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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Abraham Lincoln time traveler- Message to Donald Trump

Their view: What would Lincoln think of Donald Trump?
Opinion in the Wilkes Barre, PA Times Leader news.

Sidney Blumenthal commentary:
Abraham Lincoln's Lyceum Address was delivered to the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois on January 27, 1838, titled "The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions". 

Donald Trump has a sketchy relationship with Abraham Lincoln. “Great president,” Trump said. “Most people don’t even know he was a Republican, right?” Trump also conjectured that “had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War,” though Jackson had died many years before.

But what would the 16th president have thought of the 45th? 

Beyond pure speculation, we can find clues in Lincoln’s first formal speech, “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions,” in which he criticized attacks on the free press and warned against a future demagogue who would threaten the fragile American experiment.

On Jan. 27, 1838, mounting the podium before the Springfield Lyceum for Young Men in Illinois, the 29-year-old Lincoln, a member of the Illinois Legislature, described the “mob-
ocratic spirit.”

Lincoln began by decrying a spate of recent crimes that reduced the rule of law to “the caprice of a mob,” including the lynching of a black prisoner in St. Louis. “Having ever regarded Government as their deadliest bane, they make a jubilee of the suspension of its operations; and pray for nothing so much, as its total annihilation.” He also condemned the “bands of hundreds and thousands” who “throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors” — which everyone in the audience would have recognized as a reference to the Lovejoy case.

On Nov. 6, 1837, in Alton, Ill., Elijah P. Lovejoy, an antislavery editor, was murdered by a group of men who 
stormed his warehouse to destroy his printing press. 

Lovejoy had been driven out of St. Louis for publishing antislavery articles. Moving his base of operations across the Mississippi River, he soon joined in calling for the formation of the Illinois Anti-Slavery Society. Lovejoy’s assassination made him the first martyr of the abolitionist movement. His killers were acquitted in a trial that reached its verdict eight days before Lincoln delivered his speech.

The overwhelming view in Illinois was that Lovejoy deserved his fate. Promoting antislavery opinion was deeply unpopular. In Washington, lawmakers upheld a gag rule that barred the presentation of antislavery petitions to Congress. Former President John Quincy Adams, now serving in the House of Representatives, stubbornly led the resistance. But Northern legislature after legislature passed resolutions in solidarity with Southern states to affirm the gag rule. On March 3, 1837, Lincoln and only one other member of the Illinois House signed a dissenting statement declaring “that the institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy.”

Lovejoy, according to Lincoln, did not bring about his own death. Contrary to conventional wisdom, he was wholly innocent, the victim of “the vicious.” Those who “shoot editors” were not simply breaking the law, but also assailing the basic right of free speech — the very foundation of American government. The attack on Lovejoy, whether one agreed with his opinions or not, was an attempt “to subvert our national freedom.”

Then Lincoln pointed to an even greater menace than rampaging mobs, “a probable case, highly dangerous.” He warned against the emergence of a man driven to power by a fierce desire for “celebrity and fame” who “thirsts and burns for distinction.” 

This demagogue “scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious,” and believing that “nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.”

There is a contemporary figure who resembles that fame-hungry demagogue, one who tears down institutions and incites the mob-ocratic spirit, subverting the right to free expression and, with it, our national freedom. These Lincolnian terms describe our reality-TV-star-turned-president, who called the “FAKE NEWS media” the “enemy of the American people,” and tweeted an altered video that showed him body-slamming a man with the CNN logo in place of his head.

But Trump would no more understand Lincoln’s forewarning than he will accept responsibility for his incitement. 

Trump’s sense of history is as limited as his self-control.

If we can deduce how Lincoln would perceive Trump, we can also surmise how he would advise Americans to handle him. This is what he said about the possible rise of an American demagogue: “And when such a one does, it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs.”

Sidney Blumenthal is the author of “Wrestling With His Angel, The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, 1849-1856.” “A Self-Made Man, The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, Volume I, 1809-1849,” describes Lincoln’s Lyceum Address. 

Blumenthal wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times.

MaineWriter- Abraham Lincoln's 1838 was prophetic, as though he time traveled to the 21st century.  

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Luzerne County- Wilkes Barre Times Leader letter to editor


http://timesleader.com/opinion/letters/667266/your-view-cuts-to-medicaid-unacceptable

LUZERNE County, PA- My husband and I have a 4-year-old daughter named Mia. 

She is our only child.

Last summer, Mia was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. She is considered Level 2, meaning she requires substantial support in school.

Mia receives speech therapy and occupational therapy at school and gets additional speech therapy at a rehabilitation facility once a week. She also has a therapeutic support service worker who helps her stay on task in her regular classroom.

None of these services would be possible without Medicaid. Medicaid not only reimburses schools that provide eligible students with health care services in the classroom, the program also helps pay for support services that private insurance won’t cover, such as our daughter’s additional speech therapy every week.

Mia has made remarkable progress thanks to the services she receives

We want to do everything we can to help Mia continue to make progress and thrive. We know she is smart, and we believe she will do amazing things in life. But we can’t get her where she needs to be alone. We can’t help her reach her full potential without the services she receives that are paid for by Medicaid.

The cuts and caps to Medicaid being proposed by House and Senate Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville, will be devastating to children with disabilities like Mia.

If our elected officials really want disabled children to have quality of life, then cuts to Medicaid are not acceptable.

Rebecca Zukauskas  Luzerne County

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Quality care is compensated care- Hospitals and the Affordable Care Act

My summary of this article:  Hospitals must generate profit margins to insure against fluctuations in reimbursement, the loss of revenues related to economic swings and the increasing cost of providing quality care. Hospitals are not responsible for the blight described in many of the cities named in this article.

At the end of the argument, the prevailing point is that quality health care is "compensated health care".

In my opinion, the communities where blight is evident must take aggressive initiatives to reverse decades of neglect.
How hospitals got richer off Obamacare- this is misleading.

In fact, hospitals have been eating the cost of uncompensated and charity care for many decades.  Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare") expanded the number of people who qualified to purchase health insurance.  As a result, the uncompensated care finally became "compensated" and the quality of  health services advanced for everyone, as private insurance premiums stabilized.  How did this happen?  In the past, the hospitals shifted the cost of uncompensated or charity care to the charges billed to insurance companies and those who paid privately for their health care.  When more patients obtained insurance resulting from the Affordable Care Act, the cost shifting accounting was minimized, because the margins of uncompensated care shrunk. Nevertheless, because the newly insured patients had insurance, they also received bills to pay for their deductibles. Often, those out of pocket expenses went unpaid, so the cost of bad debt grew while charity and uncompensated care was reduced. Repealing the Affordable Care Act will dangerously reverse the progressive health care compensation trends. Add in the cost of financing debt and the scenario creates for hospitals financials' an exponentially even more complicated fiscal problem.

