Archive for the ‘Healthcare’ Category

by jhwygirl

It ended up the do-nothing U.S. House of Representatives passed three kumbaya bills and two not-jobs-creation bills last week. One of those not-jobs-creation bills is the Full Faith and Credit Act that we wrote briefly about the other day – HR807. This bill actually hurts employment by telling the Treasury what order in which to pay bills.

HR807 passed with only Republican votes – while 8 Republicans joined with Dems in NAY to passage. Which tells you what kind of bill this is.

Where was Montana Rep. Steve Daines? He voted yes.

The second non-kumbaya bill and the other real work damage the GOP-led House did last week was the Working Families Flexibility Act – HR1406.

That name sure sounds nice, doesn’t it

The Working Families Flexibility Act repeals a portion of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 – the portion that requires employers of hourly wage earners to pay time-and-a-half for work hours over 40. Instead of pay, an employer (e.g., not the employee) can opt to pay out those overtime hours as “comp time” – a bank of hours, like vacation or sick time.

And guess what? The employer doesn’t have to pay it out to you when you and your employer part ways. Not only that – imagine the impacts to an employee (i.e., a father or a mother) who turns down overtime?

Where was Montana Rep. Steve Daines on this bill that both destroys job creation and exposes hourly wage earning families to risky and unfair labor practices? Rep. Daines voted yes.

75 years of standing labor law – built on events that brought about its need – and Daines votes to do away with overtime pay.

Now – this bill ties in nicely with the GOP’s never ending quest to damage and roadblock the Affordable Care Act. If employers can’t cut employees back enough to avoid having to provide healthcare, at least then they could force everyone to work 50 hour work weeks, with compensation that only increases what might be nonexistent sick and vacation leave! See how fascism works?

And before you think they’ve given up on this quest to gut-punch the Affordable Care Act, Rep. Michele Bachmann’s bill to repeal said bill – HR45 is schedule for the floor this week.

Used to be “jobs jobs jobs” we heard from the GOP, but that has been quite a while. It’s one thing to myopically focus on other issues (like Benghazigate?) but it’s an entirely different thing when you start taking pot shots at jobs and American hourly wage earners, both already spread thin.

Pay attention here, Montana. Steve Daines is going to be running for something in 2014. Don’t let these votes fade from memory.


Well, the cat’s out of the bag. By a 5-4 vote the SCOTUS largely upheld Obamacare, including the mandate to purchase private insurance.

Consider this an open thread to post your thoughts on both the bill, the case, and the odd political meaning behind Chief Justice Roberts’ being the swing vote. There are stories all over the web as everybody is casting this story in some way to support their take on health care and politics.

What do I have to say? Well, it’s no secret I’ve hated the individual mandate to purchase private insurance. In fact, I’ve equated it with just another step in the fascistization of America. You can read what I had to say about Obamacare almost 3 years ago, pointing to the IRS tax as being its saving grace, as Chief Justice Roberts just ruled. But my opinion is  not the important one today, and I have accepted that there is some good in the bill. Inevitably, though, I come back to hating to have to swallow Baucus’ bitter pill in order to get the meager reforms that currently enjoy popularity.

While I’ve been committed to single payer from the get-go, there are still some avenues in Obamacare that offer some interesting alternative approaches to health care insurance, particularly the cooperative model, which is being aggressively pursued in Montana.

Have away!

by jhwygirl

Caught this one last week, the day after I pondered whether the free-market Tea Party-controlled Ravalli County Board of County Commissioners would subsidize Denny Washington’s MRL rail line into the Bitterroot.

Which they did.

And it’s not that I thought it was the wrong thing to do – the point of that musing was that when it comes down to brass tacks, the government has a role in jobs – and it isn’t always “cut taxes, cut taxes, cut taxes.”

Which hasn’t worked, yet they still beat that drum. Honestly, I think the real agenda is to dismantle government.

But I digress….

Up in the community of Noxon, Sander’s County residents are decrying the closing of the Bull River Family Medicine Clinic that is operated by the Clark Valley Hospital (located in Plains.)

The clinic serves the small communities of Noxon, Heron and Trout Creek.

The Clark Valley Hospital has operated the Bull River Family Medical Clinic at a deficit of $76K a year for the last two years.

Community members are upset with the Clark Valley Hospital for their decision, saying that “We’re the poorest part of the county, and the farthest away from the hospital. You should be doing more here.”

It’s an hour drive for residents of Noxon to the Clark Valley Hospital – and about an hour and a half drive for the residents of Heron. So this is a pretty big deal, and if I lived up there, I’d be upset with this decision.

Nor am I sitting here in Missoula, a hub of medical accessibility for easily a couple hundred thousand people, finding some sort of enjoyment out of this situation…me, someone having supported (the horror!) healthcare reform.

But it is fair to point out that Sanders County is a Republican stronghold, and a Tea Party hotbed of activity. Republicans who will continue to attack healthcare reform with every single ALEC-written law that they can put through the next session (and you can darn well bet they’ll be going after birth control, too.)

Republicans who sponsored – and passed on a party-line vote [CORRECTION: John Brenden SD18, John Esp HD61, Krayton Kerns HD58, Steve Gibson HD78 all voted “NO” to this bill. Thanks to the person who pointed this out.] – a bill that puts a referendum forward that, if passed on the ballot this fall, will somehow prohibit the health insurance purchase requirement of the federal health care reform bill.

The Bull River Clinic’s problem, it appears, is that it doesn’t have enough patients. The people in that community are going outside of their community for healthcare, while another clinic in Hot Springs – which serves the same size of population – has 3 times as many patients.

Use it or lose it, I guess. Market rules.

So the poor people or the senior citizens that don’t like to drive a hour or more to Plains or Sandpoint Idaho to see a doctor are basically shit out of luck when it comes to healthcare, because the young and those with money are able to drive for theirs.

What’s 220 miles of gasoline cost for a F-250 pickup these days?

