December 21, 2014

Texas Hispanic Elected Officials Rebuke Romney and Rubio

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Rebecca Acuña

Office: 512-478-9800; cell: 956-206-5853

Texas Hispanic Elected Officials Rebuke Romney and Rubio

Marco Rubio’s endorsement of Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential primary only further shows how out of touch the GOP is with Latinos.  Hispanic elected officials in Texas issued strong rebukes on the endorsement:

“This endorsement is a slap in the face to Latinos. By endorsing Romney, Rubio followed the lead of infamous xenophobes like Pete Wilson and Jan Brewer,” said State Rep. Roberto Alonzo (D-Dallas).

“Mitt Romney has shown he will say anything to get elected, no matter how much his positions harm Latinos. Mitt Romney has called Arizona’s draconian immigration law a model for the nation. If Romney were elected president, Latinos across the country could be exposed to these types of extreme laws,” said House Democratic Leader Jessica Farrar (D-Houston).

Romney’s threat to veto the DREAM act is disappointing. Rubio also proposed denying immigrant students the ability to earn citizenship through military service or a higher education. It’s sad that they would use kids as a political punching bag to earn points with rightwing extremists,” said State Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Alpine).

“Mitt Romney’s wrong if he thinks a Rubio endorsement is going to fix his troubles with Latinos. Mitt Romney is so extreme on immigration, he has already promised to veto the bipartisan Dream Act. Republicans have certainly alienated Latino voters by using extremely vitriolic rhetoric that invokes themes of terrorism and criminality,” said State Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas).

Supreme Court Is Deciding Fate of the ACA

Supreme Court Will Likely Decide the Fate of the ACA Today

After reading countless briefs, prior opinions from lower courts, and hearing three days of oral arguments, the nine Supreme Court Justices will sit down today and cast their preliminary votes for the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. While the next few months will consist of the Justices and their law clerks privately circulating briefs, eventually forming an official opinion to be released sometime this summer, it is very possible – indeed likely – that the decision made today will be the final one.
Many commentators, including me, have spoken much about the merits and constitutionality of the ACA, but there is something else that has largely gone unmentioned: this is perhaps our last chance at achieving a universal healthcare system that primarily depends on private health insurance. If the Court decides that the government cannot compel individuals to enter into the private health insurance market, then how else can universal coverage be achieved? The only other way to achieve universal care is to have a system based around a public plan such as Medicare, the constitutionality of which has already been well established.
This would be a shame. The reason I have always been a supporter of this healthcare reform effort is precisely because I believe in the ability of the free market to work for us. It would be quite ironic if the ACA, which depends on the private sector, is defeated by those who take every opportunity to protest government involvement in anything. Overturning this law could very well be the beginning of the end for a healthcare system based on the private sector, and I sincerely hope this does not happen.
Below are your regularly scheduled news clips.
New York Times
Once again America is having one of its "national conversations" on health care reform. This time the buzz is over arguments before the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of certain provisions in the Affordable Care Act. The justices’ rulings will be landmark decisions, because they will indirectly go much beyond the act itself to our entire system of governance.
New York Times
Given the stakes, one might have expected all the court’s members to be very careful in speaking about both health care realities and legal precedents. In reality, however, the second day of hearings suggested that the justices most hostile to the law don’t understand, or choose not to understand, how insurance works. And the third day was, in a way, even worse, as antireform justices appeared to embrace any argument, no matter how flimsy, that they could use to kill reform.
Los Angeles Times
On Friday morning they will meet in private to cast their votes. Their decision will be kept secret within the court and is not likely to be announced until late June. Then, the court will issue a lengthy opinion for the majority explaining its ruling, along with one or more strong dissents.
Wall Street Journal
If there was any doubt beforehand, three momentous days of argument this week established that the health-care ruling is sure to be a defining moment for the Supreme Court—and a crucible for Chief Justice John Roberts.
New York Times
The way to frame a Supreme Court argument meant to persuade Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is to talk about liberty. It is his touchstone and guiding principle, and his conception of liberty is likely to determine the future of President Obama’s health care law.
NPR
After this week’s oral arguments at the Supreme Court, lawmakers and health policy experts are starting to ponder what had — until recently — been unthinkable to many: What if the court strikes down the entire Affordable Care Act?
Washington Post
The House of Representatives on Thursday approved a $3.5 trillion budget plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on a 228 to 191 vote, largely along party lines. It was a dramatic departure from the night before, when lawmakers took up a plan based on the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction proposal.
The Hill
Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) slammed the Medicare cuts in House Republicans’ budget resolution Thursday, saying he couldn’t support the plan because it cut Medicare but still would not balance the budget.
Reuters
During three days of historic healthcare arguments at the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts presided with a steady calm and folksy charm. From his center seat on the nine-member bench, Roberts gently mediated as colleagues interrupted one another’s questions this week. He offered a break in arguments on Tuesday so spectators in the packed courtroom could briefly stand and stretch, and then at the end of that Day Two, warmly told lawyers, "Counsel, we’ll see you tomorrow."
Politico
This week at the Supreme Court showed that President Barack Obama’s health care law could face a real threat of being overturned — but so far, the states don’t show any signs that they’re going to change their implementation plans.
The red states that have been moving ahead — reluctantly — to build the new health insurance exchanges are still working on them. The red states that were holding off, waiting on a Supreme Court decision, are still doing that. And so far, the blue states don’t seem to have any second thoughts about moving full speed ahead.

This e-mail was not sent at state expense.

If Conservatives Kill the Affordable Care Act, They Own It

 

Courthouse
The Real Death Panel?

