What Fresh Hell Is This?

July 22, 2017

I Guess It All Depends On How You Define "Town Hall" (Sen Toomey's So-Called "Town Hall" in Harrisburg)

Let's start here:
Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania explained why Republicans are having such trouble with health care. Speaking at a town hall during the July 4 recess, Toomey said, ‘I didn't expect Donald Trump to win. I think most of my colleagues didn't. So we didn't expect to be in this situation.' [Emphasis added.]
Actually if you read the entire piece, it's not only about health care. In fact very little of it is.  It's about how even the GOP got Trump wrong and now the party establishment has a problem on its hands.

From the piece:
No kidding. I too can report that, from June 16, 2015, to November 8, 2016, the feeling among the elected officials, party functionaries, consultants, strategists, and journalists in our nation's capital was that Donald J. Trump stood no chance of becoming president of the United States. And because the political elite held this view with such self-assurance, with all the egotism and snobbery and moral puffery and snarkiness that distinguishes itself as a class, it did not spend more than a second, if that, thinking through the possible consequences of a Trump victory.

Among those consequences: The expectation that Republicans might actually try to keep the promises they've made to voters over the last eight years.
Among these promises: Obamacare.

But I want to get back to my start. Was it a "town hall"? I guess it all depends on how you define "town hall."

If you read Time (and there's hardly a less mainstream news source than Time), it was certainly called that:
Speaking at a town hall Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Senator said that Republicans were having difficulty crafting a law to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act because they hadn't planned for it to happen this year.
 But what were the parameters of this so-called "town hall"?

From Pennlive:
Sen. Pat Toomey next week will appear in a televised town hall hosted by ABC27 News.

The event, scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the news outlet's Harrisburg station, will be broadcast by other ABC affiliate stations in Altoona, Wilkes-Barre and Erie.

Viewers will be connected with the Republican senator during the live event via social media. ABC27 will take questions for Toomey on its Facebook page.

Because of capacity limitations at the station, admittance to the town hall is by invitation only.
There it is: "by invitation only" with questions streaming in over the TV station's Facebook page .

What sort of town hall is that? 

It's a pretty safe guess that the protesters outside this so-called "town hall" were not among the invited:
[The protesters] then jeered Toomey as his vehicle arrived at the station on the other side of a barricade and row of police officers.
It was "by invitation only" AND protected by a "row of police officers" AND a barricade?

What sort of town hall is that? And I have a question: who chose which questions the Senator would hear? Was it Toomey's office or the TV station, if it's the latter, were there any parameters set up beforehand as to what Toomey would hear?

I only ask because in a real town hall meeting, citizens can walk up to any microphone and be heard by their elected official.

That's obviously not what happened in Harrisburgh over the July 4th weekend. We should stop calling it a "town hall."

July 21, 2017

It's Trump War - It's Just That Almost No One Sees It.

From Talkingpointsmemo:
The Times and the Post tonight both have stories out reporting the Trump legal team’s expanding war against Special Counsel Robert Mueller and – hyperbolic as it may sound to say – the law itself. While there are a number of individual dimensions to the stories, the larger story, especially from the Post, is that the President refuses to allow the law to apply to himself or his family. [Italics and links in original]
War against the law itself and then there's Trump's war on the media:


Resist.

July 20, 2017

What Senator Toomey Wants, What He's Voted For, And What We'd Get Because Of It.

From The Health Affairs Blog:
Late in the day on July 19, 2017, the Senate released the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act (ORRA) of 2017 (summary). The bill would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) coverage provisions, but delay the repeal of the coverage provisions until 2020, presumably giving Congress time to come up with a replacement. It is virtually identical to the reconciliation bill that passed both houses of Congress in 2015, only to be vetoed by President Obama. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) simultaneously released a cost estimate of the bill, which was very similar to the report it had offered on the 2015 bill. 
Senator Pat Toomey, like most other GOP senators at the time, voted for that reconciliation bill.

Senator Toomey this week:
I intend to vote to proceed to a full Obamacare repeal bill that would take effect in two years so that Congress can use this time to craft a legislative replacement and move toward a consumer-driven health care system.
And what the CBO said about this appeal bill (the one that's "virtually identical" to the one Pat voted for 2 years ago:
The number of people who are uninsured would increase by 17 million in 2018, compared with the number under current law. That number would increase to 27 million in 2020, after the elimination of the ACA’s expansion of eligibility for Medicaid and the elimination of subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces established by the ACA, and then to 32 million in 2026.
So Pat Toomey's solution to:
Obamacare is failing. In Pennsylvania, Obamacare premiums are up 120 percent and 40 percent of our residents are limited to one insurer on the exchange. Families are still in dire need of relief.
Is to make sure 32 million fewer Americans have health care insurance, hoping that the Congress, after failing to come up with a solution after 7 years of working on one, will somehow magically come up with a solution in just 2.

