Sunday, July 6, 2014

Debicella: There's So Much You Don't Know About Obamacare

Dan Debicella is the challenger to Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT 4th District) in this November's congressional race. Although Debicella lost to Himes in 2012, he is well funded and Hime's re-election should not be taken for granted. This op-ed, which appeared in Greenwich Time, was written in collaboration with Sean Goldrick, a fellow member of the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee. It was written in response to an op-ed written by Debicella.

“It’s not what he doesn’t know that bothers me, it’s what he knows for sure that just ain’t so.” Although the provenance of this quote about politicians is debated, it undeniably fits Dan Debicella, the Republican challenger to Rep. Jim Himes.
In his recent op-ed, “Fixing our health care mess,” Debicella claims the Affordable Care Act “neglected to address the out-of-control costs squeezing middle class families.”  Apparently Debicella is unaware that over the five years since ACA implementation began, health care costs have risen at the slowest rate in half a century.  He also neglects to report that ACA stopped insurance companies from gouging people in the individual market, requiring insurers to put at least 80 percent of premium income towards medical care. Obamacare resulted in millions of dollars of overcharges being rebated to middle class consumers over the past two years.  
Debicella claims the Affordable Care Act fails to cover “most of the uninsured” due to the ACA’s “convoluted exchange system.”  In fact, despite the initial problems of the federal exchange website, more than 8 million middle class Americans enrolled in marketplace plans, and another 6 million received coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). After decades of consumers being locked out of the private insurance market, the uninsured rate hit an all-time high just before the healthcare exchanges opened late last year. Since then the rate has fallen more than 20 percent, “a sign that the Affordable Care Act…appears to be accomplishing its goal of increasing the percentage of Americans with health insurance coverage.” reported Gallup in April.
While criticizing Obamacare for failing to cover the uninsured, Debicella neglected to reveal that 25 states controlled by Republican governors and legislatures refused to extend Medicaid coverage, a key component of Obamacare, leaving millions of vulnerable Americans without access to health care. A study by Harvard University published in Health Affairs estimates that up to 17,000 Americans will die each year in the 25 “refusal states” due to lack of access to health care. 
Thanks to Gov. Malloy’s leadership, CT’s state exchange worked beautifully, extending insurance to nearly two and a half times more residents than was originally estimated. Of the 79,000 residents who signed up for private sector health insurance policies through Access Health CT, nearly four in five received subsidies to help pay premiums.  That isn’t “squeezing middle class families,” it’s helping them.  Over 150,000 low-income Connecticut residents who couldn't afford health insurance before are now benefitting from the Medicaid extension.  
Debicella’s alternative to the ACA is a “market-based system.” He is apparently oblivious to the fact that we’ve had (and still have) a largely market-based system that drives the highest costs in the world, while leaving millions uninsured and delivering sub-par performance when compared to the government-managed systems that Republicans love to denounce as “socialist” failures.  
As a fix for high costs, Debicella proposes that insurance policies be sold across state lines.  What he is really proposing is that junk insurance that used to be marketed in lightly regulated states be sold to unsuspecting consumers elsewhere.  In another example of how Obamacare is helping the middle class, it put a stop to the peddling of junk insurance, requiring a basic level of services be offered in every state.  That has lowered cost through standardization, while enhancing the quality and coverage of insurance policies.
Debicella also proposes tort reform as a means of reducing health care costs. Malpractice costs are a favorite Republican bogeyman even though they account for a small fraction of total healthcare costs. Commenting on proposals to restrict malpractice suits as a way to attack healthcare costs, Forbes (“the capitalist tool”) commented “Given the small percentage of the health care dollar spent on medical malpractice issues, that would hardly appear to be the case.”

There’s just so much that Mr. Debicella knows for sure that just ain’t so.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Republicans: Determined to Damage Our Economy, Whatever it Takes

I took a short break from my focus on gun violence prevention to write about how Republicans are damaging our economy and harming the middle class with their incessant drive to cut government spending. Particularly relevant as Republicans are now threatening to shut down the government come Oct 1 and let the U.S. default on past spending obligations if they don't get their way.