(Photo: Beach Peanuts)

While the Supreme Court continued hearing arguments on the Affordable Care Act this morning, Think Progress mapped out the disaster that will result if the conservatives get their way and the ACA is thrown out entirely. Given that the Court, in my opinion, is now a political and partisan one it was never intended to be, it isn’t hard to imagine that the conservative majority will do just that.

Recall the Florida 2000 election.

Recall Citizens United.

Recall the commingled special interests, lobbyists and conservative justices, including Clarence Thomas and his wife’s involvement with the cause of killing health care, among other conflicts.

Does anyone really think this will be any different? I don’t. I sincerely hope I’m wrong.

From Think Progress:

If they ultimately decide to throw out the entire law, however, the result will be bedlam. Much of the Affordable Care Act has already taken effect, and cannot simply be stopped on a dime tomorrow:

  • Stripping Young People of Care: At least 2.5 million young people now have insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. All of them would be cast back into the wilderness if the whole law were struck down
  • Blowing Up Medicare: Approximately 100 million Medicare claims are processed each month using a formula that was altered by the Affordable Care Act. If the entire law were struck down, new rates could not be calculated under the old, pre-ACA formula until after a rulemaking process that can take months before is completed. The result would be massive delays in payments to health providers throughout the country.
  • Pulling The Rug Out On Retirees: The Affordable Care Act also provides thousands of Americans the opportunity to retire early and still remain insured until they become eligible for Medicare. Striking down the entire law could yank insurance away from many near-elderly Americans who retired solely because of the promise that the Affordable Care Act would be there for them.
  • Ungrateful States: Many of the states that are currently challenging the law have nonetheless accepted millions of dollars worth of grants under the Affordable Care Act. If the law is struck down, it’s likely that this money would need to be returned immediately, further stressing already tight state budgets.

And then there’s the fact that people will die.

For all their scare tactics about "death panels," the true death panels; the Republicans, are now bare for all to see, and that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

If the ACA goes, the conservatives will own this nightmare.

Set it straight on faith, health reform

Posted: March 23, 2012 – 2:54pm

March 23, 2012 – 03:54pm

Moorhead: Set it straight on faith, health reform

AUSTIN — Turn on the evening news or open a daily paper anywhere in the nation, and you’ll quickly get the impression that the main health care issue all American religious groups care about is what happens to people before they are born.

But that impression would be misinformed. There are many religious faiths in America and they care variously about a host of different health-related issues, but the one issue they agree on across the theological spectrum is this: No child of God should want for health care because they can’t afford it.

That’s why more than 60 national, state and local religious organizations, including Texas Impact, have filed a friend of the court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Medicaid expansions in the Affordable Care Act, the national health care reform law. In expanding Medicaid, Congress finally has completed one of its most morally pressing unfinished projects: providing for the health care needs of low-income Americans.

Nowhere is the ACA’s Medicaid expansion more significant that right here in Texas. More than a million uninsured Texas adults are set to gain health insurance in 2014-2015 because of this expansion; that’s nearly a quarter of Texas’ uninsured.

Our faith traditions agree that we have a collective responsibility to meet the needs of the marginalized and disadvantaged. Acts on behalf of the needy and vulnerable, whether volunteered as individuals or commanded by society, formed the framework of the understanding of right and wrong in the history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Jesus equates faithfulness with feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming strangers, healing the sick, and visiting the imprisoned, when he says, “whatever you did for the least of these my brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:37-40). Similarly, Muslims, as one of their five obligations, are to give alms for the poor, the needy, the workers who collect them, and those burdened by unexpected expenses. (The Holy Quran 9:60).

These teachings regarding the moral imperative to aid the poor and the needy are addressed not only to individuals, but also to societies and governments—requiring not only individual charity, but also social justice. Addressing the failure of Israel’s government, the prophet Ezekiel (34:4) makes his accusation: “You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured.” The prophet Jeremiah (8:22) echoes that accusation with a question: “Why, then, has the health of my poor people not been restored?

As the debate over the Affordable Care Act has played out over the past several years, it has been popular to invoke President Harry Truman’s famous exhortation to Congress: “Millions of our citizens do not now have a full measure of opportunity to achieve and to enjoy good health. Millions do not now have protection or security against the economic effects of sickness. And the time has now arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity and to help them get that protection.” Health care advocates have pointed out grimly that Truman’s quote is as true today as it was in 1945.

Less often quoted has been Truman’s fundamentally faith-based framing of the issue: “We must remember that the test of our religious principles lies not just in what we say, not only in our prayers, not even in living blameless lives — but in what we do for others.”

It took nearly 70 years, but through the Affordable Care Act we finally will have the health care justice that Truman envisioned—and that our shared faith traditions call us to pursue.

Bee Moorhead is executive director of Texas Impact, an Austin-based faith-based organization.

White House to Honor Faithful Reform Leaders

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2800 Euclid Avenue #520
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White House to Honor Faithful Reform Leaders
Affordable Care Act Champions of Justice

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of Communications
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 20, 2012

White House Highlights Rev. Linda Hanna Walling as Affordable Care Act “Champion of Change”

