Anna Eshoo floats wig bill for alopecia sufferers

Now that the economic stimulus package has been signed into law, members of Congress are turning their attention to more niche-oriented legislation.

Take for example Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, who today introduced the Alopecia Areata Medicaid Improvement and Parity Act to improve Medicaid coverage for those affected by alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder resulting in loss of body hair.

Most Americans suffer from mild forms of the condition, but Eshoo says about 30,000 have alopecia areata totalis — loss of all scalp hair — or alopecia areata universalis — a complete loss of all body hair. There’s no known cure, and very few treatments are successful.

“This legislation will improve the quality of life for the thousands of people who suffer from alopecia. We can’t allow Americans who are suffering from the disease to continue enduring harassment and mistreatment because of the inadequate coverage by Medicaid,” Eshoo said in her news release.

She says H.R. 1142 will improve Medicaid coverage for those with the disease by reimbursing for one hair prosthesis — a custom-made wig — per year; an estimated 5,000 out of nearly 50 million Medicaid beneficiaries will qualify.

Joke you might, but I know someone who had a bout with alopecia, and it was no laughing matter for him. That said, this seems like the kind of thing which could spark debate over what Medicaid should and shouldn’t cover.


Poll shows record high discontent in California

A new poll released a few minutes ago at the California Constitutional Convention Summit in Sacramento shows that 82 percent of voters believe the state is on the wrong track.

It is the highest level of unhappiness since the Bay Area Council began doing the survey in 2002. (The council is the chief sponsor of the summit.) Pollsters conducted the telephone poll of 800 voters between Feb. 3-5 and it has an error rate of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

Just 11 percent though the state was on the right track. (Who are these people, anyway? Did they take this survey while they were on the beach in Hawaii?)

Reasons for the gloom cited included the budget deficit, gridlock in Sacramento, bureaucracy, poor schools and high taxes.

Disapproval ratings for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature are in the tank, too, at 60 and 71 percent respectively. (For comparison purposes, Obama’s disapproval rating was 17 percent.)

The chief purpose of the poll, though, was to gather public opinion on whether state should convene a Constitutional Convention, a group that would examine some or part of the state Constitution and place reforms before voters.

Most voters have never heard of it. It was 1879 when California last convened such a group.

But after a series of explanations about what a convention could accomplish, about half the respondents said they would support it.

In an interesting side note, the poll found that 67 percent of those asked supported an open primary in theory. The poll was taken before the Legislature placed an open primary measure on the June 2010 ballot.


Does California need a new Constitution?

I am in Sacramento today at what’s being billed as a summit of reformers interested in convening a California Constitutional convention.

The event centers around the question: Has California become ungovernable?

Countless examples suggest that it may be true: Major structural budget problems, water, healthcare and prisons, just to name a few. Competing interest groups coupled with partisan gridlock and the sheer size of the problems has conspired to

Ideas include stripping the two-thirds vote threshold to pass a budget, instant run-off for state officeholders, open primaries, unicameral or parliamentary-style legislature, ending term limits, along with campaign finance and initiative reforms.

I’ll be here all day and I’ll report back later on some of the more interesting ideas and who wants to do what.


Miller reports out of fiscal summit

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez

On a taxi ride back to the Capitol and scheduled House votes, Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, described as positive his participation in President Barack Obama’s fiscal summit today.

Miller was among several dozen lawmakers of both parties, advocates and fiscal experts who debated ways to tackle the nation’s growing deficit at the same time it faces a deepening recession. The session was held at the White House and an adjacent executive office building.

An apologetic liberal, some may not know that Miller introduced what is commonly called the pay-go system into Congress in the mid-1980s: It requires members to identify the source of funds for all new spending. It was in effect throughout President Clinton’s tenure but Republicans later repealed it.

“I was encouraged to hear that President Obama wants to go back to the pay-go system,” Miller said. “It may seem inconsistent that we pass the economic stimulus package one week and then talk about reducing the deficit the next week. But we absolutely must focus on our long-term fiscal health as the economy begins to recover.”

The fiscal summit included two-hour breakout sessions on how to reform healthcare, government procurement, Social Security and other major federal programs.

As chairman of the House Labor and Education Committee, Miller participated in the healthcare reform breakout.

“The president wants to pass a healthcare bill and he wants it done this session,” Miller said. “I get a very strong sense of urgency from him. We can’t fix the economy until we fix healthcare. It is driving a huge amount of the costs.”

Obama promised to supply summit participants with a report of the group’s findings in 30 days, a timeline Miller described as lightning-speed in government.


Miller and Tauscher invited to Obama summit today

Democratic Reps. George Miller of Martinez and Ellen Tauscher of Alamo are participating today in President Barack Obama’s fiscal summit.

Obama has said that he will pursue policies intended to reduce the growing federal deficit, a thorny problem given his administration’s recent moves to ramp up federal spending as an antidote to the deepening recession.

I expect to talk with Miller via phone after the summit and I’ll update you on what he has to say.


Political Haiku, Vol. 7

Obama signs bill;
Are we stimulated yet?
Not yet, maybe soon.

At last a budget,
After all the sturm und drang.
Now the pain begins.

Rick Santelli rants,
“We need a new tea party!”
Make mine Earl Grey, please.

Dean Andal won’t run
Against McNerney next time.
GOP must search.

Torrico will run
For AG in 2010;
Harris sharpens knives.