Dan Diamond reports in Politico:

After fending off challenges to their tax-exempt status, the biggest hospitals boosted revenue while cutting charity care.

A decade after the nation’s top hospitals used all their advertising and lobbying clout to keep their tax-exempt status, pointing to their vast givebacks to their communities, they have seen their revenue soar while cutting back on the very givebacks they were touting, according to a POLITICO analysis.

Hospitals’ behavior in the years since the Affordable Care Act provided them with more than 20 million more paying customers offers a window into the debate over winners and losers surrounding this year’s efforts to replace the ACA. 

Moreover, iIt also puts a sharper focus on the role played by the nation’s teaching hospitals – storied international institutions that have grown and flowered under the ACA, while sometimes neglecting the needy neighborhoods that surround them. (This isn't true at all- I don't know where Diamond gets this information? It's not the hospitals fault that the urban areas have allowed neighborhoods go into blight!)

And it reveals, for the first time, the extent of the hospitals’ behind-the-scenes efforts to maintain tax breaks that provide them with billions of dollars in extra income, while costing their communities hundreds of millions of dollars in local taxes.

One example of the hospitals’ efforts to remain tax-free: the soaring, television commercials that popped up on stations across Western Pennsylvania in 2009, sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the area’s flagship hospital and one of the largest teaching hospitals in the country.

“UPMC is proud to be part of our city’s past, present and, more importantly, its future,” the narrator enthuses, as the camera pans around Pittsburgh scenes of priests, grocery-store workers, even a ballet dancer before coming to rest on the sprawling medical campus — one of the five largest in the world.

At the time, Congress was considering not only whether to remove tax-exempt status for teaching hospitals, a cause of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), but also whether to add requirements forcing hospitals to do more for the low-income, urban communities in which so many of the top hospitals are located. And local leaders in many states were attempting to claw back billions of dollars in forgone tax revenue — a battle that would soon break out between UPMC and the mayor of Pittsburgh, too.

But the hospitals, aided by their good-neighbor initiative, prevailed. The ACA did nothing more to force the hospitals to share their revenue with their neighbors or taxpayers generally.

The result, POLITICO’s investigation shows, is that the nation’s top seven hospitals as ranked by U.S. News & World Report collected more than $33.9 billion in total operating revenue in 2015, the last year for which data was available, up from $29.4 billion in 2013, before the ACA took full effect, according to their own financial statements and state reports. But their spending on direct charity care — the free treatment for low-income patients — dwindled from $414 million in 2013 to $272 million in 2015.

To put that another way: The top seven hospitals’ combined revenue went up by $4.5 billion per year after the ACA’s coverage expansions kicked in, a 15 percent jump in two years. Meanwhile, their charity care — already less than 2 percent of revenue — fell by almost $150 
million per year, a 35 percent plunge over the same period.

Revenue up, charity care down

For example, in 2013, the majority of the Cleveland Clinic's community benefit was made up of the hospital's Medicaid shortfall – the gap between Medicaid payments and the Clinic’s self-determined costs for those procedures – and education costs mostly associated with training residents, fellows and other clinical staff.(Maine Writer - This is very legitimate claim because the government refuses to fully fund Medicaid claims.)

While operating revenue increased under Obamacare for not-for-profit hospitals like the Cleveland Clinic and UCLA Medical Center, the amount of charity health care they provided fell. For example, while UCLA saw operating revenue grow by more than $300 million between 2013 and 2015, charity care fell from almost $20 million to about $5 million.  (Maine Writer: Diamond reports a good indicator that private insurance premiums probably stabilized as a result but he overlooks this cause and effect.)

Hospitals justify the billions of dollars they receive in federal and state tax breaks through a nearly 50-year-old federal regulation that simply asks them to prove they’re serving the community. (Some states have taken a stricter approach for their tax breaks.) And, while hospitals acknowledge that their charity care spending has fallen — pointing to the fact that a record number of Americans are now insured under the ACA — some leaders say the trend could reverse itself if the ACA is repealed.

Hospitals also defend their tax-exempt status by pointing to their total community benefit spending, a roll-up number that can include free screenings and local investments but also less direct contributions, like staff education or hospitals’ internal metrics for when they say there is a gap between what they charge for services and what Medicare or Medicaid pays them.

But in many cases, top hospitals’ community benefit spending has remained flat or declined since the ACA took effect, too. For example, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, which has been ranked as the best hospital in the world, spent $53.8 million on community benefits in 2015, down from $62.1 million in 2013, even as its total annual revenue went up by more than $200 million.


Advocates say that not-for-profit hospitals are failing in their responsibilities to their communities, which are beset by rising rates of opioid addiction, diabetes, asthma and other serious but treatable conditions.

“Are they doing enough? I can give you a one-word answer: No,” said Charles Idelson of National Nurses United, a labor union that’s fought with hospitals over their community contributions. “So many of these hospital chains, their clear priority is their budgetary goals or their profit margin.”  (Maine Writer- without a profit margin, the hopsital systems would be unable to recruit nurses and pay them annual cost of living raises.)

A record profit margin

Obamacare may have been a mixed blessing for those seeking coverage through the state exchanges, some of which have seen double-digit annual premium hikes, but it’s been a clear boon for the nation’s hospitals.

Multiple studies have linked the ACA’s coverage expansion to improved financial performance, with one analysis finding that hospitals’ profit margins went up by 25 percent in states that expanded Medicaid in 2014. Overall, the industry boasted an 8.3 percent profit margin that year, according to the most recent figures published by the American Hospital Association. That’s the highest performance on record — more than triple the industry’s 2.6 percent profit margin in 2008, amid the recession and before the Obama administration began pushing its health care reforms — and it’s only invited scrutiny from advocates and researchers who say that it’s a sign the system is broken.

Gerard Anderson, a health care economist at Johns Hopkins University, co-authored a study in 2016 that found 7 of the 10 most profitable hospitals in the United States are technically not-for-profit hospitals. “The taxing system may not be working properly if nonprofit hospitals are making a lot of profit and not necessarily putting it back into the community,” Anderson said at the time.
(Maine Writer- Hospitals have endowments where the money in reserve will be available to buffer reimbursement swings like, for example, the stupid move to repeal the ACA, or to cut Medicaid.)
Hospitals dispute that Obamacare has been the engine of their recent success. “We would not attribute our solid financial performance to ACA,” said a spokesperson for the Mayo Clinic — the top-ranked hospital in the US News rankings, which cleared $1 billion in combined operating income in 2015 and 2016. “It’s a result of a fiscal discipline, focus on creating efficiencies, generous philanthropic donations, as well as research funding from NIH and revenue created through our commercialization efforts.”

And they add that looking at profits doesn’t tell the full story, especially because they’re funneling those dollars back in the form of jobs and other civic benefits. For instance, hospitals are the largest employer in many major cities and most congressional districts.

