Jason Lewis is the outgoing, Minnesota Congressman who on Veterans Day blamed a recently deceased prisoner of war for costing him reelection and Republicans the House majority in the 2018 Midterm Elections. In his defense, Lewis had no control over the publication date of his op-ed after he submitted it to The Wall Street Journal. Lewis did, however, blame the late Republican Arizona Senator and Vietnam POW John McCain for his election loss and the losses of his fellow House Republicans. It just happened to be published on Veterans Day, which has been the focus of just about everyone on social media.

Most of the media, however, has resisted mentioning the date of publication, but haven’t bothered to check if there’s some truth to Lewis’s claim. McCain couldn’t possibly be entirely responsible for Republicans losing 39 House seats. No single moment, however momentous, decides an election let alone 39 elections. There are a myriad of reasons why people vote the way they do. Money is just one reason.

The biggest spender in House elections won just 89.8 percent of the 2018 House races—down from 95.4 percent in 2016. But the biggest reason House Republicans lost so much in the 2018 Midterm Elections might very well have been because of their support for the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and the failure of Senate Republicans to pass the legislation because of John McCain.

In his ill-timed op-ed, Lewis alleges that the Arizona Republican Senator’s decisive vote against Congressional Republicans’ “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, "prompted a 'green wave' of liberal special-interest money, which was used to propagate false claims that the House plan 'gutted coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.’”

Lewis might be absent-minded at best, insensitive at least, and downright disrespectful at worst, but his claim is not entirely wrong. He and fellow Republicans were wrong, however, to assume McCain would vote along party lines when it came to healthcare, even when faced with an opportunity to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Republicans Should have Seen McCain’s “No” Vote Coming

Like most Republicans, McCain campaigned for reelection in 2016 promising his Arizona constituents to repeal and replace Obamacare. And like most Republicans in 2016, he won reelection. But McCain was never like most Republicans, especially when it came to healthcare.

Healthcare has long been a concern of McCain’s. He was an early co-sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. In 1998, he introduced a bill to regulate the tobacco industry and increase taxes on cigarettes that failed due to opposition from his fellow Republicans. And it took a lot of convincing stories of personal struggle, but in 2001 he joined a bipartisan effort to pass a patients’ bill of rights despite being concerned about the right it gave patients to sue health care companies.

McCain then shocked his fellow party members by running for President on a healthcare platform in 2008. While his opponent adopted a healthcare approach implemented by Republican Governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, McCain’s plan would have subjected health insurance premium contributions from employers to income tax. Tax credits would help taxpayers offset the costs of employer coverage or coverage purchased on the individual market, and any remaining funds could be deposited in a health savings account (HSA).

McCain also wanted to allow Americans to buy health insurance coverage across state lines, but he didn’t want government getting its hands on healthcare. He did, however, propose federal funding to help people who couldn’t get coverage through the individual market because of their health conditions, i.e. pre-existing conditions. So protecting affordable access to healthcare coverage for people with pre-existing conditions was important to McCain almost a decade before his decisive vote against the AHCA.

Yet Republicans and Democrats alike were shocked at McCain’s vote to kill his party’s baby that was going to show Republicans’ constituents they finally did what they had long promised: repeal and replace Obamacare. And that might have been enough to carry them to victory in 2018 because the adverse effects of their AHCA predicted by the Congressional Budget Office—including higher premiums resulting from 24 million more Americans going uninsured by 2026—wouldn’t take effect in time for American voters to reprimand them in the 2018 Midterm Elections.

The only problem with the Republicans’ plan was the free press, which informed constituents of the potentially devastating impact of the AHCA, especially for people suffering from pre-existing conditions. In turn, those constituents voiced their opposition to the bill and let their Congresspeople know how many votes they could expect to lose in their next election. Turns out once people got a taste of Obamacare and discovered it wasn’t just nasty, expensive health food but tasty, affordable health food, they started to like it. Why do you think Republican Congresspeople in 14 states continue to withhold Medicaid expansion from their constituents? They say they don’t want to take federal funding for healthcare out of principle, but what they really don’t want is their constituents discovering how much they could be saving on health insurance premiums.

McCain’s “Most Powerful Thumb in the Country”

On July 28, 2017, a week after learning of an “aggressive,” inoperable brain tumor, McCain, reminiscent of a Roman emperor deciding the fate of a wounded gladiator, killed Congressional Republicans’ last-ditch efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare with the "most powerful thumb in the country." It took two other votes from Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to kill the American Health Care Act. Any one of the three voting “yes” would have resulted in a tie broken by Vice President Mike Pence.

Andy Slavitt, a former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Barack Obama, called McCain’s “no” vote on the AHCA a “watershed moment in health-care policy” in an interview with the Arizona Republic. But it was also a watershed moment in political policy, too. It was both a reprimand of the Republican Party by a most-respected Republican, and a reminder that people, regardless of political affiliation, are going to do what they think is right. More so than anything, regardless of pre-existing conditions protections, McCain didn’t care for the Congressional Republicans’ process (or lack thereof) to repeal and replace Obamacare. Not allowing the legislation to go through committee and instead forcing it through Congress rubbed the old school Republican the wrong way.

Republican Representative Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress and still the only woman elected to Congress from Montana, broke with her party and all of Congress when she voted against declaring war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. She was joined by a bipartisan group of 49 House members and six Senators voting against war with Germany 24 years earlier. McCain’s “most powerful thumb in the country” moment was reminiscent of Rankin and is McCain’s most legendary moment. It's for what he'll be most remembered.

