This post first appeared in Think Progress. This afternoon, in a conference call with progressive bloggers, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) joined a growing number of Democrats in calling on the Department of Justice not to appeal yesterday’s court ruling prohibiting the implementation of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. “I hope, I haven’t really heard officially that the administration is going to appeal this, but in any event, I hope they don’t,” she said in reply to a question from AmericaBlog’s John Aravosis. “I myself have always wanted a moratorium on any discharges.” Pelosi, who celebrated the ruling in a tweet yesterday, reiterated that the House passed legislation ending the ban with a 40 vote margin and stressed that this “is not an issue for us, it’s a value that we mustn’t cede on.” She predicted that the House could also pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that has yet to be marked up before the House Education and Labor committee, if “we could hold our members” on the motion to recommit — a tactic under which the GOP could conceivably introduce an alternative that does not offer protections to transgender people and peel off several Democratic votes. “It’s a choice, it’s a choice,” Pelosi stressed, speaking to disheartened LGBT voters. “We all haven’t gotten everything we want, but everything we got on these issues came from the Democrats and so that’s what I would say to them.” “It’s a fight and again, we don’t intend do lose it.”
Update CNN is reporting that DOJ "is expected to appeal" the court's DADT decision "as soon as Wednesday," according to senior administration officials.
This post first appeared in the Wonk Room. McDonald’s is denying reports that it plans to cancel health insurance for almost 30,000 workers unless federal regulators loosen requirements for plans to spend 80 to 85 percent of premium dollars on health care costs. “Media reports stating that we plan to drop health care coverage for our employees are completely false,” a McDonald’s spokesperson told Politico’s Pulse. “These reports are purely speculative and misleading.” But according to the Wall Street Journal, a senior McDonald’s official informed “the Department of Health and Human Services that the restaurant chain’s insurer” won’t meet the new requirements, called medical-loss ratios (MLR), since they are “unrealistic” for the kind of mini-med plans the company provides to many of its hourly restaurant workers. The plans, which often restrict the number of covered doctor visits or impose a relatively low maximum on insurance payouts in a year, have “high administrative costs owing to frequent worker turnover, combined with relatively low spending on claims“:
McDonald’s, in a memo to federal officials, said “it would be economically prohibitive for our carrier to continue offering” the mini-med plan unless it got an exemption from the requirement to spend 80% to 85% of premiums on benefits. Officials said McDonald’s would probably have to hit the 85% figure, which applies to larger group plans. Its insurer, BCS Insurance Group of Oak Brook Terrace, Ill., declined to comment. [...] “Having to drop our current mini-med offering would represent a huge disruption to our 29,500 participants,” said McDonald’s memo, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “It would deny our people this current benefit that positively impacts their lives and protects their health—and would leave many without an affordable, comparably designed alternative until 2014.”
The law allows companies to apply for exemptions from the MLR requirements — which are still being drafted — and HHS “says it has already given the carrier for McDonald’s and others the chance to seek exemption from new annual limits on benefit payouts.” “This story is wrong,” HHS spokeswoman Jessica Santillo told Pulse. “The new law provides significant flexibility to maintain coverage for workers. Additionally, this story is premature as guidance on the new medical loss ratio rules has not even been issued. The Administration is working closely with businesses like McDonald’s that are committed to providing health benefits to protect health coverage for their employees.” Indeed, insurance commissioners met with President Obama last week to request that certain plans in the individual market be allowed several years to comply with the MLR standard and at least two states Maine and Iowa, have also “asked for a waiver from the rules until 2014 to give health insurers more time to adapt.” Exempting mini-med plans in order to protect the (limited) benefits of some 30,000 employees may make sense, particularly since these policies will probably end by 2014. Then, workers could enroll in more comprehensive health coverage through the Exchanges since mini-med plans would not meet the actuarial value of creditable coverage. And as Aaron Carroll points out, that’s probably a good thing. After all, mini-med plans only work for healthy individuals and usually don’t provide enough coverage for anyone with a serious medical condition. “One of the things the ACA does is try and eliminate under-insurance. It tries to regulate the insurance companies so that you can’t get sold a plan that provides too little coverage when you need that. That costs money,” Carroll concludes.
Update Jonathan Cohn adds:
In the long run, McDonald's employees need policies that protect them in case of serious medical problems. And they need policies they can afford. They'll get those policies thanks to the Affordable Care Act--but not until 2014, because the administration and Congress couldn't come up with enough money to implement the full scheme sooner.For now, some fast-food workers can take advantage of the law's early benefits, like the temporary insurance plans for people with pre-existing conditions that the administration and the states have been starting. But for the most part these people will have to wait.
