Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Case for a Strong Estate Tax

By Brian Miller

On New Year's Day the estate tax, an essential part of the U.S. tax system for nearly 100 years, will disappear because Congress failed to act in December. Congressional leaders now are pledging to act in early 2010 to reinstate the federal estate tax retroactive to Jan. 1. In the meantime, rhetoric over the estate tax will heat up while Congress grapples with what to do now.

This crazy situation is the result of the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich, tax cuts that were supposed to lead to “trickle-down” prosperity for the rest of us. What we have seen instead is stagnation of wages for most Americans, while those at the very top have become extraordinarily rich. In fact, disparities of wealth and income are now at the highest level since the Gilded Age just before the stock market crash of 1929.

With so much wealth in so few hands, our economy has begun to operate more like a casino, with high-risk speculation fueling boom-and-bust cycles that have wrecked communities across our country. The gilded yachts of the super-rich have left in their wake capsized rafts of the unemployed and whole communities drowning in foreclosures. That’s not what America should be about.

Click here to view full op-ed.

By Mark Mellman

A few months ago, I warned that some folks were attempting to misuse health care reform to restrict access to abortion. They have come a long way since then, endangering the vital struggle for health care — indeed, torpedoing reform is a key goal for many involved in this effort.

Americans oppose using abortion as a means of derailing health care reform and oppose using health care reform as a means of restricting abortion. The more voters find out about what is happening on Capitol Hill with respect to this issue, the angrier they are getting, because language inserted in the House bill will take away coverage for abortion that tens of millions of women already have.

Taking away existing coverage not only violates the public will, but also does fundamental violence to Democrats’ explicit promise that if you like what you have, you will be able to keep it.

Click here to view full op-ed


By Emilie C. Ailts and Vicki Cowart

As national health care reform faces its next hurdle -- a conference committee bill that reconciles the House and Senate bills -- we believe it's critical to draw attention to a provision contained in the House bill. This provision, brought by Reps. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and known as the Stupak abortion coverage ban, would create barriers to women's reproductive health care far worse than any encountered since the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

This new abortion coverage ban makes insurance coverage for abortion virtually unavailable for millions of women purchasing insurance plans through the newly created health insurance exchange.

Federal law already bans use of federal funds for abortions, but the Stupak measure goes much further. It denies use of private money -- not just public money -- to cover abortions.

Click here to view full op-ed

By Susan Shaer

A flu pandemic is nasty, brutish, and a global danger. All U.S. Senators and other leaders agree, and leap to keep everyone safe and healthy.

Another nasty, brutish and global danger, which additionally is outrageously expensive and out of sync with today’s defense needs, is the continued maintenance of our huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons. All our senators should agree on this.

However, since there are threats and plotters, the U.S. needs to have a strong and effective defense.

Click here to view full op-ed

By Riane Eisler

The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference makes evident potential catastrophic effects of climate change, including its enormous economic and human tolls. It also clearly shows how poor nations in Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America and island states will suffer most from the inevitable floods, droughts and other weather disasters.

But there’s more that needs to be made clear in Copenhagen. If we look closely, there’s a hidden truth with huge implications that we must bring to the attention of conference delegates to ensure that allocated funds actually protect those most vulnerable to these natural disasters.

Studies show that women are 14 times more likely to die in natural disasters. One heart-rending study of a Bangladesh flash flood found that 90 percent of casualties were female. Many factors contributed to this high casualty rate, all were avoidable. A woman’s role in this Southeast Asian nation, as in most of the Middle East and parts of Africa, is one of dependency -- so of course, these Bangladeshi women were not taught to swim. But perhaps the most important factor was that they lived and died in a culture where women are so rigidly controlled that they aren’t permitted to leave their homes without being accompanied by a male family member. When the flash flood occurred, they sadly stayed and drowned.

Click here to view full op-ed

Monday, December 14, 2009

Stimulus Needs Better Reporting

By Greg LeRoy

Aside from health-care reform, probably the most divisive issue in Washington today is the $787 billion economic stimulus program.

One camp argues that the Recovery Act has done a good job in preventing the country from plunging into a more serious crisis than the one we’ve got, while another camp says the whole effort has had little effect and was an expensive mistake. We suspect the former conclusion is correct, but would like better evidence.

Most arguments are based on differing assessments of the first round of jobs data released in October. The Recovery Act’s exemplary transparency provisions cover direct federal contracts and some of the grants to states—a limited part of the overall stimulus program. They counted about 640,000 jobs created or saved so far.

Click here to view full op-ed


By Max Bartlett and Jose Aguilar

One issue has generated little discussion during the heated health care reform debate: whether states should have the right to develop their own approaches to universal coverage.

The Health Security for New Mexicans Campaign wants to see language included in the national proposal that gives states flexibility to develop their own approaches to solving rising health care costs and growing numbers of uninsured.

The focus of current health care reform proposals is to create “insurance market exchanges.” These one-stop-shopping insurance exchanges must offer consumers -- primarily the uninsured -- choices of different insurance products, including some type of public option. A less than robust public option is in the proposal passed by the House of Representatives. The Senate is in the process of negotiating an alternative to the House version.