It’s only healthcare. Having a baby? A heart attack? Take the drive, or tough it out on your own.

I sincerely hope the residents up there find a solution that allows the Clark Valley Hospital to keep that clinic open. I have no doubt there are residents up there that need those vital services.

One has to wonder how many good paying jobs will be leaving Noxon should that clinic close, too.

Hopefully the community members up there consider the implications of their vote this November. Will they elect a legislator that will support laws that ensure and enhance availability of basic services like healthcare?

Or will they vote for someone who will throw their rural constituents to the Free Market?

by Pete Talbot

Abortion, birth control, women’s health care and religious freedom have all been in the news lately, often in the same story.

As a man, I’m not even sure I get to comment on this but since knotheaded dudes write letters to the editor all the time decrying a woman’s right to choose and a couple of Montana Catholic Bishops, neither whom are women, have made pronouncements, here goes.

Let’s start with Congressman Rehberg’s response to the Obama administration’s rule that birth control should be provided in insurance plans for Catholic schools and hospitals:

“This order is government intrusion into the private lives of Americans under the guise of health care reform and infringes on the religious liberty of women and men of faith in direct opposition to the religious freedom enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution,” says Rehberg.

So, some non-Catholic woman working in St. Patrick Hospital’s cafeteria will not have access to affordable birth control because of some archaic religious belief.  Talk about infringing on the “religious liberty of women” as “enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution,” right Denny?

To the uber-Catholic women who happen to work at St. Pats and are opposed to birth control: just don’t use it (you can always use the rhythm method.  That works, sometimes).

Closer to home, the Ravalli County Commissioners, by a 3-2 vote, are accepting Title X family planning funding.  This would seem like a no-brainer — around $40K for birth control, annual exams, pregnancy and pap tests, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, nutrition education and counseling, on a sliding scale.

But of course these commissioners have issues that deal with a lack of parental notification for minors.  They’re willing to sacrifice low-cost women’s health programs for their narrow ideology.

Granted, I’d want my kids to talk to me about their sexual concerns.  I’d rather they have access to an STD or pregnancy test, birth control, or sexual education and counseling, if they choose not to confide in me .

Again, I’m always amazed by the less-government intrusion crowd dictating their moral imperatives to the rest of us, via government programs.  The overused but accurate “hypocrite” comes to mind.

All this news comes on the heels of the Susan G. Komen controversy.  If you believe that attacks by the right on women’s health care issues aren’t still in play, often under the misnomer of “religious freedom,” you’d be wrong.

by jhwygirl

By now most of you have heard of the Susan G. Kolman for the Cure Foundation hullaboo over them having pulled funding from Planned Parenthood for mammogram funding. Because Planned Parenthood is under investigation by Congress.

Because, you know, women’s health is an issue for a bunch of old white men in DC to decide.

Statistically, most of you that read this blog are men. I don’t know if the severity of this is something that you all understand. Planned Parenthood has been under attack for decades now because a very very tiny portion of the many services it provides to women includes abortion. The House has voted to eliminate it’s funding at least twice last year with all the budget battles.

This attack on Planned Parenthood represents an attack on women’s health issues and free choice.

The bulk of what Planned Parenthood does is regular old women’s doctor stuff – and we’ve got lots of parts that need regular maintenance and inspection. That preventative health care is provided to women of all incomes, and in areas where access to healthcare is limited. While they provide birth control pills, they also provide obstetric care.

I was outraged when I heard this late Tuesday – that’s because Twitter is light years ahead of everything, including print media. I was more outraged to find the GOP agenda directly imprinted on the more by Susan G. Kolman.

Meg Lanker, of Cognitive Dissonance was on this story like the winds that batter I-80 outside of Laramie, Wyoming from where she writes. You must follow her on twitter. Immediately she pointed out that Susan G. Kolman’s new VP of Public Policy, Karen Handel, vowed to defund Planned Parenthood when she ran for governor of Georgia. Ms. Lanker also provides Ms. Handel’s mailing and email address – just in case you wanted your thank you note from Planned Parenthood sent her way.

Shannyn Moore, another favorite blogger of mine going back to the 2008 election (she provides investigative political reporting and commentary from The Mudflats), tweeted this very early (Montana time) Wednesday morning:

@shannynmoore Shannyn Moore
Planned Parenthood found my lump on a Tuesday and I was in surgery on Friday. I was 33. #ThanksPP #SuckItKomen

From there, 1000’s of women spoke up for what Planned Parenthood has done for them. I didn’t read of one abortion. We’re talking life-saving breast and cervical cancer screenings and treatments. Lives saved.

Susan G. continues to defend its stance – even now. A nonpolitical decision, they say – and their funding of breast cancer will continue as their mission. Women will just have to go about differently. Maybe they’ll weather this storm, but I think it’s more likely they end up battered and significantly downsized with support after this. People are already pulling funding, burning ribbons and pulling from races.

Their pink-shirted races being their most visible message. So while conservative money may pour into Susan G. as a result of this choice, throwing a partisan blanket on what was a cause that brought women together of all folds has now been forever changed.

We’ve reached a point in this nation where national organizations can be taken over by GOP ideologies. Susan G. Kolman no longer represents elimination of cancer, it represents the conservative ideology of making a woman’s vagina a crime scene, subject to the scrutiny of elected officials.

Susan G. should be losing their tax-free status (though I won’t be holding my breath). What congress has to do with breast cancer and Susan G. Kolman for the Cure’s choice in funding, I don’t know – but that connection alone should be clear enough a political connection that their mission is muddled.

by jhwygirl

Montana’s own U.S. Representative Denny Rehberg proposed an amendment to the 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill that could undercut U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulation of tobacco products. That amendment passed through the House Appropriations Committee last week by a vote of 29 to 20 earlier this week.

So I guess we can add this amendment to his list of accomplishments.

What does the amendment do? It halts funding for U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) rule-making activities or guidance programs unless they are based on actual harm…not the collective evidence of harm. In essence, it requires the harm to actually occur first before the FDA can act.