This post first appeared on Think Progress. Starting today, insurance companies can no longer discriminate against children with pre-existing conditions, drop coverage because of a simple mistake on an application, institute lifetime caps, limit choice of doctors, charge more for emergency services obtained out of network, or levy deductibles, co-payments or co-insurance for certain preventive benefits. Children will also be able to stay on their parents’ plans until their 26th birthday and everyone will have the right to appeal insurer decisions to an independent third party. Ironically, today Republicans are also unveiling a new ‘Pledge To America,’ an agenda which promises to “repeal” all of these benefits — as well as the entire health care law — and replace it with “reforms  that  lower  costs  for   families  and  small  businesses,  increase  access  to  affordable,  high-­‐quality  care  and  strengthen  the  doctor-­‐patient   relationship.” The document provides almost no specifics about what the party would do to control health care spending, improve quality, or pay for its reforms. And at least 7 of the GOP’s ideas on health care are already included in the health care law:
Affordable Care Act GOP’s ‘Pledge To America’
Insurance Across State Lines Allows for the creation of State Health Insurance Compacts – permits states to enter into agreements to allow for the sale of insurance across state lines. (SEC. 1333; p. 100-101) “We  will  allow  individuals  to  buy  health  care   coverage  outside  of  the  state  in  which  they  live. ” (p. 15)
High-Risk Insurance Pools The states and the federal government have already established high-risk insurance pools to provide temporary coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions until 2014. (SEC. 1101; p. 30-33) “We  will  expand  state  high-­‐risk  pools,   reinsurance  programs  and  reduce  the  cost  of  coverage” (p. 15)
Pre-Existing Conditions Children cannot be denied coverage starting today, but beginning in 204, insurers must accept everyone who applies. (SEC. 2702-2705; p. 46-51) “We  will  make  it  illegal  for  an  insurance   company  to  deny  coverage  to  someone  with  prior  coverage  on  the  basis  of  a  pre-­‐existing  condition.” (p. 15)
Lifetime and Annual Caps A health insurer cannot impose lifetime limits and will be prohibited from placing annual limits on plans beginning in 2014. (SEC. 2711; p. 14) “[E]liminate  annual  and  lifetime  spending  caps” (p.15)
Recissions A health insurance issuer cannot rescind a policy except for in cases of fraud. (SEC. 2712; p. 14) “[P]revent  insurers  from  dropping  your  coverage  just   because  you  get  sick.” (p.15)
State Innovation States can receive waives from certain requirements if they can cover the uninsured and lower health costs in a more innovative manner. (SEC. 1332; p. 98-100) “We  will  incentivize  states  to  develop  innovative  programs  that  lower   premiums  and  reduce  the  number  of  uninsured  Americans.” (p.15)
Conscience  Protections The law does not affect existing conscience protections or discriminate “on the basis of the willingness or refusal to provide, pay for, cover, or refer for abortion or to provide or participate in training to provide abortion.” (SEC. 1303; p. 67) “We  will  also  enact   into  law  conscience  protections  for  health  care  providers,  including  doctors,  nurses,  and  hospitals.” (p.15)
The document doesn’t detail how Republicans plan to offset the $140 billion deficit increase that will result from repealing the ACA or how they’ll lower health care spending. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the GOP’s previous very similar health care plan — presented by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) as an alternative to the House health care bill — would increase the number of uninsured to 52 million in 2019 and reduce the deficit by only $68 billion over the 2010–2019 period. Moreover, as conservative health care blogger Avik Roy points out, “the Pledge says almost nothing about the biggest and most difficult questions in health policy: Medicare and Medicaid reform.” “It criticizes PPACA’s ‘massive Medicare cuts’ without offering an alternative solution for putting the program on stable long-term footing.” CMS estimated earlier this month that under the health law, Medicare spending will decline $86.4 billion from previous projections due to reforms. “Specifically, average annual Medicare spending growth is anticipated to be 1.4 percentage points slower for 2012–19 than we projected in February 2010. By 2019, it is projected to grow 7.7 percent—0.9 percentage point more slowly than we projected in February 2010,” the report concluded. Repealing the law would increase in Medicare spending. How do the Republicans plan to hold down those costs? On that their document is absolutely silent.
