Glitches, Gremlins, and the Affordable Care Act in Nevada

DoctorThere are a couple of ways to read the LVRJ’s write up on the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange.   Republicans will ‘rejoice’ that the glitches in the web portal for the exchange have generated a log jam — as if being happy that people haven’t been able to purchase affordable private health insurance plans is something to be applauded.

Democrats will argue the glitches can be fixed, and may argue the proposed extension of the enrollment period will alleviate some issues for those who can demonstrate they attempted to buy an insurance policy before March 31.  Setting aside the initial technical issues for just a moment  (inadequately staffed call center, and software gremlins) it’s important to remember that these health insurance exchanges aren’t a Big Government operation — they are in the business of selling PRIVATE health insurance for major corporations.

Once more — the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange, and other state exchanges throughout the nation, are facilitating the sale of private insurance to people who do not have health insurance subsidized by their employers, and who do not qualify for Medicare.

“Sign-ups kicked off Oct. 1, but technical issues and an understaffed call center hampered enrollments to well below expectations. About 21,000 Nevadans had bought and paid for coverage as of Saturday.” [LVRJ]

Now back to those technical issues.  In short, the good news is that 21,000 Nevadans now have a health insurance plan, the bad news is that there are people having to wait an inordinate amount of time to get one.   Let’s assume for a minute that capitalism works.  If there is a demand for a product there will be sales.  There is obviously a demand for health insurance plans to cover people who are not getting their coverage subsidized by their employers and who do not qualify for Medicare.  We literally have people waiting in line.  The bottom line is the bottom line — there are more people who want to buy private health insurance policies than the current distribution system can manage.

Note, this is NOT an issue involving whether or not people want to buy policies.  It is NOT an issue involving insurance corporations not wanting to sell their policies.  It is a ‘distribution’ issue.  In basic economic terms ‘distribution’ is how producers get their products to consumers.

Anyone who’s run a small business for at least five minutes knows about distribution, and channel or distribution partners.   Most business advisers will inform their clients that having a distribution partner will (1) help increase sales, (2) assist with physical distribution, and (3) add value to the product by providing services to the end-user. [MMDept]  If we are speaking in this context, then the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange is, in essence,  functioning as a Distribution Partner to the health insurance corporations.  It just isn’t functioning very well at the moment.

The fact that there is a Distribution Partner component to the Affordable Care Act should be a giant flapping  flag to free market advocates that the ACA is NOT a government take over of the health insurance sector.  If individuals were to sign up as they do for Medicare, then the government itself acts as the distributing partner for its own product.  Ah, but that would have been “single payer!”

Political Angles

The possibility that the only real problem with the Affordable Care Act lies in perfectly ‘fixable’ distribution issues may be part of the reason we see Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3) all over the map on the associated political issues:

“Obamacare is not going anywhere,” Heck says. “There are parts I agree with and parts that I don’t agree with. I think we need to start concentrating on fixing the things that are wrong with it, as opposed to passing a budget to get $1.4 trillion in deficit reduction by repealing a law that we know we’re not going to be able to repeal.” So why vote for repeal? “That’s the position I ran on, and I will continue down that path as long as I can,” he says.” [NatlJournal]

And then there was the session with a constituent small business owner  told the Representative last August that the ACA was actually helping his profitability.  Crooks and Liars has the video in which Heck, for all intents and purposes, tosses small business owners under the bus while decrying the problems of employers with more than 50 employees.

Meanwhile Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) is still peddling horror stories — as per the instructions of the RNC, etc:

“Prior to the ACA they had affordable coverage they liked, noting that they never had a claim rejected. Now, thanks to the ACA, they pay a higher monthly premium and saw their deductible increase from $400 to $5,000 a year. They are in good health and have rarely spent $5,000 a year on medical care, so essentially their future costs will be out of pocket. They were also notified that their coverage will no longer be offered by the end of 2014. Does this sound like health care reform to you? The ACA has made matters worse,” said Amodei.”

Let me guess. Now why would an insurance company pull a policy after the enacting of the Affordable Care Act? [CNN] There were some very common practices which helped insurance corporations sell policies that were not very customer friendly, let’s look at three general examples:

(1) The Carve Out Policy:  Some corporations offered “comprehensive policies” which were anything but comprehensive, and did not cover a broad range of medical procedures or even offer some essential ones.   These were cheap, but they a policy holder couldn’t be assured they’d cover mammograms, prostate exams, and other basic preventative care.

