Where Is the Tea Party of the Left?

Here’s a post by Rebecca McCray at http://www.takepart.com/ with a view from the Left about third parties.

Despite the rise of Warren Democrats and de Blasio Democrats, there’s still little chance of a progressive third party.

(Photo: Flickr)

 

It’s election season, and there’s a battle being fought—not the struggle between Democrats and Republicans but the fight about whether to vote for a third-party candidate. If progressive people want to drive their establishment Democrat friends up the wall, all they have to do is mention a third-party candidate. Before long, a traumatized Democrat will be rocking back and forth in the corner muttering about Ralph Nader.

Many will react with panic, assuming that casting a ballot for a non-Democrat is tantamount to throwing away a vote—or handing it to the Republican candidate.

So, is it true? Is the consumer advocate just as responsible for the GOP’s 2000 victory asBush v. Gore? University of Iowa political science professor Michael Lewis-Beck isn’t convinced.

“In 2000, it’s not clear,” he said. Thanks to the peculiarities of the electoral college, Gore might not have won any additional states if Nader hadn’t run, according to Lewis-Beck.

An expert on American politics and election forecasting, Lewis-Beck is the coauthor of The American Voter Revisited, a book that examines voter behavior and public opinion polls in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. Regardless of whether Nader ruined Gore’s chances in 2000, Lewis-Beck concedes that the American political game is not designed to accommodate a third player.

“The rules of the political system for gaining office work against third parties, left or right,” he explained when we spoke by phone. “Almost all American elections are winner-take-all. So if you get the most votes, you get the pie.”

You have to look farther back than Ross Perot’s 1992 run to find the last national third-party candidate that accomplished much of anything on Election Day. As Lewis-Beck pointed out, the last time a third-party candidate gained electoral votes during a presidential election was in 1968, when former Alabama governor George Wallace ran as an independent. The pro-segregation Dixiecrat successfully took five Southern states.

There’s plenty of work to be done before voters go to the polls. When the basic outline of a political system won’t make room for a viable third option, candidates operating outside party boundaries have their work cut out for them. To even gain access to a spot on a state’s ballot requires thousands of signatures or a hefty filing fee that many underfunded candidates can’t access.

Some candidates on the left have emerged in recent elections with a candor that sets them apart from the liberal mainstream. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown and Mayor Bill de Blasio all struck a chord with a broader left-wing base, stirring hope in voters who were tired of candidates who were willing to negotiate away all the values that distinguished them from the opposition. While the new financial regulations that have wormed their way through Congress since 2008, for example, have been watered down to benefit the big banks, Warren has been a steadfast critic of the government’s favors to Wall Street. But a de Blasio Democrat or a Warren Democrat is still a Democrat.

These politicians remain outliers and have virtually no analogues in the November Senate races. This election cycle’s independent candidate success story is Greg Orman, who is running against Republican incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts in Kansas. Although the official Democrat, Chad Taylor, dropped out of the race as Orman gained momentum in the polls, the independent candidate is a businessman who has previously registered with both parties, owns guns, and isn’t a fan of Obamacare. He’s not a left-wing politician in the Democratic Party; he’s a centrist.

“The impediments to having a third party are great at the state level, they’re great at the local level, and they’re even more great at the national level,” said Dr. Arnie Arnesen, a former Democratic member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives and a fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.

“The reason why there’s an illusion that there’s a more vibrant party or alternative voice on the right is because there is cash that values that voice,” said Arnesen. “If there isn’t a check with a comma in it, the voice seems quieter.”

Aggressive funding and campaigning by conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity, backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, have aired nearly 44,000 television adsin the current election cycle to ensure GOP senatorial candidates are heard. Numbers like these make it easy to understand why the Tea Party has, at times, looked like a viable pseudo-party on the right.

“When you speak for guns, you’ve got the NRA and the gun industry behind you. When you deny climate change, you’ve got the oil, coal, and gas industries,” said Arnesen. “If you’re on the other side and you want to talk about clean air and universal health care, there’s no money in it because what you’re looking for doesn’t make any one person particularly rich.”

The question for Arnesen is not about the lack of a healthy third-party options on the left but rather the lack of distinction between the two dominant parties.

As Arnesen sees it, the distinction between the Republicans and the Democrats has become ill defined, their political ideologies muddied by dollar signs. It’s a contention that Lewis-Beck agreed with.

“We don’t need a green party. We don’t need a union party. We need a second party. We need an alternative that doesn’t genuflect to Wall Street,” said Arnesen. “You’re looking for a third party; I’m looking for a second. I had people beg me not to run as a Democrat, but the only way I could find a second party was to make one.”

“The Democrats are the least liberal they’ve been in my memory,” Lewis-Beck said. “They’ve just drifted more and more to the right. I think they need a wake-up call. How bad do things have to get before people say this has got to stop?”

It’s not just the electoral system that makes it hard for third-party candidates to win in the U.S. According to Lewis-Beck’s research, 90 percent of American voters identify with the Democratic or the Republican Party, either openly or when asked which way they “lean.”

“If someone has a psychological attachment to a party, which most people do, they’ll tend to stay with that party no matter what,” said Lewis-Beck. “And Dems are in the majority in terms of party identification. The relationship between saying you’re in or believe in a party is not a perfect predictor of your vote, but it’s close.”

That tendency to identify with one of two parties is reinforced by our electoral system. While many European governments have proportional representation systems, which means parliamentary seats are won in proportion to votes, the American winner-take-all approach doesn’t allow room for as many perspectives. Whether or not this is a virtue of stability is up for debate. Meanwhile, in France, Lewis-Beck notes, 15 percent of the voters pull the proverbial lever for Trotskyite candidates—and that vote has an effect on who sits in Parliament.

For now, the kind of drastic electoral reform that would allow for a viable third party seems unlikely if not foolhardy.

“It’s really hard to change the system—these are dreary truths,” he said. Still, Lewis-Beck acknowledged his respect for the value of an individual choice. “The only tool most Americans have to influence the political system is their vote. It’s a sacred thing. I use my vote to support someone I believe in and respect. And if enough people do that, then you get a message out there.”