Click here to view full op-ed


By Dick Williams

The Tennessee Voter Confidence Act (TVCA) requires replacement of paperless touchscreen voting machines with optical ballot scanners by November 2010. Optical-scan voting systems read marked paper ballots and tally results, providing a tangible record of the voter's intent. They are now the most widely employed voting systems in the nation, used by 60 percent of voters in other states.

The TVCA was adopted nearly unanimously by the Tennessee Legislature – by both Democrats and Republicans -- and in 2008 enthusiastically signed into law by Gov. Phil Bredesen. But implementation of the law has been ensnarled in legalities and technicalities.

Tennessee's secretary of state and coordinator of elections have argued that the new law requires scanners be federally certified to 2005 standards, and because no machines have yet been certified to that standard, the law cannot be put into effect in time for 2010 Elections.

Click here to view full op-ed

By Susan Wysocki and Susan Scanlan

It’s not surprising that women are confused about the recently changed recommendations for cancer screening and prevention. New guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) – the leading medical group that provides health care for women – say women should wait longer to begin cervical-cancer screening and that they should be screened less frequently. On the heels of similar changes to breast-cancer screening guidelines, it’s understandable that many women might see this as a step backward.

On the contrary, the new cervical-cancer screening recommendations reflect advances in our understanding of this disease and in tools now available to prevent it. More importantly, they present an opportunity to educate women about the significant opportunity we have to further prevent – if not eliminate – cervical cancer.

New ACOG screening guidelines recommend women should begin getting Pap tests at age 21 (as opposed to within three years of becoming sexually active) and that, from ages 21 to 29, most women should have Pap tests every two years instead of annually. Additionally, screening for women 30 and older with a history of normal Pap test results now moves to every three years.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Reducing the Nuclear Risk

By Nan Orrock

When President Obama accepts the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, it is an opportunity to articulate a new international direction, away from nuclear proliferation, away from nuclear tests, and away from loose materials and increased risk. Hopefully, he will join the Nobel Committee in putting out the call that we must act now to reduce the enormous arsenal of nuclear weapons.

It will not be easy, or quick. And it shouldn’t be. As long as nuclear weapons exist, the U.S. must have a safe and reliable arsenal. The road to disarmament is, necessarily and rightly, long, and will take many years and many small steps to guarantee our safety and prevent any cracks in our security. But it is also vital; the longer nuclear weapons lurk, and grow, the graver the danger that a rogue state or a terrorist will use one.

One of the first steps should be to prevent new nuclear weapons. The easiest way to do this is to ban nuclear weapons tests.

Click here to view full op-ed.

See my i-Commentary about this topic here:


By Timothy D. McBride

Despite the importance of passing health care reform, it appears that the general public has very little understanding of the scope and importance of these reforms, or how the wide-ranging positive benefits will have on average Americans.

Much of this is due to overheated rhetoric, a misunderstanding of the proposals by the press, purposeful distortions by both sides of the debate, and the complexity of health reform. For example, much attention has been paid to the so-called “public option” which the right wing has described as a “government takeover of health care,” and the left wing has described as the only provision worth fighting for because it will keep the insurance plans “honest.” Both claims overstate the significance of the public option since by all estimates, even if it survives, not many will sign up for it, and the plan will resemble private plans, not a Medicare plan.

When the reforms are phased in, 96 percent of American citizens will be covered by health insurance -- up from an insurance rate of 83 percent today -- according to Congressional Budget Office estimates. Contrary to fears that the legislation will lead to a government-run health system, 58 percent of the persons obtaining coverage will obtain coverage from private insurers, in a new Health Insurance Exchange. This Exchange will be much like the array of private insurance plans offered to Congress and the President today. The remaining persons insured under the plan would be low-income children and adults insured through Medicaid and the children’s health insurance plan.

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By Timothy Sweeney, MPA

Leading congressional health insurance reform proposals include expanding Medicaid, which could not only bring coverage to nearly one million low-income, uninsured Georgians, but would provide at least 90 percent of the funding to do so.

Despite the obvious and significant benefits to the state’s economy and its citizens, Gov. Perdue, Lt. Gov. Cagle, and others opposed to reform are arguing that Georgia cannot afford its share of the proposed Medicaid expansion in either the House or Senate proposal.

They claim that expanding Medicaid will cost Georgia more than $2 billion over six or seven years, but they rarely mention the billions in new federal funds that would flow to Georgia’s economy during this time.

Click here to view full op-ed.


By Lynn Evans

This was certainly not the way Gov. Haley Barbour wanted to end his term in state office. Tax revenues are down $371 million and counting. State budget alternatives are grim, with cuts of at least 12 percent for most agencies, including education.

Seeking opportunity amid crisis, Barbour is recommending major government realignment and simplification, as well as consolidation in K-12 and at the university level. By including such incendiary proposals as combining Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley with Jackson State University, Barbour took the chance that his proposals will be dead on arrival at the Capitol in January. His challenge to support his proposals or “come up with a better way” ought to be taken seriously.

Cuts and consolidation should not be the only options on the table. The kind of cuts the governor is proposing will be a severe shock to the economy, just when Mississippi and the nation are trying to climb out of the Great Recession. This decade’s declining growth in Mississippi’s major revenue sources – personal and corporate income and sales taxes – should have lawmakers looking at the state’s tax structure.

