Gaps in Health Care Protection for Children

When will children with pre-existing conditions be covered with the new health care reform legislation?

The Associated Press reported March 23, “The Obama administration is scrambling to fix a potential problem with a much-touted benefit of its new health care law, a gap in coverage improvements for children in poor health, officials said Tuesday.” 

This is a big concern for many Americans including myself because I have a four year old son who was first hospitalized with respiratory syncytial virus (commonly known as RSV) and Bronchiolitis at five months old.  Since then he has had pneumonia and several other respiratory problems a few times a year.  This history of respiratory problems could be considered a pre-existing condition and if we choose to switch insurances, I worried a new insurance company could refuse him coverage. 

President Obama has talked about how the new protections for children in this bill at nearly every speech advocating its passage.  This was one of the things in the health care bill I supported whole-heartedly. 

When as spokesperson for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee said full protection for children would not come until 2014, I felt misled and angry.  Why is the legislation so complex that even the President can’t understand it fully? Or did Obama knowingly mislead the American public? 

On Friday March 19, Obama spoke to an audience at George Mason University in a campaign-like speech and said, “This is a patient’s bill of rights on steroids.  Starting this year, thousands of uninsured Americans with pre-existing conditions will be able to purchase health insurance, some for the first time.  Starting this year, insurance companies will be banned forever from denying coverage–this year.” The crowd cheered and I was also pleased. 

Obama didn’t sound a bit confused then.  How could he have been wrong about something so important?

The administration assured reporters on March 22 that Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius would resolve the situation by issuing yet more regulations.  HHS spokesman Nick Papas said, “To ensure that there is no ambiguity on this point, the secretary of HHS is preparing to issue regulations next month making it clear that the term ‘pre-existing’ exclusion applies to both a child’s access to a plan and his or her benefits once he or she is in the plan for all plans newly sold in this country six months from today.” 

I don’t feel assured and I’m left with more questions.  Why isn’t legislation more transparent?  Is it written to intentionally mislead and confuse Americans?  Critical thinkers must demand more of our elected officials.

Now Can We Focus on Jobs, Immigration Reform and National Security?

For the past several months, talk of health care has dominated political conversations. Now that health care reform has passed, we can turn our attention to other important issues that have been ignored or at least not been given the attention needed–jobs, immigration reform and national security.  

The March 29 issue of Time magazine focuses on jobs.  The article, How to Create a Job, reports that the economy lost a net of 36,000 jobs in February.  It states, “ Were the economy to magically start generating jobs at a healthy clip—say 200,000 a month—it would still take 3 ½ years to return to where we were, never mind the jobs we need for new entrants to the workforce.”    In his State of the Union address, President Obama said jobs would be his number one focus.  Congress did pass a jobs creation bill on March 17 which included $13 billion of tax incentives to encourage companies to hire unemployed Americans.  This is far from a quick or permanent fix, however.  Private enterprise, not government, is the big job creator.  In order for companies, big and small, to overcome their fear of taking risks in today’s troubled economy, confidence must be restored.  It’s difficult to take a risk on new ideas, technologies, and production when companies are still feeling effects from the longest recession since the Great Depression and consumers have cut back on spending.  How can that confidence be restored when companies are so uncertain about how new health care reform regulations will impact their bottom lines?

Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered on the National Mall on Sunday March 21 out of frustration with the lack of action in Congress to overhaul the country’s immigration system.  Obama promised to make fixing a broken immigration system a priority in his first year of the presidency, but it’s been more than a year and little has been accomplished.  Sunday’s  demonstrators came from all over the nation by busses, cars and planes.  Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) voiced his own disappointment in an article published March 19 on The Americano website, “Now, in his first year alone, the President has deported a record 387,790 immigrants, ordering ICE to remove 13 percent more undocumented immigrants than George Bush did during his last year in office.” What has happened to Obama’s commitment to helping families torn apart, bringing “12 million people out of the shadows” and stopping employers from exploiting those without proper documentation?