Rebecca McCray is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to TakePart’s social justice section. She has written for ThinkProgress, Full Stop Magazine, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere. She lives in New York.

 

 

Obamacare: Nothing Short of a Disaster

Here’s a post by Robert Moffit in The National Interest with a review of Obamacare’s disastrous first act last year.

Obama and SebeliusOn November 15, open enrollment in the Obamacare exchanges begins again. Before the second act of our national healthcare drama commences, let’s review what we’ve learned in Act I.

For starters, everyone now knows that federal officials are challenged when it comes to setting up a website. But they’ve demonstrated the ability to dole out a huge amount of taxpayers’ money for millions of people signing up for Medicaid, a welfare program. And they’ve proved they can send hundreds of millions of federal taxpayers’ dollars to their bureaucratic counterparts in states, like Maryland and Oregon, that can’t manage their own exchanges. But there are many other lessons to be gleaned from Year One of Obamacare. Here are three of the most important ones.

1. Health costs jumped—big time. Huge increases in deductibles in policies sold through the exchanges were a big story in Florida, Illinois and elsewhere. While the average annual deductible for employer-based coverage was a little over $1,000, the exchange deductibles nationwide normally topped $2,000.

Notwithstanding President Obama’s specific promise to lower the typical family premium cost by $2,500 annually, premium costs actually increased. D2014 data for the “individual market” shows that the average annual premiums for single and family coverage rose in the overwhelming majority of state and federal health-insurance exchanges all around the country.

In eleven states, premiums for twenty-seven-year-olds have more than doubled since 2013; in thirteen states, premiums for fifty-year-olds have increased more than 50 percent.

For the “group market,” the Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) estimated on February 21, 2014, that 65 percent of small firms would experience premium-rate increases, while only 35 percent were expected to have reductions. In terms of people affected, CMS estimated 11 million Americans employed by these firms would experience premium-rate increases, while about 6 million would see reductions. So much for “bending the cost curve down.”

2. The law reduced competition in most health-insurance markets. A limited analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that in 2014, large states like California and New York were more competitive, but Connecticut and Washington were less competitive. The Heritage Foundation conducted a national analysis and found that between 2013 and 2014, the number of insurers offering coverage on the individual markets in all fifty states declined nationwide by 29 percent. On a county level, 52 percent of U.S. counties had just one or two health-insurance carriers. In 2014, at least, the law did not deliver on its promise of more personal choice and broader competition.

3. We still don’t know for sure how many people are actually insured. Following the disastrous October 2013 Obamacare “roll-out,” the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that about 6 million (rather than 7 million) would enroll in the exchanges. Last April, administration officials reported that they reached and surpassed their goal, enrolling over 8 million people in the health-insurance exchanges. They then declared the health-care debate, like the Iraq War, “over.”

That declaration appears to be premature. The administration now concedes that there are 700,000 fewer persons in the exchanges. Of course, we can expect some attrition. But exchange enrollment is not the same as insurance coverage. CBO said it best: “The number of people who will have coverage through the exchanges in 2014 will not be known precisely until after the year has ended.” Exactly.

Beyond the seemingly endless surveys, estimates and guesstimates, we do have some raw data. Between October 1, 2013, and March 31, 2014, there was a net increase in individual coverage of 2,236,942, but there was a net decrease in group (employment-based) enrollment: it fell by 1,716,540. Enrollment in Medicaid and the Childrens’ Health Insurance Program (CHIP) increased by about 5 million over that same period. We’ll know more later, as CBO said, especially how many Americans are losing their employment-based coverage.

Who enrolls is also crucial. In 2013, Obama administration officials said that their goal was for young adults between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four to account for 40 percent of exchange enrollments.

On April 17, 2014, the White House announced that only 28 percent of those enrolled through the federally administered exchanges were between eighteen and thirty-four years of age—the crucial age bracket for a robust and stable insurance pool—but that 35 percent of the total enrollees were under the age of thirty-five.

That made it sound as though the program was fairly close to reaching its target. But thanks to excellent reporting by Politico, we learned that the bigger number included children enrolled in the exchanges. Nice try.

Maybe 2015 will bring better news for Obamacare. But don’t bet on it.

Robert E. Moffit PhD. is a senior fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Health Policy Studies.

California’s health exchange awards $184 million in no-bid contracts

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Jesus Dominguez, 63, who does not have health insurance, reads a pamphlet at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, California. (REUTERS)

California’s health insurance exchange has awarded $184 million in contracts without the competitive bidding and oversight that is standard practice across state government, including deals that sent millions of dollars to a firm whose employees have long-standing ties to the agency’s executive director.

Covered California’s no-bid contracts were for a variety of services, ranging from public relations to paying for ergonomic adjustments to work stations, according to an Associated Press review of contracting records obtained through the state Public Records Act.

Several of those contracts worth a total of $4.2 million went to a consulting firm, The Tori Group, whose founder has strong professional ties to agency Executive Director Peter Lee, while others were awarded to a subsidiary of a health care company he once headed.

Awarding no-bid contracts is unusual in state government, where rules promote “open and fair competition” to give taxpayers the best deal and avoid ethical conflicts. The practice is generally reserved for emergencies or when no known competition exists.

Covered California was created in 2010 and given broad authority to award no-bid contracts as a way to meet tight federal deadlines for getting the new health insurance marketplace operational by last year. The same law also exempted it from sections of the state’s public records law, a loophole lawmakers closed last year after it was disclosed by the AP.

The agency confirmed some no-bid contracts were awarded to people with previous professional ties to Lee, but emphasized Covered California was under pressure to move fast and needed specialized skills.

The fledgling exchange “needed experienced individuals who could go toe-to-toe with health plans and bring to our consumers the best possible insurance value. Contractors like The Tori Group possess unique and deep health care experience to help make that happen and get the job done on a tight deadline,” Lee said in a statement.

“As this organization matures,” he added, “we will rely less on private contractors.”