There’s no denying McCain’s momentous “no” vote motivated an already energized Democratic Party. Whether it resulted in a “green wave” of donations from those with liberal special interests is debatable. Democratic House candidates received 50 percent more in campaign contributions than Republican House candidates in 2018, but that was paced by individual donations, not special interests represented by Political Action Committees (PACs). Democrats raised twice as much from individuals as Republicans to make up for a $46-million deficit in PAC contributions.

Whether McCain’s momentous vote was responsible for specific donations is impossible to determine, but Democrats did receive 54.7 percent of the $226,586,167 health-related campaign contributions, which was fifth most amongst business sectors in contributions made to 2018 campaigns. That’s actually down from health sector spending on the 2016 election, which saw health as the sixth-highest sector represented by campaign contributions, but nearly 60 percent more than what the health sector spent on the 2014 Midterm Elections.

So McCain’s vote against the AHCA might have been responsible for increased election spending on Democrats from the health sector, but it was absolutely responsible for robbing House Republicans of the ability to run for reelection advertising the fulfillment of their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. That alone could have been enough to sway the 2018 House Midterm Elections toward Democrats, if they weren’t already swinging that way.

Almost five months before Democrats flipped their first Congressional seat—getting an upset win from Doug Jones over Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s special election for Senator on Dec. 12, 2017—McCain gave Democrats their first ray of hope since being robbed of the White House by Russian election meddlers assisted, perhaps, by Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign. Whether Trump acted as an accomplice in the confirmed election interference by the Russians could be revealed by Special Investigator Robert Mueller any day now that Trump has reportedly responded in writing to Mueller’s questions.

Both Trump and Pence failed to convince McCain to support the AHCA, with Trump even assuring McCain the bill wouldn’t become law. Trump wasn’t likely considering a “no” vote from another Republican Senator, although that might be exactly what he wanted McCain to think. It’s more likely Trump was told a key provision of the bill would be found unconstitutional.

In his op-ed, Lewis alleges Democrats’ claims that the AHCA “gutted coverage for people with pre-existing conditions” were false. But like Lewis’s op-ed rejecting responsibility for his and House Republicans’ election losses, Democrats’ claims weren’t entirely false. PolitiFact awarded “Half True” ratings to ads and statements from Democrats on healthcare in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Florida, Virginia and California. Why?

The MacArthur-Meadows Amendment

The MacArthur-Meadows Amendment to the AHCA was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on April 13, 2017. It was meant to coerce the votes House Republicans needed from the Rightest-leaning, three-dozen-or-so members of the House Freedom Caucus in order to pass the AHCA legislation onto the Senate. The amendment introduced by Republicans Tom MacArthur, a former insurance executive and now outgoing member of Congress, and recently reelected Mark Meadows of North Carolina, chair of the House Freedom Caucus, would have effectively gutted coverage for some people with pre-existing conditions.

People suffering from pre-existing conditions who didn’t maintain continuous health insurance coverage for all but 63 days of the prior 12 months would be forced to pay health insurance premiums based on their medical history, which would no doubt be higher than premiums currently available to them. While not every person with a pre-existing condition would be directly affected, nearly a third of people with pre-existing conditions experience a gap in coverage over a two-year period due to job changes, other life transitions, or periods of financial difficulty, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Since price most dictates what Americans’ healthcare coverage actually covers, Republicans effectively “gutted coverage for people with pre-existing conditions” by allowing health insurance companies to pick and choose what healthcare services are covered and at what price for people with pre-existing conditions failing to maintain continuous coverage. That’s why PolitiFact awarded “Half True” ratings to all those ads run by or for Democrats.

So while Lewis isn’t entirely wrong about increased campaign contributions being made to Democratic House candidates in 2018, he is wrong in calling it “liberal special-interest money,” as individual donations were the source of Democrats’ “green wave” of contributions, not PACs representing special interests. Whether that increase in Democratic contributions was a result of McCain’s vote against the AHCA is debatable and impossible to determine. And while Lewis claims that money was used to “propagate false claims that the House plan 'gutted coverage for people with pre-existing conditions,’” those claims made by and in behalf of Democrats were at least partially true, making Lewis mostly wrong, but not entirely wrong.

"Disapprove of the president's style if you like, but don't sacrifice sound policy to pettiness," Lewis wrote to close his op-ed, which would have been fitting had the AHCA actually been sound policy. The MacArthur-Meadows Amendment sacrificed any semblance of soundness the AHCA had, so if Lewis wants to blame someone for Republicans losing the House, he might start with the members of the House Freedom Caucus instead of attacking a dead POW of the Vietnam War who can’t defend himself.


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Published in Politics

There is new hope that states with adult-use and medical marijuana laws on the books and states considering legalization or decriminalization will finally be able to stop worrying about the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) commandeering their police officers and sheriff’s deputies to enforce federal marijuana prohibition. A bipartisan group of United States’ Senators and Representatives introduced the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Entrusting States (STATES) Act on Thursday. It’s intent is to allow states to determine what marijuana laws are right for them.

Diff’rent Strokes for Diff’rent Folks

Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado and Democrat Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts introduced the bill in the Senate. Republican David Joyce of Ohio and Democrat Earl Blumenauer of Oregon are co-sponsors of the bill they introduced in the House of Representatives. Upon introduction of the bill, its creators emphasized that their legislation would not make marijuana legal throughout the country – as if the name of the bill and its acronym weren’t revealing enough.

The bill’s bipartisan group of writers wants everyone to know the STATES Act is a states’ rights bill and not a legalize marijuana bill for obvious reasons – the biggest being that legislation ending federal marijuana prohibition would never pass Congress let alone get the support of Donald Trump, who said he’ll “probably” back the bill. But any legislation even misrepresented as a marijuana legalization bill would do lasting damage to the cannabis movement that has seen economies, government budgets, infrastructure and education improve while crime, opioid overdoses, suicides and healthcare costs decrease in states with adult-use or medical marijuana laws.

