Thursday, December 24, 2009

Reform Rx - Change, Yes We Will

The bills have passed. We did not get everything we desired and need to understand and accept for the present that the conference committee on the combined bill will be a compromising committee. What we have today is largely what we will see in the bill that will pass both the House and Senate and be health care reform...for now.

One perspective to view health care reform from is the historical development of Social Security. The original legislation in 1935 had many coverage gaps and was a far weaker program than it is today. Significant amendments to the act in 1939 and 1950 (when it became much more universal) along with the constant attention to improving the program's effectiveness to the present day are a result of expanding on Franklin Roosevelt's vision.

The public option, the dissolution of the insurance cartel, and single payer are not sacrificed forever.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Reform Rx: Stock Tip

No comment nor investment advice on this sad state of affairs reported by Huffington Post:

The rise in stock prices has been particularly striking in the period since Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said on October 27 that he would filibuster a Senate health care reform bill if it included a public option - a threat that caused Senate leaders to cave without much of a fight. Here's a quick breakdown of major health insurance company stock performance from
Oct. 27 to Friday's market close:

Coventry Health Care, Inc. is up 31.6 percent;
CIGNA Corp. is up 29.1 percent;
Aetna Inc. is up 27.1 percent;
WellPoint, Inc. is up 26.6 percent;
UnitedHealth Group Inc. is up 20.5 percent;
And Humana Inc. is up 13.6 percent.

By comparsion, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is only up 2.3 percent during that time; the NASDAQ Composite is up a (relatively) paltry 1.4 percent.

Thanks Joe. (CT-I*)
* Insurance Party

Reform Rx: Collins goes to 7-11

An excerpt from Senator Susan Collins’ statement on deciding to vote against health care reform:

It is unfair that Republicans were allowed to offer only seven amendments to a bill that affects every single citizen and one-sixth of our nation's economy.

Unfair? Seven? Of course it depends on what Senator Collins is counting to make her "it is unfair" point I counted twenty-four (24) significant amendments or amending motions with the following eleven (11) offered by Republicans. Collins math lesson: 11 out of 24 = 45%, not bad for having 40% of the seats. By the way, many of us in Maine think that Susan Collin has been unfair to us in regard to fighting for our health care needs.

Here are the seven, I mean eleven Republican offerings (Source Slate):

Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's motion to delay taxes used to pay for the bill until the bill is actually implemented. Set aside Dec. 16, 56-41.

Republican Sen. Mike Crapo's motion to strip the bill of any provisions that will result in a tax increase for individuals earning less than $200,000 or families earning less than $250,000. The obvious point of this amendment was to embarrass President Obama for violating his promise that health care wouldn't impose taxes on this group (which, for the most part, it won't). Failed Dec. 15, 45-54.

Republican Sen. John McCain's motion to send the bill back to the finance committee so it can extend to all Medicare Advantage beneficiaries the special deal Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson won for his Florida constituents. Score one for McCain: This amendment shines a spotlight on a cheesy political bargain. Nelson, after trying unsuccessfully in the finance committee to "grandfather" (i.e., maintain for existing beneficiaries) benefit levels for all current Medicare Advantage recipients, got a narrower provision inserted providing relief to Medicare Advantage recipients living in certain "local areas" as determined by a complex formula that fits South Florida like a glove. McCain is in effect saying: Hey pal, share the wealth! Can you blame him? The motion failed Dec. 8, 42-57.

Republican Sen. Judd Gregg's amendment (2942) requiring Medicare savings to be used to "save Medicare." Gregg is the author of a Dec. 1 letter to fellow Republicans offering parliamentary tips on how to obstruct health reform. So don't waste too much attention on this. Failed Dec. 7, 43-56.

Republican Sen. John Ensign's amendment (2927) limiting contingency fees to malpractice lawyers to one-third of any awards of $150,000 or less and one-quarter of any awards of more than $150,000. Not an entirely terrible idea. Failed Dec. 6, 32-66.

Republican Mike Johanns' motion to strip from the health reform bill $42 billion in cuts to home health care agencies. Failed Dec. 5, 41-53.

Republican Sen. John Thune's amendment (2901) removing Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS), a proposed new voluntary program for nursing-home and other long-term care insurance, from the bill. Failed Dec. 4, 51-47. (This amendment required 60 votes to pass.)

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch's motion to strip the bill of cuts to the privately administered Medicare Advantage program. Failed Dec. 4, 41-57.

Republican Sen. John McCain's motion to strip the bill of Medicare cuts. McCain proposed more than twice as many Medicare cuts to fund his own health plan during the 2008 election. McCain is unbelievably touchy about this! His amendment failed Dec. 3, 42-58.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski's amendment (2836) barring the U.S. Preventive Task Force from being used to deny coverage for anything. Failed Dec. 3, 41-59.

Republican Sen. David Vitter's amendment (2808) amending Mikulski's amendment (see below) to prevent the United States Preventive Task Force from restricting mammograms, which it can't do anyway. (Vitter is a well-known feminist.) Passed by unanimous consent Dec. 2.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Reform Rx – End Results Count Most

Senator Barbara Mikulski’s amendment to the Senate’s health care bill to promote and expand preventive healthcare for women passed yesterday on a 61 to 39 vote.

The amendment is in part a political reaction to the controversy that arose over the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s updated guidelines regarding mammograms for women in their 40s. The conservative fear machine spun the Task Force report into an ugly specter of rationing. Both Senators Snowe and Collins voted with the Democrats on the amendment which received a great deal of coverage similar to that from Health Leaders Media:

The amendment, which calls for coverage of screening procedures, such as mammographies and Pap smears, would also cover cervical cancer, postpartum depression, heart disease and diabetes. The amendment received some bipartisan support with three Republicans—Sen. Olympia Snowe (ME), Sen. Susan Collins (ME), and David Vitter (LA)—voting for it.

We can expect Senators Snowe and Collins to vote for several amendments during the course of the debate on issues on which they are routinely lauded as moderates. Amendment debates and occasional supportive votes on all of these matters may create an impression of moderation but in the end, voting for final legislation that contains substantive health care reform with a robust public option is the vote that counts.

That final vote needs to be where we focus considerable effort to influence our Senators to a greater degree than the insurance industry. What we do not want is Senators Snowe and Collins to earn moderate accolades for voting on a bunch of amendments and then voting down the final bill because of cost, government control, or public option opposition. We cannot afford to be cheated in the end with their explanation of “I worked so hard to improve the bill but the gosh darn Democrats just made it impossible in the end to support in good conscience because of blah, blah, blah...”

And we also must avoid a watered down bill that is not substantive or carrying a robust public option because Senators Snowe and Collins traded a few amendment votes along the way in exchange for the watering down of other key provisions. Those means would not justify the ends.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Reform Rx – Shoot to Kill

An August Reform Rx piece entitled Unreal, Unhealthy, Un-American covered a subject that one would never think of being part of the health care debate: guns. The column piece was written in reaction to the carrying of guns to town hall meetings or near Presidential speaking events by right-wing fanatics to inject intimidation into the health care debate.

Imagine how my ears perked up this morning when I heard NPR’s Cokie Roberts reporting on health care reform bills saying:

And add to that, Renee, we have these continuing fights over abortion and immigration. And now we're discovering there are going to be new fights over guns in the insurance bill. And so, the work just gets harder and harder to get it passed. (Emphasis mine.)

The full NPR report can be listened to here and the passage above is at about 2:40:

How are guns and the intrusion of this divisive issue being scatter shot into the debate? A tour around the internet yielded these insights of attempts to poison health care reform:

The Examiner

The day before the Senate passed the $848 billion health bill on a party-line vote, the Virginia-based Gun Owners of America sent out a mass alert to its 300,000 members, warning them that the legislation "will most likely dump your gun-related health data into a government database. ... This includes any firearms-related information your doctor has gleaned or any determination of post traumatic stress disorder or something similar, that can preclude you from owning firearms."

