Freedom, Patriotism — and, of course, Health Care

July 4, 2011

~by Rev. Linda Hanna Walling, Faithful Reform in Health Care

“… with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
~The Declaration of Independence”

Oh how we love our red, white and blue bunting, balloons, T-shirts and lapel pins to show our patriotism.  And there’s nothing like a good fireworks display synchronized to a rousing rendition of Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” to give rise to a few goose bumps!

But perhaps a more authentic expression of our love for democracy would be that of exercising our freedoms to reclaim the values upon which our nation was founded. Dare we forget our forebears’ declaration that in the sacred act of creation we are granted with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? And dare we forget that they constituted a government to promote the common good and secure the blessings of liberty?  Indeed, the ideals, the freedoms — and the responsibilities — crafted by those leaders are not to be taken lightly.

In the midst of the pomp and picnics of this holiday, just maybe one of our greatest acts of patriotism should be that of actively participating in the democratic process, and of calling upon our elected leaders to truly work for the common good.

The two cherished freedoms of religion and speech conveniently intersect in our health care work. We celebrate our religious freedoms, including the right to give voice to sacred values that guide how we live as individuals and in community: compassion, concern for those who are vulnerable, health and wholeness, and sanctity of life, to name a few.  Just as important, we celebrate our right to speak out in support of a health system that reflects those values — and to publicly oppose legislative proposals that undermine our collective vision.

Unfortunately, passing the Affordable Care Act did not end our work on health care reform.  The assaults on it continue daily as opponents work to repeal, de-fund, or dismantle it.  In addition, Medicaid and Medicare are under attack to address our federal budget and debt concerns. We know, of course, how important both programs will be in our health care future and that cutting benefits or restructuring either program will compromise the successful implementation of health care reform itself.

The assault on Medicaid and Medicare will reach fever pitch as both houses of Congress convene this week. Faith voices must help build the groundswell of opposition to using either program as the solution to solving our nation’s financial problems.

Send an email to the President, your U.S. Senators, and your U.S. Representative to show your support for Medicaid and Medicare.  Just a few quick clicks will send your message to each of these elected leaders.

Empowered by our commitments to social justice, let’s exercise our freedoms, our rights, and our responsibilities to make our democracy work for the common good.  Let’s raise our voices, inspired by the passion of our earliest leaders when they penned the final words of their declaration:  “… with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

May this be your most patriotic July 4th ever!  Take action today!

SEND your email to the President, your U.S. Senators, and your U.S. Representative.


“A Daily Dose of Truth” (#5): Making end-of-life decisions

November 19, 2010

~Rev. Linda Hanna Walling, Faithful Reform in Health Care

Daily DoseTruth is witness to the whole. One short sound-bite taken out of context — even if it’s a fact — does not necessarily represent the whole truth. We denounce the use of such sound-bites (from any party!) when they are intended to pervert truth for electoral gain. In the end, we acknowledge that a manipulation of facts to frighten and confuse vulnerable populations is just plain immoral.

Since the beginning of doctor-patient relationships, doctors have consulted with families about treatment and care for patients who are faced with end-of-life decisions.  Clergy are often involved in these conversations, as well as attorneys, because families struggle with heart-wrenching medical and moral decisions when medical treatment can no longer contribute to quality of life and human dignity. Further, the recommendation that all patients have living wills or advanced health care directives have left patients and families with questions that are best addressed by their doctors and other professionals.

Medicare benefits do not include payment for the time physicians spend in such consultations. With the limits imposed on many doctors for how much time they can actually spend with us, a provision to provide an “advance care planning consultation” was included in health care reform to compensate physicians for these conversations with Medicare enrollees. 

However, after the August 2009 furor over “death panels,” as these doctor-patient conversations were labeled by the opposition, the provision was dropped.

Health care reform was passed without this change to Medicare benefits. But most of us, not just Medicare beneficiaries, will continue to seek the counsel of our physicians as we make our own choices about the final days of our lives – while we still have the capacity to make such decisions for ourselves. And physicians will continue to consult with us because of their commitment to health, wholeness, and human dignity for their patients. 

For more information:

FactCheck – False Euthanasia Claims

PolitiFact – PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year: Death PanelsSimply send an emailwith your suggestions.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Make suggestions for future topics based on the mis-information you are receiving in ads, emails, and conversations.


A Daily Dose of Truth” (#4): A Lot to Like in Health Care Reform

November 19, 2010

~by Rev. Linda Hanna Walling, Faithful Reform in Health Care

Daily DoseTruth is witness to the whole.  One short sound-bite taken out of context — even if it’s a fact — does not necessarily represent the whole truth. We denounce the use of such sound-bites (from any party!) when they are intended to pervert truth for electoral gain. In the end, we acknowledge that a manipulation of facts to frighten and confuse vulnerable populations is just plain immoral.

Many people of faith have been guided by A Faith-Inspired Vision of Health Care as they have advocated for comprehensive and compassionate health care reform in the U.S. The statement envisions a society where all persons are afforded health, wholeness, and human dignity and a health care system that is inclusive, affordable, accessible, and accountable. Since health care reform became law on March 23, 2010, we already have made progress in working toward that vision.
 
