Pandemic no time for Republican rule

Remember when, just over a month ago, we dreamt that the current pandemic would be under control by August?  

People looked forward to school resuming in August. Sponsors were cancelling or postponing June and July events, but the Eastern and Western Idaho state fairs, scheduled for late August and early September, seemed safe.

New reports of coronavirus cases in Idaho numbered over 30 on only one day from April 21 to May 21. Last week they numbered over 200 on three days as the U.S. total hit 44,000 Friday.         

Bars in Boise have had to close for a second time, but not those in neighboring counties, leaving a lot of people wondering which counties will set new records next.  

Schools are striving to find ways to get Internet access into thousands of students’ homes this fall.

The Idaho State Democratic Party is polling members to see if they want to revise the platform during face-to-face or virtual meetings–or simply re-endorse the 2018 document.  

And Republicans seem out to prove they shouldn’t be responsible for the general good.   

To start off, the Trump Administration filed an 82-page brief asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. In the midst of this pandemic, the nation’s top Republicans are attempting to take away subsidies for insurance or benefits from Medicaid expansion from 23 million Americans previously covered plus millions more who are losing employment-based insurance. 

Apparently, the lives at stake are less important to the current administration than wiping out every vestige of the Obama Administration.  

In his defense, President Trump dragged out his tired claim that Republicans have a much better plan. In truth, the Republican members of Congress remain deeply divided over whether a government plan should exist.  

Here in Idaho, Governor Little chose to defy a direct order by a Federal judge to give Reclaim Idaho a chance to complete signature gathering stopped by the State’s stay-home order in March. The stalled initiative would have funded an additional $170 million for Idaho’s education by increasing taxes on corporations and high-income individuals. 

Judge B. Lynn Winmill said that, after allowing various applications of electronic signature gathering for 20 years, the state was wrong not to allow Reclaim Idaho to do so.

Idaho replied that following the court’s order would inflict “significant, irreparable injury” and “impinge on the state’s power to control its elections.”   

Obviously, Gov. Little has enough Republicans angry at him over the stay-home orders without dealing fairly with an initiative. And if Republican legislators wanted to improve education funding by taxing the rich, they would have done so by now. (Spokane’s top teacher salary is now about $25,000 a year more than Boise’s.) 

And then delegates at the Idaho Republican Convention in Nampa over the weekend made it pretty obvious that they do not represent Idaho people or their values. 

More attention was given to supporting Israel than to education, jobs, and health combined.     

Republicans elected as their chair Tom Luna, author of the ‘Luna Laws’ which stripped teachers of rights to negotiate for students and which Idaho voters rejected by up to 67%. There’s no sign that Luna has changed. On the contrary, his nomination included praise of those laws.

For another, delegates gave serious attention to defying the Supreme Court’s one-man, one-vote rule and giving every county just one state senator. That is, the 1,100 inhabitants of Camas County would have the same strength in the Idaho Senate as the 480,000 in Ada County or the 230,000 in Canyon County.  

I’m fairly certain this isn’t the best of all possible worlds.

Health: ACA needs to stay!

by Pat Mac

It’s good that Donald Trump is rethinking Obamacare, because having to deal with all the other ramifications of a Trump presidency and losing your health insurance when you’re depressed and sick to your stomach is too much for anyone on the blue side. (Not all the ACA policies had mental health coverage, and most of us never thought we would need one not until the day after 11/09/2016.)

The ACA, the “Affordable Care Act” as it is known by the health insurance industry and government, is called “Obamacare” by Republicans. They wanted it to sound negative or scary like “Braxton Hicks” or “Ebola.”  (No offense to the Ebola river; I’m sure it’s nice in the summer.  Or winter?)  I have always referred to the program as the ACA because it confuses people who get their news from social media and talk radio.

The joke now is the term “affordable”? With rising premiums and huge deductibles the average middle class person can’t afford it; only those who qualify for subsidy can.

           The question is who sets those prices?