STATES Act’s States’ Rights Focus Leaves Conservatives Little Wiggle Room

With the STATES Act, it will be nigh impossible for Conservatives to justify their opposition of the bill by calling it an endorsement of drug use. Politicians representing states that border states with adult-use or medical marijuana laws could claim the bill would only stretch their law enforcement and judicial budgets even thinner, but they couldn’t misrepresent the legislation to their constituents as an attempt to legalize marijuana. They could even request additional federal funding to address the increased law enforcement and judicial workload they anticipate, but they couldn’t vote “no” with the excuse of “I’m not about to legalize marijuana.” I mean, they could say that in their defense, but not without subjecting themselves to ridicule.

STATES Act’s States’ Rights Focus Appeals to Public Majority

Another reason the bipartisan crafters of the STATES Act are making cannabis a states’ rights issue is because it appeals to a majority of the public. A Gallup poll conducted in June 2016 found that 55 percent of Americans prefer government power to be concentrated at the state level instead of the federal level, and Republicans are are four times as likely to support state power.

Giving more power to the states appeals to Republicans, Libertarians and even some Democrats. Hell, I’m a Socialist, and I support small government because I know Socialism, like all forms of governing, works most effectively and efficiently in people’s behalf when the number of people it governs is small and when that population is concentrated in a governable geographic area. Why? The answer was provided by the late Alan Thicke back in 1978: “Now, the world don't move to the beat of just one drum. What might be right for you, may not be right for some.”

Those are, of course, the opening lyrics to the “Diff’rent Strokes” theme song, and a more true statement could not be uttered let alone sung. The United States is a vast country that spans the spectrum of both geography and demography, which makes it difficult to govern. Americans experience such differing circumstances that what might be right for you, may not be right for some. Hell, in my home state of Montana you can drive eight hours and never leave the state, but the geography and the people change immensely. What works in the West probably won’t work in the East and vice versa. Marijuana legalization might be right for Californians, but it may not be right for Nebraskans. The STATES Act would allow states to choose what cannabis laws work best for their residents.

STATES Act Not the First, Hopefully the Last of its Kind

This isn’t the first time a bipartisan bill has been introduced to strengthen states’ rights to adopt and enforce marijuana laws as they see fit. I was on Capitol Hill as a student lobbyist for Students for Sensible Drug Policy five years ago when H.R. 1523, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013, was before the 113th Congress. It too sought to allow states to decide the legality of adult-use and medical marijuana by altering the Controlled Substances Act to exclude persons acting in compliance with state marijuana laws.

We felt way back then that this would be our path to ending federal marijuana prohibition, and while we weren’t going to get federal legalization, it was a compromise we were willing to make to appeal to Conservatives and get the legislation passed. I left the reception held after our lobby day filled with hope after hearing Democratic Congressman from Colorado Jared Polis and famed Conservative Grover Norquist agreeing that cannabis was an issue for states to decide by and for their respective residents.

According to Congress.gov, that bill is still before Congress, lost and forgotten by the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations since April 30, 2013. It has 28 cosponsors in the House, six of which are Republicans. The House version of the STATES Act already has 14 cosponsors in the House plus the two Representatives who assisted in drafting the bill. Eight are Republicans, so the new bipartisan bill is already appealing to more Conservatives than H.R. 1523.

STATES Act Lets States Decide Cannabis Laws Right for Them

This bipartisan group has high hopes for the STATES Act given what’s occurred since H.R. 1523 was introduced. The STATES Act does what H.R. 1523 would have. It amends the Controlled Substances Act to exclude persons acting in compliance with state and tribal marijuana laws. But it doesn’t eliminate all federal oversight. Distribution of cannabis at transportation facilities and rest stops would remain federally illegal and enforced. The STATES Act does a lot more than allow states to determine their own marijuana laws, though. It also addresses some of the issues that have resulted from states legalizing adult-use or medical marijuana, which should appeal to both sides of the aisle.

STATES Act Legalizes Hemp

Back in 2011, I wrote that cannabis would be America’s best cash crop ever – even bigger than tobacco. Marijuana consumption has already far surpassed my expectations upon its legalization for adult- and medical-use, but industrial hemp is what’s going to make cannabis America’s best cash crop ever. It grows like a weed if you’ll forgive the pun, and can be used for virtually anything. It’s a stronger fiber than cotton and can be used to make textiles that last longer so our clothes don’t fall apart in the wash. It will make stronger rope, hopefully saving mountain and rock climbers’ lives, and cowboys, cowgirls and sailors headaches. Hemp seeds are also rich in fatty acids, protein, fiber and other important nutrients. Hemp can even be used as fuel, which ExxonMobil will no doubt exploit given its investment into biofuels. All that algae research ended up being nothing more than a good PR campaign because hemp is a much less intensive biofuel to produce than algae. You can even build a house out of something called hempcrete, and cannabis can also relieve your pain without getting you high. That’s right, cannabidiol, better known as CBD, has been proven to have pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory, and anti-anxiety properties without the psychoactive effects of THC. So cannabis can clothe you, feed you, shelter you, transport you and your things, relieve your pain, and even save your life while creating jobs and improving our environment by oxygenating the air. Along with solar and wind energy industries, industrial hemp will be one of the biggest contributors to the health of America’s economy and environment for years to come.

STATES Act Makes Marijuana Transactions Federally Legal, Finally

The STATES Act would make cannabis transactions legal, allowing cannabis providers to take methods of payment besides cash and store that money in a bank. Cannabis providers have had a justifiable fear of depositing their profits in federal banks subject to federal law. The federal government could seize those assets like they seize vehicles used to traffic drugs. No criminal charges need to be brought against the cannabis providers for them to lose their money either, as asset forfeiture is a civil action, not criminal.

