Saturday, July 24, 2010

Why Fight About Liz Fowler? Because We Need to Get Real

Progressives failed to prevail on important policy debates during health care reform, including on the public option. There is no doubt that this was a central victory for the insurance industry. The retreat into magical thinking holds that we can measure the how the industry got its way by measuring campaign contributions, and drawing totally unfounded conclusions about the role of indivduals like Liz Fowler and Max Baucus. The record does not support this simplistic though appealing analysis:

According to the Center for Responsive Politics (, the largest health insurance PACs gave more money in 2008 to Henry Waxman than to Max Baucus (and it wasn't much, at that). Waxman voted yes on the public option; Baucus voted no.

They gave more to the House, which voted yes on the public option, than to the Senate, which voted no.

Wellpoint Inc Contributions to Federal Candidates, 2008

Total to Democrats: $152,000
Total to Republicans: $260,100

Total to Democrats: $48,900
Total to Republicans: $98,500

UnitedHealth Group Contributions to Federal Candidates, 2008

Total to Democrats: $138,700
Total to Republicans: $100,500

Total to Democrats: $71,500
Total to Republicans: $58,300

Henry Waxman: $3,000 - yes on public option

Max Baucus: $1,500 - no on public option

What's my analysis? Over time we'll sort out who did what to whom. It's comforting and titillating to believe that there were a few culprits, and that we've found the main one in Liz. We could note alternatively many more profound truths about how disconnected much of the country is from advocacy at the national level, a pattern that persists, and which we can affect. Retreating into Fox News-style sensationalism is not a substitute for analysis.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New HHS Abortion Restriction Goes Beyond Current Law

Oppose Restrictions for Abortion Access in the Federal Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plans

This time they did not have to do it. There was no Ben Nelson, no Joe Lieberman. No applicable federal law. Not even much to lose. The Obama Administration chose to deny abortion funding in the new high risk pools, due to start next month. These enrollees will be among the most vulnerable women in the US: uninsured, with an existing health condition. The high risk pools were not already subject to the infamous Executive Order banning use of federal funds for abortion through the health insurance exchanges (due to start in 2014). The Executive Order was part of the price for heath reform. Well, ok, something to be fixed down the road. The road seems to have come to our door.

Why did the Administration extend this bad ruling to the high risk pools? Anti-choice groups went viral about the President betraying them if he did not extend to the already unconscionable Executive Oder to the high risk pools. Who thanked him? The Catholic bishops.

We have allowed abortion to become toxic. A procedure experienced by at least a third of women during our lives has been stigmatized. It is not enough to appoint and elect many fine, smart, progressive women – and pro-choice men – to government. They need, and we need, militant mobilized advocacy for reproductive choice and justice.

Keely Monroe, Lisa Kernan Social Justice Fellow; Ellen R. Shaffer, Co-Director; EQUAL Health Network

The Department of Health and Human Services has released an announcement stating that abortion coverage may only be obtained in the new high risk pool plans in cases of rape or incest, or where the life of the woman would be endangered. This wording mirrors the restrictions articulated in the Hyde Amendments to certain appropriations bills. (See below for full text of announcement)

As federal law currently stands, there are no restrictions placed upon federal or state money regarding abortion coverage in the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plans (PCIP). The PCIPs are temporary insurance pools to provide insurance coverage to those deemed “high risk,” meaning the individual has some kind of pre-existing condition.

Because no law specifically addresses PCIPs and abortion coverage, the HHS statement would create a new sphere of abortion restrictions, undermining women’s reproductive autonomy.

The EQUAL Health Network believes these new restrictions are a response to pressure from anti-choice activist groups, and are unwarranted.

None of the current federal abortion restrictions that are in place apply to the PCIPs. The Hyde Amendment, which restricts abortion coverage to rape or incest, or where the life of the woman is in danger, only applies to funding appropriated through the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, including Medicaid. The appropriations for the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan also restrict abortion coverage, but this clearly does not apply to the PCIPs.

In addition to nonexistent precedent for this action in prior federal law, there is no precedent in the Patient Protection and Affordable Acre Act (PPACA). The Nelson Amendment, adopted in the new law, only applies to plans obtained in the healthcare exchanges, which will not be active until 2014. Lastly, the Executive Order that the President signed regarding abortion coverage through PPACA gives no indication that it was meant to apply to more than the healthcare exchanges and community health centers.

The abortion coverage restrictions placed on the PCIPs is reminiscent of the Stupak Amendment first seen in the House version of PPACA, but later removed. The Stupak restrictions would have forbidden use of any funds, even those procured privately or through states, to provide abortion coverage to individuals participating in the PCIPs.

Objections to the White House and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

White House:
Call: 202 456 1111

Department of Health and Human Services
Call: 877 696 6775

Raising Women’s Voices

Jessica Arons from the Center of American Progress

Text of HHS announcement:
As is the case with FEHB plans currently, and with the Affordable Care Act and the President’s related Executive Order more generally, in Pennsylvania and in all other states abortions will not be covered in the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIB) except in the cases of rape or incest, or where the life of the woman would be endangered.

Our policy is the same for both state and federally-run PCIP programs. We will reiterate this policy in guidance to those running the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan at both the state and federal levels. The contracts to operate the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan include a requirement to follow all federal laws and guidance.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Immigration is a NAFTA Problem. This is Not Big News

It's too bad the governors worrying that challenging the Arizona law will hurt their chances in the upcoming election can't find the NYT article on February 18, 2007 by Louis Uchitelle, explaining precisely how NAFTA has driven Mexicans out of their own fields and factories and into the U.S.' Years later, all the misguided policy gurus at the Peterson Institiute can say is "oops," (and let's dismantle Social Security while we're at it). Concerned about creating jobs and stemming the deficit? Reverse NAFTA and CAFTA, and invest in education and social programs. We need leaders who will follow the President's example, and exhibit leadership.