Click here to view full op-ed

by Melissa Reed

The House vote to establish near-universal health-care coverage came at a steep cost to women. That cost, issued as an amendment by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), eliminates abortion coverage by private insurance companies even when women are paying for all or most of the premium.

Stupak’s amendment is a cynical attempt to push an anti-choice agenda that imperils badly needed reform. His amendment restricts women’s access to abortion coverage in the private health insurance market as well as in a “public option,” undermining the ability of women to purchase private health plans that cover abortion. It reaches much further than the Hyde Amendment, which has prohibited public funding of abortion in most instances since 1977.

Before its introduction, health-care reform measures in both House and Senate contained agreed-upon compromise language regarding abortion. Public funding for abortion would remain prohibited and women with private health insurance would continue to receive benefits they already have. Though this language satisfied neither side completely, it enabled health-care reform legislation to move forward without being derailed by abortion politics.

Click here to view full op-ed

by Sarah van Gelder

As the Copenhagen Climate Summit approaches, some world leaders predict there will be either no deal or one so weak that it will be virtually worthless.

Little wonder. Climate change could be one of the toughest issues the world has ever faced, less because of the technical challenges than the politics. That’s why the growing climate movement is so important to watch. Its success could determine if world leaders feel enough heat to take action.

What makes the politics of this moment so challenging? Unlike other critical issues, this one requires that we take action, based on science, before we see much damage. If we wait until the effects of long-term pollution are fully felt, climate scientists tell us, we will have passed critical thresholds that will make it difficult, if not impossible, to turn down the global thermostat.

Click here to view full op-ed


By Dr. Sekou Franklin

The emergence of a grass-roots movement pushing for green economic solutions to climate change and poverty has been a surprising development. This movement believes environmentally sustainable policies and the shift to a clean energy economy can lead to reduction of pollution and greenhouse gases. It also believes green-collar employment – family-supporting jobs in the clean and renewable energy sector – must be accessible to residents of economically distressed communities.

The Green-Collar Jobs Task Force of Nashville-Davidson County (a network of environmentalists, work-force development professionals, and social justice activists) was formed in 2008 to advocate for an inclusive green economy. In meetings with state and local officials, task force members have pushed for green work-force training programs modeled after similar initiatives in Chicago, IL; Washington, DC; Oakland, CA; Providence, RI; Boston, MA; Portland, OR; and Newark, NJ. These programs share a common thread: As public-private partnerships, they provide work force development (vocational training, wraparound services, career coaching, environmental literacy) in the clean energy sector for underemployed workers and veterans, formerly incarcerated persons, transitional housing residents, low-income women, and workers with language barriers.

Sadly, no major city in the Southeast has a public, privately backed, green training program targeting the aforementioned populations, even though it is the most polluted and poorest region in the country.

Click here to view full op-ed

By Anita Kuennen, RNBy Anita Kuennen, RN

A glaring absence of the Emperor’s clothing seems to be escaping our attention in the recent House health care reform proposal with the inclusion of the Stupak amendment. The Emperor is naked and while everyone is critiquing, arguing and validating the fabrics, thread and adornment of his new clothes, those of us looking at his bare bottom wonder how everyone became so deluded.

The collective blindness of the Kingdom is truly exposed in the concession of excluding abortion care to pass a House proposal that included a public option. Using women’s health and reproductive justice as the deal breaker once again demonstrates that reform is not intended to address basic issues of health care disparity in our country.

Similar to the members of the Emperor’s Kingdom, who believed there was substance to the garments, we are overcome with disillusionment. The grand solution of tweaking health insurance to magically cure the ingrained, systemic issues at the core of our health care failure is the ultimate fairytale.

Click here to view full op-ed

Monday, November 23, 2009

No Turkey and Gravy for All


By Sarah Beth Gehl

As families gather for Thanksgiving this week, we should consider that in just a decade Georgia has deteriorated from average (ranking 22nd) to 4th highest for food insecurity in the nation.

One in seven Georgia households experienced food insecurity during 2006-2008, according to a recently released report by the USDA. The share of Georgia households lacking resources for adequate meals rose from 10.9 percent during 1996-1998 to 14.2 percent during 2006-2008.

These sobering numbers highlight the importance of focusing solutions on combating hunger and poverty in our communities.

Click here to view full op-ed


By Peter Enrich

Our local and state governments provide many of the vital public structures that build strong communities and ensure opportunity for us and our children such as schools, transportation, public safety, parks, and health and social services.

Yet, the tax structures that enable us to pay the price for a civilized society suffer from two severe flaws. First, state and local taxes are exceedingly volatile, dropping calamitously during economic downturns, when the revenues are most badly needed. State and local governments, unlike the federal government, can only spend what they take in.

Second, unlike the federal income tax, state and local taxes are regressive: households with lower incomes pay a higher share of their incomes for the support of state and local government than do their wealthier neighbors. This regressivity is largely due to heavy reliance on sales taxes; even with exemptions for groceries and other necessities, lower income households spend far more of their incomes on taxable items than do higher income families. A recent study showed that low-income Massachusetts households spent 5.4 percent of their incomes on sales taxes, compared to 1.2 percent for wealthy households.