This post first appeared on Think Progress. Retired General and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell criticized the Tea Party movement’s inflammatory attacks against President Obama this morning during an appearance on NBC’s Meet The Press, singling out the rhetoric of Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. Powell said that while “there’s nothing wrong” with people like Sarah Palin “going out there, presenting her views and animating American political life,” “one of the problems that I’m having with all of this right now is that there is a certain undercurrent of thought that is not helpful.” “When people want to attack the President, attack him. Presidents are used to being attacked. But let’s not go down low,” Powell said. Pressed by host David Gregory to respond to Newt Gingrich’s recent suggestion that Obama was displaying anti-colonial Kenyan behavior, Powell warned Americans to “think carefully” about Gingrich’s accusations and went on to debunk some of the right-wing’s conspiracy theories:
POWELL: I would just tell my fellow Americans, think carefully about what was just said. Think carefully about some of the stuff that is coming across the blogs and airwaves. Let’s make a couple of points. One, the President was born in the United States of America. Let’s get rid of that one, let’s get rid of the birther thing. Let’s attack him on policy, not nonsense. Next, he is a Christian, he is not a Muslim…And I think we have to be careful when we take things like Dinesh D’Souza’s book, which is the source of all of this, and suggest that somehow the President of the United States is channeling his dead father through some Kenyan spirits. This doesn’t make any sense. Mr. Gingrich does these things from time to time with a big, bold statement. He did it with Sotomayor, she is a “reverse racist.” He did it with Elena Kagan, she ought to be taken off the nomination for Supreme Court justice. And he does it occasionally to make news and also to stir up dust.
Watch it: Powell said that this kind of rhetoric “may appeal to the fringe elements of the party,” but won’t appeal “to all Republicans” or “the whole country.” He also suggested “it might be good for the President to have the Republicans owning one of the two bodies of our Congress, because then they have responsibility.” “You can’t just say ‘no’ to everything. You can’t just sit around beating up the President,” he added. It’s unlikely, however, that Gingrich will take Powell’s advice and stop stirring up dust. At yesterday’s Values Voter Summit in Washington D.C., Gingrich accused HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of “Soviet tyranny” and suggested that the Congress should pass a law “that says sharia law cannot be recognized by any court in the United States.”
This post originally appeared on Think Progress. Since First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled her Let’s Move! program to fight obesity, conservatives have portrayed the effort as a government assault on personal freedoms and liberties. After the administration released a report on obesity in May, Matt Drudge ran a headline saying, “White House seeks controls on food marketing” and on his Fox News show, Sean Hannity asked: “Does every American family need a dietitian appointed by the government to tell them that this food is going to make you fat and this food is not?” Yesterday, Glenn Beck joined the act, criticizing Michelle Obama for encouraging restaurants to “offer healthier versions of the foods that we all love.” He also joked that fat people should die:
BECK: When I heard this I thought, get your damn hands off my fries, lady. If I want to be a fat fat fatty and shovel French Fries all day long, that is my choice. But oh oh, not so fast anymore. Because now we have the new fact, whether you like it or not, we have government health care now. … You know those fat people sitting on their couches? And I mean really fat. I don’t mean not like me. I mean the people who’s skin grows into the couch. … I say let them die. I say punish the person who’s been bringing them the milk shakes that allowed them to eat and not get up off the couch. Am I too harsh?
Watch it: Beck was being facetious, but obesity is, in fact, a killer. The Wonk Room examines the obesity epidemic and details what the White House plans to do about it. (H/T: MMFA)
This post first appeared on the Wonk Room. Today, the Department of Health and Human Services announced the “first round of applicants accepted into the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program,” a $5 billion program established by the new health care law to help employers and states “maintain coverage for early retirees age 55 and older who are not yet eligible for Medicare.” According to the agency, “nearly 2,000 employers, representing large and small businesses, State and local governments, educational institutions, non-profits, and unions” applied and have been accepted into the program and “will begin to receive reimbursements for employee claims this fall.” Ironically, one of those employers is the oil, chemicals, and manufacturing conglomerate Koch Industries, which as Lee Fang has reported, has also spent millions of dollars opposing reform: IgoreKoch The contradictory practice of opposing the health care law while applying for its funding has been a common practice among states. For instance, at least 19 of the 22 states that are suing the federal government over health care reform have applied for the law’s rate review grants and some — like Utah — are actively working with HHS to ensure that the law meets their needs. Still, Koch’s efforts to cash in from a law they’re so vehemently opposing may be the most stark example thus far.
This post first appeared on the Wonk Room. Last night, after U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that denying gays and lesbians the right to marry violated the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution, supporters of Proposition 8 expressed disappointment and pledged to appeal the decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and all the way up to the Supreme Court. But some conservative activists lashed out against Walker, using his sexual orientation to dismiss the decision altogether:
American Families Association:It’s also extremely problematic that Judge Walker is a practicing homosexual himself. He should have recused himself from this case, because his judgment is clearly compromised by his own sexual proclivity. The fundamental issue here is whether homosexual conduct, with all its physical and psychological risks, should be promoted and endorsed by society. National Organization For Marriage: Here we have an openly gay (according to the San Francisco Chronicle) federal judge substituting his views for those of the American people and of our Founding Fathers who I promise you would be shocked by courts that imagine they have the right to put gay marriage in our Constitution.” POWERLINE:“Conservatives have long said that the day would come when liberal judges declare the Constitution unconstitutional. That happened today, when a gay federal judge in San Francisco, relying on the opinions of mostly-gay ‘expert’ witnesses, ruled that an amendment to the California constitution, which was adopted in perfectly proper fashion by a substantial majority of voters, is ‘unconstitutional.’ Bishop Harry Jackson, chair of “Stand for Marriage DC”: “The majority of Californians, including two-thirds of black voters in California, have just had their core civil right — the right to vote — stripped from them by an openly gay federal judge who has misread history and the Constitution to impose his San Francisco views on the American people…this is a travesty of justice.” Pat Buchanan: It is unnatural….an older white guy handed down the decision and he happened to be gay. That might have had something to do with it.
