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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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