Since its legalization in Colorado, many cannabis providers have hired motorcycle couriers to pickup and deliver literal saddlebags of money to be deposited in a safe somewhere. One California dispensary owner reportedly delivers $40,000 in cash in the trunk of his car every month simply to pay his taxes. The STATES Act would make those trips a thing of the past and likely result in fewer instances of theft.

So is 2018 finally the year federal marijuana prohibition ends? Some people think so, but ultra-Conservatives could get in the way, just as they did on a cannabis bill for veterans just last week. The STATES Act probably won’t have many supporters from the religious right, which will be its biggest obstacle to overcome. But now more than ever before, Senators and Representatives on both sides of the aisle are going to be more willing to consider the end of federal marijuana prohibition given what we’ve all learned from the experimentation spearheaded by states. Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia could all adopt medical marijuana laws this year, and if that doesn’t surprise you consider where we were five years ago, when Maryland relaxing criminal penalties for seriously ill people using marijuana was considered a win for cannabis advocates.

Your Senators and Representatives are not experts on cannabis and need you to inform them on the issue, so here’s a guide on how to do so most effectively. You’ll want to appeal to the humanity in them. Politicians are not cold robots. When they hear a story about someone using cannabis to treat their chronic back pain that otherwise would keep them bedridden, they can probably relate to that. They especially want to know if cannabis helped you kick your opioid addiction. They have friends and family struggling with the same problems with which the rest of us struggle, so speak or write from the heart. The facts will only bore them to the point they tune you out.


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Published in U.S.

The most recent World Health Organization rankings of the world’s health systems has the United States at 37th -- seven spots behind its neighbor to the north, Canada, and 19 spots behind its American predecessor, the United Kingdom. That might not seem so bad on a list 190 nations long, but the United States ranks last in health care system performance among the 11 richest countries included in a study conducted by The Commonwealth Fund. In that study, “the U.S. ranks last in Access, Equity, and Health Care Outcomes, and next to last in Administrative Efficiency, as reported by patients and providers.”

Much of our inflated health insurance premiums in America comes from paying to create your bill. That’s right -- 25 percent of total U.S. hospital costs are administrative costs. The United States had the highest administrative costs of the eight countries studied by The Commonwealth Fund. Scotland and Canada had the lowest, and reducing U.S. per capita spending for hospital administration to Scottish or Canadian levels would have saved more than $150 billion in 2011.

Treating healthcare like any other marketplace requires careful, complicated codification of products sold and services rendered. People must be paid to determine how much your healthcare costs, and that can’t be changed, but it can be improved upon. Allowing insurance companies to profit from people’s health makes for a marketplace in which every cent of cost is counted and every penny of profit is protected. Profit motive always results in more scrutiny by the haves at the expense of the have-nots.

You might think that an industry that preys on the unhealthy and the healthy alike would prefer their consumers healthy as to enjoy the profits from your premium payments without paying for healthcare. But the cost of your health insurance premium already includes your health insurer’s profit margin. The health insurer is going to do all it can assure a certain amount a profit except for a catastrophic health emergency that consumes the country. But if the consuming population is unhealthy relative to other markets, the health insurer has good reason to inflate prices to cover its projected costs. That is indeed the case in the United States.

The United States is the 34th healthiest nation in the world, according to 24/7 Wall St. That’s not terrible, but not what you probably expect from a nation advertised by Americans as the greatest in the world. And you’re paying for it.

Not unlike a mortgage or auto insurance premium, the cost of your health insurance premium is an average based on the health insurer’s risk. That risk is the potential costs the health insurer could incur based on the perceived health of its insured consumers. I’ve written in the past how Republicans can’t repeal and replace Obamacare because their constituents, most of whom reside in the South, need Obamacare. Southerners are the least healthy Americans, with 20 percent reporting fair or poor health in 2014. The South also has the highest rates for diabetes, obesity and infant mortality in the nation. The South also accounts for nearly as many uninsured people as the rest of America combined, and 17 percent of the uninsured fall into the coverage gap for Medicaid expansion. Your health insurance premiums pay for their healthcare as well as your own, which is why, given the current for-profit health insurance marketplace, I would welcome a fat tax.

A fat tax is a tax on fat people. People who live unhealthy lifestyles should pay more for health insurance. As a healthy consumer of health insurance, I’d prefer to pay a lower premium given my dedication to maintaining good health at the expense of those who refuse to maintain good health. I might be fat shaming some people, but I don’t care. I shouldn’t have to pay for your diabetes because you can’t resist stuffing your face with Twinkies. Maintaining your health is your responsibility and no one else’s, and you should be punished for failing to maintain good health at the expense of your neighbors. But since something that could ever be referred to as a fat tax by the opposition would never pass Congress, a rewarding people with discounts for their healthy habits would be much more likely.

I foresee this program as mirroring the Progressive auto insurance Snapshot program -- “a program that personalizes your rate based on your ACTUAL driving.” Instead of plugging a device into your car, you’d use a Fitbit or similar health monitoring device with a heart rate monitor. Couple your daily monitoring of your exercise and diet with the results of regular checkups with your physician to confirm your healthy habits and you’ll be given a discount on your monthly health insurance premium as determined by your overall health.

Simply scheduling and completing regular checkups will help lower premium prices by catching things early and allowing for preventative medicine to work rather than resorting to more expensive reactionary measures. That could be the first discount bracket: schedule and complete a physical twice annually for two percent off your monthly premium. That way everyone at least has a chance to save some money. Those who fail to do so will pick up the tab.