Said the FDA of the amendment:

“(The) FDA must sometimes act when there are credible risks, but before the weight of scientific evidence has been established. This amendment would require that consumers actually be harmed before FDA can take certain actions to protect the public health.”

U.S. News and World Report calls it “a gibberish agenda,” I call it dismantling America.

Now we want to promote children smoking? Or are we saving the rights of the tobacco industry? What is, exactly, Rehberg’s goal?

I knew Rehberg was intent on dismantling health care reform, what little we got – who’da thought he’d start campaigning on making America more unhealthy?

Here’s another thing: It’s 2011. I’d like to think by now the American Cancer Society could be focusing the main thrust of its funding towards subsidizing private investment in finding a cure for cancer…but instead they’re having to take 40 steps backwards to the 1970’s and ’80 to battle the tobacco lobbyists and Congressional lunatics like Denny Rehberg.

What is it about “hard science” and tobacco usage that Rehberg denies? He and the rest of the 29 people that voted for this amendment? Do we really need to educate them in the very real science that tobacco is bad for people? And worse for kids?

Under Rehberg’s “hard science” rule, kids would have to die before the FDA could kick in with regulations.

Think about that.

Why not send Denny a quick email and ask him why he wants more kids smoking tobacco. Ask him why he’s wasting time dismantling America.


Since the Republicans showed their true communist colors and adopted the slogan “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” with the passage of SB 423 ridding the fledgling medical marijuana industry of the profit motive patients will inevitably suffer and the black market will invariably fill the void left by the current caregiver system.

I wonder what the Republicans think all these MMJ growers will do once they become outlawed… Sell their equipment on craigslist? More likely, these growers that have sunk thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of dollars into their business will continue to grow for the black market where they can actually make money… Tax free at that. These people are small business entrepreneurs after all, and they just need government to get out of their way.

Anyway, there is a great Slate feature that I suggest anyone interested in this issues should read. The article is written by a woman whose son suffers from a severe form of autism and the only thing that she has found that helps her child is marijuana. There are four parts to the series spanning a two year period of her family’s struggle with the disorder and how, through the use of medical marijuana, they have been able to live a more normal and happy life.

by Pete Talbot

It was one of the broadest coalitions I’ve seen in years.

But it was hard to get crowd estimates in the rolling front yard of the Capitol — over a thousand for sure.  Folks kept pouring in from around Montana, connecting with friends and sharing the wrath.

The rally literally took off at the end: a march around the Capitol grounds with all the signs and fired-up people, just as the sun was breaking through the clouds, and to the PA playing “We’re Not Going to Take It” by Twisted Sister.

This followed the speeches which were many, but short and to the point: a Billings firefighter, a Bozeman pastor, a Missoula small business owner, a veteran, a Blackfeet Indian, to name a few.

The themes were “Courage, Not Cuts,” “These Cuts Hurt,”  “We Have the Money, Reverse the Cuts,” and “Work That Matters.”

It was an eclectic mix: ironworkers and teachers, environmentalists and health care activists, Crow and Blackfeet, emergency service workers and the disabled … and kids.

(More photos and copy below the fold.)

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by jhwygirl

Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Va.) delivered the GOP’s weekly address on Saturday, delving in to what he believes is the constitutional issue of health care reform. The Hill has the story, and the video.

I do believe that in almost all situations we all have something common….and McDonnell’s position is certainly one I agree with:

Regardless of party, we should all agree that the sooner we know if the law is constitutional, the better for the American people.

In fact, I really wish the Montana legislature took a look at this when they were proposing bills. It’d be really nice if any bill had some sort of constitutional review (for both the U.S. and the Montana constitutions) before any hearing in committee.

Sometimes there will be a comment – if there is a fiscal note produced – regarding legal issues. But not everything gets a fiscal note – and hell, even a lot of bills related to taxation don’t seem to get fiscal notes. I know I’ve heard hearings on tax related bills where there hasn’t been a fiscal note published. How in the hell is the public supposed to comment on bills when even a rudimentary analysis isn’t completed by the non-partisan legislative staff?

That way we’d have some reasonable assumptions about lawsuits that the state would have to defend in the future? I mean – that costs taxpayer dollars too.

Ahh, I’ve digressed…

Anyways…if I could propose a bill, it’d be that one – require any bill to have a informational review for constitutionality prior to committee hearing. That informational review should be required to be published….and not stuck in some “junk folder” in some back file.

by Pete Talbot

Special session?

There are rumors in Helena that this session could end early.  It’s all coming down to the budget, now, and since the Republicans aren’t accepting any amendments or, really, compromising on anything, their budget proposal will head straight to the governor. Schweitzer will veto it.  That pretty much guarantees an early out — I’ve heard April 2 instead of the scheduled April 21 end date — and a special session.  Thanks, GOP, for not reaching across the aisle and getting the people’s business done in 90 days … and costing the state more money in a special session.

Champ is still a chump

They don’t mind spending money on a special session but are loathe to spend money on children, Montana college kids, seniors and the poor.  Republican Champ Edmunds (HD-100) has a letter to the editor today that plays fast-and-loose with the facts-and-figures in explaining the Republican budget.

A more accurate description comes from Democrat Carol Williams (SD-46):

“The Governor’s budget is balanced, funds critical services and maintains the second largest savings account in Montana history.  The Republican budget is balanced on the backs of women, children and seniors.  Republicans took an ax to the budget when we have money in the bank,” she said.  “I had hoped that we would be able to say to Montana’s families: we’re going to take care of your children if they get sick, make sure you put food on your table, and keep your homes warm.  But the Republican majority turned a deaf ear to the pleas of Montanans who came before the committee asking for services to be restored.”

Here are some of the facts:

* $206.2 million in cuts to the Montana families, kids, students, and seniors

* $49 million eliminated from Medicaid which would result in 4,084 babies losing coverage.

