Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

By Robert Craycraft

Asbestos was once used as a flame-retardant and for electrical insulation in buildings, ships and homes. Before it was discovered to cause cancer, millions of American workers and veterans handled and were otherwise exposed to deadly asbestos fibers.

An unknown amount of the hazardous material is still present in our communities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that roughly 3,000 people continue to die from mesothelioma and asbestosis every year; some experts estimate the death toll is as high as 10,000 annually when other types of asbestos-linked diseases and cancers are included.

In early February, the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial, and Antitrust Law held a hearing on H.R. 526, the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (or FACT Act). Generally speaking, the more transparency the better. However, in this case, the asbestos industry is using the guise of “transparency” to push the FACT Act as a way to delay compensation to asbestos victims and their families. The bill would require the trusts that manage victim compensation to retroactively compile information on all claims they’ve paid and to require the trusts to answer any and all information requests by asbestos company defendants.

These paperwork requirements could have the effect of slowing or even stopping the important work of the trusts to compensate victims that have developed deadly diseases like mesothelioma due to exposure to asbestos. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) called the FACT Act a “Trojan horse” which “guarantees that the insurance companies pay as little as possible.”

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Good news emerged this week in the fight for health care justice in the United States. A new poll shows that the majority of Americans support single-payer health care. In a single-payer system, every American would be guaranteed a basic level of health care, much like Medicare guarantees health coverage to all American seniors.

Among the poll’s other findings: 80 percent of self-identified Democrats support single-payer, in addition to one-quarter of Republicans. President Obama himself backed single-payer as a state senator. As for a “public option,” where Americans would be given the choice to buy into Medicare before they turn 65, only 13 percent of the public was opposed.

In many ways, this poll is remarkable. More and more Americans understand and embrace a universal Medicare-for-all health plan. Stay tuned for Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) re-introductions of their versions of single-payer, Medicare-for-All bills this year.

Vijay Das is a health care advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch.

by J. Thomas

In December, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin (D) shockingly announced a delay in implementation of one of his most public, long-term political promises: guaranteeing health insurance for all Vermonters under a universal, publicly funded system. Governor Shumlin ran on this platform for many years, including during his reelection in November so it was extremely disappointing to see this policy turnaround.

Four years ago, the legislature passed a historic bill calling on the governor to develop a financing mechanism for universal health care for Vermont.

The governor’s preliminary plan contained an 11.5 percent across-the-board payroll tax in addition to a graduated 9.5 percent income tax, with the highest rates beginning at 400 percent of the poverty line and capped at $27,500 per year. Another 4 percent payroll tax and a 50 percent graduated income tax increase would be required for transition costs over the first few years of the program, for a total of $2.6 billion in new revenue.

Effectively, Vermonters’ taxes would have been doubled. Furthermore, funding for the system would have to be front-loaded and offsets would be delayed because it takes years to see the cost benefits of better health.

Vermont is a part of a national movement to establish commonsense health care. America spends more money on health care as a percentage of its gross domestic product (GDP) than any other country in the world – rich or poor. A Harvard study estimated that 45,000 Americans die every year because they don’t have health insurance. A publicly-funded universal health care system in Vermont is estimated to save 25 percent of total health care costs over the course of the first decade. The financial estimates for the first five years are detailed in an article from the New England Journal of Medicine.

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Earlier this month, the Department of Labor’s Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH) heard a presentation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on employers’ continuing obligation to make and maintain accurate records of workplace injuries and illnesses.

OSHA has said that “the duty to record an injury or illness … does not expire just because the employer fails to create the necessary records when first required to do so.” In other words, being fined by OSHA for violating a record-keeping rule does not absolve the employer of its ongoing responsibility to keep up-to-date records. Employers that continue to fail to keep the legally required records continue to be subject to fines.

This should be a matter of common sense – arguing the contrary is like saying a driver pulled over on the highway and fined for speeding should no longer be required to obey speed limits.

But this commonsense obligation to keep accurate records (and obey the law) apparently is not enough for some employers. That’s why OSHA is planning to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by the end of the year seeking to amend its record-keeping regulations to clarify that the duty to make and maintain accurate records of work-related injuries and illnesses is an ongoing obligation.

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By J. Thomas

November 15 marked the start of the open enrollment period for the nation’s health law which means millions of Americans once again have the opportunity to purchase private health plans on the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) health insurance marketplaces.

An op-ed in Salon by Public Citizen’s health care advocate, Vijay Das, reveals a glitch in the ACA that adds barriers to coverage for working families. The ACA’s “family glitch” is a drafting error with big effects. As it stands, employers must offer affordable coverage to their employees – but not their employees’ families. So, if an individual plan is “affordable” (i.e., it costs less than 9.5% of what the employee earns), the employee is ineligible for subsidies, even if the cost of family coverage is exorbitant and unaffordable.

Even worse, the ones who are most affected tend to be children from low income households– 460,000 of them, according to the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office. Meanwhile, parents are faced with a difficult choice – maintain their own too costly family insurance or drop it and enroll their kids in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). One more hitch during this post-election “lame-duck” Congress: CHIP expires next October. Nobody knows if Congress will reauthorize it by the end of year, and, if so, at what level the program will be funded.

The family glitch points to a larger problem in American health care. The U.S. stands as the only wealthy nation in the world with uninsured kids and no universal health care. The civil rights movement expanded rights on many fronts: for LGBT individuals, environmental protections and international human rights, to name a few. But when it comes to children’s health, our nation remains far behind the curve. The concept of “American exceptionalism” was meant to symbolize hopes and dreams, not sick kids.

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