The real discounts will be reserved for those consumers who regularly show signs of living a healthy lifestyle. People who don’t use tobacco products would receive a one-percent discount on their monthly premiums that the insurer will recoup from charging tobacco users with a one-percent premium penalty.

Non-drinkers would also receive a one-percent discount, as alcohol is a cancer-causing carcinogen and dangerous when consumed irresponsibly. Accessing a penalty for drinking, however, would be problematic, as social and occasional drinkers shouldn’t be penalized for enjoying alcohol responsibly. But say you get a ticket for driving while intoxicated -- that’s two percent tacked onto your health insurance premium for putting your own health and the health of your neighbors at risk. The same goes for possession of illegal drugs, except cannabis. No discount or penalty would be accessed for cannabis use since it is proven to kill cancer cells and be of medical value.

Even if you are a tobacco user and a heavy drinker or drug user, you too deserve opportunities to lower your health insurance premiums. So anyone who meets the Department of Health and Human Services recommendations for weekly exercise for a month gets a one-percent discount on their premium the following month. That’s just 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly. Add that to the two-percent discount for completing bi-annual physicals, and you could offset the penalties of driving under the influence and smoking.

Big money will be saved based on your body fat. If an adult male or female maintains an athletic body fat percentage (between five and 10 percent for males and between eight and 15 percent for females), they get an additional two-percent premium discount on top of the two percent for completing bi-annual physicals. That same two percent would have to be paid by someone, though, so it would fall on the obese.

Adult males with a body fat percentage over 24 and adult females with a body fat percentage over 37 would receive a two-percent premium penalty. If they make their two appointments for physicals annually, there wouldn’t be any change to their bill. The overweight, being males with body fat percentages between 21 and 24 and females with body fat percentages between 31 and 36, would receive a one-percent premium penalty.

Adult men with body fat percentages between 11 and 14 and women between 16 and 23 would get a one-percent discount for maintaining a “good” body fat percentage. Those men with body fat percentages between 15 and 20 and women with body fat percentages between 24 and 30 would pay no penalty nor receive a discount for maintaining “acceptable” body fat percentages.

These discounts and penalties would motivate consumers to improve their health in order to save money, in turn, lowering premiums for everyone by improving the overall health of all consumers in the marketplace. The higher the U.S. climbs out of that 34th spot in overall health, the less everyone pays in health insurance premiums.

I pay roughly $135 monthly in health insurance premiums for a high-deductible, Bronze package I found on MNSure -- Minnesota’s equivalent to the Obamacare marketplace. I maintain an athletic body fat percentage under 10 (two-percent discount). I exercise and regularly exceed the Department of Health and Human Services’ weekly recommendations (one-percent discount). I don’t smoke (one-percent discount), and I don’t drink (one-percent discount). I saw my doctor twice last year (two-percent discount). Add it all up and I’d save seven percent on my monthly health insurance premiums, or a measly $9.45 monthly. That’s over $113 annually, though, much of which would be recouped from the penalties assessed to the unhealthy. I could think of a lot of things on which I could spend that $113. It would be nice to be able to afford a steak once in a while.

While Medicare-for-All is picking up steam in Liberal circles, it’s still at least three years away from being seriously considered by Congress as a solution to ever-increasing healthcare costs. Meanwhile, here’s a solution that addresses two problems: ever-increasing healthcare costs and the declining health of Americans overall.


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Published in News & Information

Donald Trump’s executive order he declared killed Obamacare hasn’t actually changed any laws, but if Trump cuts subsidies paid to health insurance companies like he proposed, it would increase premiums for middle-class Americans and increase the federal deficit by $194 billion over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The $19.4 billion that would be added to the federal deficit annually on average is $12.4 billion more than the government is currently paying to subsidize health insurance discounts for low-income Americans. That $7 billion the federal government pays in annual subsidies to cover the discounts insurers are required to offer under the Affordable Care Act insures helps about 7 million Americans afford health insurance.

Since insurers are required to offer those discounts by law, that $7 billion in lost income (and any in lost premiums due to more Americans choosing to go uninsured) will fall on the backs of middle-class Americans who don’t receive insurance through their employers. Individuals making around $48,000 or a family of four earning almost $100,000 annually are expected to see their premiums increase 20 percent next year.

While Senators came to a bipartisan agreement to float Obamacare for the next two years, Trump said he opposes any measure that “bails out” health insurance companies. But if Trump is so concerned about the $7 billion paid annually to health insurance companies to make health insurance more affordable for low-income Americans, what about the $92 billion the government spends on corporate welfare, according to research by the Libertarian Cato Institute done in 2006? The federal government spends $6.18 billion more subsidizing Boeing aircraft production than it does to make health insurance more affordable to low-income Americans.

Trump's Obamacare Executive Order Explained

While Donald Trump’s executive order he claimed killed Obamacare hasn’t actually changed any laws, it could eventually allow associations to skirt state rules so employers can provide employees health insurance that covers next to nothing.

Under the new executive order, an association of businesses offering similar products or services could choose which state’s marketplace they want to use to provide health insurance to all the association’s employees -- regardless of location. The association could and likely would pick a state offering the cheapest option providing the fewest benefits for its employees, resulting in less money paid in premiums and, therefore, higher premiums for individuals and families who don’t get insurance through their employer.

These associations would be considered large employers, which aren’t subject to the same rules as individual or small group plans under the Affordable Care Act. They are not required to cover all the ACA’s essential health benefits nor are they required to offer insurance that covers a minimal percentage of their employees’ medical bills. This puts the bulk of the medical risk and expense burden on the employee instead of the insurance company while also lowering expenses for employers. This will also result in individuals and families picking up more of the tab when it comes to premiums paid.