The Freedom Medium

They will attempt to make their case by presenting statistics showing that gun violence causes health care resources to be spent in ways that could be better utilized in other areas.
Of course, many of the American public will fall for this gibberish, not realizing that it is simply another ploy by the Obama administration to drum up support for an increasingly unpopular health care reform bill, while having the added bonus of being an assault on Second Amendment rights as well.

Buckeye Firearms Association

Don't forget the new taxes on guns and ammo to help provide insurance for those poor Crips, Bloods, Triad, Mongols and Mexican Mafia members who find themselves suffering from uninsured gunshot wounds incurred during a drug deal gone wrong. The anti-gun possibilities are limited only by the imagination.
Please don't delude yourself into thinking that this would only be part of any "public option" insurance plan. The private insurance companies are going to be in direct competition with any of the pre-existing or new government insurance plans, so if the public plans get an "upcharge" for gun ownership you know the private ones are going to demand this extra money, too.
All right-wing forces are allied against health care reform and every conceivable issue group’s attack will need to be countered. In this case, the fact is that there is absolutely nothing in the two health care bills that addresses or has any intended consequence regarding guns. Period. Rinse and repeat: period. Apparently there is no honor on the right; if a bill cannot be legitimately defeated, just assassinate it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Reform Rx – The 2011 and 2013 Amendments

During the last couple of weeks, gaining perspective on the two health care reform acts working their way through Congress has been a priority over commentary. Observing whether or not the public option is being so weakened as to make it ineffective has been a constant concern. Watching the developing and predicted force feeding of abortion issue politics as a poison pill within the debate has been disquieting…more doses unfortunately will be forthcoming.

On balance, not everything in these bills is as progressive as one might desire but with liberal Representatives and Senators we can trust staying with the process and compromises, it continues to be reasonable to be supportive of both bills prior to conference committee work at some time in the future. Perfect is always the enemy of the imperfect. If the outcome is a marked step forward toward regulating insurance company discriminatory practices, will increase access to quality and affordable care, and develops a public option, we will have a framework on which to build, modify, and expand further substantive health care reforms in the near future.

One perspective to view health care reform from is the historical development of Social Security. The original legislation in 1935 had many coverage gaps and was a far weaker program than it is today. Significant amendments to the act in 1939 and 1950 (when it became much more universal) along with the constant attention to improving the program’s effectiveness to the present day are a result of expanding on Franklin Roosevelt’s vision. Republicans do also recognize that health reform today will open the door to additional reforms tomorrow. It is no wonder that right-wing efforts to engage in revisionist history and to vilify FDR and the New Deal are at a fever pitch on scream radio and conservative blabsites.

In Maine, once again our efforts must be focused on preventing our Senators from derailing or damaging the initial legislation.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Reform Rx – GOP Healthy Insurance Companies Bill

Republicans are finally getting to work and producing a GOP alternative health care bill that offers the public the option to evaluate their commitment to reform. Of course it does not have the diabolical public option. The GOP says it is all about costs and obviously concludes it is not about care.

Here are key emerging features:

- Insurance companies can continue refusing to cover pre-existing conditions so that the industry’s financial health does not deteriorate.
- The bill will allow the purchasing of health insurance policies across state lines so that insurance companies will be able to cherry pick where to sell based on lack of regulation and other requirements that suppress healthy profits for insurance companies. As a bonus, insurance companies could decide to charter in weak regulatory states to build low benefit–high profit plans to sell in other states to help the bottom line.
- The government does not get diabolically involved in health care except to encourage expansion of expensive state based high risk pools to help ensure that insurance companies avoid costly individuals so that insurance companies do not have any risks of low profits.
- Small businesses will be permitted to band together to buy health care so that after satisfying insurance company risk elimination and eliminating pre-existing conditions risks another market opens up to insurance companies bolstering their overall income. The pools themselves or insurance company determinations will reject businesses with high risk individuals to keep costs low and profits high.
- Medical malpractice awards for pain and suffering will be capped at $250,000 so that insurance companies will not have to endure the pain and suffering of paying out of profits for things like an individual’s loss of income for life or decades of misery.

Republicans do get velvet glove tough with the insurance industry in one area. There will not be a mandate that everyone must be covered which does not deliver another new market to insurance companies. Since the Republican plan also does not include tax credits for the poor that would make sense under such a mandate, a conclusion that insurance companies only need to have a giant profit protection guarantee rather than a mammoth one must have been reached.

Finally don’t worry, illegal aliens and abortions are not covered to keep the base fired up on social issues while shoveling the cash into health insurance company coffers.

GOP: Guaranteeing Outlandish Profits!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Reform Rx - Snowe Weary

Good morning, happy Halloween, and just in case you did not have a nightmare, read the morning papers:

Snowe reaffirms her opposition to public option
- Portland Press Herald
Snowe on health care legislation: 'I will try to make it better'
- Morning Sentinel, Waterville
Senator hopes to improve health care measure, even if she votes against it
- Kennebec Journal, Augusta

In a story by Matt Wickenheiser, Maine Today Media has decided to become a part of the the legendary Snowe-making machinery equating her serious style with wisdom. Giving Senator Snowe occasional good marks for diligence and even level-headiness may be appropriate. However, just being earnest does necessarily yield wise statecraft. Senator Snowe is fallible, subject to misdirection, can be close-minded, and simply be dead wrong. That's the case with health care reform, Snowe has a nice bedside manner but her diagnosis is inaccurate and her prescription is full of complications for the patient.

Here's a few outtakes from the Maine Today Media piece that cause pauses:

Sen. Olympia Snowe reiterated one of her key positions Friday, saying she won't support a Senate bill that contains a public option.

The most vital tool to control costs effectively to cover the most individuals, supported by a majority of both houses of Congress, the President, the American people, and constituents in Maine continues to earn a complete dismissal.

She again suggested her alternative to a full government-backed plan: a fallback, safety-net plan that would be triggered in states where insurance companies fail to offer affordable plans.

Senator Snowe continues to tout her plan for a triggered public option fashioned for failure despite compromise after compromise and concession after concession that have brought us to the present "opt-out" public option version.

"I just think it's going to be very difficult to get it done by Christmas," she said.

A procrastinator's persistent petulance prevails.

"Introducing a government approach in an already dysfunctional market would truly threaten the ability to create a competitive market," Snowe said.

Oozing gravitas apparently can obliterate a lack of logic in any utterance. Faith-based market worship blinds her.

Snowe said that what has happened in the insurance industry has been "unconscionable."

Those are fighting words! Run up the white flag!

Let's put Senator Snowe's dalliance with health care reform in some sort of perspective. She has diagnosed a dysfunctional market. The dysfunction comes about from an insurance industry engaged in activity that is "unconscionable". Majorities of her colleagues, Americans, and Maine constituents see the value of a public option as the corrective solution. And, she seems to agree that a public option can fix things too. Senator Snowe has thus concluded that threatening an industry engaged in "unconscionable" practices in a dysfunctional market they brought about ought to be threatened with the fix for a few years. Maybe they will the play nice.

Senator Snowe: We're weary of your delaying tactics and continual preference for corporate entities over critical individual needs; please get with the program or at the very least stop obstructing the process by seeking concessions that hurt us.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Reform Rx – Vote NO on One

A clear connection unites these issues. Beyond the debates of who, what, when, and where lays the essential interwoven question of why we ought to reform health care and why we must guarantee equality for all. The answer rests on choosing that which is morally right and affirming that “we hold these truths to be self-evident.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Reform Rx - BOO to Seniors

Let freedom ring;
Let fear upswing.
You sacrificed dearly,
To be frightened insincerely?

