up buying a policy similar to what they already had for a price similar to what they were already paying. However, about 3% of Americans are going to end up paying for more insurance coverage than they want to and are likely to experience a premium increase. Yet, this means that 97% of Americans will experience virtually no effect or a positive effect on their insurance coverage and premium. Listening to the media, one would think it was 80% of the population that was having a negative impact from the Affordable Care Act.
Conservatives are also trying to be as alarmist as possible about the notion that people will not be able to see the providers they choose. The dramatic case everyone is talking about appeared in the Wall Street Journal where a woman with cancer had a policy cancelled, and the remaining options didn’t allow her to see all of her previous providers. Bob Cesca notes in Huffington Post,
“UnitedHealthcare, one of the most notorious insurance providers before the ACA was passed, responsible for canceling policies and penalizing customers, decided to voluntarily bail out of the individual insurance game as a matter of corporate strategy. In doing so, it could avoid taking on less healthy customers early in the exchange sign-up process, forcing other insurers to absorb the risk. Clever. And sinister.”
Who really forced this woman to lose access to her array of providers? Obamacare? No. Her insurance company? Yes! Furthermore, Igor Volsky of Think Progress writes,
“Since 15 million people or just 5 percent of the population purchases health insurance policies on the individual market and more than 80 percent don’t stay on the same plan for more than two years in a row, the individuals who will be affected by “provider shock” were changing providers almost every year before reform.”
Yet, another “catastrophe” that turns out to be a non-issue.
So, what do we make of the 3% who are feeling they’ve been wronged by Obamacare? This is where the underhanded, greedy behavior of insurance companies matters. Perhaps they aren’t trying to sabotage healthcare reform, but it certainly seems that way. Jason Linkins explains that these companies were required to leave the healthcare plans in place that people already had before the Affordable Care Act. In other words, when healthcare reform passed, everyone’s plans were grandfathered in…until any change was made to the policy. At that point, the insurance company was free to do as it pleased, including cancelling policies or increasing premiums. Here’s the catch: the insurance companies could force policies to change, and thus lose their grandfathered status, by simply making small changes in coverage. Then, they tell policyholders to purchase their new, more expensive plan, without telling them about the health care exchanges and the possibility of cheaper options. For example, Anthem Blue Cross of California, who is currently being sued, sent deceptive letters to policyholders suggesting they switch plans specifically with the intent of making the policyholders lose their grandfathered status.
In terms of profits, the health insurance industry is sitting pretty. These companies have already threatened to raise premiums on small businesses and the individual insurance market by 25% to 116% in 2014. Everyone seems to forget, these companies were infamous for dropping people, raising rates astronomically, changing coverage, and generally mistreating policyholders long before Obamacare. If it’s anyone that Americans should target with their anger and outrage, it’s the same culprits it’s always been, health insurance companies.
November 11, 2013
‘Super PAC’ Gets Early Start on Pushing for a 2016 Clinton Campaign
By AMY CHOZICK
In the 2008 presidential primary campaign, Mitch Stewart devoted himself to defeating Hillary Rodham Clinton, overcoming the advantages of a well-funded Democratic front-runner through grass-roots organizing, and propelling Barack Obama to victory.
On Tuesday, Mr. Stewart and a dozen or so other political operatives and 170 donors will gather in New York to plot how to help Mrs. Clinton win in 2016. The meeting is the first national finance council strategy meeting of Ready for Hillary, a “super PAC” devoted to building a network to support Mrs. Clinton’s potential presidential ambitions.
“We’re coming up with plans on how to engage emerging constituencies that will be incredibly important if there’s a primary and in a general — whether that’s women, African-Americans, Latinos, L.G.B.T.,” said Mr. Stewart, who went on to run Mr. Obama’s battleground-state strategy in 2012.
The all-day meeting at the Parker Meridien hotel will be closed to the news media, but a preview of the day, with panel discussions like “What America Will Look Like in 2016,” about changing demographics, and “Building the Resources to Win,” about developing a campaign infrastructure, provided an early look into what supporters consider Mrs. Clinton’s strengths and potential pitfalls in 2016.
Mrs. Clinton has never had a problem raising money from deep-pocketed donors, but her 2008 campaign lacked the grass-roots enthusiasm and modest Internet donations that buoyed Mr. Obama. Ready for Hillary hopes to build that kind of support.