Click here to view full op-ed

Friday, November 20, 2009

Keep Religion Out of Health Care Reform

By M. Patricia West, MSSW

Elected officials' religious views should be their own private affair, neither imposed by them upon the nation, nor imposed by the nation as condition to holding public office. This means their private religious views should not be imposed via the current debate over health care reform.

Important life decisions are responsibilities of individuals and families, not of government or religious groups. On that, most of us can agree. There is also a strong history of separation of church and state in America, and one of our founding principles is of freedom from religious intolerance. That's why I was deeply offended when Roman Catholic Church bishops lobbied Congress on health care reform in order to deny millions of women access to abortion.

As an American I am proud of our constitutionally guaranteed right to worship or not as one sees fit, and of our prohibition of government-imposed state religion. But what started out to be about health care for all has morphed into a referendum and debate on abortion unduly influenced by the church. Health care legislation passed by the House of Representatives compromises our personal choices and subverts the principle of abortion neutrality.

Click here to view full op-ed.

By Robin Baker

The excise tax on so-called “Cadillac” plans is a central feature of the Senate Finance Committee's health proposal. Most often, Cadillac plans are described as the "overly generous" or "gold-plated" plans offered to Wall Street types.

In theory, levying a tax on these gold-plated plans will encourage lower spending and help slow the growth rate of health insurance and health care costs.

In addition, the revenue generated from the tax on insurers would provide a significant source of funding for subsidies to help families with low to moderate incomes afford health insurance. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates revenues will be about $5 billion in 2013 and increase to $53 billion by 2019.

Click here to view full op-ed.


By Amy Hinton and Lamar Davis

On November 5 a shooting spree at the Fort Hood Soldier Processing Center in Killeen, Texas left 13 soldiers dead and another 29 wounded. Subsequently, the shocking revelation that the alleged perpetrator was an active duty Army psychiatrist seemed to defy belief.

The recent actions attributed to Major Nidal Hasan have been subject to intense media coverage. Few, however, have questioned how such a deeply troubled individual could avoid detection while working in the very mental health system that was intended to be the safety net for our returning troops.

A 2008 RAND Center for Military Health Policy research study reported two significant challenges that face the military mental health system. First, the mental health system has difficulty responding to the treatment needs of soldiers in a timely manner. This is likely due to the intense and pervasive stigma about mental illness that often prevents people from seeking mental health treatment, particularly in the military. Second, the limited availability of mental health resources – services, providers and dedicated funding -- essentially determines access to and quality of treatment. Arguably, the most serious deficiency driving these challenges is the grossly inadequate number of qualified, credentialed mental health professionals available to meet the current demand.

Click here to view full op-ed.

By Liz Forrestal and Caroline Ishida

We are gratified that Gov. Jay Nixon has returned Mark Templeton to his job as Director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Templeton was an unfortunate victim of the recent controversy over elevated levels of the bacterium E. coli in the Lake of the Ozarks. But this flap has distracted from a far more troubling problem: the insufficient monitoring of ALL Missouri waters.

Along with many others, our organizations were dismayed to learn of the serious oversight and bungling of mid-level officials in both the DNR and Governor’s office. The miscommunication between these two offices was inexcusable and deserved to be investigated. Moreover, we completely agree that the lake’s beaches should have been closed to protect public health. But the origins of E. coli in the lake -- and what that says about the water quality monitoring and enforcement program at DNR – should be front and center in this discussion. Furthermore, a large-scale cleanup at the lake like the one Nixon announced is merely a band-aid solution to a larger water quality monitoring and enforcement problem all over the state.

At the root of the problem is that funding for DNR’s water quality monitoring and enforcement program is completely insufficient to protect the health of our waters. General revenue support for DNR was gutted by the Blunt administration, and permit fees have not been raised in more than a decade, even for inflation. These are the problems that should be at the center of the E. coli discussion, and they started well before the arrival of Templeton.

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By Kathie McClure

It can be challenging to find an organ donor for someone who needs a transplant.

But when a donor and desperately sick person are matched up, living donors should not be “punished” for their gift, especially by the health insurance industry.

This is a little-known aspect of the health care debate that should be brought to light -- the fact that there is nothing that prevents health insurance companies from either denying coverage or charging higher premiums to those who donate an organ by categorizing them as people with “pre-existing conditions.”

Click here to view full op-ed.

By Don Baylor

Commercial innovation remains at the heart of the American tradition. However, innovation should be used to increase American wealth, not destroy it.

Leading up to the financial crisis, gaps in our financial monitoring system unleashed a financial virus still worming through the American economy. Products like overdraft fees, payday loans, and “pick-a-payment” mortgages all damaged our economy. The resulting system crash led to historic levels of foreclosures, lost wealth and chronic unemployment.

As new, complex financial products enter the marketplace, our regulatory firewall must be able to detect toxic financial products and safeguard Americans from financial harm. We need a national solution that honors state authority in order to protect American wealth from future meltdowns. The proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) would help avoid repeat financial disaster by ensuring that all “off-the shelf” financial products can be monitored by one inspector with a clear code book.