House Majority leader Eric Cantor asserts the deficit is growing, using that as the rationale for further cuts in federal spending. In fact, as reported by the Congressional Budget Office, the deficit is falling steeply, to less than half of what it was as a proportion of GDP in 2009.
This continued deception by Republicans as a means of advancing their obsession with fiscal austerity is doing the opposite of what it claims. Across the board, corporate, academic and government economists are telling us that job growth, economic recovery and longer-term prosperity are being hindered by cuts in government spending.  
The Federal Reserve was uncharacteristically blunt when it said “fiscal policy is restraining economic growth.” The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco reports that fiscal policy has become “unusually contractionary.” It estimates that growth could be reduced by as much as 1 percentage point annually over the next three years if current policies continue.
The International Monetary Fund believes the sequester has put a “heavy toll” on short-term growth, and that its “indiscriminate” cuts in investment-oriented spending could reduce longer-term economic growth.
As reported in The New York Times, Bank of America Merrill Lynch told its clients that “fiscal drag has likely reduced growth this year at least 1.5 percentage points, and isn’t over yet.” The chairman of the Economic Advisory Committee of the American Bankers Association stated “greater-than-expected fiscal drag…could still pose downside risks.”  
Princeton economist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman has reported extensively on the fallacy of austerity policies, noting that “any fiscal savings come at the expense of reduced output and higher unemployment.” Calling austerity in the current environment “a terrible idea,” Krugman explains that contractionary policy “may inflict long-run economic damage that actually worsens the long-run fiscal position.”
Despite this, Republicans are gearing up once again to use debt ceiling negotiations to blackmail the Obama administration into further spending cuts, mostly at the expense of the less advantaged. At significant cost to the recovery, Democrats have already made major concessions on spending. 
Tax and entitlement reform are necessary to long-term economic growth, but in the short run, stimulus is what’s needed, not austerity. It’s time to listen to the experts, and stand firm against the destructive Republican economic agenda. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Add your name to my Background Check letter to Congress!

On June 12 and 13 I will be traveling to Washington, D.C. with the Newtown Action Alliance to hand-deliver letters to members of Congress, asking them to vote for universal background checks for all firearm purchases, legislation supported by nine out of ten Americans.  The letter I will be delivering is below.

I'm trying to add as many names as possible to the letter, so please add yours.  Add a comment to this post with your name, city and state, or send me a message via Facebook or email.


A Plea to Pass Universal Background Checks and other Common-Sense Gun Regulation

Dear Senator/Representative:

Gun rights advocates are quick to use the Constitution to defend unfettered access to even the most lethal firearms. But before the Constitution came the Declaration of Independence, which asserts that we are endowed with certain unalienable rights, including those of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It continues, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted…”
It is time now for the federal government to protect our right to be free of gun violence. It is time for you and the U.S. Congress to put this right on the same high pedestal it affords the right to bear arms. It is time for you to heed Supreme Court Justice Scalia who said “like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” The Court was clear about the need for gun regulation: “…nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on … laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”  The Court even goes so far as to recognize the right of government to prohibit “the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons’.”
Right now we are urging you to vote for comprehensive universal background checks for all firearm purchases.  Common sense regulation, starting with universal background checks, is urgently needed to protect the lives of Americans in their places of work, houses of worship, shopping centers, movie theaters, parks and schools. 
It is completely indefensible that Congress cannot pass universal background checks when an overwhelming majority of Americans support this common sense measure. Universal background checks will not restrict the ability of law-abiding citizens to own guns, any more so than vehicle registration makes it impossible to own a car or TSA security checks make it impossible to board a plane.
Beyond simply extending background checks for all gun sales, you must close loopholes and strengthen reporting requirements. The federal government has spent trillions on the war on terror, yet people on the F.B.I. terrorist watch list are legally entitled to buy firearms, which they have been cleared to do more than 1,000 times in the past ten years.
Some defend the status quo by claiming that common sense gun regulation, including background checks, won't protect Americans from all incidents of gun violence.  President Obama in his State of the Union address said what is obvious:  "Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country.  In fact, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges ... But we were never sent here to be perfect.  We were sent here to make what difference we can..."
It is time for you to make a difference in the epidemic of gun violence that claims more than 30,000 American lives every year. You need to vote for comprehensive universal background checks along the lines of the Manchin-Toomey proposal (not the misleading and ineffective Grassley-Cruz amendment).
Beyond background checks for firearm purchases, we urge you to require similar background checks for the purchase of ammunition. We know that even with stringent purchase requirements, criminals will come into possession of guns. Adding another layer of defense is a common sense measure you should support to save lives. To protect their safety, Americans get physician approval nearly three billion times a year to purchase prescription drugs.  Why is it any more intrusive or inconvenient to require gun owners to get approval to buy ammunition to protect our safety?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Disturbing Silence on Gun Violence Prevention from CT State Senator Frantz