Johns Hopkins Health System, for instance, said it was responsible for more than 22,000 jobs in Baltimore City — and nearly $1.8 billion in total economic impact. But the job gains don’t necessarily help their close neighbors – or improve their health. Anderson, for one, was skeptical that big hospital revenues translate to community improvements. Instead, they often lead to multimillion dollar renovations, more executive compensation and other big-ticket spending items that don’t actually benefit nearby residents.

“A lot of the communities where these hospitals are located are having financial difficulties,” he said. “The hospitals, which are making money, aren’t contributing to the financial reserves of that community. They are obviously employing people, but they are earning substantial profits and not paying any of those profits to the communities.” (Maine Writer- I disagree with this wrong minded assessment.  Johns Hopkins has been located in one of the most blighted areas of Baltimore City for over a hundred years, but the municipal government has done nothing to improve the quality of life for the neighborhoods.  In fact, Johns Hopkins Hospital is the only quality of life the surrounding neighborhoods have and where all of the people go for free care.)

Community benefits

Hospitals are required to provide community benefits in order to keep tax exemptions that, collectively, are worth billions of dollars. But the benefits they cite combine a range of services that don’t always directly benefit their communities, and free care tends to be a small and dwindling percentage.

A Bizarre Contrast

It’s set up a bizarre contrast. Many U.S. cities boast hospitals that are among the best in the world, but the communities around those hospitals might as well be the Third World. (Maine Writer- this is a true statement, but it isn't the hospitals' faults that the local and federal governments have let these communities go to blight!)

Walk five minutes off the Hopkins campus in downtown Baltimore and you’ll arrive at the city’s Madison-East End neighborhood, where the poverty is both visible — cracked sidewalks, empty storefronts and more than three times as many vacant lots per house than in the rest of the city — but also silently killing residents. The death rate in the neighborhood is 30 percent greater than the rest of the city and mortality from cancer, stroke and heart disease is more than twice as high.

One striking figure: The life expectancy rate in Madison-East End is less than 69 years. That’s lower than the life expectancy in impoverished countries like Bangladesh, Turkmenistan and North Korea. It’s also subtly at odds with the message Hopkins sells to the rich patients it courts from around the world, encouraging them to come to a hospital that’s akin to a health mecca, even if it’s actually located in a rundown area.

(Maine Writer- this is also a true statement; but decases of neglect have been exacerbated by continued cuts to Medicaid and lack of municipal investment in infrastructure. It's not all the fault of the hospitals.)

“Poor communities around hospitals tend to lack simple conveniences, like grocery stores stocked with healthy, inexpensive food or even places to play or exercise outside safely,” says Elizabeth Bradley, president of Vassar College and co-author of “The American Health Care Paradox,” which offers reams of research on how living in such neighborhoods leads to worse health and social instability. “The paradox is that we focus on and invest in areas like hospital care when social determinants matter so much more,” she says.

And for many residents, a vicious cycle begins when they’re young, as Bradley and others have chronicled; many of these neighborhoods have high crime rates, and exposure to violence increases violent behavior among children. It’s also hard for them to escape their circumstances: 

One 23-year-long study of Baltimore school children found that, as they grew up, the children born into low-income families generally stayed in the same socioeconomic bracket as their parents.

The nation’s top hospitals do invest in these communities; Hopkins, for example, offers intern training programs and free health education among its community investments. Not-for-profit hospitals are encouraged to publicize these initiatives, so their tax exemptions are not lost.
“It is essential that hospitals voluntarily, publicly and proactively report to their communities on the full value of benefits they provide,” the American Hospital Association instructed its members in 2006, after a series of regulators and Congress began reviewing hospitals’ tax-exempt status. The ACA further codified requirements that tax-exempt hospitals must report on their community benefit activities.

But based on their own self-reports, these hospitals clearly could be doing more.  (Maine Writer- I submit the hospitals would do more if they could be assured about a stable reimbursement system exempt from the political whims of a government that's always looking for ways to cut taxes rather than invest in people!)

A POLITICO review of community benefit activities reported by these top hospitals found that the organizations counted activities like sponsoring races and hosting lectures toward their community benefit spending. 

Many of the dollars that hospitals report as “community benefit” are more accurately an accounting trick — the shortfall that hospitals incur when Medicare or Medicaid reimburses the hospital at less than the organization’s price. (Maine Writer- this is legitimate when those programs won't fully fund the cost of care!)
Idelson of National Nurses United says this squares with his own organization’s reviews, which illustrate that hospitals approach these investments as “big businesses,” and community benefit programs are too often “their marketing schemes.”

“Hospital staff are going to a marathon and handing out water bottles, and the hospital is calling it a community benefit,” he added. “To us, a community benefit is something that actually improves the health of a community.”

That’s one reason why civic leaders in Baltimore and beyond say they want to see hospitals spend even more on what’s increasingly known as “population health,” or addressing the social needs of residents so they don’t need to visit the hospital in the first place. But there’s no formal requirement to do so. And because hospitals are such deep-pocketed, long-lasting institutions, they can wait out many would-be reformers.

For example, in 2013, the majority of the Cleveland Clinic's community benefit was made up of the hospital's Medicaid shortfall – the gap between Medicaid payments and the Clinic’s self-determined costs for those procedures – and education costs mostly associated with training residents, fellows and other clinical staff.

Other categories, like financial assistance and outreach programs, have a more direct impact on the local community but made up a minority of the Cleveland Clinic's community benefit.

In 2015, as Obamacare’s coverage expansion took full effect, these more locally beneficial categories shrunk further as the hospital wrote off additional Medicaid-related costs and spent more on educating their own staff. (Maine Writer- Investment in staff development improves quality care!)

Financial assistance dropped more than any other category, falling from $169 million to $69 million, as the uninsured rate plunged.
A bizarre contrast

It’s set up a bizarre contrast. Many U.S. cities boast hospitals that are among the best in the world, but the communities around those hospitals might as well be the Third World.

Walk five minutes off the Hopkins campus in downtown Baltimore and you’ll arrive at the city’s Madison-East End neighborhood, where the poverty is both visible — cracked sidewalks, empty storefronts and more than three times as many vacant lots per house than in the rest of the city — but also silently killing residents. The death rate in the neighborhood is 30 percent greater than the rest of the city and mortality from cancer, stroke and heart disease is more than twice as high.

One striking figure: The life expectancy rate in Madison-East End is less than 69 years. That’s lower than the life expectancy in impoverished countries like Bangladesh, Turkmenistan and North Korea. It’s also subtly at odds with the message Hopkins sells to the rich patients it courts from around the world, encouraging them to come to a hospital that’s akin to a health mecca, even if it’s actually located in a rundown area.