Obama’s national security policies have faced major scrutiny in light of a security breach when Michaele and Tareq Salahi crashed a state dinner at the White House in November, an attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airplane at Christmas, and now a possible reversal on the 9/11 trials.  White House officials are reportedly recommending that Obama reconsider trying the self-professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other accused terrorists in New York City.  Opting for military tribunals is far better for Americans.  Attorney General Eric Holder and Obama had wanted to prosecute the terrorists in civilian court in New York City.  During his presidential campaign, Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay prison and was a vocal opponent of military tribunals. A civil trial in New York City would be bad for all Americans because of the estimated $1 billion cost and significant national security risks.  According a March 5 Fox News report, “The president has already disappointed his supporters by maintaining military tribunals after temporarily suspending them, by continuing the option of indefinite detention and by faltering in his vow to close Guantanamo Bay one year after his inauguration.”  What are the missing pieces to this national security puzzle? 

Now that health care reform has passed, it is time for critical thinking Americans to start asking questions about other very important national concerns.  We must now focus on jobs, immigration reform and national security.

Can the Ends Really Justify the Means?

If the cause is just, shouldn’t the means to pass health care reform be free of legal trickery? Most of the 37 representatives that voted no on the bill last time around are up for reelection and are therefore very concerned about how their constituents will react to this most important vote that will impact all Americans.

The fate of health care reform is at stake and on March 17 House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama helped to persuade many including Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) despite the fact that the bill does not contain the public option he fought for. He said, “This is not the bill I wanted to support.” But after a trip to his district and much discussion, Obama got Kucinich’s vote.

Some representatives refuse to vote in favor of the Senate bill because they don’t like some of what is in it and they don’t want it held against them in November. But it must pass before any of the changes House members want can be made. How then can this be accomplished? A little known rule called “Deem and Pass” may be the solution. The House would not vote on the Senate bill directly, but would vote on a separate bill that does contain the changes and then the Senate bill would be “deemed to have passed.”

In a very contentious interview on March 17 with Bret Baier of Fox News, Obama was challenged to explain why, after weeks of saying “the United States Congress owes the American people a final up of down vote on health care” he could support use of the deem and pass rule. Obama responded, “But here’s the thing, Bret, I mean, the reason that I think this conversation ends up being a little frustrating is because the focus entirely is on Washington process. And yes, I have said that is an ugly process. It was ugly when Republicans were in charge, it was ugly were in Democrats were in charge.”

The process is ugly. But when the bill represents one-sixth of the U.S. economy, it seems a traditional vote is necessary even if it takes longer to pass.

What are the changes respresentatives are so concerned about? One is the impact this bill may have on the deficit and on March 18, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its estimated cost of the updated package. CBO said it would cost $940 billion over the next decade. This would not add to the deficit which remains a key concern for many representatives. House Democratic Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) said, “We are absolutely giddy over the great news that we’ve gotten from the CBO.”

Obama promised to expand coverage while slashing the deficit. This strategy is intended to win over fiscal conservatives. He delivered on this promise. But there are other concerns.

Rep. John Boccier (D-OH) voiced another concern on CNN’s “American Morning” March 18. He said, “I’m encouraged by that. But there needs to be changes. The Senate version — there’s no way Ohio should have to pay for Nebraska. I want those deals out.” Boccier was referring to “deal” in the Senate’s bill which exempted Nebraska from the costs of expanded Medicaid coverage in order to win the vote of Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE).

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) has argued that he could not support the Senate bill because it would, “ban illegal immigrants from using their own money to buy insurance on the exchange.” Some reports indicate Gutierrez may be willing to change his vote if there are trade-offs which could help immigrants with housing issues.

 The vote will not occur before Sunday because House Democrats are upholding their promise to post the bill 72 hours before a vote. It will take time to read this bill and even longer to comprehend it all.

These convoluted deals and trade-offs leave a bad taste in the mouths of most American voters. Critical thinkers must ask, why do they have to be there?

House Republicans Pass Ban on Earmarks

On March 11, House Republicans adopted a ban on earmarks. House GOP leaders should be applauded for pushing members of their party to break their addiction to earmarks.

Earmarks have also been called pork barrel spending or pet projects. An earmark is basically a pet project a lawmaker seeks for his or her own district and state. It could include military spending, road projects, community development grants and a host of other things. One famous wasteful earmark cost taxpayers $50 million and was approved years ago to build an indoor rain forest in the middle of Iowa or that now infamous bridge to nowhere in Alaska. Another earmark is the one included in the 2009 Omnibus Bill which allocated $950,000 directly to the controversial National Council of La Raza. Another from that same bill include $2.9 million for “shrimp aquaculture” in Arizona, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas.

