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Minnesota Democrats support the elimination of Medicare

You’ve heard a lot about Medicare Advantage packages, and now Minnesota’s Congressional Democrats are endorsing those corporate offerings. Naturally, any marketing put forward by the health care insurance industry is going to sound like an advantage, but there are significant factors about those packages which are not being disclosed.

Why is AHIP (America's Health Insurance Plans) thanking 368 members of congress for supporting Medicare Advantage? All ten of Minnesota’s federal officials, both Senators and Congresspersons, signed a letter of support for AHIP supporting Medicare Advantage. This includes Angie Craig, Ilhan Omar, and Dean Philips, all of whom campaigned for progressive health care reform in 2018.

View 2022 Bipartisan Senate Medicare Advantage letter

View 2022 Bipartisan House Medicare Advantage letter

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The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) admits that Medicare Advantage and Medicare’s Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs, which are owned and operated by the insurance corporations) programs are losing money—the funds America’s workers must pay into with each paycheck. MedPAC claims there’s no way to determine why those industry-managed programs are losing our tax money. But I know there is a way, and so do you! Government transparency and accountability! Our government keeps avoiding standards of transparency and accountability—it refuses to operate with normal integrity.

As a citizen, you are entitled to know why Medicare is losing money to Medicare Advantage and ACOs. That’s merely fair. It’s a normal expectation. But corporations are not playing fair; our government does not compel them to follow the law. Since Medicare advantage has captured less than half the market, CMS is now assigning recipients to Direct Contracting Entity (DCE). The DCE is another form of managed care that has clearly failed the American public

Research from the Center for Public Integrity finds that Medicare Advantage plans are clearly gaming the system. This happened to the tune of some $70 billion between 2008-2013 because the insurance industry inflated risk scores. Medicare pays the corporation which offers a Medicare Advantage plan a fixed amount for each individual enrolled. It pays through a tool called a “risk score.” The tool is supposed to pay Medicare Advantage plans higher rates for sicker patients and less for those in good health.

Senator Grassley of Iowa, raised concerns about the Medicare Advantage plans in a letter to The Honorable Seema Verma, Administrator for Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Senator Grassley reported on a previous response from CMS. He indicated the “Obama Administration failed to mention to the Committee that its initial recovery assessment was $128 million rather than the $3.4 million actually recovered by the government from the five plans. The difference in the assessment and the actual recovery is striking and demands an explanation. Further, in light of the $70 billion in risk score overpayments between 2008-2013 reported by the Center for Public Integrity, CMS’s 2007 overpayment estimate of $128 million appears low and could very well be just the tip of the iceberg.”

The audits disclosing the $128 million in federal overpayments to health plans were part of a cache of confidential CMS documents released through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Center for Public Integrity.

A lack of robust audits and the lack of recovery of overpayments appears to be a chronic problem on the part of our government. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the watchdog arm of Congress, found that CMS’s methodology for auditing insurance industry contracts with the federal government fails to select those which have the greatest potential for recovery of improper payments. GAO also found that CMS has spent about $117 million on Medicare Advantage audits, but recouped just under $14 million in total.

Quite clearly, CMS is not willing to take on the big offenders. By a similar token, our Congress avoids conflicts with those offenders who pad their campaign coffers. Moreover, 368 Congresspersons signed a letter praising the offenders for their offerings. Don’t expect any meaningful health care reform from Minnesota’s bipartisan delegation any time soon!

 


Flip a Coin

 

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     There is a presumption that if a Republican is the problem then a Democrat must be the solution but problems in Washington run much deeper than that. Red or Blue, Washington is about Wall Street, focused on wealth and profits. That's good for a few wealthy investors but has not produced economic prosperity for the general population. For decades we have seen our local economies consumed by Corporate operations with declining wages and jobs disappearing overseas. Millennials know that they are not expected to do as well at their parents. That's not right.

 

     In 2022, citizens of Minnesota's Second Congressional District have an opportunity to make a real difference at the polls. Paula Overby is a clear alternative to the political paralysis and polarization of a two party system that has failed to adapt to changing demographics, technology, and economic globalization. 

 

     Paula Overby stands for government of the people, open government, and restoring local community development and investment that promotes economic sustainability. Paula Overby stands for Personal Freedoms and Civil Liberties, opposing the massive global arms buildup, the costly and violent war on drugs, and our failed military engagements. Social engineering is not the role for congress and government prohibitions are not a solution to complex social issues.