* $34.9 million cut from SNAP/Food Assistance impacting 53,000 kids, 30,000 seniors, and 42,000 adults who would go without food benefits for two months.

* $35 million rejected in healthcare information technology for 47 critical access hospitals in rural areas across the state.

* $26 million slashed from Healthy Montana Kids that would boot 5,000 children off of health insurance.

* $9.6 million removed from LIEAP that will force 12,000 families to go without heating assistance the next two winters.

* $4.7 million cut from family services eliminating services used by over 27,000 Montana families every year for healthcare, screenings and reproductive care.

* $32 million in cuts to higher education, which will result in a tuition increase of 26% over the next two years.

Williams added that with the $174.2 million in cuts to the Health and Human Services budget, Republicans turned back over $80 million in federal money, which could go to other states.  She also noted that the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana estimates that for every $10 million cut in healthcare, about 144 jobs are lost.  These cuts could result in a loss of over 2,508 healthcare jobs.

The tale of two headlines

I’ve been visiting the Magic City of Billings and reading the Billings Gazette. Here was the Front Page, above the fold, headline on Sunday:

Poll: Tightening up medical marijuana law preferable to repeal

When I checked my hometown paper, the Missoulian, here was its Front Page headline:

Most Favor Repeal

And it had a subhead that read: Lee Newspaper poll shows that 52 percent support dumping law.

Here’s the story, and while the Missoulian headline is technically correct, if you read the entire piece you’ll notice that if not given any other choice, yeah, Montanans would be in favor of a repeal. But, if given the option, 57 percent backed stricter regulations and licensing requirements, while 31 percent wanted to repeal the law and 11 percent favored keeping the current law intact.  So basically, 68 percent don’t favor repeal.

The Gazette got it right.  Missoulian: that’s lazy headline writing.

Molnar screws Missoula

I was pleasantly surprised when two of the three Republicans on the PSC voted to allow the Clark Fork Coalition “intervenor status” in the review of Mountain Water’s sale to the Carlyle Group, a private global investment firm.  Republicans Bill Gallagher and Travis Kavulla joined Democrats Gail Gutsche and John Vincent in the votes.  Volatile Republican Brad Molnar voted against CFC in intervening on behalf of Missoula water drinkers saying, “it’s a purchase issue and they don’t have standing.”  Thanks, four out of five, for voting (initially at least) in Missoula’s interest.  The Garden City needs all the friends it can get while battling this international conglomerate.

Some newspaper kudos

I’m one of the first to throw brickbats at our state’s newspapers. We are, however, extremely fortunate to have veteran Lee Newspaper reporters Mike Dennison and Chuck Johnson covering the state capitol.  An unscientific poll over at LiTW (you’ll have to scroll down a little) has blogs being the first source for information on the Montana Legislature — among bloggers, naturally.  That’s a nice ego stroke but I still continue to turn to seasoned reporters as my first source for news and analysis. Then I go to the blogs.  (I particularly respect anything Dennison writes on health care issues.  His Montana perspective on the effects of the national health care debate has been Pulitzer Prize calibre IMHO.)

John Adams of the Great Falls Tribune has done some outstanding legislative reporting although I don’t follow him as much.  There just aren’t enough hours in the day.  Same with Montana Public Radio.  Thank you, all, and keep up the good work.

by Pete Talbot

Of course, with his excellent taxpayer paid health care, he’d get state-of-the-art treatment.  If, however, he was a lower or middle-class man or woman seeking affordable treatment in Montana, his options would be limited.  Whether it was an STD or some other reproductive health issue, or just some condoms, considering the bill he and his congressional cohorts passed, he can forget about Planned Parenthood.

It’s called the Pence Amendment, named after a very nasty little Republican representative from Indiana named Mike Pence.  It’s an attack on Title X family planning and specifically Planned Parenthood. The vote was 240-185, pretty much along party lines.

Here’s a synopsis from Montana Planned Parenthood’s CEO, Stacy James:

In attacking Planned Parenthood, the House Republican leadership including Representative Rehberg, has launched an outrageous assault on the thousands of Montanans who rely on our local clinics for primary and preventive health care, including lifesaving breast and cervical cancer screenings, annual exams, family planning visits, birth control, HIV testing, and more.

I suppose that the representatives voting for this bill thought they were targeting abortion providers.  But by restricting access to sex education and birth control, they’re actually increasing the chance that an abortion will be needed.

And Rehberg is leading the pack in this assault on Montana families, particularly woman who don’t have high-end health care plans like Denny.  More STDs and abortions, fewer cancer screenings, less access to birth control, the end of sex education for teens; thanks Denny.


Well… we have been pretty negative here at 4&20 when it comes to this Republican controlled session of the Montana legislator.  It’s about time we highlighted something good coming out of this session and something that is common sense legislation that most people can get behind.

HB 105 was introduced at the request of Monica Lindeen and aims to give the state insurance auditor the regulatory authority over insurance premium increases.  As of 2011 we are one of only three states that do not have regulatory authority over insurance pricing.

I’m happy to see someone attempting this reform, as I would say it’s badly needed.  Last year my health insurance premiums went up by 44% and I have never once used the coverage provided in the three years I’ve had a policy with BCBS.  I even wrote a letter to Lindeen last year complaining about the premium increase and got a reply back that her office had no authority over pricing.  I’m sure she received a lot of letters and emails from Montana citizens getting screwed by their insurance provider, and now here she is responding to the outcry from normal people… just how state politics should work.  If you want more information take a look at the fact sheet here and a story covering the bill from the Missoula Indy

Unfortunately this bill hasn’t made any real progress in almost a month.  It’s sad that a good, common sense reform such as this has taken a back seat to the lunacy taking place in Helena.


The Montana GOP loves them some freedom, but only when its smothered in their own special GOP brand of Freedom Sauce. While they push issues such as setting up local militias, giving sheriffs ultimate local law enforcement authority, giving healthcare providers freedom to deny services to patients because of differing morals, and expanding individual gun rights including no longer needing a permit to carry a concealed weapon; on many other issues currently up for debate in Helena the GOP is proving that they want to curtail local decision-making and even the role that individual citizens play in politics and policy making.