VISION: An inclusive system of health care

  • Children under age 19 can no longer be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
  • Young adults up to age 26 can stay on parents’ policies that go into effect after 9/23/10, unless they are offered coverage at work.

VISION: An affordable system of health care

Senior adults are receiving rebate checks when they reach the gap (doughnut hole) in their prescription drug coverage.

  • Key preventive care, such as mammograms, colonoscopies, immunizations, pre-natal and new baby care will be covered without co-pays or deductibles in new plans after 9/23/10.
  • Prior authorization cannot be required for emergency care; higher costs cannot be imposed for out-of-network emergency care in new plans after 9/23/10.
  • Small businesses are receiving tax credits for providing health care benefits for their workers.
  • 46 states are using resources under the new reform law to pass or strengthen premium rate review laws.

VISION:  An accessible system of health care

  • Women now have direct access to OB/GYNs without a referral.
  • Enrollees in new plans after 9/23/10 must have a choice of primary care physicians.
  • Lifetime limits on insurance payouts will be eliminated, and annual limits will be greatly restricted.
  • Expanded funding for community health centers will increase access to medical care in under-served areas.
  • Persons who have been uninsured for 6 months because of pre-existing conditions now have access to Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plans

VISION: An accountable system of health care

  • Insurance companies can no longer drop people from coverage because of illness.
  • Members of Congress and their staff members will receive their health insurance from the same exchanges.
  • Persons will have the right to external appeals of decisions made by insurers.

About the polling data:

Attack ads, debates, and press conferences feature the opposition saying that the American people do not want reform.  If just one aspect of polling is considered, it is true that many folks do not like the “caricature” of reform that is based on mis-representation and misunderstandings.  However, polling results on some of the benefits outlined above reflect a very different TRUTH about what the public thinks about reform.

There’s no question that the public is confused, in part because health care reform is confusing. But there are many benefits in reform that are crystal clear, and when those facts are known, who would want to give them up — either for themselves or their neighbors?

For more information:

Read What I Like about Health Care Reform from Faithful Reform in Health Care.

View the Kaiser Family Foundation YouToons video, Health Reform Hits Main Street, which highlights the benefits of health care reform.

Visit HealthCare.Gov, the website that was mandated by health care reform, which includes videos and fact sheets about health care reform.  Be sure to note the new section with information about finding affordable insurance and/or health care services by zip code.

Read an editorial in the Philadelphia Daily News, The Down-Side of Health Care Repeal: Which of These Features Would Opponents Be Willing to Lose?

Review Kaiser Family Foundation’s Data Note, How Popular is Repealing Reform, a compilation of polling data.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Make suggestions for future topics based on the mis-information you are receiving in ads, emails, and conversations.  Simply send an email with your suggestions.


A Daily Dose of Truth (#1): Medicare in Health Care Reform

November 19, 2010

~ by Rev. Linda Hanna Walling, Faithful Reform in Health Care

Daily Dose

Truth is witness to the whole.  One short sound-bite taken out of context — even if it’s a fact — does not necessarily represent the whole truth. We denounce the use of such sound-bites (from any party!) when they are intended to pervert truth for electoral gain. In the end, we acknowledge that a manipulation of facts to frighten and confuse vulnerable populations is just plain immoral.

When health care reform was passed in March 2010, our nation’s seniors became the beneficiaries of a strengthened, improved, and re-structured Medicare system.  A number of provisions will improve Medicare services for enrollees and extend Medicare’s solvency for another ten years.

Direct benefits of health care reform for  Medicare beneficiaries

  • Prescription drugs.  The prescription drug coverage gap (the “doughnut hole”) will be eliminated over ten years.  In 2010, the coverage gap will be reduced by $250 in the form of rebate checks that have already been sent to millions of beneficiaries who have reached the doughnut hole.  In 2011, program enrollees will receive a 50% discount off the price of brand name drugs during the coverage gap.  In ten years, the doughnut hole will be closed completely. Other provisions will expand assistance for some low-income beneficiaries enrolled in the Medicare drug program.
  • Preventive care.  For traditional Medicare beneficiaries, in 2011 co-pays and deductibles will be eliminated from most preventive services.  An annual comprehensive wellness visit and personalized prevention plan are added, which are not subject to coinsurance or deductibles.
  • Medicare Advantage plans. The private-for-profit Medicare Advantage plans will be prohibited from charging beneficiaries higher cost sharing for services than is allowed in traditional Medicare.  Plans that offer extra benefits will be required to give priority to wellness, preventive care services, and cost-sharing reductions over benefits not covered by traditional Medicare.
  • Physician incentives. Generous incentives are in the Affordable Care Act to increase the number of primary care physicians and to encourage primary care physicians to treat Medicare beneficiaries.
  • Low-income program. Outreach and enrollment assistance will be increased to beneficiaries eligible for the Part D low-income subsidy program.

