MSNBC reported that Republicans are not defending the big tax cuts for insurance industry executives in Trumpcare.

In the White House briefing room last week, a reporter asked HHS Secretary Tom Price why the Republican health care plan “includes a tax break for insurance executives that make more than $500,000. You said this is about patients. Why is that tax break important for this legislation?”

The Republican cabinet secretary was incredulous. “I’m not aware of that,” Price responded.

The bill really isn’t that long. How the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who presumably read the bill, could be unaware of the provision is difficult to understand.

Around the same time, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was asked why his reform blueprint includes “a big, fat tax break.” The Republican leader responded, simply, “Read the bill.”

We did read the bill. The Republican plan to replace Obamacare includes a tax break for insurance company executives making over $500,000 per year.

If you voted for Trump because you wanted to see insurance-company executives get a big tax break, this is, of course, great news. For everyone else, however, it’s not quite as impressive.

Other tax breaks in the new reform legislation as explained by Vox explained:

It’s reasonable … to ask what there is to like about the proposal. The main answer, for Republicans is Congress, is that it also contains $600 billion in tax cuts — tax cuts that would save the wealthiest 0.1 percent of Americans nearly $200,000 each in a single year, according to a batch of analyses released by the Joint Committee on Taxation on Tuesday.

The single biggest tax cut included in the bill is the repeal of the 3.8 percent tax the Affordable Care Act applied to capital gains, dividend, and interest income for families with $250,000 or more in income ($125,000 for singles).

Repealing that tax is a change that, by definition, only helps the rich, or at least the affluent.

At a certain level, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. When Democrats crafted the Affordable Care Act, they intended to distribute benefits and resources in a progressive direction: those at the top would pay more in taxes, while those in the middle and on the bottom would receive more in the form of health security.

Republicans intend to undo the economics of “Obamacare,” which necessarily means going in a regressive direction: giving people at the top big tax breaks, while taking benefits away from everyone else.

Why in the world would GOP officials champion a health care proposal that would take away coverage from millions, increase deductibles and premiums, and leave much of the country worse off? It’s probably because Republicans really like cutting taxes for rich people.

For those on the right, this is a feature of the American Health Care Act, not a bug.

The Republican healthcare plan could signal the beginning of the end for employer-based healthcare insurance, a perk that millions of Americans take for granted.

Roughly half of Americans were covered by employer-sponsored health plans in 2015, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. But that could change, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s report on the GOP’s American Health Care Plan. According to the CBO estimates,  7 million of people will drop off the roles of employer-sponsored health insurance over the next decade because of Trumpcare.

The tax credits are regressive

Like the Affordable Care Act, the American Health Care Act offers tax credits to help people afford coverage on the individual market (for people who don’t get health insurance at work). But compared to Obamacare, the new tax credits — which are largely based on age rather than income — would be more generous to the middle class and wealthy and less generous for the poor.

The average tax credit for Americans earning less than $40,000 per year would go down. But for those making more than $40,000, tax credits would go up under the Trump plan. (A 60-year-old whose income is around the federal poverty line would see her tax credit cut from around $10,000 to $4,000, while a 27-year-old earning more than $75,000 would get a new $2,000 tax credit.)

The Kaiser Foundation’s Cynthia Cox put this into a chart:

How tax credits would change for enrollees under the just-released House Republican replacement plan

Wow.  Where to start.  There have been so many articles about how bad Trumpcare is for everyone except insurance companies and rich people.

Vox analyzed the net financial impact of the Republican bill on premiums, after tax credits, plus cost-sharing. “We estimate that the bill would increase costs for the average enrollee by $1,542, for the year, if the bill were in effect today. In 2020, the bill would increase costs for the average enrollee by $2,409.”

“In general, the impact of the Republican bill would be particularly severe for older individuals, ages 55 to 64. Their costs would increase by $5,269 if the bill went into effect today and by $6,971 in 2020. Individuals with income below 250 percent of the federal poverty line would see their costs increase by $2,945 today and by $4,061 in 2020.”