(2) The Cost Limit Policy:  One classic example of these kinds of policies were the Mini-Meds plans.  Some of these had annual limits of $1,000 per year for out-patient services and $2,000 per year for hospitalization. [CR]  Now, compare this to the average cost for breaking a leg which is about $2,500 or more for a fracture requiring a cast. [HCH]  So, one healthy kid in the family breaks one otherwise fabulous fibula and the insurance runs out for the rest of the family for the entire year.  Cheap but not exactly why people buy insurance. Not even close.

(3) The Fixed Benefit Indemnity Policy:  These plans had an upper limit for medical services, after which the YOYO element kicked in. Once the fixed benefit was set the policy holder paid premiums, some in the $450 per month range for $100 apiece for five trips to a doctor, $50 per year for screening tests, and commonly $30,000 worth of hospitalization at $1,000 per day.  [CR] The average cost per day in a Nevada hospital is about $1,856. [KFF]  Again, these policies might have had cheaper premiums — but that was because they had limited coverage and often coverage well below what would be reasonable in terms of what they paid for.

Little wonder these policies were pulled out of the market. NRS 482.351 forbids me from selling you a motor vehicle using “bait and switch,” or deceptive advertising about the condition of the vehicle or its component parts.  I should also not be allowed to sell ‘defective’ insurance or insurance policies which don’t cover basic and essential services.

Thus our Couple In District 2 is now allegedly paying $416 per month for insurance which must now be comprehensive.  What were average families in the United States paying in health insurance premiums per month in 2011? $414.00. And, the average deductible was $3,879.00. [eIns]  Somehow this doesn’t sound as horrific when put in some context.

And so we have Representative Heck voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act — what is it now 50 times? — just because he said he would, not necessarily because it makes any sense; and, Representative Amodei trying to dig up Scarey Stories of people who bought junk insurance and don’t want to pay for the real thing.

Meanwhile … we have a distribution issue.  We can fix that.

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Filed under Economy, Health Care, health insurance, Politics

License, Registration, Cash, and Valuables?

Winnemucca Court HouseIt’s a slippery slope and the sheriff of Humboldt County, NV may have wandered over it. [LVRJ] Two travelers on I-80 saw their personal cash confiscated because they were “suspected” of drug trafficking.  These civil forfeitures are subject to the provisions of 18 U.S. Code 981, which is pretty lenient on the topic, the person having been perceived as engaging in a “specified unlawful activity.”  There are also the provisions of NRS 179.1164-5 to consider.  In Nevada, the forfeiture is supposed to be attendant with an arrest, a search with a warrant, or an inspection pursuant to a warrant — the latter a rather large loophole.  In short:

“Nevada forfeiture law provides paltry protection for property owners from wrongful forfeitures.  The government may seize your property and keep it upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence, a higher standard than many states but still lower than the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.  But the burden falls on you to prove that you are an innocent owner by showing that the act giving rise to the forfeiture was done without your knowledge, consent or willful blindness.”  [IJ]

So, what standards are applied by officers in Humboldt County?

“…officers are trained to recognize evasiveness during questioning, including stories about travel routes that don’t add up or a lack of luggage on cross-country trips.”  [LVRJ]

Here’s where the specifics become part of the discussion — (1) What constitutes ‘evasion’ during questioning?  (2) What elements of a ‘travel route’ make the journey suspicious? (3) How much luggage is presumed reasonable before a ‘lack’ is noticeable?

Let’s look at the first question:  “Where are you headed?”  Can I respond, “…to California?” Or, must I say that I’m headed for beautiful downtown Fresno to visit my ailing grandmother on Elm Street?  Where have I been?  Can I say, “Colorado?” Or, must I inform the officer that I’ve been helping my disabled brother-in-law move from Grand Junction to Aurora?  Just how much personal information must I divulge to a complete stranger in order to assuage his suspicions that I am not a drug trafficker or a money launderer?

What must I say in order to make my travel route ‘reasonable?’  “Well officer, I tried fishing at Wild Horse, but somebody told me that Knott Creek was better, but I didn’t have any joy there so I thought I’d try the East Carson…..”  What would happen if I said, “I dunno’ I just got into my truck and started looking for places that looked interesting and I might end up over at the Bodie, CA park to see the ghost town…”  Does my itinerary have to make sense to anyone other than myself?