This practice of directing federal dollars to home districts and has been a widespread practice amongst both parties. It’s resulted in far too much waste at the taxpayers’ expense.

Voters are frustrated by Washington’s out of control spending. The Treasury Department said on March 10 that the February deficit totaled $220.9 billion, 14 percent higher than the previous record set in February of last year.

There is little question that this is an election-year appeal to voters and an attempt to trump House Democrats and their failure to pass such a ban yesterday. It is at least a sign that House Republicans are listening and acting to fix the problem.

“The time has come for House Republicans to adopt an immediate, unilateral moratorium on all earmarks,” said Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and nine other GOP leaders in a joint statement on March 10. He’s right. It’s true that both parties are guilty of earmarks and members of both parties have tried to end it. Democrat Senator Russ Feingold and Republican John McCain have both been fighting earmarks for years, but the Senate and the President haven’t budged. Perhaps things will change as a result of the House Republicans success on the issue.

According to Roll Call, today’s “ban would affect all earmarks, including those that are tariff- and tax-related.” House Republicans reached agreement on this self-imposed, across-the-board earmark ban in a closed conference. This reflects a unified commitment to control spending we haven’t seen in far too long.

This ban on earmarks is a huge step in the right direction. Voters will respond to the ban now and in the 2010 elections. Just as we must carefully watch our own household budgets, we must also continue to question how our elected officials spend our tax dollars.

Read more at The Americano.

Pay-Go or No-Go?

Critical thinkers are open minded because they seek to draw conclusions after asking many questions both about the information they receive and that which they locate through research. This can be challenging when all the headlines seem to proclaim the same thing.

On March 2, 2010 the major news of the day was that Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) was responsible for blocking legislation to extend unemployment and healthcare benefits and transportation funding. Most people reacted quite strongly upon reading this news. First responses might have included: “That’s outrageous!” or “What was he thinking?”

Critical thinking requires us to think further and consider both our position and try to see the other side. Bunning refused to grant unanimous consent to extend the 30-day benefits because the measure wasn’t paid for. He offered to grant unanimous consent if his Democrat colleagues could fund it.

On March 3, 2010 Bunning wrote an editorial for USA Today, “Why I took a stand” to explain his action. He wrote, “For far too long, both Republicans and Democrats have treated the taxpayers’ money as a slush fund that does not ever end.” He admitted to feeling regret over some of his own previous votes.
In June 2009 President Obama urged passage of “pay-as-you-go” legislation that would require any new tax cut or automatic spending program to be paid for within the budget. This seemed to indicate that he was serious about fiscal responsibility. “The ‘pay as you go’ principle is very simple. Congress can only spend a dollar if it saves a dollar elsewhere,” Obama said in a speech at the White House on June 9, 2009.

In February 2010, Congress passed and President Obama signed pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) legislation back into law. This restored a 1990s law and reflects a commonsense principle that helped turn a $600 billion deficit into a $237 billion surplus by forcing legislators to spend money only by saving money elsewhere.
In his USA Today editorial, Bunning said, “Unfortunately, Pay-Go is a paper tiger. It has no teeth. I did not vote for the Democrats’ Pay-Go legislation because I knew it was a dog-and-pony show to get some good press after some political setbacks.”

It’s true that even since the Pay-Go rule was passed, the national debt has gone up to $244,992,297,448.11.

So why did Bunning decide to take a stand this week when Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) asked to pass a 30-day extensions bill for unemployment insurance and other federal programs? Bunning answered, “Why not now? Why can’t a non-controversial measure in the Senate that would help those in need be paid for?”
Bunning had hoped to offer an amendment to pay for the extension offering three options for doing so: 1) use unused stimulus money, 2) take the money from other programs, or 3) with a new tax.

In his editorial, Bunning said, “I reached a supposed deal with Majority Leader Reid to have an up-or-down vote on a pay-for the amendment that would fully find the legislation and not add to the debt.” Except at the last minute Democrats used a parliamentary procedure to set aside his amendment. Bunning explains, “The Democrats did not want to vote on my amendment because they knew they were in the wrong and ignored their own rules.”

While we may argue with Bunning’s timing and even his actions, it’s clear that the national debt is major issue of concern. We must be critical thinkers and hold our elected officials responsible for their actions. It’s also important to question what they do.

Are You Ethical?

