Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas Gift for America

The US Senate took a giant step toward health care reform this morning. Our Senators, Levin and Stabenow, voted with the rest of the Democratic Caucus to pass a bill that will:
    -- Extend coverage to 31 million Americans, the largest expansion of coverage since the creation of Medicare.

    -- Ensure that we can choose our own doctors.

    -- Finally stop insurance companies from denying coverage due to a pre-existing condition.

    -- Make sure we will never be charged exorbitant premiums on the basis of our age, health, or gender.

    -- Guarantee we will never lose our coverage just because we get sick or injured.

    -- Protect us from outrageous out-of-pocket expenditures by establishing lifetime and annual limits.

    -- Allow young people to stay on their parents' coverage until they're 26 years old.

    -- Create health insurance exchanges, or "one-stop shops" for individuals purchasing insurance, where insurance companies are forced to compete for new customers.

    -- Lower premiums for families, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, especially for struggling folks who will receive subsidies.

    -- Help small businesses provide health care coverage to their employees with tax credits and by allowing them to purchase coverage through the exchanges.

    -- Improve and strengthen Medicare by eliminating waste and fraud (without cutting basic benefits), beginning to close the Medicare Part D donut hole, and extending the life of the Medicare trust fund.

    -- Create jobs by reining in costs -- fostering competition, reducing waste and inefficiency, and starting to reward doctors and hospitals for quality, not quantity, of care.

    -- Cut the deficit by over $130 billion in the next 10 years.
It's a long list. But that's only because this bill represents the most significant health reform our nation has seen since the creation of Medicare.

There's another step to go before health care reform is a reality -- the Senate and House bills must be reconciled. So, as Involved Voters we know what we have to do. We must keep after our Senators and Representatives and let them know we want to see the bills combined in a way that serves the best interests of us all.

Wishing you all the blessings of the season and a happy and healthy 2010.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Term-limited as State Rep - Candidate for State House

Pam Byrnes has been untiring in her efforts to serve those of us in her district, the 52nd, and to address the needs of Michigan as a whole. She's built up an impressive store of knowledge about state government and uses it effectively. She is currently Speaker Pro-temp of the Michigan House of Representatives-- the choice of her colleagues.

All of this will be lost to us because of term limits unless we work to get Pam Byrnes elected to the State Senate from the 18th District. Our current State Senator is also term-limited and that creates an open seat.

There will be a coffee hour with Representative Byrnes Monday, November 2, 9:30 AM at the Chelsea Senior Center, 512 E Washington Street in Chelsea. It's another opportunity to talk with Pam about your concerns as Involved Voters and to support her in her plans to run for a seat in the State Senate.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The President's Summary of His Plan for Health Care Reform

Here, in the President's own words, is the essence of the plan he wants Congress to pass:
"It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance to those who don't. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government."

If you missed last night's address to a joint session of Congress, you can find the full text of President Obama's remarks at

Now it's time for Involved Voters to let our Representatives and Senators know that we want them to pass health care reform that measures up to the President's standards - and do it now. Americans have been waiting for universal health coverage since the days of President Teddy Roosevelt. Reform is way overdue!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Why We Need an American Plan for Health Insurance Reform

We need a truly American plan for reforming health insurance. Such a plan would do the following:

* Reduce Costs — Rising health care costs are crushing the budgets of governments, businesses, individuals and families and they must be brought under control;
* Guarantee Choice — Every American must have the freedom to choose their plan and doctor – including the choice of a public insurance option (like Medicare or the plan that federal employees have);
* Ensure Quality Care for All — All Americans must have quality and affordable health care.

People right here in our community and all over the country have signed on to these principles. They are the ones our President says he will use to evaluate whatever plans Congress comes up with.

You say you didn't vote for Barack Obama. Well, if you support these principles, consider it your civic duty to work for them anyway.