Click here to view full op-ed.

By Anne R. Davis, MD, MPH

Every day, I hear from another woman who is losing her job and her health insurance. Every day, I worry. As an obstetrician/gynecologist, I know firsthand what can happen when a woman can’t afford reproductive health care, whether she has lost her insurance or her insurance doesn’t cover women’s basic needs. Cervical cancer develops unnoticed. Pregnant women go without critical prenatal care. Sexually transmitted diseases progress unchecked. We see the results in the emergency room.

Congress must give women a better shot at staying well. Health care reform must change the rules: Health insurance must be affordable to all women, and the insurance we buy must cover our reproductive health care.

In my own life, I’ve always had good health insurance. I go to my ob/gyn each year for a well-woman exam, my birth control is covered, and my hospital bills were paid when I had my two children. These are medical fundamentals -- women’s health care 101-- yet I consider myself lucky to have them. Too many women are not as fortunate. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than one in four women or their partners have lost their jobs or health insurance in the past year. The institute also reports that one in four women delayed an ob/gyn visit in the last year to save money.

Click here to read full op-ed.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Community Trembles in Fear

By Jan Snider

She looked so tiny holding the calloused hand of her young uncle; just five years old and excited about starting kindergarten. But as she shuffled down the polished floors of the church hallway toward our immigration legal clinic, there was worry in her big brown eyes.

She didn’t know when she would see her daddy again. He was picked up for a broken tail light and locked in detention, on track for removal from the U.S. because he was undocumented. Her mother, a U.S. citizen, had long ago abandoned the family. Her father was going to be deported and she was, most likely, going to be placed in state custody.

Suddenly, thoughts of new school shoes and fresh crayons were replaced with fear and uncertainty. These are the same feelings that so many of our clients at Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors face every day. When Immigration and Customs Enforcement gave local law enforcement the power to act as federal immigration agents, a community began to feel hunted. A policy known as 287(g) has forced them into the shadows.

Click Here to Read Full Op-Ed

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities

By Rev. Dr. Holly Beaumont

As I follow the outrageous rumors and disturbing behavior surrounding health care reform I am reminded of an earlier health crisis in this country. The outbreak of the AIDS virus in the 1980s created similar behavior among those who listened to the fear-mongers exploiting the crisis to advance their political and ideological agendas.

One of the victims of that hysteria was a young boy from Kokomo, Indiana named Ryan White. He acquired the AIDS virus through a blood transfusion he received to treat his hemophilia. When his diagnosis was made public Ryan and his family were shunned, vilified and threatened. Classmates refused to attend the same school. Customers dropped his newspaper route. The White family fled their home in Kokomo after someone so filled with hate and fear fired a bullet through their living room window.

Young Ryan and his family moved to the town of Cicero, just 50 miles south of Kokomo. On his first day of school the principal, superintendent of schools, and a number of students greeted Ryan with outstretched hands. It was a powerful gesture of reason and compassion. The news swept the country and began to calm the hysteria.

Click Here to Read Full Op-ed

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Shadow of States' Rights

By Dan McGrath

Governor Tim Pawlenty’s call for states to stand behind the 10th Amendment to avoid federal health care reform is the latest political ploy from an ambitious politician. And Pawlenty’s call has been joined by State Representative Tom Emmer, who himself hopes to succeed Pawlenty as governor.

One thing’s for certain -- Tim Pawlenty is running for president. And, he’s willing to support some radical ideas in order to lead a crowded field of better known Republican hopefuls. But while states’ rights may be a sure winner with today’s Republican caucus goers, it was most memorably used during one of the greatest tests of our national resolve, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. And its connotations are not pretty.

Click Here to Read Full Op-ed

By Wendy C. Wolf

One simple test could end up saving thousands of women’s lives. Yet, for those without health insurance, the test comes too late. According to the American Cancer Society, this year alone an estimated 40,170 women will lose their lives to breast cancer. Meanwhile, it is estimated that 4,000 breast cancer deaths could be prevented just by increasing the percentage of women who receive breast cancer screenings to 90 percent.

Breast cancer often can be treated with early detection. That's why health insurance that pays for mammograms is especially important. But mammography rates declined between 2003 and 2005, with a notable decrease for Hispanic women (from 65 percent to 59 percent) and African-American women (from 70 percent to 65 percent). An estimated one in five women over 50 has not received a mammogram in the past two years.

Everyone needs health insurance to keep healthy, yet women are disproportionately underinsured. An estimated 21 million women and girls went without health insurance in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And a recent congressional report found that 18 percent of all women not eligible for Medicare are uninsured, which translates to 28 percent of 19 to 24 year olds and 26 percent of single mothers without insurance.

Why are so many women left uncovered? Perhaps it’s because many medical situations faced by women are treated as pre-existing conditions, including breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimated that in 2004 approximately 2.4 million women had a history of breast cancer. But without continuing coverage, cancer survivors face steep risks.

Click Here to Read Full Op-ed

By State Representatives Mike Foley and Bob Hagan

Ohio is a great, messy, complicated state. We are conservative and liberal, libertarian and socialist. We likewise have a whole bunch of moderates except for the host of issues on which they swing to the left or right. In the partisan parlance of the day, Ohio is a purple state. In a word, we are normal.