“Poor communities around hospitals tend to lack simple conveniences, like grocery stores stocked with healthy, inexpensive food or even places to play or exercise outside safely,” says Elizabeth Bradley, president of Vassar College and co-author of “The American Health Care Paradox,” which offers reams of research on how living in such neighborhoods leads to worse health and social instability. “The paradox is that we focus on and invest in areas like hospital care when social determinants matter so much more,” she says.

And for many residents, a vicious cycle begins when they’re young, as Bradley and others have chronicled; many of these neighborhoods have high crime rates, and exposure to violence increases violent behavior among children. 

Additonally, it's hard for them to escape their circumstances: One 23-year-long study of Baltimore schoolchildren found that, as they grew up, the children born into low-income families generally stayed in the same socioeconomic bracket as their parents.

The nation’s top hospitals do invest in these communities; Hopkins, for example, offers intern training programs and free health education among its community investments. Not-for-profit hospitals are encouraged to publicize these initiatives, so their tax exemptions are not lost.

“It is essential that hospitals voluntarily, publicly and proactively report to their communities on the full value of benefits they provide,” the American Hospital Association instructed its members in 2006, after a series of regulators and Congress began reviewing hospitals’ tax-exempt status. The ACA further codified requirements that tax-exempt hospitals must report on their community benefit activities.

But based on their own self-reports, these hospitals clearly could be doing more. A POLITICO review of community benefit activities reported by these top hospitals found that the organizations counted activities like sponsoring races and hosting lectures toward their community benefit spending. Many of the dollars that hospitals report as “community benefit” are more accurately an accounting trick — the shortfall that hospitals incur when Medicare or Medicaid reimburses the hospital at less than the organization’s price.

Idelson of National Nurses United says this squares with his own organization’s reviews, which illustrate that hospitals approach these investments as “big businesses,” and community benefit programs are too often “their marketing schemes.”

“Hospital staff are going to a marathon and handing out water bottles, and the hospital is calling it a community benefit,” he added. “To us, a community benefit is something that actually improves the health of a community.”

That’s one reason why civic leaders in Baltimore and beyond say they want to see hospitals spend even more on what’s increasingly known as “population health,” or addressing the social needs of residents so they don’t need to visit the hospital in the first place. But there’s no formal requirement to do so. And because hospitals are such deep-pocketed, long-lasting institutions, they can wait out many would-be reformers.

“How do you [convince] an organization that’s existed for decades when you’re only there for a few years? It’s a challenge,” said Abdul El-Sayed, who served as Detroit’s health director from 2015 to 2017. He’s now running for Michigan governor. 

El-Sayed worked with hospitals to secure public investments like lead screening — a top-of-mind issue for residents in a city just miles away from Flint — but said he had problems winning further compromises.

Hospitals at war

The struggles of El-Sayed and other state and local leaders illustrate what most reformers already know: The best way to pressure hospitals to do more for their communities is at the federal level.

And the best opportunity came in 2009, while Congress was gearing up for what would become the Affordable Care Act. Already reeling from the recession, not-for-profit hospitals were loath to pay an additional $13 billion in taxes if their status changed.

But there were some strong arguments in favor of it, at least politically. Major teaching hospitals kept getting caught chasing dollars from patients who were too poor to pay, such as when The Wall Street Journal detailed how the prestigious Yale-New Haven Hospital was putting massive liens on poor patients and their families — including a 77-year-old dry cleaner slowly paying off the thousands of dollars in interest from his wife’s cancer treatment. She had died 20 years earlier.

Lawmakers led by Grassley, the powerful Iowa Republican, felt the best response would be for the federal government to tighten the loophole that let those high-profile hospitals — and nearly 3,000 others — essentially self-define whether they deserved to be tax-exempt.

So hospitals went to war.

The inside story of how hospital tax exemptions factored into the ACA negotiations was widely overlooked at the time and, until now, mostly untold.

But it begins with the 83-year-old Grassley, the senator who remains Congress’ most reliable investigator of charities and their uncharitable behaviors, more than a dozen current and former Senate staffers told POLITICO. And he might never have gotten involved if not for the American Red Cross — and the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

As The New York Times and others reported in 2002, the Red Cross received nearly a billion dollars in donations in the seven months after the attacks. But Red Cross executives decided against offering those contributions entirely as relief, electing to bank almost $400 million rather than spend it right away. That didn’t sit well with Grassley, then the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, who led an investigation into the group’s operations, accused its chief of trying to mislead Congress and ultimately pushed to restructure the Red Cross board through legislation.

(To this day, Senator Grassley is still skeptical of the Red Cross. In June 2016, he released a 309-page report concluding that the Red Cross mismanaged its Haiti relief effort, and in March he reintroduced  legislation to increase transparency.)  (Maine Writer- Senator Chuck Grassley has a point here about The Red Cross, but it has little, if anything, to do with hospitals.)

The hospital industry fought back. 

Major systems took out ad campaigns touting their charitable work. Hospitals quickly moved to voluntarily disclose their community benefit spending and began issuing new annual reports. 

The powerful American Hospital Association mobilized its lobbyists to try and win over congressmen. 

But Grassley kept up the pressure.

“Grassley would have senators coming up and saying, ‘why are you bothering the only hospital in my district?’” Pattara recalled. 

But the Iowa senator wouldn’t back down, having memorized reams of statistics — like executives’ million-dollar salaries — as a counter argument. “Grassley would say, ‘do you know what they’re paying their CEO?’ and the congressmen would be taken aback,” Pattara added. “I loved Grassley for that.”

Grassley’s inquiries and mounting public scrutiny invited more investigations. A Joint Committee on Taxation report, requested by then-House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, concluded that the hospital industry in 2002 got $12.6 billion in tax savings, as it not only escaped income, sales, and property taxes but also used tax-exempt debt to finance major projects. The financial benefits for those hospitals were actually even larger; for instance, the figure didn’t include the billions of dollars in tax-free donations that hospitals also received every year.

By 2007, Grassley was openly floating the idea that hospitals must provide at least 5 percent of their revenue in exchange for tax exemption. But aides say this was mostly a negotiating ploy to scare the industry rather than fight for explicit requirements on hospitals to provide charity care or be taxed.

Grassley pushed for reporting requirements instead. The IRS ended up redrawing its Form 990, the document that charitable organizations must submit annually, and adding a new section — Schedule H — that specifically required hospitals to detail their community benefit activities.

Grassley had a few reasons for avoiding more punitive measures on hospitals. One was that he didn’t want to be a Republican who was linked to imposing new taxes, aides say, but rather viewed as a legislator who shined a light on dark sectors. Another was that the committee was mostly relying on anecdotes and its own limited investigation into the $1 trillion industry.

“Ideally, you legislate from facts and data,” says Pattara, who returned to the IRS to work on the new Schedule H addition. “And there wasn’t enough data yet” to call for new legislation to reshape the hospital industry.

