New Orleans Katrina’s Two-Year Anniversary

Bush Sees “Better Days” For New Orleans
President Tells Storm-Ravaged City “We’re Still Paying Attention” On Katrina’s Two-Year Anniversary (CBS/AP)

President Bush commemorated Hurricane Katrina’s devastating blow Wednesday with a somber moment of silence. Across town, in a symbol of a federal-city divide that persists two years after the killer storm, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin marked the levee-breach moment with bell-ringing.

Bush Marks Hurricane Katrina Anniversary With Visit to New Orleans


29 August 2007

The Bush administration was criticized for its initial response to Hurricane Katrina, in which roughly 1,600 people died and tens of thousands were left homeless along the Gulf Coast. And General Honore, a son of Louisiana, was sent in amid charges that the federal agency set up to handle emergency relief was slow to act.

One year after the storm, only about 50 percent of New Orleans’ residents had returned according to statistics from the U.S. Postal Service. Today, that number is up to just under 70 percent.

A poll taken earlier this month by CNN shows 52 percent of Americans believe the federal government has not done enough to rebuild areas damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

And now the other side of the cigarette tax story

Family income rule costs some Texans insurance coverage

Houston Chronicle
By SUZANNE GAMBOA Associated Press Writer
© 2007 The Associated Press
Aug. 24, 2007, 6:24PM
WASHINGTON – Cynthia Pacheco used to rely on a government-funded children’s health insurance program to keep her twin boys healthy. Now she relies on prayer.

Don’t look now but Dems want to raise cigarette taxes just before elections and probably say “Republicans don’t want to help children.” This is a load of BS on the highest level – don’t be fooled!

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, voted against the Senate bill, but voted for an alternative Republican bill that provides $10 billion over five years. The bill would have allowed Texas to keep $660 million in federal funds it hasn’t spent, Cornyn said.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, voted for the Senate bill, and for the alternative Republican bill that failed. All Texas House Democrats voted for the House bill, which included a cigarette tax increase to help pay for the program.

All but one of the state’s House Republicans voted against it. Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Plano, is recuperating from hip surgery and was not in the House for the vote.

Wacky Astronaut Lady Is Back

Her rival for another astronaut, Colleen Shipman, also testifies as Nowak tries to get ankle monitor removed.
Sarah Lundy and Walter Pacheco, Sentinel Staff Writers
2:11 PM PDT, August 24, 2007
ORLANDO, Fla. – A day that started with the dramatic first appearance of former astronaut Lisa Nowak on the witness stand ended six hours later with a judge deciding this afternoon that more time was needed to consider pretrial motions in the case.

When last we left Ms. Nowak, she had been arrested for assaulting an alleged girlfriend of her former lover.

Source: Former astronaut Lisa Nowak takes the stand – Los Angeles Times

Hurricane Season 2007 – It’s Back

Not quite in full force yet, but there’s activity on the radar. Tropical Storm Erin, now a tropical depression, is the first to sweep into the Lonestar state. She arrived 5:00 AM CDT this morning and by 7:00 AM she was downgraded.

Off on the horizon – in the Atlantic – is her big brother, Hurricane Dean. Dean must have been promoted to hurricane within the past few hours (maybe 5:00 AM CDT). We should expect him to strengthen and head straight for the Caribbean (Jamaica) and points west.

Paul Howard on SCHIP on National Review Online

Congress Is Full of SCHIP

Expansion isn’t the best way to help the uninsured.

By Paul Howard

Nicole Garrett is not one of the uninsured. Her family is covered by Michigan’s Medicaid program. And so when her daughter Jada developed painful joint inflammation and needed to see a specialist, she turned to her Medicaid plan. But if she had coverage, she lacked access: there was only one rheumatologist in her network, and the wait to see him was more than three months. Unfortunately, her story is all too common, an example of the failure of public programs — designed with the best of intentions — to produce acceptable outcomes. With Congress debating a massive expansion of such programs, the better prescription is for a smarter safety net, not a pricier one.

For millions of Medicaid patients, finding access to a doctor who accepts Medicaid’s low reimbursement rates is an agonizing struggle. As Ms. Garrett told the Wall Street Journal recently, “when we had real insurance, we could call [a doctor] and come in at the drop of a hat.” In fact, according to 2006 study by the Center for Studying Health System Change, over 20 percent of doctors have stopped accepting new Medicaid patients – a rate “five times higher than for privately insured patients.”

Today, states spend more money on Medicaid than they do on K-12 education. And many states have lavish plans that (on paper) cover at least as many services as private insurance. But they offer doctors only a fraction of what private insurers pay.

The irony is that as states expand public programs for the uninsured, including many middle-income families, they are weakening private insurance markets through a phenomenon known as “crowd out.” For instance, in May the Congressional Budget office issued a report on the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) that found that “the increase in public coverage [as a result of SCHIP] has been partially offset by a reduction in private coverage.” This may be because SCHIP is cheaper than insurance offered through some employers, leading many parents to refuse coverage.

In fact, “about 60 percent of the children who were eligible for [SCHIP] were covered by private insurance in the year before the program was enacted.” The CBO also estimated that for every 100 new SCHIP enrollees, between 25 and 50 children lost private coverage.

Besides crowd out, legislators also ignore the fact that public insurance often makes it harder for poor patients to stay healthy because of an onerous bureaucracy and pervasive cost controls.

A 2003 study in The Journal of Health Economics found that HIV+ patients fared better in private insurance, in part because “many anti-retroviral drugs [required] prior authorization from Medicaid that restricted use to advanced illness.” Privately insured patients started effective drug treatment sooner and stayed healthier. Another study in Health Affairs (2005) found that Medicaid patients had nearly as much trouble getting prescription drugs as the uninsured (22 percent v. 26 percent).