Live webcast:  Wednesday, March 21 – 1:15pm ET – www.whitehouse.gov/live

Washington, DC – On Wednesday, March 21st, the White House will honor Rev. Linda Hanna Walling as one of ten Champions of Change who are dedicated to improving access to health care. These individuals are helping others in their community understand the impact and opportunities from the health care law, the Affordable Care Act.
“The President’s health law gives hard working, middle-class families the security they deserve.  The Affordable Care Act forces insurance companies to play by the rules, prohibiting them from dropping your coverage if you get sick, billing you into bankruptcy through annual or lifetime limits, and, soon, discriminating against anyone with a pre-existing condition,” said Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  “Thanks to the people attending today’s event, Americans across the country are learning more about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and getting the health care they need.” 
The Champions of Change program was created as a part of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative. Each week, a different sector is highlighted and groups of Champions, ranging from educators to entrepreneurs to community leaders, are recognized for the work they are doing to serve and strengthen their communities.
To learn more about our Champions go to www.whitehouse.gov/champions and to watch the event live, go to www.whitehouse.gov/live at 1:15pm ET on March 21st. 
Rev. Linda Hanna Walling is the Executive Director of Faithful Reform in Health Care, the largest interfaith coalition of national, state and local organizations and individuals working for a health care future that embraces an inclusive, accessible, affordable, and accountable system of health care in the United States.  She founded this coalition in early 2007 after serving for seven years as the Faith Project Director of the Universal Health Care Action Network (UHCAN).  She has co-authored several editions of “Seeking Justice in Health Care: A Guide of Advocates in Faith Communities,” and has written numerous articles, study resources, and tool kits for advocates. Most recently she coordinated the development of a U.S. Supreme Court amicus brief in support of the moral argument for Medicaid expansions in the Affordable Care Act.  Rev. Walling is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), in which she serves as a Senior Advisor in Health Care Reform for the Disciples Center for Public Witness. 
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Two others from Faithful Reform’s network of members and friends include:

Josephine Faith Underwood, who worked with Faithful Reform through the Illinois Campaign for Better Health Care and Progressive Action for the Common Good of the Quad-Cities in Iowa and Illinois.

Adam Searing, Director of the Health Access Coalition for the North Carolina Justice Center, and partner with many of Faithful Reform’s NC faith advocates.

For the full list of honorees visit the White House Champions of Change webpage.


Let’s celebrate 2 years of the Affordable Care Act!

U.S. Surgeon General to Speak on March 22 Conference Call


anniversary cake“Virtual” Anniversary Celebration via teleconference

Thursday, March 22 – 2:00 pm eastern

[Please note the change of date from March 21.]

Featured Guest Speaker:  U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin

RSVP (required)

People of faith will celebrate the 2nd Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act with a “virtual party” via teleconference.  The special guest speaker will be the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Regina Benjamin, who will remind callers about the new benefits in the Affordable Care Act.  Individuals will share their very personal stories about what health care reform has meant for them. 

Everyone is encouraged to gather with colleagues, friends, or family members around a speaker phone; share a piece of anniversary cake or other treat together; and celebrate the progress we’ve made in moving toward our faith-inspired vision for our health care future.  Photographs of these “parties” will be posted on Facebook to celebrate the March 23rd anniversary. Download flier about this anniversary celebration.

Sponsors:
Faithful Reform in Health Care
Washington Interreligious Staff Community Health Care Working Group
HHS Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Please share this information broadly by forwarding this email.

And share this info via Facebook.


Plus… Supreme Court Activities — Join Us!


u.s. supreme courtA Prayerful Witness on Health Care (at the Supreme Court)

Monday, March 26 – 11:00 am eastern – Washington, DC

RSVP (requested)

Nearly 1,000 people of faith will gather at the U.S. Supreme Court to pray for moral discernment that leads our nation to a more compassionate commitment to the common good.  With attentive concern for those who are most vulnerable, prayers will be offered for those who will benefit most from health care reform. Download flier about this and other Supreme Court activities.

>>> Live Tweet #Faith4Health <<<
>>> Webstreaming can be accessed at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/live-streaming-event <<<

Sponsors:
Washington Interreligious Staff Community Health Care Working Group
Faithful Reform in Health Care


telephoneInterfaith Prayer Vigil via Teleconference

Tuesday, March 27 – 12:00 noon eastern

RSVP (required)

People of faith across the country will gather for an Interfaith Prayer Vigil via Teleconference to continue to pray for moral discernment among the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court during the Affordable Care Act hearings.

Sponsors: Faithful Reform in Health Care; Washington Interreligious Staff Community Health Care Working Group


united methodist buildingHealth Care Justice Sabbath Observance

Wednesday, March 28 – 12:00 noon eastern – Washington, DC

RSVP (required)

A service of worship will be held in the newly-renovated Simpson Chapel of the United Methodist Building, across the street from the Supreme Court.  The service will be streamed via the internet, and prayers will be circulated via email for those who cannot attend in person.

Sponsors: United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society; the Washington Interreligious Staff Community Health Care Working Group; and Faithful Reform in Health Care


Press Conferences & Radio Row 

Monday – Wednesday, March 26-28 – Washington, DC

Press conferences and radio interviews will be conducted with faith leaders throughout the three days of the Supreme Court hearings.  If you have a compelling story to share about how health care reform has helped you, please let us know via return email.


Amicus Brief Filed in Support of Medicaid Expansions in the Affordable Care Act

An Amicus Brief (friend of the court statement) was submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the moral imperative for the Medicaid expansions in the Affordable Care Act.  The focus of the brief is to make the case that Medicaid expansions are not legal "coercion" as claimed by some states, but rather a moral imperative.

View the final version of the brief and the list of 60+ signers!

 
   

SUBSCRIBE if you received this email as a forward from a friend and want to receive information directly from Faithful Reform in Health Care.

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Education backlash could fuel turnover in the Legislature

 

Candidates who have served on school boards stand to benefit, but it won’t be easy.

Texas educators rally at the Capitol in 2006. That year, groups representing parents, teachers and others helped at least 10 candidates defeat incumbents or win open seats in the Legislature.

Kelly West/2006 AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Enlarge Photo

Texas educators rally at the Capitol in 2006. That year, groups representing parents, teachers and others helped at least 10 candidates defeat incumbents or win open seats in the Legislature.