Before pointing a finger or judging politicians and celebrities for their ethical scandals, we should question our own actions to see if they meet the same ethical standards. Today’s news is filled with reports of ethical lapses and commentary. Politicians and celebrities are under tremendous scrutiny and it would be interesting to see how many average Americans, who would consider themselves ethical people, make unethical decisions every day.

When a person makes a promise with no intention to keep it, he or she is being unethical. Consider traditional marital vows and the promise to remain faithful. Yet, how many married people commit adultery? When a person becomes a licensed driver, he or she promises to abide by all the laws of the road. But, how many people knowingly exceed the speed limit? Stealing is unethical. Still, how many people take things from their company’s office supply closet and bring them home for personal use? Using force or fraud is unethical. Yet, how many people lie on their resumes to obtain a job?

Children see things clearly when it comes to ethical matters. Ask a child if stealing is wrong, and he will say it is without question. Ask another child if lying is wrong and she will say that of course it is. Adults, however, find a way of justifying and excusing unethical behavior.

On March 3, 2010 Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) temporarily gave up his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee after being admonished by an ethics panel for taking two corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean. The panel is also investigating Rangel’s campaign finances and possible unreported income from rental properties. There are additional inquiries into whether Rangel paid taxes on a property in Dominican Republic and an allegation that he used his office to raise money for an academic center named after him.

Republican Governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford’s marriage infidelity and ethical lapses have also been widely reported. He is now facing 37 ethics charges. The charges include allegations that he broke state laws more than 36 times by violating rules on airplane travel and campaign money. Sanford continues to ignore members of his own party who urge him to step down because of his ethical lapses.

Best-selling author Charles Pellegrino is coming under fire for lying about his credentials and making up sources. His recent bestseller The Last Train to Hiroshima is an account of events leading up to the U.S. dropping atomic bombs on Japan in 1945. It received excellent reviews. But now it’s alleged that Pellegrino made up portions of his book as well as lied about completing his Ph.D.

Critical thinkers must question their own behavior before judging others. When we force ourselves to act more ethically, expectations will change and society will benefit.

Is the Only Way to Improve the Gridlock in Congress to Clean House?

On February 15, Democrat Indiana Senator Evan Bayh announced he wasn’t seeking a third term. He cited strident partisanship and the constant gridlock in congress as reasons. It’s true, months do go by and nothing substantial gets accomplished. In an interview on The View he said, “It shouldn’t take a constitutional crisis or attack on the country to get Democrats and Republicans listening to one another and working together.” He added, “Politics has almost become tribal.”

This phrasing of tribalism has been used more frequently instead of partisanship. It means something much more severe. One definition of tribalism is, “the act of assigning assumptive qualities to anyone that one perceives to be not of one’s own group and the rationalizing of divine or benevolent motives behind abhorrent actions undertaken by one’s own group.”

More practical problem solving is necessary. Listening and compromising is necessary for action. There seems to be far too little dialog today. It’s difficult to name people in either the Democrat or Republican party who are willing to compromise. Without compromise, there can be no substantive action and this is hurting Americans.

Perhaps the route of the problem is the pervasive media eager to cover disputes or lobbyists or even special interest groups. What most agree upon is that there is a problem.

It seems Washington, DC changes even the most idealistic people after a few years. We need some enthusiastic new blood of both parties to facilitate real discussion compromise and action. I interviewed Sean Duffy on my radio show, Critical Thinking in the Real World, today. He is running against Rep. David Obey who has served in Congress since 1970. It will be a tough battle as Obey has a great deal of money, clout and connections. Yet, Duffy is willing to take on this fight because he believes Obey is out of touch with his constituents. He also is frustrated by his actions and said, “David Obey believes we can borrow, spend, and print our way out of this crisis. I think he and his friends in Washington are creating a greater crisis. The consequences of government spending for bailouts, budget increases, bloated entitlements and ‘stimulus’ spending will be staggering and unsustainable debt that will act as a dead weight around the neck of our economy.”

Career politicians are no good for the country. Term limits are a great idea. If Members didn’t have to worry about constant re-election cycles, they could spend more time on the people’s business rather than on securing their own jobs.

When I worked for Rep. Steve Gunderson from 1994 to 1996 as my first job out of college, I organized the group meetings called the Tuesday Lunch Bunch of moderates Republicans who then met with moderate Democrats. My responsibilities included delivering them pizza, soda, dessert as well as keeping track of attendance. That was one of Former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s best initiatives. Imagine having 30 to 40 Members of Congress talking together for an hour each week. As Senator Bayh said, that simply isn’t happening now. There was a lot of compromise then even with Democrat President Bill Clinton and a Republican majority in Congress. It is possible to have that today.