With so much taxpayer money in play, a government watchdog group said more oversight is essential.

Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, said she recognized the need to free Covered California from cumbersome contracting rules that could have hampered its ability to meet Affordable Care Act deadlines.

But with tens of millions of taxpayer dollars at issue, “some accountability and transparency is needed, whether through audits or an alternative oversight body,” she said, adding, “To spend $4.2 million on anything, let alone a contract to a friend and former colleague, raises serious questions.”

The no-bid contracts represent nearly $2 of every $10 awarded to outside companies by the agency and were among roughly $1 billion in agreements disclosed to AP that the exchange executed from late 2010 through July, according to the records.

Through its first year of operation, Covered California was funded almost entirely by federal grant money.

The founder of The Tori Group, Leesa Tori, worked under Lee when she was a senior executive at Pacific Health Advantage, a small business insurance exchange that failed in 2006. Lee was a longtime chief executive of Pacific Business Group on Health, which managed Pacific Health Advantage, and Tori also worked with him at the parent company.

Long before it opened its doors to the public last fall, Covered California awarded a small contract to Tori for her advice on designing a program to sell insurance to small companies. The $4,900 agreement in late 2011 was executed without rival bids.

The deal would mark the beginning of a lucrative and far-reaching partnership between the agency and the company Tori formed about two years ago, just as national health care reform took root across the U.S. An initial $150,000 contract with The Tori Group in March 2013 was executed by Lee, but later amendments that increased its value to $4.2 million were approved by Covered California’s board, an agency statement indicated.

Nearly three years after her first, small contract went into effect, she and employees at her firm hold senior-level positions and work on issues ranging from enrollment to health plan design at Covered California.

At least five other people who are contracted to work at Covered California have ties to the now-defunct Pacific Health Advantage, four of them at The Tori Group, whose employees are paid through the consulting contracts. In all, nine people listed on the group’s website, in addition to Tori, work at the exchange.

Yolanda Richardson, Covered California’s chief deputy executive director who reports directly to Lee, was a vice president at Pacific Health Advantage. Before she was hired on staff, she received a 10-month, $176,500 no-bid consulting contract from the agency in 2011, about a month before Lee came on board, according to the records.

Tori, the former director of plan management, is now a consultant on plan management. The Tori Group’s chief financial officer, Kathleen Solorio, is Covered California’s operations adviser. Another principal at the firm, Corky Goodwin, the former interim director of the small-business insurance program, is a consultant on small-business insurance.

Tori said professional credentials qualified her company for the contracts — working in an exchange gave her team experience rare in the industry.

The Pacific Business Group on Health Negotiating Alliance, a subsidiary of the company Lee previously led, received two no-bid contracts worth a total of $525,000. Spokeswoman Emma Hoo said the work covers “unique and in-depth assessment of plan operations.”

John Vigna, spokesman for former Assembly Speaker John Perez, who spearheaded legislation that established the exchange, said Perez was confident that enough checks and balances remained in effect, including oversight by the federal government and a state law that outlines rules for avoiding conflicts of interest.

How a Controversial Super-PAC Is Pushing Blacks and Latinos to Vote GOP

Here’s a post by Molly Redden Mother Jones that describes how a controversial Super-Pac is pushing African-Americans and Latinos to vote for the GOP!

As Republican Gov. Scott Walker fights a tough reelection battle in Wisconsin, a controversial Iowa-based super-PAC has begun a campaign to persuade minority voters to support the embattled incumbent. The group, America’s PAC, plans to spend up to $200,000 to air thousands of one-minute radio ads in Wisconsin urging black and Latino voters, who traditionally support Democrats, to turn out for Walker, and it has the financial backing of a prominent tea party millionaire.

But the PAC’s message is not always syncing up with Walker’s homestretch effort to distance himself from far-right social conservatives.

One ad the group is running in English and Spanish essentially calls on black and Latino voters to turn against Democrats because the party encourages high abortion rates in those communities. “The [Democratic] message I hear? To make our lives better, abort our future,” a female narrator says in a spot airing on radio stations with large black audiences. “Democrats ask for our votes every election. But why do we vote for a party that wants our votes but not our babies?” The ad contrasts sharply with a sly television ad Walker’s campaign dropped on Monday, in which Walker, who has called for banning all abortions (even in the case of rape and incest), implies that he supports limited abortion rights.

The PAC’s ads don’t mention Walker by name, but Tom Donelson, the head of America’s PAC, says that the goal is to help Walker’s campaign. (As a super-PAC, this group cannot directly coordinate with Walker’s reelection effort.) One spot attacks Democrats for failing to support school choice in minority communities. Another accuses unnamed absentee landlords of funneling profits from tax evasion schemes to the Democratic Party.

“Republicans have positions that for many of these people should resonate…But [minorities] don’t hear conservative messages because our side doesn’t advertise on their media,” Donelson says. “If you don’t ask for the vote, the answer is always going to be ‘no.'”

America’s PAC is heavily financed by millionaire Richard Uihlein, a major supporterof national tea party candidates. Uihlein is one of 2014’s largest political donors, and he is the owner of the Uline shipping empire. Since the 2012 election, Uihlein has given America’s PAC $1.35 million. He is also a strong supporter of Walker—and not just financially. When Democratic challenger Mary Burke claimed that when she was the state’s commerce secretary she enticed Uline to relocate its headquarters to Wisconsin, Uihlein quickly dismissed her role in the company’s decision.

Donelson says his group is trying to appeal to minority voters over the long term—a strategy that attracted Uihlein. “People like Dick [Uihlein] understand that the old rules can no longer work,” Donelson explains. “We have to build a new conservative coalition and expand it. Going into the minority communities and grab enough of that group to be part of the coalition.” (Uihlein declined to comment.) Outside of Wisconsin, America’s PAC is also running ads to support New Mexico’s Republican governor, Susana Martinez, who has led her Democratic opponent—often by double digits—for months. In Illinois, the organization is spending big on what Donelson calls the “We don’t like Dick Durbin campaign,” referring to the incumbent Democratic senator who’s looking like a lock for reelection.

