Posts Tagged ‘social security’

Man Robs Bank of $1 to Gain Access to Needed Healthcare

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Few news stories have provided more compelling testimony about how the nation’s healthcare system fails millions of people is the report that a North Carolina man robbed a local bank of just $1 so that he could have multiple healthcare problems treated in jail.  Richard James Verone,  a 59-year-old unemployed man with multiple health issues, robbed a local bank so he could go to prison and receive treatment for his conditions — he said it was the only way he could get healthcare.

Verone has an undiagnosed growth in his chest, two ruptured back discs, and a foot problem.  His medical condition made working difficult after his 17-year career as a Coca-Cola delivery driver ended.  He tried living off savings and part time jobs, but that proved inadequate.  He applied for Social Security but only received food stamps with no resolution to his medical problems.  When robbing the bank, Verone gave the teller a note explaining that he only wanted $1.  He did not want to frighten anyone and was not doing it for the money.  After the teller handed him a dollar, Verone said “I’ll be sitting right over here on the chair waiting for the police.”  When the police arrived, Verone was sitting on a sofa inside the bank.  “I’m sort of a logical person and that was my logic,” Verone said.  “If it is called manipulation, out of necessity because I need medical care, then I guess I am manipulating the courts to get medical care.”

Verone faces charges for larceny from a person, which is unlikely to keep him behind bars for more than one year.  He is being held in Gaston County Jail, where he has already been seen by several nurses, on a $2,000 bond.  If his sentence is too short, Verone said he plans to rob again.

“The pain was beyond the tolerance that I could accept,” Verone said.  “I kind of hit a brick wall with everything.”  Verone said he “exercised all the alternatives” before the bank heist.  As the day approached, Verone paid his last month’s rent, donated his furniture and moved into a hotel.  Before going to the bank, he mailed a letter to the Gaston Gazette outlining his plans.  According to the letter, “When you receive this, a bank robbery will have been committed by me.  This robbery is being committed by me for one dollar,” he wrote, wanting to make clear that the motive for his crime was strictly medical and not monetary.  “I am of sound mind but not so much sound body.”

Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, John Thorpe says that “After depleting his life savings and realizing he had, literally, nowhere else to turn, Verone committed the crime, hoping he could get the medical care that he so desperately needs.  This is what America has come to?  Otherwise honest folks, with nowhere to turn in life, have to resort to fake-robbing a bank with the hopes they’ll be arrested so they can receive medical care?  There is absolutely no reason for an allegedly civilized country, particularly one as wealthy as America, to pass the buck on providing healthcare for everyone.  Yes, everyone: the employed and the unemployed; the sick and the healthy; old and young.  Before you scream ‘oh no, socialism!!!’ stop and consider what you mean by that.  How do socialist systems pay for healthcare?  Taxes are collected from businesses and citizens, and a portion of those taxes go to cover the healthcare costs of everyone in the plan – in other words, everyone in the country.

“How do health insurance systems pay for healthcare?” Thorpe asks.  “Premiums are collected from businesses and employees, and a portion of those premiums go to cover the healthcare costs of everyone in the plan.  The difference between the two?  Socialized care costs less (because it has a much larger pool of people to draw from), covers everyone at all times, and prevents people from purposefully committing crimes to get treated.  Insurance systems ARE socialized systems, except they don’t cover everyone and allow a corporation – an entity that neither receives nor provides the medical treatment – to skim a profit off the top.  In what sort of twisted mind is that the rational way to provide medical care?  It’s not like the marketplace can rationally set prices for healthcare.  A dying man has no ability to check prices and compare services before deciding which hospital he’ll take his heart attack to.”

Robert Oak of the Economic Populist agrees with Thorpe.  “He (Verone) got his healthcare and how many others are committing felonies so they can get food, shelter and medical attention to save their lives?  If we cannot get universal single payer, perhaps all of America should behave as Verone did, so finally, we could all get some healthcare.  What’s wrong with this picture?”

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones, points out that the cost of caring for Verone for the year that he is likely to be incarcerated does not come cheaply.  “The story is telling not just because it shows the sad desperation of uninsured Americans who have trouble finding healthcare — but also how costly it is to leave such problems unattended.  James Verone may have only robbed the bank of one dollar, but the cost of jailing him for just one year in North Carolina is over $23,000, not to mention the legal fees his case will rack up as well.  Similarly, if he wasn’t in prison, and his health problems worsened, he could end up in an emergency room, where the state would again have to help foot the bill if he couldn’t pay.  Insuring him would likely be the cheapest option — which is one reason why Democrats have made universal coverage a priority under federal health reform.”

Verone concludes “I didn’t have any fears.  If you don’t have your health you don’t have anything.”