In the meantime, 32 million fewer insured.

The GOP plan. Pat Toomey's plan.

Hooray for us.

July 19, 2017

Toomey-Time Round-Up! (Part The Second)

Yesterday, we started looking at all the letters of mine that Senator Pat Toomey has chosen not to answer (so far, of course).

We know that he (or at least his office) has seen everything up to my nineteenth letter (we know this because he answered it).

Yesterday, we ended with the tenth letter.

What else has he decided not to answer?
  • Eleventh letter - I asked Toomey if he agrees with the 97% of climate scientists who've concluded that the planet is warming up AND that human activity is (at the very least) a significant cause.
  • Twelfth letter - This one was about former NSA Flynn. I asked Toomey whether he was concerned that Trump knew for two and a half weeks that Flynn was in danger of being compromised by the Russians before firing him.
  • Thirteenth letter - I asked Toomey if, given Trump's firing of FBI director James Comey and then his subsequent leaking of classified information to the Russians, he still had confidence in Trump's abilities as leader of the free world.
  • Fourteenth letter - This one is a follow up to the thirteenth. I asked Toomey if he was OK with Trump bragging to the Russians about his firing of James Comey, calling him "a nut job."
  • Fifteenth letter - I asked Toomey if he was concerned about Jared Kushner's dishonesty regarding his meeting with the Russians and then subsequent attempts to secure a "back channel" to them outside of the ability of US Intelligence to monitor.
  • Sixteenth letter - This is another climate science question. I asked Toomey a simple yes or no. Does he agree that "that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver"? 
  • Seventeenth letter - This one is probably moot. It's about Toomey's failed ACA replacement legislation. 
  • Eighteenth letter - Probably also moot as it's also about Toomey's failed ACA replacement.
Senator, I'd still like to see answers to these important questions as they touch on issues of global stability as well as domestic security.

July 18, 2017

It's Toomey Time - Time For Toomey Round-up! Time For Toomey Round-up!

Since we've hit the nice round number of twenty in my weekly "Open Letters To Senator Toomey" project, I thought it might be a good idea to look at some of the questions he has (so far) chosen not to answer.

I also figure I'd give him a break since his Trumpcare (Obamacare replacement) bill has stumbled.

We know that the Toomey office has received everything up to and including my nineteenth letter.

So he's seen everything before that and has (again, so far) chosen not to answer the following questions:
  • Third letter - Does Senator Toomey agree with Donald J Trump when the latter said that the press is "the enemy of the people"? 
  • Fourth letter - In his push to "defund Planned Parenthood" is Senator Toomey comfortable knowing that if he did, he'd be depriving thousands of low-income women in Pennsylvania necessary cancer screenings and STD treatments?
  • Fifth letter - this one's probably moot. In it, I asked about Senator Toomey's plans to protect his constituents in the event that the House Obamacare replacement becomes law. As we've seen his Senate Obamacare replacement, we already know that answer.
  • Sixth letter - Given Trump's repeated, uh, misstatements (and the repeated debunkings that followed) regarding the non-existent wiretapping of Trump Tower, how much does that undermine Senator Toomey's confidence in Trump's ability to lead?
  • Eighth letter - Senator Toomey supported a resolution that would have allowed ISPs to sell anyone's personal browsing history. Given the lack of public support of that idea, why is the Senator supporting it?
  • Tenth letter - Is Senator Toomey OK with Trump's continued refusal to release his tax returns? If it was good enough for Ronald Reagan, why isn't it good enough for Donald J Trump?
And that's the first half or so.

More later.

July 17, 2017

Happy Birthday Peter Schickele

Ok, so let's take a break from the disintegration of the country and/or the Trump Administration and/or the GOP for some fun.

Today is Peter Schickele's birthday.

Everything you need to know about him as a composer can be found in this piece:


Technically, the piece is a "quodlibet" but that's really not important.

If you need a hand getting through it, here's some help.

Prepare to giggle.