 


The Migrant Worker’s Plight in the COVID-19 Pandemic

imigrant worker plight

 

It can be uplifting to think that we’re all in this COVID-19 crisis together. Unfortunately, the reality is actually not even close. In fact, some people are struggling more than others during this pandemic, such as migrant workers. Far from their home countries, these essential members of society are often finding themselves in limbo as they have been summarily skipped over in terms of aid. It’s a less than ideal situation to be in, so if you’re finding yourself on this rickety boat, it’s important to remain hopeful and to get to know the options available to you.

 

The Real Struggles

The COVID-19 pandemic has given light to a good number of flaws in the system. Among the problems the pandemic has exposed is just how grossly unsupported and under-represented migrant workers are. Indeed, it’s undeniable that few are having it worse than immigrants in this pandemic, and it’s this plight that’s best left unignored.

It’s a fact that many frontline healthcare workers are migrant workers.

Despite this, there’s an absence of solutions for immigrant healthcare in this pandemic, exposing the lack of coverage from testing to treatment for countless migrants.

Equally problematic is the widespread xenophobia and racial profiling throughout the country, particularly for Asian minorities.

All these issues (and more) are proof that there’s an immigration crisis in the United States in the time of COVID-19.

 

The Services You Can Turn To

As you navigate through life in a pandemic with the myriad uncertainties of being a migrant worker in a foreign and unsupportive land, it’s important not to give in to fear. Instead, look to those who are able to help strengthen your position and guide you through the oppressive red tape.

There are many benefits to hiring an immigration lawyer, and this expertise is doubly more important now than ever in the many ambiguities raised by the pandemic.

For non-English speakers, tapping translation services — including freelancers through job boards — will also help you understand your rights and situation better, as well as effectively communicate your predicament.

 

The Help You Can Get

While it does seem like migrant workers are unlikely to receive help from the federal government, know that the alternatives are growing in number. From the private sector to non-profit organizations, from state to local governments — more and more are starting to recognize the plight of migrants and marshaling the much-needed help.

Certain states provide legal support for migrants, regardless of status, so make sure to check in on your localities.

Some minority groups are offering essential assistance to their members, running the gamut from legal services to meal deliveries.

There are also free clinics all over the country offering services like testing and treatment for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 cases, regardless of immigration status.

 

Indeed, despite the direness of the situation, take heart in knowing that there are pockets of hope available out there. However, you need to do your due diligence and make good use of the resources that you’re bound to find, as well.

 

submitted by Diane Harrison,  healthspa.info

Image Credit: Pexels.com


A New Look at Community Safety

Time to take a broad view of what community safety can look like.

 

Stop the enforcement of unjust laws:


Decriminalize all drugs, starting with marijuana. Adopt a harm reduction approach and treat it as a healthcare issue. Look at Sussmanto, the model of Portugal, where decriminalizing of drugs led to positive trends in such statistics as HIV infection, people seeking treatment, and teen drug abuse.  (Vastag 2009)


Decriminalize sex work, following the lead of organizations such as the Sex Worker Outreach  Project (https://swopusa.org/). Adopt policies that will actually ensure worker protections. (Sussman 2020)

Free everyone currently incarcerated on drug charges and sex work charges, as a first step towards closing prisons. End pre-trial detention.

 

Create safe Schools.

 

Reduce classroom size

 

Stop the use of carceral solutions such as suspensions and detention.

 

Reallocate excessive police funding to adequate school funding.

 

Invest in support staff and conflict mitigation strategies.

 

Create stable housing.

 

Implement housing first strategies.

 

As an interim measure demanded by the pandemic, fund rent and mortgages for those who were unable to pay to prevent a huge wave of evictions at the end of the state of emergency.

Redefine the Police role in mitigating social distress.


Allocate response and intervention for sexual assault and domestic violence to agencies trained and qualified to handle these volatile situations. There are several excellent organizations in the twin cities: the Domestic Abuse Project, Sexual Violence Center, Corner Stone, and Tubman Chrysalis Center.

 

Appropriately fund these organizations

 

It is significant to note that police themselves are involved in very high rates of domestic violence (Friedersdorf 2014)

 

Mental health services

 

Review options for expand mental health services and direct community engagement. (Hill 2029).  Consider the response capacity of a Emergency Medical Team.

 

 

In considering alternatives to excessive investments in policing, we should consider the reality of their effectiveness in actually preventing crimes that we might believe make them essential. I will note recovery of stolen property, as one example, is extremely limited. Generally, the police report functions as documentation to an insurance claim; something that perhaps could easily be handled by some other agency.