60 Plus a right wing group that tries to pass itself off as an AARP equivalent is spending two million dollars in a fear smear that tries to frighten seniors. Here is an excerpt from their press release on the media buy:

October 28, 2009 - ALEXANDRIA, VA – The 60 Plus Association today announced a new advertising campaign targeting Senator Snowe. The $2.0 million ad buy, which will also run in Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota, celebrates our greatest generation, asks seniors to call Senator Snowe and demand she fight the massive cuts to Medicare the current health care reform legislation before the Senate would bring.

Here is the actual Maine version of the ad found on You Tube. It is easy to identify the fear tactics used by 60 Plus. However, the organization actually has the callous audacity to accuse health care reformers of being the fear mongers!

“Even with Halloween around the corner, Senator Snowe shouldn’t be scaring seniors with the threat of Washington bureaucrats refusing care or making health care decisions instead of your doctor,” said Jim Martin, President of 60 Plus.

There is one simple thing we can all do when these ads start running amok across our screens here in Maine. Adopt a senior. And if you are senior, adopt a peer. Find an senior neighbor or relative and ask them if they saw the ad and if it caused any concern. Tell them that health care reform is about improving health care for all Americans and not to the detriment of anyone else. Listen and share your views in a caring manner. Better health care for them, their children and grandchildren is the fulfillment of their sacrifice. And be sure to thank them for bequeathing to us a country where universal health care is possible.

Here are two timeless quotes to heed today that inspired the greatest generation.

Consider this more complete and in context famous quote by President Roosevelt at his first Inaugural Address in 1933:
"This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

And at President Roosevelt's 1944 State of the Union Address he proposed a Second Bill of Rights that included:
"...the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health."

Pass health care now. We are fearless.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Reform Rx – Opting In to Opt Out

A public option will now get debated in the Senate. The opt-out option announced today by Senate Majority Leader Reid is far superior to the trigger in many ways.

Consistent broad voter support of a public option and your activist efforts kept this fight for fairness alive. The health care lobby came extremely close to killing the public option in the Senate. It is imperative to remind ourselves that they will not surrender. They will try to influence the processes at every single step. And rest assured that they and their surrogates will also resort again to fear tactics.

We need to ensure that the Senate Democratic caucus stands together and that no single member abandons the aspirations and essential needs of the citizens who gave the Democratic party a mandate by slinking off and joining the Republicans in a filibuster even if they might be individually disinclined to support the final bill.

Despite the efforts of our own Senator Snowe, her trigger trick is not the public option version that Senator Reid will offer for debate. But again be forewarned, we have not heard the end of the trigger and the opt-out replacement with a trigger is entirely possible. Maine citizens need to tell Senator Snowe to abandon her allegiance to the trigger; her constituents do not want it

We must intensify pressure on both Senators Snowe and Collins to support substantive health care reform with a robust public option. It is also critical that we be wary of too much attention being given to our Senators when it might cross the threshold into too much concession. We expect them to support our interests and not be granted the capability to barter away our hopes.

(From single payer to supporting a public option as a necessary compromise and now to using opt out as a tactic to win the compromise, my line in the sand is now drawn.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Reform Rx – Now playing, “Trigger Kill Bill”

Every great once in a while, pulling a loaded gun’s trigger accidently causes a misfire injury or death. That’s accidently; one could of course deviously rig things for an intentional result. However, this column is not about hashing out 2nd amendment arguments but trying to dissect Senator Snowe’s politicking.

Amid a very good analysis by Jacob S. Hacker in The New Republic regarding why a trigger for health care reform will not work, this gem glistened:

“As is well recognized, triggers are generally designed to create political cover, not effective policy.”

In scrutinizing the possible effects of a trigger and the opportunity for insurance companies to anticipate it and thwart its effectiveness, Hacker comes to this unsurprising conclusion:

“Added to the Senate bills, a trigger would represent a backdoor way of killing the public health insurance option that a majority of Americans (and U.S. Senators) support.”

Perhaps this is Senator Snowe’s objective all along.

The TNR piece has enough good information in it to help anyone compose a very good letter to Harry Reid and Christopher Dodd about not including a trigger in a combined Senate bill. Whoops, left out Max Baucus…must be an oversight, sorry misplaced his contact information.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Reform Rx - Snowe's Body Language

Statement from Maine People’s Alliance Executive Director Jesse Graham:

“For months now, political analysts throughout the country have been attempting to divine Senator Olympia Snowe’s intentions towards health care reform. Now, it’s come down to reading her body language.

With a single sentence to reporters and a nod of her head as she walked down a Senate corridor, Snowe today appeared to say she would filibuster a health care bill if it contains a public option.

If that interpretation is correct, Senator Snowe would be signaling her intention to deny the people of Maine the affordable health coverage they desperately need.

Three recent polls have all shown around 58% of Mainers in support of a public health insurance option, with only 35% opposed. A recent Democracy Corps poll showed that a vote against real health care reform would reduce her electoral support to 44%, with another 44% of Mainers surveyed opposing her reelection.

Premiums have risen astronomically for Maine people over the past decade and Anthem, Maine’s largest insurer, is now engaged in a legal battle with the state to raise them even higher. They have proposed an unconscionable 18.5% increase for individual plans.

A public plan would keep insurance companies accountable and guarantee an affordable health care for people in Maine.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Reform Rx: The Death Dividend

$263,000,000 has been spent by health care lobbyists this year.
The average individual annual health insurance premium is $4,824.
$263,000,000 divided by $4,824 is enough to cover 54,500 people.
45,000 people a year die in the US due to lack of health insurance.

Yes, the deaths are only a portion of the uninsured but all the plans on the table are aimed to reduce the uninsured by payment of premiums! Get more background on the numbers story at Dirigo Blue.

Maybe the health care industry, big pharma, and health insurance lobbyists could just save the cash for quarterly dividends and simply mail death certificates directly to Congress.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reform Rx – Upside-down Bipartisanship

In Maine we’ve seen the courting of Senator Olympia Snowe to obtain a bipartisan imprimatur on the Finance Committee mark yielding the negative result of a weakened bill devoid of a strong public option. Will the pursuit of bipartisanship now extend to the full Senate in an equally damaging manner?

We will soon find out as the Finance and HELP Committee efforts get combined and move in front of the full Senate. One obstacle that the press often points out as a supporting reason to pursue “bipartisan” course is the looming threat of a Republican filibuster. However, there is absolutely no such thing, it is a deceptive illusion.

A Republican filibuster is technically not feasible within the full Senate because the body is divided in such a way (60/40) that with a full roster it takes 41 votes to frustrate the advance of vital legislation. That’s 41 Republican votes, not 40; there are 40 Republican Senators. Lather, rinse, repeat…that’s 41 Republican votes, not 40; there are 40 Republican Senators.

The concluding vote math is easy; a filibuster in the current United States Senate must be bipartisan. At the very minimum a single member of the Democratic caucus must jump ship and support the use of a filibuster against her/his own fellow caucus. In this case it is not a trivial hop across the aisle from a divided caucus but a leap across a chasm containing a majority of the Senate supporting a public option.

In an October 19th New York Times piece we learn:

“There are 52 solid Democrats for the public option,” said Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is chairman of the health committee. “Only about five Democrats oppose it. Should the 52 give in to the five? Or should the five go along with the vast majority of the Democratic caucus?”

The pursuit for a lone Republican to get a bipartisan stamp on a bill reported out of committee at 14 - 9 when 13 -10 or even 12 -11 might have advanced better legislation was pointless. This isn’t supposed to be some sort of reality TV show called the “Amazing Chase” to get a single Republican vote for health care reform. Citizens cannot be fooled this easily; bona fide bipartisanship obviously involves the contributions of larger groups when it can be achieved. We also understand that it is not possible this time because Republican Senators in any real numbers do not genuinely support meaningful health care reform in any way, shape, or form. Besides, they have their own reality TV show, “Extreme Fakeover”, in which a lone filibustering Democrat is lured into the Republican pack ready for reruns.

