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House Dems try to force minimum wage vote

House Democrats are signing a discharge petition to force an up-or-down vote on Rep. George Miller’s bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.

George Miller“Large, bipartisan majorities have repeatedly voted to raise the minimum wage when it has come to the floor in the past, and Republican and Democratic presidents alike have signed it into law,” Miller, D-Martinez, said in a news release Wednesday. “The American people are clamoring for this pay raise, and it’s well past time for congressional Republicans to hear their voices and bring H.R. 1010 up for a vote. When this comes to the floor, it will pass. We just need a vote.”

The bill would raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour over three years, and then index it to inflation thereafter. It also would gradually increase the tipped minimum wage to 70 percent of the minimum wage; it’s now at about 29 percent.

The Congressional Budget Office reported this month that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 could lift about 900,000 U.S. workers out of poverty, but also could cost about 500,000 jobs.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has refused to bring the bill – which has 194 cosponsors, all Democrats – up for a hearing, mark-up or floor vote. Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., filed the discharge petition Wednesday; forcing consideration of the bill will require 218 signatures, so some Republicans would have to cross the aisle.

“The discharge petition I filed today is an unfortunate necessity in order to ensure action will be taken by this Congress to improve the lives of tens of millions of Americans,” Bishop said in a news release. “This is an issue that has wide support among the American public but so far has not been acted on in Washington. It is time for that to change and it is time to raise the wage.”

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Obama 2012 defends, touts health care reform

As the Affordable Care Act‘s second anniversary looms this week, the war of words over its worth is becoming deafening. It’s a fascinating phenomenon, in that both sides truly seem to believe they have a winning issue here.

Here in Oakland, Democratic activist Christine Pelosi of San Francisco – daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi – and Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson rallied about 30 volunteers today at the campaign headquarters on Telegraph Avenue, briefing them on the reform law’s effects to prepare them for an afternoon of phone-banking.

Christine Pelosi @ OFA HQ 3-19-12Just as Medicare and Social Security were “an intergenerational compact,” so too is health care reform “a societal compact” from a president who believes “health care is a right, not a privilege,” Pelosi said.

By forcing insurers to spend most of their premiums revenue on health care, not administration; by requiring them to insure people with pre-existing conditions; by reducing prescription costs for seniors; and by advancing patients’ rights, including the right to wellness visits, the law has improved the lives of millions of Americans, she said.

As the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the question of its constitutionality and as Republicans run on platforms of repeal, “our response has to be, ‘we’re not going back,’” Pelosi told the volunteers. “And each of you is taking personal responsibility to make sure that we’re going forward.”

Carson noted about 356,000 young adults in California – out of 2.5 million nationwide – have benefitted from the reform law by being allowed to remain on their parents’ health insurance until age 26. Almost an equal number of Californians on Medicare got a $250 rebate in 2010 to help cover the cost of their prescriptions when they hit the “donut hole” in their coverage, and almost 320,000 got a 50 percent discount in 2011 on their covered, brand-name prescriptions when they hit the donut hole; the law will close the hole by 2020.

Carson also said 12 million Californians no longer need worry about lifetime limits on their coverage; almost 3 million Californians on Medicare received free preventative services (such as mammograms and colonoscopies) or a free wellness visit with their doctor last year; and almost 6.2 million Californians with private insurance gained preventative service coverage with no cost-sharing.

He told the campaign volunteers that this is what they must convey to the people they call, in order to ensure they’re not swayed by “those who are critical, those who are fearful, those who are financed by the insurance companies.”

Lots more, after the jump…
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House Dems say Medicaid shift would hurt seniors

Medicaid is vital to seniors in nursing homes and mustn’t be converted into a block-grant system as House Republicans seek to do, 32 House Democrats from California told President Barack Obama in a letter today.

“The Medicaid program has been an effective partnership between state and federal governments for our most vulnerable by providing services at the most affordable rate,” they wrote. “Although children and parents make up about 75 percent of Medicaid enrollees, they account for less than a third of the spending. In contrast, the elderly and individuals with disabilities make up about 25 percent of enrollees but about two-thirds of spending. This translates in California, according to a recent Families USA report, to helping fund nearly 69,000 seniors in nursing homes and providing nearly 517,000 seniors and persons with disabilities with Medicaid home and community service support.”

Changing Medicaid into a block grant indexed to inflation and population growth means shifting the burdens of rising health care costs and an aging population onto the states, the lawmakers wrote. The Congressional Budget Office reported last month that federal contributions under such a system would decrease by nearly 35 percent within a decade, and the Kaiser Family Foundation says that means California would lose nearly $122 billion in federal Medicaid funds, leading to benefit cuts and more eligibility restrictions.

“If you sign such legislation into law, California could see nearly 5 million more uninsured residents by the end of the decade,” they wrote.

The letter’s signers include Reps. George Miller, D-Martinez; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma.

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Blue Shield, Boehner and ballooning deficits

A trio of California House members expressed concern today about Blue Shield of California’s announcement of a significant increase – averaging 30 to 35 percent – in health insurance premiums for many of its policyholders, a hike the Democratic lawmakers say will force many Californians to choose between health insurance and daily necessities such as food and rent or mortgage payments.