The executive order also expands short-term insurance plans, which were designed for people temporarily out of work for a limited amount of time. Like insurance plans for large businesses, these insurance plans are not required to meet ACA regulations of providing essential health benefits, not charging sick people more than healthy people for health insurance or denying people insurance based on preexisting conditions or medical history.

The executive order will lift the burden of insurance premiums off the shoulders of businesses and onto the shoulders of individuals and families, which will result in more under- and uninsured Americans and higher premiums.

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Published in News & Information

Despite Donald Trump declaring Obamacare dead after signing an executive order on Thursday, United States Senators came to a bipartisan agreement on Tuesday to float Obamacare for the next two years. That doesn’t mean Obamacare is in the clear, but it is still the law of the land, and with open enrollment beginning on Nov. 1, it’s time you understood your healthcare options so you can make the right choice for you and your family.

First Thing’s First: Check if You’re Eligible for Medicaid

Medicaid expansion has been implemented in 32 states, and if you’re a citizen of Louisiana, your state expanded Medicaid in July of 2016, so check to see if you qualify. If you make less than $16,040 annually and are single, you do. Here’s the breakdown of the Federal Poverty Level for households of multiple people and here’s where you can find your state’s income requirements. Medicaid in any state will be considerably cheaper than a Bronze plan on the Obamacare marketplace.

Louisianans are already taking advantage of the Medicaid expansion, with enrollment in the program increasing 42 percent since Obamacare debuted in 2013. The state’s 21.7 percent uninsured rate in 2013 has fallen to 12.7 percent.

Weighing the Risk of Going Uninsured

Going uninsured only increases premiums for your family, friends and neighbors, and if you were to require medical care, you would incur considerable medical debt for which you could end up paying the rest of your life. A 2016 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found those who visit the hospital without insurance double their chance of declaring bankruptc within four years.

Even if your hospital visit doesn’t burden you with medical debt, any “uncompensated care” the hospital provides, it makes up by raising rates on medical care for everyone. So going uninsured raises medical costs for everyone and is not advised.

That said, if you haven’t been to the doctor in years, don’t do dangerous work or have dangerous hobbies and are healthy -- you can determine whether it would be cheaper to pay the penalty for going uninsured than it would be to pay a health insurance premium.

The penalty for going uninsured in 2017 is 2.5 percent of your income or $695 -- whichever is higher. So if you make less than $27,750 annually, you’d pay $695, which would likely be cheaper than any health insurance plan you could purchase on the Obamacare marketplace. In fact, if you make less than $45,000 annually, the penalty for going uninsured ($1,125) is likely less than your premiums would be for the year. Keep in mind that premium payments are only part of your potential healthcare costs, though. It only takes one accident or illness to make you regret going uninsured.

If You’re Healthy and Under 30 (or not), Get a Catastrophic Plan

Catastrophic health insurance plans cover the same essential health benefits marketplace plans cover, including preventative care and three primary care visits. They’re also cheap and protect you from both the penalty for going uninsured and the medical debt that could bankrupt you in the future. You might even qualify for a catastrophic plan if you’re over 30 years old.

If you have experienced any one of the hardships listed here in the past year, you could qualify for a catastrophic health insurance plan. Some examples would be death of a family member, increased expenses due to caring for a sick family member, or damage to property due to natural disaster. You might even qualify if you experienced a hardship applying for health insurance not listed on the website.

You could also be eligible for a catastrophic health plan if your employer doesn’t offer affordable health insurance and Obamacare is prohibitively expensive for you, or if your state didn’t expand Medicaid, for which you would qualify. Be sure to investigate your eligibility for a catastrophic health insurance plan thoroughly, especially if you live in one of the 18 states that didn’t expand Medicaid.

Finding the Best Health Insurance Plan for You and Your Family

If you and your family is healthy and has no history of medical problems, a Bronze health insurance plan is probably all you need. Bronze plans only cover up to 60 percent of medical costs, though. Silver health insurance plans cover up to 70 percent of expenses, Gold plans cover 80 percent and Platinum plans cover up to 90 percent of medical expenses.

Based on you and your family’s medical history and current health, you can determine which plan best fits into your budget while also covering your expected medical costs for the year. If you are injury-prone or have a history of visiting the hospital regularly, a Gold or Platinum plan might actually save you money in a bad year health-wise.

So there’s your checklist for understanding your options prior to Obamacare open enrollment starts on Nov. 1. Exhaust all of your healthcare options before giving up and taking the penalty, because you never know what could happen.

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: USA Prepares, Building America, Free Talk Live, The Easy Organic Gardener, American Survival Radio, Jim Brown’s Common Sense, Good Day Health, MindSet: Mental Health News and Information, Health Hunters, America’s Health Advocate, The Bright Side, The Dr. Daliah Show, Dr. Asa On Call, The Dr. Bob Martin Show, Dr. Coldwell Opinion Radio, The Dr. Katherine Albrecht Show

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Now that Republicans’ efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare are finally dead -- this time for good -- Congress can actually do what the American people want, which according to a poll, is improving Obamacare -- not repealing it.

The Congressional Budget Office released a preliminary report revealing that the Republicans’ last-ditch effort to repeal and replace Obamacare would result in millions of Americans losing health insurance. The result was Maine’s Republican Senator Susan Collins opposing the bill, which was a third vote Senate Republicans couldn’t afford to lose.

The now bipartisan effort to improve Obamacare, for which Republican Senator of Arizona John McCain has called, began with a health care debate broadcasted on CNN, Monday. It revealed opportunities for Congress to improve upon Obamacare -- if Republicans are willing to work with Democrats to pass legislation.