 

Due process that protects innocent citizens has disintegrated into a system of "justice" where the worst possible outcome has reached a level of social anxiety where we now fear the possibility of someone escaping "deserved" punishment. That put’s everyone at risk of false accusations and tattle tale enforcement which has no basis in fact. Consider the case of Amy Cooper in Central Park (Vera 2020). We need to rethink justice in terms of harm reduction and restoration offered by models of transformative justice.

 

Special thanks to Ruby Levine for her contribution to this outline: https://www.8toabolition.com/

 

 

Vera Amir, 2020 “White woman who called police on a black man bird-watching in Central Park has been fired”, May 26, 2020, Retrieved June 14, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/26/us/central-park-video-dog-video-african-american-trnd/index.html

 

Hill, Alexis, 2019, “Re-imagining Policing and Mental Health”, January 24, 2019, Retrieved June 14, 2020, https://www.policingproject.org/news-main/2019/1/24/reimagining-policing-and-mental-health-

 

Friedersdorf, Conor, 2014, “Research suggests that family violence is two to four times higher in the law-enforcement community than in the general population. So where's the public outrage?”,September 19, 2014, Retrieved June 14, 2020,https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/09/police-officers-who-hit-their-wives-or-girlfriends/380329/

 

Sussman, Anna Louie, 2Sussman020, “Don't have to fight for pennies': New Zealand safety net helps sex workers in lockdown”, The Guardian, April 27, 2020, Retrieved June 14, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/28/dont-have-to-fight-for-pennies-new-zealand-

 

Vastag , Brian. 2009 “5 Years After: Portugal's Drug Decriminalization Policy Shows Positive Results Street drug–related deaths from overdoses drop and the rate of HIV cases crashes” Scientific American, April 7, 2009, Retrieved June 14, 2020, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/portugal-drug-decriminalization/


To America's Future

Water is life. Water is Minnesota's most precious resource.

We don't need a voice in Washington that would trade Minnesota's north shore to a corrupt foreign mining company with the worst labor and safety record in the industry.

The threat of climate change is very real, but to many, seems too remote for immediate action. The violent impact of our militarism is immediate. War is the most destructive force on the planet, and the military is the largest single consumer of fossil fuels.

We don't need a voice in Washington that supports massive increases in our military budget, already more than sixty percent of our federal budget.

The pandemic has shown us the lack of resiliency in our healthcare system, and emphasized the growing inequality of wealth in America.

We don't need a voice in Washington that opposes the expansion of health care in our society, even promoting the privatization of our existing medicare services.

We need voices in Washington that will promote the strength of our communities; the safety, health, and economic security of our citizens; and the future of our planet. When you vote for Paula Overby for U.S. Senate, you are that voice.

 

Paula Overby

Candidate for U.S. Senate


At the Crossroads

B for Bernie. But Bloomberg also starts with B. Two diametrically opposed positions running for the same DNC endorsement.  How could the party of the people possibly be making exceptions for a self-funded billionaire to be on the same debate stage with Bernie Sanders.  There has been an enormous migration of wealth in the United states over the past 50 years.  While the 1% consumes nearly all of the wealth and the military budget continues to swell, the average person struggles to pay rent, access healthcare, keep up with rising debt, or even pay for an education.

We are clearly at a crossroads in American history, and we will soon discover which direction the DNC will decide to endorse. The people have spoken, and we will soon discover if the progressive movement will hold the line.  No major social reform has come without conflict.  While Bernie Sanders represents the political revolution, Our Revolution, the media conceals a less obvious class war in America: the opioid crisis, increased alcoholism, rising suicide rates, school shootings, people dying for lack of medications and healthcare, even the growing assault on our environment.

Clearly, as Bloomberg's appearance on the democratic debate stage affirms,  the billionaire class is not ready for peace talks.  The progressive movement must hold the line.


I support Bernie... but

B for Bernie. But seriously I had another thought in mind. In 2016, it was basically just Hillary and Bernie. That was plan A. We all know how that turned out, and many of us understand how rigged it was against Bernie. Even in court, the Democrats stated outright that they had no obligation to be fair which by itself is a huge indictment of the our two party system. Most Bernie supporters stuck with the democrats and voted for Hillary (who as you may recall was endorsed by Bernie). Bernie has been very clear about the fact that his goal is to bring young people and progressives to the democrat party. There is a questionable legitimacy in the assertion that the democrat party is becoming more progressive, but that will be seen soon enough.

