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A Show with No End?

Americans care less and less about politics. They’re tired of all of it. Unless, you were heading to a National Monument, you might not have even noticed the Shutdown.

Today, the headlines are all about the end of the Debt Drama. About the fact that the debt ceiling just inched a little higher. 

If the Debt Drama were a play, unfortunately, we would barely be at intermission. 

Just as Tea Partyer Ted Cruz (or Ted bin Laden as the press is calling him) was crucified, a chorus of women came on stage and prevailed upon the mostly male warriors to put aside their differences for the sake of moving forward.  

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is enjoying a resurrection that his political enemies handed him. His baby, Obamacare, whose sacrifice they were demanding, is intact. In fact, emboldened. 

The shadow of Republican attempts to attach Obamacare to government funding has been moving across the stage throughout this play and captivated the audience’s attention as it appears to have eclipsed some Republicans’ prospects in 2014.

Emerging from rear stage is the long suffering Treasury Secretary, who has been performing tricks in the shadows to pay the country’s bills, which are now twice what we bring in.

If this were actual theater, as opposed to the political theatre it has become, the writers would be furiously working overtime on their rewrites.  Fiscal liberals demanding that words like “spending”  be replaced with terms like the one I saw in today’s Washington Post, “domestic investments.”

The soothsayer is carrying a placard across the boards and lobbying for a bigger role. And despite her gloomy presence is actually being considered for a larger part. She’s carrying what  looks like a ledger that says the following … 1) Federal Debt Limit – 16 trillion dollars 2) Interest on Debt due Nov. 15 – 29 billion dollars 3) Obamacare – 6 trillion dollars.  

It seems an appropriate time to ask whether this fool has been brought in to shame the wise? Because once again, what looks like a solution, “another day that got saved in the nation’s capitol” is merely a chimera, a glittery illusion made up of disjointed parts that in reality is actually a fire breathing dragon.  

If Congress wants to hang onto its’ audience, they should probably work on the scene called, “The Budget,” which is coming up next, in January. This budget saga just leads to too many plot twists and side stories, like sequester hearings and debt ceiling crises. Why not write a scene in its’ place that brings closure, like our elected leaders failed to balance their budget and got sent home. Close curtain. 

 

 

Gone Gov't by Christine Doyle

Gone Gov’t by Christine Doyle

Photo courtesy: Flickr.com Photo: Flickr user Kaz Vorpal via Creative Commons
I just saw a post in the Washington Post with a playlist of songs related to the shutdown that you might have on your iPod. “Wake me up when September ends?” Well, September has ended. And a shutdown that was expected to last a couple of days is now entering its second week.
There are reports surfacing that both sides may be heading back to the table to end the government shutdown. It’s about time. The current crisis is beginning to feel like the retooling of a bad network television pilot, at risk for cancellation, where every aspect of the production needs some serious tweaking, and a few of the key characters need outright replacing.
Polls show a majority of Americans blame Republicans for the shutdown, a majority of Americans still don’t like Obamacare, which is officially up and running now, and a majority of Americans don’t want to raise the debt ceiling without cuts somewhere else.
Social Security checks have still been going out but if you’ve had questions about Social Security or Medicare, you haven’t been able to get a live person on the line to answer it or access a government run website. Monuments and National Parks have been shut down while NASA was kept afloat. The list goes on.

Paul Ryan, the slash and burn Congressman from Wisconsin and Chairman of the Budget Committee, who has rightly said entitlement programs will have to be reformed, has essentially gone into hiding. Even a fiscal hawk like Ryan could see the Election Day implications for House Republicans if they tried to attach a repeal of Obamacare to funding the government.  As Mr. ‘I’m Moderate Again’ John McCain said to the Tea Party hostage takers within his own party, and I’m paraphrasing, “Like it or not, Obamacare is now the law.”

The part I still don’t get is why anyoe thought is was a good idea for the Republicans to reach out and grab that falling anvil in the first place. After all, Americans, even those without insurance, were already conflicted about Obamacare, as Obama’s falling popularity numbers indicated. And they were warming up to fiscal reform.

You could be forgiven if you have dialed out of this drama. But don’t change the channel just yet. I don’t think this series will get cancelled after all.  Its’ name may be changing, though from “The Grand Bargain” to “Gone Gov’t.”