I believe that we Americans, at our best: care about people, take responsibility for ourselves and others, and strive to make ourselves and the world a better place. Working for health insurance reform is consistent with who we are because we believe in freedom and fairness for everyone, not just the powerful.

We need to make sure that health insurance reform helps our government fullfil one of its important moral missions - protecting us, its citizens. Right now we have a health care emergency and need to be protected from the excesses of profit-based insurance plans that ration care through the decisions of their profit-serving bureaucrats.

If we only have profit-based insurance plans to choose from, we'll continue to have overhead costs in the 20-30% range - the costs of adminstrative paperwork and decision-making focused on denying care and enhancing profits. For comparison, overhead for Medicare which is publicly administered runs about 4%. And you can bet the public servants working to manage Medicare are earning a whole lot less than the billions in compensation that some private insurance executives are raking in.

One way to look at it is that profit-based insurance companies are taxing us through a chunk of the premiums we and our employers pay (premiums average close to $13,000/year for a family of 4) - if we are lucky enough to have health insurance. When 20 to 30% of premium payments go to denying care and profiting from it, that constitutes a tax on those of us who have health insurance. This private tax decreases the availability of quality health care for us who are taxed and only benefits insurance company managers and investors.

We can't "vote out of office" the insurance companies who have taxed us in this way. A truly American Plan would offer us an alternative to this private "taxation without representation." We deserve a health insurance option that serves the public interest rather than private profits.

Please let your Senators and Representatives know you want a truly American plan for health insurance reform NOW. Ask them to ignore the lobbyists who represent profit-based health insurance and listen to you.

For more information on the economic impact of the health care crisis, go to the web site of the National Coalition on Health Care:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Where are the myths coming from? Follow the $$$.

There is so much misinformation about health care reform being circulated by those who are more focused on their profits (or satisfying big campaign contributors) than on what's best for the rest of us that I hardly know where to start the debunking.

A general piece of advice for Involved Voters: If you hear something about health care reform that sounds outrageous - it's likely to be a half-truth or even a complete lie. This is especially true when it comes to those who are against giving us the option to have health insurance that's administered by the federal government - just like Medicare and the health plan that Congress has.

I can think of many circumstances in which people would welcome an option for health insurance that wasn't driven by a profit motive. For example, someone who is starting their own business but either can't get coverage from private health insurance companies because of a pre-existing condition - even a minor one that can be controlled by diet and exercise - or can't afford the premiums.

The question I have not been able to find a satisfactory answer for is: How exactly does having private health insurance driven by a profit motive benefit the person who is covered by that insurance? Some of us have public health insurance options now - Medicare and the plan available to members of Congress. These are well-administered, have low overhead costs and give people their choice of doctors and hospitals. Why shouldn't more people have a similar public health insurance plan available to them?

As a person who owns a small business, this particular bit of myth-busting caught my attention, so I'm passing it along:

Health Insurance Reform - DAILY MYTHBUSTER: Impact on Small Business


Myth: The House bill pays for health care reform with a “small business tax” that will kill jobs.

Fact: Small businesses benefit enormously from America’s Affordable Health Choices Act.

  • Reform dramatically reduces small business health costs. The Small Business Majority recently released a report that showed that without reform, small businesses will pay nearly $2.4 trillion in health care costs over the next 10 years. If health insurance reform is enacted, the report found that small businesses could save as much as $855 billion over 10 years, nearly 36 percent. This money can be reinvested in the business and jobs.
  • Reform eliminates price and benefit discrimination against small businesses. A Commonwealth Fund study found the smallest firms pay an average of 18 percent more in health insurance premiums for the same benefits than larger firms. By creating a pool and offering assistance, the House health insurance reform bill will lower small business costs and increase options. Alternatively, those who would rather contribute than offer will have a discrete, predictable contribution and the knowledge that their employees will have decent affordable health care.
  • Reform can save and increase jobs. Phillip Cryan, an economist from the University of California-Berkley, estimates that the 8 percent employer responsibility requirement in H.R. 3200 would result in a net gain of 55,365 jobs, a rise in productivity, and a slowing in the rate of health inflation.
  • Most small firms are exempt; others are subject to lower rates. 76 percent of all businesses are exempt altogether from the employer responsibility requirements. An additional 7 percent of these firms would pay a graduated rate of 2 to 6 percent if they do not offer coverage. More than 72 percent of firms with payrolls of $250,000 to $500,000 and less than 250 employees already offer worker health coverage today – and will have better options under HR 3200.
  • Small business owners and their workers account for the largest share of the uninsured. An estimated 27 million of the 47 million Americans without health insurance are small business owners and their workers, according to the National Federation of Independent Business. H.R. 3200 provides market reforms and assistance to ensure coverage for small business owners and their employees.