Any forthcoming filibuster threat will be as bipartisan as Olympia Snowe’s committee vote.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Reform Rx – Secret Agent Snowe

Mole (noun)

someone who joins or works for an organization in order to give secret information about it to other people, especially to its enemies

a defector in place, an informant, a spy from one organization seeking to weaken an opposing organization from within

commonly used to describe anyone working in one organization, seeking access to confidential information that they will pass to the organization for whom they really work

Is Senator Snowe a planted Republican mole or joining with the Democrats to play an outsized role that destroys health care reform efforts from within? No. This column isn’t a left wing version of “Beck conspiracy in everything” nuttiness.

However, Olympia Snowe is playing an outsized role in health care reform legislation that is weakening substantive reform and killing chances of an immediately available robust public option. We need to help stop this unwitting mole activity.

Maine citizens can and should continue to be on the offense and contact Senator Snowe to demand that she support significant health care reform represents our needs for urgent and substantive action.

We also need to be defensive and let other Democrats know that Maine citizens are not aligned with Senator Snowe’s destructive gutting of reform and feel poorly represented as a result. We need their understanding that beyond state borders we recognize a need for national program that is far stronger than what Senator Snowe is willing to barter away in the name of negligible bipartisanship.

Our message needs to be:

I hail from Maine; please do not compromise with Senator Snowe. While I appreciate the goal of bipartisanship, I know that Maine citizens cannot endure an ineffective compromise brokered by our own Senator misrepresenting us that weakens substantive health care reform and eliminates a robust public option. In Maine, we support and need authentic reform that addresses our needs and that of all Americans. Please represent us.”

Call, email, fax:

President Barack Obama
Senator Harry Reid
Senator Max Baucus
Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Reform Rx: The Forecast for Snowe

"My vote today is my vote today. It doesn't forecast what my vote will be tomorrow."
- Maine Senator Olympia Snowe

Our senior Senator has garnered a lot of national press with expectations of her vote for the Baucus bill and her eventual Finance Committee vote in favor of the measure. Take little comfort from her involvement, it has not served us well. In part to earn her vote, the public option that would save us the greatest amount of money and save us from insurance company exploitation never appeared in the bill. Certainly there are a few Democratic members aligned against the public option but her acceptance of it could have been pivotal. Instead Senator Snowe influenced the watering down of the Finance committee bill.

Her support may indeed prove to be a thorn that penetrates deeper. Now there will be a concerted effort to keep her on board with the hopes of also attracting her colleague and our other wayward Senator, Susan Collins. This effort could indeed ensure that the Senate’s eventual merged bill of the Finance and HELP measures has no public option or just a public option gimmick like a trigger. Senator Snowe will have future water runs available to her to dilute the reform desperately needed and assist keeping insurance companies floating on top.

The final step will be the House/Senate Conference to craft the final bill. It will pit a weakened Senate bill against the more robust public option offerings that the House is sure to pass. Senator Snowe may even have a seat in that conference but if not will surely have an open back door. After she helped weaken the Senate Finance Committee bill and likely assisted in passing a weak Senate combined bill tailored to keep her “bipartisan” stamp on things, do we want her doing further damage to health care reform?

The national press will continue with their attention on our senior Senator. The lobbyists and influence peddlers will remain in touch with her with their privileged special Washington access to keep their version of market solutions in front of her. Some leading Democrats, despite the fact that she will weaken the very reforms they know in their hearts are essential and even the administration seeking the bipartisan imprimatur will continue to court her vote and thereby give her a role out of proportion to what would best serve us in Maine.

In Maine, citizens really need substantive robust reform. We need a public option and not some flimsy state sized substitute public option but a national solution that is powerful enough to save us substantial money in a nationally reformed system. The argument will arise that some reform is better than none. But like a badly broken bone, set improperly, the future difficult complications sure to come will be on the nation’s and Maine’s horizon.

Constituents are one voice in the process, one that all the other powerful influences are dismissing and trying to suppress. We must counter loudly and forcibly hold Senator Snowe accountable to us. She may not “forecast what my vote will be tomorrow” but we need to forecast the storm that results from giving into the pressure system in Washington with its effect on the political weather in Maine.

We must translate Senator Snowe's “you lose me” if a public option gets in the final bill to “you lose us if she does not support substantive reform.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Reform Rx - Corporate Communism & Health Care

Watching MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan, who started his journalism career at the Portsmouth Herald next door, can be an exhausting tour de force. Whatever one deduces about his opinions, his logic is sharp and his questioning is doggedly pointed. At the heart of his economy reporting is a provocative message about manipulation of the many by the few feeding excessive greed and for unearned rewards with long term consequences. His explanation of corporate communism in this piece is particularly apt and his fair warning that our form of capitalism could capitulate into the type of thugocracy we see today in “democratic” Russia is prescient.

Here he is referencing corporate communism in a highly spirited health care debate with anti-health care reform shrill Betsy McCaughey and Congressman Anthony Weiner.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Reform Rx: Defanging Predators

Reading the Wall Street Journal can be a difficult chore at times when wading through market and business news about how corporations and industries manipulate everything from Washington to currencies to their own opaque images. Wearily one comes to the editorials and opinions that cheerlead and critique aspects of a superficial world that real people who are the instruments and hostages of capital do not inhabit.

But there is much that is to be gleaned from careful reading of this chronicle of corporate elitism. A wry smile at quirky front page offbeat stories, an impressive answer back to the palaces of power in an op-ed or letter, and perhaps a useful personal finance pointer are occasional rewards. And an understanding of the financial class's evangelical manipulation of tax and free market religion to single-issue conservative voters to insulate them from regulation and continue feeding the politics of selfishness is valuable.

Then comes Wednesday and The Tilting Yard by Thomas Frank that tells me that a genuine op-ed which in one of its best roles as “opposition-editorial” does take place within the pages of the Wall Street Journal. This week’s installment, like many, gets behind the gauzy curtains of Republican Conservatives exposes their shallow interpretation of economic theory and adoption of sound bite politics. Mr. Frank challenges the right wing’s mantra of government as predator by once again demonstrating that corporate teeth in the state’s jaw are the real danger to health care reform.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Reform Rx - Conservative Accidental Values

George Smith's Kennebec Journal column, the Native Conservative, today included praise for the Italian socialized health care system. He gave a quaint tale, never mentioning socialism, taxes, or big bad government about his brush with the system and implying how well it worked. I often refer to him as the "Naive Conservative" precisely because he so often "can't see the forest because of the trees" despite all his time in the woods! Read his piece, which is the first half of the column, and preview the letter of response below submitted for Journal publication that will appear hopefully soon.

George Smith’s October 7th quaint vignette of Italian health care does not take the tale to its logical conclusion.

Italy has a public plan modeled along the lines of the British system. The World Health Organization system ranks Italy #2 out of 191 countries for quality care outcomes. The US is ranked #37. In 2005, Italy spent 8.9% of GDP or $2,714 per person on health care; the US spent $6,347 per person on health care or 15.2% of GDP. Italians live longer, have lower birth mortality rates, and more doctors per capita. Everyone is covered in Italy and guests such as the Smiths are treated efficiently and fairly when the need arises.

Yes, Italy taxes to fund their system but the net costs as noted above are far less to every individual. Conservative voices ought to be supporting a robust public plan because it is a conservative wise investment in citizens that costs less money. Oh, regarding the dreaded subject of taxes – isn’t paying some efficient amount for our common defense against sickness and hazards better than a taxing private debilitating legalized levy?

