Thursday, August 27, 2009

Have Insurance? You Need Health Care Reform

Opponents of health care reform have certainly had their voices heard over the past few weeks. It appears the main arguments against reform are “socialism is bad” and “Obama is Hitler.” My proposed response is to engage in a rational discussion about public policy.

Much of the debate so far has been focused on the uninsured, the public plan, and death panels. What we really need to be talking about is how people who already have insurance are being taken to the cleaners by our dysfunctional health care system.

Just this month, the Commonwealth Fund released a study documenting what most of us already know to be true: “Middle-income individuals and families have been losing ground as the cost of health insurance continues to rise at a faster rate than incomes.” Among the Commonwealth Fund’s findings:

- “Between 1999 and 2008, employer-sponsored family health insurance premiums rose by 119 percent nationally, while median family income rose by 29 percent.”

- “Studies indicate that slower growth in wages and lower savings for retirement (worker and employer contributions) have been part of the trade-off to preserve health benefits.”

- “Despite such trade-offs, the monthly cost of premiums paid by workers and their families is up—consuming an ever-greater share of any wage increases they might receive.”

- “Absent significant reforms, current projections estimate that national per-person spending on health insurance premiums will increase by 94 percent from 2009 to 2020, increasing an average of 5.7 percent annually.”

The trends are true for Washington State as well. A series of reports released by Health Care For America Now demonstrate in each state how health care costs are growing much faster than wages. Among the findings:

- “Health insurance premiums for Washington working families have skyrocketed, increasing 87 percent from 2000 to 2007.”

- “For family health coverage in Washington during that time, the average annual combined premium for employers and employees rose from $6,496 to $12,120.”

- “The combined cost to employers and workers of health insurance for a Washington family of four is equal to 21 percent of the state’s median family income. Given current trends, that share will grow to 42 percent in 2016.”

- “The cost of employer-sponsored health insurance in Washington is growing at an annual rate of 8.6 percent, compared to a 1 percent growth rate for income.”

In fact, people who receive health insurance through their employer have a greater stake in reform than just about anyone else. As columnist Froma Harrop wrote, “Your company health plan does not come free… Employer-provided health coverage cut cash wages by nearly 8 percent last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

The 2009 Milliman Medical Index, an annual industry survey, had similar findings. According to reporter R.H. Sheldon, the latest MMI study found that “A family of four covered by employer-sponsored health insurance now incurs $16,771 per year in medical expenses, which represents a 7.4% increase over 2008 costs… Add to this the trend toward greater cost sharing on the part of the employee, and families are paying more out-of-pocket medical expenses than ever... [2009] is the third consecutive year in which there has been a double-digit percentage increase in the amount that employees and their families are spending for health care services.”

Researcher David Grande wrote, “Most working Americans underestimate how much they are already paying for health insurance, since most get it through their employers… Their employers' share is really paid through lower wages… Health-care costs are rising at more than three times the rate that middle-class wages are. Any pay increase workers might receive is chewed up by rising health care costs, and many workers have less money available for things other than health care with each passing year.”

The bottom line is the standard of living for every state worker, as well as everyone else, will continue to erode until Congress finds the courage to enact meaningful reform. Boy, I sure hope Congress comes through. I'm tired of getting ripped off. -- Dennis

Friday, August 21, 2009

Health Care Terrorists Are a Riot (Get It?)

I've already written at length about the shameful tactics some conservatives are waging in their campaign to oppose health care reform. Rather than debate the issue on its merits, well-heeled interest groups have engaged in a program of deception and intimidation in a partisan effort to derail the Obama Presidency.

The chanting, bullying health care terrorists, -- who shout out their opposition to "government-run health care" while they cash their Medicare checks -- have (unintentionally) become a great source of comedy.

In a very funny column appearing in, satirist Anne Lamott writes a letter to President Obama volunteering to serve on his death panel. "I do not know when you first began to insist that Sarah Palin's baby boy would need to appear before one of your (death) panels," Lamott scolds, "but I can tell you this, Mr. President, it is not going to fly with the American people."