A Vote for Conscience

As Secretary of State John Kerry testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, he vowed that authorizing limited strikes because of alleged chemical warfare attacks on children in Syria would not ultimately lead to American “boots on the ground.” Momentum is building and influential Republicans and Democrats are now on board including Sen. John McCain, GOP House Speaker John Boehner and the Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. While Sen. Richard Lugar is admonishing the growing voice of the isolationists within the Republican Party, particularly Rand Paul.

According to a new poll from the Washington Post and ABC News, 66% of Americans do not support intervention, twice as many as were earlier opposed. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/09/03/most-in-u-s-oppose-syria-strike-post-abc-poll-finds/

For her part, Pelosi is saying that Americans should have access to some of the classified information that is compelling members of both parties to do something. The evidence they are seeing, she says, leaves no doubt that chemical weapons were used to slaughter children. This is a fascinating juncture for a country whose financial problems are forcing across the board cuts, including to the military.

Most Americans don’t follow foreign affairs until they reach the crisis stage. The argument will be made that the U.S. is considering action because of her relationship with Israel. But the Secretary of State said today, he had spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has indicated, in the event that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad makes a “miscalculation” involving Israel, Israel is prepared.  Americans need to remember Israel has been wary of this unstable and dangerous neighbor, Bashar al-Assad, for years.  

The question is can the U.S. ignore a moral imperative? 

 

The First Mom’s Push on Obamacare

This is an interesting article from the Washington Post on how Michelle Obama is getting ready to roll out a media campaign urging young people to sign up for health insurance under Obamacare. I love that her previous focus has been on organic, fresh food and that she has overseen a “Let’s Move” campaign for youth. Because food and exercise are going to be a key factor in keeping health care spending down as the health insurance landscape changes over the coming decades.

What the article doesn’t say is that Obamacare hinges on people buying in, especially the young, because the cost of insuring each individual covered depends on the number of people in the system. Will 2.5 million healthy young men buy in or will they default and pay the 95 dollar fine instead? I already know lots of business owners are planning to pay the fine because they won’t be able to afford the mandate to provide health insurance to their employees. 

I also think it’s impressive that Sen. Roy Blunt is trying to encourage Republicans to consider ways to provide universal access by allowing small businesses and individuals to join together to get better rates by shopping across state lines.  I would like to see states join together to set up similar purchasing pools that would give them more leverage in negotiating better rates and coverage. 

If there is good news here, it is that we seem to have reached the tipping point on access. And both sides are inching towards each other on how to provide it. Michelle Obama’s campaign for healthy eating and exercise shows the Democrats recognize personal responsibility will be a key factor in keeping costs down. And Roy Blunt calling for universal access shows Republicans do care about the little guy .

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Obamacare backers launch campaign, want moms to convince their youths to get coverage

By , Published: July 6

The Obama administration and its allies need lots of healthy young adults to sign up for insurance this fall to make the president’s health-care law successful.

So they are going after their moms.

They put up Web ads on Facebook and Allrecipes.com alongside slogans such as “Moms know best: ‘Get yourself health insurance.’ ” They have enlisted the help of parent-activist groups such as Moms Rising, which has already begun mobilizing its vast network of more than 1 million members and 3 million e-mail subscribers on behalf of the health-care law.

They are collaborating with Elle and Cosmopolitan magazines, organizing mom-oriented wine-and-cheese parties and preparing commercials that will run during shows popular with mothers, such as “Good Morning America.” And soon, they plan to deploy first lady Michelle Obama, the nation’s mother in chief, who has already put her stamp on health-care with her anti-obesity “Let’s Move!” campaign.

The targeted messaging is part of an enormous grass-roots campaign mobilizing this summer and fall to persuade uninsured people to sign up for coverage beginning Oct. 1, when systems are expected to be in place for them to find benefits as well as financial assistance from the government, if they qualify.

But it may not be an easy sell, and the effort comes at a time of increasing doubts about the viability of the health-care law. Last week, the administration disclosed it was delaying a key provision that would have required large employers to offer health coverage to all full-time workers.