In Wisconsin, though, Donelson is confident that America’s PAC will help Walker and other Republicans on the margins.

“That’s sort of ridiculous,” says Rep. Mandela Barnes, the Democratic chair of the Wisconsin Legislature’s Black and Latino Caucus. “Among the Republicans leading the state right now, there’s never been a well-thought-out plan or a guided approach for dealing with the issues facing communities of color. Whether it’s the voter ID law, or their legislation to target benefit recipients, who are disproportionately African American.

“Yes, if you mention the words ‘absentee landlord’ or ‘boarded-up building,’ that’s something that a lot of people are going to relate to…The word ‘abortion’ provokes an emotional response. But any informed voter is able to see what the Republican administration stands for.”

The abortion ad is classic America’s PAC. The group turned heads in the 2006 elections when it aired nearly $1 million in radio spots that critics derided as inflammatory and “repulsive.”

One of these ads was nearly identical to this year’s abortion spot. Another ad aimed at black voters linked Democrats who supported an end to the war in Iraq to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. The ad aired after Duke spoke at an anti-war rally in Syria. “I can understand why a Ku Klux Klan cracker like David Duke makes nice with the terrorists,” says the ad’s male narrator. “What I want to know is why so many of the Democrat politicians I helped elect are on the same side of the Iraq War as David Duke?”

Yet another ad from that year that targeted black radio listeners featured two men having this exchange:

“If you make a little mistake with one of your hos, you’ll want to dispose of that problem tout suite, no questions asked.”

“No, that’s too cold. I don’t snuff my own seed.”

“Huh, really? Well maybe you do have a reason to vote Republican.”

Donelson says the group’s 2006 ads—some of which were narrated by future presidential contender Herman Cain—were the work of America’s PAC founder and longtime Republican operative Richard Nadler. “He was the political genius” behind the group, Donelson says. “Rich was a hardcore, in-your-face-guy.”

That approach sometimes landed Nadler in hot water. In 2000, two years before Nadler founded America’s PAC, he wrote a school choice ad in which two parentscomplained that their son’s violent school “was a bit more diversity than he could handle.” Both George W. Bush’s presidential campaign and the Republican National Committee denounced the ad, with the latter calling it “racist or race-baiting in intent,” the New York Sun reported.

Donselson says that when he took over the PAC in 2009, the year Nadler passed away, he hewed closely to Nadler’s playbook: “If there’s a difference between our ads, and we’ve toned down the language, the message is the same.”

 

The Obamacare-Inspired Solution to America’s Doctor Shortage

Here’s a post from Sean William at The Motley Fool with the Obamacare-inspired solution to America’s doctor shortage.

Source: White House on Flickr.

Don’t look now, but Obamacare’s open enrollment period for 2015 is scheduled to open in just five weeks, shortly after mid-term elections are over.

As you might imagine there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the open enrollment period this year considering what happened last year. If you recall, IT-architecture problems bogged down the federally run health care exchange Healthcare.gov for the first two months, putting estimated enrollment figures behind by more than 1 million people at one point. Luckily, a late surge of enrollment by procrastinators in March allowed Obamacare’s enrollment figures to find the mark and surpass estimates.

Obamacare uncertainty prevails
But, this year is a lot different than last. For starters, the open enrollment period is a mere three months (Nov. 15, 2014 to Feb. 15, 2015). Additionally, the “easy” enrollments are out of the way, meaning insurers and the Department of Health and Human Services will need to work together to educate and encourage the remaining uninsured to sign up for health insurance.

Yet, as we examined last week, it could also be a challenging time for consumers looking to get preventative care. Based on a report from the Physicians Foundation, which is released every other year, four out of every five doctors view their current patient docket as full or overextended. Furthermore, 44% of all physicians polled noted that they would actively look to reduce the number of new patients they take on. This creates quite the dilemma considering that 2015’s enrollment estimates project that 5 million to 6 million new people will enroll on the exchanges in addition to the 7.3 million which were still paying members as of mid-August.

So, how does America solve its doctor shortage problem that’s effectively being caused by the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate requiring everyone to purchase health insurance? Ironically the answer can be found by looking within the ACA and its ability to promote cutting-edge technology as a means of reducing doctors’ burdens.

Technology leads the charge
To be clear, it was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed in 2009 that provided the impetus for health care companies to begin their switch from physical health records to electronic health records, or EHRs, not Obamacare. This transition, while it may seem trivial in nature with regard to reducing physical paper in the workplace, was the green flag for technology to take on a big role in the health care sector.

Obamacare, though, has provided a channel with which medical-based technologies can shine (as you’ll see below) and lighten the load of physicians to the point where they may be able to handle an influx of new patients caused by Obamacare.


Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr.

Telemedicine: the answer to solving our nation’s doctor shortage?
Telemedicine, or the idea of videoconference with your doctor from the comfort of your own home, had been considered taboo by health insurance companies prior to the adoption of Obamacare. However, as privately held telemedicine pioneer Teladoc has noted, insurance companies have recently been eager to jump on board with covering these virtual visits. Teladoc has signed agreements recently with Aetna (NYSE: AET  ) and Blue Shield of California, run by WellPoint (NYSE: WLP  ) , to cover telemedicine visits, while also landing agreements with large corporations such as Home Depot, and T-Mobile.

According to Teladoc’s sales figures, as reported by Fortune, the company doubled its revenue in 2013 and is on pace to again double its revenue this year. As CEO Jason Gorevic noted with regard to the Affordable Care Act, “It’s certainly an accelerator for us.” Funding has also been flowing into Teladoc like water as lenders see a potentially lucrative opportunity unfolding in telemedicine. A survey conducted by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health also noted that 52% of large businesses plan to introduce telemedicine as an option for their employees, up from 28% in 2014.

Why telemedicine you ask? First, telemedicine allows patients and doctors to meet on their own terms without time being a major factor. It’s not uncommon for doctors to fall behind schedule during their day treating patients, or patients to run late because of traffic heading to the doctor’s office. These time constraints can be largely eliminated with the use of videoconferencing.