Of course, Jon Stewart and the crew at the Daily Show are always quick to spot the comedy in our nation's political discourse, and the health care terrorists have been a great source of material.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Healther Skelter
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealthcare Protests

And, finally, I'll give the last word to the razor-sharp wit of the Seattle P-I's David Horsey:

-- Dennis

Friday, August 14, 2009

Health Care Terroists In the News

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a report on how “health care terrorists” were engaged in an organized campaign to disrupt Congressional town hall meetings using tactics that bring shame on every responsible conservative. Since then, the news has been filled with stories focused on health care opponents behaving badly.

The “death panels” are a big lie

The Associated Press published an independent Fact Check about the “death panel” claims of health care reform opponents. The conclusion? It’s a lie. “Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin says the health care overhaul bill would set up a ‘death panel.’ Federal bureaucrats would play God, ruling on whether ailing seniors are worth enough to society to deserve life-sustaining medical care. Palin and other critics are wrong. Nothing in the legislation would carry out such a bleak vision.”

The Seattle Times editorial board, normally a mouthpiece for the corporate elite, criticized the misinformation campaign of health care reform opponents: “One example is the bogus charge by opponents – backed by less-than-informed comments from former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin – that Obama’s health care reform would include a ‘death panel’ that would make life-or-death decisions about which patients get care and which would not… This is a gross distortion…”

In perhaps on of the most ironic twists of the whole debate, it’s now being reported that one of the loudest propagandists, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), actually voted in favor of an identical "death panel" provision in 2003. Oh, and Sarah Palin supported “death panels” too, as recently as 2008.

Health care reform opponents are lying about other things, too

Speaking of ironic twists, Paul Krugman of the New York Times reports “There was a telling incident at a town hall held by Representative Gene Green, D-Tex. An activist turned to his fellow attendees and asked if they ‘oppose any form of socialized or government-run health care.’ Nearly all did. Then Representative Green asked how many of those present were on Medicare. Almost half raised their hands.” My guess is that question wasn’t covered in the Tea Party Talking Points.

In fact, even conservatives rely on the government for their own health care coverage. Darren Hutchinson, writing for, states, “According to a recent Gallup report, only 13.3 percent of Americans with health insurance purchase their policies on the open market. The remaining individuals are enrolled in either state-sponsored plans or in employer plans that are heavily subsidized by state and federal tax policy. The notion of a free market in health insurance is a myth for the vast majority of Americans.”

Congressman Rick Larsen (D-WA), at his most recent town hall meeting, “responded to one of many questions from a critic of proposed reform by reiterating that ‘the bill does not force people to change their health care plan.’ He then adds: ‘Folks will say that's not true but, I've got facts on my side and you've got Glenn Beck on your side.’"

The town hall protesters are really partisan hacks

The mainstream news media has finally decided to start reporting about the role of the Republican Party and the health care industry behind the town hall protesters – something that has been widely reported in the blogosphere for a couple weeks now. A recent article by the McClatchey News Service stated, “Much of the money and strategy behind the so-called grassroots groups organizing opposition to the Democrats' health care plans comes from conservative political consultants, professional organizers and millionaires, some of whom hold financial stakes in the outcome.”

Still doubt these health care protesters are organized rather than organic? The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim reports that while “town-hall meetings are intended for constituents of congressional members’ districts, some if not a majority of attendees seemed to have come from further away.” Sign-in sheets from a town hall meeting held by Cong. John Dingell (D-MI) “lend credence to the accusation that the protests are a product of Washington-based ‘Astroturf’ organizations, rather than evidence of a groundswell of popular resistance to health care reform.” Staff for Cong. Gene Green (D-TX) report “as many as eight of ten members of the audience were from outside of the district.” A protester at Cong. Steve Kagen’s (D-WI) town hall meeting who described herself as “just a mom from a few blocks away” turned out to be the former vice chair of the Republican Party of Kewaunee County who had worked for Kagen’s most recent opponent. After a raucous town hall meeting in his district, Cong. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) provided evidence the protest “was a well-planned bit of political theater with the actors invited by the Chair of the Travis County Republican Party…”

Why all the bother? Washington Post reporter Greg Sargent has the scoop: “On a private conference call, a group of top Tea Party and conservative organizers offered a surprisingly frank description of their goal, according to a source on the call: Completely blocking any kind of bipartisan compromise, and completely preventing any type of health care reform bill at all from ever becoming law.”

