Tag Archives: comprehensive

Democrats push health care reform, GOP pushes repeal

Americans filled 4.3 billion prescriptions last year, and they’re still ailing from the skyrocketing cost of drugs.

Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Rodham Clinton gave voice to patient problems and consumer complaints this fall, with both issuing plans to rein in outrageous prices for prescription medicine.

“The pharmaceutical industry has become a health hazard for the American people,” said Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont. “We now pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs and one in five Americans … cannot afford to fill the prescriptions their doctors write.”

In 2014, an estimated 34 million people could not fill their prescriptions because of costs. Surveys now show that about 70 percent of Americans believe drug costs are unreasonable and that drug companies put profits before people.

Those polls were conducted before Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli made headlines in September for raising by more than 5,000 percent the price of Daraprim, a medication used to treat toxoplasmosis in AIDS patients. 

Within hours of Turing purchasing the right to retail Daraprim, the price for a pill that’s been sold for $13.50  went to $750.

“For Turing to charge insurance companies and self-pay individuals with a cost (so much) greater for the same drug is unconscionable,” said Scott Caruthers, chief pharmacy officer of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the largest global AIDS group.

AHF president Michael Weinstein said Turing’s greed “is likely to go down in history as the straw that broke the camel’s back on drug pricing.”

Shkreli announced in late September that he would lower the cost “in response to the anger.”

Sanders, an advocate of universal health care, in mid-September released a prescription drug plan that said the federal government should use its bargaining power to negotiate with companies for better prices; allow imports from licensed Canadian pharmacies; prohibit deals that keep generics off the market; and require drug companies to report information affecting pricing.

Clinton, as first lady, led an effort blocked by congressional Republicans that would have provided comprehensive, universal health care. She responded to Turing’s price-gouging almost immediately, pledging on Twitter a plan to reform the prescription drug market that would “both protect consumers and promote innovation — while putting an end to profiteering.”

Clinton has since issued a series of proposals to address rising drug costs, including a monthly $250 cap on out-of-pocket drugs to help patients with chronic or serious health conditions.

The candidate also proposed requiring that health insurance plans provide for three sick visits per year without counting toward a patient’s annual deductible and offering a refundable tax credit of up to $5,000 for families for excessive out-of-pocket care costs.

“When Americans get sick, high costs shouldn’t prevent them from getting better,” Clinton said in a statement. “With deductibles rising so much faster than incomes, we must act to reduce the out-of-pocket costs families face.”

A survey recently released by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that employer-sponsored health insurance premiums rose about 4 percent in 2015, considered a moderate increase. But since 2010, both the share of workers with deductibles and the size of the deductibles have increased sharply — about seven times over the rise in worker wages.

A recent Kaiser analysis found comparable countries outperforming the United States on life expectancy at birth, cost-related barriers to health care access and the burden of disease, which takes into account years of lost life due to premature death and years of life lost to poor health.

The Obama administration expects to see improvements as more people have greater access to care under the five-year-old Affordable Care Act, which mandated insurance coverage, expanded eligibility for Medicaid, prohibited insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, provided for preventative care and lifted lifetime health benefit caps.

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the national uninsured rate dropped to a historic low of 9.2 percent in early 2015, with 15.8 million people gaining coverage since the health care marketplaces opened in 2013.

Still, the GOP focus in the health care debate is almost solely on repealing the Affordable Care Act. Congressional Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal all or parts of the law and, on Sept. 29, they voted again to advance legislation that would dismantle the ACA.

The House Ways and Means Committee chaired by Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan voted along party lines to repeal the mandate requiring Americans to get health insurance and also the mandate requiring larger companies to provide health benefits to employees.

Ryan, in a statement, said, “This bill is a big step toward dismantling Obamacare. … By tearing down many of the worst parts of the law — like forcing people to buy insurance only to later tax them for it — we would stop Obamacare in its tracks and start working toward a more affordable, higher-quality, patient-centered system.”

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also wants the Affordable Care Act repealed, although health care advocates in the state maintain provisions have mostly benefited Wisconsinites.

“The ACA has dramatically reduced the number of uninsured in Wisconsin and improved access to preventive health care,” said Jon Peacock, research director for the nonprofit Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

The WCCF said by the end of June, more than 230,000 Wisconsinites had signed up for a marketplace plan under the ACA and about 90 percent were eligible for tax credits to offset costs.

Poll: Paul Ryan loses votes if he opposes LGBT civil rights bill

A new poll announced by the Human Rights Campaign shows strong support for a comprehensive LGBT civil rights law in U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s district.