A grass-roots super PAC may seem an oxymoron: such groups can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on political races as long as they do not coordinate with a candidate. But rather than invest in expensive television ads, Ready for Hillary puts all of its donations into building its email list of supporters.
For every $25,0000 the group raises, it cuts a payment to Rising Tide Interactive, a firm that helps build online lists of supporters. A social media tool on the website will allow supporters to work together to organize to plan rallies and small-dollar fund-raising events. With no candidate and over a year before a potential campaign, Ready for Hillary has roughly a million names on its email list, about half the size of the Hillary for President campaign list at the time Mrs. Clinton suspended her campaign in 2008.
“It’s not our job to be a campaign and it’s not our job to make decisions to tie any potential candidate’s hands,” said Craig T. Smith, an aide in the administration of President Bill Clinton and senior adviser to Ready for Hillary. “The goal is to build a list.”
The strategy is an acknowledgment of mistakes made by Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 campaign, but also a recognition that she cannot simply run as the establishment candidate with inside-the-Beltway support without also inspiring young and minority voters who largely favored Mr. Obama in 2008. Mr. Stewart helped Mr. Obama pick up delegates in small but important caucus states and turn states like Arizona, New Mexico and Virginia into battlegrounds by tapping into changing demographics.
A lineup of longtime Clinton backers and aides will attend Tuesday’s meeting, including Susie Tompkins Buell of San Francisco; Ann Lewis, a former adviser to both Clintons; Jennifer M. Granholm, the former governor of Michigan; and Tracy Sefl, a Democratic strategist. Along with Ms. Sefl, two young Ready for Hillary volunteers, Taj Magruder, 23, of Philadelphia, and Haley Adams, a student at Yale, will open the event, signaling that the Clinton world intends to bring in fresh voices, even if it means edging some loyal aides out.
The event signals a turning point for Ready for Hillary. The group, registered just before Mrs. Clinton left the State Department in February by young staff members who worked in junior roles on her 2008 campaign, was largely viewed as a makeshift organization that sold Hillary Clinton buttons and iPhone cases online.
Some longtime supporters had worried that the group emerged too soon and that if it were not well run, it could hurt Mrs. Clinton’s prospects, even though she is not involved or in contact with its organizers. But veteran aides like Mr. Smith, Ms. Sefl and Harold Ickes, a former deputy chief of staff in the Clinton White House, are now signed on as advisers. In recent months, the group has held events in several cities from San Francisco to Houston and has become among the dominant — if not best financed — political action committees on the Democratic side.
The sessions in New York will point to several advantages favoring a Democrat in 2016. “Democrats do have a series of advantages baked into the cake in terms of demographics and the electoral map,” said Geoff Garin, a pollster who succeeded Mark Penn as chief strategist for Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 campaign.
Fresh off working on behalf of Terry McAuliffe in his successful campaign for governor of Virginia, Mr. Garin will talk about reaching the growing numbers of Hispanics and college-educated white women, and the decline in non-college-educated white male voters, one of the most challenging demographics for Mrs. Clinton. But, he added that some very big odds will work against any Democratic presidential nominee in 2016. “Since World War II, the only time the same party won a third term in the White House was 1988,” Mr. Garin said.
Supporters are also well aware of the attacks Mrs. Clinton would face. During a lunch session, David Brock, founder of Media Matters for America, will lead the “Ready for the Right Wing” tutorial on how to combat conservative attacks and misinformation in the media.
The future of Ready for Hillary is unclear. Should Mrs. Clinton run, the group would most likely dissolve, after encouraging those on its email list to transfer their support to the official Clinton campaign. The widespread belief is that several Ready for Hillary staff members would take up positions on the campaign, which has made the group somewhat of a way station for hopeful aides. If Mrs. Clinton does not run, the group would likely throw its support behind whoever becomes the Democratic nominee.
Either way, this type of early unity and strategizing around a single candidate is a good thing and a rarity in Democratic politics, said Ronald Feldman, a Ready for Hillary national finance council co-chairman who supported John Edwards in 2008.
“We’ve never been paying this much attention this early on, but this time it seemed like a necessity,” Mr. Feldman said.