News Tribune columnist Peter Callaghan writes, “Democrats have begun responding by urging supporters to show up at the same town hall meetings. At a Florida meeting last week, some burly union members were accused of intimidating those who tried to intimidate a congressman. While we don’t want our politics to turn into a battle of street toughs (insert Nazi Germany reference here), it is difficult to work up tears for those who think it is their right to intimidate members of Congress but unfair to be intimidated themselves.”

There are a lot of honorable conservatives who aren't raging bullies

Even some Republicans have had enough with the outlandish behavior of the most extreme elements in the health care debate. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) rebuked her fellow Alaskan when she said she was offended by Sarah Palin’s irresponsible rhetoric. “It does us no good to incite fear in people by saying that there’s these end-of-life provisions, these death panels,” Murkowski, a Republican, said. “Quite honestly, I’m so offended at that terminology because it absolutely isn’t (in the bill). There is no reason to gin up fear in the American public by saying things that are not included in the bill.” Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA), a member of the House GOP leadership team, called for a more respectful debate. “I certainly don’t condone violence,” she said, “I don’t condone calling President Obama Hitler and painting swastikas on signs at town halls.”

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), hardly an arm-waving liberal, was extremely patient when boorish, bullying protesters hijacked his recent town hall meetings. “I’m not going to complain about (protesters) being organized. They have a right to speak,” he said, “but I think we have to explain, they’re not necessarily representative of America. I think they’re vocal. I don’t think they’re representative.”

In the end, terrorists always lose

According to Columnist Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post: "Republican strategists and their media rabble-rousers cleverly thought they could dispatch their shock troops this month and kill health reform once and for all. Instead, they're on the verge of generating what they've been desperate to avoid -- an urgent, national, rational conversation on how to make the health-care system fairer and more affordable.”

As President Obama said, at his own town hall meeting in New Hampshire, "Where we disagree, let's disagree over things that are real, not these wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to what's been proposed.”

-- Dennis

UPDATE: David Horsey's latest cartoon really seems to belong here:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Top Five Health Care Reform Lies

Courtesy of

"Lie #1: President Obama wants to euthanize your grandma!!!

The truth: These accusations — of "death panels" and forced euthanasia — are, of course, flatly untrue. As an article from the Associated Press puts it: "No 'death panel' in health care bill." What's the real deal? Reform legislation includes a provision, supported by the AARP, to offer senior citizens access to a professional medical counselor who will provide them with information on preparing a living will and other issues facing older Americans.

Lie #2: Democrats are going to outlaw private insurance and force you into a government plan!!!

The truth: With reform, choices will increase, not decrease. Obama's reform plans will create a health insurance exchange, a one-stop shopping marketplace for affordable, high-quality insurance options. Included in the exchange is the public health insurance option — a nationwide plan with a broad network of providers — that will operate alongside private insurance companies, injecting competition into the market to drive quality up and costs down.

If you're happy with your coverage and doctors, you can keep them. But the new public plan will expand choices to millions of businesses or individuals who choose to opt into it, including many who simply can't afford health care now.

Lie #3: President Obama wants to implement Soviet-style rationing!!!

The truth: Health care reform will expand access to high-quality health insurance, and give individuals, families, and businesses more choices for coverage. Right now, big corporations decide whether to give you coverage, what doctors you get to see, and whether a particular procedure or medicine is covered—that is rationed care. And a big part of reform is to stop that.

Health care reform will do away with some of the most nefarious aspects of this rationing: discrimination for pre-existing conditions, insurers that cancel coverage when you get sick, gender discrimination, and lifetime and yearly limits on coverage. And outside of that, as noted above, reform will increase insurance options, not force anyone into a rationed situation.

Lie #4: Obama is secretly plotting to cut senior citizens' Medicare benefits!!!

The truth: Health care reform plans will not reduce Medicare benefits. Reform includes savings from Medicare that are unrelated to patient care — in fact, the savings comes from cutting billions of dollars in overpayments to insurance companies and eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse.