Secondly, telemedicine can prove to be extremely cost-effective over the long run. Being able to connect with a physician over the web can reduce unnecessary hospital or doctor visits, which can add up rapidly, as well as quickly combine the knowledge of multiple doctors via a video conference in order to efficiently expedite a diagnosis.

Finally, telemedicine could improve outcomes by leading to speedier diagnoses. It’s not always convenient for people to travel from rural areas to a doctor’s office, so telemedicine could wind up easing this concern.

These gadgets could play an important role, too
But, telemedicine alone won’t alleviate doctor shortages. A number of other technological wonders are expected to step up and play a big role.


Source: Apple.

Apple‘s (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) Health app, for starters, could be a major tool used by doctors to aid with, and expedite a diagnosis. Right now, admittedly, Apple’s Health app is in the infancy stage. Following the release of its latest operating system iOS 8, Apple Health can only aggregate information from other health apps onto an easy-to-read single screen; but even then not all other health apps are compatible for Apple Health at the moment. In the future, however, as the Health app evolves it could become a hub for you basic medical information which your physician may rely on to get an accurate picture of your health.

There are other well-known companies and devices that have been working toward connecting patients with their doctors beyond the boundaries of a doctor’s office for years.

Medtronic (NYSE: MDT  ) , for example, launched its Medtronic M-Link cellular accessory in 2010 which allows its cardiac device patients to have the information stored on their devices downloaded and securely sent to their doctor via the CareLink network. The idea here is regular observation of the data could improve a patients’ overall health if changes needed to be made, and that it would ultimately reduce unnecessary visits to the doctor.

By a similar token the king of wireless technology Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM  ) has also focused at least a portion of its future on the health care sector. Qualcomm’s Life division, for instance, is working with its customers to develop devices that can wirelessly transmit data that goes into a cloud accessible by clinic computers, as well as a doctor’s mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet.

Ultimately, these are just three of a growing number of health-connectivity devices either on the market or under development.

The sky is the limit
The reality is that we haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg yet on technologies’ potential to help doctors manage what’s expected to be a large influx of patients. Will it work? Over the long run I suspect so, but there’s certainly a trial and error period that tech-based health care providers are only now beginning to wade into. Could doctor’s availability get worse before it gets better? I’d suggest that to be plausible considering the rapid influx of new patients from the ACA, but over time I view wireless devices and telemedicine playing a key role in allowing doctors to see more patients.

 

Watchdog claims union’s legal fight reveals ObamaCare fraud

Here’s a post by  that appeared on FoxNews.com.

A Texas union’s dirty laundry — aired out in court when workers charged they were cheated out of overtime pay – also shows the labor organization ripped off taxpayers under a $1.3 million contract to sign people up for ObamaCare, a watchdog group is claiming.

Non-profit group Southern United Neighborhoods got a $1.3 million federal grant in 2013 to serve as a “navigator,” enrolling people in Affordable Care Act coverage. The group subcontracted with United Labor Unions Local 100, which, according to Cause of Action, paid members less than it billed the government and, in some cases, paid them to recruit union members. The watchdog group discovered the alleged discrepancy in court papers filed by union workers suing the labor organization for unpaid overtime.

“Southern United Neighborhoods and ULU Local 100, both rebranded ACORN entities, present a risk of violating the law – this time by potentially misusing over $1.3 million of taxpayer dollars for union activities instead of enrolling individuals in the Affordable Care Act,” Daniel Epstein, executive director for Cause of Action said to FoxNews.com.

Epstein and his group sent a letter to the federal Health and Human Services Inspector General this week asking that SUN and the union be investigated for fraud.

“Given the amount of federal dollars at issue, the Inspector General should investigate SUN and conduct an audit into the potential misuse of ACA navigator funds,” read the letter.

Cause of Action discovered the alleged fraud after stumbling across a class action lawsuit recently filed in June in a Houston court by former SUN worker Cedric Anthony, who is seeking damages against SUN and Local 100 for unpaid overtime.

“Plaintiff [Cedric Anthony] was initially hired to work for SOUTHERN UNITED NEIGHBORHOODS,” reads the allegation in the court filing. “Once Plaintiff began working for SOUTHERN UNITED NEIGHBORHOODS as a federal navigator assisting people with the Affordable Care Act, he was directed to also perform work for Local 100 by visiting schools to speak with cafeteria workers to sign up for the union.”

Epstein says that SUN, which was formerly a branch of the now-defunct ACORN, and Local 100 likely violated federal law and that it should be worrisome that the union groups have personal information of those who signed up for ObamaCare.

“They have to comply with federal regulations,” he said. “First, as ACORN, they had our voter information. Now as SUN they have our healthcare info as well.”

Officials for SUN did not immediately return requests for comment.

The class action filing also suggests that Anthony and other workers were often forced to work over time of up to 55 hours a week but were never compensated for the overtime work. Since the June filing, at least four other former SUN employees have joined the class action with the same allegations.

Officials for Cause of Action also said that they to have spoken with another former Local 100 worker who alleges that some employees worked less than 40 hours per week, but were told to inflate their hours in order for the union to obtain more money from available government funding.

Journalist Michael Barone on What Happened to the GOP

Michael BaroneHere’s a post by Robert Feinberg at Newsmax on what happened to the GOP. How did we get where we are now.

Veteran political scholar Michael Barone, co-author of the legendary Almanac of American Politics, appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal recently to discuss his recent column as senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner titled “How the GOP Got This Way.”

He was interviewed by host Peter Slen, who got right to the point by daring to ask, “What does the Republican Party stand for today?”

Barone responded that the Republicans stand more for markets than for big government, compared with Democrats, and the Republicans stand for “traditional values.” He explained the ambiguity of the stances of both parties as a result of their need, unlike parties in parliamentary democracies, which is to get 50 percent of the votes, and he called this task “harder than it looks” in view of the “cultural diversity” that he finds has been a feature of American society for a long time, not just recently.