Poll Finds Hillary Clinton Could Turn Texas Blue In 2016
By: Jason Easley
Monday, November, 11th, 2013, 4:16 pm
A recent PPP poll found that the 2016 presidential race in Texas is surprising close. Hillary Clinton could move Texas closer to turning blue as Rand Paul and Chris Christie each lead her by just 4 points.
According to the PPP poll of Texas, Hillary Clinton would be a very strong Democrat at the top of the ticket in the red state that Republicans most need to keep. Jeb Bush, who will never run, does the best against Clinton, 49%-42%. Things get much closer after Bush. Chris Christie leads 44%-39%. Rand Paul leads 48%-44%. Ted Cruz leads Clinton within the poll’s margin of error 48%-45%, and Hillary leads Rick Perry in his home state 47%-45%.
Hillary Clinton could turn Texas into a battleground in 2016, because this poll reveals that despite all of the Republican claims of having a “deep bench” of 2016 candidates, voters in Texas don’t seem to be wowed by any of them. No Republican candidate in the poll got 50% support against Hillary Clinton. The former Sec. of State is such a well known figure that she can even keep a close race in the biggest red state of them all.
If Hillary Clinton can be competitive in Texas, it sets up a nightmare scenario for Republicans. Clinton’s close polling in the state could force them to have to spend millions of dollars defending something that they thought was solidly locked up in their favor.
The wildcard with all Texas polls is the state’s restrictive voter ID law. The demographics in the state are trending toward the Democratic Party, but those potential voters face some huge barriers to casting their ballot thanks to what might be the nation’s worst voter ID law.
The possibility that Hillary Clinton could turn Texas blue should keep Republicans awake at night.
If the Republican Party ever loses Texas, it will not be able to win presidential elections. The struggles of the current Republican presidential contenders against Hillary Clinton in a place like Texas suggests that none of them have the kind of star power and presence needed to go toe to toe with what looks like a possible merger of the Clinton and Obama campaign muscle.
Texas could go blue in 2016 depending on who the Republicans nominate, but Democrats best chance to flip the state into their column might come in 2020 with a second term seeking President Clinton. Republicans don’t want to face reality, but Texas is moving towards the Democrats, and Hillary Clinton might be the candidate who finally tips it into the blue column.
Outgoing NYC Mayor Bloomberg attempts to vacate ‘stop and frisk’ rulings
By Arturo Garcia
Monday, November 11, 2013 18:42 EST
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration filed a late-night request to vacate the August 2013 ruling calling for an overhaul to local police’s “stop and frisk” policy.
The New York Times reported on Saturday that the corporation counsel of the City of New York has asked a federal appeal court to clear Judge Shira A. Scheindlin’s verdict, in which she determined that the policy, long championed by Bloomberg and NYPD Chief Ray Kelly, violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment.
Scheindlin also ordered that the department be monitored by an independent observer, attorney Peter L. Zimroth, to ensure it complies with the process. But a three-judge federal panel decided on Oct. 31 to remove her from the case altogether while blocking the ruling, arguing that she presented the appearance of lacking impartiality in a series of news interviews concerning the policy.
Corporation counsel Michael A. Cardozo wrote in the city’s request that Scheindlin’s ruling “lend credence to the notion that the N.Y.P.D. unfairly targets minorities for stops and frisks, undermining its ability to carry out its mission effectively.”
The Times also noted that if the city’s request is upheld, that would prevent Bloomberg’s successor, mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, from withdrawing the appeal preventing Scheindlin’s decisions from taking effect. De Blasio reiterated his opposition to the policy in an interview with the Times on Friday.
“I’ve said from the beginning: if the Bloomberg administration had paid attention to the concerns of communities all over New York City and had paid attention to Judge Scheindlin’s concerns, we would have had action a year or two ago, and there never would have been a court order, and there never would have been a monitor,” de Blasio was quoted as saying.
Scheindlin’s own attorney, Burt Neuborne, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that the city’s request amounted to an attempt to bring “character assassination into the judicial process” and misconstrue the panel’s ruling.
“At worst, the panel accused the judge of conduct that might cause the appearance of lack of neutrality,” Neuborne told the AP in a statement. “The panel did not even suggest that the district judge was actually biased.”
Republicans Reeling as Support For Raising The Minimum Wage Surges to 76%
By: Jason Easley
Monday, November, 11th, 2013, 5:55 pm
Congressional Republicans have vowed to block any bill raising the minimum wage, but a new Gallup poll shows that 76% of Americans and 58% of Republicans supporting increasing the minimum wage.