Earlier this summer, Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced the Equality Act, which would provide federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.

HRC’s JoDee Winterhof said on Aug. 20, “People across the country have embraced the very simple idea behind the Equality Act that everyone should live free from fear of discrimination and have a fair chance to earn a living and provide for their families, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

She added, “Congressman Ryan should join with the majority of voters in his district and support the Equality Act.”

Ryan, according to the HRC analysis, heads into 2016 with a lead against a generic Democrat in a hypothetical re-election. However, 11 percent of his current supporters said they would be less likely to vote for him if he opposes the Equality Act. And a 27 percent plurality of undecided voters said they would be more likely to oppose a candidate who did not support the Equality Act.

The poll also showed that Ryan is heading into the new election cycle with a lead but not 50 percent of the vote and his strong approval ratings don’t translate directly into votes.

Ryan represents Wisconsin’s First Congressional District, which stretches from the middle of Rock County along the southeastern part of the state all the way to Lake Michigan. The district fully encompasses Walworth, Kenosha and Racine Counties and it extends north to include communities in southern Waukesha and Milwaukee counties.

According to HRC, 31 states across the country lack fully inclusive non-discrimination protections. This means LGBT Americans are still be at risk in 31 states of being denied services for who they are or at risk being fired.

A record number of lawmakers, more than 200, agreed to sign on to the Equality Act as co-sponsors, including Wisconsin Democrats Gwen Moore, Mark Pocan and Tammy Baldwin.

The measure also has the support of some leading U.S. companies, including Amazon, American Airlines, Apple, Facebook, General Electric, General Mills, Google, HP, IBM, Intel Levi Strauss & Co,  Microsoft, Nike, Oracle and Orbitz.

Fighting for family: Dreamers, gays seek end to deportations

Out of the shadows, into the streets. They are dreamers, and as they call for comprehensive immigration reform, they urge the Obama administration to halt the deportation of their mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors.

“We think the president can do so much more,” said Elizabeth Gonzalez, an 18-year-old immigration rights activist and University of California student whose mother was deported a year ago. “He can, for one, extend the deferred action program and stop the deportations.”

On April 5, Gonzalez and other dreamers — those who were children when they came to the United States without documentation — along with other immigration rights advocates are planning to stage a national day of action calling on the House to take up comprehensive immigration reform and calling on the president to take executive action to turn back the deportation dragnet.

Activists tracking deportations since Barack Obama took office in 2009 expected to see the number reach 2 million on April 2. 

The April 5 campaign, with actions planned in more than 40 cities, is being coordinated by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, with support from dozens of groups at the national and grassroots level.

Voces de la Frontera, the Milwaukee-based immigration rights group, is organizing its event to take place on April 4 with a march from Red Arrow Park downtown to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Milwaukee.

“President Obama’s immigration legacy is at stake,” said Voces de la Frontera executive director Christine Neumann-Ortiz. “He can go down in history as the president who deported the most people after campaigning on immigration reform, or he can stop the suffering with the stroke of a pen.”

Immigration Equality, a national LGBT group, also is participating in the day of action. A report from the Williams Institute at UCLA estimates that of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, 267,000 adults identify as LGBT.

“Every day for the past six years, approximately 1,000 of our loved ones were needlessly torn away from us, including countless LGBT individuals,” said Marco Quiroga, the national field officer for IE. His brother was deported in 2005 to a country where he was verbally and physically abused for being gay.

“I know what it feels like to have your family ripped apart by deportation,” he said. “My family is one of the many that needlessly fell through the cracks of the broken immigration system. For LGBT immigrants, deportation can be a death sentence. It’s time for a new approach.”

Milwaukean Pedro Perez, who was a youth leader for Voces de la Frontera, remembered how afraid he was to come out first as an undocumented immigrant student and then to come out as a gay man.

“There are a lot of similarities — being undocumented and being queer, coming out as undocumented and coming out as LGBT,” said Perez, now 23, a U.S. citizen and a university student majoring in marketing.

Perez and his parents came to the United States from Mexico when he was 3 years old.

He was undocumented until he was 20, and remembers worrying as a teenager about his status, about being deported and about being denied admission to college.

“You worry you are a target for somebody,” he said.

There were difficult conversations with high school advisers about college admissions applications and financial aid questionnaires that required Social Security numbers and other documentation. “I remember I went to the office for information and the counselor at the high school didn’t know what to recommend, and we had to go to other schools to get information. I had to face a reality, a fear, that I might not get into school because of my status.”