Battle About Medicaid Block Grants Brewing in Congress

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Mississippi Governor – and possible presidential hopeful — Haley Barbour and other Republican governors recently demanded that Medicaid, the state-federal health program that covers 50 million poor and disabled, be transformed into block grants.  House Republicans have vowed to tackle expensive programs like Medicaid to cut federal spending.  Any attempt to turn Medicaid into block grants – federal lump-sum payments to states – raises many questions.  Democrats argue that a move of this type could result in loss of healthcare coverage for millions who are poor, sick and old.

Representative Fred Upton (R-MI), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee said to expect House bills on the Medicaid program’s maintenance-of-effort requirement and block grant funding to states.  Because Medicaid is an entitlement program, all Americans who are eligible are guaranteed coverage.  The federal government, which foots the bill for approximately 60 percent of Medicaid’s cost, is committed to helping the  states cover costs; in return, it requires them to cover certain groups of people and provide specific benefits.  For example, children, pregnant women who meet explicit income criteria and parents with dependent children must be given coverage.

“The governors have requested flexibility in the way they serve Medicaid patients,” Representative Joseph Pitts (R-PA), the Health Subcommittee’s chairman said.  “They maintain they can provide the service better and cheaper, so we’re looking to give them that flexibility and change this maintenance-of-effort provision.  I won’t be specific on the block grants, but we’re having discussions with governors.”  Pitts’ comments followed a Health Subcommittee hearing in which HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius answered extensive questions about the Obama administration’s fiscal 2012 budget and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Why are the block grants important?  When the new healthcare law goes into full effect in 2014, approximately 16 million additional people will become eligible for Medicaid.  The debate, which cuts to the heart of the social contract between the government and its citizens, has implications for the other large entitlement programs — Social Security and Medicare.  In 2010, the federal government spent $1.5 trillion on those programs, or approximately 43 percent of the federal budget, according to the Congressional Budget Office.  Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) said House Republicans’ upcoming budget proposal would cut Social Security and Medicare, despite the political risk of taking on such popular programs.  Democrats are skeptical.  Changing Medicaid into a block grant means “you have no guarantee that people who are now covered will continue to be covered, or whether (the states) will simply cut back on their Medicaid program,” said Representative Henry Waxman, (D-CA), who is a primary defender of the program.

Republicans Vow to Take on Healthcare Entitlement Programs

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

With the power shift in the House of Representatives, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are being targeted in proposed budget cuts designed to bring down the deficit. “It will likely be the first time you see a House have a prescription for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said at the Federation of American Hospitals’ annual public policy conference and business exposition in Washington.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a Republican, said that members of Mississippi’s Medicaid program saw its enrollment drop approximately 23 percent to 580,000 beneficiaries from 750,000 after the state started requiring beneficiaries to establish their eligibility in person.  Barbour began this practice in his first year as governor in 2004.  Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, slammed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), noting that its expansion of Medicaid will “bankrupt” the states, which already have strained budgets.  Hatch also cited Congressional Budget Office figures that say the ACA’s Medicaid expansion will cost taxpayers $435 billion over the next decade.

President Barack Obama said his proposed 2012 budget was a “down payment,” on cutting the federal budget deficit, and said that more work is needed to address “long term challenges”. Cantor said that on “individual items” there were “probably some areas of agreement” between the President and Republicans.  “But we can’t keep taking the savings and going to spend it,” he said.  “The object here is to cut.”  According to Cantor, the President’s plan “just misses the mark of living up to the expectations” Obama laid out in his State of the Union speech in January.  Asked if Cantor expected adjustments to Social Security and Medicare, Cantor said he was “hopeful that we can get some cooperation from [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-NV] and the President, because these are programs that touch the lives of every American and we don’t want, nor can we, make these changes by ourselves.”

Writing on the Huffington Post, Richard Eskow took an alarmist tone, saying that “entitlement reform” is a euphemism for allowing the elderly to die if they become ill. “’The President’s budget punts on entitlement reform,’ reads a statement by House Republicans.  ‘Our budget will lead where the President has failed, and it will include real entitlement reforms.’  ‘You have to do entitlement reforms if you are serious about this budget,’ according to Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI).”  Eskow counters “Reality check: Nobody’s proposing ‘entitlement reform.’ That term is a cloaking device for some very ugly intentions.  It’s a meaningless manufactured phrase cooked up by some highly-paid consultant, and it diminishes the sum total of human understanding every time it’s used.  The phrase is a euphemism for deep cuts to programs that are vital and even life-saving for millions of elderly and poor people, but it’s politically unpalatable to say that.  So it became necessary to come up with yet another cognition-killing term designed to numb us from the human toll of our political actions.  ‘Entitlement reform’ is the new ‘collateral damage.’”

