Republicans Fake Healthcare

‘This more egalitarian vision of healthcare freedom may sound utopian, but it is entirely achievable.’ Photograph: Mark Makela/Getty Images

aul Ryan is promoting Trumpcare as if it were some sort of medical Magna Carta – a brave declaration of healthcare freedom. “We’re not going to make an American do what they don’t want to do. You get it [healthcare] if you want it. That’s freedom” he recently said on Face the Nation. Freedom to die uninsured, that is.

It’s not that House Republicans are proposing some libertarian healthcare promised land wherein open heart surgeries and rounds of chemo are bartered and traded like tubes of toothpaste – far from it. Instead, the bill largely relies on Obamacare’s blueprint, although it mangles its details for the benefit of the rich while stripping coverage from a staggering 24 million people by 2026 (according to Monday’s estimates from the Congressional Budget Office).

Ryan’s healthcare bill would, like the Obamacare, provide subsidies (or tax credits) for the purchase of private insurance policies. Yet these tax credits would be comparatively more regressive and less generous than those in the Affordable Care Act (ACA); many Americans would thus be freed from having affordable premiums.

The Republican bill also discards Obamacare’s cost sharing subsidies for low-income individuals, who would henceforth have the freedom to pay higher copayments and deductibles. Additionally, it prevents tax credits from being used for the purchase of plans that cover abortion, freeing more women from control over their own reproductive systems.

The bill would also punish those with low incomes by squeezing federal funding of Medicaid beginning in 2020, effectively emancipating millions of poor people from the ranks of the insured.

Trumpcare would at the same time cut the ACA’s taxes on the wealthy, which, as the New York Times recently reported, would redistribute upward some $144bn over a decade to millionaires. Now in fairness, this provision would increase freedom for some: freedom, for instance, to buy a second vacation home, or a first yacht.

And finally, what Ryan seems to see as Trumpcare’s greatest emancipatory element – the elimination of the ACA’s unpopular individual mandate – would simply be replaced by a 30% premium penalty, assessed by insurers, for those who spent time uninsured. As Patrick Henry might have put it: give me a continuous coverage premium surcharge as opposed to a tax penalty, or give me death.

Unbelievably, Ryan sees “freedom” in all of this devastation.

For Ryan and those in his ideological camp, freedom in healthcare is basically the freedom of the consumer, who should be free to buy – or not buy – the particular insurance plan that suits his or her needs and tastes. Hence the bewilderment of Representative John Shimkus who recently asked why, exactly, men should be compelled to buy plans that cover maternity care (Trump’s pick to lead the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Seema Verma, has said something similar).

Ryan thus offers a peculiar vision of healthcare freedom. For the medical literature tells us – to no one’s surprise – that the uninsured are more likely to die. And as noted, the CBO has now estimated that Trumpcare will increase the ranks of the uninsured by 24 million in a decade from now.

The bill would thus increase our freedom to die of health conditions that are amenable to modern medical care, and thereby liberate tens of thousands of people a year off of the face of the planet.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

Trump’s Cabinet Looks For Healthcare Solutions.

 

Vibrator maker ordered to pay out C$4m for tracking users’ sexual activity

The We-Vibe is marketed as a way to ‘allow couples to keep their flame ignited – together or apart’. Photograph: Emily Berl for the Guardian

Following a class-action lawsuit in an Illinois federal court, We-Vibe’s parent company Standard Innovation has been ordered to pay a total of C$4m to owners, with those who used the vibrators associated app entitled to the full amount each. Those who simply bought the vibrator can claim up to $199.

The We-Vibe 4 Plus is a £90 bluetooth connected vibrator, which can be controlled through an app. It is marketed as a way to “allow couples to keep their flame ignited – together or apart”. Its app-enabled controls can be activated remotely, allowing, for instance, a partner on the other end of a video call to interact.

But the app came with a number of security and privacy vulnerabilities, which added up to produce something that many would feel uncomfortable about using.

The app that controls the vibrator is barely secured, allowing anyone within bluetooth range to seize control of the device.

In addition, data is collected and sent back to Standard Innovation, letting the company know about the temperature of the device and the vibration intensity – which, combined, reveal intimate information about the user’s sexual habits.