July 15, 2017

ANOTHER Response From Senator Pat Toomey

Like his previous responses, this one is email - saves postage and printing, I guess.

So what's this one all about? Senator Toomey's first sentence tells us:
Thank you for contacting my office about health care reform. I appreciate hearing from you.
I'm relieved that even after twenty letters, he still appreciates hearing from me. I'll take that as a Senatorial encouragement to keep the letters coming.

(That should be encouragement to any of my readers who are in the habit of writing to Toomey to keep writing to Toomey. And hey, if you have both your letter and his response in a post-able form, send it in. I'll post it here.)

Here are my five health care letters:
  • Fifth - where I pointed out the CBO of the Obamacare replacement bill written in The House of Representatives. As Toomey's letter is discussing the Senate's bill, this is probably not the letter to which he's responding.
  • Seventeenth - where I asked about his bill, the BCRA, before it was released. It was written in secret and so I asked why his constituents couldn't see it/comment on it before it was to be discussed in the Senate. This is also probably not the letter to which he's responding.
  • Eighteenth - where I pointed to some poll data showing the then level of public support for ACA (49% supported, 42% opposed) and then asked, given the lack of public support, why write the replacement bill in secret? This is also probably not the letter to which he's responding.
  • Nineteenth -  where I pointed out the CBO analysis of the BCRA and asked whether he's ok with millions of people losing their health insurance just so that the already wealthy can become a little wealthier. This is probably the letter to which he's responding.
  • Twentieth - where I asked him to comment on what Bishop David Zubik said, that "access to health care is a basic human right" and that his replacement bill is "morally unacceptable." Given that he doesn't mention Bishop Zubik at all, this is also probably not the letter to which he's responding.
That leaves the nineteenth letter.  The interesting thing about his response (posted in its entirety at the bottom of this blog post) is how familiar his opening is.  For example, his second paragraph:
Obamacare is fundamentally wrong in its approach to improving our nation's health care system. It forces people to buy overpriced health plans they do not want, hikes taxes, and puts important and personal health care decisions in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats instead of patients and their doctors.
Take a look at this from Senator Toomey, dated September of 2013:
Obamacare is fundamentally wrong in its approach to improving our nation's health care system.
Or this from only one month later:
...it is the fact that the President's health care law forces people to buy overpriced health plans they don't want, hikes taxes, and puts important, personal health care decisions in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats instead of patients and their doctors.
Toomey's response to me continues:
In Pennsylvania's individual insurance market, premiums have skyrocketed an astonishing 120 percent since 2013. Forty percent of Pennsylvanians have only one insurer from which to obtain coverage. For these reasons, Congress has begun the process to roll back this misguided experiment and address the most immediate challenges presented by Obamacare's collapse.
Is that true? Is Obamacare collapsing?

No, not according to Thomas Howell jr of the conservative Washington Times:
Obamacare in a death spiral? It’s been a mantra of Republicans, who say the law is collapsing and they are riding to the rescue.

But the Congressional Budget Office, in a little-noticed part of its report last week, said that is not the case. In fact, the CBO analysts said, Obamacare’s exchanges are likely to “be stable in most areas” under the existing law.

The analysts said the key is the tax subsidies the government provides to most of those buying plans on the exchanges. As premiums go up, so does the amount the government pays out to help people buy their coverage — meaning there will always be a pool of customers.
That last part kinda redefines Toomey's complaint about skyrocketing premiums, huh?

And that's an important part of whatever is pushing up the premiums - the issue that Senator Toomey  sees as a flaw in the law and not in how it's being sabotaged by members of his party.

Take a look:
Donald Trump has repeatedly assured the American people that their health-care system will collapse on his watch. In many instances, the president has framed this claim as a matter-of-fact assessment of Obamacare’s incurable flaws — in others, as a promise to kill the law by any means necessary.

In early April, Trump sounded the latter note. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the president suggested that he would cease paying out cost-sharing reductions — subsidies to insurers that defray the cost of covering low-income Obamacare enrollees — so as to engineer a crisis in the private insurance market, and, thus, generate more support for repealing Barack Obama’s signature law.
And:
By threatening to stop paying out those so-called cost-sharing reductions — while also threatening not to enforce penalties on those go without insurance — the White House sowed uncertainty that chased insurers out of Obamacare.
So when Toomey points out the lack of a big and healthy health care market, he can actually thank his party brethren for that - especially the orange vulgarity he voted for in November.