ByJason Embry

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Updated: 11:40 p.m. Monday, March 19, 2012

Published: 8:57 p.m. Monday, March 19, 2012

More than a dozen Republicans and Democrats who have sat on school boards are running for the Texas House this year, and a backlash over spending cuts and standardized testing might help them get there.

Legislators sliced per-student spending last year, prompting schools to trim programs, increase class sizes and enact new fees. The publicity surrounding those cuts could persuade voters to change their representation in Austin, particularly if the alternative is a candidate seen as friendlier to public schools.

"We’re saying it’s time to bring in a significant number of new legislators," said Carolyn Boyle of Texas Parent Political Action Committee, which endorses and helps candidates who it deems pro-education.

Boyle said her group plans to back an equal number of Republican and Democratic candidates in legislative races this year. A similar strategy worked in 2006, when groups representing parents, teachers and others helped at least 10 candidates defeat incumbents or win open seats in the Legislature.

But finding such success again this year won’t be easy. For one, those who vocally support more money for schools risk turning off voters who are most concerned about government spending, particularly in Republican primaries. Plus, an unusually late primary date this year – May 29 – has introduced uncertainty about who the voters will be.

The state began 2011 about $27 billion short of the money needed to continue its programs and services. Republicans had just captured two-thirds of the seats in the Texas House and vowed not to raise taxes or tap the state’s rainy day fund over the next two years, prompting spending cuts across state government.

Legislators gave schools $4 billion less than they were owed under state law, and they also cut more than $1 billion for grant programs such as merit pay for teachers. According to the National Education Association, per-pupil funding in Texas is down about 6 percent (from $9,446 per pupil last year to $8,908 this year) and will decrease more when the school year begins this fall.

Classes are more crowded. The number of classrooms requesting exemptions from the state’s 22-to-1 limit in kindergarten through fourth grade has more than tripled. And school districts, limited in their ability to make up the difference with property-tax increases, have sought new ways to replace the money, such as charging students to ride the school bus. Meanwhile, hundreds of school districts are suing the state to force changes to the school finance system.

Despite the cutbacks, House Public Education Committee Chairman Rob Eissler, a Republican from The Woodlands, said education remains a high priority at the Capitol. He pointed out that the Legislature puts more money into education than any other area of the state budget.

"Putting more money into it doesn’t automatically make it better," said Eissler, whom education groups are unlikely to target for defeat this year. "We’ve never really tried to truly measure how effective our spending is in public education; we just put more money into it."

But many education advocates will argue this election season that the school cuts have made things worse. A group called Save Texas Schools, for example, has been holding workshops across the state to draw attention to the cuts and encourage parents and others to vote in the May primaries. The group will hold a rally from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Capitol.

Boyle’s group, Texas Parent PAC, has been screening candidates to support in this year’s elections, and it is likely to line up behind some of those who have been on school boards. The group, which is run by an all-volunteer board from across the state, sends money to candidates it supports and rallies volunteers on their behalf. Boyle says it has raised money from 1,100 contributors over the past six years, many of whom are parents who give small donations. But it also accepts large checks: H-E-B grocery chain CEO Charles Butt has given the group $1.1 million since 2006.

The group has not yet announced which candidates it will support. But Boyle said she is encouraged by what she sees, and she hopes that her group can help put 20 or 30 new allies in the Legislature, including some candidates with school board experience.

"I’m more positive than I’ve ever been because of the number of the candidates and the caliber of the candidates," Boyle said. But she added that the group won’t just support any candidate who has been on a school board.

"Parent PAC has learned to only support very viable candidates," she said.

There is a precedent here. A range of education groups that aren’t always on the same side – those representing teachers, school board members and administrators – put up a united front in 2005 against a number of changes to the education finance system pushed by Republicans in the Legislature. They argued that the proposals shortchanged schools in both the short and long term, creating an inadequate, inequitable system for funding education.

Those legislative proposals stalled in 2005, but the next year Parent PAC, teachers groups and others in the education community worked to oust a number of House incumbents whom they viewed as unfriendly to schools. Most importantly, they helped Diane Patrick of Arlington beat House Public Education Committee Chairman Kent Grusendorf in the Republican primary, while helping other Republican and Democratic candidates with school board experience win seats as well.

Boyle said this year’s crop of candidates with school board experience is the largest she has seen since 2006.

But this year, the education community does not appear to be as unified as it was then. A candidate who appeals to the leadership of Boyle’s PAC, for instance, may not appeal to a teachers group.

"In 2006, we had a number of former school board members who were recruited at a time when we felt like public education was under attack, and it really united all of the education groups," said Lindsay Gustafson, director of public affairs for the Texas Classroom Teachers Association.

But since then, Gustafson said, "We’ve found that a lot of the former school board members that we supported weren’t necessarily going to be supportive of us on issues that were divisive in the education community between administrator groups or the school boards and educator groups."

One of those divisions, for example, was over whether the state should loosen limits on class sizes in elementary schools. More broadly, some of the candidates who received help from Parent PAC and teachers groups in earlier races voted for the cuts in per-pupil spending.

"We’re going to have to be a little bit tougher when we’re vetting candidates," said Richard Kouri of the Texas State Teachers Association. "A lot of folks that we felt like we helped get there didn’t seem to know us in 2011."

While it remains to be seen whether the tea party will be as strong a force in 2012 as it was in 2010, candidates too critical of school cuts risk looking too eager to spend more money. That could backfire, particularly in a Republican primary.

"If folks think they can go out there and just say, `I’m going to spend more money in public education,’ well, what does that mean?" said Michael Quinn Sullivan of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, which advocates less government spending. "Where is the money going to come from? Where do you want to take it from? These are the kinds of questions they’re going to have to be ready to answer."