Perhaps the biggest GOP attack on individual freedoms in Montana is the GOP’s push to override voter initiates and weaken the voter initiative process in the future. If Montana voters had passed initiatives banning abortion or abolishing the state’s DEQ I’m sure conservatives would be praising the Montana citizenry’s grounded and well thought out votes. But as it stands our current crop of Tea Party clowns are trying to circumvent our rights as Montana citizens. Numerous proposed bills target our ability to have a say in our own state.

  • HB 161 aims to reverse the voter’s will in legalizing medical marijuana
  • SB 204 would double the number of signatures required for a voter initiative to make it onto the ballot
  • HB 292 aims to modify our state constitution, taking away our right to a “clean and healthful environment.”
  • HB 280 and SB 176 both restrict in some way a women’s right to choose
  • HB 392 aims to redefine Montana citizenship, excluding many that are currently citizens
  • They killed a proposal to switch to a mail in ballot system which would have greatly increased voter turnout
  • SB 116 aims to take away a person’s right to decide how to end their own life.
  • HB 198 expands eminent domain powers to the benefit of large corporations over Montana landowners
  • SB 209 takes away a city/county’s discretion in deciding what factors should be considered when approving a subdivision
  • SB 228 would prohibit the state from setting up insurance exchanges
  • HB 431 would remove the day of state general elections from the list of recognized state holidays, making it more difficult for people to vote.

So the GOP loves individual freedom and choice and advocates for legal authority to be vested in institutions that are closest to the citizenry… except when people or local governments make the wrong choices… in that case it seems the GOPers don’t want us to have the freedom to choose our own path.

Commentary by JC

Baucus’ “Health Care Reform Provision Is Unconstitutional, Federal Judge Rules”

I knew it would eventually come to this. Today’s headlines all over the media and blogosphere blaring out the news that the legal arguments against the mandate are beginning to advance in court. The battle against Obama’s health insurance reform act, and Baucus’ part in it are going to fuel right wing and tea party clamoring for repeal, but for all the wrong reasons.

And of course, we’ll be getting a basket full of the following ostrich mentality:

“Administration officials told reporters last week that a negative ruling would have virtually no impact on the law’s implementation, noting that its two major provisions – the coverage mandate and the creation of new insurance markets – don’t take effect until 2014.”

My goal here isn’t to take the debate about the individual mandate on again, or offer my opinion about its constitutionality under the Commerce Clause. I in no way support, or have supported the mandate. And I am on record in hundreds of comments here and at LitW about my opposition to the mandate.

Instead, I’m going to continue on with the line of reasoning I put forth about why the mandate, as constructed by Baucus and signed into law by Obama, is another step in the wrong direction for progressives and civil libertarians. Given that there now is movement on the mandate’s constitutionality, which most agree will put the provision before the Supreme Court before it ever gets implemented, it is time to start looking for alternatives, as there will be a huge drive to “amend” (read as “repeal” in some form or another) the bill in an increasingly overt conservative environment in Congress and the White House.
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by jhwygirl

Compassion & Choices is a nationwide organization, with a chapter in in Montana, advocating and educating on the subject of end-of-life care and choice issues.

It’s not something most people are comfortable about…but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. In reality, end-of-life care is something that is far better to be discussed and thought out before the torment comes to you or your loved ones.

Here in Montana, a 2010 Supreme Court decision – Baxter v. Montana guarantees the rights of a Montanan to seek doctor-assisted death as part of their end of life care.

Does that make you uncomfortable? It’d be weird if it doesn’t.

The shame of this all is that the only guidance Montanans have in this matter is the Supreme Court decision. Laws here do not set forth guidance, nor do they protect doctors or patients. They should.

Sickness and pain-tormented days are not the time to be fighting these things out in court, as Robert Baxter had to do in 2008. Baxter died, suffering, the day of the Supreme Court decision.

Dr. Tom Preston, a Washington physician and medical director for Compassion & Choices of Washington will address current issues and answer audience questions here in Missoula next Tuesday, October 12th, from 12 to 1 p.m. at University of Montana’s Todd Building, Room 210.

Preston has worked with Washington’s Death With Dignity Act and is knowledgeable on how aid in dying fits into comprehensive end-of-life decision making. He regularly consults with patients, families and medical providers, helping them to explore available end-of-life options, which results in a peaceful end to terminal illness and unbearable suffering.

Advocates and opponents would do well to inform themselves on this issue. Montana law needs to address this – as the Supreme Court ruling assures it as our constitutional right.

True conservatives would want the government out of the doctors office, and would want to protect doctors from unnecessary and undue influence that political agendas can push upon patients, families and loved ones much like what happened to Terri Shiavo back in 2005.

Montanans – Republicans and Democrats – overwhelmingly support supporting individual choice when it comes to death with dignity. A recent poll, in March, 2010 confirms this. Democrats – 69% support with 16 in opposition…Republicans 53% in support with 35 in opposition, and 61% of Independents, with 23 in opposition.

Where does your legislative candidate stand on this important issue? Will they stand in the way of protection for individual rights? Will they refuse to protect physicians from political agendas? Will they want to come between you and your doctor and your private choices?

most of us now realize that max’s plan didn’t work out very well, did it?!

by problembear

the next citizens initiative i would like to see in the 2012 election cycle is for: Montana Public Option health care insurance. check this site out and let’s get the ball rolling here:

first order of business:

we should start drafting legislation that will enable employers of this state to pool their health insurance premiums into a public option insurance policy that actually uses the money for paying for health care for the insured rather than simply create more profits for private health insurance companies who are raising our rates and increasing our deductibles with impunity since max baucus’s gift to his friends in the health insurance lobby.

montana could enact legislation to develop a public option health insurance program which would:

  • lower most insurance rates by 33%
  • guarantee coverage for all insured who opt in
  • provide stability to employers tired of searching for decent HC plans
  • attract businesses to MT who want our plan for their employees.
  • increase participation of all health care providers who want in.
  • bring costs back in line with benefits for both insured and vendors
  • take away the uncertainty of dealing with private insurers.
  • make private insurers who do business in montana more competitive

now who can argue with that?