We have some real structural economic problems now, however. Problems we can only solve if we rebalance our politics and take some progressive economic actions.

First and foremost, we must deal with our budget or lack thereof. Since 2005, when Ohio enacted a dramatic tax cut, our economy has been headed for the train wreck where it ended up this year.

While Gov. Strickland should be commended for seeking a moderate solution, his hands are somewhat tied by the legislature in which we serve. Ohio needs a bold, progressive solution. In the past few years, all Ohioans have seen a dramatic reduction in the taxes people and corporations pay. This may seem popular, but these tax cuts have not only wrought enormous, unnecessary challenges; they have failed to produce any of the economic results which led to their original implementation.

The argument for these dramatic tax cuts was that it would stimulate Ohio’s economy; it did not. Rather, Ohio’s economy sank further, well before the current national economic troubles. In fact, were it not for the national crisis, Ohio would be in much bigger trouble than it currently is, thanks to federal “stimulus” funds.

Click Here to Read Full Op-ed

By Dr. Doug Laube

Ten years ago, the Centers for Disease Control listed the top 10 achievements of public health in the 20th century -- among them, family planning, control of infectious disease, and vaccinations. These achievements vastly improved our quality of life, resulting in an increase in life expectancy, worldwide reduction in infant and child mortality, and the elimination or reduction of many communicable diseases.

Following President Obama’s historic address to the nation, America is poised for the first dramatic public health achievement of the 21st century.

What makes this moment truly life-changing in every sense of the word is that, for the first time, more women and their families will have coverage than ever before in our nation’s history.

Click here to read the full Op-ed

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Nonprofits are Good for New Mexico

By Ona Porter

Following the close of the 2008 legislative session, and in preparation for a special legislative session on health care, New Mexico Youth Organized (NMYO) and Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) distributed mailers to the constituents of six legislators. The mailers informed constituents about how their legislators were voting on critical issues and provided information about the source of contributions their legislators were receiving from special interests. Believing this to be political campaign intervention, Secretary Mary Herrera, acting on the advice of Attorney General Gary King, ordered the nonprofits to register as political action committees (PACs). A lawsuit disputing the claim quickly followed.

Recently, Judge Judith Herrera issued an important federal court decision in this closely watched case. In her decision, Judge Herrera sided with decades of legal precedent, and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Free speech is a value that all of us hold sacred. The implications of having nonprofits, whose primary purpose is not the election or defeat of candidates, register as PACs for simply speaking out about an issue are chilling. If nonprofits were forced to register as PACs, it would severely restrict the ability of thousands of organizations across New Mexico to serve their communities. Perhaps most importantly, it would leave critical voices unheard.

Click here to read the full Op-ed


By Matt Sundeen

There's a story going around that's so scary it ought to be told only in a whisper:

If Colorado tries to untangle the conflicts in its budget, it will end up like...California.

No self-respecting state would want that. The massive budget cuts, the IOUs, the celebrity governor autographing government-surplus sale items...yikes! Just the thought makes your blood curdle.

The "change makes us California" story is intended to scare us, but like many good tales, it's blatantly untrue. Budget reforms will not transform us into the Golden State. Almost the opposite is true. In many ways, Colorado is already like California, and if we don't change, more California-type problems are likely.

Opponents of budget reform have peddled the Colorado-to-California scare tactic for years. This summer, the Independence Institute's Barry Poulson repeated it to Colorado's Long-term Fiscal Stability Commission. Speaking about Colorado's ongoing reform efforts, Poulson warned that "if these trends continue, the outcome in Colorado will be similar to that in California."

Click here to read the full Op-ed

By Hector Garcia

The financial, economic and environmental crises are alarm signals to the world, and particularly to us in the U.S. Acting on the basis of a fragmented worldview while globalization magnified and quickened that worldview’s effects, we rushed into unsustainable and destructive practices. On the other hand, we now have an opportunity to build the foundation for an American Renaissance. Extrapolating from Peter Senge’s learning organizations, “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire,” the U.S. can shift to a paradigm of a learning global nation.

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KRWG - Newsmakers in Las Cruces, New Mexico recently aired a program about the multitudes of doctors that are speaking out about healthcare reform. They interviewed New Mexico Editorial Forum author Dr. Sandra Penn, who recently penned an op-ed "Stop Negotiating Away the Public Health Insurance Model" about her views that Congress is letting real reform slip away. You can see her interview for yourself, which occurs at the 5 minute mark.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Rose for Sister Mary

By Erik Camayd-Freixas

When the Iowa Department of Human Rights awarded the 2009 Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice to Sister Mary McCauley for her defense of community after the Postville raid, she humbly said: “It is our duty to work for equality and justice.”

These are just the latest of this brave woman’s history-bound words in a ministry that started the day of the raid, May 12, 2008, when she summoned Father Paul Ouderkirk out of retirement with a phone call: “Father, we need a collar down here.” Ever since, she has been a pillar of strength and inspiration to many in Postville and across the country.