He analogized the chore to Sisyphus rolling the stone up the mountain, with the stone destined to roll back down again. (This writer sees the mountain as steeper and more treacherous for Republicans than for Democrats, who can mobilize federal infrastructure programs to grade and pave the mountain.)

Slen recalled that President Reagan used to refer to the Republicans as a “big tent,” and Slen asked whether this is still the case today for the parties. (This writer imagines an encampment where some of the campers are trying to kick over the poles of other tents or set those tents on fire.)

Barone explained he has identified a phenomenon in both parties that he calls “the wingers’ second-term revolt,” which he sees as the source of angry rebellions against the Leadership, as is now occurring in the Tea Party movement within the Republican Party.

For Barone this is reminiscent of the peace movement within the Democratic Party 40 years ago. Just as the Democrats were discontented with the policies of LBJ, Barone listed the Medicare prescription drug program and “No Child Left Behind” as grievances of Tea Party Republicans with George W. Bush’s presidency. At the same time, Barone credited the Tea Party with helping the GOP win House majorities. He sees similar discontent among Democrats with President Obama’s foreign policy and his failure to provide amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Slen posted a quote from Barone’s article that the advent of the Tea Party had brought hundreds of thousands of new people into politics, some of whom are “wackos, weirdos and witches,” while others turned out to be “serious citizens with exceptional political skills.”

Barone responded that the press made similar judgments about the peace movement 40 years ago. Both movements addressed serious issues of war and peace and the size and scope of government. He asserted that the Republican establishment has internalized many of the views of the Tea Party, and he credited both movements with reshaping their respective parties.

This writer anticipates battles within both parties by progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans over who will bear their respective standards, and that dissident Republicans in particular are likely to withhold their support from the party’s nominee.

Asked by a viewer why the dissidents in both parties get so much attention, Barone cited the Vietnam War and the 2008 financial crisis as instances where the views of the center could benefit from correction by the critics.

(Archived video can be found here.)

© 2014 Moneynews. All rights reserved.

Why the Rubio-Lee tax plan is great politics — and great policy

Here’s a post by  
Republicans such as Rubio (left) and Lee clearly recognize the value in courting the middle class.
Republicans such as Rubio (left) and Lee clearly recognize the value in courting the middle class. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The Republican Party has become the party of ideas again. You can see it in the new tax reform plan put out by Tea Party Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Marco Rubio (Fla.).

Their plan would simplify the income tax system, setting just two rates: 15 percent and 35 percent. More importantly, it would add a $2,500 child tax credit, refundable against both income and payroll taxes, to the existing $1,000 child tax credit. This means that even families that don’t pay income taxes, but do pay payroll taxes (i.e. families who work), would benefit from the tax credit.

The plan also reforms corporate income taxes. The details are a bit too complex to get into here, but as Reihan Salam explains, this part is also very clever and well thought out, and would address the problem of crony capitalism.

Now, why is any of this a big deal?

It’s a big deal, first of all, from a political perspective. Here are two Tea Party senators, one of whom is thought to be a strong candidate for the GOP’s presidential nomination, saying that the Republican Party should stop focusing on cutting top income tax rates and instead focus on helping middle-class families. The plan cuts tax rates a little bit, but most of its “bang” is for middle-class families.

It’s very important for the GOP to realize that the way to national electoral success is to be seen as on the side of the middle class. And that starts with bread-and-butter issues like taxes.

But Rubio and Lee’s tax plan is also a big deal because expanding the child tax credit tackles a whole set of interlocking issues that are plaguing the country and, unlike heavy-handed progressive solutions, does so in a smart way.

America’s lower and middle class suffers from a host of connected issues, especially lower social mobility, stagnating wages, and the decline of the family. The latter is of fundamental importance, since strong families provide an enormous host of economic, social, and cultural benefits, ranging from an inherent safety net, economies of scale, and especially incubating human capital — a.k.a. children, who are the people who are going to make the economy run in the future.

It’s not enough to point to cultural changes, as too many conservatives do, as the sole cause of the decline of the family. There are also economic reasons. It’s become harder to get married and stay married because it’s become more expensive to do so — more expensive to have kids, and more expensive to move into the kind of stable middle-class jobs that so many Americans feel is a necessary prerequisite to founding a household.

A child tax credit obviously isn’t a cure-all; but it’s equally true that tax policy shapes our incentives, and affects our behavior. And a child tax credit that is not only expanded but refundable against income and payroll taxes — and therefore available to the lower and middle class —makes it easier to raise children and have a family life; we can expect to have more of that.

The family stands at the center of the American Dream. The American Dream, for the vast majority of Americans, starts with the ability to raise a family.

The Rubio-Lee plan is the right solution to pressing problems that too many Americans face and the pressing political problems the Republican Party faces.

I do not know who will be the next president of the United States. But I do know that the next Republican to be elected president of the United States will be elected on a platform very similar to this one, and that when it becomes law, it will measurably and enduringly improve the welfare of millions of Americans. And that is something to be celebrated.

Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party — a Book Review

Wacko BirdsHere’s a book review about Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party by Joel B. Pollak. The review is by Ethel C. Fenig and appeared in the American Thinker.

In March of 2013, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) criticized his colleagues Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), calling them wacko birds for their outspokenness and refusal to participate in the get-along, go-along style of working in the Senate. McCain, once proudly known as a maverick for his outspokenness and sometimes refusal to participate in the get-along, go-along Senate style, was particularly upset with Paul’s “nearly 13-hour filibuster that pressured President Barack Obama’s administration to clarify its position on the use of domestic drones.”Paul later retorted, “The GOP of old has grown stale and moss covered.”
Although McCain later apologized for his public criticism — intra party disagreements are usually resolved quietly with little, if any, publicity — this exchange revealed the split between the old “stale and moss covered” Republicans who often seemingly differ from their Democratic colleagues in nuance rather than as true opposition and their more conservative, younger members, the wacko birds.

