Comment of the Day: ryepower12 explains the obvious benefits of Medicare for all

Esteemed commenter ryepower12 explains the obvious benefits of “Medicare for all” or single-payer health care, the system used by the rest of the developed world which produces better results at a fraction of the price, in a few concise paragraphs. Outdated ideology and ignorance are the primary reasons we continue to suffer under our benighted system of medical care payments.

The answer is simple

Just like medicare, money will come from a tax or fee — whatever you want to call it — but it will be considerably less for most than whatever we’re already paying to health insurance companies.

Is this really some big mystery?

BTW: The $2 billion figure for Vermont may sound big and scary and some nice anti-single payer propaganda… but that amounts to a little less than $3.2k per person, in a state that otherwise has the 5th highest premiums in the country.

The least expensive plan in the Affordable Care Act’s health exchange for Vermont costs $4k a year. The medium-level “Silver” plan costs $4750 a year.

So strip away the “Big Gov’ment” scaremongering and single payer is a huge cost savings.

Who cares if we’re paying our “premiums” to a government program instead of health insurance companies?

I think the average taxpayer would be happy to pay less and get as much or more than the alternative any day of the week once it goes into effect and people see the scaremongering isn’t true.

This is why single payer systems are overwhelmingly popular across the world — including in countries where conservative governments have long been in charge.

Later on he elaborates:

correction: everyone pays for government insurance every pay check

We just don’t get to enjoy it until our mid 60s.

Changing that dynamic so we get a Medicare for All right off the bat can only make the program more popular, not less.

I have no doubt a transition would have a couple hiccups, but at the end of the day people will be glad to have a stress free system that costs significantly less, but equals or exceeds the level of care most have now.

We can do that if we want to – we need only to act boldly and be willing to follow the lead of the rest of the world, which has demonstrated time and time again that single payer costs less and delivers more – for all.

Don Berwick's appearance on my local access TV show, "All Politics Is Local"

Hurray for citizen journalism! - promoted by david

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Don Berwick for an hour-long episode of my local access cable TV show, “All Politics Is Local”. We managed to cover every bullet item found under the issues tab at BerwickforGovernor.com

Here’s the full video:

My show appears in 8 towns across the Worcester/Norfolk senate district, and while it won’t make it into the on-air rotation for several weeks due to other shows being ahead of it in the queue, that’s the beauty of publishing to YouTube! Please take an hour to watch the show and please give me feedback in the comments.

Berwick on the SCOTUS decision

- promoted by Bob_Neer

Don Berwick today issued the following statement on the Supreme Court’s decision that companies cannot be required to cover some types of contraceptives:

“Today’s abhorrent Supreme Court decision is yet another affront to women’s health. Every woman deserves access to quality reproductive health care, and I hope that Congress will take swift action toward ensuring that contraceptives are available to women, regardless of their employer’s religious affiliation.

“This ruling also serves as a reminder that it is past time to decouple health coverage from employment and move to a publicly accountable single payer health care system, similar to Medicare for all.”

Supreme Court royally screws up. But it could have been worse.

Bumped, for glory. - promoted by david

Today is the final day of the Supreme Court’s 2013-2014 term, and, as expected, it saw the announcement of two hot-button cases: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., and Harris v. Quinn Both were 5-4 decisions with the depressingly predictable conservative vs. liberal alignment, and both were authored by Justice Samuel Alito (more on that below).  Both were conservative “victories,” but neither went as far as it could have.

You’ve probably heard of the Hobby Lobby case, which concerns the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide basic contraceptive services as part of a health care plan.  You might not have heard of Harris, which is about public employee unions’ ability to compel non-members to pay certain “agency fees” to the union.  In brief, the Harris decision called into question – but did not squarely overrule – an earlier decision that permitted public employee unions to charge such fees to non-members.  The Court did hold that unions cannot charge such fees to “partial public employees,” such as the home health care aides at issue in that case.  But the case appears to have no immediate application to “full-fledged public employees,” such as teachers.  That’s about as much as I know about this case, which may have broader implications of which I’m not aware.  There will be much more coverage of it at SCOTUSblog later today.

The biggest-ticket item today (and maybe of the whole term) was Hobby Lobby.  The bottom line is that Hobby Lobby won, which means that it cannot be required to comply with the ACA’s contraception mandate.  Let’s look at a couple of important points.