Republican Trent Ashby, president of the Lufkin school board, hopes to oust Rep. Marva Beck, R-Centerville, in the May primary, and he said the Legislature’s handling of education policy helped draw him into the race.

"I would say it was partially due to the cuts," Ashby said. "I’d say it was partially due to the fact that the Legislature was unable to work diligently on a broader school finance system. And I would say also, as a local elected official, that the increasing unfunded mandates from the Legislature that continue to be driven down to the local level also prompted me to enter the race."

Kouri, of the Texas State Teachers Association, said he senses an unusual intensity among voters who are interested in education issues. He pointed to a recent backlash over high-stakes testing: After parents and legislators expressed considerable concern, Education Commissioner Robert Scott delayed by one year a provision requiring a student’s performance on new end-of-course exams in high school to count toward 15 percent of that student’s final grade.

"All of that is encouraging at this point," Kouri said. "But we’ve still got 2 1/2 months to go to the primary, and we’re seven months from a general election. In politics, that can be a long time."

Contact Jason Embry at 445-3572

How the GOP’s war on tort reform has caused pain and suffering to victims and Democrats

The Washington Monthly, January/February 2007


By Kevin Drum


The personal is political. So let’s take a personal tour of the American legal system as it’s currently practiced in the great state of Texas, shall we?
Blocking the Courthouse Door - by Stephanie Mencimer; Free Press $26Victim #1 on our tour is Jordan Fogal, a middle-aged Republican homemaker who bought a home in Houston four years ago. On the day the Fogals moved in, Jordan’s husband pulled the bathtub plug after he had finished taking a bath and, as Jordan later recalled to Randall Patterson of Mother Jones, “all 100 gallons of that water came down through the dining room ceiling, into the light fixtures, down the columns, onto my dining room table and Oriental rugs. And I just started screaming.”
The Fogals’s builder fixed the drain, but more problems cropped up. And then more. An inspector found serious roofing problems, widespread moisture and rot, and encroaching mold. Jordan called and called but got nowhere. Their inspector estimated repairs at $199,000. The builder eventually offered $5,000. Later, Jordan discovered that other houses in the same neighborhood had reported similar problems, and that her house had displayed water and mold problems even before they had bought it.
So did the Fogals take their builder to court? No. Like many states, Texas requires dissatisfied homeowners to settle disputes out of court in binding arbitration. But that’s not all. The Texas legislature has also abolished “workmanlike construction” standards for homes, done away with punitive damages, and created a builder-controlled commission that determines whether you’re even allowed to file for arbitration in the first place. Of the few who get there, even fewer win in arbitration, and there is no appeal. Jordan Fogal was stuck.
Victim #2 is Alvin Berry. Like many Texans, he voted Yes on Proposition 12, a 2003 initiative that limited pain and suffering damages in medical malpractice suits. “I think there are too many frivolous lawsuits,” he told Texas Monthly reporter Mimi Swartz.
But then Berry suffered some malpractice of his own: a doctor who ignored a set of plainly dangerous lab results for months. When the doctor finally ordered a biopsy, he discovered that Berry had prostate cancer that had spread to his bones in 20 places. He gave Berry five years to live.
Subscribe Online & Save 33%Unlike Jordan Fogal, Berry had the right to go to court. In theory, anyway. In practice, as his lawyer explained to him, it’s now usually an exercise in futility. Because of the new damage caps, it’s not worth it for lawyers to take anything but the most slam-dunk cases. What’s more, even if you can find a lawyer to represent you, insurance companies have very little incentive to settle since their losses are limited by law. Thus, between court costs, attorneys’ fees, and other expenses, Berry would be lucky to recover $75,000. Maybe not even that much. Given that reality, was he really willing to sign up for two years of litigation? Most people aren’t.
Victim #3 is Juan Martinez, who was killed in 1999 when a reactor exploded at a Phillips Chemical Plant in Pasadena, Texas. Dozens of workers had been killed at the plant in the previous decades, along with hundreds injured, and when his widow’s case went to trial a year later, the evidence of negligence on the part of Phillips was clear and compelling.
Jurors in the case were appalled and socked Phillips with punitive damages equal to a month’s profit for the company—a pointed warning to clean up its operations. But Phillips never paid anywhere near that amount. Thanks to a tort-reform law championed by George W. Bush in 1995, state law reduced the punitive damages by 97 percent. With no prospect of ever losing a significant amount of money for worker injuries or deaths in Texas, a simple cost-benefit analysis suggests that Phillips has little incentive to change a thing. It’s cheaper to let people die than to upgrade their plant.