Here's the news from the NY Times, over 3 years ago.

February 18, 2007
The Nation
Nafta Should Have Stopped Illegal Immigration, Right?
THE North American Free Trade Agreement, enacted by Congress 14 years ago, held out an alluring promise: the agreement would reduce illegal immigration from Mexico. Mexicans, the argument went, would enjoy the prosperity and employment that the trade agreement would undoubtedly generate — and not feel the need to cross the border into the United States.

But today the number of illegal migrants has only continued to rise. Why didn’t Nafta curb this immigration? The answer is complicated, of course. But a major factor lies in the assumptions made in drafting the trade agreement, assumptions about the way governments would behave (that is, rationally) and the way markets would respond (rationally, as well).

Neither happened, yet Nafta remains the model for trade agreements with developing Latin countries, including the Central American Free Trade Agreement, passed by Congress in 2005. Three more Nafta-like agreements are now pending in Congress — with Panama, Columbia and Peru.

When Nafta finally became a reality, on Jan. 1, 1994, American investment flooded into Mexico, mostly to finance factories that manufacture automobiles, appliances, TV sets, apparel and the like. The expectation was that the Mexican government would do its part by investing billions of dollars in roads, schooling, sanitation, housing and other needs to accommodate the new factories as they spread through the country.

It was more than an expectation. Many Mexican officials in the government of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari assured the Clinton administration that the investment would take place, and believed it themselves, said Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington who campaigned for Nafta in the early 1990s.

“It just did not happen,” he said.

Absent that investment, foreign factories congregated in the north, within 300 miles of the American border, where some infrastructure already existed. “Monterrey is quite good,” Mr. Hufbauer said, “but in a lot of other cities the infrastructure is terrible, not even enough running water or electricity in poor neighborhoods. People get temporary jobs, but that is all.”

Meanwhile, Mexican manufacturers, once protected by tariffs on a host of products, were driven out of business as less expensive, higher quality merchandise flowed into the country. Later, China, with its even-cheaper labor, added to the pressure, luring away manufacturers and jobs.

Indeed, despite the influx of foreign-owned factories, total manufacturing employment in Mexico declined to 3.5 million by 2004 from a high of 4.1 million in 2000, according to a calculation of Robert A. Blecker, an American University economist.

As relatively well-paying jobs disappeared, Mexico’s average wage for production workers, already low, fell further behind the average hourly pay of production workers in the United States, and Mexicans responded by migrating.

“The main thing that would have stemmed the flow of people across the border was a rapid increase in wages in Mexico,” said Dani Rodrik, an economist and trade specialist at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “And that certainly has not happened.”

Something similar occurred in agriculture. The assumption was that tens of thousands of farmers who cultivated corn would act “rationally” and continue farming, even as less expensive corn imported from the United States flooded the market. The farmers, it was assumed, would switch to growing strawberries and vegetables — with some help from foreign investment — and then export these crops to the United States. Instead, the farmers exported themselves, partly because the Mexican government decided to reduce tariffs on corn even faster than Nafta required, according to Philip Martin, an agricultural economist at the University of California, Davis.

“We understood that the transition from corn to strawberries would not be smooth,” Professor Martin said. “But we did not think there would be almost no transition.”

A financial crisis also dashed expectations. One expectation was that the Mexican economy, driven by Nafta, would grow rapidly, generating jobs and keeping Mexicans home. The peso crisis of 1994-95, however, provoked a steep recession, and while there was some big growth later, the average annual growth rate over Nafta’s lifetime has been less than 3 percent.

The financial crisis struck just months after Nafta came into existence, undermining, early on, the Mexican government’s ability to spend money on roads, education and other necessary government functions.

“We underestimated Mexico’s deficits in physical and human infrastructure,” said J. Bradford DeLong, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Treasury official in the Clinton administration.

But, he says, without Nafta the migration would have been even greater. For instance, he says, there would not have been as much investment in the north of the country.

Finally, the steady flow of Mexicans to the United States has produced a momentum of its own — what Jeffrey Passel, a demographer at the Pew Hispanic Institute, calls a “network effect,” in which young Mexicans travel to the United States in growing numbers to join the growing number of family members already here.

The upshot is that Mexican migration to the United States has risen to 500,000 a year from less than 400,000 in the early 1990s, before Nafta, Mr. Passel estimates. Roughly 80 percent to 85 percent of immigrants are here illegally, he says.

The peso crisis, recession, the network effect — their impact may have been beyond anyone’s control, but not the assumptions about how the market and the government would act.

“We have indeed had one disappointment after another on this score,” Mr. Rodrik said, noting that the same assumption about government spending is part and parcel of the agreements, now before Congress, with Columbia, Peru and Panama.

While there is opposition to these proposals, it is mainly from Democrats who want a better safety net for American workers who might be hurt.

The European Union, in contrast, assumes little about government spending on the part of economically weaker nations joining it. The union itself has hugely subsidized the improved services needed by entering countries like Portugal, Spain, Greece and Poland, rather than leave financing to the relatively meager resources of entering countries.

The money is used not only for public investment, Mr. Rodrik noted, but also to subsidize companies setting up operations in the new countries and to support government budgets.

“I am not saying Nafta was a bad agreement,” Mr. Rodrik said. “But more than a trade agreement is required for countries to converge economically. And Nafta has been viewed as a shortcut to convergence without having to do all the other stuff.”