The Gallup poll found that support for raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour has jumped from 71% in March to 76% today. Sixty nine percent of those polled support a minimum wage that increases as inflation goes up. 91% of Democrats, 76% of Independents, and 58% of Republicans support increasing the minimum wage. Democrats (92%) and Independents (71%) strongly support linking the minimum wage to inflation. Fifty six percent of Republicans oppose making the minimum wage inflation proof.
While the American people want a higher minimum wage, Republicans in Congress support getting rid of all minimum wage laws. In an interview with CBS, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said, “I support people making more than $9. I want people to make as much as they can. I don’t think a minimum wage law works. We all support — I certainly do — having more taxpayers, meaning more people who are employed. And I want people to make a lot more than $9 — $9 is not enough. The problem is you can’t do that by mandating it in the minimum wage laws. Minimum wage laws have never worked in terms of having the middle class attain more prosperity.”
Speaker of the House John Boehner likes to make the false argument that raising the minimum wage kills jobs, “When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) echoed Boehner’s bogus argument that raising the minimum wage kills jobs, “It’s not a question of whether (the federal government) can or cannot. I think that’s decided. I think the question you have to ask is whether or not when you set the minimum wage it may cause unemployment. The least skilled people in our society have more trouble getting work the higher you make the minimum wage.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) admitted to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that he wants to abolish the minimum wage. Elected Republicans are moving in the opposite direction from the rest of the country. They are even out of step with a majority of their own party on the minimum wage.
Democrats are planning on using the minimum wage issue to help candidates around the country in 2014. The minimum wage is a powerful issue that brings out voters who otherwise might stay home and skip a midterm election. `
Republicans are in big trouble on the minimum wage. The elected radical Republicans want to abolish it, while the rest of the country is trying to raise it. This is one of those issues where a pragmatic political party would support a minimum wage increase because opposing it could do serious damage to them in the next election. However, this Republican Party is ideological. They will never support a minimum wage increase, and voters will make them pay dearly at the polls.
Democrats need to pound and press, because raising the minimum wage isn’t just a political issue. It’s the right thing to do for millions of hard working Americans.
Pope Francis Does Not Want Bishops Who Follow a Particular Ideology
By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Tuesday, November, 12th, 2013, 7:57 am
Archbishop_Carlo_Maria_Vigano_CNA_US_Catholic_News_6_13_12Pope Francis I, unsurprisingly given his recent denunciation of ideology posing as religion, “wants bishops in tune with their people.” He told his representative, Archbishop Carlo Vigano, that he wants ‘pastoral’ bishops, not bishops who profess or follow a particular ideology.”
Vigano passed this no doubt unwelcome message along to America’s ideologically hidebound bishops at the U.S. bishops’ autumn conference in Baltimore.
Vigano prefaced his remarks by saying that he was offering “a few reflections and observations I have since my time here in this country.” No doubt well aware of how hostile U.S. bishops would be to the Pope’s message, he said, “I ask you to take these thoughts into prayerful consideration. You know this comes from my admiration, respect, and loving concern for the Church in America.”
He quotes Pope Paul VI’s words that “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if it does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” and went on to remind them,
Certainly, my brothers, no one can dispute the clear fact that our present Holy Father himself, as the Supreme Teacher, is giving us, by his own witness, an example of how to live a life attuned to the values of the Gospel.
While each of us must take into consideration our adaptability to the many different circumstances and cultures in which we live and the people whom we serve, there has to be a noticeable lifestyle characterized by simplicity and holiness of life. This is a sure way to bring our people to an awareness of the truth of our message.
Which brought him to the troublesome American bishops and the preoccupation with Republican ideology.
You would think from all the culture war rhetoric America’s Catholic bishops embrace that Jesus concerned himself solely with gays, lesbians, and contraception. For example, it was reported here this past May that “the United States Council of Catholic Bishops has sent out a call to arms urging Catholics to begin concerted opposition against the gay community ahead of Supreme Court rulings.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus never mentioned homosexuality (or any other kind of sexuality). He never once mentioned contraception. Jesus was concerned with the coming Kingdom of God, the plight of the poor and the evils of the rich.