“Defunding the trial lawyers”
That last example comes from Stephanie Mencimer, author of “False Alarm,” an award-winning 2004 article for The Washington Monthly about the myth of America’s lawsuit crisis. Mencimer has now expanded that article into a book, Blocking the Courthouse Door, that documents the relentless campaign waged over the past two decades by conservative activists and their corporate allies to limit access to the civil court system. It joins Tom Baker’s excellent The Medical Malpractice Myth, published last year, on the (still) very short shelf of books finally fighting back against the tort-reform industry.
And an industry it is. Insurance companies have been dutifully warning the public since the 1950s that “you pay for liability and damage suit verdicts whether you are insured or not.” But for its first three decades, their lawyer-bashing campaigns were both sporadic and desultory, a subject of interest only to a few conservative wonks camped out in little-known D.C.-based think tanks. That all changed in the late 1980s and early 1990s when a succession of Republican partisans, including Dan Quayle, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, and Grover Norquist, finally realized just how powerful an issue tort reform could be.
Up until then, lawyer bashing had been mostly a pro forma applause line for Republican politicians: a reliable way to loosen the checkbooks of large corporations and generate cheers from local Chamber of Commerce audiences. But in the 1980s and 1990s, conservative activists began pursuing a series of strategies aimed not just at increasing Republican votes and campaign contributions, but also at reducing Democratic votes and campaign contributions—and doing so in a structural way that would permanently erode the Democratic Party’s ability to win elections. The result was an increased interest in gerrymandering, union busting, voter ID laws, and the K Street Project, a party-wide program aimed at persuading lobbying firms to stop hiring Democrats.
And, of course, tort reform. Tort reform was already a natural Republican Party issue thanks to its support in the business community, but it was Norquist, in his usual bald style, who pointed out in 1994 that there was more to it than just that: The big losers in tort reform are trial lawyers, and trial lawyers contribute a huge amount of money to the Democratic Party. “The political implications of defunding the trial lawyers would be staggering,” he wrote.
This observation explains a good deal about the conservative tort-reform crusade that’s otherwise inexplicable. Take damage caps. Republican politicians, George Bush chief among them, know that railing against frivolous lawsuits is a guaranteed crowd pleaser, and they frequently hold up caps on punitive damages as a way of reining them in. But this makes no sense. Almost by definition, frivolous suits are the ones that are either dismissed by judges or else settled for small amounts by insurance companies that decide they aren’t worth the hassle. These cases aren’t affected by damage caps at all. In fact, the only cases affected by damage caps are the ones that have been fully litigated and in which a jury has already found serious and substantial harm. In other words, they affect the least frivolous cases in the entire civil court system.
So why the focus on damage caps? Take a look through a political lens and the answer becomes clearer. The lawyers who pursue small lawsuits, frivolous or otherwise, run modest street-front businesses and make modest incomes. They aren’t the source of serious political campaign cash. That comes from big-time attorneys, the kind who litigate major cases worth millions of dollars. And in those cases, it’s often punitive damages and pain-and-suffering damages that make up the bulk of the recovery. These aren’t frivolous cases—far from it—but they’re the cases that generate millions of dollars in fees and millions of dollars in contributions to Democratic politicians. Since trial lawyers mostly work on contingency, capping damages caps their fees, and capping their fees is what Norquist meant by “defunding the trial lawyers.”
Blocking the Courthouse Door shines a bright and welcome light on this cynical strategy, in which populist rhetoric masks back-door political machinations that cause the greatest harm to the victims who have suffered the greatest injuries. But Mencimer goes well beyond this, taking on some of the most enduring myths of the tort-reform movement. Have Americans become more litigious in recent years? Not really. Are payouts getting bigger? Not on average—and judges reduce the excessive ones anyway (though newspapers rarely report this). Are doctors being driven out of business by medical malpractice suits? No. Do poor juries in “judicial hellholes” award outsized verdicts as a way of getting back at society? The evidence suggests otherwise, though that doesn’t stop the tort reformers from inventing new hellholes for credulous headline writers every time a jury returns a big verdict against a large corporation—regardless of whether the verdict was deserved or not.
And this, of course, gets to the heart of the tort-reform issue: Are corporations victims of the tort system, or do they richly deserve the big punitive judgments that occasionally come down the pike? Consider one of the cases Mencimer highlights, in which Bank of America illegally raided the accounts of elderly and disabled customers and continued to do so even though they knew perfectly well they were acting illegally. They figured they could get away with it because each individual amount was so small that no lawyer would find it worth their time to litigate it.
In Europe, which relies more heavily on regulation than the United States, it’s likely that a case like this never would have occurred. And if it had, the bank would have paid a fine, not a court judgment. But the United States, historically more suspicious of central regulation than most European countries, has generally chosen a different course, relying heavily on the civil court system to punish corporations for bad behavior. Seen in that light, did Bank of America really deserve the hundred-million dollar punitive judgment it was eventually ordered to pay in a class-action trial? Probably so. After all, if the courts hadn’t punished Bank of America for taking egregious advantage of elderly customers, who would have? And if no one had done it, what would keep them from doing it again?
The same kind of tradeoff between regulation and tort occurs in employment law, a frequent bête noir of small business owners, who sometimes feel like they’re at war with their own employees over charges of racism, sexism, harassment, or running a “hostile workplace.” But as labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan has pointed out, much of this is due to the decline of unions and union arbitration, which was fundamentally less adversarial than the court cases that are now the only avenue many workers have for working out grievances. Even the Manhattan Institute’s Walter Olson, a scourge of tort abuse, recognized this tradeoff in his 1997 book The Excuse Factory, and suggested that the business community may be paying an unexpected price for its decades-long war against unions.
But even though this tradeoff is inherent in the system, it’s nonetheless in everyone’s interest to make the tort system as fair and efficient as possible. The Republican Party gave away its lack of genuine concern with fairness and efficiency last year when it passed legislation to force most class-action suits into federal court—a move that makes a certain amount of sense since most class actions target large corporations and include plaintiffs from all over the country—but then deliberately declined to increase the resources of the federal civil system to deal with the increase in suits. Plainly, the goal was less an increase in efficiency than it was an effort to keep consumer class-action suits from being heard at all.
Unfortunately, Blocking the Courthouse Door doesn’t really address this efficiency issue either. Most countries, for example, have adopted a “loser pays” system that forces the loser in a civil case to pay the legal fees of the winner. Even many liberals support this as a common sense reform, but Mencimer dismisses it without much explanation and then goes on to dismiss even legitimate concern over frivolous lawsuits as merely “the price Americans pay for having a democratic legal system.” Her book would have been improved by a more serious acknowledgment of the drawbacks of the American tort system and at least a cursory review of reform proposals that genuinely make sense.
But that would have been a different book, and the book Mencimer wrote instead is one that’s been a long time coming. The shibboleths of the tort-reform industry have become so ingrained in American culture—“jackpot justice,” “judicial hellholes,” “greedy trial lawyers”—that most people accept them without much thought, unaware that they’re mostly myths invented by a very deliberate and very well-funded political campaign. Blocking the Courthouse Door is a welcome corrective.