That is why employers of all sizes are supporting the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act. The Main Street Alliance, a small business group, supports the bill because it “will help make America's small business more competitive by giving them greater control over one of the most costly and unpredictable aspects of doing business: the spiraling costs of providing quality health coverage.[7/15/09]

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Health Insurance Industry - Putting Quarterly Profits before Patients' Health

If you care about health care, you owe it to yourself to check out what a recently retired health care executive, turned whistle blower, says about the industry and why it opposes our having the choice of a public health insurance option. Here's a place to start - a post on the Washington Monthly blog with some video clips an interview conducted by Bill Moyers.

Long story short: For-profit health care is focused on making quarterly profits that satisfy their investors. The more money spent on patient care, the less available for profit. In the trade, this is known as the Medical Loss Ratio - and it has decreased from 95% during the early 1990's to ~80% today. That means LESS of the money taken in by for-profit health insurance companies is being used to pay for health care for those they insure.

In contrast, the overhead cost of government-administered health plans is about 3%. No wonder for-profit health care with its 20% overhead (administration and profits) doesn't want to be in competition with a public option!

Please make sure our 7th District Representative and Michigan Senators listen you instead of the health care lobbyists. Call or write them while there's still time and tell them you want to be able to choose from among insurance options that include a public one.

Rep. Mark Schauer at 202-225-6276

Senior Senator Carl Levin at 202-224-6221

Junior Senator Debbie Stabenow at 202-224-4822

Thursday, June 25, 2009

National Day of Health Care Service - June 27

The fight for health care reform isn't something that will just happen in Washington, D.C. We know that for so many people in our communities, America's broken health care system is a daily crisis -- and there are ways that we can help right now. Join the National Health Care Day of Service on Saturday, June 27th. Sign up to serve here.

If there is no service event near you on Saturday, you can still help by talking with family, friends and neighbors about the importance of our having the choice of a public health care option in any reform bill that comes out of Congress. For an informed opinion about why the critics of a public option for health care are wrong, please read this article by Robert Reich, a former US Secretary of Labor.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

We Care About Health Care

Yesterday morning I spent two and half hours talking about health care reform with vendors and visitors at the Chelsea Farmers' Market. I must have approached 40 or 50 people, most of them local residents, to find out what their concerns are. The theme that ran through all my conversations was "our health care system is broken and needs to be fixed - now!"

Thirty people signed a petition to our US Congressional Representative, Mark Schauer, and Michigan's US Senators, Levin and Stabenow, urging them to make sure legislation for quality, affordable health care passes this year and that it includes a public health care option. About a dozen more asked for printed information so they could look it over and decide what action to take. I was happy to oblige.

The public health care option (think of something like Medicare, or the plan that covers US Senators and Representatives) will reduce costs, be reliable and would test the idea of a single-payer system. It is being opposed by health insurance lobbyists. Only the concerted action of lots of Involved Voters can counter their considerable influence.

For information: and

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Health Care Reform - Get Informed

Today Organizing for America is holding kickoff activities around the country to help Involved Voters get up to speed about what's needed to get health care reform passed this year and why.