Ironically, Walker was nominated to the bench by President Ronald Reagan and re-nominated and confirmed under President George H. W. Bush. Two dozen House Democrats, led by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) “opposed his nomination because of his alleged ‘insensitivity’ to gays and the poor.” The Democrats objected to Walker’s role in representing the U.S. Olympic Committee “in its successful effort to prevent an athletic competition in San Francisco from being called the Gay Olympic Games” and for “putting a lien on the home of a gay-games leader who was dying of AIDS.”
This post originally appeared on Think Progress. Andy Towle is reporting that like the Texas GOP, the Montana Republican Party has adopted a platform that would criminalize “homosexual acts”:
Homosexual Acts We support the clear will of the people of Montana expressed by legislation to keep homosexual acts illegal.
Ironically, the platform uses some form of the word “constitutional” at least 10 times and even argues that constitutionality should be decided by the states. But the Montana Supreme Court struck down the State’s sodomy law in 1997 and ruled that it violated the constitutional right to privacy. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court found in Lawrence v. Texas that Texas’ “Homosexual Conduct” law — a measure outlawing oral and anal sex — unconstitutional. The Court ruled that the Texas statute “making it a crime for two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct violates the Due Process Clause.” “The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to choose to enter upon relationships in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons,” the Court ruled in a 6-3 ruling.
Cross-posted from Think Progress. Andy Towle is reporting that like the Texas GOP, the Montana Republican Party has adopted a platform that would criminalize “homosexual acts”:
Homosexual Acts We support the clear will of the people of Montana expressed by legislation to keep homosexual acts illegal.
Ironically, the platform uses some form of the word “constitutional” at least 10 times and even argues that constitutionality should be decided by the states. But the Montana Supreme Court struck down the State’s sodomy law in 1997 and ruled that it violated the constitutional right to privacy. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court found in Lawrence v. Texas that Texas’ “Homosexual Conduct” law — a measure outlawing oral and anal sex — unconstitutional. The Court ruled that the Texas statute “making it a crime for two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct violates the Due Process Clause.” “The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to choose to enter upon relationships in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons,” the Court ruled in a 6-3 ruling.
This post originally appeared on Think Progress. Earlier this year, after being criticized for comparing gay marriage to incest and drug addiction, former Arkansas governor and current Fox News personality Mike Huckabee claimed that his statements were taken out of context and emphasized that he does not personally dislike gay people. “I have great respect for you,” Huckabee told Rosie O’Donnell in April. “I respect your choices. And I respect the choices that people make that aren’t my choices.” Huckabee struck a similar note during a recent interview with The New Yorker. “I’ve had people who worked for me who are homosexuals,” he said. “And I don’t walk around thinking, Oh, I pity them so much. I accept them as who they are! It’s not like somehow their sin is so much worse than mine.” But in that same profile, Huckabee also suggested that he is repulsed by gay relationships:
“I do believe that God created male and female and intended for marriage to be the relationship of the two opposite sexes,” Huckabee said in a recent New Yorker profile. “Male and female are biologically compatible to have a relationship. We can get into the ick factor, but the fact is two men in a relationship, two women in a relationship, biologically, that doesn’t work the same.” [...] Huckabee does deviate from Party orthodoxy on some issues. But what makes him even less predictable as a politician is his sense of humor. At times, he seems unable to resist the force of his own funniness. I joked with him once that I would write about his (fictitious) affair with Nancy Pelosi. He e-mailed back, “The only thing worse than a torrid affair with sweet, sweet Nancy would be a torrid affair with Helen Thomas. If those were my only options, I’d probably be FOR same-sex marriage!”
In his conversation with O’Donnell, however, Huckabee stressed that his opinions were informed by the Bible. “I’m an Evangelical Christian, so I have a strong biblical world view, and that’s where I come. It’s not a matter of me having any kind of animosity towards anybody or any group and what people do individually, is to me, their business,” he said. “I’m not going to judge you or judge anybody else because I know there are so many loving people who are in same-sex relationships and they have adopted children and they love those kids. I’m not going to judge them. I’m simply not going there.” Cross-posted on The Wonk Room.