$500 billion savings to the system

The $500 billion in cuts that are being denounced in attack ads are NOT cuts to benefits. They are cuts in waste, fraud, abuse, and government subsidies for private-for-profit insurance.  

  • Private-for-profit Medicare Advantage. Payments to private-for-profit Medicare Advantage plans will be restructured.  Excess payments will be rolled back, and performance bonuses will reward quality plans.  Part of the argument to privatize Medicare is that the private market can provide the same or more benefits at a lower cost than the federal government can do it.  Supporters believe that competition will keep the prices down and the quality up.  However, recent research is showing that the government is actually paying $1000+ more for Medicare enrollees in private plans than those in traditional Medicare.  Further, only 20% of Medicare beneficiaries are in the private plans subsidized by the government, but 100% of enrollees are paying for those subsidies!
  • Waste, fraud, abuse. Penalties will be enhanced on providers for waste, fraud, and abuse.
  • Hospital readmissions. Reimbursements to hospitals with excess preventable readmissions and hospital-acquired infections will be reduced.
  • Coordinated purchasing. Value-based purchasing for hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, skilled nursing facilities, and home health agencies will be established.

THE TRUTH (with the “big T”):  Because of the 2010 reform of U.S. health care, Medicare is strengthened; beneficiaries will receive increased benefits; and costs will be controlled by cuts in waste, fraud, abuse, and government subsidies to private insurers.


For more information:

Faithful Reform in Health Care: What Health Care Reform Means for Medicare

Kaiser Family Foundation: Summary of Key Changes to Medicare in 2010 Health Reform Law (Issue Brief)

AARP:  What You Need to Know about the New Health Care Law (webinar)

HealthCare.Gov: Health Care Reform for Seniors (video & other info)

Medicare Rights Center: Health Reform and Medicare (Issue Briefs)


Health care reform on the 2 yard line

February 1, 2010

~ by Rev. Linda Hanna Walling, Faithful Reform in Health Care

It’s really only the last five minutes of the game that count! While my husband and son dismiss me as a nut every time I say it, it’s true!  Of course, they love everything about what leads up to the final moments in any game — and I don’t. Yet, I have fond memories of their excitement (and mine) at the end of sporting events, knowing that the last at-bat, the last free throw, the last pass, or the last kick will determine the final outcome. It is certainly true for the New Orleans Saints, who are going to the Super Bowl following a sudden death field goal — in overtime, no less!

Given that this week will be dominated by football news and ads, is there any better imagery for health care reform at this moment than that of getting the ball over the goal line?  Apparently President Obama likes the idea, because he told his advisors on Friday that we are on the 2 yard line and we’re going to finish the job!

So what does that mean for us — people of faith who REALLY care about making meaningful reform happen?  After hanging around and listening to Washington insiders for 3 days at the Families USA Health Action conference last week, I think it means three things:

We have to keep cheering! We know what the home field advantage and a cheering crowd mean to a team. At this moment, legislators are working hard to resolve their differences. They need to hear that we want them to keep working. In spite of missteps, dropped passes, and hard tackles, there is enough good in the team and their efforts to cheer them to victory.  It will take all of us — the fans in the stands — to make sure that the players stay energized for the final minutes of the game.  Here are a few suggestions for your part:

  • Call President Obama, your Senators, and your Representative
  • Add your name to “A Call for Political Courage, Vision, Leadership, and Faith”
  • Join the Interfaith Virtual Vigil of Prayer, Hope, and Action
  • Send an email to President Obama, your Senators, and your Representative
  • Join this week’s Faithful Reform conference call on Wed at 2 pm EST to preview a new PowerPoint that focuses on where we are and what needs to be done.

We have to remain hopeful for what can be! Our faith histories have taught us what it means to wander in the wilderness and to live with hope for more promising days ahead. Our hope rests in a moral vision for our health care future — and in our belief that we as a country have been blessed with the wisdom, the talent, and the abundant resources to do this. This is one of our gifts to this process. Our messages and our actions must demonstrate our judgment that comprehensive health care reform is possible because our care for one another is ultimately greater than either political ideologies or the influence of powerful lobbyists.

We have to remain positive! On one of our conference calls, our friend Nick Unger reminded us that if any single piece of legislation fully achieves our vision, then our vision isn’t big enough. While we were working for a more perfect plan, we neglected to affirm the really strong provisions that will move us forward in the current legislation. We have failed to celebrate that even the weakest versions of the reform proposals move us toward a more inclusive, affordable, accessible, and accountable system of health care in the U.S.  We must remind ourselves that:

  • Nearly 3 out of the 4 of us currently without insurance will be in the system.
  • The numbers of community health centers will be generously expanded.
  • The prescription drug doughnut hole in Medicare will shrink, perhaps disappear.
  • None of us will be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
  • None of us will be dropped from insurance because we get sick.
  • Insurers will be required to use a greater percentage of premium dollars on medical care, rather than on paperwork and perks.

We’re at the 2 yard line and we can make it over the goal line, even if it requires overtime.  Together we CAN win this one, but it will take ALL OF US to make it happen.

To our health care future!