For a good summary of the economics of health care, I recommend reading this article: "Health Care Reform is an Economic Necessity".

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Local elections are elections, too.

Did you participate in your local school board election on May 5? According to the Washtenaw County Registrar's Office, Elections Section, less than 5% of registered voters did.

Involved Voters have a lot of work to do to keep informed about these local elections. It's often the case that decisions made at the local level have the most direct impact on us and our families.

The demise of the print version of local daily newspapers is going to make keeping up with local government even more difficult. We've got to come up with creative, effective ways to gather information about what's happening in our communities and share it with others.

In the 2008 General Election, we proved we could get out the vote. We need to apply what we learned then to our local elections.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Four Principles for the Federal Budget

In case you missed President Obama's weekly address on March 21, here is a transcript of the part that lays out the four principles he expects the Federal budget to meet. (I've added the bold type to highlight a few key points.) The President needs your support to make sure the budget measures up to these standards. As an Involved Voter, you can pledge your support at Organizing for America.
...I expect a budget that meets four basic principles:

First, it must reduce our dependence on dangerous foreign oil and finally put this nation on a path to a clean, renewable energy future. There is no longer a doubt that the jobs and industries of tomorrow will involve harnessing renewable sources of energy. The only question is whether America will lead that future. I believe we can and we will, and that's why we've proposed a budget that makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy, while investing in technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and fuel-efficient cars and trucks that can be built right here in America.

Second, this budget must renew our nation's commitment to a complete and competitive education for every American child. In this global economy, we know the countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow, and we know that our students are already falling behind their counterparts in places like China. That is why we have proposed investments in childhood education programs that work; in high standards and accountability for our schools; in rewards for teachers who succeed; and in affordable college education for anyone who wants to go. It is time to demand excellence from our schools so that we can finally prepare our workforce for a 21st century economy.

Third, we need a budget that makes a serious investment in health care reform - reform that will bring down costs, ensure quality, and guarantee people their choice of doctors and hospitals. Right now, there are millions of Americans who are just one illness or medical emergency away from bankruptcy. There are businesses that have been forced to close their doors or ship jobs overseas because they can't afford insurance. Medicare costs are consuming our federal budget. Medicaid is overwhelming our state budgets. So to those who say we have to choose between health care reform and fiscal discipline, I say that making investments now that will dramatically lower health care costs for everyone won't add to our budget deficit in the long-term - it is one of the best ways to reduce it.

Finally, this budget must reduce that deficit even further. With the fiscal mess we've inherited and the cost of this financial crisis, I've proposed a budget that cuts our deficit in half by the end of my first term. That's why we are scouring every corner of the budget and have proposed $2 trillion in deficit reductions over the next decade. In total, our budget would bring discretionary spending for domestic programs as a share of the economy to its lowest level in nearly half a century. And we will continue making these tough choices in the months and years ahead so that as our economy recovers, we do what we must to bring this deficit down.

I will be discussing each of these principles next week, as Congress takes up the important work of debating this budget. I realize there are those who say these plans are too ambitious to enact. To that I say that the challenges we face are too large to ignore. I didn't come here to pass on our problems to the next President or the next generation - I came here to solve them.

The American people sent us here to get things done, and at this moment of great challenge, they are watching and waiting for us to lead. Let's show them that we are equal to the task before us, and let's pass a budget that puts this nation on the road to lasting prosperity.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

President Obama's Address to a Joint Session of Congress

Listening to the President's speech last night reinforced my conviction that American voters selected the right leader for the times. It left me hopeful and determined to do what I can to help the country meet its challenges.

The full text of President Obama's speech can be found here. One of my favorite commentaries on the speech is this one by Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly blog.

In my opinion, the Republican response by Louisiana Governor Bobbie Jindal fell flat - no new ideas, same old "government bad, taxes bad" rhetoric.

I was inspired by the words the President used to conclude his address to the joint session of Congress:

We are not quitters.