Digging in for a battle

Hospitals had escaped the biggest threat: New federal regulations. But they were still worried about a series of local challenges, pushed by state attorney generals after regulators in Illinois in 2003 stripped a pair of hospitals of their property-tax exemptions.

The Cleveland Clinic got caught up in one of those fights after it tried to get exemptions for a pair of satellite offices and local regulators said the buildings weren’t providing necessary charity care. The battle dragged on for more than a decade before Ohio’s Republican tax chief in 2012 reversed the previous Democratic administration’s denial of the property-tax breaks.
For opportunistic state leaders, not-for-profit hospitals represented a chance to make a major statement — and recoup some tax dollars as state revenue was declining. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan pushed a bill in 2006 that would have required hospitals to spend 8 percent of their operating budget on charity care. Attorneys general in Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio and other states also began probing hospitals’ spending and pushing for tougher definitions of community benefit standards.

Hospitals dug in, with the American Hospital Association providing air cover and refining the industry’s messaging. Ads began blanketing state capitols, singing the praises of local teaching hospitals. Health care leaders started to aggressively release reports, touting their spending on community benefits. National organizations emerged to offer crisis communications on how not-for-profits could preserve their status.

In Illinois, the Madigan bill was defeated, as hospitals repeatedly steered lawmakers away from imposing new legislative requirements on their charity care; instead, the state ended up simply convening commissions and offering recommendations. It was a case study in how to derail legislation. The industry “has tremendous clout in [state capital] Springfield and has been able to water down any charity care proposals as to make them meaningless,” James Unland, a hospital consultant, said at the time. A subsequent 2012 law that exempted Illinois hospitals from property taxes if they met certain charitable standards has been tied up in litigation for years.

The regional battles also put not-for-profit hospitals on high alert: If they weren’t careful and proactive, their decades-old property tax breaks could disappear if a local board or school district decided to move against them.

Reason to be confident

Back in Washington, in late 2008, Democrats had claimed control of Congress and were readying their health care bill. 

They were also eyeing how best to negotiate with the health care industry, which had fiercely resisted the Clinton-era health reforms and ultimately helped kill them. 

This time, Baucus’ team reasoned, they needed to get all the major trade groups to the table — and keep them there.

“We had done this whole analysis of every single sector going into ACA,” said a former Senate aide who helped craft the bill. “What do they have to win? What do they have to lose? What are they most afraid of?”

For hospitals, losing tax-exempt status was on their list of potential pain points, and that gave Democrats a bargaining chip with the influential industry. “As long as they were winning on parts, you could press on the losses,” the aide said.

It also gave Democrats a carrot to try and win over Grassley, as Baucus sought Republican votes in hopes of making his committee’s health care legislation into a bipartisan bill.

Baucus had reason to be confident that his longtime collaborator would support a major health care push. In a plan that hasn’t previously been reported, the two men came close to going to the McCain and Obama campaigns in late 2008 in an attempt to secure a commitment — from whoever was president — to work on health reform in 2009. The idea harkened back to 2001, when Baucus crossed the aisle to work on tax reform with Grassley after the previous year’s controversial presidential election.

Unfortunately, the two senators ultimately didn’t make their joint pitch to the McCain and Obama camps. 

“We just couldn’t pull the trigger,” said Sullivan, Baucus’ key aide. 

But, it laid the groundwork for the negotiations to come. 

“Baucus was convinced that Grassley would be willing to join him on health care legislation,” Sullivan added.

Before the ACA, “we weren’t even contemplating enacting anything around tax-exempt hospitals,” said Pattara, who had rejoined the Finance Committee as Republicans’ tax counsel in 2008.

In early 2009, Democrats’ tactics seemed to be working, as hospitals engaged in negotiations and Grassley expressed support for a health reform compromise. A May 2009 policy paper on proposals to fund the expansion of health coverage — co-authored by Baucus and Grassley — floated a requirement that hospitals “provide a minimum annual level of charitable patient care.”

Early drafts of the ACA legislation specifically included new restrictions on whether hospitals could qualify as tax exempt, as a give to Grassley. But it wasn’t a high priority for Baucus and other Democrats.
“The things that the Democrats were focused on were mostly about [insurance] coverage and subsidies,” a former aide said. “Everybody had a pet project in there — and they paid attention to their pet project.”

On the other side of the table, there was a schism between the hospital lobbyists. The Catholic Health Association, which was working with the Obama administration on the reform bill, explicitly defined community benefit as services rendered. 

But, at the same time, the American Hospital Association, which was more combative in its negotiations around the bill, took a harder stance on tax exemptions: It wanted a more expansive definition of community benefit that included patients’ bad debt and even Medicare- and Medicaid-related underpayments. (Maine Writer continues to support this point of view, because the government has refused - led by the Republicans- to fully fund the cost of the care hospitals provide to Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries.)

Meanwhile, the Federation of American Hospitals — the for-profit lobbying group — had produced evidence that its members, which paid taxes, provided just as much charity care as their not-for-profit peers. (Although this might be true, their for-profit tradition has been to minimize charity care by not accepting patients who can't pay, by referring them to non-profit hospitals.)


The industry’s inability to align its message hampered its own negotiating position. But, lobbyists for the Catholic Health Association and the American Hospital Association agreed: They couldn’t sign off on any measure that revoked the exemption. 

It was too valuable. Large health systems were getting tens of millions of dollars in annual benefits from their tax exemptions.

So they hammered out a compromise: Hospitals would need to conduct a community health needs assessment every three years and report their findings to the IRS. The findings would need to incorporate broad feedback from the hospitals’ constituents, be publicized “widely” and lead to changes as necessary. The assessments would help the IRS determine whether tax exemptions were warranted — and if hospitals didn’t comply, they’d have to pay a $50,000 excise tax. The bill also formalized a series of changes to hospital policies, like requiring them to publicize their financial assistance rules.

All things considered, the proposal had relatively little bite, and the rest of the inducements offered by negotiators — like the health law’s planned coverage expansion — were quite generous to the industry. The hospitals publicly threw their support behind the ACA in July 2009.

“Their best play [was] watering it down as much as possible and kicking it to Treasury to make it difficult to implement,” a former aide said, referencing the new community-needs reviews.

Hospital lobbyists agree: Their strategy was delaying and focusing on bigger-ticket items, like near-term changes to Medicare payments. “We knew we couldn’t fight the idea of more transparency,” said one lobbyist who’s still employed by the industry. “We picked our battles and hoped Grassley wouldn’t make too much noise.”

But, Grassley had his own troubles. Besieged by protesters at town halls and attacked by tea party activists in August, the Iowa senator ultimately signaled he couldn’t support the ACA legislation. The hospital industry stayed mum as Grassley dropped out.

“Once Grassley was not part of it, they didn’t come back to us and say, OK, now that he’s not on board, we want to take this out,” a former Democratic aide said.

