In honor of "Sunshine Week," a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) would like to recognize Wisconsin's champions of backroom deals, secret pledges and cloaked campaign contributions.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama said very little about health care reform, but what he did say was a reminder of how tight a grip the insurance industry has on the U.S. health care system -- and will continue to have if the Affordable Care Act is not implemented as Congress intended. And it is largely up to the President to make sure that it is.
"I will not go back to the days when health insurance companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny your coverage or charge women more than men," he said.
That comment drew applause, although certainly not from the insurance industry’s friends in Congress, who continue to call for gutting the law. That’s because when and if it’s fully implemented, the Affordable Care Act will make many of the most egregious practices of insurers a thing of the past. Weakening or stripping out the consumer protections in the law that insurance companies despise would make executives and shareholders of those companies very happy, not to mention much richer in the years to come.
Mitt Romney's 2010 tax returns show that in 2010, Romney and his wife, Ann, paid an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent on $21.6 million in income -- much lower than the 35 percent the country's top wage-earners pay -- and hold millions of dollars in multiple offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands, a notorious tax haven. The official spin is that the Cayman accounts provide no particular tax advantage, that they pay higher interest rates and help "attract foreign investors." Romney's campaign counsel, Ben Ginsburg, assured journalists that Romney was in full compliance with U.S. tax laws, and Brad Malt, who operates the Romneys' blind trust, said Romney's Cayman funds are fully taxable and reported to the IRS. That may be so, but Rebecca Wilkins, a tax policy expert with Citizens for Tax Justice, points out that the federal government loses about $100 billion a year to just such foreign tax havens. Wilkins affirmed that the primary advantage to investors of setting up funds in places like the Cayman Islands is to help people avoid taxes. Jack Blum, a Washington, D.C. attorney who specializes in offshore banking and tax enforcement, said offshore investment vehicles allow investors to "avoid a whole series of small traps in the tax code that ordinary people would face if they paid tax on an onshore basis."
The journey I embarked on when I made the decision to leave a successful career in the health insurance business was a spiritual one. I can trace the decision to a true epiphany, to the very moment I saw hundreds of people standing, soaking wet, in long, slow-moving lines, waiting to get medical care that was being provided in animal stalls at a fairground in Wise County, Virginia.
"Mr. Hodai had a history at the conference--not a very pleasant history. He was considered to be a persona non grata..."
-- Westin Kierland General Manager Bruce Lange to Olivia Ward of the Toronto Star.
Evicting the Press, Part 1: Meet Mr. Black
Scottsdale, Arizona--A suburb awash in money and golf courses, set against the backdrop of the jagged mountains surrounding Phoenix.
I was sitting in a sports bar of the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa, swapping journalism stories with Olivia Ward of the Toronto Star on one of the bar's overstuffed leather couches. Over the course of an hour, the bar filled with conventioneers from the American Legislative Exchange Council's 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit (SNPS). (A new story on Westin's connections to other ALEC corporations is available here.)
My assignment was to cover the 2011 SNPS, taking place at the resort from November 29 through December 2. ALEC had refused to grant me media credentials. Nevertheless, I was a paid guest at the resort.
Madison, WI, January 9, 2012—The Center for Media and Democracy today joined a coalition of public interest organizations in calling for the United States Supreme Court to agree to follow the Code of Conduct for U.S. judges.
CMD joined the Alliance for Justice, American Association of University Women, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, CREDO Action, Equal Justice Society, League of United Latin American Citizens, National Employment Lawyers Association, People for the American Way Foundation, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group in a letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. The letter calls on the Court to "take it upon itself to agree to be bound by the Code," and "do so unequivocally and publicly." (The coalition's letter to Chief Justice Roberts is uploaded down below.)
Following reports that Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman received tens of thousands of dollars of free legal services from the law firm that defended Governor Scott Walker's collective bargaining bill, the District Attorney who brought the original challenge may ask the Court to hear the case again without the justice's participation. Gableman has faced a series of ethical issues since taking office.
It was four years ago today that I received a phone call from a Los Angeles TV reporter that would change my life, although I certainly didn't realize it at the time.
The reporter said she had been told that CIGNA, the big health insurer I worked for back then, was refusing to pay for a liver transplant for a 17-year-old girl, even though her doctors at UCLA believed it would save her life and her family's policy covered transplants.
I didn't pay much attention to the call at first, because as chief spokesman for the company, I had received many calls over the years from reporters seeking comment about benefit denials. We took them seriously, but usually didn't have to do more than tell the inquiring reporters we couldn't comment substantively because of patient confidentiality restrictions. If pressed, we'd email a statement to the reporter briefly noting that we covered procedures deemed medically necessary and that patients and their doctors could appeal a denial if they disagreed with a coverage decision.
As the New York Times media reporter, Brian Stelter, noted on Saturday, December 9, NBC agreed to broadcast a two-hour television show fully funded and sponsored by JPMorgan Chase called the "American Giving Awards." The program showcased solely recipients of charitable donations from Chase, featured commercials for Chase and reminded viewers constantly throughout the broadcast that the entire event was "presented by Chase."
The money that patients' rights advocates have to spend trying to convince the Obama administration that Americans should have decent health care benefits pales in comparison to the boatloads of cash insurers and their corporate allies have on hand to do largely the opposite. But at least the advocates are now in the game.
Last week a broad coalition of patient-focused groups launched its "I Am Essential" campaign in an effort to make sure that when all of us have to buy health insurance in 2014, we will be getting good value.