And, how much luggage must I pack before I am plausible?  I do recall, and always with a smile, a former colleague who — with considerable assistance from his wife, I always suspected — could pack everything he needed for a weekend conference in one small attache bag.  I also remember, with some nostalgia for the days when gasoline was $1.50 a gallon, when I could take off for a weekend with everything I needed for a bit of site seeing and photography scrunched into a single duffel bag.  Would this be enough to convince The Officer I wasn’t drug trafficking or doing a bit of ‘asset hiding?’

Without some very clear guidelines, Humboldt County could find itself categorized with such infamous places as Tenaha, TX,

“Police in an East Texas city will no longer enrich their coffers by seizing assets from innocent Black and Latino drivers and threatening them with baseless criminal charges, under a settlement reached today with the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU settled a class-action suit, pending court approval, against officials in Tenaha and Shelby County, where it is estimated police seized $3 million between 2006 and 2008 in at least 140 cases. Police officers routinely pulled over motorists in the vicinity of Tenaha without any legal justification, asked if they were carrying cash and, if they were, ordered them to sign over the cash to the city or face charges of money laundering or other serious crimes.” [ACLU]

The infamous Boatright Case is not one with which Humboldt County, NV authorities would want to be associated either.  Unfortunately, the Humboldt County cases are not isolated instances, a recent article in Forbes publicizes other incidents in may other states.  Police in one singularly repugnant incident confiscated church donations on their way to the bank and didn’t release the funds until a former Reagan Administration appointee to the Justice Department’s Asset Forfeiture Office took the case pro bono.

When remote, rural, Humboldt County hits ABC NewsBreak, it’s time to give more serious consideration to the nature, and to the implementation of drug enforcement policy than what gives the appearance of hopping on the Cash for Freedom bandwagon of law enforcement officers in too many jurisdictions.

Bones of Contention

Let’s begin with the proposition that no one wants to facilitate drug trafficking, and no one would seriously advocate that we should make it easy for people to hide assets from legitimate scrutiny (and taxation), nor do we want to make it easy for international criminals to transfer funds with alacrity.  That said:

(1) How can we balance the need for legitimate law enforcement activity with the personal privacy and security in our “persons, houses, papers, and effects,” as guaranteed by our 4th Amendment?

(2) How do we adhere to the precept that we are innocent until proven guilty if we allow the civil forfeiture without a standard at least as robust as that required to justify an arrest?

The sorriest part of this state of affairs is that Humboldt County, Nevada, although newsworthy at the moment, is not all that far from the more egregious behavior of police operations in other states.  Instead of attracting a reputation as a bulwark of ‘liberty,’ the county has adopted a culture of convenience, especially when it comes to collecting cash.

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Filed under civil liberties, Politics

Separation Anxiety

Symbols Major ReligionsRemember back in 2010 when Nevada’s resident RWNJ Sharron Angle told us she equated her campaign against Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) as a calling from God?  [LVSun]  Her comments were accurately labeled “Reconstructionism.”  “In this regard, Angle’s view of religion’s role in government parallels that of a religious political movement — Christian Reconstructionism — seeking to return American civil society to biblical law.”   Whatever ‘Biblical Law’ might be.

And herein we get to the basic problem — the confusion of denominationalism, or sectarianism,  with religion or spirituality.  The right wing conservatives extrapolate the demands of their confession onto the legal structure of our nation, to the horror of those who hold to other confessions of faith or to none at all.  The left’s version of separation is partly reactive — Thou Shalt Not Impose Your Confession Upon Others.  However there’s another facet to this as well.  In an effort to injure no one some members of the left simply dismiss the role of spirituality in the public sphere.  That can be just as unhelpful.

First, let’s assume for the sake of the argument that it is going to be an extremely unproductive task to find anyone, from the most vehement Evangelical to the most ardent Atheist, who doesn’t agree with the proposition that we should treat other people as we would want to be treated ourselves.   Secondly, let’s toss in a line from Thomas Jefferson, who in his 1782 Notes on Virginia wrote: “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God.  It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

When we’ve made progress in this country it has been in no small part due to the role of spirituality in our lives — and, no, that doesn’t have to be a function of a confessed faith.  The Society of Friends were crucial to the Abolitionist Movement, the Black Baptist churches were necessary for the Modern Civil Rights Movement, however different these two might be in terms of professions of faith and the role of sacraments, the impetus was that the old Golden Rule was not being applied to all members of our civil society.   That’s not sectarianism, that’s spirituality.