Hospital lobbyists say that was a deliberate decision. “The previous years had made clear, this was a losing issue for us,” said a lobbyist. “The less we talked about tax exemptions, the better.”

Sullivan, Baucus’ key aide, helped track the provision and made sure it remained in the final bill.

Once again, the hospital industry had dodged a major challenge to its tax exemptions — perhaps the most significant in 40 years.

Who should be a nonprofit?

Rolling out the new charity assessments and vetting hospitals fell to the IRS, which spent several years working on the new 501(r) tax section and the ACA’s other tax provisions — the most significant changes to the tax code since Congress’ 1986 tax reform bill.

But the charity reviews forced the IRS into an unusual position, former staffers who worked on implementing the ACA told POLITICO: The agency didn’t really have the experience or expertise to determine whether hospitals should be not-for-profit.

“Using the IRS as an instrument to achieve these important goals … was not the best fit,” said Jason Levitis, who led the Treasury Department’s implementation of the Obamacare regulations. “Why is the IRS the one we want to be [investigating] hospitals’ business about how they’re serving poor people?”

The IRS has largely shied away from battles over revoking tax-exempt status, whether for hospitals or any other organizations. The agency’s most high-profile fight was a two-decade battle over the tax-exempt status of the Scientology organization — which ended after the IRS was overwhelmed with lawsuits and ultimately granted Scientology’s request to be considered as a church.

“It’s not a fight that the IRS wants to have,” said one current staffer, referring to the often politically charged process of removing a group’s tax-exempt status.




Instead, Levitis and others suggest that the administration’s health care agencies should have played a central role in determining if hospitals should be tax exempt. “Think about institutional competence,” Levitis said. “If you were going to choose a government entity … to be policing tax-exempt status, is the IRS [really] the agency with institutional competence — or is there a better option?”

Meanwhile, ACA standards aren’t specific enough to give any agency clear guidance on when to remove tax-exempt status, critics complain.

Community-health-needs assessments are easy to game, experts familiar with the reviews told POLITICO. One consultant told POLITICO about getting a call from executives who were desperate and needed help before submitting their hospital’s assessment; the consultant ended up dictating stock language over the phone, having never even visited the hospital or its community. “They’re a joke,” the consultant said of the ACA standards, arguing that the reviews are mostly a public-relations exercise.

Not a single hospital has lost its tax-exemption because of the new measures in the ACA.

Nonetheless, hospitals have had difficulty complying even with the law’s relatively light requirements. As of an IRS review last year, one-third of surveyed hospitals had been referred for further compliance checks.

The IRS has had its own problems, failing to promptly file required annual reports to Congress about what it’s learned about hospitals’ compliance. That’s been a source of frustration to Grassley, who despite not voting for the ACA, has pestered the agency to fulfill its responsibilities under the law.

It’s also vexed Democrats. “The problem is that the executive branch, first under President Obama and now under President Trump, has not followed through and done its job under the law,” Sullivan said.
A forgotten fight

It’s not clear who, if anyone, will carry the torch for new regulations or even prod the IRS to put more teeth into its oversight. Grassley has moved on to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee, where his jurisdiction is less focused on hospital issues than it was when he led the Finance Committee. Several of his former staffers now work either directly for hospitals or on behalf of them.

One former Grassley aide points out that since the Trump White House is pushing the idea of major tax reforms, there’s an opportunity to review how hospitals’ tax exemptions are treated. But the Republican Party historically has been hesitant to move against hospitals, and the issue of hospitals’ tax-exempt status isn’t on the table in the negotiations to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Meanwhile, many struggling communities are facing a difficult dilemma: If they pressure hospitals to do more for the families and children who live near them, they risk alienating the one local business that’s growing.

For many poorer cities, hospitals have emerged as anchor institutions while sectors like manufacturing die off. 

The seven top hospitals reviewed by POLITICO employ about 150,000 people on their main campuses. About 35,000 people work for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, alone — equivalent to about 30 percent of the city’s entire population.

Pressured by city officials, some tax-exempt hospitals have hammered out voluntary contributions, known as payments-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOTs, to help offset the cost of city services like police and fire protection. But those payments are usually a small fraction of the actual cost of those services, while the value of hospitals’ tax exemptions continues to rise.

Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital would have owed more than $55 million last year if it was taxable. Instead, the city requested that the hospital pay less than $7 million through its PILOT program.

National Nurses United has repeatedly pushed legislation that would require hospitals to spend a percentage of their revenue on charity care — a proposal that hospital executives have fought. The bill was closest to breaking through in California, although it’s been met again and again by aggressive lobbying. 

The legislation “imposes vague and unrealistic standards on nonprofit hospitals,” Martin Gallegos of the California Hospital Association — and a former California assemblyman — warned his former colleagues in the Legislature in 2013.

Top hospitals hope to gain political advantage by strategically maintaining ties with prestigious civic leaders. 

Hopkins’ board is packed with influential and well-known sons and daughters of Baltimore. The vice chairman was a top CIA official and the CEO of Baltimore-based Alex. Brown & Sons, the nation’s oldest investment banking firm.

Of course, it’s not popular to take on hospitals, which have reputations as lifesavers, and lawmakers haven’t shown interest in a sustained political fight. Luke Ravenstahl, then-mayor of Pittsburgh, launched a lawsuit against UPMC in 2013, seeking tens of millions of dollars that he said the city was losing in taxes. UPMC countersued, and Ravenstahl’s successor dropped the fight in 2014, saying that he wanted to negotiate PILOTs “in good faith” with UPMC and other not-for-profits. Three years later, those negotiations continue without a deal.

But to truly bend health care’s cost curve, policymakers need to get hospitals to do more for their needy neighbors while reining in runaway costs, said Anderson, the Johns Hopkins University economist. 

For all of the attention on the pharmaceutical sector’s bad actors and practices, just 10 percent of health care spending is on prescription drugs. Instead, more than 30 percent of health care spending goes toward hospitals — amounting to more than $1 trillion per year.

Taxes are one way of capturing those dollars and channeling them into necessary investments. And as long as the Affordable Care Act stays — and even if it goes away — tax-exempt hospitals have a duty to use all of the extra dollars to do more for their communities, advocates and analysts say.

“Tax-exempt hospitals could absolutely be doing more, given what they’re saving,” said Lauren Taylor, a co-author of “The American Health Care Paradox.” “I see a real opportunity for forward-thinking hospitals to make investments in local communities that do two things at once. Smartly invested dollars could both [protect] tax exemptions — and reduce financial risk by improving the community’s health.”

Reporting for this story was supported by a grant from the Commonwealth Fund through the Association of Health Care Journalists.

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France: "son et lumiere" c'est magnifique!

Why 'son et lumiere' shows light up French summer nights

"Light is exciting to the eye,” Pelz says. 