When I was inside Waterloo’s National Cattle Congress, interpreting the misguided prosecutions and watching authorities sworn to uphold the Constitution deny it to 389 ragged workers in chains and tears, I was reminded of Orwell’s Animal Farm: All are equal under the law, “but some are more equal than others.” I was dumbfounded, confused, and afraid, with no one to turn to for guidance on equality and justice. That is when I found Sister Mary.

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By Ed Smeloff and Scott Denman

Too much heat and too little light are being generated right now inside the Washington, DC Beltway on the issue of global warming. Some electric utilities and allies in the coal and nuclear industries claim that only coal or nuclear reactors can meet future energy needs and combat global climate change. They say there is no other way.

However, beyond the Beltway there is clear evidence that there is another way. There is a prosperous new direction -- without using more polluting coal or building more expensive, dangerous nuclear reactors.

This “third way” takes advantage of America’s vast -- and easily recovered -- energy efficiency ‘reserves’ and dramatically expands reliance on a wealth-creating mix of advanced and renewable energy technologies.

Quietly, but steadily, one major U.S. utility, California’s Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), has spent the last 20 years demonstrating that this “third way” powers economic growth, is easier on the family pocketbook, and slashes air pollution.

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By Marsha Meeks Kelly

In another life, I was a public school teacher. English, math and eventually “Skills for Adolescence” were the subjects that consumed my days along with an average of 140 seventh graders.

Every day I worked hard to meet the needs of my students in “inner-city” public schools in Mississippi. I remember the tears of the student who came to me to discuss her pregnancy and how she was going to tell her parents and whether she should get married at 13 years of age.

That year we started a “Peer Ears” program, a peer counseling program, and the next year we started survival skills classes called “Skills for Adolescence.” Too many pregnancies and too many sexually-transmitted diseases forced our school district to incorporate classes to educate our students about their life decisions.

Reading the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report on the sexual and reproductive health of young people was depressing. So little progress has been made here! Twenty years ago several concerned Mississippians formed a statewide coalition to work with the legislature to ensure a comprehensive K-12 health education curriculum, but we still do not have even a pilot program offering students sex education, despite attempts to institute such a program in the 2009 legislative session.

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By Maureen P. Corry, MPH

“I don’t need maternity care.” Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) lobbed this comment against Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s (D-MI) efforts to guarantee maternity coverage as a basic benefit in health care reform. “Your mom probably did,” Stabenow famously shot back. That exchange and the wave of support that followed for Stabenow’s proposals illustrates how out of step Kyl is with a huge majority of Americans, including those in his own party.

Voters across the political spectrum are almost universal in their support for making maternity care an essential health insurance benefit through health care reform, according to a new poll conducted by Mark Mellman and commissioned by the Communications Consortium Media Center and the Women Donors Network. Fully 86 percent of voters strongly support a guaranteed maternity care benefit, and 95 percent believe that women should have the right to decide when to have a child, where to give birth and the health care provider who will attend their birth.

At Childbirth Connection, a 91-year-old national organization advocating high quality, evidence-based maternity care, we are not surprised by these results. We’ve known for years that rapid gains in the quality, value and cost of maternity care are well within reach. Health care reform is our opportunity to ensure that all women and babies get higher quality care with better results, and savings from following best practices can be put toward providing coverage for all.

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By Cathy Raphael

As a midwife in Pittsburgh’s Jewish community during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, my great-great-grandmother Hannah Sandusky brought many healthy children into the world despite the high maternal and infant mortality rates of the time.

I can’t help but wonder what “Bubbe” Hannah – as she was known to all – would make of the fact that today, some 150 years later, the U.S. ranks 42nd globally in maternal mortality rates, the highest among industrialized countries. Maternal mortality is a key indicator of health worldwide and reflects the ability of women to secure not only pregnancy-related services but also other health care services.

What Bubbe Hannah no doubt knew in 1909 surely remains true in 2009: healthy women have healthy babies.

The pending reform of the American health care system recognizes this simple equation, creating -- for the first time ever -- a seamless, lifelong continuum of care for women.

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By Christopher Mattera

Hard economic times have spurred an explosion in home gardens with more people realizing that food does not begin and end in the supermarket. This increase in food awareness, coupled with recent food recalls, has brought increased attention to issues of food safety and farm policy.

Unfortunately, recent proposals fail to take into account the issues underpinning the food safety problems faced by this country.

Congress is seeking to enhance federal oversight of the production of food, thereby increasing food safety. To that end, all food producers would be subject to the same stringent regulations, regardless of their size. The local farmer and his organic or all-natural tomatoes will be treated with the same suspicion as produce from massive industrial “farms” which grow and process enormous amounts of food at unnaturally high rates, bolstered by synthetic fertilizers and genetically modified seed.

Similarly, small ranches where cattle graze on open fields of grass and are slaughtered one or two at a time in local abattoirs would be subject to the same requirements as the giant meat packing companies whose relentless “protein” production requires that they pump their cattle full of growth hormones and steroids, and dose them with antibiotics to combat the dangerous effects of a grain-based diet on the stomachs of animals designed to eat grasses.

The push for food safety ignores the real and important differences between modes of production.