Substantive health care reform will also help business, except health insurance companies, in being more competitive on the world stage. A robust public plan would assist that engine of growth, small business, and unleash many to consider possible entrepreneurial options. It would be a bulwark of support for conservative ideals in trade and individual initiative.

Let’s hope Mr. Smith takes his next column to the logical conclusion by researching the Italian system and recommending the model based on its conservative and prudent investment of funds that generate excellent outcomes. Reforming health care with a public plan ought to be a conservative ambition.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Reform Rx: Be there or be square

Major rally for single-payer health care and to protest Anthem's suing the taxpayers of Maine at the Kennebec County Court House at 95 State Street in Augusta, Maine (map) on Wednesday, 7 October at 12:00 noon.

We are very fortunate to have Wendell Potter, the former health care insurance executive turned reformer speaking at this event!

Brave New Films is supposed to also be there and I suspect filming for additional footage of their coverage of the WellPoint affiliate Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield's suit to guarantee profits in Maine.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reform Rx – Missing Snowe & Collins, Inc.

The Maine Senate delegation serving corporate interests need to leave office when their terms are up. From Susan Collins’ refusal to engage Maine citizens in any substantive way on health care reform to Olympia Snowe’s dashing any hopes for a Maine voice of reason supporting a robust set of health care reforms, I am resigned to dismissing their poor representation of us as their usual game. They have not lived up representing their constituents fairly.

In the meantime, we are saddled with their inadequate grasp of domestic issues in particular and their peculiar allegiance to outside corporate interests who are not interested in Maine citizens, save a bit of financial extraction of our modest to poor means for their profits. While I realize we must press them on every key issue while they remain in office on the slight hope that they might consent to bargain for something that steers them into representing us by accident, it is time for them to leave when their term is up. Based on their actions regarding health care reform, that’s the best Rx.

What I will miss about Snowe & Collins, Inc. for five minutes is:

- The false proclamations of moderation used to cover their conservative Republican voting records.
- The outside Maine media panting for our Senators’ to go against the grain only to find out once again that they are made of conservative Republican fiber.
- The endless wooing dances to get one of them on board as a bipartisan backer but getting stepped upon by their demands for changes that destroy intent and effectiveness.
- The myth that they are good old rock bed rugged individuals who speak independently for like-minded Maine citizens except when a campaign contribution or corporate financial interest is at stake.
- The right wing smoke screen about RINOs and Republican purity setting them up as victims of the right while they march, with a very few limited minor exceptions, lockstep with the conservative band.
- The avoidance tactics, hollow moderate credentials burnishing, dismissing attitudes by their staffs, chuckling comments at our expense, and the deterioration of authentic Maine representation and examples of real bipartisan leadership given us by Margaret Chase Smith, Edmund Muskie, Bill Cohen, and George Mitchell.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Reform Rx - Make It Snowe

Tomorrow is the day that we may see Senator Snowe publicly cast a vote regarding the public option. The Baucus bill mark up process will include amendment votes on including a public option in the bill unless another tactical delay occurs. While we suspect that Senator Snowe will oppose inclusion of a robust public option, you can still urge her to change her mind.

You can contact her office in DC to ask her to support a strong public option and drop her backing of any triggered public option.

Senator Olympia Snowe
Phone: 202-224-5344
It will likely be busy; put it on speed dial and keep trying!

Senator Snowe is being given the opportunity to join the 58% of Maine citizens that want a public option to compete with insurance companies by truly representing our interests over corporate profits.

If Senator Snowe votes NO, she might well represent the "kill" vote on the public option for the Baucus bill.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Reform Rx – Republican Asleep at the Switch

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post observed in his column today:

The Senate Finance Committee was barely an hour into its consideration of health-care reform on Tuesday morning, but Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) already knew where he stood.

"I do not support a government takeover of the health-care system," he railed. The proposal "confiscates more money from the taxpayers," he went on. "It tramples on American freedom and liberties."

After this vigorous display of open-mindedness, Bunning was spent. About an hour later, spectators noticed that the senator, who had been resting his chin in his hand, had fallen fast asleep. As giggles rippled through the chamber, an aide shook Bunning, who woke with a start.

Senator Bunning is one of those Republicans who will not be voting for health care reform in any way, shape or form. I suppose many a hard working Senator has nodded off at a hearing but it is especially poignant that Jim Bunning has in the past questioned if Senator Harry Reid gets enough sleep to make rational decisions.

While amusing, the sad outcome of this tale is that Republicans have a la-la fantasy dream about the United States having the best health care in the world but are ready to condemn all of us to the nightmare realities of poor health outcomes, lack of access, insurance company indifference, and medical impoverishment or bankruptcy.

Wake up call: Check out this Bunning - Snowe activity today.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Reform Rx - Collins Dissing Us

Senator Collins is not swayed by messages about health care. She does not hear the voices of Maine citizens who need workable health care reform and a public option. She ducked out this summer on a nine day overseas trip and refused to connect with constituents or publicly seek their opinions. Now it seems there is no way to reach her.

From MPBN regarding health care media ads today:

"I don't think the members of the delegation nor the people of Maine are influenced by political ads that are run by out-of-state groups advocating positions," Collins told Capitol News Service. "We saw that when I was up for re-election last year, when a lot of groups were running attack ads against me."

It appears that Senator Collins apparently believes that an ad on health care reform is an “attack ad”.

Many of us have written to our Senators. I and many others urged all of us to do so. And I made sure to take the time and write to both Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins about my perspective as a Maine citizen on our health care needs.

I received replies.

From Senator Snowe, I got a two and a half page single spaced explanation of her inclinations and involvement that discussed the issue. I did not agree with her on everything but she was engaged and concerned.

From Senator Collins I received a four sentence pro-forma “thanks for writing; appreciate it” reply. No perspective or position included at all.

Senator Collins is not engaged on health care reform. She is not engaging with her constituents in a manner that is appropriate to her office. Susan Collins is dissing us. Dissing is slang but is the perfect word for describing the disrespecting, disparaging, dismissing behavior which she is engaging in with regard to the citizens of Maine on health care.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Reform Rx - "A Little Respect (Just a little Bit)"

Ok, I’m going to do this just once.

Olympia Snowe, do a Jim Jeffords; pull an Arlen Specter. Leave the party that left you long ago; show loyalty to principle. Have a Margaret Chase Smith moment. The Republicans have not drifted a bit right; they have jumped to destructive political tactics and downright obstructionism at any cost.

Democratic activists in Maine may not have supported you in elections but we can do math. Many Democratic voters have supported you and Independents with moderate views have also. These two groups are following closely health care reform and identifying Republicans as the party that dismisses real needs, does not care about them, and laces our national dialog with fear and false charges.

The boat is sinking and the other passengers are still poking holes in it; time to jump ship. Come on in, the water is fine, Democrats would welcome you, Independents would continue to respect you, and Republican moderates in Maine will continue to support you. That leaves only an extreme right residue that disowns you already derisively as a RINO.

You can become a Democrat or if that’s a bit too much all at once, declare yourself an Independent. Either way, you’ll roll up an impressive George Mitchell style reelection victory as a result. Not running? We don’t need to know about that but you can retire with respect, dignity, and adding a historic voice to reason.

The real thrust of this proposal is to get you to caucus with the Democrats. Sure, you hold negotiation power now as the fleeting light of possible bipartisanism flashes and surely fades. But citizens are not blind; there isn’t any true bipartisan action on health care and we know it. Despite some declarations, Americans really do not care if there is a technical bipartisan imprimatur on health care reform as long as it works for them.

If you choose to follow your instincts and do something substantive about health care; the right will tear you down to greater degree than presently. Your impact as a Republican will be reduced as that caucus plays to its narrow extremist base. In the Democratic caucus you might not become the immediate darling of every activist but you will have true R-E-S-P-E-C-T. And because the Republicans will frustrate you on every single future issue after health care since you did not assist them in breaking President Obama, you will be in a caucus where you can have impact.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Reform Rx - Dancing with the Senators

Robert Reich hits the nail on the head with his blog entry yesterday, “Why Olympia Snowe Should Vote Against the Baucus Plan”.