The four Senators participating in the debate were Democrat Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and the Republican writers of the latest effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. The debate remained cordial for the most part, with moments of consensus indicating a bipartisan bill is indeed possible.

Graham pointed out that since the passage of Obamacare, the money has continued to flow away from Americans to health insurance and pharmaceutical companies. He cited the profit increases of the major health insurance providers, with all six of the biggest seeing their stock hit all-time highs this summer. This was music to Sanders’s ears, who acknowledged his Medicare-for-All bill introduced in the Senate won’t pass and that a bipartisan effort to improve Obamacare should be the short-term focus of Congress.

Cassidy even seemed to agree that something needs to be done to reign in the prices Americans pay for prescription drugs. Since Congressional Republicans held the longest roll-call vote for the Medicare Modernization Act, or Medicare Part D law, back in 2003, the federal government has been barred from negotiating prices with pharmaceutical companies.

According to a 2016 Reuters report, prices for four of the nation's top 10 drugs increased more than 100 percent since 2011. The report also shows that sales for those 10 drugs went up 44 percent between 2011 and 2014, even though they were prescribed 22 percent less. Prescription drug expenditures account for 20 percent of healthcare costs. But when Sanders asked Cassidy if he would vote for a bill to reverse the Part D law, much like Klobuchar’s Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act, Cassidy instead called Sanders a Socialist who wants to commandeer the formulas for medicines to be produced by the State and disincentivize medical innovation.

A 2016 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that Cassidy is part of a very small minority on the subject, with 93 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of Republicans in favor of the government negotiating Part D prescription drug prices. The problem, though, is that Congressional incumbents rely on pharmaceutical companies to win elections, which will make both Republican and Democratic votes hard for Klobuchar to attain. Senators Richard Burr of North Carolina, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Roy Blunt of Missouri will likely join Cassidy as “no” votes on Klobuchar’s bill, given the donations their campaigns received from the prescription drug industry totalling $4.35 million between 2003 and the middle of last year.

Another obstacle for Klobuchar’s bill is the fact that this time last year, there were 894 pharmaceutical lobbyists to the 535 members of Congress, with more than 60 percent of them having previously served in Congress or worked other government jobs. It seems the prescription drug industry provides nice retirement work for former government officials, which incumbents won’t want to see go away.

So while CNN’s healthcare debate provided opportunities to improve Obamacare, Congressional corruption presents obstacles to overcome in order for Americans to see their healthcare costs decline.

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: America’s Healthcare Advocate, The Bright Side, The Dr. Daliah Show, Dr. Asa On Call, Dr. Coldwell Opinion Radio, Good Day Health, Health Hunters, Herb Talk, Free Talk Live

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The Senate Republicans’ Better Care Reconciliation Act takes federal money dedicated to America’s poor and gives it to the rich. While Obamacare raised taxes on high-income Americans to subsidize insurance for the poor, the Republicans intend to cut those taxes and reduce federal funding to insure low-income Americans.

So instead of insuring the most Americans and lowering the collective tax burden of uninsured hospital visits, the Republicans’ plan is to insure fewer Americans and increase that collective burden for which we all pay. Those visits by uninsured Americans cost $900 each.

Those likely to be hit hardest are those on Medicaid, which includes nearly 40 percent of all American children. The Republicans are proposing a maximum payment to states per enrollee, and while it’s set to increase annually, it will be at a lower rate than medical costs increase. So Medicaid enrollees will be forced to flip more of the bill or go uninsured. As time goes by, fewer and fewer Americans will be insured, and we’ll be right back in the mess Obamacare fixed.

I realize the Republicans are all about personal responsibility, but they have to realize that many Americans are not personally responsible. A 30-year-old, healthy American who doesn’t partake in dangerous activities (i.e. driving, which is the most dangerous activity) could likely go uninsured and not cost the American taxpayer a dime during the year. But those aren’t the people that caused the health insurance mess in the first place. Insurers have caused this mess, and the Republicans just want to keep paying them more.

The moment this idea for private health insurance came about the average American was screwed. Profiting from people’s health is not unlike the undertaker profiting from death. People will pay anything to live longer, and people will pay just about anything for someone to “make the arrangements” for loved ones who have died. “Just because we’re bereaved doesn’t make us saps!” says Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski. Well, people are saps when faced with death, which is exactly why private insurance is wrong on every level.

Faced with death, money's no object. It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, you’d give anything you had to live longer. Republicans realize this and intend to take everything you have so you have nothing to give when faced with death. It’s why they take affordable insurance plans and make them unaffordable behind the guise of “personal responsibility,” and it’s why they move federal dollars from benefiting those who need them most to people who don’t need them at all.

I am one of the 74 million Medicaid enrollees that only has insurance because of Obamacare and because my home state expanded Medicaid. I feel sorry for the states that have elected not to expand Medicaid. I pay $264 annually for health insurance. I have made two doctor’s visits in the last year. Before that I was uninsured and paid nothing. At least now I’m creating revenue and saving the American taxpayer money by not making hospital visits while uninsured.

I will lose insurance because of the Republicans’ bill and won’t feel guilty about costing the American taxpayer money if I’m forced to see a doctor while uninsured. Nobody should. This bill will be a disaster for America, and in five years or so, we’ll be attempting to fix the same problem Obamacare fixed. Hopefully, next time, a Medicaid-for-all plan will be the only one considered. Until then, low- and moderate-income Americans will either pay a higher percentage of their income to private insurance companies or go without, raising the tax burden for all Americans. How is this bill supposed to help everyone again? Oh, right. It’s not about everyone for the Republicans. It’s about them and their deep pockets, and the rich people like them.