The answer to the Reconstructionists among us need not be a wall between our religious and and our political selves, but a barrier between our sectarian tenets and our capacity as human beings to seek the best for our fellows.   There is space on the left for the Better Angels of Our Nature without diminishing our power to assert that Love is always a better option.  This can be expressed in a sermon delivered by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or in commentary  from a humanist like Carl Sagan who said, “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”

By reducing our religious or spiritual experiences down to a core of selected articles of faith we diminish our own capacity to make the vast spaces of our own cosmos bearable.   Sectarianism, as witnessed in Northern Ireland or Iraq, is divisive; spirituality is inclusive.

The moment I say, “I’m right, you’re wrong, I’m cool and you’re going to Hell,” I have immediately separated us, and we’ve become  two little creatures in the utter vastness of the cosmos  floating away from the comfort which we could be using to anchor ourselves and make our lives more bearable.

If we can get past the alethilogy or epistemology and the attendant judgments thereof, then we can get back to Dr. King’s ideal that hate cannot conquer hate, only love can do that, and to Dr. Sagan’s proposition that: “Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”

So, what implications does this have for our political lives?  How about the proposition that while sectarianism is a spanner in the works of any democracy, religion doesn’t have to be.   Notice the similarities among the following disparate religions:

Quran 49:13  O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of GOD is the most righteous. GOD is Omniscient, Cognizant.

Colossians 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether [they be] thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.

In Hinduism, God is the “the eternal, transcendental, original person, the unborn, the greatest from whom everything emanates.” [link]

Shabad SGGS 272 “The God-conscious being is always unstained, like the sun, which gives its comfort and warmth to all.   The God-conscious being looks upon all alike, like the wind, which blows equally upon the king and the poor beggar. “

A fundamental understanding of ourselves, as very small creatures in a very vast cosmos, creatures with which we share a rather small planet in that unfathomable vastness — should lead us toward asking better questions.

Do we ask “How much tax money will I have to pay in order to educate every child in my city?” Or do we ask, How is the best way to insure our children have the best future possible?  Do we ask, “How can we best provide for the most ambitious among us?” Or, how can we adequately sustain the lives of our fellow human beings?  Do we ask questions which assume that self-centeredness is the best condition of Man, or inquire how we can better the state of all those who are the creations of the Creator?

There is no need to narrow the perspective in order for liberals and progressives to discuss the role of spirituality in political life, we don’t need to completely secularize our experience, nor do we need to adopt the stringent rhetoric of the sectarians.  We simply have to recognize our own place in this Universe, and allow for the fact that we share this Earth with 7.046 billion of our fellows.

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Amodei’s Latest Not Greatest: Medicare Cut Scam

PinocchioNo.  The Affordable Care Act does NOT (let’s repeat that) does NOT cut Medicare (Advantage).  Although Nevada Representative Mark Amodei (R-Nevada Mining Assn) would have you believe that.   He’s all “A-Twitter” retweeting right wing talking points from the Insurance Industry.

A quick jaunt over to Politifact yields the following information:

Medicare Advantage members pay premiums just like people who get their benefits through original Medicare.  The private companies turn a profit depending in part on how well they manage costs of care. Sweetening the deal: The government spends more per person — 7 percent more last year for Advantage beneficiaries compared with those in original Medicare, estimated the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.

The Affordable Care Act aims to gradually bring costs of the two programs in line. At the same time, it seeks to reward private insurers that offer the best care — these are the plans that top the new star rating system.
You might think shrinking payments for Medicare Advantage would mean fewer enrollees, but that hasn’t happened. Since passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans has grown by 30 percent.  (emphasis added)

So, why should  Medicare Advantage cost the federal government 7% more than Original Medicare?  It shouldn’t.   If the Republicans were truly concerned about that national debt, and federal spending, which they tout constantly — wouldn’t saving the federal government dollars be a positive thing?

Apparently not when it steps on the tender toes of the health insurance corporations who make a tidy profit from selling Medicare Advantage managed care plans.