(besides max and his friends, i mean.)

By Duganz

This AP story today about an upcoming Rolling Stone interview with President Barack Obama has left me with lots of questions, and a substantial need to dedicate time to introspection.

On President Obama’s end, he’s mad as hell about perceived apathy on the left. He is tired of progressives being down about what he sees as success––the left being comprised of glass-half-empty types.

“People need to shake off this lethargy. People need to buck up,” Obama told Rolling Stone in an interview to be published Friday. The president told Democrats that making change happen is hard and “if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.”

In President Obama’s view, the more time we spend complaining about  what we see as his failures (ones he does not see), the more time we’re not watching Republicans.

But we are watching, and it’s scary as hell when we see people clapping for Christine O’Donnell and Sarah Palin. The Right is gaining power and enthusiasm and will probably take out a good deal of Democrats in the upcoming elections. It’s defeating, and scary, but it’s reality.

So yeah, we are mad  because we all worked hard, gave money, and voted in 2008 to change America for the better. And to see that these people are gaining power instead of being left in the dust of their flat Earth ways, it’s desheartening.

However, do not doubt how serious we are about changing America.

We are serious when we say we want equal rights for our gay friends and family members.

We are serious when we say we want an end to perpetual war.

We are serious when we say we want affordable healthcare for all.

We are serious when we say we want change.

It’s been two years, and these wants are not yet met. Our hopes are as of yet unfulfilled.

In the interview Obama says that change is hard, and I cannot agree more. Change is difficult, and hard, and we’re not a society that likes to wait. Of course some are mad, and anger breeds apathy. But those apathetic people don’t need to be admonished publicly for their malaise, they need to be brought back into the fold with actions and not just promises. It would be nice to see President Obama come clean and say that things aren’t moving as steadily as they should with Democratic control, or condemn regressives within the Democratic establishment who are just as damaging as Republicans.

We cannot live on insistence of success, we need to feel the results by seeing our friends married, our families back from war, our sick well, and our world a better place.

I believe I was right to vote for Barack Obama, and maybe this is his attempt at recreating Jimmy Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” speech (but in a more successful way).

The thing to remember is: I am not your enemy, Mr. President. CarFreeStpdty is not your enemy (seriously… so don’t clandestinely assassinate him). The Left got you into office because we saw you as our chance. Those “HOPE” stickers weren’t passed out with apathy, but with honest hope and desire for change. And we saw it embodied within you.

Don’t blame us for being upset that you’re not holding up your end of the bargain.

By Duganz

I grew up in Anaconda, Montana, which has seemingly been in a recession since, oh say, 1982. I was also pretty damn poor as a kid–we didn’t eat at Grandma’s just because she cooked, but because we didn’t have food that day. Mom went to school, Dad worked his ass off for us.

But, man, things never seemed this bad:

The number of people in poverty increased by nearly 4 [million] – to 43.6 [million] – between 2008 and 2009, officials said.

The [U.S. Census Bureau] defines poverty as any family of four living on less than $21,954 a year.

Meanwhile, new figures showed home foreclosures in August hit the highest level since the mortgage crisis began.

Banks repossessed 95,364 properties in August, up 3% from July and an increase of 25% from August 2009, said RealtyTrac, a company which charts the national picture.

The official US poverty rate in 2009 rose to 14.3% from 13.2% in 2008. In 2009, 43.6 million Americans lived in poverty, up from 39.8 million the year before, the third consecutive increase, the bureau said.

What the hell was the point of the bailout again? To keep he banks afloat? Anyone want to bet that nobody from Citibank has been added to the poverty pit?

But that’s not all!

There are also 4.4 million more people without health insurance, and as p-bear already pointed out that number probably won’t be going up quickly, ya know, cause the reform bill doesn’t even really come into effect until 2014 (and it’s hard to buy insurance when you’re broke). I wonder how many more will lose insurance by then.

If we’re lucky, maybe we can have a society like the one in Metropolis.

Progressives are taking a huge hit this election year – that much seems clear – and it’s news like this. People see these numbers, and they blame those in power. We can say that President Obama and company inherited the mess all we want, but we must remember that bad numbers caused the Right to lose in 2008. It can happen again.

And who can blame the vox populi? If I was losing my home and my insurance, and I had a family (larger than just me and the Mrs.) I’d be super angry and want something to happen too. And maybe I’d revolt against the people who promised me change, and a future for my kids, and have yet to deliver on that promise (note: it’s easier to sell change than to make it happen).

I’m not trying to be a Negative-Nancy, it’s a cold reality and no amount of sugar can make it go down easy.

Unfortunately, that anger is leading to the steady rise of people like this nutcase:

It’s gonna be a long November.

By Duganz

I have a thing for wine. It’s not that I have good taste, because I cannot tell you the difference in grape by region or picking; I cannot describe wine by its “subtle hints of mint and apple.” No.  The thing I have for wine is that it gets me drunk.

Thus I found myself in Liquid Planet on an otherwise normal Sunday morning – before the rush – buying several bottles of wine––among them a plaintive white that upon finishing this evening I threw from my deck. When I sober up I will of course seek the remnants of the label and tell you its name, because I think it tasted okay, and it went down rather well. Continue Reading »

By @CarFreeStpdty

Hell, we haven’t even found the path yet!

Nor have we seemed to figure out that we should  put the shovel down and stop digging ourselves a bigger whole with the policies our exalted officials seem to enjoy passing.  It’s about time we woke up to the need of reforms that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are willing to deliver, (probably preaching to the Choir on that one).