Buzzfeed reported that Trumpcare  includes a tax break for insurance company executives making over $500,000 per year.  The average compensation for top health insurance executives is in the millions. In 2014 the Institute for Policy Studies found that this cap generated $72 million in additional tax revenue.

Companies can generally deduct employee salaries as a business expense but in 2013 the Affordable Care Act capped the deductions on health insurance executive salaries at $500,000.

NPR had a sober article explaining why the Republican plan will not fix any of the current problems with health care coverage. NPR explains why the law will not increase coverage, provide the consumers more chocie, or lower health care costs.

As part of Obamacare, the federal government increased payroll taxes to help pay for the Medicare Trust Fund. That fund is used to reimburse hospitals when seniors come in and need treatment.

Trump’s bill does away with those new taxes. As a result, the Medicare Trust Fund would go broke about four years earlier than currently projected, in 2025 instead of 2029. This would either force hospitals to either swallow the costs themselves, turn away Medicare enrollees, or both. Here’s what the tax repeal would do to the trust fund, according to the Brookings Institution:

Repealing the ACA’s tax on high income households and hospitals would exhaust the Medicare Trust fund by 2024 http://brook.gs/2hSsObR 

Contribution from freelance writer, Jessica Walter.

The U.S. Senate Lists Worst Scams Targeting Seniors

Fraudsters impersonating the IRS and conning thousands of people, have led to the U.S. Senate publishing the top scams targeting the country’s older people. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration called these scams ‘the most persistent fraud in IRS history’. Targeting over 1.97 million people, they call seniors telling them that they will be arrested unless they immediately pay alleged tax debts.

Scams Covered More Than 21 States

A review of over 5 million complaints lodged with the Federal Trade Commission from 2015 to 2016, revealed that America’s over 60s population mostly reported imposter scams, tech support hoaxes and telemarketing practices. It’s believed that the IRS scammers conned victims in at least 21 states. One senior told a committee that he had lost around $8,000 to fraudsters impersonating the IRS, who threatened him that he would be arrested ‘within an hour’ if he didn’t pay what they said he owed in overdue taxes. Overall, in 2010, this type of theft cost seniors over $2.9 billion, according to the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

60% of Senior Survey Respondents Targeted by Scammers

In a separate survey conducted by Home Instead Inc, it was found that over 60% of American seniors who took part have been targeted by an online scam. 38% of seniors said that someone had tried to scam them online, while 28% said they had downloaded a computer virus by mistake.

Why are Seniors Targeted?

Unfortunately, many scammers see older people as easy pray for their scams. Sometimes, when an older person is quite isolated and lonely, they are more vulnerable to these types of crimes. When a professional and friendly person calls, and engages them in a friendly conversation, the senior can often end up trapped by the attention. Quite often the scammers are very experienced and can tell when someone would make a good target. But seniors shouldn’t automatically be seen as easy targets by scammers, just because they are older. In fact, while there are of course vulnerable elderly people, there are also a growing number of ‘superagers’, who stay active, both mentally and physically, enjoy being challenged and are on a par with the average 25-year-old.

What Seniors (or Anyone) Can Do to Protect Themselves

Social Security, the IRS and Medicare & Medicaid Services do not make phone calls asking for Social Security details or bank information. People should not give out their private details over the phone. If people believe they are victims of fraud, they should call the relevant companies directly, make a report with local police and inform the Federal Trade Commission.

Be wary of emails or messages that request urgent action, such as a problem with a bank account or taxes. These are very likely to be a scam. If you are unsure at all, contact the companies directly by phone to check whether the messages are legitimate. Be cautious about what you share on social media. Remember you can adjust privacy settings to limit who can see what information.

If you’re interested in Jess’s writing, contact her!

The L.A. Times did an analysis on who would be most hurt by Trumpcare, and concluded that voters who supported Trump will be hurt the most.

“Americans who swept President Trump to victory — lower-income, older voters in conservative, rural parts of the country — stand to lose the most in federal healthcare aid under a Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, according to a Times analysis of county voting and tax credit data.