I support Bernie and I contribute to his campaign because I like his messaging and the ideas he’s promoting. I also support Tulsi Gabbard for the same reason, even as I know she won’t win the nomination. Both parties just approved another $20 Billion pentagon budget increase which is about the only thing they all agree on. Nobody except Tulsi Gabbard is talking about the devastating financial and social cost of our endless wars. For Bernie it’s just a footnote.

Bernie’s running again in 2020 so that’s plan B. (plan A has already failed us). I’m also quite certain that Bernie will not get the nomination either, and Bernie supporters will do pretty much what they did in 2016. Elizabeth Warren is perhaps the best proof of that in the way she has taken all of Bernie’s ideas. I’m also quite certain we will not see Bernie Sanders again in 2024.

This is what will happen, in my opinion, after watching years of campaign strategies, and myself running as an independent candidate three times. We all like to believe that these candidates are running on some individual initiative but that’s not how it works. There is a party strategy and the winner is chosen by the party, not the people. Remember when Bernie was touting the progressive progress that came out of his campaign in the form of concessions to prohibit super delegate votes on the first round of balloting? The broad candidate field is going to split the delegate counts. There will not be a decision in the first round, and the super delegates will decide the nomination in the second or third round. There will also be intense intimidation of Bernie delegates as there was in 2016 and there will be delegate defections according to the demands of the party. Maybe there’s an outside chance that Biden or Buttigieg will beat Trump, but it’s not going to give us any progressive reforms.

I’d like to believe in your plan B and people will vote for independents, but honestly, there are relatively few independents running. The independent movement is growing but it is still very fragmented. Still, if one or two were elected, that would be progress. Perhaps the Green candidate in Maine might have the best opportunity. They have ranked choice voting.


Independent Voters

There are many good reasons why we need a third party. Americans certainly believe it. The congressional approval rating rarely gets above 20 percent and 57% of Americans say a third major political party is needed . 46 percent of Americans identify as independent. Why then are all those independent voters still voting for one of the two major parties?

 

There are also a few reasons why third parties can’t succeed in our current electoral process. The political system is heavily biased toward the two major parties, and sustained by corporate wealth and media. Both parties cooperate to preserve their combined hold on power.

 

People aren’t really voting on policies any more, despite growing anxieties about liberalism, soaring costs in education and healthcare, inequality of wealth, stagnant wages, climate catastrophes, endless wars, and a flood of personal and national debt. But the threat of social and economic collapse, or even the environmental crisis, seems to pale in the two party political narrative. Republicans advance the odious threat of a nation overrun by foreign nationals and Democrats portend the total collapse of our very democracy, undermined by Russian interference and the erratic behavior of our current president. It’s a shallow threat in light of a 2014 study from Princeton University which concluded that America is an Oligarchy, not a republic and certainly not a democracy.

 

It all makes for good theater. In 1988, the League of Women voters withdrew from sponsorship of the presidential debates. According to League President Nancy M. Neuman, "It has become clear to us that the candidates' organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and honest answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public." Today’s democratic debates are hosted by CNN, carefully orchestrated to provide good viewing entertainment and guide voters toward the desired outcome. It is precisely the kind of charades League President Nancy M. Neuman was referring to back in 1988.

 

The political narrative is clear: third party candidates take votes away from the major candidates. Third party candidates spoil their elections. With the possible exception of Ralph Nader in 2000, there is little evidence to support that claim. Hillary Clinton blames Jill Stein for her loss to Donald Trump. Speculation assumes those voters would have voted for Hillary and conveniently ignores the fact that Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson received over three times as many votes as Jill Stein which may have drawn votes away from Donald Trump.

 

Now, Hillary Clinton is attacking Anti-war candidate Tulsi Gabbard as a Russian assest and setting up the same spoiler narrative she leveled against Jill Stein. But, Bloomberg news reports, “Don’t Worry About Tulsi Gabbard.” The spoiler narrative is a fear tactic intended to ensure voters remain loyal to one of the oligarchs duopoly.

 

Our elections are not arranged for the benefit of the people, but rather to serve the wealthy. Voters are disenfranchised, separated from a meaningful voice in our political process. Voter behavior is controlled by carefully crafted narratives, propaganda, and political marketing campaigns. All of that advertising makes running for office a cost prohibitive exercise for the vase majority of Americans.