By Sara Miller Llana- Christian Science Monitor

JULY 17, 2017 AMIENS, FRANCE—I was feeling slightly wistful about our family missing the Fourth of July in the US – until the following weekend when we found ourselves in front of the cathedral of Amiens at nightfall, watching its facade splashed in color, the light show giving the sense that the Gothic cathedral, unmoved since the 13th century, was dancing before us.

Forget fireworks, we had son et lumiere. (video link)

While the French are old hands at the artform, I had the feeling we were experiencing the show “Chroma” the way spectators did in 1952, when Paul Robert-Houdin officially introduced them to a brand new genre. The architect and curator, fittingly also the grandson of a famous French magician, projected special lights, set to accompanied sound, onto the facade of the Chateau de Chambord, a Renaissance castle in the Loire Valley, playing with spectators’ sense of place and emotion.

The late French public official Jacques Rigaud was sent to Chambord to observe those rehearsals and premiere, and recalled beholding his first son et lumiere with a sense of “wonder.” “We had the feeling that a new way of discovering and understanding monumental heritage was perhaps being born,” he wrote in Le Figaro in 2002, in a commemorative piece marking the 50th anniversary of the form, noting that large numbers came to witness the show through the end of that summer of 1952.

In fact, 65 years later, visitors continue to flock to son et lumiere: to watch light shows, often set to historical narratives, projected onto gothic abbeys or baroque monuments, from its birthplace in the Loire Valley, to France at large, and today around the world.

Fireworks have their place in France too, especially during the country's annual independence day fête. 

Last weekend's Bastille Day, which President Trump attended, looked in many ways like the Fourth of July, save for the Eiffel Tower in the background of the grand feu d’artifice display in Paris. 

But, son et lumiere is, I dare say, that much more mesmerizing.

The art form has evolved over time with technology, with 3D projection mapping and changing cultural sensibilities. Marc Vidal, director of Spectre Lab, which created the Amiens show running through the end of the summer, says that “Chroma” was meant as a new experience for Amiens. The city has put on a light show for over a decade and a half, but the new version was meant to be something less historical, and overall more fun – which explains the punchy music and bursting colors – without forgetting the point of the show.

"It’s not the effects for the sake of effects,” he says. “The animations highlight the building, the architecture ... the pure history of the cathedral.” The final 30 minutes of Chroma are particularly moving, as lighting paints in the ornate sculptures that adorn the cathedral's principal facade, allowing visitors to experience it in polychrome the way it would have looked in the Middle Ages.

Mr. Vidal says the birth of son et lumiere likely owes to the tradition of grand fêtes tracing back to King Louis XIV at Versailles, France’s pioneering in cinema and projection, and its abundance of historic monuments.

Yet it is but a subset of light used as art that’s taken off around the world, including in the US.

Bettina Pelz, a German curator who wrote a chapter on art in the new book “Light beyond 2015,” after the UNESCO International Year of Light, says that light-related projects in the public space have grown in the past 15 years. While usually lumped together, they vary widely in their aesthetics and technical capabilities – not to mention in the visions of curators or local officials and institutions.

Europe remains the heartland of the art

Light shows, like the famous Festival of Lights in Lyon, have inspired many others. 

Such shows are common in northern Europe as the winter solstice nears. Many Asian projects today link with European initiatives, says Ms. Pelz.

"Light is exciting to the eye,” Pelz says. “We can detect the changes caused by light but light itself remains invisible. This interplay of visible-invisible is quite stimulating.... Light-based works play with the appearance and disappearance of space, with the change of position and perspective, as well with the performative qualities of color and shape. They stage the inextricable link between the image and its perception. Instead of observing an artwork, the viewer is experiencing it. Viewing and imaging become entangled processes.”


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Monday, July 17, 2017

Echo New Mexico- Rio Grande Sun: Trumpcare hurts New Mexico

Trump's Healthcare Plan No Help to New Mexico- by Lois Rudnick 


SANTE FE, NM- This is how the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and the Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, will adversely impact New Mexicans:

• The average monthly premium for insurance will increase to $619 in 2018;

• 136,800 New Mexicans will lose total health insurance coverage;


• 108,000 New Mexicans will lose Medicaid coverage;

• 15,000 New Mexicans will lose Employer-Sponsored coverage;

• 13,800 New Mexicans will lose Individual Market coverage.

Lois Rudnick  Santa Fe NM

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How many lawyers does it take to defend the White House?

There's a fountain of cash flowing out the White House because practically all the staff are paying retainer fees to a gaggle of lawyers.  How many lawyers does it take to create a hostile and paranoid work environment?  I can't imagine what it's like to work in a job where a lawyer is on retainer for nearly every employee. 
Notwithstanding, the stress caused by loss of revenue due to paying essential representation.

Working in the White House should be a prestigious job. Even the maintenance people enjoy a special resume notice for their service to America's first family.  Instead, with the Donald Trump administration, the jobs in today's White House seem to be like wearing a legal albatross.  I can only imagine the cynicism the current White House employees are facing.  In fact, it's possible they might erase this experience from their resumes.

Nevertheless, even with the high class legal cottage industry flowing in and retainer money seeping out, the low quality of representation doesn't seem to be worth the cost.  For example Jay Sekulow keeps reminding the litany of interviewers who he speaks with about how he represents "the president of the United States", like he needs to remember the name of his employer. Sekulow's marathon appearances on news shows hasn't done anything to improve Donald Trump's credibility.  

Moreover, in my opinion, Sekulow has diinished his integrity with motor mouth, and meaningless responses to questions about Donald Trump, and Russia lies and emails. 
Ty Cobb - a Gabby Hayes reenactor

Newly hired White House attorney Ty Cobb has a new job in the cottage industry. Too bad, he had to sink to this level for employment, because he could've easily kept his self worth protected as a Western stand in on a Gabby Hayes movie sequel.

Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of lawyers are needed to defend the White House, and the administration and staff,  Evidently, those involved in paying the extraordinary retainer fees must protect themselves from each other, as well as from potential crminal shadows caused by the illegal or perjurious activities of their bosses.  

How many lawyers does it take to defend the White House? As many as the staaff can afford. It's possible the lawyers themselves should hire a legal administrator to keep their stories straight and their clients organized.  

Remember that exciting playground the Obama family installed on the White House lawn so their children could play, while their father watched?  Let's make that the legal antechamber. 

In fact, it taks a lot of money to defend the White House, particularly when the boss, Donald Trump, doesn't know what he's doing.

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Indiana echo- Protect Obamacare prevention funding


"...progress, however, is at risk if Congress continues to move forward with legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and with it the Prevention and Public Health Fund. Repealing the prevention fund without providing a corresponding increase would result in a major loss of funding for core public health programs." 
Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber, MD Chief Physician Executive
Women's Center of Excellence, Eskenazi Health

Indianapolis-
Despite tremendous improvements in the 20th century, the U.S. is still far from being the healthiest nation. According to a recent Commonwealth Fund report, we spend far more on health care than any other high-income country, but our lives are shorter and less healthy.