The flaws with the We-Vibe sex toy were first revealed at the Def Con hacking conference in Las Vegas in 2016 by New Zealand-based hackers “goldfisk” and “follower”. Speaking there, the pair argued that the problem was a “serious issue”: “unwanted activation of a vibrator is potentially sexual assault”, follower said.

In practice, given the C$4m total settlement and the requirement to pay various legal fees first, most We-Vibe owners are likely to receive somewhat less than the full $10,000 they are entitled to.

Source: Article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

 

 

Retirees Knit Sweaters For Chilly Chickens In Milton

If you think the weather has been cold lately, just think about how the chickens feel. Lucky for Massachusetts estate’s poultry, a group of knitters in Milton are doing just that.

The unusual project began after members of a knitting club at Fuller Village, a retirement home in Milton, Massachusetts, heard about the hardships that some chickens suffer this time of year.

Certain breeds shed their feathers and grow new plumage in the winter months. Others imported from tropical climates just aren’t suited for the wintry conditions.

Organizer Nancy Kearns said the project benefits birds kept on a neighboring estate known as the Mary M.B. Wakefield Charitable Trust.

“I don’t think in my wildest dreams I ever thought anybody made sweaters for chickens,” said Barbara Widmayer, 76, who started knitting when she was 15 years old.

Among the sweaters Widmayer crafted by hand was one for Prince Peep, a rooster native to Malaysia.

“There’s so much going on these days that’s kind of contentious in the world,” she said. “It was actually very calming to me to work on this.”

Another knitter, 76-year-old Libby Kaplan, said the experience has helped her to overcome her fear of birds.

“One person I heard say there were more important things to do in this world. ‘Make things for people that need it.’ I think animals need to be warm, too, and I’m so glad we did it,” Kaplan said.

The chickens seem to like their sweaters: Estate spokeswoman Erica Max says egg production has jumped noticeably since the birds began wearing them.

Budget Office says Trump’s healthcare bill favors wealthy

Donald Trump: pointing the way toward … more of the same for the wealthy, actually. Photograph: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Effects on Health Insurance Coverage

To estimate the budgetary effects, Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) projected how the legislation would change the number of people who obtain federally subsidized health insurance through Medicaid, the nongroup market, and the employment-based market, as well as many other factors.

CBO and JCT estimate that, in 2018, 14 million more people would be uninsured under the legislation than under current law. The increase in the number of uninsured people relative to the number under current law would rise to 21 million in 2020 and then to 24 million in 2026.

The reductions in insurance coverage between 2018 and 2026 would stem in large part from changes in Medicaid enrollment—because some states would discontinue their expansion of eligibility, some states that would have expanded eligibility in the future would choose not to do so, and per-enrollee spending in the program would be capped.

In 2026, an estimated 52 million people would be uninsured, compared with 28 million who would lack insurance that year under current law.

Most of that increase would stem from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate. Some of those people would choose not to have insurance because they chose to be covered by insurance under current law only to avoid paying the penalties, and some people would forgo insurance in response to higher premiums.

Effects on Premiums

The legislation would tend to increase average premiums in the nongroup market prior to 2020 and lower average premiums thereafter, relative to projections under current law. In 2018 and 2019, according to CBO and JCT’s estimates, average premiums for single policyholders in the nongroup market would be 15 percent to 20 percent higher than under current law, mainly because the individual mandate penalties would be eliminated, inducing fewer comparatively healthy people to sign up.

Starting in 2020, the increase in average premiums from repealing the individual mandate penalties would be more than offset by the combination of several factors that would decrease those premiums: grants to states from the Patient and State Stability Fund (which CBO and JCT expect to largely be used by states to limit the costs to insurers of enrollees with very high claims); the elimination of the requirement for insurers to offer plans covering certain percentages of the cost of covered benefits; and a younger mix of enrollees.

By 2026, average premiums for single policyholders in the nongroup market under the legislation would be roughly 10 percent lower than under current law, CBO and JCT estimate.

Although average premiums would increase prior to 2020 and decrease starting in 2020, CBO and JCT estimate that changes in premiums relative to those under current law would differ significantly for people of different ages because of a change in age-rating rules.