The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein is more diplomatic in his assessment of the possibility of entitlement reform. “We’ll see.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Obama has his name on a broader deficit-reduction bill at this time next year.  If he takes the deficit away from Republicans before 2012, his reelection campaign becomes considerably easier.  And on a less cynical level, his administration is stocked with deficit hawks — the same folks who actually balanced the budget under Bill Clinton.  And similarly, Republicans want to deliver on the deficit-reduction promises they’ve made to their base.  In theory, everyone’s incentives and ideologies are pointing in the same direction.  That’s a good sign for progress.”

New Illinois Congressman Is Declining Government Healthcare

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

One of Illinois’ newest Congressman – Republican and Tea Party favorite Joe Walsh, who represents the 8th district that consists of Chicago’s far northwest suburbs – has refused to accept the government-sponsored health insurance plan that typically covers lawmakers.  “I don’t think congressmen should get pensions or cushy healthcare plans,” he said.  Walsh’s wife is not thrilled with her husband’s decision; because she has a pre-existing medical condition, she is now forced to hunt for a pricey individual policy.   So far, Representatives Bobby Schilling (R-IL) and Mike Kelly (R-PA) have joined Walsh in turning down congressional healthcare coverage.

Representative Joseph Crowley (D-NY) called the Republicans’ bluff, writing a letter to GOP leaders asking that they refuse their federally subsidized coverage.  “If your conference wants to deny millions of Americans affordable care, your members should walk that walk.”  Crowley sent his letter to incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Walsh’s stated legislative goals are repealing President Obama’s healthcare legislation and making major changes to Social Security and Medicare.  Additionally, Walsh believes that reducing the size, scope and power of government is an end in itself.  “An end in itself,” he said.  “I think we were sent to D.C. to cut spending and grow the economy. We have to talk about cutting real programs” – as well as agencies — “like the Department of Energy and Department of Education.”

CBO Warns That Healthcare Reform Will Increase Federal Spending

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Reform translates to more federal healthcare spending.  The federal government’s share of dollars spent on healthcare is expected to soar from five percent of the current GDP to approximately 10 percent by 2035.  The increases are likely to continue unabated after that.  These projections are based partly on the recently passed healthcare reform legislation, which is expected to increase federal spending in the next 20 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) analysis, “The Long-Term Budget Outlook”.

“The retirement of the baby boom generation portends a significant and sustained increase in the share of the population receiving benefits from Social Security, Medical and Medicaid.  Moreover, per-capita spending for healthcare is likely to continue rising faster than spending per person on other goods and services for many years,” according to the report.  The CBO predicts that these factors will increase federal spending relative to the overall economy in the future.  Only a major change in government policy will reverse this trend.  Once all provisions of the new healthcare law are implemented in 2014, there is a strong possibility that federal spending will decrease by 2030.  According to the CBO, reform could yield reduced spending over time.

Peter Orszag, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, notes “CBO reiterates that the Affordable Care Act will reduce the deficit by more than $100 billion in the current decade and more than $1 trillion in the decade after that – which represents the most deficit reduction enacted since the 1990s.”

Medicare President Johnson’s Great Society Legacy

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

On July 30, 1965 – nearly 20 years after Harry Truman first proposed national healthcare insurance – President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare  into law. The program, one of the most consequential legacies of the Great Society, provides affordable healthcare insurance for people aged 65 and above.

Franklin Roosevelt was the first president to propose government-mandated healthcare insurance as part of his Social Security program, an effort that proved unsuccessful.  After World War II, Truman asked lawmakers to enact a national health insurance plan – again to no avail.lbj_big_picture46152620

“By the time Truman prepared to leave office in early 1953, he had backed off from his original plan of universal coverage.  The focus increasingly turned toward Social Security.  Nearly two decades of futile debate ensued, with conservative opponents, joined by the American Medical Association, repeatedly warning of the dangers of ‘socialized medicine.’”

The legislative gridlock broke when Johnson won the presidency in the 1964 landslide election and brought sizeable Democratic majorities to the Senate and House.  The breakthrough came when House Ways and Means Committee chairman Wilbur Mills of Arkansas had an epiphany and decided to support Medicare.  According to Mills, “I can support a payroll tax for financing health benefits just as I have supported a payroll tax for cash benefits.”

The Medicare bill easily cleared the House by 313 – 115 and the Senate by 68 – 21.  When Johnson signed the legislation into law at a White House ceremony, Harry Truman – aged 81 – attended and was enrolled as the nation’s first Medicare beneficiary.