Fighting for affordable health insurance and fair electoral maps

There's a bit of news about Gill v. Whitford to share with you. On May 8, The "appellees" — those individuals who filed the orignal suit and won the ruling from the federal district court — have filed what's called a "petition to affirm." Essentially, this petition asks the Supreme Court to simply affirm the lower court's ruling without the need for oral arguments before the Supreme Court. You can see the complete filing on the SCOTUSblog site. On May 18, the state countered with its opposition to the motion to affirm the earlier ruling.

On May 22, Attorney General Brad Schimel petitioned the US Supreme Court to issue a stay of the trial court's ruling. This move is a pretty standard practice whenever a litigant doesn't like a court's ruling and thus appeals to a higher court. Amy Howe, a reporter for SCOTUSblog, explains what the petition for a stay means:

Wisconsin officials argued that the lower court’s decision striking down the redistricting plan was so “fundamentally flawed” that the justices should consider reversing it without even asking for additional briefing or oral argument. If the court were take that route by the end of June, the state explained, there would be no need for the justices to put the lower court’s order on hold.

But if the Supreme Court instead opts to review the case on the merits, with oral argument in the fall, the state continued, then it should spare the state from having to comply with the lower court’s deadline. Blocking the order would save the state the trouble of creating a new map until the Supreme Court can rule on the validity of the old plan, the state claims. And if the state ultimately prevails – as it believes it will – it can simply continue to use the old plan. Moreover, even if the Supreme Court were to agree with the challengers that the plan must go, the court’s eventual opinion will provide “significant guidance” for the state to use in drafting a new redistricting plan. “It would be a serious intrusion,” the state concludes, on the state’s “sovereign resources to force it to redraw a map half-blind, guided by only an indisputably-flawed district court opinion.”
Wisconsin seeks stay as back-up plan in partisan gerrymandering case [UPDATED], SCOTUSblog (May. 24, 2017, 11:03 AM).

Conventional wisdom — often wrong, we should remember — has it that the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in this case in the October term.

Today the New York Times editorial board argues that partisan gerrymandering needs to be reined in.

Partisan gerrymandering — the dark art of drawing legislative district lines to specifically favor Republicans or Democrats — is as old as it is corrosive to a representative democracy. Self-interested politicians have no business making maps with the sole purpose of keeping themselves and their party in power....
The bottom line is that politicians can’t be trusted to draw maps that fairly represent their constituents, and they won’t willingly give up the power once they have it. So it’s up to the courts to step in and set clear rules.

We may know after June 8 which way this case is heading. The justices have scheduled a discussion of the case for its regularly scheduled conference then. But whatever the outcome, Wisconsin will make history. Stay tuned.

The Problem with Insuring Health
by Virginia Gennis

Insurance is a system in which premiums are paid by subscribers into a pool of funds used to compensate losses from future events. Because insured events are usually infrequent, are not recurrent, and are of limited duration, most enrollees pay premiums but do not receive money for claims, so that the pool of premiums exceeds the cost of claims. Think of your homeowners policy or your car insurance. The surplus money becomes profit for the insurance company. Typical insured risks include car accidents, home damage and theft. Skillful estimation of risks allows premiums to be set that are both competitive and profitable. According to Warren Buffet, an important source of income for insurance companies comes from the gap between the time premiums are paid in and the time claims are reimbursed. During this gap substantial free money is available to be invested profitably.

Insurance has existed since ancient times. The Babylonians and Romans paid a ’Bottomry fee’ to receive compensation if one of their ships sank in the Mediterranean Sea. The first written insurance contract was made in Genoa in 1347. In 1777 Benjamin Franklin started a company to insure Philadelphians against fire. Today many additional risks are insured.

However, insurance for health care costs was uncommon before the 1940’s when World War II forced the United States to impose wage controls. Employers could no longer compete for scarce workers by offering more money, and stagnant income made employees unhappy. Adding health benefits attracted workers and made up for frozen wages.