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Kevin Drum, contributing writer for The Washington Monthly, edits Political Animal at washingtonmonthly.com

HHS Grants Temporary Extension of Women’s Health Program

HHS Grants Temporary Extension of Women’s Health Program

Yesterday, Cindy Mann, Director of the Center for Medicaid and State Operations, made the official announcement that the Texas application to renew the Women’s Health Program (WHP) had been denied. This is all because of a newly implemented rule that bars certain health providers from participating in the program and prevents women from being able to have a provider of choice. However, thanks to the leadership of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, her work in negotiating with HHS and CMS, and the partnership of federal and state lawmakers— a request to temporarily extend the WHP has been granted.
Monday, I participated in a roundtable hosted by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee to facilitate discussion between Texas providers, legislators, and HHS. As a result of that meeting, my colleagues Rep. Sylvester Turner, Rep. Carol Alvarado, and I sent a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and CMS Deputy Administrator Cindy Mann regarding alternative funding for the Women’s Health Program.
I appreciate the Obama administration’s response to my request for a continuance of the WHP by granting us time for a phase down period ( see letter dated March 1, 2012). For the next three months, Texas women will continue to receive crucial health services through the program with the possibility of an additional six month extension. During this time, my colleagues and I will continue working with HHS and CMS to find alternatives that keep the WHP operating in Texas.
Below is an article that further discusses this week’s events and the future of the WHP in Texas, followed by your weekly clips.
Houston Chronicle: Houston Democrats seek alternative funding for women’s program
By Todd Ackerman

Leading Houston Democrats in favor of a seemingly doomed health care program for low-income women are pushing to bypass the state to keep federal money flowing to Planned Parenthood.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Rep. Garnet Coleman said Monday they are negotiating with U.S. Health and Human Services in hopes of finding alternative funding for the program, which provides health screenings and contraceptive services to 130,000 Texas women on Medicaid.
"It would be a look-alike program but not be the same thing," said Coleman.
The Medicaid Women’s Health Program is due to end in Texas on March 31, the result of the state’s decision to exclude clinics affiliated with abortion providers, even those that do not provide abortions. Federal regulations say a state can’t exclude qualified providers from the program.
Coleman and Lee said the alternative might involve the federal government allocating money to local entities, such as counties, hospital districts or federally qualified health clinics. They noted that school districts have been allowed to apply for federal grants independently rather than through the state.
U.S. Rep. Gene Green said he will look at alternatives but acknowledged that "I doubt I could do much with this Congress." He said he’s hopeful things will be more favorable after the election.
Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast President Melaney Linton said it’s "too early to tell" what effect any negotiations would have on the organization’s centers, which serve almost half the Texas women who use the program. The state’s decision effectively bans Planned Parenthood from participating.
But in a change, Linton said Monday that Planned Parenthood will continue to accept patients through the program until the end of March, after which the state will begin enforcing the new rule. The previous plan was to stop program services Wednesday, the day the rule is enacted.
About 300 opponents of the decision to ban Planned Parenthood from the program rallied at the organization’s headquarters Monday, the next to last in a series of such events around the state. Linton said there that when it comes to women’s health, Gov. Rick Perry "consistently chooses politics over women."
Perry said Thursday the state will find the cash to continue the program without Planned Parenthood. In a letter, he directed Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs to work with legislative leaders to identify a funding source. Ninety percent of the program’s funding, about $30 million a year, comes from the federal government.
At a news conference earlier Monday, Lee, Coleman and others expressed skepticism the state will find the funding, given the cuts it made last year to women’s health care. They also said it is unlikely that other groups in the program have the capacity to pick up all of Planned Parenthood’s patients.
Coleman on Monday sent a letter, also signed by representatives Sylvester Turner, Carol Alvarado and Jessica Farrar, to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius requesting a meeting to discuss alternative funding to continue the services provided by the Medicaid Women’s Health Program in Texas program. Lee said she also plans to send a letter this week.
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast is being accused of submitting nearly $6 million in false Medicaid claims. In a whistle-blower lawsuit unsealed Friday in U.S. District Court, a former clinic director who became an anti-abortion activist says the organization took steps to cover up 87,000 reimbursement claims for services that were "false, fraudulent and/or ineligible."
A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast called the lawsuit "politically motivated" and "part of a coordinated effort to undermine Planned Parenthood."

Weekly Health Clips

Houston Chronicle:  Feds will phase out funds for Women’s Health Program
The federal government said Thursday it will phase out funding to Texas for a key women’s health program, calling a transition period necessary to ensure that low-income clients don’t abruptly lose access to screenings and contraceptives.
Austin-American Statesman:  Feds ask state to start winding down women’s program
The full phase-out of the Women’s Health Program could last until the end of 2012. The state has until April 16 to submit a phase-out plan to the federal government. Then, for three months, the state would identify other Medicaid programs that participants may be eligible for and start the process of notifying patients and referring them to other providers.
Washington Post:  CBO: Health reform to cut deficit by $50 billion more than we thought
The insurance coverage provisions of the ACA will have a net cost of just under $1.1 trillion over the 2012–2021 period—about $50 billion less than the agencies’ March 2011 estimate.
Kaiser Health News/NPR:  Mississippi Builds Insurance Exchange, Even As It Fights Health Law
Mississippi, a deeply red Southern state that is part of the Supreme Court case against the health law, is moving full speed ahead with one of the key provisions of that law: an online health insurance exchange.
Los Angeles Times:  New Rules Aim to Ease State-Run Health Insurance Exchanges
The rules issued Monday give states some flexibility in deciding how to run their exchanges, while also allowing states that are not ready by 2014 to get help opening their exchange a year later.