Attempts in the past 2 years to stem financial catastrophe have only led to further enriching the global elite, exporting our wealth, continuing the trend of  impoverishing this country’s middle class, and holding off true reform measures for some later day of reckoning.  Four recent articles do a good job of  highlighing this problem:

  1. Are the American people obsolete?
  2. Do the Rich Need the Rest of America?
  3. U.S. employers push increase in cost of healthcare onto workers
  4. How to End the Great Recession

Continue Reading »


Continuing on with our annual discussion about the conflict downtown–spurred on by City Councilor Bob Jaffe’s remarks on his listserve– between shoppers, tourists, visitors and businesses vs. the homeless, transient, “serial inebriates” and the mentally ill, today’s Missoulian digs a little deeper into the details (thanks liz for your attention to this issue, and pointing out the article!):

“When Michael Van Riper was ordered to spend three nights behind bars after screaming obscenities and threatening the owner of Worden’s Market, Tim France figured he’d get a couple days of relief from the persistent menace outside his shop.

“He’s very loud, thoroughly obnoxious and obscene beyond what’s tolerable – and what’s legal, for that matter,” France said.

But hours after Municipal Judge Marie Andersen heard Van Riper plead guilty and sentenced him, the Detention Center cut him loose. The reasons aren’t clear, and the incident has the judge wondering how often the jail ships out inmates of its own accord.

“I am not aware of any legal authority by which the jail may unilaterally release Defendants prior to the completion of a valid sentence,” wrote Andersen in an e-mail about the incident.”

So it seems that Sheriff McMeekin has taken to interpreting Judges’ detention orders according to his own criteria, which seems a little… arbitrary:

“Missoula County Sheriff Mike McMeekin said the department doesn’t keep statistics on the times and reasons it chooses to let people out before they have served their sentences. The reasons vary, but McMeekin said detention officers can, in some cases, override a sentence without consulting the judge.”

While I’m all about protecting the civil rights of individuals who choose to inhabit or visit downtown Missoula, I also understand the need to have a system of accountability that works as intended for those who break laws, of which the justice system plays a major role. Sheriff McMeekin’s taking on the role of Judge just isn’t going to cut it here.

So it’s obvious that the county jail isn’t doing, and doesn’t have the resources to deal with, Missoula’s problems with the disenfranchised. They don’t want to hold people whose medical expenses they may incur. They don’t want a repeat of the Heather Wasson story, where if she had been diverted to a medical facility for treatment, she wouldn’t have died in lockup.

Missoula needs to sit down and figure out a new way to deal with the problem before it: increasing numbers of homeless, transient and mentally ill people in the face of diminishing resources available to care for and treat their needs. Last year’s panhandling ordinance working group had these words about their work:

“The working group aims to protect and improve quality of life in downtown Missoula for all people who use the area, including business owners, people who live and work downtown, shoppers and patrons of professional offices, and people who are without means and depend on social services,” said city communications director Ginny Merriam.”

Judging by the story in today’s Missoula, those efforts have failed miserably, and they need to get back to the drawing board–maybe with a different mission in mind.

In the words of Municipal Judge Marie Andersen: “we need to find a different solution.”

Get to work, Missoula.

by jhwygirl

Here you go, smokey – here’s some of that irony I was talking about.

Remember just a few months ago when the Good Gov was blocking payments to Sen. Greg Barkus’ friends – $600,000 in state money to clean up environmental contamination on a site that Swank bought at a discounted price knowing it had to clean it up?

The Good Gov was rounding up all kinds of cash, slashing money for remodeling of the state hospital, asking for money-saving ideas from citizens, and cutting funding for lots of obscure boards. Populists loved it….even when he took the school trust money $86 million from the Otter Creek coal leases and added it to the general budget to shore up slipping revenues.

Last month, Schweitzer approved a freeze on provider-rate increases as part of a $40 million cut in state spending. This cut will cost $2 million to Montana nursing homes, which care for about 3,000 people funded by Medicaid. That’s 60 percent of their patients.

These cuts can’t occur without rule changes – and public comment is due May 28th. A hearing was held Wednesday – this link takes you to the public notice from the Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS).

Rose Hughes, executive director of the Montana Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, said Montana pays an average of $161 a day for nursing home patients covered by Medicaid, while the average cost for all patients is $179 a day.

Hughes argued Wednesday it’s not necessary to cancel the scheduled 2 percent increase in Medicaid rates, because the state’s budget picture has improved since earlier this year and Congress may approve additional Medicaid funding for all states.

She also said that as much as $1.6 million in state Medicaid nursing-home funds remain unspent, because of fewer “patient days” than expected this year.

Nursing-home administrators said they’re already operating on a very thin margin and that freezing Medicaid rates can’t help but affect care for all elderly residents.

“It’s going to result in diminished quality of care,” said Jackie Meyers, director of nursing at Laurel Health and Rehabilitation Center. “It will result in increased unemployment. … Nursing home care is a necessity. It’s not a luxury.”

DPHHS is facing serious cuts – and we’ve not even gotten into the 2011 legislative session where the legislature is going to have to make deeper cuts to make up for the last-minute budget deal in the ’09 session in which permanent cuts were made that were shored up with stimulus cash. If it was one agency where this shouldn’t have been done, it was DPHHS.

Check out the DPHHS public notice page – there are cuts proposed to Medicaid inpatient and outpatient hospital services, cuts proposed to Medicaid reimbursement for hearing aid services, outpatient drugs, and eyeglasses, early and periodic screening, diagnostic and treatment services.

Cuts to home and community-based services for adults with severe disabling mental illness. Cuts to psychiatric residential treatment facility services.

The list goes on.

Many of these things are part of that “an ounce of prevention goes a long way” type of things? Early screening? Psychiatric treatment? Long-term effects will be felt in communities throughout the state.

I’m glad our Governor is watching out for our budget and working hard to keep us flush….but is he consistent? I have trouble seeing it. And as a Democrat, you’d think he’d find other things to save cash – like, perhaps, the Department of Livestock and its hazing of Yellowstone bison? Especially when you consider that our own State Veterinarian has verified that every known transmission of brucellosis to livestock has been the result of interaction with elk, and not bison.