Indeed, we might as well reconcile ourselves to seeing our Maine Senators’ decisions on health care change as leading med-onomic indicators of bad reform. But Robert Reich’s scenarios are very plausible. If Snowe votes for Baucus, we bop down the road to feeble reform; if Snowe, votes against Baucus, no matter her logic, the dance floor may open to robust reform. Thus let us hope Senator Snowe will vote against the Baucus bill as it is currently written. Occasionally accidental representation occurs.

There is also a third scenario where the Baucus bill is reshaped into a good bill via the amendment process from Senators such as Jay Rockefeller. Then, we’ll need to put Senator Snowe back on our dance card.

Let us hope Senator Snowe then has a Margaret Chase Smith moment and considers her conscience. There are a few times in a long Senate career that there are vital matters of overwhelming importance that distinguish leaders and directly affect the very lives of constituents in a way that will last well beyond a Senate career. Some of these times present fundamental choices between clear constituent needs and very powerful influences. This would be one of those times.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Reform Rx - Money Talks

Yesterday after Max Baucus released his bill, it won an immediate endorsement from health care industry.

Shares of UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH), HealthNet Inc. (HNT), Humana Inc. (HUM), Aetna Inc. (AET), and Cigna Corp. (CI) all reacted by rising at the prospect of mandating coverage without public option competition.

To be fair, the Baucus bill, may improve selected things a little bit but it is not change we can believe in. It is like finding out from the doctor that you broke your leg in one place instead of still have a broken leg and the bill will likely not be much cheaper.

For a brief on the good, bad and ugly on the Baucus bill check out this TPM piece by Brian Beutler. And the right has its own set of good, bad and ugly comments too.

Time to get out the old "insurance" stamp:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Reform Rx - Time to pick a bill.

The Baucus bill reported out today is the Senate go-it-alone offering. This bill may pass in a pretty watered down version but the outcome of health care reform will be decided in the House/Senate conference committee negotiation between a limping and weakened offering designed to attract a Republican Senator or two over the needs of millions of citizens and the bill that addresses our needs that is now in the house as HR 3200.

I believe the solid testimony by Wendall Potter that compares the above bills is very revealing. It is time to choose a horse and back it.

Reform Rx - We got Snowe-ed

Senator Snowe is walking away from a plan that she says will increase costs for Maine citizens. She is probably right but it is ultimately due to her rejection of a robust public option from the start.

Maine citizens needed a strong government plan to compete with all insurance companies on a nation level that would in turn force prices down within our narrow Maine insurance market. Senator Snowe enabled killing the public option and now walks away and abandons us.

It’s a case of the fox giving up guarding the henhouse because she already ate all the chickens.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reform Rx - Senators for the State of Status Quo

Senators Snowe and Collins have given us their positions clearly after an extraordinary effort to convince each of them of the needs of Maine citizens for substantive health care reform with a robust public option. They coldly, with no persuasive reasoning, smilingly reject our health care needs and sentence us to the status quo.

Senator Snowe continues to urge rejection of a pubic option. Senator Collins rejects a public option or even a triggered one.

While I do believe we elect representatives to use their best judgment and not just parrot the majority whims; this is an instance where their conclusions are so defective that it must become a watershed characterization of their terms in office. Only the State of Status Quo is well represented.

The letters, calls, faxes, office visits, protests, vigils, and other efforts must go on because we citizens need to carve out a public record to create the long memory necessary to replace Senators Snowe and Collins with representation aligned with our needs.

We must say to the President and others: “I hail from Maine but please do not compromise with our Senators; they compromise our vital needs.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Reform Rx - Congress Town Hall

From this morning's Chicago Tribune:
Phil Rosenthal asks questions you can count on.

"Will there be a tougher, more pressure-filled job the next few years than being the accountant who does Glenn Beck's taxes?
Would someone please, please, please on this latest promo tour ask Rod Blagojevich to rank, in order of price, his new book, his dignity and Obama's former U.S. Senate seat?
Is it true that if you play "The Beatles: Rock Band" video game backward, it tells you to play "Grand Theft Auto 2" and III?
What are the odds someone in Congress starts yelling out stuff at Obama like they do at the town hall meetings on health care?
So after shutting down Michigan Avenue, what does Winfrey do for an encore next year, shut down Michigan state?"

And thus it happened.

Quite a prediction but perhaps not all that remarkable considering the Republican Party's move to the three "Rs": Rejection, Rudeness, Reactionary.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


This Maine specific ACTION ALERT request comes from:
Jason Rosenbaum
Deputy Director of Online Campaigns
Health Care For America Now

Today, this week, and into the future, Senator Snowe is going to be hearing from her constituents.

Snowe, a member of the so-called Gang of Six on the Senate Finance Committee, which is under intense pressure to work out a compromise on the complex and potentially far-reaching legislation, coolly insists bipartisanship is the only answer. "It isn't a question of working with the Democrats," said Snowe, one of the three GOP negotiators. "It's working on a bipartisan basis to see if we can do the right thing for this country."

She would create a public health insurance option only if private insurers prove unwilling or unable to meet certain affordability targets. Nonprofit agencies, she proposes, would offer health insurance only if private insurers could not cover 95 percent of the people in their regions with plans costing no more than about 15 percent of a person's or a household's annual income.
It's good to know Senator Snowe is still open to negotiations in Washington. But it matters a lot more what people in Maine think about health reform.

Today, Lee Roberts, an insured cancer survivor from Alna, Maine went on the air with her story and a message for Senator Snowe, accompanied by radio ads, print ads, grassroots rallies, canvasses, phone calls, and press conferences:

There is no doubt that Mainers are hurting right now. Premiums in Maine are increasing almost six times faster than wages in the last seven years [pdf].

Families are paying over $1,000 more per year for health coverage. The situation is worse for businesses, who are paying well over $4,000 more per year per employee for coverage.

The two biggest insurers in Maine control 88% of the market [pdf], meaning Mainers have no choice when it comes to health insurance.

All this combines to squeeze Mainers hard: 70 are losing their insurance coverage every day [pdf].

Senator Snowe can fix this if she stands up for her constituents over the health insurance lobbyists. She can support health reform that lowers costs, improves coverage, and gives Mainers a choice of a public health insurance option that's national and available on day one to keep the insurance industry honest.

If you live in Maine, sign the petition to Senator Snowe urging her to do just that. Senator Snowe should negotiate for real health reform that helps her people back home. Because if the insurance industry wins when it comes to health reform, Mainers lose.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Reform Rx – The Republican Trigger Reality Show

Let’s ask ourselves: Why concede to what they reject in their hearts?

From CNN State of the Union

“There’s lots of things we could agree to on a bipartisan basis,” Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, “the public option isn’t one of them. The trigger option simply kicks the can down the road.”

Under the trigger proposal, a public option would become available later, should the private insurance industry not meet certain benchmarks on coverage and cost.

“If the Democrats embrace the public option,” Pawlenty also told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King, “even in the form of the trigger, they’re going to shoot themselves in the foot.”

From FOX News Sunday

Wallace: “Let me bring (former) Speaker Gingrich into this conversation. First of all, I'd be curious to hear your take on what both of your Democratic colleagues here on the panel are saying. But also, the 2003 Medicare prescription drug benefit bill, which President Bush signed, had a trigger in it, a trigger that's never been pulled. If President Obama now supports a trigger, you know, that would give private insurance companies, let's say, four years to provide an affordable insurance policy, would that be more acceptable to Republicans?”