But just who are these wacko birds? Where did they come from? What do they believe in? Will they be able to influence the Republican Party? This country? What about their success? Failures? Joel B. Pollak explains in his important new e book Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party.

A wacko bird himself, Pollak first gained notoriety as a Harvard Law student persistently questioning then Rep Barney Frank (D-MA), chair of the House Financial Services Committee, about Frank’s responsibility for the global economic meltdown. A little over 10 years later, in 2010, Pollak, formerly a very liberal Democrat, challenged extremely liberal 10-year incumbent Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), for a Congressional seat in a midnight deep blue district. (Full disclosure: I worked on and contributed to his campaign and even served as a genuine Republican election judge to combat any election irregularities.) Although Schakowsky won easily, Pollak managed to reduce her victory percentage. He is now Senior Editor at Large and in-house counsel for Breitbart News. So he writes from experience, as an actual participant in the political process, as well as a political analyst.

One by one, Pollak examines the more prominent wacko birds, the Tea (Taxed Enough Already) Party candidates and legislators, such as Michele Bachmann, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Sarah Palin, and even Christine O’Donnell, the failed Delaware senatorial candidate “witch”, candidly analyzing their successes and failures and their impact on the party and the country.

For Pollak, “the wacko birds of the Tea Party and the new conservative opposition were the authentic voices of a frustrated electorate, and to some extent, a counter culture.”

Rubio, an original wacko bird, defeated Florida’s governor Charles Crist and opposed ObamaCare while emphasizing the importance of the Constitution, including gun ownership. But he was for immigration amnesty with strict border enforcement; most members of the Tea Party oppose the former.

Rand Paul “pioneered creative tactics” to get his message across, proposing economic freedom zones, an idea that even Obama has embraced. But his isolationist foreign policy views and opinion that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was not Constitutional alienated many within the Tea Party.

Ted Cruz’s leadership on the debt ceiling led to the government shutdown, proving that strong Republican opposition to the Democrats is possible. But while the shutdown thrilled many both within and outside the Tea Party many others, including old-line Republicans, were upset.

And then there was Sarah Palin. Palin, McCain’s surprising choice for a running mate in 2008, was the successful governor of a non-swing state, Alaska, and formerly a small town mayor. A middle-class wife and mother, she entered politics on her own, without strong political family connections or money, unlike some prominent female Democrats. (Yes Hillary Rodham — and now Clinton — and Michelle Nunn, I mean you.) Had she been a Democrat the media would have loved her and her story: small town girl makes good, good marriage with five children, including a loved handicapped youngster, very attractive. But she was a Republican.

As Pollak points out, the mostly liberal media protects Democratic eccentrics and those with views outside the Democratic mainstream. But Palin was a Republican. Consequently, she was mocked and ridiculed for everything, including not aborting her Down’s Syndrome baby. “Saturday Night Live’s” Tina Fey shot to fame impersonating her; “I can see Russia from my house” became her tag line. Of course, Palin and McCain proved to be correct about Russia but no matter. Obama’s murky past and Biden’s many gaffes, including the mildly racist “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking,” and imitating an Indian accent.

Nevertheless, Pollak claims that the Tea Party has a solid record of achievements, including bringing a freshness to American politics by providing a place for those Americans opposed to Obama and the political class in general. As a result, they stunted Democratic political consultant James Carville’s prediction that the Democrats would be the future majority party, helping Republicans win and proving that the U.S. was not turning hard left, or in the words of a contemporary Newsweek cover, “we’re all socialists now.” Most importantly, while they didn’t reduce federal spending, they decelerated its rise while also slowing down spending at the state level. And they increased the strength of the alternative media: while the mainstream media ignored Rep Anthony Weiner’s (D-NY) sexting scandal, Breitbart exposed it, countering his excuses. Ultimately, Weiner, who married one of Hillary Clinton’s top aides and was thinking of becoming a New York senator, was forced to resign in disgrace amidst much mockery.

But the Tea Party also had its failures, mainly its lack of success twice to take the Senate and later to produce a strong enough Tea Party opponent to defeat Obama. More reactive than active, they couldn’t effectively counter the Occupy movement’s obsession with the fabled 1% and notions of inequality and jealousy. Their inability to widely influence the Republican Party towards more conservative stances as the more leftist Democrats had turned their party left diminished its presence. The wacko birds also lacked leadership and thus were not confident enough to challenge the established powers thus “the basic failure of the Tea Party comes down to develop leadership and public representatives who could make the case for the movement’s principles.”

Pollak concludes that the left — and the U.S. — need the Tea Party and its wacko birds, to show the country that the Constitution is important and that not all citizens want or need government programs that “help” them.

As the title states, the Tea Party may have fallen but it will also rise if we become an informed and vigilant citizenry.

In March of 2013, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) criticized his colleagues Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), calling them wacko birds for their outspokenness and refusal to participate in the get-along, go-along style of working in the Senate. McCain, once proudly known as a maverick for his outspokenness and sometimes refusal to participate in the get-along, go-along Senate style, was particularly upset with Paul’s “nearly 13-hour filibuster that pressured President Barack Obama’s administration to clarify its position on the use of domestic drones.”

Paul later retorted, “The GOP of old has grown stale and moss covered.”

Although McCain later apologized for his public criticism — intra party disagreements are usually resolved quietly with little, if any, publicity — this exchange revealed the split between the old “stale and moss covered” Republicans who often seemingly differ from their Democratic colleagues in nuance rather than as true opposition and their more conservative, younger members, the wacko birds.

But just who are these wacko birds? Where did they come from? What do they believe in? Will they be able to influence the Republican Party? This country? What about their success? Failures? Joel B. Pollak explains in his important new e book Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party.

A wacko bird himself, Pollak first gained notoriety as a Harvard Law student persistently questioning then Rep Barney Frank (D-MA), chair of the House Financial Services Committee, about Frank’s responsibility for the global economic meltdown. A little over 10 years later, in 2010, Pollak, formerly a very liberal Democrat, challenged extremely liberal 10-year incumbent Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), for a Congressional seat in a midnight deep blue district. (Full disclosure: I worked on and contributed to his campaign and even served as a genuine Republican election judge to combat any election irregularities.) Although Schakowsky won easily, Pollak managed to reduce her victory percentage. He is now Senior Editor at Large and in-house counsel for Breitbart News. So he writes from experience, as an actual participant in the political process, as well as a political analyst.