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By Jason Marks

Year in and year out, healthcare costs go up faster than the rate of inflation. This year, we will spend more than $2.5 trillion on healthcare in the U.S., which is over $8,100 per person. Even at that, more than 35 million of our fellow citizens are left without regular healthcare coverage through insurance or a government program.

Health insurers serve as a convenient target, getting criticized for denying care to those that need it most, creating too much red-tape for doctors and other providers, and for diverting too much of our insurance dollars to administrative overhead, profits, executive compensation, and lobbying. But since most insurers pay out 75 to 85 percent of premium dollars in medical reimbursements, the direct savings from taking them entirely out of the system is no more than 25 percent.

If like me, you are concerned not just with the availability and quality of healthcare, but also its affordability, then it is important to understand that we have to look beyond insurance reform and coverage mandates. We must also look also at our healthcare industries, by which I mean doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and so forth. Most importantly, we have to look at -- and fundamentally change -- the current dynamic in which employers, insurers, healthcare providers, and last (and sometimes least) patients come together to deliver and pay for our medical care.

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By Lynn Evans

The latest polls on health care reform find that most Americans support it, but they are also confused about what is in the proposals currently being worked on by Congress. No wonder. The amount of misinformation floating around is enough to confuse a rocket scientist.

If the American public is feeling left out of the debate on health care reform, it just might have something to do with the $1.4 million per day being spent on lobbying this single issue by the drug, health insurance and other health-related industries. In addition, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the health care industry has given members of Congress nearly $24 million in campaign contributions this year, on top of the $170 million they gave during the last election.

The drug manufacturers’ trade association, known as PHARMA, has spent more than $92 million lobbying Congress this year and is about to roll out a $150 million ad campaign to cut the discounts on drug products that are being planned to help reduce spiraling health care costs. Having enjoyed the largess of the Bush years, these companies are willing to spend big to keep their profits flowing.

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By Harry J. Heiman, MD, MPH

As our country's debate about health care reform gets lost in the obfuscation of partisan politics, I am thankful that Grady Health System is struggling to take care of its dialysis patients.

Don't misunderstand. I feel sorry for the dedicated leadership of Grady and its board, who, after decades of having nonpaying patients dumped on them by every other health system in town, is thoughtfully trying to find treatment alternatives for their patients.

But Grady, and its financial inability to continue providing life-sustaining treatment to its patients, epitomizes the failure of our current health system.

Inherent to reforming our health system is answering questions about who we are as a country and what are our values.

More specifically, do we as a country believe in health equity -- that everyone who lives in America has the right to health and access to health care? The inalienable rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" included in the Declaration of Independence would seem to include health. It is, after all, hard to live and be happy if you don't have access to opportunities for health.

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By Tony Fransetta

Access to health care for all seniors is important. Having a Medicare system that works? Crucial.

As we age, visits to doctors’ offices increase. Before President Johnson signed Medicare into law 44 years ago, many seniors lacked health care because of the cost. Imagine! But now, through Medicare, our federal government provides a valuable program for seniors and people with disabilities to improve their medical well-being. Coverage has helped reduce senior poverty by two-thirds.

Since 2003 and the implementation of the Medicare Modernization Act, Medicare Advantage plans (code for private insurance companies) have taken a toll on traditional Medicare. These Medicare Advantage plans are reimbursed at a higher rate than traditional Medicare, sometimes as much as 17 percent higher. This cost is being paid out of the traditional Medicare fund and is a strain on the Medicare budget. Passage of health-care reform will reduce this overpayment to private insurance companies, thereby easing any burden on working families' tax dollars.

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By Donna P. Hall

A massive, historic and overwhelmingly positive change for women’s lives is coming our way, in the form of the health care proposals now being considered in the House and Senate.

While television networks and newspapers were recently full of commentary and reporting on Rep. Joe Wilson’s loud outburst, the quiet fact remains that when health care reform passes, more women and their families will have coverage than ever before in our nation’s history.

That is no small thing, in a country where an estimated 21 million women lack health insurance, where over half of all medical bankruptcies are filed by female-headed households, and where single mothers and young women dominate the ranks of the uninsured.

The pending reform of the American health care system will -- for the first time ever -- create a seamless, lifelong continuum of care for women, for whom the status quo health care system has been an abject failure.

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By Margery Engel Loeb and Camille D. Miller

Texas is home to world-class medical schools and institutions that are known far and wide for their state-of-the-art treatment and expertise. However, many Texans, and especially Texas women, do not have easy access to this remarkable resource.

Some of the health care reforms, now being considered in Congress, hold the key that will open the door. We can look forward to a world in which more women and their families have coverage than at any time in our nation’s history. In Texas, there has long been bipartisan, grassroots support for health care for women and children.

For Texas women, and the 21 million women across our nation without health insurance, that will be a truly life changing -- and in many cases, lifesaving -- moment.

Imagine a system in which, for the first time ever, women won’t be charged up to 45 percent more than men for identical coverage, and maternity and reproductive health will be part of a basic care package.

The reforms will also include coverage of important preventative tests like mammograms. And they will put a stop to the shameful practice of denying health coverage because of “pre-existing medical conditions” such as breast cancer and pregnancy, or evidence of “uninsurability” such as being a victim of domestic violence.

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