At about the same time, Perez began the process of coming out as gay.

He was one of the first openly gay youth activists involved with Voces de la Frontera.

And three years ago on April 1, Perez came out as gay to his parents.

“It was very hard,” he said. “And it’s a still a struggle. They still don’t understand. But I was actually surprised. I thought I was going to be rejected, and they told me they love me and accept me. I feel they took it pretty well. You shouldn’t be ashamed about who you are and what your status is.”

Later this month, on April 24, Voces de la Frontera will hold an event at Wherehouse, 818 S. Water St., to marry the immigration rights and LGBT equality movements.

“It makes sense that we be together as one,” Perez said.

Israel Ramon, who founded Voces’ legal clinic 10 years ago and is coordinating the event, said a $25 donation would be requested for the Voces for Equality party.

The goal, he said, is to inform people of the issues facing LGBT immigrants and of Voces work. “We fight for families,” he said. “And we want to make sure immigration reform applies to everyone.”

Call to action

A national day of action to challenge the rate of deportations by the Obama administration is on April 5, when events take place in more than 40 cities across the country. 

Social media supporters will participate using #2Million2Many.

Milwaukee-based Voces de la Frontera and the affiliated Youth Empowered in the Struggle hold a #2Million2Many event at 4 p.m. on April 4 and a march from Red Arrow Park at State and Water to a rally at the ICE headquarters, 310 E. Knapp.

For more, go to vdlf.org.

Immigration Equality, a national LGBT group, also is participating in the national day of action.

For more, go to immigrationequality.org.                                     

 — L.N.

LGBT groups join in call for reform on National Immigration Day of Action

National lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organizations joined in the march for justice for all immigrants on National Immigration Day of Action, which was observed on April 10 with a rally at the U.S. Capitol and actions around the country.

Tens of thousands joined in the demonstrations focused on pushing Congress, as lawmakers craft a comprehensive immigration reform bill, to include measures that would grant 11 million immigrants living here without proper documentation a path toward citizenship.

Actions took place in D.C. and at least 18 states.

Twenty-six LGBT groups joined in the actions, including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; GLAAD; the National Center for Lesbian Rights; the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project, a project of the United We Dream Network; National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance; and Immigration Equality.

“LGBT people are immigrants and immigration is an LGBT issue,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, who spoke at the rally at the Capitol.

The groups also call on media to tell the stories of undocumented people that shed light on the many ways the broken immigration system harms millions of Americans, including through family separation and inhumane conditions and abuse in detention facilities.

“Federal immigration reform is about respecting the humanity in each and all of us, including DREAMers and our families, migrant farm workers, LGBT binational couples, and transgender people in need of asylum,” said Jorge Gutierrez, project coordinator QUIP, a project of the United We Dream Network. Gutierrez is openly gay and undocumented.

“As a transgender woman who was detained by immigration authorities, I have first-hand experience with the inhumane treatment and abuse in detention facilities that for years have threatened the health, safety and even lives of millions of immigrants,” said Bamby Salcedo, president of the Trans-Latin@ Coalition. “I was sexually assaulted when I was forced to be housed in a dorm with about 100 men in a detention facility, and I was denied adequate access to HIV medication and hormone treatment. These are the harms countless transgender detainees face; we must put an end to these atrocities. We all deserve a chance to live with dignity, to pursue our dreams, and to work for a better future and better quality of life.”

“The current broken system hurts, scapegoats and vilifies all immigrants, including LGBT immigrants, and their friends and families. Comprehensive federal immigration reform is an urgent priority for our nation and the LGBT community,” said Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Immigration Equality Executive Director Rachel B. Tiven said, “Immigration Equality helps thousands of LGBT immigrant families every year: undocumented families, mixed-status families, DREAMers, asylum seekers fleeing persecution, and detainees locked in immigration jail. LGBT people demand reform of a system in which our families are invisible. In the words of binational couple activist Pablo Garcia: ‘I want a path to citizenship. But I don’t want to wait 13 years to be a citizen. If I were straight I would be one already.'”

National LGBT Organizations in Support of National Immigration Day of Action include:
American Civil Liberties Union
Center For Black Equity
CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers
Freedom to Marry
Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC)
GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network)
Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
Immigration Equality
Lambda Legal
National Black Justice Coalition
National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR)
National Center for Transgender Equality
National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC)
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
National Minority AIDS Council
National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA)
Out & Equal Workplace Advocates
PFLAG National
Pride at Work AFL CIO
Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP), a project of the United We Dream Network
Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE)
The Trevor Project
Trans-Latin@ Coalition