Insurance Exchanges Tilted Toward Health Insurers, Not Consumers

Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperThe insurance industry made it abundantly clear this week that it is in the driver's seat -- in both Washington and state capitols -- of one of the most important vehicles created by Congress to reform the U.S. health care system.

The Affordable Care Act requires the states to create new marketplaces -- "exchanges" -- where individuals and small businesses can shop for health insurance. In the 15 months since the law took effect, insurers have lobbied the Obama administration relentlessly to give states the broadest possible latitude in setting up their exchanges. And those insurance companies have been equally relentless at the state level in making sure governors and legislators follow their orders in determining how the exchanges will be operated.

Is Rupert Murdoch's Influence Waning?

Just weeks ago, media mogul Rupert Murdoch was set to win his $12 billion bid to take over Britain's biggest satellite broadcaster, BSkyB. The U.K. government was indicating it was likely to allow the proposed takeover to happen. But then the News of the World phone hacking and bribery scandal broke, and turned British public opinion so strongly against Murdoch that he suddenly withdrew his multi billion dollar offer to take over the broadcaster. Murdoch's announcement that he was pulling the bid came just hours before British lawmakers were set to consider a measure to ask Murdoch's company, News Corp. to drop his effort to take over BSkyB. The measure was expected to pass with overwhelming support in Britain's House of Commons, demonstrating how sharply Murdoch's influence has waned since the scandal. Murdoch had previously wielded significant political influence in Britain through his media holdings. The scandal may be affecting Murdoch's influence in the U.S., too. U.S. Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia), Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) have all called for an inquiry into whether any of the unethical investigative techniques or bribery uncovered at Murdoch's U.K. newspaper have been used at any of his U.S. media holdings. The senators specifically question whether telephones of victims of the September 11, 2011 attacks might have also been hacked. News Corp. holds 27 U.S. broadcast licenses and owns the Fox News Channel.


Rupert Murdoch's Big Newspaper Scandal

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch moved quickly to shut down one of his oldest media holdings -- a 168 year-old, best-selling weekly British tabloid newspaper called News of the World -- amid charges that the paper's journalists hacked into the telephones of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, murder victims and their families, and bribed police in exchange for information and tips. News of the World was Britain's best-selling Sunday newspaper. Its last issue will be this Sunday, and will not carry any commercial advertisements.

Murdoch dumped the paper at the same time his media empire, News Corp., is trying to win U.K. government approval to take over British Sky Broadcasting Group. News Corp bid US$12.5 billion for the British Sky Broadcasting, but the government has received more than 135,000 comments protesting the acquisition.

For-Profit Health Insurance: Where the Real Death Panels Lie

Remembering Nataline SarkisyanOn behalf of Grigor and Hilda Sarkisyan, I would like to invite Republican Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia to attend the 21st birthday celebration of the Sarkisyans' only daughter, Nataline, this coming Saturday, July 9, in Calabasas, California.

Gingrey could consider it a legitimate, reimbursable fact-finding mission. He clearly needs to have more facts about the U.S. health care system before he starts talking about death panels again.

Gingrey seems determined to keep alive the lie that the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a., Obamacare) will create government-run death panels in the Medicare program.

Sarah Palin started the death panel fabrication when she claimed during the health care reform debate that a proposal to allow Medicare to reimburse doctors for talking to their patients about advance directives would be tantamount to establishing death panels deep in the federal bureaucracy. So many people believed her lie that Democrats felt they had no choice but to strip that provision from the final bill.

Emails Show British Government Trying to Minimize Fukushima Disaster

Fukushima explosionInternal emails obtained by the UK Guardian show that British government officials colluded with nuclear power companies in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster to develop a PR strategy to downplay the severity of the event. Emails show the British government initiated contact with the nuclear industry about the debacle just two days after the earthquake and tsunami hit, and well before anyone knew the full extent of the disaster. The emails show close collusion between the power companies Westinghouse, EDF Energy, Areva and the UK government's Office of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to try to ensure that the disaster in Japan wouldn't interrupt plans to build new nuclear power plants in Great Britain. In one email, an official in the BIS department expressed concern that the Fukushima disaster had "the potential to set the nuclear industry back globally," and wrote "We need to ensure the anti-nuclear chaps and chapesses do not gain ground on this. We need to occupy the territory and hold it. We really need to show the safety of nuclear." The business department argued that Fukushima was "not as bad as the 'dramatic' TV pictures made it look." An official, whose name has been blacked out, told Areva "We need to quash any stories trying to compare this to Chernobyl." You can read all 136 pages of the emails here.


Insurers' Bait and Switch

Author Wendell Potter is the former head of PR for CIGNAMore and more Americans are falling victim to one of the most insidious bait-and-switch schemes in U.S. history. As they do, health insurance executives and company shareholders are getting richer and richer. This industry-wide plot explains how health insurers have been able to reap record profits during the recent recession as the ranks of the uninsured and underinsured continue to swell.

It also explains why the insurance industry and its allies are pulling out all the stops to kill a measure in the California legislature that could protect state residents from losing their homes and being forced into bankruptcy if they get seriously sick or injured.

On June 2, the California Assembly passed AB 52, a bill that would give state regulators the authority to reject excessive health insurance rate increases. Similar legislation has been introduced in other state legislatures, but nowhere are the stakes higher than in California -- not only because AB 52 would allow the insurance commissioner to turn down requests for unjustifiably high rate hikes, but also because it would enable the commissioner to reject increases in deductibles as well.

Insurers Spend Big Fighting Regulations, Paying CEOs Huge Salaries

Nowhere are health insurers working harder to thwart reforms that could save consumers billions of dollars than in California. One measure they are especially determined to kill is a bill that would give state regulators the authority to reject rate increases that are excessive or discriminatory.

The California Assembly passed a bill to do just that earlier this month over the intense opposition of insurers, including the state's biggest supposedly nonprofit health plans: Blue Shield of California and Kaiser Permanente.

Employment-Based Health Insurance Fails America

If you haven't gotten much of a raise lately, it's probably because the extra money that might have been put in your paycheck instead went to your health insurer if you are enrolled in an employer-sponsored plan.

Many Americans haven't seen a pay increase of any kind because their employers can't both increase their wages and continue offering decent health care coverage. It has become an either-or for people like Zeke Zalaski, a factory worker in Bristol, Connecticut, who hasn't had a raise in years.


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