That came on the heels of an announcement by the National Football League that it probably would not lend its name to the law’s promotion efforts — a particular blow in the campaign for young men.

The share of 19- through 25-year-olds who lack coverage has dwindled since the passage of the law, which requires insurers to cover children up to age 26. But 41 percent were still uninsured in 2012, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

Costly campaigns

The White House is aiming initially to sign up 2.7 million healthy young adults for coverage. Young men especially are cheap to insure and are therefore critical to keeping the law on a good financial footing.

As it stands, however, advocates worry that young men will forgo insurance and instead pay the fine, which begins at $95 for the first year.

As a result, insurers, advocates, hospitals and others eager to see the law succeed are mounting costly campaigns to persuade people, particularly young and healthy ones, to buy insurance. And many see mothers as a potent part of that effort.

“In the end, it will be the moms of America who are going to decide if their families get coverage,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who has conducted focus groups for health exchanges in three states. “They will decide and then insist their children and husbands sign up.”

Women, Lake said, are responsible for 80 percent of the health-care spending decisions for families, and they will probably be the ones to delve deeply into the new health insurance options and obligations under the law.

Their influence is particularly strong among men under age 26, who are a key target of advocates because they rarely use medical services and are therefore cheap to insure.

According to her research, when asked whom they would turn to for trusted information about the health-care law, the top answer in that demographic was their mothers.

Mothers, however, have been turned off by the divisive nature of the debate over the law, Lake said.

Even for mothers engaged in politics, the law’s close association with President Obama is not always a plus. While unmarried moms overwhelmingly supported him in last year’s election, married mothers leaned slightly toward Obama’s Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, who had promised to try to repeal the health-care law, exit polls show.

A poll commissioned by Enroll America, a large umbrella group mounting a multimillion-dollar enrollment effort this year, shows that while many poor, uninsured women would like coverage, they are skeptical that they will be able to afford it even with government assistance.

Hadley Heath, health policy analyst for the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, said she believes mothers will ultimately advise their children based on what is best for them, not politics. But as a 25-year-old, she said she finds the mom focus a little condescending.

“I’d rather they talk to me rather than my mom, because I make my own decisions and pay my own bills,” she said.

The administration has already begun its outreach to mothers, with a series of events in conjunction with Mother’s Day in May. In addition to Cosmo, they have reached out to Elle and Ms. Magazine and forged a partnership with Text4baby, a text-
messaging information service for pregnant women and new moms that has more than 500,000 subscribers.

Putting a face on the issue

An official said all the primary White House figures, including Obama, Vice President Biden and Michelle Obama, will eventually be out publicly urging the uninsured to sign up for coverage.

“What Michelle says will be important, because moms really love her,” Lake said.

Enroll America is planning targeted outreach to mothers, including a series of mom-oriented house parties this summer, President Anne Filipic said, adding that they view moms as a top messenger along with doctors. Health officials in Oregon are taking things one step further by targeting grandmothers.

A group poised to become more visible because of its activism around the health-care law is Moms Rising, a nonprofit group that formed in 2006. The group has a “wellness wonder team” of mothers who have pledged to learn about the law and spread the word about its benefits. It also plans to highlight the stories of women and mothers who have already benefited from the law.

“A lot of times, [moms’] stories relate to their children, and their children are their hearts,” said Lisa Doyle, 55, a Moms Rising member in Minnesota, explaining why she thinks mothers’ opinions are so powerful on this issue. “You go out there and you talk with your heart. All of a sudden, all this health-care talk has a face.”

 

Scott Clement and Sarah Kliff contributed to this report.

 

 

The Wake Up Call on Obamacare

According to Kaiser, health care spending continues to be lower than it has been in years. The question is why? Maybe it’s because in a tight economy, Americans hold fast to their dollars, including their healthcare dollars. But maybe it is the sense that Americans may be shouldering more of the cost of their own healthcare. And maybe all the discussion around Obamacare has actually led to some awareness and belt tightening before the program even kicks in. That is interesting to me. Maybe there was a lot of waste in the system that is being whittled down in anticipation of lower compensation. Maybe it was time for Americans to take on more responsibility for their health and wellness. Either way, the reformers have to feel buoyed by the knowledge that spending is heading in the right direction. For the moment, that is. Here is a link to a series of articles from the New York Times to Politico.com that offer different thoughts on the subject. http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/daily-reports/2013/may/07/health-cost-studies.aspx

There is a lot of other information worth noting that may be getting lost in the headlines and general noise around who is to blame. One report I just read says that, according to McKinsey and Company, private employers could dump up to 30% of insured employees as the cost of providing coverage rises. So, the idea that getting a job is the quick fix for getting health insurance benefits is no longer necessarily true. 