Despite these problems, the political temptation to expand Medicaid and SCHIP into middle class entitlements is nearly irresistible. Today, according to the Government Accounting Office, over 40 states enroll children from families at 200% or higher of the federal poverty level, around $40,000 for a family of four. Seven states cover children in families at 300 percent or higher, about $60,000. (New Jersey tips the scales at 350 percent.)

This week, Congress is set to massively expand SCHIP without doing anything to help make private health insurance more affordable. Last Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee approved a bill that increases federal SCHIP funding by $35 billion over five years; a family of four making over $80,000 would even be eligible for coverage. The House is expected to endorse even more spending.

The president has announced that he will veto any bill that includes over $5 billion in new funding as an unwarranted government takeover of health care. He’s right, and Congress can do much more to help the uninsured without breaking the bank.

The president has a better plan: creating an individual tax deduction up to $15,000, or an equivalent tax credit. Any individual could take advantage of the deduction, provided they purchased at least catastrophic health insurance. While expanding SCHIP funding would cover a few million uninsured at enormous cost to taxpayers, the administration predicts that fixing the tax code could lead up to 20 million uninsured to purchase private coverage without substantial new outlays.

If this was combined with an interstate market for health insurance, where consumers could shop for low-cost policies across state lines, Congress could add modest new SCHIP funding and fundamentally improve health care access for the uninsured.

Past experience has shown that expanding public programs is not a sustainable alternative to private insurance. Helping low-income uninsured children get access to public health insurance is a noble cause; but making good, private health insurance more affordable for all working families is a better one.

Paul Howard is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Medical Progress and is editor of the daily blog www.medicalprogresstoday.com.

Source: Paul Howard on SCHIP on National Review Online

Tax Cigarettes To Keep Children Healthy

Administration Fights Cigarette Tax Hike

By KEVIN FREKING
The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 17, 2007; 9:03 PM

WASHINGTON — As a Senate committee prepared to approve an additional $35 billion for children’s health insurance, the Bush administration spelled out its objections to how the increase would be paid for _ a 61-cent increase on the excise tax for a pack of cigarettes.

“Ironically, the proposed legislation would increase taxes on low-income taxpayers as a way to fund health coverage for low-income individuals,” Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said Tuesday in a letter to Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

Baucus replied with his own letter to Leavitt. “When given the choice between standing with big tobacco companies and standing with kids, I stand with America’s children,” said the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The renewal of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program is considered by many to be the most important health legislation that Congress will take up this year. Democratic leaders called for adding $50 billion to the program over the next five years.

The program subsidizes the cost of insurance for children and some adults with incomes too high for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance.

On Friday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Senate signaled their support for a $35 billion increase, which would bring total funding to $60 billion over five years. The Senate Finance Committee is expected to take up that proposal Wednesday. President Bush had recommended a $5 billion increase.

The Senate proposal would provide health insurance coverage to current participants as well as an additional 3.3 million uninsured children, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.

Among the organizations that have announced their support for the proposal are the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Cancer Society.

The Bush administration has consistently referred to SCHIP as government-run health care. Leavitt said the program is important and should be renewed, but that billions of dollars in insurance costs will be shifted from the private sector to the federal government under the Senate proposal.

But Baucus said the program’s structure is not unlike that of the prescription drug benefit. He noted that private insurers administer the coverage for most children in return for a government subsidy.

“The vast majority of states contract with private companies to deliver all or some CHIP services to children,” Baucus said.

In his 10-page letter to Baucus and Grassley, Leavitt also assailed the Senate proposal for using a “massive budget gimmick.” In the proposal, funding would drop from about $16 billion to $3.5 billion in 2013, which he said is an admission that the expansion is unsustainable.

Baucus said revenue from the higher tobacco taxes would more than offset the program’s cost in the first five years. By the end of fiscal year 2012, he believes that Congress and the next president would set appropriate funding levels for future years.

Here are the players from my part of Texas:

U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison 202-224-5922
U.S. Senator John Cornyn 202-224-2934
U.S. Congressional District 17 Chet Edwards 202-225-6105

To fight this legislation search for these keywords: stop cigarette excise tax, FET, tobacco tax, federal excise tax.

Some opposition resources I found:

I encourage everyone to send congress the message that cigarette taxes (or any “sin taxes”) are not available for children’s health care or education or anything else related to children.

Here is the email I sent from http://www.nocigtax.com/

I am a voting-smoker and last year’s Texas tobacco tax of $1 per pack pushed me to the brink. I do not support funding children’s programs – be they education or health care or whatever – on the pocketbooks of tobacco users. I think funding children’s programs should be targeted to those that use those programs: schools funded by property tax of parents in school districts. For these reasons, and the reasons listed on the web site I submitted this from, I do not support cigarette tax increases to fund SCHIP.

HIGHER CIGARETTE TAXES BURDEN LOW-INCOME AND WORKING-CLASS FAMILIES – Cigarette taxes are extremely regressive, affecting the poor more heavily than the rich — the tax represents a larger portion of the lower-income smoker’s budget. Since most smokers are low- or middle-income Americans, increasing cigarette taxes forces those who can least afford it to shoulder the burden.

SMOKERS MAY GO OUT OF THEIR WAY TO PURCHASE UNTAXED CIGARETTES – Studies show that revenues from increased cigarette taxes often fall short of projections, partially because some smokers will go out of their way to purchase tobacco via untaxed channels: international Web sites, Native American reservations and even the black market.

Source: Administration Fights Cigarette Tax Hike – washingtonpost.com