Under the legislation, insurers would be allowed to generally charge five times more for older enrollees than younger ones rather than three times more as under current law, substantially reducing premiums for young adults and substantially raising premiums for older people.

Helping the richest

For many lower-income people, the new tax credits under the legislation would tend to be smaller than the premium tax credits under current law. Conversely, the tax credits under the legislation would tend to be larger than current-law premium tax credits for many people with higher income.

Read the complete CBO report in PDF….  americanhealthcareact_CBO

Texas lawmaker cocksure upcoming anti-masturbation bill won’t come to fruition.

An abortion rights activist holds placards outside of the US supreme court last year. The Texas state representative Jessica Farrar has filed a bill parodying anti-abortion measures. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

A Texas lawmaker has filed a satirical bill to regulate “masturbatory emissions” as a riposte to a slew of anti-abortion measures advocated by the state’s Republican politicians.

The bill from Jessica Farrar, a Democratic representative from Houston, is called the Man’s Right to Know Act – a reference to legislation known as the Woman’s Right to Know Act which previously passed into Texas law. That forces doctors to perform a sonogram, make audio of the heartbeat available, and describe the fetus to women considering an abortion at least 24 hours before the procedure takes place.

It is also the name of a state health department pamphlet that emphasises – and, according to critics, exaggerates and misleads readers about – the risks of abortions, and steers women towards alternatives.

Farrar’s bill requires the creation of a booklet which must be reviewed by doctors with male patients and which “must contain medical information related to the benefits and concerns of a man seeking a vasectomy, Viagra prescription, or a colonoscopy. The booklet must contain artistic illustrations of each procedure.”

It also demands an attending physician “administer a medically-unnecessary digital rectal exam … before administering an elective vasectomy or colonoscopy procedure, or prescribing Viagra”.

Farrar said in a statement: “Although HB 4260 is satirical, there is nothing funny about current healthcare restrictions for women and the very real legislation that is proposed every legislative session.

“Women are not laughing at state-imposed regulations and obstacles that interfere with their ability to legally access safe healthcare, and subject them to fake science and medically unnecessary procedures. Texans deserve to be treated with the same amount of respect when making healthcare decisions, regardless of their gender.”

Texas’s attempts to limit abortions attracted national attention in 2013 when the then state senator Wendy Davis mounted an 11-hour filibuster in an attempt to block a bill that caused many of the state’s abortion clinics to close. Last year, the US supreme court struck down key parts of the law, but conservatives swiftly returned to the subject.

In January, a federal judge blocked a new state rule requiring healthcare providers to conduct burials or cremations of fetal remains, writing that it seemed to be a pretext for restricting abortion access.

Among the proposals from Texas politicians in the current legislative session are bills to abolish abortion and make it a felony; ban abortions after 20 weeks even if the fetus has a severe abnormality; limit the types of legal abortion procedures and tissue donations; pass another burial rule; and enhance the rights of embryos and fetuses.

The proposed act takes the language and concepts used by conservatives to limit abortions and swaps the sexes.

It calls for a $100 fine for “emissions outside of a woman’s vagina, or created outside of a health or medical facility”, which “will be considered an act against an unborn child, and failing to preserve the sanctity of life”.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

Raped, beaten, exploited: the 21st-century slavery propping up Sicilian farming

Nicoleta Bolos and her baby daughter in Ragusa province. Photograph: Francesca Commissari for the Observer

The only thing that she feared more than the sound of the farmer’s step outside her door was the threat of losing her job. So she endured night after night of rape and beatings while her husband drank himself into a stupor outside.

“The first time, it was my husband who said I had to do this. That the owner of the greenhouse where we had been given work wanted to sleep with me and if we refused he wouldn’t pay us and would send us off his land,” she says.

“I thought he was crazy, but when I refused, he beat me. He said I had to do everything our boss told us to do – it was the only way we could keep our work. When my employer came, he threatened me with a gun. He told me that if I moved he would blow my head off. When he finished he just walked away.”

The next morning Bolos was back at work, crouching beside her husband in a sweltering greenhouse, tending and harvesting the produce that has helped make Italy the biggest grower and exporter of fruit and vegetables in Europe. The province of Ragusa is the third-largest producer of vegetables in Europe.