Gingrich: “I don't think so. I mean, the 2003 bill had a trigger which said specifically only non-governmental entities could be developed. It did not have a trigger that led to government, because if you say to the government bureaucracy, ‘As long as you find it has failed, you get to build a brand-new bureaucracy,’ you have a guarantee the trigger's going to go into effect.”

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Reform Rx - Taking Care from Business

A very informative and personal story in today's Kennebec Journal about what owners of small businesses constantly face in the struggle between pursuing an entrepreneur's path and the burdensome cost of paying for 100% of their health care unlike employees of larger entities.

Small businesses are often lauded the engine of employment growth. The boot-strap small entrepreneur is the wonder hero of conservative pundits and the right wing faithful...

…except when it comes to leveling the playing field with large companies by providing reasonable health care for small firm owners and employees.

…except when it means giving small business an equal opportunity to attract talented employees by allowing health care portability or a seamless government option.

…except when an adequate government health care option might encourage someone to take an entrepreneurial risk or two.

…except when it means reducing the shoveling of premiums into insurance companies to produce profits that do not provide any health care benefits.

…except when it means placing small businesses in bankruptcy jeopardy over unreasonable medical expenses.

…except when it means reforming rules that allow insurance companies to selectively jack up small business rates to rid themselves of less profitable premium payers.

…except when government run health care might help small business versus upsetting big pharmaceutical profits that can be used to advertise more drugs for more profits.

…except when the political donations and dollar flow for lobbying are just not enough from true entrepreneurial small businesses.

…except when a little moral compassion might strengthen our country and small businesses.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Reform Rx - Trigger Déjà Vu

Listen children to a story that was written not long ago...

Insurance companies will act in advance of any eventual triggering of a public option. Here is the most recent possible cautionary tale that ought to compel us to act boldly and decisively to reform health care completely without delay or accommodation of corporate interests.

Credit Card Rates Rise Ahead of Reform Law
Efforts to Compensate for New Card Rules Lead Higher Rates, Fees for Consumers, Critics Charge

Aug. 18, 2009—

As consumers look forward to new credit card rules intended to make their lives easier, many are also finding that the cost of using their cards is rising.

Efforts to compensate for the losses expected from the new federal credit card rules -- some of which take effect Thursday -- are part of what's driving card companies to raise interest rates and fees, some say.

"Conventional wisdom says that if one of your large revenue sources is threatened in the future," said Samir Kothari, the co-founder of credit card analysis site, "you may choose to find other ways to make up that money."

Some credit card industry and company representatives, meanwhile, downplay the impact of the new rules -- included in the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 -- on card rates.

"It's not the leading factor, it's not the only factor, it's a factor," said American Express spokeswoman Desiree Fish.

Scott Talbott of the Financial Services Roundtable, the trade group that represents some of the country's biggest credit card companies, said that rising rates are due to the treacherous economy, higher borrowing costs for banks, and consumers with riskier profiles.

The idea that banks are raising their rates in response to credit reform is "a red herring," he said.

No one disputes that rates are on the climb.

A recent study of 150 credit cards by BillShrink found that interest rates on purchases and balance transfers for card holders have grown nearly 20 percent from January to July of this year.

Among the companies raising rates the most, according to the study, were:

Capital One, raised purchase and balance transfer rates by an average of 50 percent, cash advance rates by 20 percent and penalty rates by 30 percent.

Citi, which increased its purchase and balance transfer rates by an average of 27 percent. Citi card holders with poor credit have seen their rates increase at least 50 percent.

Discover, which increased its purchase and balance transfer rates by an average of 30 percent. (Discover told that the company's online balance transfer rate is zero for the first 9 months following the transfer.)

US Bank has increased its purchase and balance transfer rates by an average of 33 percent.

In an e-mail to, Discover framed its rate hikes more in terms of business "soundness" than revenue. Rate increases in response to changes in the law "allows us to preserve the safety and soundness of our business while continuing to lend to credit-worthy consumers," said company spokeswoman Laura Gingiss.

Capital One said its rate hikes were due to "external challenges" and the economic downturn, while Citi attributed increases to regular reviews of customer accounts as well as "the dramatically higher cost of doing business."

Bank of America and American Express were found by BillShrink to have raised their rates the least, though it's unclear how AmEx would fare were the study updated to include August information: Some American Express customers received letters earlier this month informing them that the company was raising their rates on purchases and cash advances as well as raising late fees.

AmEx declined to disclose how many customers had received the letters. Rates, AmEx spokeswoman Desiree Fish said, increased by an average of 4 percentage points for proprietary American Express cards and 2 percentage points for its "co-branded" cards -- cards offered in partnership with a specific company, such as Delta Airlines, Costco and Starwood Hotels.

New Rules Mean Losses for Credit Card Companies

The rules being implemented Thursday are the first phase of the new credit card regulations signed into law this past spring by the president. Most of the rules included in the legislation won't take effect until this February.

Experts say that even the few rules taking effect tomorrow will cost credit card companies money. One new card company requirement stipulates that card holders be given at least 45 days' notice before a rate hike. Such advance warning may allow some card holders enough time to pay off or at least pay down more of their balance before they're hit with a costlier, higher rate -- meaning less interest rate revenue for the card company.

Another rule requires companies to send bills at least 21 days before they're due. This, some say, could make it easier for consumers to pay on time and avoid late fees or pay off larger portions of their balances, thus shrinking their interest payments down the road.

It's unclear how much companies stand to lose from the law -- it's especially difficult to estimate that because card company losses are so steep already, said Peter Garuccio of the American Bankers Association.

The companies, he said, are being crunched by their own borrowing costs.

A major source of funding for the companies and banks that issue cards was once the securitization market, where banks packaged and sold off assets -- including credit card loans -- to investors. Today, that market is dry and "getting money from investors is a much more expensive proposition," he said.

In the meantime, there's no question that the card companies have been aggressive in trying to find ways to raise revenue, said Adam Levin, of the credit education site

Levin noted that American Express announced it was dropping its over-the-limit fees -- a move the card company made in response to the reforms governing such fees -- at the same time that it notified consumers of rate hikes.

"Even when they do something that looks like good PR move, they're doing something else (too)," he said. "You always have to keep your eye on the entire fee landscape. Just because one is altered doesn't mean they don't make it up with others."

Copyright © 2009 ABC News Internet Ventures

Reform Rx - Collins Radio Transcript Translation

Health care reform is so vital that we need to keep pressing Susan Collins very hard. That said, she seems to believe that her recent re-election gives her a pass to do whatever she (or the insurance industry) wants. Here is a recent transcript and very good translation of Senator Collins dancing around the reform debate on the radio posted on Dirigo Blue. We need to retain a very long memory of Senator Collins' lack of concern on an issue so vital to Maine citizens.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Reform Rx - Pulling the Trigger for No Bang?

Some excellent points about the political realities of Senator Snowe's misguided trigger option.

Beware of unintended (or perhaps intentional) consequences! The trigger may serve as the means to delay an effective public option just long enough so that a future Republican insurance industry financed Congress can dismantle reforms in the name of deregulation so that “markets can work”. The trigger option has no bang but will still kill you.

Senator Snowe apparently has a liking for triggers. In 2001 as a member of the Finance Committee, she advocated to have a trigger for the Bush tax cuts should the surpluses fall short of projections. The Republican leadership opposed that idea because it understood that the trigger would weaken its core immediate goal of enacting substantial tax cuts and create an open ended potential for the Bush tax cuts to remain a political issue. We’ve seen this movie before!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Reform Rx - Sen. Snowe, don't come over for tea.

Senator Snowe really ought to just throw in with us, the destructive opposition to health care reform doesn't want her.