 

Protests may give us a voice but it largely goes unheard. From the lessons of Standing Rock, we know if a protest interferes with the agenda of the ruling elite it will be put down by aggressive force. True activism disrupts the system in a manner that demands change. Power operates by attacking the disruptive voice; ask Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, or Chelsea Manning. If you could, you might ask Jeffery Epstein what happens when you become a threat to the private lives of powerful politicians. We can continue to vote for the oligarchy, or we can demand an inclusive voice, and a true government of the people, by the people and for the people, something we have been fighting for since those words were first uttered by Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg address back in 1863.

 


Affordable Health Care

People want to choose their doctor.

A principle problem for Medicare for all is the fact that it follows in the shadow of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA expanded health care access by increasing tax payer funding: something people refer to as “throwing money at the problem.” There was no cost containment. Taxes increased, and costs continued to increase with a net migration of wealth from the middle class to the upper class. Millions did get improved health care access through medicaid, but the majority saw no benefit, and millions more saw steep rate increases. It is the inequity in the system that makes it untenable to voters. The current Medicare system is already a confusing range of options, supplemental plans, and Medicare advantage. The disadvantage of Medicare Advantage is once again the perplexing problem of choosing a suitable network of providers. The health care industrial complex will certainly game the system as they have done with Medicare Advantage, to the tune of of some $70 billion dollars from 2008 to 2013. Given the lack of meaningful oversight, transparency, and accountability, it’s not surprising that people are suspicious of Medicare for All.

People want to choose their doctor. They don’t want to navigate an incomprehensible maze of insurance options, hoping to find a network that includes their doctor. In the end, they still pay out-of-pocket for the the specialist who didn’t happen to be in the network. Creating confusion is a deliberate tactic that prevents the kind of consensus needed for meaningful healthcare reform.


Carbon Dividend

Whenever I hear a presentation on the carbon fee/dividend plan, it comes off sounding like a plan that would provide a Universal Basic Income derived from oil revenues. It is after all a public resource and perhaps citizens should be getting some revenue from that resource much like the Alaska Permanent Fund derived from oil revenues. The fund has paid an annual dividend since 1982 that has been as high as $2,072 per person, or $8,288 for a family of four.

Still, when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. I started getting suspicious when I heard the big oil companies were supporting a carbon fee/dividend. The plan would add a fee to fossil fuels based on the CO2 equivalent emissions of fossil fuels. Consumers would pay higher costs on virtually everything because energy is a substantial cost of production for most products. The fee would then be distributed to each citizen offsetting the higher cost. Clearly, it’s not a dividend based on revenue like the Alaska plan. It’s more like a sales tax where the consumer gets a rebate at the end of the year. In theory, low wage earners would get a larger dividend than they pay in fees but I’ve yet to see any actual numbers that would substantiate that theory.

In global markets, the impact becomes much more complicated. Import fees would be imposed to encourage foreign producers to also implement the carbon fee and discourage companies from migrating to no fee regions. American consumers would still pay higher prices for those fees but there would be no dividend as the fees would remain in the country of origin. Oil exports would receive a rebate. That seems to incentivize exporting U.S. oil and allowing consumers to pay the higher cost for foreign oil.

All of this will presumably be balanced out by tariffs and trade agreements. Every product produced would essentially require a carbon fee adjustment in an environment where it may be difficult to determine if it was produced with fossil fuels. I can’t imagine the complexity of that.

The fee would affect the real cost of using fossil fuels and should create incentives for greater efficiency, alternative material sourcing, and renewable energy sources but it is not clear that these alternatives can match the economic growth demands of today’s economic models. That goes to the real problem of projected economic growth that exceeds the foreseeable capacity of the planet. That problem is not being addressed by a recirculating tax rebate plan.

That brings me to what’s in it for the corporate denizens of wealth. The plan they support which of course is the only plan our congress would possibly adopt was drafted by the Climate Leadership Council, that includes a long list of major oil producers like ExxonMobile and BP as well as many other large corporations like GM and Pepsico. Their proposal provides for a carbon tax in lieu of environmental regulations including EPA’s regulatory authority of CO2 emissions, repeal of the Clean Power Plan, and an end to federal and state tort liability for emitters.”

Here the theory goes, that market forces will eliminate the need for these regulations. In an environment of ever-increasing wealth inequality, with congress determining the market forces, I have a pretty clear idea of who the winners and losers will be.