Then there's Toomey's defense of his bill's Medicare assault:
Despite inaccurate reports to the contrary, the Senate draft bill keeps Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid, the program for low-income Americans. Obamacare created a new category of eligibility: working age, able-bodied, childless adults. Under the Senate bill, both the 700,000 Pennsylvanians who signed up for this expansion and future expansion enrollees retain federal eligibility for the program. In fact, the federal government will pay at least 90 percent of their costs through 2020, with states paying the balance. Then, over a four-year phase-in period, states wishing to cover this new category of recipients will be required to pay their fair share - only 48 percent in Pennsylvania - for the Medicaid expansion. This is the same amount states currently pay for every traditional Medicaid category: the aged, disabled, children, and families.
We've already discussed this word play on the word "eligibility" in that the "eligibility" remains for people to go on Medicaid but the funding does not.

But this actually gets us at least close to the question I asked - the one that Pat Toomey failed to answer. He filled his email with lotsa stuff hoping, I guess, that I'd wouldn't notice that he didn't actually answer my question.

I noticed. but since we're talking Medicaid, I'll re-ask specifically about that:
Pat, are you OK knowing that thousands of your constituents risk losing Medicaid coverage (though not their "eligibility" just the funding) simply to allow more of your wealthy friends and supporters to get just a little wealthier?
Since that's what I asked and the page of filler is how he responded, I think it's safe to assume the answer's a quiet conservative "yes."

Senator Toomey's letter in full:
Dear David,

Thank you for contacting my office about health care reform. I appreciate hearing from you.

Obamacare is fundamentally wrong in its approach to improving our nation's health care system. It forces people to buy overpriced health plans they do not want, hikes taxes, and puts important and personal health care decisions in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats instead of patients and their doctors. In Pennsylvania's individual insurance market, premiums have skyrocketed an astonishing 120 percent since 2013. Forty percent of Pennsylvanians have only one insurer from which to obtain coverage. For these reasons, Congress has begun the process to roll back this misguided experiment and address the most immediate challenges presented by Obamacare's collapse.

On June 22, 2017, the Senate Budget Committee released the Better Care Reconciliation Act, a draft proposal to fix Obamacare's flaws. This legislation will not affect that vast majority of Pennsylvania families who receive their coverage through an employer, Medicare, or the Children's Health Insurance Program. The legislation ensures no one currently covered by Obamacare has the rug pulled out from under them. The proposal stabilizes the collapsing individual market by continuing Obamacare subsidies for all eligible Americans of modest incomes, and subsidizes high-cost enrollees via a new stabilization fund. Insurers receive some relief from Obamacare regulations to help lower premiums. More broadly, the bill's tax credits, expansion of health savings accounts, repeal of Obamacare taxes, and restoration of state insurance oversight will help to drive down costs for everyone as we transition to a more consumer-driven market.

Despite inaccurate reports to the contrary, the Senate draft bill keeps Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid, the program for low-income Americans. Obamacare created a new category of eligibility: working age, able-bodied, childless adults. Under the Senate bill, both the 700,000 Pennsylvanians who signed up for this expansion and future expansion enrollees retain federal eligibility for the program. In fact, the federal government will pay at least 90 percent of their costs through 2020, with states paying the balance. Then, over a four-year phase-in period, states wishing to cover this new category of recipients will be required to pay their fair share - only 48 percent in Pennsylvania - for the Medicaid expansion. This is the same amount states currently pay for every traditional Medicaid category: the aged, disabled, children, and families.

Perhaps most importantly, for the first time in its history, the Medicaid program will be reformed so it is sustainable for future generations and for taxpayers. For decades, Medicaid spending growth has been out of control. It is now a major driver of our federal deficits and debt. Obamacare exacerbated it by adding millions to the rolls without any reform. The draft bill begins, eight years from now, to transition from this uncontrolled, unsustainable spending growth to a slightly slower, hopefully manageable, rate of growth. It also gives states flexibility to deliver care more efficiently and effectively through Medicaid without being constrained by federal rules written by Washington, D.C. bureaucrats.

The draft bill is now publicly available, and all health care experts, patients, medical professionals, employers, and individual constituents are welcome to provide feedback. I am open to the ideas of anyone who hopes to improve the health care system. You should also know that should the legislation be brought to the floor of the full Senate, it will be subject to an open and unlimited amendment process, giving every Senator the chance to suggest changes before final passage.

Thank you again for your correspondence. Do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of assistance.