“Among those hit the hardest under the current House bill are 60-year-olds with annual incomes of $30,000, particularly in rural areas where healthcare costs are higher and Obamacare subsidies are greater.”

Faring best would be the nation’s wealthiest residents, who would see a substantial tax cut with the elimination under the House GOP bill of two levies on high-income taxpayers. These taxes — on individuals making more than $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000 — were included in Obamacare to help offset the cost of assisting lower-income Americans.

 

The Washington Times had an article about the attacks on the 7th Amendment to the Constitution.

Most Americans can identify only a few of the Amendments of the Bill of Rights including the Seventh Amendment (the right to a civil jury trial).  The right to a jury trial is the most important right given to us in the Constitution. How do we know this? It is the only right specifically mentioned in two of the amendments to the Constitution. The right to a jury trial in a criminal case is granted in the Sixth Amendment and the right to a jury trial in a civil case is guaranteed in the Seventh Amendment.

America’s founding fathers revered the jury trial system, for both the civil and criminal case. In 1751, in South Carolina, the state legislature declared that “any person who shall endeavor to deprive us of so glorious a privilege of trial by jury,” was an enemy of the people.

In 1776, George Mason wrote in Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, “The ancient trial by jury is preferable to any other and ought to be held sacred.”  It is held sacred, except by the big business corporatists who believe that rights exist only for the corporate elites and not for the average American citizen.

Unfortunately, President Trump has bought into the myth of the frivolous lawsuit.  Frivolous lawsuits are a fable made up by the Chamber of Commerce and big insurance, which want to deny citizens their day in court. Lawyers don’t file frivolous lawsuits because they don’t make money from them. Lawyers can and sometimes are sanctioned for filing a lawsuit that is deemed to be frivolous.

The only other defense of the Seventh Amendment comes from the House Freedom Caucus. This liberty-minded group in the House of Representatives has risen to the defense of the Seventh Amendment before. But with the House Freedom Caucus consisting of only thirty-two members, out of the 237 Republicans in Congress, it is really questionable how much they can do.

Millions of Americans, including recently President Trump, have said, “I’ll see you in court.”  If Tort Reform is adopted, it will be the beginning of the end for the Seventh Amendment and the right of Americans to sue.

Thomas Jefferson said, “I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”

President Trump would do well to heed the words of President Jefferson and abandon the unconstitutional idea of Tort Reform.

The Washington Monthly had an interesting take on the Republicans’ difficulty replacing Obamacare.

As this mess unfolds, it’s worth remembering that the Republican Party has had eight years since the passage of the ACA to consider what it would do instead, given control of all three branches of government. Eight years for all of its policy wonks to design a plan that would provide, in Trump’s words, “insurance for everybody” that is “much better and much less expensive.”

The problem is that the only way to provide better, less expensive care for everyone that improves on the ACA is the universal, government-backed insurance offered by nearly every other developed country in the world. Allowing insurers to sell across state lines would create a regulatory race-to-the-bottom and do almost nothing to lower costs. Most Americans have so little in savings they can’t retire or put their kids through college, much less cover $500,000 of cancer treatments through an HSA. And covering people with pre-existing conditions through market processes requires a mandate to make it work.

Republicans know all of this. They know it because the ACA is actually the conservative, market-based alternative to single-payer. It was essentially was the Heritage Foundation’s alternative to Hillary Clinton’s 1993 healthcare plan. It became the basis of Romneycare, the plan backed and enacted by the 2012 Republican nominee for president. It’s the Republican alternative to single-payer.