After the war publicly supported health insurance was considered, but in the end a system funded by employers and administered through commercial companies was instituted. Donated care and public hospitals provided care for the poor and uninsured. In the 1960’s Medicare and Medicaid were enacted to cover medical costs for the elderly, the disabled and the indigent. But some people still remained uncovered and had to pay medical bills out of pocket or rely on charity.

Health problems are substantially different from other insured risks. Unlike ship wrecks and car accidents, medical needs are common, recurrent, and often chronic. Pre-existing conditions have nearly a 100% probability of ongoing medical expenses. Only a minority of people do not have significant health care needs at some time in their lives.

Read the rest of this excellent explanation of how health insurance works and how the US can continue to use private insurance companies but still reach universal coverage at affordable rates.

Read more
1 reaction Share

The Budget Wars Begin

We cannot mince words: the Trump budget proposal is catastrophic. For human health, for the environment, for scientific research and technological development, for early childhood education, for pregnant women and babies, for people trying to manage disabilities, for nursing home patients. Who will be untouched by the misery that will unfold when these cuts flow through our lives? Not those whose jobs will be cut. Not those who depend on school lunches. Not those who want to leave the world less polluted in the future. Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the Center for Disease Control, calls the Administration Proposal for the 2018 CDC "Unsafe at any level of enactment" (@DrFrieden). Surely that characterization is apt not just for the CDC but for every area of our daily lives.

To be sure, presidential budget plans are never actually enacted as written. So the document unveiled today is almost certainly not what Congress will pass. But it is a declaration of priorities and principles of sorts. Some even call these documents moral statements. So we can't exactly ignore it. Once the news media slow their coverage of the latest terrorist attack, there will be a tsunami of stories about nearly every aspect of the budget proposal. And all the usual exhortations apply: so pick your issues and call your representatives.

Senator Ron Johnson should certainly be at the top of your call list. At his town hall in Franklin on May 21, he began by stressing the looming disaster that our deficits pose. Ask him which parts of the budget plan he thinks he's likely to support. Ask him how the tax cuts in the Trump budget will affect that deficit ten years out. And don't let him or his staff get away with saying that the economic growth that will be unleashed by the massive tax cut for the uber-rich will take care of the additional accumulation of debts. Request an example from the past proving that tax cuts pay for themselves. (After Reagan cut taxes he found he had to raise them again because of looming deficits. After Bush cut taxes, twice, the deficit took off like a rocket!) Or ask whether he really just agrees with Dick Cheney who famously said about the Bush tax cuts that "deficits don't matter."

And ask him about the HUGE cuts to safety net programs, especially Medicaid. At the town hall he said that he did not want to "pull the rug out from under anyone." That was his recurring response to pleas from the mothers of autistic children fearing cuts to Medicaid and from citizens whose pre-existing conditions might prevent them from obtaining affordable healthcare coverage under "Trumpcare." Ask him how the Trump budget will address their needs. Ask him whether he expects states to fill the gaps and if so whether, when they have to raise taxes, the vaunted stimulus from federal tax reductions for the wealthy will be undercut by the loss of income among the merely upper- and middle-classes.

We need to fight these things in the trenches, on the beaches, or at least in the halls of Congress; on Twitter and Facebook; in letters to the editor. Yes, even in the ghastly comment sections of the Journal Sentinel. Put aside your writer's block. If you're nervous about calling up legislators, have a wee dram first! Break through whatever barriers you have; conquer your demons. The next 18 months will be the fight of our lives, maybe of the century. We must try to save as much of the progress our country has made in the last 100 years as we can. Even though we know fighting the budget battle will be frustrating, this struggle will form the groundwork for electoral success in 2018. So keep your eyes on that prize and get to work.

On a brighter note, beginning with last week's, the newsletter will now appear online a day or two after it goes out in its regular email format. You can find the last one on our website. They'll show up under the "Weekly Newsletter Archive" menu.


Read more
Add your reaction Share

May 16, 2017, Yet More Shock and Awe :-(

Every week is a stunner, isn't it? So much sturm und drang, so little time or energy to try to respond in a meaningful way to all of it. The key, I think, is to focus: one or two national issues/opportunities and one or two state issues/opportunities. Everyone will have her own set — I certainly have mine — so this week, instead of including a piece on a specific issue, I am offering a range of political actions individuals can take on a variety of issues.

Let's start with local issues. As the budget battles loom, there is no end of issues to address. So here are three that have been in the news lately: gas tax v. wheel tax v. bond issues; funding university scholarships with money diverted from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program; eliminating the Manufacturing and Agricultural Tax Credit and taxing investment income just like other income to free up funds for important investments.

Your job? Call your legislators, write letters to the editors, talk about these issues with family, friends, and on your social media outlets. You could also speak up at town hall and listening sessions in the area. As it happens, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is holding some "office hours" in locations that aren't too far from the North Shore! On Thursday, May 18, he'll be at the Horicon Marsh Visitors Center, N7725 St Road 28, Horicon, at 11:30 AM. On Monday, May 22, he'll be at the Johnson Creek Village Hall (Johnson Creek Village Hall, 125 Depot St, Johnson Creek) at 10:00 AM and at the Public Library in Oconomowoc (200 W South St., Oconomowoc) at 12 noon. Road trip anyone?

Even closer to home, Represenative Joe Sanfelippo will be at the New Berlin Public Library (15105 West Library Lane, New Berlin) at 7:00 PM on Tuesday, May 23, and at the West Allis City Hall (7525 West Greenfield Avenue, West Allis) on Wednesday, May 24 at 7:00 PM.

National issues take up a lot of the oxygen these days. We have a completely dysfunctional (and terrifying) executive branch coupled with a crassly self-serving Republican Congress. Just keeping up with the daily events is exhausting, so FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS. Indivisible offers help. It's promoting some top priorities for this week:

  1. Call for an independent prosecutor to investigate Trump's ties to Russia. Last week, Trump not only fired FBI Director James Comey, he then went on national television and admitted that the Russia investigation was part of his reason for doing so. The American people deserve to know just how serious this administration's ties to Russia are, but it's clear that Republican Members of Congress aren't in a hurry to find the answers. And we can't trust whoever Trump nominates as the next FBI Director to take this seriously either.
  2. Keep defending the ACA. From Virginia to California, you made the most of Payback Recess at town halls and die-ins across the country to hold the House accountable for the shameful vote to pass TrumpCare. Now it's time to start making sure your Senators know that if they pass this bill, they can expect the same constituent outrage the House saw this recess. Need a refresher on the rest of the AHCA's path to becoming law? Read up on TrumpCare Passed the House: Now What?
  3. If you want to prevent the next financial crisis, this week could be your chance. Once they are back from recess, the House is planning to vote on the Financial CHOICE Act (H.R. 10), a bill that will deregulate Wall Street. Here's your script for making calls.

A "feature" of the American Health Care Act proposes to "help" people with pre-existing conditions by allowing states to set up so-called high-risk pools. Wisconsin had one of those before the ACA (Obamacare) made it unnecessary and Speaker Ryan is touting it as an example of the concept's success. The Journal Sentinel did a good job of explaining the issue (and hinting at its inadequacy) yesterday. So, if you applied for coverage under the high-risk program that preceded Obamacare and were denied or found the premiums to be way out of reach, write a letter to the editor or send me your story. I will use what you send me without attribution so that we can get these stories out to push back against the idea that high-risk pools are an adequate substitute for mandated coverage of people with pre-existing conditions without higher premiums. That's what Obamacare provides now and we must insist that these protections remain in any "replacement" the GOP enacts into law!

Finally, get beyond marching, calling, writing, and wringing your hands! Apply for an Organizing Fellowship with the Wisconsin Coordinated Campaign. The volunteer positions begin June 10th and run through August 25. Full-time fellows will commit to a minimum of 40 hours/week. Part-time fellows will commit to at least 20 hours per week. Deadline for application is Friday, May 26. This is a great opportunity for people who want to become a critical member of the next generation of community organizers. You will help our movement expand its outreach in neighborhoods across Wisconsin, and learn the skills and tools necessary to become a campaign operative.

Read more
1 reaction Share