And what about those State Exchanges? The most closely watched states New Jersey and Florida hemmed and hawed but ultimately, like Missouri, they decided to join the 27 states that think it is best to let the Feds run the show or at least, provide the dollars it will cost to. So much for my hope that states could join together to create bigger purchasing pools that lower costs while providing access. According to Kaiser, “17 Declared State-based Exchange; 7 Planning for PartnershipExchange; 27 Default to Federal Exchange.”

I also think it’s interesting that the employer mandate has been delayed by a year. That eases the pressure for businesses with 50 or more employees who will now have until 2015 to provide coverage or face penalties. The Republicans are saying Obamacare should have been repealed outright and that its delay is an indication of how misguided it was for the Feds to get into the healthcare business. The Democrats are blaming the Republicans and saying that if they had just freed up more money to educate the states on implementation, there wouldn’t be any delays to begin with.  

Personally, I’m back to where I began years ago, when I wasn’t reporting or working in politics, which is why couldn’t we just figure out a way to insure the uninsured and leave what was working well enough alone? Consider this article from Sarah Skiff of the Washington Post, who writes, that even with Obamacare, 30 million Americans will be left uninsured. 

Obamacare leaves millions uninsured. Here’s who they are.

By Sarah Kliff, Published: June 7, 2013 at 1:42 pmE-mail the writer

Welcome to Health Reform Watch, Sarah Kliff’s regular look at how the Affordable Care Act is changing the American health-care system — and being changed by it. You can reach Sarah with questions, comments and suggestions here. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon for the latest edition, and read previous columns here.

When we talk about the Affordable Care Act, we mostly focus on the millions of Americans who will gain health insurance coverage. We talk less about the millions who will remain uninsured.

And there are a lot of them: 30 million Americans will not have coverage under Obamacare, according to a new analysis in the journal Health Affairs. 

“Even if the law were fully implemented, there would have been 26 million uninsured people,” co-author Steffie Woolhandler said in an interview Thursday. “This isn’t just about the Medicaid expansion. This is the system as originally designed.”

Thirty million is a lot smaller than the 48.6 million Americans who lack insurance coverage right now. It’s also, as Woolhandler points out, not exactly breaking news: The Congressional Budget Office estimated over a year ago that between 26 million and 27 million Americans would not have insurance under the expansion.

 

 

Apple Pays for Unauthorized App Purchases by Kids

By ,

Apple has settled with parents who sued the company for making it too easy for kids to rack up charges by buying add-ons to games and other apps.

Think twice before you plan a vacation with your settlement money, though. According to the court documents, posted in full on Monday by Apple Insider’s Mikey Campbell, the company is agreeing to give qualifying customers a $5 iTunes credit or, in certain cases, $5 in cash.

Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr declined to comment on the settlement.

The company has always required users to enter their passwords when they download an app, but the company used to also allow them to make additional in-app purchases for 15 minutes without reentering a password.

As The Washington Post reported, parents complained that some children were able to accumulate hundreds of dollars in charges during that small window, drawing the scrutiny of state and federal regulators. The suit highlights children who spent between $99 and $300 on in-app purchases — charges that were then passed on to the credit card bills of their unsuspecting parents, the Apple Insider report said.

Apple changed the policy in March 2011 to require a password for purchases, even on newly downloaded apps.

Under the terms of the new settlement, Apple will send notices to more than 23 million iTunes accounts that made in-app purchases, but the size of the class is still not clear. To qualify, Apple customers have to prove that they were charged for in-app purchases made by a minor, had not given their account password to the child and have not already received a refund for their charges.

Users who spent more than $30 on in-app purchases can opt to get the $5 payment in cash, but will have to file paperwork detailing which apps they used to accumulate those charges.