One by one, Pollak examines the more prominent wacko birds, the Tea (Taxed Enough Already) Party candidates and legislators, such as Michele Bachmann, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Sarah Palin, and even Christine O’Donnell, the failed Delaware senatorial candidate “witch”, candidly analyzing their successes and failures and their impact on the party and the country.

For Pollak, “the wacko birds of the Tea Party and the new conservative opposition were the authentic voices of a frustrated electorate, and to some extent, a counter culture.”

Rubio, an original wacko bird, defeated Florida’s governor Charles Crist and opposed ObamaCare while emphasizing the importance of the Constitution, including gun ownership. But he was for immigration amnesty with strict border enforcement; most members of the Tea Party oppose the former.

Rand Paul “pioneered creative tactics” to get his message across, proposing economic freedom zones, an idea that even Obama has embraced. But his isolationist foreign policy views and opinion that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was not Constitutional alienated many within the Tea Party.

Ted Cruz’s leadership on the debt ceiling led to the government shutdown, proving that strong Republican opposition to the Democrats is possible. But while the shutdown thrilled many both within and outside the Tea Party many others, including old-line Republicans, were upset.

And then there was Sarah Palin. Palin, McCain’s surprising choice for a running mate in 2008, was the successful governor of a non-swing state, Alaska, and formerly a small town mayor. A middle-class wife and mother, she entered politics on her own, without strong political family connections or money, unlike some prominent female Democrats. (Yes Hillary Rodham — and now Clinton — and Michelle Nunn, I mean you.) Had she been a Democrat the media would have loved her and her story: small town girl makes good, good marriage with five children, including a loved handicapped youngster, very attractive. But she was a Republican.

As Pollak points out, the mostly liberal media protects Democratic eccentrics and those with views outside the Democratic mainstream. But Palin was a Republican. Consequently, she was mocked and ridiculed for everything, including not aborting her Down’s Syndrome baby. “Saturday Night Live’s” Tina Fey shot to fame impersonating her; “I can see Russia from my house” became her tag line. Of course, Palin and McCain proved to be correct about Russia but no matter. Obama’s murky past and Biden’s many gaffes, including the mildly racist “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking,” and imitating an Indian accent.

Nevertheless, Pollak claims that the Tea Party has a solid record of achievements, including bringing a freshness to American politics by providing a place for those Americans opposed to Obama and the political class in general. As a result, they stunted Democratic political consultant James Carville’s prediction that the Democrats would be the future majority party, helping Republicans win and proving that the U.S. was not turning hard left, or in the words of a contemporary Newsweek cover, “we’re all socialists now.” Most importantly, while they didn’t reduce federal spending, they decelerated its rise while also slowing down spending at the state level. And they increased the strength of the alternative media: while the mainstream media ignored Rep Anthony Weiner’s (D-NY) sexting scandal, Breitbart exposed it, countering his excuses. Ultimately, Weiner, who married one of Hillary Clinton’s top aides and was thinking of becoming a New York senator, was forced to resign in disgrace amidst much mockery.

But the Tea Party also had its failures, mainly its lack of success twice to take the Senate and later to produce a strong enough Tea Party opponent to defeat Obama. More reactive than active, they couldn’t effectively counter the Occupy movement’s obsession with the fabled 1% and notions of inequality and jealousy. Their inability to widely influence the Republican Party towards more conservative stances as the more leftist Democrats had turned their party left diminished its presence. The wacko birds also lacked leadership and thus were not confident enough to challenge the established powers thus “the basic failure of the Tea Party comes down to develop leadership and public representatives who could make the case for the movement’s principles.”

Pollak concludes that the left — and the U.S. — need the Tea Party and its wacko birds, to show the country that the Constitution is important and that not all citizens want or need government programs that “help” them.

As the title states, the Tea Party may have fallen but it will also rise if we become an informed and vigilant citizenry.

Betsy McCaughey: 30 Million Could Lose Healthcare Due to Obamacare

Betsy McCaugheyHere’s a post from Todd Beamon at Newsmax with why Betsy McCaughey, health policy expert, thinks 30 million could lose their healthcare insurance due to Obamacare.

As many as 30 million Americans could lose their employer-sponsored healthcare at the end of the year because those plans will not meet the requirements of Obamacare, health policy expert Betsy McCaughey said on Saturday.

“Most people still get their health insurance through an employer,” McCaughey, who also is a Newsmax columnist, told former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on his Fox News program. “Thirty million people could lose their on-the-job coverage this year and be forced onto one of those exchanges.

“The plans that the employers bought in the small-group market are suddenly no longer eligible — and employers are going to be stuck with going to the very expensive Obamacare one-size-fits-all requirement or saying to their employees, ‘I am sorry, you will have to get it somewhere else.’

“We’re going to see a lot of that in the coming months,” McCaughey said.

Under Obamacare, many companies with fewer than 50 employees have insurance plans that are set to expire this year. Those plans were purchased before the healthcare law took effect — and employer mandates for such businesses were delayed by President Barack Obama until Jan. 1, 2015.

However, as the plans expire, businesses will be required to provide plans that meet Obamacare’s requirements — making them more expensive — or they can drop coverage, forcing employees to obtain coverage on their own through the exchanges.

For employers with 50 to 99 workers, they must provide coverage or pay a fine of $2,000 per employee. The requirement was delayed to January 2016 — after an earlier delay in July 2013, which had pushed back the mandate to January 2015.

But because those companies with fewer than 50 workers are most likely to drop coverage rather than pay the higher costs due to the Obamacare requirements, those Americans will most likely get “a very raw deal” when those policies expire at the end of the year, McCaughey told Huckabee.

“Rates will go up for quite a few people,” she said.