  • This is not a First Amendment case.  This is an important point that may get lost in a lot of the coverage and reaction.  The First Amendment protects the “free exercise” of religion, and Hobby Lobby did bring a First Amendment claim against the mandate.  But the case was decided instead on the basis of a federal law known as RFRA (“Religious Freedom Restoration Act“).  RFRA was enacted in response to earlier Supreme Court decisions, most notably Employment Division v. Smith, which held that adherents of a particular religion (in that case, Native Americans who used peyote as part of a religious ceremony) could not claim exemption from generally-applicable laws under the Free Exercise Clause.  In response, Congress enacted RFRA, which imposed a much more stringent test than that applied in Smith on whether the government may burden religious practices.  Today’s case was decided under RFRA; the Court explicitly said that it was not addressing Hobby Lobby’s constitutional claims.  Therefore, though it’s admittedly unlikely in today’s gridlocked Congress, it’s in theory possible for Congress to undo today’s decision.
  • Hobby Lobby won because the government already accommodates non-profit religious corporations.  Under RFRA, a government regulation that “substantially burdens” a person’s exercise of religion (more on whether corporations are “persons” below) can be sustained only if the regulation advances a compelling government interest, and is “narrowly tailored” to that end – i.e., it’s the least restrictive available means of advancing the government’s interest.  The Court placed a lot of weight on the fact that, under the ACA, religious corporations like churches are able to opt out of contraceptive coverage.  From Alito’s opinion:

Republicans on Supreme Court Impose Religion-based Limits on Contraception

The Charlie Baker Republican-controlled Supreme Court today continued the party’s “war on women” when it voted to allow corporations to impose their religious beliefs on their employees. NYT:

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act violated a federal law protecting religious freedom.

The decision underlined the partisan politics that drive the country’s unelected branch of government. It moves the nation toward a society where religious faith trumps a secular market economy as a fundamental principle of social organization, and makes it harder for women to obtain contraceptives. David provides trenchant legal analysis here but, to me, the take away is in the headline and the danger in allowing five unelected individuals make laws for a society of 314 million, especially in a time of bitter national divisions.

Refreshingly, both leading candidates for Attorney General in a settlement established as a Puritan theocracy that would have applauded Charlie Baker the faith-based elements of the GOP’s reasoning once upon a time, have denounced the decision.

Maura Healey, who “oversaw the early stages of the Commonwealth’s argument against Hobby Lobby’s claim that an employer should be allowed to deny its employees insurance coverage for birth control because of the business owners’ own religious beliefs,” according to her website, wrote “The court’s decision in Hobby Lobby is a betrayal of women that comes right on the heels of its misguided decision striking down the Massachusetts buffer zone. In its ruling, the Supreme Court has decided that choices vital to a woman’s health and personal autonomy should be made by her employer. It is a dangerous and troubling outcome …”

Warren Tolman said: “Five conservative male justices hijacked a woman’s fundamental right to have access to contraceptives, subordinating it to a corporation’s right to control access to birth control on her behalf.”

Joke Revue: Iraq to Have Unity Government Before U.S.

A bit of a thin weeks for jokes, fortunately as David noted, we’ve got Jeff Jacoby hard at work channeling the spirit of the Revue. With that, Borowitz:

IRAQ TO HAVE UNITY GOVERNMENT BEFORE U.S.

BAGHDAD (The Borowitz Report)—In a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry stressed the importance of forming a unity government in Iraq but refused to commit to a timetable for creating one in the United States.

The sensitive topic of a unity government for the United States came at the end of a thirty-minute meeting, during which Secretary Kerry lectured the Iraqi Prime Minister about the value of a government “where people of different parties put aside their differences, make meaningful compromises, and work together for the good of the nation.”

Taking this in, al-Maliki agreed that it was an excellent idea and politely asked Secretary Kerry if the United States had ever considered forming such a government. …

Daniel Kurtzman:

“I am excited about the World Cup and the U.S. soccer team. But I will admit there are nuances to the game that are lost on me. For example, the United States has won one game, tied one game. They play Germany, and if they tie Germany 0-0, they advance to the finals. It’s just that exciting, ladies and gentlemen.” –David Letterman

“I guess now Dick Cheney knows what it feels like when someone you though was a friend shoots you in the face.” –Jon Stewart on Fox News’ Megyn Kelly calling out Cheney for being wrong on Iraq

“It was not a great weekend for the American soccer fan. We’re still recovering from a draw with Portugal, 2-2. It was a long game, four points total, and America didn’t win. If that doesn’t get people to start watching soccer, nothing will.” –Craig Ferguson

Logic fail

In today’s column, Globie Jeff Jacoby cites a single example of a Republican courting black votes (namely, Mississippi incumbent Senator Thad Cochran), and concludes as follows.  Emphasis added.

What turned the tide was the exercise by black citizens of their right to vote — a right that is no longer endangered anywhere in America, not even in Mississippi.

And that’s all I have to say.

New Documentary on Whitey Bulger Trial Points Fingers at Boston Media

This film is getting a good amount of publicity. Should be fascinating to watch how things play out. - promoted by david

Among other things, award winning documentarian Joe Berlinger’s new film, “United States v. James J. Bulger”, is an indictment of the long running narrative of all things Bulger and our provincial media’s insistence of telling it despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Through interviews, documentation, and trial transcript Berlinger makes the credible case that the system is currently corrupt, the trial was corrupt, and the government did everything possible to prevent the truth from being told. Prosecutors made sure this trial did not veer from the false one bad guy one bad FBI agent story to protect the FBI’s Top Echelon Informant Program.