...(E)ven in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.

....I know that we haven't agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.

And if we do - if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, "something worthy to be remembered." Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

US Rep. Mark Schauer's Town Meeting in Dexter Feb. 18

UPDATE: About 250 Involved Voters attended the "Congress on Your Corner" town hall at Dexter High School. Representative Schauer and his staff provided information about how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka stimulus plan) will help the people of Michigan. Schauer's enthusiasm for government service, intelligence and willingness to answer questions were evident during the hour he spent with his constituents. I was impressed with the tone of the event and look forward to more of them.

You can track can read the entire ARRA and track the spending at


Don't miss it! Congressman Mark Schauer is making his first town hall appearance in our area since taking office.

U.S. Representative Mark Schauer
Town Hall Meeting
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
7:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Dexter High School Cafeteria/Commons

Here's a chance for us, the Involved Voters who got him elected, to have a vital, energized conversation, focusing on our current economic crisis and what needs to be done locally and nationally.

We can raise specifics from the recovery package that affect areas like transportation, education, and agriculture, all of which relate directly to creating and saving jobs in our district.

We can give Representative Schauer a chance to show that he's on our side when it comes to our concerns in these important issue areas.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ground Hog Day

If you remember the movie "Ground Hog Day," the thought may have crossed your mind that the Republicans in the US House seemed doomed to repeating the same old failed formula of opposing everything that doesn't fit their narrow ideology. Let's hope that Republicans in the US Senate can provide a happy ending to the current drama over the Recovery (stimulus) legislation.

Please take time to let the Republicans in Congress know that you support the President on this one. Urge them to act quickly to save and create jobs and provide financial help to those who need it most.

You can use this chart to see for yourself what actions are likely to give the biggest boost to the economy.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day!

In spirit, I was there at the Capitol when our 44th President, Barack Obama took the oath of office and gave his inaugural address. You can find the text of his address here. I was particularly moved by the portion of the address that asked each and every one of us to do our part.
What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Well-Run Transition

In the two months since the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, his Transition Team has been hard at work and, in my opinion, to good effect.

Have you been following the hearings for nominees to cabinet posts? How many nominees can you name? On the Transition Team's web site there is a section that lists the positions in the new administration.

Here, in order of presidential succession, are President-Elect Obama’s choices:


Updated, Feb 3, 2009, March 2, 2009. * = confirmed by Senate

Department of State: Hillary Clinton* -- U.S. Senator from New York

Department of Treasury: Timothy Geithner* -- head of the New York Federal Reserve

Department of Defense: Robert M. Gates* -- Current Sec. of Defense

Department of Justice (Attorney General): Eric Holder* -- a U.S. attorney under Clinton

Department of Interior: Ken Salazar* -- U.S. Senator from Colorado

Department of Agriculture: Tom Vilsack* -- former Governor of Iowa

Department of Commerce: Gary Locke -- former Governor of Washington [Judd Gregg -- Senator (R) New Hampshire withdrew] (updated Mar 2)

Department of Labor: Hilda Solis* -- US Representative (D) California

Department of Health & Human Services: Kathleen Sebelius -- Governor of Kansas [Tom Daschle -- former U.S. Senator from South Dakota withdrew] (Updated Mar 2)

Department of Housing & Urban Development: Shaun Donovan* -- former New York City housing commissioner

Department of Transportation: Ray LaHood* -- US Representative (R, Illinois)

Department of Energy: Steven Chu* - winner of Nobel Prize for physics in 1997

Department of Education: Arne Duncan* -- Chicago schools superintendent

Department of Veterans Affairs: Gen. Eric Shinseki* (retired) -- Chief of Staff of the Army from 1999 to 2003

Department of Homeland Security: Janet Napolitano* -- Governor of Arizona

President-Elect Obama has had a wealth of talent to choose from. His choices give me confidence that the new administration will serve the interests of the American people well.