That Republicans have been so adamantly hostile to it represents jaw-dropping political hypocrisy and opportunism. The pre-Obamacare status quo theoretically served their donors better because it contained fewer taxes on the rich, but it was also an escalating national crisis that needed solving. The lack of a Republican solution on healthcare was a big driver of Democratic votes. But rather than be a responsible partner in fixing the problem in a way that pleased conservatives as much as possible, Republicans played political gamesmanship. They called their own plan a socialist abomination with death panels. They scared seniors into thinking that their own Medicare would be snatched away in order to give healthcare to the unworthy–even as they plotted to defund and privatize Medicare themselves. It was a con of breathtaking proportions, and it worked. Lies, outrage and fear over the ACA were big drivers of the 2010 and 2014 Republican wave elections from which the Obama Administration never recovered.

But Republicans still don’t have an alternative plan for solving the healthcare crisis. They never did. That’s why the AHCA looks so much like the ACA, only stingier and less competent. The true believers on the far right want a fully libertarian system, but the more sober folks in leadership know the public health catastrophe that would cause would destroy Republicans electorally for a generation. The few Republican moderates want a GOP facelift on the ACA that doesn’t endanger them too much. Trump knows nothing about healthcare policy at all, and just wants to check off a box on his list of things to anger liberals about.

But none of them ever expected to be here, and they never had a plan.

The Orlando Sentinel had an editorial about a grave injustice in Florida.

There are few more consequential or critical decisions for families than choosing the right nursing home or assisted-living facility for a parent or other elderly relative who needs long-term care. For those families, Florida’s licensing agency for health care promises some peace of mind: “easy access” to its information on “provider performance.” Such reporting “is a key element that promotes enhanced patient care and consumer choice,” according to the website of the state Agency for Health Care Administration.

But as the Sentinel’s Kate Santich reported this week, AHCA has not been keeping its promise on inspection reports for nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, where more than 160,000 of Florida’s most vulnerable residents live. Basic information — dates, places and key details — has been blacked out in those reports.

AHCA officials blamed the redactions on the need to comply with federal health-privacy laws, which were made more stringent in 2009. But regular followers of the state inspection reports told Santich that they observed a trend toward withholding details within the past few months.

And the censored words go well beyond personally identifying medical information, such as names, Social Security numbers or dates of birth. Those details have always been exempt from public disclosure requirements.

Santich’s story included a passage from one inspection report of “a resident in the bathtub, with the water running, slumped over and ——-.” Another report referred to “a body floating in the ——.”

Nathan Carter, an Orlando personal injury attorney who said he has been reviewing the reports for 20 years, told Santich that the state’s redaction process has become “arbitrary and inconsistent.” He accused the agency of trying to make the reports “useless” by removing “substantive information.”

Deleting substantive information from inspection reports or, even worse, withholding them, would make long-term care facilities less vulnerable to lawsuits alleging abuse or neglect. The daughter of a man who died in 2008 in a Lake Worth nursing home told Santich she needed the intervention of a state legislator to get AHCA to release its inspection reports on the facility. The man’s family eventually won a $2 million wrongful death case against the nursing home.

A spokeswoman for AHCA told Santich that the agency is now using an automated process “to redact documents efficiently.” She conceded that “there is [a] possibility that some items may be inadvertently redacted.” The agency is trying to “reduce this as much as possible, but there is the potential for this to continue to happen.”

On the eve of Sunshine Week, an annual commemoration that spotlights the state of open government, censored inspection reports for nursing homes and assisted living facilities are a timely reminder of the need for Floridians and their legislative representatives, now meeting in Tallahassee for their annual session, to protect the right to know.

Brian Lee, who served as the state’s ombudsman for long-term care for seven years, accused AHCA of “blatant” disregard of Florida’s open-records requirements. Michael Milliken, the current ombudsman, said he has contacted AHCA about the problem with the inspection reports, but doesn’t have the authority as an employee of another agency, the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, to change the policy.

Lee, now head of a national watchdog group called Families for Better Care, was forced out of his state position by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011 after clashing with the nursing home industry. Lee has offered an eminently reasonable suggestion to AHCA: Suspend its current automated redaction program until it can come up with a better system.

If the agency won’t comply voluntarily, it’ll be up to legislators who care about the health, safety and dignity of Florida seniors to make sure the veil on AHCA’s inspection reports is lifted.