Name another multiple count murder trial where the victims’ families were rooting for the defendant’s attorneys?

The CNN produced film does not look kindly on those in the Boston media who have willingly reported as gospel the crap fed to them by the corrupt FBI.  Kevin Cullen, Dick Lehr, Shelly Murphy,….pretty much anyone and everyone who worked for the Boston Globe. No, that’s not right. Pretty much every local scribe, pundit, and pretty boy with a mic who wrote or reported on it.

The regional impact of the new $11/hour minimum wage

Your weekend chart - on the flip. - promoted by david

Yesterday the Governor signed into law an increase of the minimum wage to $11 by 2017. This is projected to raise the wages of approximately 605,000 workers.

Two MassBudget fact sheets provide data on who these workers are and where they work. The Regional Impact of an $11/Hour Minimum Wage provides estimates of the number of workers in specific cities and regions of the state, including this table:

Capital observations

Time is short this morning, so just a couple of quick observations from today’s Globe’s “Capital” section:

  • The section includes a “roundup” of chit-chat from various observers about the People’s Pledge, including quotes from Globe columnist Joanna Weiss and from my initial response to her column.  Always nice to know that people are reading.
  • In a little feature called “Decoder,” there’s a big graphic of a quote from the SJC’s casino opinion with the words “wholly inconsistent” circled in red, and the item itself is entitled “Wholly inconsistent.”  The “translation,” by Alan Wirzbicki, explains that the Court used that phrase (among others) to deliver a “smackdown” to Attorney General Martha Coakley’s position.  Problem: it didn’t.  The “wholly inconsistent” language appears in a section of the opinion rejecting an argument that Coakley’s office also rejected (the argument was raised by private parties who intervened in the case).  It is true, as Wirzbicki notes, that other, fairly strong language (such as “fundamentally flawed” and “departure from common sense”) was used to describe Coakley’s position, and “smackdown” might fairly be applied there as well.  But reporters pulling short phrases out of court opinions – itself always risky business – ought to take more care that they’re at least pulling the phrases from the right section of the opinion.
  • This morning’s weekly poll (kudos, again, to the Globe for investing in so much polling) again shows Martha Coakley with a commanding lead in the primary (she’s still got an absolutely majority at 52%, distantly followed by Steve Grossman at 19% and Berwick at 8%, with 21% undecided; MOE=+/-4.9%).  It seems reasonably clear at this point that there has been no convention “bump” of any real significance for either Grossman or Berwick (which does not surprise me at all), and that the hill they have to climb to get within striking distance of Coakley is steep indeed.
  • The polling on the Olympics finds support for a Boston Olympics barely in positive territory (47/43), but support for using tax dollars to pay for it extremely unpopular (25/64).  So, there you have it.
  • In the print version, this full-page ad appears on p. D3 (click for larger).  A wise use of campaign resources?  You make the call.
  • Finally, this isn’t specifically from the Capital section, but I couldn’t help noticing that the same Joanna Weiss who opposes People’s Pledges and instead prefers “a rollicking, multi-way conversation, where everyone has a voice,” and who generally “support[s] more speech/discourse, not less,” apparently doesn’t think those principles apply outside abortion clinics.  Of course, the two situations are not precisely analogous, and I’m not saying they are.  But I am saying that people who take close-to-absolute positions when it comes to the regulation of political speech need to realize that that general position has consequences in other arenas where they may not like the results.

Massachusetts SWAT teams claim they’re private corporations, immune from open records laws

This strikes me as, well, INSANE. - promoted by david

SWAT teams aren’t going to tell you when or where they’ve deployed, because they think they don’t have to.

As it turns out, a number of SWAT teams in the Bay State are operated by what are called law enforcement councils, or LECs. These LECs are funded by several police agencies in a given geographic area and overseen by an executive board, which is usually made up of police chiefs from member police departments.

. . .

Some of these LECs have also apparently incorporated as 501(c)(3) organizations. And it’s here that we run into problems. According to the ACLU, the LECs are claiming that the 501(c)(3) status means that they’re private corporations, not government agencies. And therefore, they say they’re immune from open records requests.

. . .

Hiding behind the argument that they are private corporations not subject to the public records laws, the LECs have refused to provide documents regarding their SWAT team policies and procedures. They have also failed to disclose anything about their operations, including how many raids they have executed or for what purpose . . .

So, not only do they think they have the right to break down doors and terrorize people pretty much whenever they feel like it, they also think they don’t have to explain anything about their operations, or training, or staffing, or lots of other things.