(Yep, that would be the same Blue Shield of California that gave $15,000 to outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s officeholder account late last week, days before he left office; it also gave $10,000 Monday to the California Republican Party and $3,568.83 to Democratic state Senate candidate Ted Lieu.)

Reps. Pete Stark, D-Fremont; George Miller, D-Martinez; and Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, said the increase underscores the danger of repealing last year’s health care reforms, as House Republicans have vowed to do.

“Thanks to health reform, for the first time these rate increases are completely transparent and posted on healthcare.gov,” Stark said in their news release. “With the increased resources from the health reform law, California can work with Blue Shield to mitigate these increases and protect consumers. Unfortunately Republicans want to immediately repeal these protections, and future reforms that will prevent rate increases like this in the future.”

Miller said Blue Shield’s announcement “just shows that the status quo is not working for California’s families.”

“And Republican repeal of health reform will only put big insurance companies in even greater control of Americans’ health care,” he continued. “The Affordable Care Act, when fully implemented, will ensure real competition and accountability so that families already stretched thin by health insurance costs can find relief. Repealing the health reform law poses a real danger to middle class families.”

The Dems noted Blue Shield clearly stated its proposed increases “cover a period of more than one year and have almost nothing to do with the federal health reform law. These rates reflect trends that were building long before health reform.” The insurer also noted health reform actually will help get costs under control in the future through initiatives that make health care more efficient, the lawmakers said.

(UPDATE @ 3:50 P.M.: Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, a former state Insurance Commissioner, got in on the act, too. “Today’s egregious rate hike by Blue Shield of California is further proof that we can’t trust the insurance industry to stand with consumers,” he said. “As we climb out of a deep recession, the insurance companies are kicking us back down. Fortunately, for rate increases over 10 percent, the 2010 health care reform allows the Federal government to review, question, and disclose facts to the public about the increase.”

“When Congress passed the Patient’s Bill of Rights last year, we instituted important reforms that are helping to rein in the worst abuses of the insurance industry. Next Wednesday, House Republicans will attempt to repeal these vital consumer protections,” he continued. “Even with the strong consumer protections found in the Patient’s Bill of Rights, insurers like Blue Shield are still exploiting patients for financial gain. This is an argument for more consumer protections, not less. House Republicans want to replace the Patient’s Bill of Rights with the Insurance Industry’s Right to Discriminate. Let’s not start the New Year by exposing consumers to new risks.”)

For more on today’s healthcare follies, follow me after the jump…
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Dems amp up defense of health care reform

As Democrats gird themselves for House Republicans’ effort next week to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 – the health care reforms signed into law last March by President Barack Obama – some of the caucus’ most liberal members are staking out their own ground.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, today introduced the “Public Option Deficit Reduction Act,” which her office said would “establish a robust public option (with physician payment rates set at Medicare plus 5 percent) in the health insurance exchanges created by the health care reform legislation passed in the last Congress.”

This bill is similar to H.R. 5808, which Woolsey introduced last summer along with Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.; that bill – with 129 cosponsors including all of the Bay Area’s members except Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton – never got a committee hearing. The Congressional Budget Office had estimated it would bring down the cost of coverage by providing lower cost competition to private insurers while saving the federal government $68 billion dollars in the first seven years, and even more afterwards.

Members of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform also cited a public option (see page 42) as a viable means to control health care costs, Woolsey noted.

“This is the perfect moment for the public option,” Woolsey said in her news release. “It builds on the health care reform legislation by lowering costs and it provides a great way to bring down the deficit. If Republicans really care about the deficit, they should sign on to this bill rather than try to dismantle the health care reform law, which would add billions to the budget deficit.”

Pete StarkMeanwhile, Stark issued a typically scathing memo today blasting new House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., for accusing the nonpartisan CBO of misrepresenting the cost of reforms already enacted last year.

“Why is Cantor lashing out and accusing CBO of falsifying their data? For the same reason that he refuses to wait for a CBO score before jamming a vote through. Cantor knows that CBO will show that their NoCare proposal busts the budget by adding over a trillion dollars to the deficit, and increases the number of uninsured by tens of millions,” Stark wrote. “Unfortunately, Cantor seems to be completely divorced from reality – telling reporters that he doesn’t believe that health reform actually cuts the deficit.”

“While many Republicans have argued with basic science in the climate change debate, Eric Cantor has become the first Republican to argue with basic arithmetic. As Cantor’s office finds reality frustratingly outside its grasp, it’s worth pointing out some other common misconceptions that they might need help with: Toilets swirl a different direction in the Southern hemisphere – NOT TRUE: http://bit.ly/toilet000; Elvis is really alive – NOT TRUE: http://bit.ly/elvis000; Shania Twain is Mark Twain’s great-granddaughter – NOT TRUE: http://bit.ly/shania000; French Fries originated in France – NOT TRUE: http://bit.ly/frenchfries000.”

UPDATE @ 5:10 P.M.: Woolsey’s new bill’s 46 original cosponsors include Stark; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez; Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose.