Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Congressmember Jackie Speier Addresses Local Democrats on Healthcare Reform

Barbara Arietta
Correspondent - Pacifica Tribune

U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Speier paid a visit to Pacifica Saturday, May 1, to address members of the Pacifica Democrats and their co-hosts, the Coastside Democratic Club and the Daly city Democratic Club, about the latest news on healthcare reform.

Approximately 111 interested citizens, from both the coastside, and throughout the County of San Mateo, attended the Saturday morning event, which was held in the rear banquet room of the Sharp Park Golf Course.

"There's a lot of misinformation about healthcare reform," Speier began. "I think it's very important for everyone to know, but it's especially important for the senior community to understand how it helps them." Speier then enumerated the benefits of Healthcare Reform to the 12th Congressional District. She revealed that 97,000 Medicare beneficiaries will see their coverage improve, including closure of the  "donut hole", which heretofore had been, at times, a life threatening event for Medicare recipients, who had been forced to make a decision between paying their rent or mortgage or paying for their prescriptions. "It was tough," said Speier."Before this, how the plan worked was that you had prescription coverage up to $2,700, then any prescription after that up to, I believe, close to $7,000, you had to pay the total retail cost of that prescription. That was a huge hit on senior citizens!" Speier said that over the course of the next ten years that "donut hole" will be reduced to zero. She also advised that there will be a $250 rebate, that goes into effect this year, that will be received by any seniors who have reached that $2,700 limit between now and the end of this year.

"The other great benefit is that, as of January, brand name drugs costs for those Medicare patients, who enter the "donut hole", will be cut by 50%," Speier revealed. "It also closes the donut hole by 2020."

Speier then announced that there are 11,000 residents in her district that are currently uninsured, but will now be able to gain access to healthcare because of this new reform. "Forty-four thousand young adults who are 22 years of age and no longer eligible to be on their parent's health insurance will now be able to remain on their parent's insurance, up until age 26. That goes into effect this year."

The next announcement was on "pre-existing" conditions. Those that do have pre-existing conditions, who are uninsured now, will have to wait until 2014 for insurance to kick-in. In order to do something for those people in the meantime, high risk insurance pools will be created across the country offering them coverage. And those will go into effect by September of this year.

In addition to the obvious pre-existing conditions (High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart conditions, cancer), Speier revealed that conditions such as bunions, those that have had "C-sections", victims of domestic violence, those who are not only too fat, but also too skinny, and even those that were deemed too healthy because they could not provide any previous medical records, could, up until now, be booted won't be. They will be covered. "Because of this new bill there are now 7,400 people in this district with pre-existing conditions that will now be able to get insurance," Speier said.

"Insurance companies will also be barred from dropping you if you get sick. This highly controversial industry practice, which has been referred to in the past as "dirty", is called rescission of coverage," Speier said. She told the gathered Democratic clubs of one woman's story who was receiving treatment for breast cancer and had been paying her premiums, but whose healthcare coverage was rescinded because it was found out by the insurance company that she had failed to reveal on her original application that she once had acne at age 16.

"Here in California we have a Department of Managed Healthcare and what we found out was that there were three insurance companies here in the State of California that were rescinding coverage of people, who were enrolled in their plans, paying their premiums and then got sick. California, alone, had over 5,000 complaints. Imagine across the country what we were looking at," Speier said. "The most recent fiasco here was with Anthem Blue Cross, which was found to be looking at breast cancer patient records and scanning their records to see if there was any way that they could boot them out of healthcare. What the company would do is that it would go back to the people's original application and try to find if there was an error that they made on their application and the company would then kick them out of the plan. That will no longer happen. It goes into effect this year."

The next substantial point that she addressed was the fact that uncompensated care for hospitals in this district will be reduced by $46 million because people will be able to visit doctors when they are sick, rather than the emergency room. "Whether it was Seton, Mills Peninsula or other hospitals in this district not receiving compensation for emergency room care, they all shifted the cost of their uncompensated care to the premiums that everyone else pays for their health coverage. "That's why your premiums wind up being so high," said Speier "Because people who come into the emergency room are not turned away. That is a federal law. We are not going to turn away anyone that comes into the emergency room. Up until now, those costs were shifted to those that had health insurance. Well, now everyone will have health insurance and that practice will be eliminated."

Insurance companies will also be barred from imposing lifetime coverage limits effective this year. Annual caps, which exist as well, will be dealt with in 2014.

And small businesses, who have 25 employees or less, will receive a 35% tax credit so they can continue to provide health coverage for their employees, if they pay for 50% of their employee's health insurance and the employees make $25,000 a year or less. "It's a great benefit to small employers," Speier said.

Speier then informed the crowd how health care reform strengthens Medicare benefits. "The new bill will eliminate out-of-pocket co-pays for preventative services. This is a big deal. Some of those co-pays could easily be as much as $400 or even more for just one screening procedure," said Speier. "Seniors have been paying that co-pay if they have group insurance that has 80/20. No longer are they going to pay for a co-pay for preventative screenings, such as a colonoscopy, mammogram, osteoporosis screening or a physical, among other preventative procedures."

