Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer

Reporter

Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent the last year hanging out with angry white people who occasionally don tricorne hats and come to lunch meetings heavily armed.

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Stephanie covers legal affairs and domestic policy in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She is the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue. A contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, a former investigative reporter at the Washington Post, and a senior writer at the Washington City Paper, she was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2004 for a Washington Monthly article about myths surrounding the medical malpractice system. In 2000, she won the Harry Chapin Media award for reporting on poverty and hunger, and her 2010 story in Mother Jones of the collapse of the welfare system in Georgia and elsewhere won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

HMO Pays Staffers to Drop Sick People

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 11:10 AM EST

Virtually all the Democrats running for president have endorsed health care proposals that maintain a major role for private insurance companies. Much of their rhetoric suggests that if we could just get everyone health insurance, then all will be well. But the debate continues to ignore the horror stories like the one reported in the L.A. Times Friday.

A private insurer paid $20,000 in bonuses to an underwriter for dropping coverage for sick people, including a hairdresser who was half way through chemo treatments for cancer. She was left with $200,000 in medical bills as a result. Meanwhile, the company, Health Net, saved $35 million by cutting off 1,600 people who had made a major medical claim. Built into the system were performance bonuses for employees who dropped the most and the sickest patients. The widespread practice suggests that Americans need a lot more than an insurance card to guarantee access to medical care when they most need it.

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Finally, Cable a la Carte?

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 10:34 AM EST

I have long suspected that my husband and I may be the only people in D.C. who don't subscribe to cable TV (sorry, David). For years we have resisted, largely because 1) cable is expensive and controlled by monopolies and 2) the only reason we want it is so that we can watch The Wire and New York Giants games that aren't broadcast in our area on regular TV. We don't want to pay hundreds of dollars a year for cable when we wouldn't watch 99 percent of its offerings.

This all might change, however, if the newly energized chairman of the Federal Communications Commission gets his way. Republican Kevin J. Martin is pushing once again to restrict the monopoly power of giant cable companies, whose rates have soared far faster than inflation in recent years. (Comcast haters take note: Martin's work would put a huge hitch in that company's expansion plans.) Among the other measures that Martin is championing, though, is what every cable consumer has long desired: the ability to pick her own channels, without having to pay for all the Home Shopping Network additions forced into the standard packages, the so called "a la carte menu."

The FCC's changes are based on a law that kicks in when 70 percent of the marketplace has cable, which it does. Naturally, the big cable companies hate the idea, but it should be a boon for consumers. Indeed, the measure might not improve my New York Giants' watching (we'd need Direct TV's NFL Sunday Ticket for that), but we might actually get to watch The Wire in real-time instead of waiting months for it to make its way to Netflix.

If Grover Norquist Speaks, Does Anyone Still Listen?

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 5:22 PM EST

new-grover-headshot.jpg So Grover Norquist thinks that Fred Thompson is the "worst" GOP candidate out there. His major sin? He has refused to sign a pledge from Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform, refusing to ever raise taxes. Also, he has said that rich people might have to pay higher premiums for Medicare and is opposed to federal tort reform.

Norquist's remarks apparently came during his regular Wednesday off-the-record meeting in D.C. with the grand poobahs of the GOP, which used to be the place to be in D.C. if you wanted to know what was going on in politics. In the old days, such a pronouncement would leave a candidate shaking in his boots. But ever since the news broke that Norquist had been deeply involved in some of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's Indian tribe schemes, and Democrats took over Congress, he seems to have been relegated to the sidelines, at least publicly. It will be interesting to see how much his attacks on Thompson will really matter. After all, Thompson's positions are pretty fiscally responsible, something Republicans used to care about...

Beating Up On Barney Frank

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 3:21 PM EST

barney.jpg One of the GOP's most reliable fundraising pitches in the run-up to the 2006 mid-term elections was a vision of Democrat Barney Frank as the chair of the House Financial Services Committee. The gay congressman from Massachusetts was supposed to be the devil incarnate for the credit card and banking industry. Now that Frank has actually taken over the committee, though, one group he really seems to have pissed off is a bunch of liberal consumer advocates unhappy with his efforts to address the meltdown of the subprime lending industry.

Utah To Offer Cops "Sweat Your Meth" Treatments

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 2:17 PM EST

The Scientologists are an enterprising bunch, aren't they? The latest:

The state of Utah is paying $50,000 to the Bio Cleansing Centers of America to treat eight current and retired police officers allegedly sickened from busting up meth labs. The center's detoxification treatment, which seems to consist mostly of sending the overweight cops to the sauna for hours on end, is based on the teachings of Scientology. It's similar to a controversial clinic in New York, set up with a huge donation from the nation's most famous Scientologist Tom Cruise, to treat 9/11 rescue workers. Scientology's late founder L. Ron Hubbard claimed that toxins could be flushed from the body through sweating and taking megadoses of vitamins, among other things, hence the sauna treatments.

Normally state attorneys general get called in to scrutinize such programs for peddling unproven therapies to gullible customers, but in Utah, it's actually the state AG who got the whole thing going. Not only that, but Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff wants the state to throw another $140,000 at the program to expand the treatment to more officers, despite a dearth of evidence showing that it actually works.

Utah residents seem to have an affinity for dubious health care practitioners. The state is home to "celluloid valley," the dietary supplement industry, which has made billions selling bogus natural therapies to unsuspecting consumers. The Scientologists and their sauna should feel right at home there.

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