Will there be changes in Medicare Advantage plans and premiums? Yes, and there have been since the origin of the programs.  Changes happen every year which is why those approaching retirement are advised to carefully study the provisions of both Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage during the open enrollment periods.  This in nothing new. It’s been going on since before anyone had ever heard of Barack Obama, or Smart Phones, or Digital Music.

Advice? Calm down, take a breath. Study the benefits in your Medicare plan (Original or Advantage) during the open enrollment period. Make a choice and rather than going into panic mode when changes are announced you’ll be in a better position to make an intelligent selection.

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Ukraine 101

As Ambroise Bierce once put it, “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” [BQ] It needn’t be a full fledged conflict, in these days of cable media it can be a threat of armed conflict in a volatile region.   Unfortunately, what we learn in the form of geographic knowledge we tend to subsume beneath a pile of pre-existing and often simplistic assumptions.

In the interest of complicating a complex situation further, perhaps it’s time to test a few assumptions.

1.Vladimir Putin wants to rebuild the Russian Empire.” This conclusion has been drawn by former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell. [CBS] Morell opines that the current problems between Russia and Ukraine stem from the ouster of the former Ukrainian prime minister who sought closer economic ties to Russia.   Yes, Putin has decried the break up of the old Soviet Union, so this line of argument has a kernel of consistency.  However, it also requires ignoring the instances in which Putin has observed that Ukraine is an independent nation. [NPR]  The two notions are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but “nostalgia does not presupposed expansionism.” [IndUK]  A little more thought may be in order before we leap to this conclusion.

2.If Ukraine falls then Moldova, etc. are next.”  Slow down. If Putin’s nostalgia isn’t a ‘plan’ for Russian expansion then the argument falls apart, no matter how many nations formerly affiliated with the old Soviet Union are added to the list.

3.It’s just like Georgia.”  Every analogy, or attempt to argue by analogy, eventually crumbles into absurdity, and this one falls apart more quickly than most.   The European Union sponsored a three volume study on the 2008 conflict in Georgia and concluded the conflict was started by…the Georgians.  [EU vol 1 pdf] Specifically, a “sustained Georgian artillery attack on the town of Tskhinvali.”   Given the vast military superiority of Russian forces, had the Russians wanted re re-annex Georgia it would not have been an insurmountable task.  They didn’t. The Russians didn’t even take the Georgian capital at Tbilisi.   Georgia is still an independent entity, with a prime minister elected from a unicameral parliament. [CIA]  That doesn’t mean there aren’t some hard feelings, “Russia’s military support and subsequent recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia independence in 2008 continue to sour relations with Georgia.” [CIA]

Abkhazia has a long history of association with Georgia, but not one without periodic conflicts. [BBC] The problems with South Ossetia are more profound.  Their language is more closely related to Persian than Georgian, and Georgians account for less than 1/3rd of the South Ossetian population. [BBC] While the Russians have formally recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia  only  Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, and Tuvalu followed suit.  Abkhazia uses the ruble as its currency and about 50% of its total state budget is financed by the Russians.  The economic situation in South Ossetia is a bit more dire, it has one major asset — the Roki Tunnel, which connects Russia to that portion of  Georgia.  Most of its economy is based on subsistence farming.

In short, it’s one thing to ‘declare’ a region independent and offer it recognition, but quite another to present the world with a fait accompli.  And, we’d also be well advised to note the geographic and economic ties between Russia and the two portions of Georgia upon which it has bestowed recognition are more complicated than a superficial glance would evoke.

4.We have to DO something.”   That would be a good thing, had we major compelling interests in Ukraine.   The major imports (in order) are (1) refined petroleum 13%, (2) crude petroleum, (3) semi finished iron, (4) hot rolled iron, and (5) railway freight cars. [OEC]  32.4% of the country’s imports come from Russia, 9.3% from China, 8% from Germany, 6% from Belarus, and 4.2% from Poland. [CIA]  The amount of refined petroleum imported might suggest that U.S. companies might be able to Drill Baby Drill into relevance.  This, of course, assumes that U.S. petroleum products sold on the international oil market would dominate the Ukrainian market.  However, when a country has a neighbor with an abundance of natural gas and refined petroleum (Russia) readily available at lower cost, then both the cost and the convenience outweigh U.S. capacity to get more involved in that market. [WaPo]  The arguments for the TransCanadian Keystone pipeline and fracking are essentially for our own domestic political consumption, and have little relevance for the petroleum (refined or otherwise) on global markets.