In his Sermon on the Mount, his single longest speaking engagement he offered blessings, condemned materialism, and warned his flock “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Most importantly from the perspective of the Religious Right with whom the American bishops seem most enamored, he warned against false prophets.
Vigano concluded by saying,
I urge you, my brothers, to preserve a spirit of real unity among yourselves and, of course, with the successor of Peter, trusting in the way he sees best to live out his mission to mankind. Unity expressed in a real, prayer-filled communion of mind and heart is the only way we will remain strong and be able to face whatever the future may hold for us.
Pope Francis I is well aware of America’s diversity and so Vigano told the bishops that, “we must take care that, for us as a Church, this diversity does not grow into division through misinterpretation or misunderstanding, and that division does not deteriorate into fragmentation.”
The Catholic News Agency reports that, “Having said this, he noted an article which claimed that America’s political polarization ‘began as Americans lost confidence in their leaders.’”
There was a warning implicit in this. Changing demographics put the conservative-mined bishops at odds with American values. This conflict is seen in their opposition to the Affordable Care Act (one bishop even compared Obama to Hitler), and Muse wrote here in February 2012 that “women have felt the wrath of Republicans who have become the legislative arm of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in their drive to maintain their exaggerated sense of supremacy by enforcing the Catholic ban on contraception on the entire country.”
It is no secret that American Catholics go their own way and are generally more socially liberal than their bishops. Despite church teachings, most Catholics use contraception (up to 98 percent of Catholic women). In Europe, people have simply stopped going to church. Here, they might go to church but they ignore an unwelcome gospel raised in defiance of the First Amendment.
A more blunt speaking Vigano might have said, “Hint, hint,” but told the gathering instead, he said, this was, “well said, since the Catholic Church will preserve her unity and strength as long as its people have trust in their bishops. The sheep will gather together as one; they recognize and listen to the voice of their shepherd who calls out to them, walks with them, and is ready to give his life for them.”
“My brothers, let us go forward, filled with zeal and fervor of divine love. Let us be confident that the Lord will give us the wisdom and strength we need for the tremendous task before us to give genuine witness to the faithful,” he concluded:
Let us embrace our people with a fatherly embrace, let us make them feel that they belong, that they are not orphans or strangers. And we should also ask ourselves today a question posed by Pope Francis to the Bishops of Brazil: ‘ … are we still a Church capable of warming hearts?’ Let our response be a firm and wholehearted: ‘Yes, we are!’
A rousing speech no doubt, such as one might hope to hear at halftime during a losing effort on a Sunday afternoon, but will the bishops listen? So far, they seem focused on ideology to the extent they think they should be deciding what American law says, unthinkingly embracing the attitude that had Americans distrustful of the Catholic Church for two centuries. Pope Francis I has shown a way forward for a Catholic Church more in tune with Jesus’ radical teachings. It remains to be seen whether or not his message has come in time to save America’s bishops from themselves.
Photo from Catholic News Agency
George W. Bush Keynotes Event Promoting End Times
Sunday, November, 10th, 2013, 6:34 pm
In 2000 during the Republican primary race for president, eventual winner George W. Bush said with great pride that “as governor of Texas I brought people together. I’m a uniter, not a divider,” and although the warmonger president bifurcated America from the rest of the civilized world by invading Iraq, he still considered himself a uniter. Bush is still divisive, and this coming week he will be the featured speaker at a religious fundraising event to divide the Jewish community by training Christians in America, Israel, and around the world to persuade Jews to abandon their beliefs and accept the Christian Jesus as the Messiah. Now, anyone familiar with the Christian religion comprehends that one of Jesus Christ’s commands to his followers was to spread the good news of the kingdom of god by convincing them he was the Messiah, but that is not the intent of the event Bush is promoting.
The Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (MJBI), responsible for the fundraiser with Bush as keynote speaker, is bent on convincing Jews to accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah to restore Israel and the Jewish people to hasten the second coming of Christ and bring about the end of the world. The Jewish community is not impressed, or amused, at the evangelizing efforts of Messianic Jews, and they naturally object to their proselytizing message that salvation by Christian Jesus is consistent with Jewish theology. In fact, last year the president of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, said that evangelical fanatic Rick Santorum’s appearance at another Messianic Jewish event was “insensitive and offensive,” and a conservative American journal of politics, Judaism, social and cultural issues noted, “it must be understood that the visceral distaste that the overwhelming majority of Jews have for the Messianics is not to be taken lightly.”
Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism said, “It’s disappointing that he (Bush) would give his stamp of approval to a group whose program is an express effort to convert Jews and not to accept the validity of the Jewish covenant.” Christians are incapable of accepting the validity of other religions and converting Jews to Christ is a typically evangelical goal, but it is the stated reason of “bringing about the second coming of Jesus Christ” that informs their deep-seated hatred for non-compliant human beings and the desire for evangelicals to see a large segment of the world’s population decimated during the bible’s mythological “end times.”
First, it is incredibly presumptuous and contrary to scripture for Christian fundamentalists to think they can “bring about the second coming of Christ” by any means, but their intense desire to dwell in Heaven and watch their lord and savior ravage “the unworthy” with bloodthirsty vengeance supersedes what should be “love of man” their Messiah preached. Evangelicals have been increasingly preoccupied with the “end times” since Americans became more tolerant as a nation, and it never fails that any disturbance in the Middle East is a “sign” the apocalyptic end of the world is at hand. The Syrian conflict, for example, ramped up fundamentalists’ end times speculation that found one-third of Americans believing, and hoping, the biblical end of the world was at hand to wipe out a significant portion of the world’s population.
What informs the sheer inhumanity of “end times” advocates is that where most human beings with a conscience would recoil at the thought of an apocalyptic worldwide war foretold to kill off millions upon millions of other humans, Christians such as Michele Bachmann could hardly wait or constrain their glee. Bachmann, the epitome of neo-Christian America said, “Rather than seeing the end of the world as a negative, we need to rejoice, Maranatha Come Lord Jesus, His day is at hand.” There are varying opinions about why fundamentalist Christian fanatics are in lust with idea of human destruction on a biblical scale unseen in human history, but there is little doubt fundamentalists are anxiously awaiting for god to lay waste to humanity while “true believers” watch from a safe distance in Heaven.
If one sets aside, for a moment, the idea that those “raptured to Heaven” will have ringside seats to witness human destruction on a biblical scale and considers the repercussions of a segment of the American population with no regard for the future, the contempt for Americans concerned about man’s deleterious effects on the environment begins to make perfect sense. Their belief that the end times are impending leads fundamentalists’ indifference to protecting the environment, fuels their opposition to social programs to help vulnerable Americans they regard as evil, and drives their support of neo-conservative warmongering policies in the Middle East that, incidentally, signal Armageddon and god’s final assault on mankind in their twisted end times fantasies.
Remember, fundamentalist Christians believe when god unleashes Hell on humanity, they will have been spirited to Heaven in the “rapture” before the “end time” devastation takes place. As one Christian writer revealing the distinct beauty of the “escapist fantasy” said, “It is an amazing hope to have because we can know that as terrible as it is getting out there, believers in Christ don’t have much longer to worry about it.” Christian fundamentalists also believe that the end of the world means they get to have the last word and see those “left behind” realize the righteous were right all along and are justified in celebrating victims of the lord’s vengeance horrifying demise. A professor of religion, Doug Weaver, said “I think history will tell you that end time predictions increase when people are being persecuted or feel persecuted,” and although American Christians are not, under any definition, being persecuted, they truly wish, and anticipate an apocalypse for vengeance and to say we told you so.
It is true that all Christians are not steeped in end times fantasies or joyous at the thought of a biblical apocalypse to wipe out billions of non-believers. But there are significant numbers of American fundamentalists who are convinced that with the world’s demise imminent there is no reason to care for the environment, help other Americans, or seek peace either at home or around the world. It is certainly likely that Republicans make good use of fundamentalists’ disregard for the future to enact policies that have near and long term consequences to the people, especially when their policies enrich the wealthy who harbor no delusions their time on Earth is limited by impending biblical apocalypse.
Throughout world history Christianity has wrought untold horrors on humanity and likely they found biblical justification for their actions, but it is a relative certainty they were acting according to their misguided understanding of gods’ will as they knew it. It is only recently that fundamentalist fanatics have been so deluded that they actually believed their actions could influence biblical god, or Jesus Christ, to action and there is nothing as dangerous as a substantial segment of the population with a shared god complex. The real danger to America, and the world, is that these fundamentalists’ beliefs are founded in Iron Age mythos and they have infiltrated the highest levels of the U.S. government and if Americans