Even in Conn. where moderate Republicans still exist, they evidence strains of what is keeping common sense gun regulation from passing.

At his town hall meeting last week, State Senator L. Scott Frantz told a large gathering of constituents that he could not reveal his position on common sense gun regulations.   He claimed the General Assembly’s Gun Violence Prevention working group on which he serves was under a self-imposed gag order so that they could reach a “historic” bipartisan agreement. 
After that buildup, it came as a surprise that the very next day the task force released separate Democratic and Republican proposals.  Although there are areas of agreement, the Republican proposal is less comprehensive and leaves out key provisions that would help reduce the death toll from gun violence, including an expanded definition of assault weapons and limits on the capacity of ammunition magazines.
More disturbing than Sen. Frantz’s silence is that he and his Republican colleagues are so out of touch with their constituents.  A Quinnipiac University poll found overwhelming support for both tighter regulation of assault weapons and limiting magazines to ten bullets, by margins of more than 2:1.  By an even greater margin, nearly 3:1, voters support handgun registration with annual renewal.
Sen. Frantz is also out of touch with constitutional law, judging by his town hall statement that “whatever comes out of the General Assembly and is signed by the governor will withstand some serious constitutional challenges.”  Apparently three months studying the issue was not sufficient to make him aware that Justice Scalia’s District of Columbia v. Heller opinion states “like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited."  Pertaining to assault weapons bans, the Supreme Court goes on to say "nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on...laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms."
Neither does the Second Amendment pose problems for limiting magazine capacity. The New York Times reported that "Constitutional lawyers, including many conservatives, generally believe that limiting magazine size falls well within the boundaries of recent Supreme Court decisions on gun rights…" Had limits on magazine capacity been in place, we would likely have seen reduced death tolls at the Newtown, Tucson and Aurora massacres.
It is time for legislators to stop affording deference to the constitutional rights of gun owners without similarly recognizing the "unalienable right" of all Americans to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" which is enshrined in our Declaration of Independence.
On the positive side, in correspondence to individual constituents, Sen. Frantz has described himself as “a person who believes in reasonable gun control.”  Now that the cone of silence has been lifted, it is time for Sen. Frantz and the rest of the Greenwich state delegation to demonstrate leadership and actively speak out in favor of common sense gun regulations. With their support, Connecticut has a unique opportunity and the moral authority to show the country a united, bi-partisan front in the quest to reduce gun violence.
Let’s show Sen. Frantz and Reps. Camillo, Floren and Walko that the Quinnipiac poll holds true in Greenwich.  Let’s urge them to support comprehensive gun regulation (contact information for legislators can be found at the CT Against Gun Violence website,  The death toll climbs every day, the time to act is now.

Postscript: Sen. Frantz, while introducing multiple amendments to carve out restrictions on tighter regulation of firearms (which all failed), when on to vote for the tough package of gun violence prevention measures passed by the Conn. General Assembly.  Thank you Sen. Frantz.