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130,000 Texas Women Lose Health Care Just So Tx Can Prove How Anti-Abortion It Is

 

The Obama administration notified Texas yesterday that it was officially stopping funds to the Texas Women’s Health Program because of the state’s decision to block abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, from participating in the program. About half of the participating clinics were cut off by the new state rule that went into effect this week, affecting 130,000 women in the health program:

Twenty-nine states participate in the Medicaid’s Women Health Program, which extends Medicaid coverage for reproductive health services to lower-income women who do not qualify for the rest of the entitlement program’s benefits. […]

“We very much regret the state’s decision to implement this rule, whichwill prevent women enrolled in the program from receiving services from the trusted health care providers they have chosen and relied on for their care,” Medicaid director Cindy Mann wrote in a Thursday letter to Texas officials.

While nine states have passed legislation to end abortion provider’s government funding, Texas is the first to lose federal dollars over it. Other states’ laws have only affected state spending, or have been held up by court challenges.

Federal law prevents states from banning specific providers from Medicaid programs, leading to the Women’s Health Program showdown. Mann said that while they try to give as much flexibility as possible, “on this case, federal law precludes us from doing so.”

Last year, the federal government gave $39 million for the program. The state pays $1 for every $9 Medicaid puts into the program, but Gov. Rick Perry (R) has insisted the state will fill the gap to keep the program going without including Planned Parenthood. Texas Democrats are seeking alternate federal funds to continue the program through a different route.

A poll earlier this month showed that a majority of Texans disagreed with the Republican push to cut off Women’s Health Program funds to clinics simply because they also provide abortions. Fifty-nine percent of voters opposed the new rule, while 38 percent agreed with it.

UPDATE: Perry reacted angrily to the news that federal officials were cutting off funds. He tweeted, “Obama Admin ends #WHP via media conference call; @GovernorPerry pledges state will keep pgm going” and “This is how Obama Admin works? Notifying press before the state administrators? Purely political. #WHP.”

By Amanda Peterson Beadle | Sourced from Think Progress

Posted at March 16, 2012, 11:05 am

Your Chance to Teleconference with the U.S. Surgeon General–Faithful Reform in Health Care

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eNews Flash!!!

U.S. Surgeon General to Speak on March 22 Conference Call


anniversary cake“Virtual” Anniversary Celebration via teleconference

Thursday, March 22 – 2:00 pm eastern – Teleconference

[Please note the change of date from March 21.]

Featured Guest Speaker:  U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin

RSVP (required)

People of faith will celebrate the 2nd Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act with a “virtual party” via teleconference.  The special guest speaker will be the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Regina Benjamin, who will remind callers about the new benefits in the Affordable Care Act.  Individuals will share their very personal stories about what health care reform has meant for them.  Everyone is encouraged to gather with colleagues, friends, or family members around a speaker phone; share a piece of anniversary cake or other treat together; and celebrate the progress we’ve made in moving toward our faith-inspired vision for our health care future.  Photographs of these “parties” will be posted on Facebook to celebrate the March 23rd anniversary. Download flier about this anniversary celebration.

Sponsors: Faithful Reform in Health Care; Washington Interreligious Staff Community Health Care Working Group; HHS Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships


Plus… Supreme Court Activities — Join Us!


u.s. supreme courtA Prayerful Witness on Health Care (at the Supreme Court)

Monday, March 26 – 11:00 am eastern – Washington, DC

RSVP (requested)

Nearly 1,000 people of faith will gather at the U.S. Supreme Court to pray for moral discernment that leads our nation to a more compassionate commitment to the common good.  With attentive concern for those who are most vulnerable, prayers will be offered for those who will benefit most from health care reform. Download flier about this and other Supreme Court activities.

Sponsors: Washington Interreligious Staff Community Health Care Working Group; Faithful Reform in Health Care


telephoneInterfaith Prayer Vigil via Teleconference

Tuesday, March 27 – 12:00 noon eastern

RSVP (required)

People of faith across the country will gather for an Interfaith Prayer Vigil via Teleconference to continue to pray for moral discernment among the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court during the Affordable Care Act hearings.

Sponsors: Faithful Reform in Health Care; Washington Interreligious Staff Community Health Care Working Group


united methodist buildingHealth Care Justice Sabbath Observance

Wednesday, March 28 – 12:00 noon eastern – Washington, DC

RSVP (required)

A service of worship will be held in the newly-renovated Simpson Chapel of the United Methodist Building, across the street from the Supreme Court.  The service will be streamed via the internet, and prayers will be circulated via email for those who cannot attend in person.

Sponsors: United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society; the Washington Interreligious Staff Community Health Care Working Group; and Faithful Reform in Health Care


Press Conferences & Radio Row 

Monday – Wednesday, March 26-28 – Washington, DC

Press conferences and radio interviews will be conducted with faith leaders throughout the three days of the Supreme Court hearings.  If you have a compelling story to share about how health care reform has helped you, please let us know via return email.


Amicus Brief Filed in Support of Medicaid Expansions in the Affordable Care Act

An Amicus Brief (friend of the court statement) was submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the moral imperative for the Medicaid expansions in the Affordable Care Act.  The focus of the brief is to make the case that Medicaid expansions are not legal "coercion" as claimed by some states, but rather a moral imperative.

View the final version of the brief and the list of 60+ signers!

 
   

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