I have to believe that both Republicans and Democrats today really do want to make a positive difference. That is at least when they are first elected and before they get over-taken by Washington, DC and all that corrupts. Their ideas might be different, but they have to somewhere in there believe in the common goal–to serve.

“Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid”

I’ve frequently used the reference “don’t drink the Kool-Aid” to illustrate the dangers of group think and the benefits of critical thinking, but I didn’t fully understand the Jim Jones mass suicide until I watched an interview with Jim Jones Jr. on Oprah February 17, 2010 and researched the 1978 Jonestown massacre myself.

Jim Jones formed the Peoples Temple in 1956 in Indiana and said it stood for, “Divine principles. Total equality. A society where people own all things in common, where there is no rich or poor, where there are no races.” Jones was an engaging speaker with a charismatic personality and a desire to change the world. As the Peoples Temple grew, he moved to California. It’s important to remember that the movement started out as a good idea in response to the civil unrest at the time. His followers included people of different races, ages and both genders. Most were educated, functioning members of society who wanted to make a difference. But as Jones grew more powerful, a darker side of him began to rear its ugly head. He demanded followers turn over their pay checks to him and asked them to pledge their lives to him.

After facing criminal investigation in California, Jones formed a town in Guyana called Jonestown. Nearly 1,000 followers joined him there. In theory it sounded great. After all, It was touted as Uptopia—heaven on earth. This was a well organized and planned community. It had an agricultural team, schools and hospital. Jonestown flourished and Jones began to manipulate and brainwash his followers constantly broadcasting messages through speakers. Some believe his sickness and even insanity were a result of drug experimentation.

Congressman Leo Ryan of California went to Jonestown to investigate after several of his constituents claimed their family members were being held against their will. Reporters with cameras filmed first a very joyous celebration and then later several defectors asking to be taken home. Upon hearing of this, Jones ambushed Ryan and his team at the airstrip. Ryan and four other members of his team were shot and killed.

Jones called an emergency meeting. He then told followers “They are after us. Die with respect. Die with dignity.” Mothers were instructed to give the Kool-Aid-like substance with poison to their babies, children and then drink it themselves. As a result, 900 people died a painful death at Jonestown including 300 children.

Death by cyanide is not painless. Victims actually die a violent death. Officials say it took victims five minutes to die. Tim Carter, a survivor calls it, “a senseless death.” And it was both senseless and tragic. This was the biggest mass-murder suicide ever. The word murder is an important addition here. There is evidence that some did not drink the poison willingly as many syringes were found later. Many claim armed guards also surrounded the pavilion to ensure cooperation.

On November 18, 1978 Jim Jones, Jr. and his two brothers were 150 miles away at the time playing in a basketball tournament when he received the call from his father saying, “We are visiting Ms. Frazier.” This was code to commit suicide. While Jim Jones Jr. says this shocked him, he said there had been loyalty tests and suicide practices before. During these drills, people would pledge their lives to the cause.

Jim Jones Jr. was 18 at the time and refused to his father’s order to commit suicide. To understand why others didn’t do the same, it’s important to remember Jim Jones and the initial intent of the movement. The idea was to create a new world without bias—no racism, sexism or ageism. His followers wanted to make a difference. For much of his life, Jones lived as he preached. Jim Jones Jr. is an African American adopted at 10 weeks old. Many say he was the first African American child adopted by a Caucasian family. Jim Jones adopted Korean American children, and had a natural son as well. They called it a rainbow family.

The Peoples Temple followers really believed they were creating a new world. Why would 900 people agree to drink the Kool-Aid and knowingly commit suicide? Jones had told people they were about to be invaded and their children would be taken away from them. He said they needed to lay down their lives in protest. His strategy was to have parents give their babies and children the poison first. This was part of the manipulation because after seeing your child die, who would want to live? Absolute power, combined with mental illness and drug abuse resulted in self destruction and the mass murder suicide of 900 people.

Critical thinkers must question everything they are told, believe and even that which they consider to be common sense. When we study the 1978 Jonestown massacre, we learn how very important it is not to subscribe to group think and the dangers of unchecked power.