"In addition, health care reform increases reimbursement for primary care services and encourages training of primary care physicians. This is really critical because there has been a dearth of primary care physicians and you come out of medical school with a $250,000 debt and you're going to choose to be a primary care physician, where you're not going to be  making the big bucks," Speier stated. "I'm really offended when people think that doctors make big bucks now, after watching the punks on Wall Street recently, who do nothing, do nothing in society to improve it, making the kind of money that they are making is so outrageous," exclaimed Speier.

"So primary care physicians are going to be given an incentive now to go into that field. Medical school students, who decide to go the primary care route, will be forgiven their entire cost of their medical school career, if they provide medical care as a primary care physician in an area that is in need of a primary care physician for a period of 4-5 years," Speier said.

Speier then revealed that one of the ways to bring down the national deficit is to get rid of the waste, fraud and abuse in the Medicare system, so that Medicare can be made more financially sound and available for future generations. "We figure that it's about $100 billion a year out of a $400 billion program a year," said Speier.

"Health care reform will also eliminate overpayments to private Medicare plans (Medicare Advantage). Medicare Advantage will continue, but it's going to equalize it for everyone. About a quarter of the senior population is on Medicare Advantage, three quarters are not and the federal  government was subsidizing Medicare Advantage to the tune of about 14% and it wasn't equal for everybody and it needs to be equal for everybody. That's going to change as well. The new reform will require Medicare Advantage plans to spend at least 85% of each dollar received on medical care, rather than profit," Speier declared.

"If you have Medicare Advantage plan, you keep your plan, as is. Health care reform does not change your coverage. Private insurance companies currently get a 14% subsidy above normal Medicare reimbursement rates for each Medicare Advantage policy. This money goes to corporate profits, not medical care, and is paid for by the 75% of Medicare beneficiaries who do not have these policies," Speier informed. "By phasing out the subsidy to private insurance companies, US taxpayers will save $132 billion over ten years," Speier said.

In concluding her speech on healthcare reform, Speier said,"The Congressional Budget Office said that in the first ten years we save $200 billion and the second ten years over a trillion dollars."

Speier then spoke briefly on financial services reform. "How did we get here? What happened?" Speier questioned. "We did this poster called the cracks on Wall Street. In the 1930's, under Roosevelt, they passed what was called the Glass Siegel Act which provided that a commercial bank, an investment bank and an insurance company had to be kept separate and it worked for 60 years. But, then it started to erode. In 1996, many companies came to the Federal Reserve which re-interpreted the Glass Siegel Act eventually allowing bank holding companies to earn up to 25% of their revenues in investment banking, but that wasn't enough for them."

Speier then went on to explain to the audience that the companies came back in 1999 and the Bramley's Brumley Act was passed that basically said that a bank can own an investment company, can own an insurance company and eventually create a huge financial shopping market place so that they could compete "globally". It passed with the support of Greenspan, Treasury Secretary Rubin, Lawrence Summers, Andrew Leavitt and Congress passed it and President Clinton signed it into law. Speier also told the audience that President Clinton recently said that he had really made a mistake doing that.

President Clinton at that same time years ago had appointed a woman named Brook Seabourne to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) as Chairman. She was working for a law firm called Arnold Porter when she was picked to be the Chair of CFTC. She knew a lot about derivatives and said that something should be done about derivatives. Apparently, Greenspan, Rubin, Summers and Leavitt didn't agree and she was bumped out. So the next year, The Commodity Futures Modernization Act passes Congress, which basically prohibits Congress from regulating derivatives, the very instruments that were bringing this country down according to Speier. And what was Congress doing? They were passing laws to prohibit it from regulating them.

Then in 2004 the FTC ending in a basement committee room passes a regulation that lifts the cap on leverage by companies that are under their regulation from 12 to 1 to whatever...When Lehman and Bears went belly up, they were all leveraged 30 to 1...

In 2005, the FTC adopts the rule exempting stockbrokers from the Investment Advisors Act which allowed local stockbrokers to continue without fiduciary duty to the public. The fact that Goldman Sachs could package all these mortgage-backed securities, knowing that they were bad and knowing that they were going to be shorted by one of their big clients, they didn't have to tell anyone anything...."That's why it all came tumbling down," said Speier."The voraciousness of the financial services industry to be deregulated and a Congress and a President that was all too willing to do it."

Then you had during the last 7 years the SEC under Christopher Cox and the Bush Administration, an SEC Chairman who reduced the number of enforcement actions to 80% and reduced  discouragement  actions by 60%.

So when a complaint about Bernie Maydoff came to SEC 5 times was accused of "front running"..."Who was your custodian?" Madoff gave them the name. The SEC never made the call...Special Order for One Hour and have colliloquy. We took the principle from Goldman Sachs website.

Submitted by Babs Arietta

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