Lie #5: Obama's health care plan will bankrupt America!!!

The truth: We need health care reform now in order to prevent bankruptcy — to control spiraling costs that affect individuals, families, small businesses, and the American economy.

Right now, we spend more than $2 trillion dollars a year on health care. The average family premium is projected to rise to over $22,000 in the next decade — and each year, nearly a million people face bankruptcy because of medical expenses. Reform, with an affordable, high-quality public option that can spur competition, is necessary to bring down skyrocketing costs. Also, President Obama's reform plans would be fully paid for over 10 years and not add a penny to the deficit."

Don't let the insurance industry and corporate lobbyists get away with their lies. Stand up and let your federal legislators know you support the President's health care reform plan. -- Dennis

David Horsey On Health Care Reform

-- Dennis

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I-1033: Tim Eyman's Latest Tomfoolery

If you haven’t already heard, Tim Eyman’s latest terroristic attack, Initiative 1033, will be on the ballot this November. WFSE has joined the coalition to oppose I-1033 because the measure will destroy vital public services at the state, county and city level.

Initiative 1033 is already a proven failure. Tim Eyman’s latest Initiative uses the same failed formula as the “TABOR” law passed in Colorado, which led to deep cuts to public schools, roads and highways, and children’s health care. It did so much damage to the state’s economy that in 2005, Coloradans voted to suspend the law.

I-1033 will also make it harder for us to dig out of the recession. The national recession has cost our state thousands of jobs and forced billions in cutbacks to important public services. I-1033 will force even deeper cuts and lock them in for years to come – meaning more job losses, more hard times for Washington families, and a longer delay waiting for our economy to recover.

Eyman’s initiative will mean more bad news for our communities and small businesses. I-1033 will make things harder than ever for local communities already struggling to maintain basic services such as road repair, libraries and public safety. Small businesses rely on those services, and oppose I-1033 because they will continue to suffer during a prolonged recession.

Times are tough enough already – let’s not make them worse. Let's defeat I-1033.

WFSE/AFSCME, the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Microsoft, the Seattle Children’s Alliance, the Nature Conservancy, AARP, Washington Education Association and the Washington State Hospital Association have already joined the effort to say “No” to another harmful Tim Eyman initiative in Washington. Hopefully you will too.

For more information go to To get involved in the campaign, send an e-mail or call April at 1-800-562-6002.

In the meantime, if you've had it up to your eyebrows with Tim Eyman's self-serving demagoguery, you can get some temporary relief here. -- Dennis

Monday, August 3, 2009

Health Care Terrorists

The political battle for health care reform is raging at levels beyond anything I've seen in my 25 years in the business. Developments over the last couple of days ought to serve as a powerful wake-up call to proponents.

Case in point: It's now being reported that some conservative "think tanks" -- funded by lobbyists and corporate interests -- are orchestrating a nationwide effort to mobilize protesters to disrupt Congressional Town Hall meetings during the August recess.

First,, a respected news source for national politics, reported that crowds of angry, disruptive and threatening protesters are turning town hall meetings all across the nation into a circus. "Screaming constituents, protesters dragged out by the cops, congressmen fearful for their safety — welcome to the new town-hall-style meeting," Alex Isenstadt wrote, "the once-staid forum that is rapidly turning into a house of horrors for members of Congress."

Then, the Progressive States Network released a copy of an e-mail that has been circulating among health care reform opponents describing, in step-by-step detail, how political terrorists "should be infiltrating town halls and harassing Democratic members of Congress." Among the best practices recommended in the memo are to "spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half (of the room)," "yell out and challenge the Rep's statements early," and "the goal is to rattle (the Congressman)..."

The Progressive States Network did some digging into these think tanks, and their funding sources, and concluded that "the principle organizers of the local events are actually the lobbyist-run think tanks Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works. The two groups are heavily staffed and well funded, and are providing all the logistical and public relations work necessary for planning coast-to-coast protests..."

And it's happening right here in our back yard.