Reform Rx - Snowe Quilting a Patchwork Trigger

Unfortunately in the quest for bipartisan support, Senator Olympia Snowe's trigger concept may be gaining ground. It allows insurance failings, already the norm, to be competed against by a public option only if the insurance companies continue their failure for some yet unspecified period of time. In short, grab more profits while you can and figure out how to circumvent accountability in the meanwhile.

The trigger option is a weak option that isn't real reform. And shockingly, there is now a move to dilute the inherent weakness of triggers...partial trigger or patchwork use of a trigger! This tepid approach would be tailored so that the public option or government plan would be used only in areas of the country where one or two private insurers control the market and failed once again to reduce costs. Other areas of the country could just suffer and perhaps insurance companies would be able to enjoy "cherry-picking" regions instead of individuals as they do now.

Maine citizens need to contact the White House to let President Obama know that Senator Snowe's efforts to abandon the public option do not represent the aspirations Maine citizens have for robust substantive health care reform. We are compelled to bypass our own Senators who are demanding too much under the guise of compromise in exchange for not representing Mainers who voted for the President's health care reform vision.

Reform Rx - Both Sides

A message from Lee Stanahan, an unemployed father taking on the health insurance industry.

Reform Rx - Sen. Snowe please go on the record

Yesterday on the Sean Hannity radio show his guest was Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), a very conservative Senator and physician, who believes that health care for the less fortunate is just a community concern and not something that needs government intervention. To be fair and balanced, here are clips from CNN and FOX regarding his position when confronted by a woman crying out for help at a Coburn town hall event.

What astounded me yesterday while “auditing” the Hannity program for insight into the right wing mind was hearing Senator Coburn mention Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) admiringly. The transcript is not freely available. I refuse to send Hannity a single cent and will continue research to obtain and hopefully post the written or recorded transcript.

The essence of the conversation about Senator Snowe was that Senator Coburn has been watching her operate in negotiations on health care and reassured Hannity that he is very confident that she is not going to give in on a public option or allow government control of health care. While we hope that Senator Snowe will negotiate in good faith and will recognize the necessity of a public option, we must understand that there are those on the right who equally are pressing her to be their hero.

Let’s call upon Senator Snowe to disassociate herself from Senator Coburn’s remarks about her on the Sean Hannity show. Stating that she negotiates in good faith and does not exclude out of hand a public option would reassure Maine citizens that we won’t be treated as dismissively as Oklahoma citizens are by their Senator

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Reform Rx - Snowe and Reconciliation

Senator Snowe addressing the possible use of reconciliation in April stated "If they exercise that tool, it's going to be infinitely more difficult to bridge the partisan divide." According to Media Matters, reports of Senator Snowe on her concern for bipartisanship have failed to point out her support of reconciliation use for passage of the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Reform Rx - Push It Through

Sanity and sense from Erica Jong.

Reform Rx - Republican Reconciliation

This summer the right wing engaged in the predictable effort to knock down health care reform with political slander, misleading scare tactics, and shout down denigration of those who support health care; they even tolerated armed intimidation without condemnation. So here is the “unreconcilable” Republicans summer end position: We won’t compromise on a bill and we won’t support a bill without compromise. Our strategy is lose-lose for Americans who need health care.

Our next door neighbor Senator Judd Gregg plans on launching dozens if not hundreds of parliamentary maneuvers if Democrats conclude that using reconciliation is the only possible way to deliver health care reform.

The filibuster rule has pretty much outlived its usefulness since we moved from collegial debate to train-wreaking the opposition. The sixty vote super-majority in the non-proportioned-population representing Senate needed to pass anything of substance certainly does not reflect or respect the will of the people.

Of course reconciliation was good enough for passing the Bush tax cuts:
– The 2001 Bush Tax Cuts [HR 1836,
– The 2003 Bush Tax Cuts [HR 2,
Both bills passed under reconciliation with Senator Judd Gregg's vote.

With opposition to health care so intense, it becomes obvious that reconciliation led by Democrats is absolutely necessary. In Maine we ought to keep the pressure on our Senators for moral reasons. But another extended hand across the aisle is not warranted.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Reform Rx - Calls to Act Now

An editorial in today's New York Times is a strong and moral call to dismiss right wing delaying tactics and encouragement for the majority Democrats to forge ahead to enact health care reform now and an opinion column in today's Washington Post provides good instructions for how to support the effort and why action is vital.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Reform Rx - Senator Snowe, Fish or Cut Bait

Washington is increasingly turning to Senator Olympia Snowe in the battle for health care reform to be a key deciding vote. That light shines on us. Our petitions for her representation as her constituents can make a powerful difference. Please contact Senator Snowe multiple times, in multiple ways, and by multiplying yourself by asking everyone you know to do likewise.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Reform Rx - Honoring Senator Kennedy's Legacy

Expect a sincere effort to memorialize Senator Edward Kennedy by naming an eventual health care act after him. It would be exceedingly appropriate unless the bill is not substantive reform. In that case it would become a heartbreaking false tribute.

Senator Kennedy believed fully in the power of government to do good. A bill devoid of a robust public option would not honor the history of his effort to advance health care reform.

Senator Kennedy cared deeply about those without voice and means. An act not extending a generous and caring hand to the poor and disenfranchised could not in good conscious carry his name.

Senator Kennedy believed that affordable health care for people with average resources was essential. Legislation that allows medical impoverishment and bankruptcy to persist would not respect his memory.

Senator Kennedy believed that health care needed to be portable. A bill not allowing Americans to carry their coverage with them or seamlessly switch to a public plan could not be a tribute to his effort to prevent health care insecurity.

Senator Kennedy believed that health care practices needed reform. Legislation that merely mandates coverage along with minor tax incentives that does not address practices, care quality, better outcomes, and payment restructuring would not reflect his vision.

Ted Kennedy’s moral commitment to health care as a right and not a privilege was exemplary; anything less at this time cannot yet be his legacy.

“…let us resolve that the state of a family's health shall never depend on the size of a family's wealth.” - Senator Edward M. Kennedy

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reform Rx - With Snowe Friends Like That...

Senator Mike Enzi, part of the "gang of six" that includes Olympia Snowe is assuring conservatives that his participation in reform negotiations is delaying health care reform.
"If I hadn't been involved in this process as long as I have and to the depth as I have, you would already have national health care," he said.

Thanks a lot; so much for working for the common good and in good faith.

We call upon Senator Olympia Snowe to publicly reject and disavow Senator Enzi's remarks. We urge her to go far beyond the typical characterization of "unfortunate remarks", et cetera and establish a renewed commitment to consensus negotiation that considers citizen needs first and does not dismiss a robust pubic option out of hand.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Reform Rx – The Price is Wrong

Watching the Right’s appalling destruction of debate on health care reform can sometimes obfuscate their true goal: no change; exactly the opposite of what citizens voted for in the most recent election.

Even the ideas trotted out by conservatives or temporarily conceded to generally serve the straw purpose of setting up a reasonable sounding alternative to the dire consequences of the existing most progressive offering that once defeated moves the debate to the straw reasonable alternative so it can then be undermined by another even lesser value but reasonable sounding alternative to be destroyed by…and so on and on and on. (Sorry, a run on sentence was absolutely required for this illustration!) The initial colorful rainbow of change gets gradually murky gray and dumps into a pot of no change mud.

Behind door number one is Single Payer which is vilified and rejected allowing the Public Option to step up behind door number two. Now the Public Option is getting the plug pulled and the next reasonable sounding option behind door number three is Co-ops. Now the wave of argument against Co-ops is starting to rise as noted in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. The replacement next good sounding idea will likely be Market Exchanges that could deliver success for the right in producing no change.

Moderates, sometimes knowingly and sometimes not, are being used by the no change right as their temporary front line action in a rear guard battle they strive to win for their unfettered markets forever constituency. Citizens and their health care are merely obstacles. We must draw a clear battle line at the Public Option.