         The insurance companies do, and they blame the ACA for having to raise them while their CEO’s walk away with millions in bonuses each year.

         There’s a reason why it’s called the “Healthcare Industry,” because like oil, tobacco and banking, for instance, it’s all about profit. Healthcare and pharmaceuticals now dispense more lobby money in Washington than oil and tobacco.  That is why we are in the mess we are in now.

            Millions of Americans who never had insurance before, now have it and could soon lose it because greed, egos and politics pervade our health system. No one can afford to walk into an emergency room, have tests ordered for chest pains, get a cardiologist referral and have a life-saving procedure done without filing for bankruptcy.

What happens when those who have no insurance, end up in an ambulance, spend five days in ICU and need follow up visits? They are given a different bill than those with insurance; the hospital “eats the loss”–that is, it passes the cost on to others—the county, the state, and/or insured patients.

Imagine what will happen when another 20 million lose their current insurance and depend on the ER?

What will insurance companies do when 20 million monthly payments—and the related government subsidies—disappear overnight?  Does anyone believe that will cause them to lower rates?

            What about all the new hospitals and urgent care facilities built and equipped since 2010?  Does anyone believe lower occupancy or locked doors will make health care costs go down?

And what will happen to all the doctors and nurses that won’t be needed anymore?

The biggest loser in the mess if the ACA were repealed?  Everyone? Billions of dollars and the health of millions are at stake over this.

The ACA was set up to protect the consumer with an out of pocket maximum, free preventative care checkups and subsidies. Those are definitely on the chopping block while coverage for preexisting conditions and children up to age 26 on their parents’ plans may be safe.

Yes, the ACA needs fixed, but not destroyed. There are too many people who have been left behind in the past who will be left again if it’s repealed.

 

Boise native Pat Mac is a caterer, a comedian, and co-star of the national touring show “Mac and the Big Cheese.”

Idaho Legislature: Numbers and More Numbers

by Judy Ferro

A proposed 5000% increase in a fine made me acutely aware of the numbers in the 40+ bills before the legislature.

There are good news numbers, like the proposed $29 million transfer from the Catastrophic Health Care Cost Fund to the General Fund. For the past two years, Idaho taxpayers have paid hospitals about $15 million less a year for care for the impoverished.

It’s undoubtedly the result of 87,000 more Idahoans having health insurance. Now, if legislators would allow the Federal government to subsidize insurance for 78,000 Idahoans who work for low wages, we might save double that. I know, I know. It’s the principle of the thing: if people want health care cheap, they shouldn’t work. If we allow working people the benefits of those on welfare, everyone will want a job, and there aren’t enough to go around now.

That isn’t what legislators are thinking? You can’t tell differently by their votes on health insurance.

Another good number: nearly $30 million in tax savings that aren’t quite tax cuts. The Federal government chose to extend a number of tax breaks, and Idaho’s legislature is expected to go along. Over $22 million of the tax savings would benefit businesses who may deduct up to $500,000 of capital investments rather than depreciating the cost over a number of years. (There was a time that we were spreading the deduction for a desk over a decade.)

As tax filing starts, Idaho law only allows deducting $75,000 in capital investment; many businesses may save by waiting for the legislature to act. Others who should consider postponing filing are K-12 school teachers with out-of-pocket expenses, those who’ve paid college tuition or mortgage insurance, those who’ve built energy-efficient commercial buildings, and those with underwater mortgages.

I can only imagine the hair pulling at the Tax Commission as they revised Idaho forms to reflect differences in Federal/State deductions while expecting everything would have to be changed again when the legislature acted.

Two proposals have to do with environmental protection. Senate bill 1197 would increase the bond to ensure proper reclamation of a surface mine from $2,500 to $15,000 per acre. Apparently, it’s getting harder to get rid of cyanide or sulfuric acid, and people don’t like the stuff.

Abandoned mines are a problem in fourteen Western states. A recent Boise Weekly article quoted Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League as saying that Idaho has about 5,000 mines built over 60 years ago that are abandoned. BLM estimates the cost of making each safe at $20,000 to $30,000.

Oppenheimer pointed out that, if Idaho ever did take over Federal lands, taxpayers would be responsible for $1 billion to clean up old mines on top of the $1.5 billion per decade to fight wildfires.

James Robison, also with the Conservation League, said tailings from the Thompson Creek Mine outside of Challis now leak sulfuric acid which the company captures and recycles. If the company went bankrupt, however, its current $42 million bond would not cover the cost of an actual cleanup.

And that 5,000% increase? The House State Affairs committee refused bill status to the Public Utilities Commission proposal to raise the maximum fine for pipeline safety violations. Legislators thought that an increase from $2,000 to $100,000 a day would make us look like money grabbers. They ignored Commissioner Paul Kjellander suggestion that having a fine just 1-2% that of surrounding states would make us look irresponsible. Idaho is now probably solidly last on any plans for pipeline maintenance.

Just 100 or so more bills to go.

 

Health: Obamacare improving lives

by Judy Ferro

Obamacare.

`               The national Republican leadership has staked the future of their party on people hating it.

They have flooded the airwaves with horror stories. Obamacare would crowd doctors’ offices with so many people that you couldn’t get in.   It would destroy Medicare.  It would create “death panels” to deny health care.

They have magnified the failure of an Internet program—written and managed by a private firm—into the “failure” of Obamacare.

They have used their control of the House of Representatives to vote fifty times to repeal it.  Fifty times.

They have repeatedly challenged Obamacare in the courts.  Republican governors, including our own, managed to kill the provision requiring states to expand Medicaid.  The Feds won in the fight to require everyone to get insurance.  Corporations are still battling over their right to exclude birth control from their policies.

And a faction of Idaho Republicans are counting on voters’ hatred of Obamacare to oust incumbents who supported establishing an Idaho insurance exchange to sweep them to victories in May and November.

It is the ultimate test of the big-lie’s subversion of democracy.   What does having a vote mean if the mega-rich control a gigantic propaganda machine?

And propaganda has had its victories.  One of the liberal talk shows sent a team out to ask which people liked best—Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act.   They found plenty of people who hated Obamacare and liked the Affordable Care Act.  They were nice people who were adorably cute upon learning that Obamacare is just a nickname for the Affordable Care Act.

And plenty of people are circulating e-mail petitions demanding that Congress not be exempt from the Affordable Care Act.  It isn’t.  A major part of the act requires that people who can afford health insurance, have it.  Members of Congress have health insurance.  They are in compliance.

While all the hoopla has been going on, Obamacare has been steadily improving people’s lives.

Insurance companies are required to pay out 80% of peoples’ premiums on healthcare.  Their overhead had averaged about 40%.  Medicare’s overhead is 3%.

Women no longer pay more for health insurance than men do.

Preventive care is included.  Check-ups and lab tests cost patients little or nothing.

Children between the ages of 18 and 26 are getting coverage under their parents’ policies.

People born with diseases like muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis are getting coverage.  People who once had cancer are getting coverage.  Even those who, like my husband, once received ultrasound for a charley horse are no longer being denied coverage for spinal injuries.

More than 46,000 Idahoans recently purchased health insurance under the exchange—nearly 50% more than the expected 32,000.  Some, like my friend Dennis, are now insured for the first time since becoming self-employed.  Others signed up for better coverage with a lower deductible than their previous policies.

What will happen if Idahoans repeal the exchange?  Those covered will have a window of time to transfer to the national exchange and Idahoans will probably have to repay the $20 million that the Feds granted toward start-up costs.

Zero benefit really.  But that’s not the point, is it?  Principle counts—but what is the principle here?  People have the right to hate?  The uber-rich have the right to control elections?

I trust the majority of Idahoans will disregard the propaganda machine and base their vote on their own experience and compassion.   I may be wrong.

I’ve been wrong before.