How much does that hazing cost?

But cutting DPHHS services for Medicaid patients? Yeah – irony abounds. This is one where I find that both irony and inconsistency.

by jhwygirl

That, from Democratic congressional candidate Tyler Gernant in today’s Helena Independent op-ed section.

Dennis Rehberg has been twittering the-sky-is-falling for weeks – no, make that months – now of the impending doom of healthcare.

Rehberg’s done nothing to contribute to meaningful discussion on reform – Rehberg has, in fact, been part of the teaparty movement of heckling some of the people who need health reform the most.

That’s right – Rehberg heckled a wheelchair-bound Hamilton woman to illustrate his meaningful input on health insurance reform.


As health reform legislation works its way to President Obama’s desk tonight (or what may be tomorrow, eastern time), many of us recognize that this reform is not perfect…but it is an important first step that will save lives. Gernant notes that in his editorial:

That is not to say that this legislation is perfect; it is not. Montanans still need a meaningful alternative to private insurance through a deficit-neutral public option. We still need a system that pays doctors for the value of their services instead of the volume. Although we may not get everything this year, there are a lot of positive changes that this legislation would bring to our health care system. We have waited nearly 40 years to attempt reform that would merely get us out of the starting gate. We cannot wait another 40 years for Dennis Rehberg to decide that true health care reform means more than to join a gym and stop smoking.

No battle is easy – and none is without loss to all who attempt the task. This bill includes over 200 Republican amendments, yet Republicans can not find even one vote in support. It does not provide the public option or single payer that so many progressives wanted to see.

With Rehberg, Montanan’s get even less – we get a man who heckles Montanans who need health insurance reform the most…a representative who would chose to leave 564,000 Montanans on the loosing end of completely unregulated health insurance industry.

by Pete Talbot

Many comments on the blogs I read say the Democrats are as bad as the Republicans: health care, war, the environment, the economy — Congress and the President have not done the job and there’s no salvaging the system. Sometimes, it’s hard not to agree.

There needs to be monumental change, the comments say. Maybe a third or fourth party, maybe revolution, maybe anarchy — but I haven’t seen consensus on the best solution or, really, any viable alternative.

One reason I’m still a Democrat is Denny Rehberg. He defines the distinction between the two parties. Any of the three candidates running in the Democratic primary for Montana’s lone U.S. Representative would be so much better. Here are just a few, recent Rehberg antics:

Pogie writes about Rehberg’s earmark grandstanding.

Montana Cowgirl posts on Denny’s posse.

And then I get an email (I’m a subscriber) from Rehberg’s e-newsletter. He’s outraged about the U.S. House vote on the health care bill, and writes:

Tomorrow, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi plans to force a vote on her government-takeover of health care.

Ah, if only it were true. The Republicans should be jumping up-and-down at the lack of a public option, serious regulation and oversight — really, the lack of teeth that this bill has.

And it’s not like the Republicans didn’t employ some of the same voting procedures Pelosi might try when they controlled Congress, but I guess that’s different.

Denny, reading off a teleprompter, even posted a YouTube video that was so riddled with misinformation, and fear and loathing, that it boggles the mind.

So, seeing as there’s no strong third-party candidate in almost every race on almost every ballot, I will remain a Democrat, knowing that doing nothing will continue to get folks like Denny Rehberg elected, and re-elected.

by JC

For those of you who are following the vote in the House on health care reform instead of watching March Madness, consider this an open thread.

boehner & McConnell

Since it cost a lot to win
and even more to lose
You and me bound to spend some time
wondring what to choose

And for a treat, check out the Grateful Dead video and full lyrics, Knickerbocker Arena, March 28th, 1993…
Continue Reading »

by jhwygirl

Florida Representative Alan Grayson introduced HR4789 Tuesday. It’s pretty simple. In introducing the bill, he speaks to the very issue we here in Montana face – just like dozens of others: Lack of true competition in the market place. Here in Montana, Blue Cross Blue Shield Montana controls 75% of the market.

by jhwygirl

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock announced a settlement last week with pharmaceutical corporation Eli Lilly over its off-label marketing for the anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa.

Of the $13 million the state will receive, $9.5 million will be used for a trust designed to provide grants across the state for for crisis intervention services; training and education for law enforcement personnel and health care officers; funding for patients transitioning to independent living environments; children’s mental health programs; and peer-to-peer services. The Helena Independent reports that it is supposed to be spent by 2012, but that Bullock says that it’s “not a hard and fast rule.”

AG Bullock also extracted an agreement with Eli Lilly to undertake business reforms to prevent false, misleading or deceptive advertising and promotions.

Ravalli County Attorney George Corn lauded the settlement:

“It’s a minimum five-hour trip to (the state hospital in) Warm Springs. This grant allows local communities to develop facilities and nonprofit organizations to help people suffering from a mental health crisis stay in their communities. That’s so much more humane and so much less traumatic.”

The article points out that 45,000 people in the state suffer from a severe, disabling mental illness at some point in their life. That’s one out of every five families.

Here in Missoula, City Council has discussed the lack of funds and resources (i.e., doctors and councilors, beds that used to be held at St. Pat’s) to properly address the mental health issues here in both the city and the county. Without property facilities, incidents that might benefit from mere medical facilities are relegated to the detention center where the potential for escalation can compound the matter.

Before there’s a big grab at this money, I hope that advocates can come together and assess needs and perhaps look at using these funds in a regional manner where multiple communities are able to efficiently access and utilize the resources. Can a facility or resources be centrally located to serve multiple communities? Can some sort if internship program be created to assist with increasing the long-term availability of councilors? Where needs in certain communities are lesser, can a traveling councilor program help?

What do I know? Let’s have a plan for that $9.5 million, though, before we go passing out checks. That’s all.

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