We must treat those who are sick and injured. But to become a healthier nation, we must also invest in prevention and wellness to prevent people from becoming sick in the first place. The Prevention and Public Health Fund — a key part of the Affordable Care Act — supports programs doing just that.

Unfortunately, the Senate is soon expected to vote on the Better Care Reconciliation Act, legislation that would repeal major portions of the ACA including the Prevention and Public Health Fund. The Senate health care bill would result in 22 million people losing access to affordable health insurance coverage by 2026. The bill would provide smaller premium subsidies for health insurance plans with less generous benefits and would also likely result in higher deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs to consumers. The bill would allow states to opt-out of requiring health plans to cover 10 essential health benefits such as maternity care, mental health and substance abuse disorder services and prescription drug coverage. The bill would also allow insurers to charge older adults premiums five times higher than younger enrollees. The bill would phase out the ACA's Medicaid expansion, convert the Medicaid program to a per capita amount or block grant and lead to even deeper cuts in Medicaid funding starting in 2025, compared to the House-passed bill. Additionally, the bill would eliminate Medicaid reimbursements to Planned Parenthood for one year, and would subsequently lead to less access to care, more unintended births and increased spending for the Medicaid program.

The prevention fund — our nation’s largest single investment in prevention — has provided more than $6 billion since 2010 to support a variety of public health activities in every state. This includes initiatives that detect and respond to infectious disease threats, prevent lead poisoning, fight obesity, curb tobacco use and protect kids by ensuring proper immunization.

For instance, initiatives financed through the fund include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Tips from Former Smokers campaign, which has encouraged about 104,000 Americans to quit smoking for good and prevented over 17,000 premature deaths caused by tobacco use. And the Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant has helped states reach healthy milestones, including reducing prescription drug abuse in Arkansas, preventing long-term disability from stroke in Georgia, stopping a foodborne outbreak from spreading in Missouri and reducing teen drinking in Wisconsin.

Here in Indiana, critical CDC public health investments are at risk . The total amount to Indiana from these funds is $8,276,290! Over 192 jobs are funded; $603,430 supports vaccines for needy children and adults; $2,466,633 to the Department of Public Health for core state-identified needs; and $662, 817 in infectious disease prevention including health-care associated infections.

The fund is already having a profound impact on the physical and economic health of communities across the country, particularly those struggling with rising rates of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, by supporting programs that improve American diets, increase physical activity and reduce tobacco use. The fund is helping to create healthier communities, schools, workplaces and homes by making healthy living easier.

All of this progress, however, is at risk if Congress continues to move forward with legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and with it the Prevention and Public Health Fund. Repealing the prevention fund without providing a corresponding increase would result in a major loss of funding for core public health programs. The fund makes up more than 12 percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual budget and is integral to helping states keep communities healthy and safe. Eliminating the fund would make it extremely difficult for our local health departments to prevent disease and injuries.

The message to Sens. Todd Young and Joe Donnelly is clear: Maintain the funding made possible by the Prevention and Public Health Fund and build on the successes of the Affordable Care Act so we can make the U.S. the healthiest nation by investing in prevention and well-being and restraining the growth of health care costs as the ACA originally intended.

Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber, MD Chief Physician Executive
Women's Center of Excellence, Eskenazi Health

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Nevada "echo" encore - yet another letter for Senator Dean Heller

Letter to the editor in The Union- Nevada:  "I do not condone the violence that occurred on June 14 (when Congressman Scalise was the victim of gun violence, with others) and sincerely hope that there will be no more of it; but, it is crystal clear that at least half the country does not want what the Republicans and the administration are doing, to continue."

Surely, the staff people who work for Senator Dean Heller in Nevada and in Washington DC, are reading their state's newspaper's letters. For the benefit of those who search for topics like this in blogs, my post is part of an "echo" series. I randomly pick various newspapers from among the 50 US states and, invariably, find a letter or opinion to "echo". Like this one:


Mike Brazil: GOP agenda is putting lives at stake

Tragedy averted:

GRASS VALLEY, Nev.- On June 14, the first, and hopefully the last, citizen driven over the edge into insanity by the words and actions of the Republicans in Congress, and the traitors in the administration tried to kill some Republican congressmen, but he didn't succeed and was himself killed.

In the first half of 2017, Republicans in Congress and the administration passed a bill through the House to repeal the Affordable Care Act, replacing it with a Draconian bill that would take access to health care away from millions of American citizens and give the profits to wealthy individuals and corporations. The inevitable result of this is that millions of Americans will die prematurely, many of them suffering severe pain, and discomfort before and as they die.

In the first half of 2017, Republicans in Congress and the administration started dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency, eliminating or weakening many laws and regulations that were implemented to keep our air and water clean and to prevent damage to all the places and wildlife we love, many of which are lands we, the citizens of the U.S., own together. The inevitable result of this is that the air and waters will be fouled by industrial waste, and we'll all be ingesting poisons with every breath and every swallow. And since we won't have access to health care, as noted above, millions of Americans will die prematurely, many of them suffering severe pain and discomfort before and as they die.

In the first half of 2017, Republicans in Congress and the administration started implementing plans to sell (putting the money received into their own pockets) the public lands mentioned earlier (our public lands) to the extraction industries so they can all gain more and more wealth at the cost of destroying all the most beautiful and unique places in our country, further polluting the air and water in the process, with results as described above.

And the list goes on and on and on …

Now, all we hear from these politicians and their puppets in the media is calls for unity — not because everything we love and hold dear is being destroyed or stolen from us by Republicans in the Congress and the traitors in the administration, but because one of their Republican colleagues, a co-conspirator so to speak, was attacked. They say that an attack on one of them was an attack on all of them. That is only accurate if by "all" they actually mean all the Republican criminals and traitors who have illegally seized control of our government, conspiring with the government of a hostile foreign power, Russia.

I have no sympathy for them and reject their call for unity, and I hope you do to. Only when all of the members of our government are themselves unified and working together for the actual good of the country and all of its citizens will I feel it is safe to join in their call for unity.

Until then, they have a tremendous amount of work to do to correct the results of their disgraceful actions of this and recent years and to continue to prove by their accomplishments that their only responsibility is to their constituents — not just the ones that voted for them, but all the people who live in their districts and states. Only then will they deserve a citizenry united behind them.

While I do not condone the violence that occurred on June 14, and sincerely hope that there will be no more of it, it is crystal clear that at least half the country does not want what the Republicans and the administration are doing to continue.

And half the country does want our "representatives" in the federal government to represent us, not themselves, not Russia, and not big, soul-less corporations, and to do their jobs solely for the good of the country and the good of all its citizens — not just the 1 percent.  Mike Brazil lives in Grass Valley.

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