James Ridgeway

James Ridgeway

In 1965, James Ridgeway helped launch the modern muckraking era by revealing that General Motors had hired private eyes to spy on an obscure consumer advocate named Ralph Nader. He worked for many years at the Village Voice, has written 16 books, and has codirected Blood in the Face, a film about the far right. In 2012, he was named a Soros Justice Media Fellow.

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Dr. Dean's Health Care Prescription

| Wed Aug. 19, 2009 4:54 AM PDT

Miriam Raftery, editor of the East County Magazine, provided a report earlier this week from an appearance at a San Diego bookstore by Howard Dean. The former Vermont governor, presidential candidate, and DNC chair, who is a physician, is on a book tour promoting Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Healthcare Refom.

While Dean was ridiculed on the stump in 2004 as an out of control lefty, he has always been a New England moderate, and has never proposed anything faintly resembling socialized medicine. But Dean does believe, as he put it:

"The free market just doesn’t work in medicine. You can’t be an informed consumer. I never saw someone with severe chest pain jump off the table and say, 'Doctor, I’m going to the cheaper guy down the street.'"

Dean also doesn’t favor compromising on a public option, because “the public option is the compromise.” He advocates opening up Medicare so that those under 65 can buy in, while allowing anyone who chooses to keep their private insurance. 

“Americans ought to be able to decide for themselves: Is private health insurance really health insurance? Or is it simply an extension of the things that have been happening on Wall Street over the past five to ten years, in which private corporations find yet new and ingenious ways of taking money from ordinary citizens without giving them the services they’ve paid for?”

Here's another choice bit from Raftery's account, which offers a good precis of Dean's book as well as his talk in San Diego.

Dean noted that public healthcare in Europe was established not by liberals, but was in fact championed by conservative statesman Winston Churchill. "Disease must be attacked, whether it occurs in the poorest or the richest man or woman simply on the ground that it is the enemy; and it must be attacked just in the same way as the fire brigade will give its full assistance to the humblest cottage as readily as to the most important mansion," Churchill once stated. "Our policy is to create a national health service in order to ensure that everybody in the country, irrespective of means, age, sex, or occupation, shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available."

Cost of Medical Fraud Could Pay for Health Care Reform

| Wed Aug. 19, 2009 4:45 AM PDT

According to reporting yesterday on NPR, the cost of medical fraud in the United States runs anywhere from $60 billion to $600 billion a year--in other words, it might actually exceed the price tag for health care reform. Instead of whining about the expense of reform measures, Republicans and Blue Dog Dems might think about saving us money by cracking down on fraudulent practices, which target both the government and private insurers. 

Obama has recently announced a new DOJ/HHS task force to combat fraud, and some versions of the health care reform bill have a measly $100 million set aside for anti-fraud measures. It seems like far too little and too late--but apparently, it's more than has been done by past administrations, or by the oversight committees, the appropriations and legislative committees whose job it is to ride herd on taxpayer funds. 

Here is a bit from the NPR report:

Medical fraud takes several forms. Most commonly, criminals get a list of patients’ names, then create fictitious doctors. They send bills to Medicare or Medicaid or health insurers for services supposedly rendered to these patients. By the time the payers figure out that the doctors they’re paying are fictitious and no service was ever rendered, the criminals have closed up shop and moved on.

Another popular form of health care fraud is the “rent-a-patient” scheme. Recruiters find people with health insurance willing to get care they don’t need, in exchange for cash or cosmetic surgery. Several years ago, insurers and the FBI said they had cracked a big case. People from 47 states were paid to come to California to receive unneeded care, including colonoscopies and surgery for sweaty palms. The doctors who performed the work reportedly charged insurers a total of $1 billion.

I suppose the libertarian Republicans would say it’s just a small price to pay for our free market system. And of course, if the government started taking a closer look at the crooks who illegally rip off the system, they might also have to deal with the crooks who rip off the system quite legally--the price-gouging insurance and pharmaceutical companies and their ilk.

New Orleans, Four Years Later

| Tue Aug. 18, 2009 1:04 PM PDT

As we approach the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we're sure to start seeing some brief nods toward the event in the mainstream media: photos of people stranded on rooftops and bridges, maybe some re-runs of Anderson Cooper's on-air breakdown, along with a few heartwarming stories of survival and rescue to keep us from feeling too guilty about having abandoned an entire city of poor people to their fate.

What's less likely to receive much coverage is the aftermath of the storm--the years of neglect, the government-approved corporate ripoffs, and the ongoing suffering that persists to this day. A concise reminder appeared today in the form of a "Katrina Pain Index" compiled by Davida Finger and Bill Quigley. (Now at the Center for Constitutional Rights, Quigley formerly ran the Loyola Law School legal clinic in New Orleans, and provided powerful reports from the disaster.) I'm quoting some highlights, but the list is well worth reading in full on Counterpunch:

0. Number of renters in Louisiana who have received financial assistance from the $10 billion federal post-Katrina rebuilding program Road Home Community Development Block Grant – compared to 116,708 homeowners....

1.  Rank of New Orleans among U.S. cities in murders per capita for 2008.

1.  Rank of New Orleans among U.S. cities in percentage of vacant residences.  

2.  Number of Katrina cottages completed in Louisiana as of beginning of 2009 hurricane season under $74 million dollar federal program.

33.  Percent of 134,000 FEMA trailers in which Katrina and Rita storm survivors were housed after the storms which are estimated by federal government to have had formaldehyde problems....

50.  Ranking of Louisiana among states for overall healthcare....

27,279. Number of Louisiana homeowners who have applied for federal assistance in repair and rebuilding after Katrina who have been determined eligible for assistance but who have still not received any money.

30,396. Number of children who have not returned to public school in New Orleans since Katrina.  This reduction leaves the New Orleans public school population just over half of what it was pre-Katrina.

63,799. Number of Medicaid recipients who have not returned to New Orleans since Katrina....

143,193. Fewer people in New Orleans than before Katrina, according to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center estimate of 311,853, the most recent population estimate in Orleans.  

9.5 Million.  Dollar amount of federal Medicaid stimulus rejected outright by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal which would have expanded temporary Medicaid coverage for families who leave welfare and get a job.  

98 million:  Dollar amount of unemployment federal stimulus dollars rejected by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal that was available to bolster the unemployment compensation funds to assist 25,000 families in Louisiana.

900 Million:  Dollar amount paid to ICF International, the company that was hired by the State of Louisiana to distribute federal Road Home rebuilding dollars....

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