If we aren’t a major trade partner with Ukraine what vested interests are we to protect by involving ourselves in their political turmoil?   The related question is: Are we the global police force?  If we adopt this stance then we have to be ready to assume the costs associated with it.   We are paying approximately $816 billion for our operations in Iraq, another $701 billion for operations in Afghanistan [GP]  how much more are we prepared to pay for incursions into Ukraine…Syria…Libya…?

If we don’t adopt this stance then are we prepared to acknowledge that other nations, specifically members of the European Union, and even more specifically Germany, have greater interests involved in the stability of their relations with Ukraine and Russia?  [CarnegieEurope] [New Yorker]

Might a better American policy on the current issues between Russia and Ukraine be to allow those with more immediate interests take the lead in defusing the situation?  Or, in basketball parlance, should we be the player who makes other players on the court more effective?

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Filed under Economy, energy, energy policy, Foreign Policy, Politics

A Cephalopod Mollusc That Can Swim In The Desert: Kochtopus

KochtopusThe Koch Brothers (Charles and David) are among America’s 0.0001%.  In fact, what they earn in One Second could feed a homeless person for an entire year. [Salon] They are not subscribers to Andrew Carnegie’s maxim, “He who dies rich, dies disgraced.”  [PBS] And they are in Senator Harry Reid’s (D-NV) sights.

“But what is un-American is when shadowy billionaires pour unlimited money into our democracy to rig the system to benefit themselves and the wealthiest one percent. I believe in an America where economic opportunity is open to all. But based on their actions and the policies they promote, the Koch brothers seem to believe in an America where the system is rigged to benefit the very wealthy. Based on Senate Republicans’ ardent defense of the Koch brothers, and the fact that they advocate for many of the same policies the Koch brothers do, it seems my Republican colleagues also believe in a system that benefits billionaires at the expense of the middle class. The Koch brothers are willing to invest billions to buy that America.”

And they are. In 2012 the Koch Brothers political network, designed with the anonymity of donors in mind, raked in approximately $400 million — more than all other conservative organizations, and more than all other traditional supporting organizations associated with Democrats. [WaPo]

If you’d like a graphic rendition of the Koch Brothers’ political connections click here to see the circles of influence developed from the TC4Trust, the Freedom Partners, and the Center for Patients Rights.  These are connected to The American Energy Alliance, Concerned Women for America, American Commitment, American Future Fund, 60+ Association, the EvangChr4Trust, Center for Shared Services, Themis Trust, Public Engagement Group Trust, Public Notice, Libre Initiative Trust, Generation Opportunity, Americans for Prosperity, and the Concerned Veterans for America.

The incestuous financial relationship between the TC4Trust and organizations like Concerned Women for America, the Center to Protect Patient’s Rights, and the Themis group are visible here.  Unlike the 501 c (4) group, TC4Trust, Freedom Partners is classified as a 501 c (6), a trade association.

“Despite its tax status, though, in many ways it’s more like the other grant-making dark money groups — the 501(c)(4)s — on steroids. Formed in late 2011, it gave out grants totaling nearly $236 million in 2012, far more than the others giving to politically active tax-exempt groups. Much of that money went to limited liability corporations that are wholly owned by better-known nonprofits — what the IRS refers to as “disregarded entities.”  [Open Secrets]

The Themis Trust appears to exist so that we all certain of receiving the Koch Brothers’ messages.

“Called Themis, the independent group is the most ambitious of the many conservative political technology projects now in development. People with direct knowledge of the group as well as political technology industry veterans say it is backed by the Koch brothers, although their names do not appear on an annual regulatory filing and Koch Industries spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.” [Reuters May 17, 2012]

And, what do we get here in Nevada from the Americans for Prosperity?  An advertisement supporting Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3) in the upcoming off-year elections.  The substance of the commercial, if we can use the term ‘substance’ loosely, is that Heck has consistently fought the Evil Demon — Obamacare.   Perhaps the generalized form of “Obamacare” still isn’t popular with the general public, but what the ad tells us is that Heck has been fighting against:

(1) Insurance policies which exclude children with pre-existing medical conditions, including birth defects.  Insurance company practices of rescinding policies because the policy holder made an honest mistake on an application form, and your right to appeal a refusal from your insurance company to pay for medical care.