WFSE members who receive the Federation Hotline knew that Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA) recently held a town hall meeting on health care reform. I wasn't able to attend in person, but an e-mail I received from someone who did has taken on new significance. The following are excerpts from an eyewitness report distributed among the members of the Healthy Washington Coalition:

"I attended Congressman Smith's health care town meeting this past Saturday, and it was a horrifying experience. To begin the meeting, Cong. Smith gave a pretty rational and informative presentation about the state of the health care reform process. When he concluded that this was an issue too important to rush, thus he would not support the President's efforts to pass legislation before the August recess, the room erupted in applause...

Then Cong. Smith asked for comments, and the comments began. The first question: would this new plan include tax payer support for abortion? The next question, from one of the young fellas sitting in front of me: on page ... of the House bill, (reading from a copy he had obtained from the internet) it says plainly that if an individual elects the public insurance option, he can never ever have private insurance again. Then many people in the room started to vocalize and clap, drowning out Cong. Smith's response, and shouting arguments to him.

He asked for people to line up at the microphones for comments. Many people did line up... They spoke of their distrust of the government; the post office, social security, etc; they did not want their health care in the hands of bureaucrats. Several people said in a very angry tone of voice, I just want you (Cong. Smith) to be the first to take this new public insurance, and see how YOU like it. At this, the people in the room jeered, some shook their fists, some said angrily Yeah!

When Cong Smith then took a question from an elderly person sitting up front, who had not lined up at the microphone, a young man shouted loudly that she should wait her turn, why did HE have to stand up if she didn't... Much supportive vocalization from the seated people. More comments from the next person at the microphone: People who are uninsured now can afford to buy insurance, they just don't. Many people qualify for medicaid and they just don't bother. The statistics of infant mortality (the US being number 42 or so in industrialized countries) are false...

I wanted to describe my experience of this town meeting so you all would know that people who I believe are the lunatic fringe of opposition to health care reform are out-organizing us..."

At the time, I thought it was unfortunate that proponents were outmobilized at Cong. Smith's town hall meeting. Now I learn it's all part of a cynical ploy engineered by people wearing $5,000 suits. Is this what political discourse has come to in our nation? Barry Goldwater must be rolling over in his grave

The fact is an overwhelming majority of WFSE members support the President's efforts to reform our nation's health care system, but our voices are being drowned out by a handful of well-heeled interests and some noisy extremists.

We've got to step up our game. If we want to see health care reform happen, we're going to have to earn it. -- Dennis

I Survived Candidate Survivor

My trip up to Seattle to take in the Washington Bus' Candidate Survivor forum was well worth the effort. There were hundreds of people -- mostly under 35 -- who packed into the Showbox to watch the candidates for Seattle City Council compete for the affections of the crowd.

The candidates came out on stage dressed in track gear, dancing and mugging while the audience cheered. The first challenge was for each to introduce themselves in haiku -- no speeches allowed! I noticed most of the candidates failed to use proper the proper haiku form, but it was still an interesting way to get them to say something meaningful without putting everyone to sleep.

The action was non-stop. There were "yes and no" questions, multiple choice questions, a talent show, a dance off, and more. Three times during the night the audience was invited to vote via text message for their favorite candidate, and those receiving the fewest votes were asked to leave the stage.

Reporter Chris Grygiel of Seattle P-I wrote "it's a safe bet that a candidate forum where you find out that Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin has skinny dipped in Lake Washington and smoked pot is not sponsored by the League of Women Voters."

Grygiel's post focused on the sensational rather than the substantive, forgetting to mention that serious questions about health care, transportation and the environment were also asked. But it's also true the forum was intended to be frisky and fun.

The alternative weekly The Stranger promoted the event heavily and had reporters in attendance as well. Among them was Lindy West who wrote "last night was awesome. The candidates were all great sports, and I think we all learned a lot about democracy, track suits, robots, and Sally Bagshaw's sexuality." Laugh if you will (I certainly did), but I'll bet every kid in that room will vote in the primary on August 18th.

I came away impressed with the competence and effectiveness of the good folks at Washington Bus who continue to pioneer ways to engage young people in democracy that are both fun and informative. I came away thinking that candidate forums don't have to feel like a trip to the dentist. And I came away hoping I'll be able to attend if they hold this event again. -- Dennis