During her time on the farm, Bolos says, workers were given scarcely habitable accommodation, fed cat food for their evening meal and were refused medical treatment. At night, Bolos and the other female Romanian workers became entertainment for the farmer and his friends, repeatedly raped and abused over many years.

“When I came here I thought I was coming to a hard but decent job in another European country, but we ended up as slaves,” she says.

A vulnerable female workforce

An Italian migrant rights organisation, the Proxyma Association, estimates that more than half of all Romanian women working in the greenhouses are forced into sexual relations with their employers. Almost all of them work in conditions of forced labour and severe exploitation.

Police say they believe that up to 7,500 women, the majority of whom are Romanian, are living in slavery on farms across the region. Guido Volpe, a commander in the carabinieri military police in Sicily, told the Observer that Ragusa was the centre of exploitation on the island.

“These women are working as slaves in the fields and we know they are blackmailed to have sex with the owners of the farms or greenhouses because of their psychological subjugation,” he says. “It is not easy to investigate or stop this from happening, as the women are mostly too afraid to speak out.”

Eliza, a 45-year-old Romanian women, told the Observer that she felt she had no choice when her new employer pulled her into a shed on her first day at work.

“I tried to run away but he told me clearly that if I did not do this I would have to leave,” she says. “It had been months that I had been out of work. I realised that if I wanted to stay in Italy I had to accept this.”

Attempts to raise the issue in the Italian parliament have floundered. In 2015, MP Marisa Nicchi launched a parliamentary inquiry into slavery among Romanian workers in Ragusa and asked the prime minister to launch an investigation.

“Two years on and the Italian government has yet to take any action,” she says from her parliamentary office in Rome. “But we will not give up. These crimes must stop.”

In Ragusa, local politicians say that they are trying to provide services to Romanian workers facing abuse. Giovanni Moscato, who last June became mayor of Vittoria, a town in the west of Ragusa province, said the exploitation was persisting because too many economic interests were being served at present, but that the city was opening a hostel to shelter Romanian women fleeing violent employers.

Since returning to Italy, Nicoleta Bolos has met a Romanian man and had two other children. She reported her previous employer to the police, and the man was charged with labour exploitation but his case has yet to come to trial.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

 

 

‘Trump lies all the time’: Bernie Sanders

has launched a withering attack on Donald Trump, accusing him of being a pathological liar who is driving America towards authoritarianism.

In an interview with the Guardian, the independent senator from Vermont, who waged a spirited campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, gave a bleak appraisal of the new White House and its intentions.

He warned that Trump’s most contentious outbursts against the media, judiciary and other pillars of American public life amounted to a conscious assault on democracy.

“Trump lies all of the time and I think that is not an accident, there is a reason for that. He lies in order to undermine the foundations of American democracy.”

Bernie Sanders on the resistance movement in Trump’s America – video

Sanders’ warning comes 50 days into the Trump presidency at a time when the country is still reeling from the shock elevation of a real estate businessman and reality TV star to the world’s most powerful office. In that brief period, the new incumbent of the White House has launched attacks on former president Barack Obama’s signature healthcare policy; on visitors from majority-Muslim countries, refugees and undocumented immigrants; and on trade agreements and environmental protection programs.

Speaking to the Guardian in his Senate office in Washington DC, Sanders said that he was concerned about what he called Trump’s “reactionary economic program of tax breaks to billionaires and devastating cuts to programs that impact the middle class”. But he reserved his most excoriating language for what he believes are the president’s authoritarian tendencies.

He charged Trump with devising a conscious strategy of lies denigrating key public institutions, from the mainstream media to judges and even the electoral process itself, so that he could present himself as the sole savior of the nation. The aim was to put out the message that “the only person in America who stands for the American people, the only person in America who is telling the truth, the only person in America who gets it right is the president of the United States, Donald Trump”.

Trump’s fragile relationship with the truth has been one of the distinguishing features of his fledgling administration. He astonished observers by calling a judge who issued a legal ruling blocking his travel ban a “so-called judge”, accused Obama without producing any evidence of wiretapping Trump Tower, and claimed falsely that up to 5 million votes had been cast illegally in the November election.

Read the complete article in The Guardian newspaper web site.