I’d like to thank The Boston Globe for alerting us to this situation. Unfortunately, they either didn’t know about it, or didn’t think it was newsworthy, so we’re hearing about it from The Washington Post.

I’d also like to thank our Attorney General for standing up to the bullies in SWAT uniforms and defending the citizenry’s right to know, but that didn’t happen either.

US Supreme Court cuts back on - but doesn't wipe out - abortion clinic buffer zones and presidential recess appointments

The US Supreme Court issued two hot-button, long-awaited rulings today.  The result in both cases was unanimous, but in both cases there was a sharp divide on the Court as to the reasoning, and as to how far the Court should go.

The first case has special relevance to Massachusetts.  McCullen v. Coakley (yes, that’s Martha) was a challenge to Massachusetts’s fixed 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics, into which no protesters or “sidewalk counselors” are permitted.  All nine Supreme Court Justices agreed that the 35-foot zone goes too far in terms of restricting the free speech rights of the protesters – and, according to the Court’s opinion, no other state has gone quite as far as Massachusetts (although apparently a few other localities have done so).

The lead opinion is by Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan (interestingly, the same lineup as we saw in the Obamacare decision).  That opinion holds that the buffer zone law is not a “content-based” restriction on speech, which would have subjected it to the most exacting level of scrutiny, but then concludes that even under the lesser standard applicable to content neutral laws that restrict speech, the law failed.  The Court seemed especially concerned with three points:

  • the law expressly applies to public ways and public sidewalks, which are “traditional public fora” on which the government’s ability to restrict speech has generally been very limited;
  • by looking at access laws from other states and the federal government, the Court inferred that there are lots of other, less restrictive ways of protecting clients at these clinics from harassment; and
  • Massachusetts did not make an adequate case that all other options had been tried and had failed.  This last point may be especially salient:

    Respondents [Coakley et al.] have but one reply: “We have tried other approaches, but they do not work.” Respondents empha­size the history in Massachusetts of obstruction at abor­tion clinics, and the Commonwealth’s allegedly failed attempts to combat such obstruction with injunctions and individual prosecutions. They also point to the Common­wealth’s experience under the 2000 version of the Act, during which the police found it difficult to enforce the six­ foot no-approach zones given the “frenetic” activity in front of clinic entrances. According to respondents, this history shows that Massachusetts has tried less restrictive alternatives to the buffer zones, to no avail.

    We cannot accept that contention. Although respond­ents claim that Massachusetts “tried other laws already on the books,” they identify not a single prosecu­tion brought under those laws within at least the last 17 years. And while they also claim that the Commonwealth “tried injunctions,” ibid., the last injunctions they cite date to the 1990s. In short, the Commonwealth has not shown that it seriously undertook to address the problem with less intrusive tools readily available to it. Nor has it shown that it considered different methods that other jurisdic­tions have found effective.

At least on an initial read, it does not seem to me that this opinion slams the door on abortion clinic buffer zones.  To the contrary, the Court several times referred with apparent approval to the 2000 version of MA’s own law, and to laws currently in effect in other jurisdictions.  One easy initial step would seem to be to reenact the 2000 version of the law – it may not be perfect, but it’s better than nothing, and it would give law enforcement at least some tools to combat harassment.  A longer-term solution should be to study the laws in jurisdictions specifically noted by the Court and see if they seem to be a better approach.  This isn’t the end of the line, for sure.  (The other four Justices, Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, would likely never uphold a buffer zone, but at least at the moment, there doesn’t appear to be a fifth vote for that position.)

Today’s other case, National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, concerns the President’s power to make “recess appointments,” i.e., to put in office for a limited time appointees who otherwise would require Senate approval while the Senate is out of session.  I haven’t read the case in detail yet, but the bottom line (as delivered by Justice Breyer, in an opinion joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan) appears to be this:

  • the Senate is “in session” whenever it says it is, as long as it retains the ability to conduct business, even if it’s just a two-minute “pro forma” session, and
  • a recess of less than 10 days between sessions is normally insufficient to allow for a recess appointment; however,
  • recess appointments are permissible both for pre-existing vacancies and for vacancies that come into existence during a recess.

The result is that the President’s appointments to the NLRB that precipitated the case were invalid, because they occurred in a “recess” that was less than 10 days between pro forma sessions during which the Senate retained the ability to conduct Senate business.  Four Justices (Scalia, writing for himself, Roberts, Thomas, and Alito) would have gone much further and drastically curtailed the recess appointment power, including by limiting it to vacancies that come into existence during a recess.  But even under the majority opinion, the practical effect may be similar.  Because either the House or the Senate apparently can force pro forma sessions (I don’t know the details of how that works, but several folks who know what they are talking about have said so), it would seem that if either chamber of Congress is under the control of the non-presidential party, the president’s recess appointment power can be stymied.  It will be very interesting to see how this one plays out.