Health

Are Seniors Paying Attention to Paul Ryan's Medicare Plan?

Americans were misled by insurance industry rhetoric about health reform Tea Party members who railed against health care reform because of the spin they were sold about how "Obamacare" would affect Medicare played a big role in returning the House of Representatives to Republican control.

I'm betting that many of them, if they're paying attention to what Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) wants to do to the Medicare program, are having some serious buyer's remorse. If Democrats are wise, they're already drafting a strategy to remind Medicare beneficiaries, including card-carrying Tea Party members, just how fooled they were into thinking that Republicans were the protectors of the government-run program they hold so dear.

Lone Star State "Reform" a Texas-Sized Distortion

When Republicans talk about how the American health care system should be reformed, they typically mention two things: allowing insurance firms to sell policies across state lines, which I wrote about last week; and malpractice reform.

Wendell Potter, former VP of PR for CIGNANewly-elected Republican governors, like Bill Haslam in Tennessee, are also pushing malpractice reform at the state level. They contend that such reform — favored by businesses and medical associations — would not only bring down the costs of health insurance premiums, it would also bring doctors flocking to their states to practice. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is considering another run for the White House, has touted malpractice reform as one of the primary "solutions" he would pursue if elected president. He claimed during a GOP-sponsored panel last week that malpractice reform would nearly eliminate unnecessary care that results from all those tests doctors order and drugs they prescribe just because they fear being sued. "The cost of defensive medicine," he claimed, "is $800 million a year."

Insurers' Cost of Doing Business Costs Us Dearly

Wendell Potter, CMD's insurance industry insiderSince you likely don't pay as much attention to the behavior of insurance companies as I do, you probably are not aware that CIGNA, my last employer, was fined $600,000 by the North Carolina Department of Insurance earlier this week for, among other things, not charging its customers correctly.

It was the second largest fine ever levied by the state's regulators, the largest being a $1.8 million fine in 2003 against Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina for underpaying claims for emergency care. The news about the CIGNA fine was picked up by a few media outlets in the state, but not many, and it got almost no press coverage outside of the state. In addition to the fine CIGNA has been ordered to pay, the company will have to shell out several hundred thousand dollars in refunds to North Carolina employers whom regulators say were charged too much over a three-year period.

Movie Theaters Lobby to Keep Patrons in the Dark

Popcorn: a huge moneymaker for theatersThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is about to issue a new rule forcing movie theaters to disclose nutritional information for the prepared snacks they serve, including hot dogs, pretzels and popcorn, but the National Association of Theatre Owners is lobbying FDA and congressional staffers to exempt theaters from the requirement. Theaters argue the rule is an unwarranted intrusion into their business, since people come to movie theaters to see movies, not to eat food. "It's dinner and a movie, not dinner at a movie," says Gary Klein, general counsel for the theater owners' group. The stakes are high for theaters. Sales of popcorn, sodas and snacks generate up to one third of their revenue. David Ownby, the chief financial officer of Regal Entertainment Group, the country's largest theater chain, recently disclosed at an investor presentation that a bucket of popcorn costs theaters just 15 or 20 cents to make, and sells for about six dollars. The Center for Science in the Public Interest found a large dry popcorn purchased at Regal had 1,200 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat. Adding butter adds 260 more calories. The major theater chains already report nutritional information in California, where state law currently requires it, but theater owners are protesting being forced to disclose the information elsewhere, saying it should be voluntary, that people don't go to the movies that often and when they do go, they really don't care about the nutritional content of their snacks anyway.

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Reform Already Saving Lives of Many Americans

CMD Senior Fellow Wendell PotterIs the health care reform law a good deal for Americans, or is it so badly flawed that Congress should repeal it? Now that the measure is one year old -- President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to law on March 23, 2010 -- I humbly suggest we attempt an unbiased assessment of what the law really means to us, and where we need to go from here.

To do that in a meaningful way, we must remind ourselves why reform was necessary in the first place. I believe the heated rhetoric we've been exposed to since the reform debate began has obscured the harsh realities of a health care system that failed to meet the needs of an ever-growing number of Americans.

Death Panels: Fact and Fiction

Insurance industry insider Wendell Potter"Death panels" are back in the news and Congress is turning its attention to them once again. The problem is, lawmakers are looking in all the wrong places.

The proposed provision would have allowed Medicare to pay doctors to counsel patients about their end-of-life medical wishes. That idea originally had bipartisan support, but when the provision was brought to Sarah Palin's attention, she accused Democrats of wanting to create "death panels" that would decide when to pull the plug on granny and grandpa. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, now headed by Republicans, sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last week demanding to know how a controversial provision that was excised from last year's health reform bill wound up -- briefly -- in a government "rule" on physician reimbursement.

Companies Move to Block Fast Food Toy Bans in Arizona

McDonald's Bee Movie toysA little-known bill making its way through Arizona's legislature would make it illegal for local governments to restrict the use of toy giveaways to promote fast-food, like McDonalds' Happy Meals. Fast-food companies are behind the measure, HB 2490, which was approved in Arizona's House Commerce Committee by a vote of 6-2. Now it is headed for a full vote in the House. The Arizona Restaurant Association, which lobbies for fast food interests, is backing the bill. San Francisco recently passed a measure restricing such toy giveaways, but the law doesn't ban "Happy Meals." Rather, it prevents restaurants from using toys to attract children to meals that have particularly low nutritional value and excessive amounts of fat or sugar. Arizona recently ranked among the top "10 States with the Deadliest Eating Habits", and the state has the second-fewest grocery stores per person, which results in more people buying fast food. As a result, Arizona ranks fourth in per capita expenditures on fast food. The effort by fast-food companies to pass the measure comes on the heels of studies that show fast food chains have been significantly [p://www.prwatch.org/node/9587 increasing] their marketing targeted at children in the last few years.

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David Koch Donates to Fight Cancer While His Company Fights the Regulation of Carcinogens

Scientists, politicians and Nobel laureates lauded billionaire David H. Koch at an event on March 4, 2011 for donating hundreds of millions of dollars to cancer research. Koch decided to put money towards cancer research after he contracted prostate cancer in 1992.

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