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: USA Prepares, Building America, Free Talk Live, The Easy Organic Gardener, American Survival Radio, Jim Brown’s Common Sense, Good Day Health, MindSet: Mental Health News and Information, Health Hunters, America’s Health Advocate, The Bright Side, The Dr. Daliah Show, Dr. Asa On Call, The Dr. Bob Martin Show, Dr. Coldwell Opinion Radio, The Dr. Katherine Albrecht Show

 

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It’s no secret that Americans pay more for healthcare than anyone in the world, and it’s increasingly less of a secret that a better system would result in fewer infant deaths, fewer preventable deaths, fewer uninsured people, and less expense for Americans. What does that system look like, though? Well, it’s not privatized health insurance.

The problem with privatized health insurance is that it allows or forces people to go uninsured due to cost, which is why President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act is so important. It lowered the number of uninsured to an all-time low of 8.6 percent by forcing affordable coverage options upon them (if you live in a state that expanded Medicaid) or forcing them to pay a fine so the insured wouldn’t have to flip so much of the uninsured’s bill. And while healthcare costs are still increasing (they always will), they are increasing at a slower rate than they were prior to the ACA.

The biggest reason socialized healthcare is difficult for Republicans to stomach is because they don’t trust the federal government to handle healthcare. You hear them say that over and over, and that the states can do it better. I don’t disagree, but if India can provide free healthcare to roughly 276 million Indians living under the poverty line, the American government can certainly do it for 43.1 million impoverished Americans. States should not be allowed to opt out of this coverage. It should be mandatory because those with private insurance would be paying for fewer uninsured visits to the hospital, meaning hospitals wouldn’t have to increase costs for everyone because of the $900 each uninsured visitor costs them annually.

But socialized healthcare is not going to be passed by this Congress or any other unless the Democrats manage a supermajority at some point, and even then it’s no certainty given the bad, yet unwarranted, reputation the word “socialism” has in this country. (Hint: it’s not fascism.)

The House Republicans’ American Health Care Act won’t be passed by this Congress, either. At least not how it currently stands. But minimum wage legislation should appeal to constituents and politicians of both parties.

The biggest problem for Americans isn’t increasing health insurance premiums. The biggest problem is stagnant wages, which is why passing minimum wage legislation is so important. Back in February, the U.S. inflation rate was at its highest since 2012. An item that cost $20 back in 1997 would cost $30.38 today. That’s a cumulative rate of inflation of almost 52 percent in 20 years. Middle- and low-wage workers’ incomes grew just over five percent during the same period. When the value of the U.S. dollar decreases 10 times faster than incomes increase, people struggle to pay for everything. My father and an entire district of a machinists’ union didn’t get a raise for the eight years Ronald Reagan was President. Imagine working for the same wage for nearly a decade while the cumulative rate of inflation increased 36.4 percent over that time. By the end of the eight years your 1981 U.S. dollar was worth just 63.6 cents in 1989. The lack of union membership in America has a lot to do with the increased income for the top 10 percent of earners, too.

While the globalization of the economy makes executives more valuable, a lack of union membership and lack of collective bargaining allows executive salaries to inflate. And while the affordability of commonly used items like refrigerators, ovens, etc. has increased according to the CATO Institute, that doesn’t necessarily offset the ever-increasing cost of energy. Between 2005 and 2015, residential energy costs increased 34 percent despite prices of natural gas delivered to electric utilities declining nearly 60 percent and coal prices remaining essentially flat, according to the Institute for Energy Research. And we all know that gasoline is more expensive. Today’s average price for gasoline is 54 percent more than the inflation-adjusted price of 1998, when oil prices reached an all-time low of $18.13 per barrel.

Secondary education continues to be an increasing expense, which increased on average at a rate of nine percent at four-year colleges, 11 percent at two-year colleges and 13 percent at private colleges since 2011-12, according to CollegeBoard. “But you don’t need a college education,” you might say. Sure, you might not need it, but the value of of a secondary education was double that of an equal investment in the stock market back in 2011, according to the Brookings Institute, and USA Today reported that a New York Fed study determined the net present value of a college degree to be at an all-time high of $300,000 back in 2014.

Education isn’t the only thing that’s steadily increased in cost, either. The median cost of rent has increased 64 percent since 1960 and 12 percent from 2000 to 2010 despite median wages falling seven percent during that time, according to ApartmentList. The Consumer Price Index for food is also 2.4 percent higher than it was just a year ago, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

While Republican politicians have no interest in socialized healthcare legislation or minimum wage legislation, they should if their goals entail more American jobs and a flourishing American economy. Socialized healthcare legislation, like Rep. John Conyer’s Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, and minimum wage legislation, like Rep. Al Green’s Original Living Wage Act, would allow Republicans to create more jobs and allow Americans to further stimulate the economy with expendable income.

No Conservative who is struggling to pay for necessities can successfully argue that they don’t deserve a raise, and no Republican politician can successfully argue that his or her struggling constituents don’t deserve a raise and keep his or her job. This is something Congress can pass and something Donald Trump should be proud to sign. It would be quite the blow to his predecessor if Trump managed to increase wages for all American workers making minimum wage. It would certainly make the numbers look better if Trump and the Republicans are successful in passing their healthcare bill, as more Americans would be able to afford health insurance.

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: USA Prepares, Building America, Free Talk Live, The Easy Organic Gardener, American Survival Radio, Jim Brown’s Common Sense, Good Day Health, MindSet: Mental Health News and Information, Health Hunters, America’s Health Advocate, The Bright Side, The Dr. Daliah Show, Dr. Asa On Call, The Dr. Bob Martin Show, Dr. Coldwell Opinion Radio, The Dr. Katherine Albrecht Show, Drew Pearson Live, Drop Your Energy Bill

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