(2) Insurance company junk policies which have lifetime limits.  Requiring insurance corporations to justify their rate increases, and requires that the insurance corporations spend at least most of the money they collect in premiums from policy holders on … medical care.

(3) Removing the barrier to medical services in the ER, and covering preventative medical treatment.

Americans For Prosperity would like very much to support Representative Heck as a “fighter” against “socialized medicine,” without actually saying what it is that Representative Heck is fighting against.

As the Nevada Republican Party continues to lurch rightward into LooneyLand the Koch Brothers, and their extensive network of funding operations, will be only too happy to assist in the 2014 election cycle.  They’ve already started.

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Filed under Heck, Nevada politics, Politics

Where the Heck on H.R. 975?

VeteransOn March 5, 2013 Representative Timothy Walz (D-MN) introduced H.R. 975 in the 113th Congress of the United States.  The full ‘title’ of the bill is as follows:

“To amend title 10, United States Code, to extend the duration of the Physical Disability Board of Review and to the expand the authority of such Board to review of the separation of members of the Armed Forces on the basis of a mental condition not amounting to disability, including separation on the basis of a personality or adjustment disorder.”

The Fleet Reserve Association explains why this act would be beneficial for our veterans:

“FRA recommends support the for “Servicemembers Mental Health Review Act” (S. 628), sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.) and its House companion bill (H.R. 975) sponsored by Rep. Tim Walz (Minn.) The bills would authorize the Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR) to review and, when necessary, correct service records for veterans diagnosed by DoD with a Personality Disorder (PD) or Adjustment Disorder (AD) and discharged after active duty deployment. Many of these brave veterans have seen combat and may actually be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS). Because PD and AD are considered pre-existing conditions, the DoD is not obligated to award the benefits they earned that may help them properly reintegrate into their communities.”  (emphasis added)

Now why would the Fleet Reserve Association, and others, be calling for a bill to review the application of Personality Disorders and Adjustment Disorders diagnoses?  Part of the answer is revealed in a Viet Nam Veterans study (pdf) from the Yale Law School legal services department published in February 2014.

According to the study of Coast Guard applications of PD and AD labels the study found, “The vast majority of AD and PD discharges failed to comply with Coast Guard regulations 255 of a random sample of 265 discharges analyzed violated regulations in some way. ”  More disturbingly, the study found that 100% of the combined AD and PD discharges between FY 2001 and FY 2005 (and FY 2008, FY 2012) were not in compliance with Coast Guard regulations.  And the problem continues — since 2009 the number of AD and PD discharges has risen.

It’s not just the Coast Guard, and it’s not just a few veterans, and it’s not that the problem has not been noticed before.    The problem has been, more or less, in the public domain since 2007.   Dr. Debra Draper, GAO testified to the House Committee on Veteran Affairs, “DoD data show that from November 1, 2001, through June 30, 2007, about 26,000 enlisted servicemembers were separated from the military because of a personality disorder. Of these 26,000 servicemembers, about 2,800 had deployed at least once in support of OEF/OIF.”   As of 2009 there were questions about the response to GAO recommendations from the Pentagon.   The GAO observed that the services had saved some $12.5 billion in health care and compensation via the AD/PD discharge route. [DP]

So, there has been a problem, there is a problem, and so far 49 members of the House have signed on as co-sponsors of this legislation.  None from Nevada, a state with approximately 246,000 veterans. [VA pdf] There are five sponsors for Senator Jon Tester’s version (S. 628), none from Nevada.

H.R. 975 was assigned to the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Military Personnel on March 26, 2013, one of the members of this subcommittee is Representative Joe Heck (R-NV).

There were some tangential references  to the discharge label issues in the last Defense Appropriations Bill “(Sec. 593) Establishes the Commission on Military Behavioral Health and Disciplinary Issues to study the adequacy of DOD mechanisms for disciplinary military personnel action in addressing the behavioral impact of service-connected mental disorders and traumatic brain injury.”   However,  in today’s  insurance parlance  AD and PD are “pre-existing conditions,” which may not fall under the “service connected” classifications.  In short, not enough has been done, and it appears that not enough is being done.   It’s a topic Representative Heck might want to bring up at the next meeting of his Subcommittee on Military Personnel.

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