Pelosi Sticks With Public Option

Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a gathering of interfaith leaders in San Francisco today (Justin Sullivan/Getty)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a gathering of interfaith leaders in San Francisco today (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a press conference in San Francisco this morning at which she reiterated her commitment to a public option in the health reform bill and expressed hope, though with somewhat  lowered optimism, for coverage of end-of-life conversations. She did get in a dig at opponents of the latter: In response to a question about whether voluntary reimbursement for discussion of end-of-life care would stay in the bill, Pelosi said, “You know, the language is almost exactly the same as what the Republicans put into the prescription drug bill.”

The press conference, hosted by the San Francisco Interfaith Council, was an apparent reinforcement of the Democrats’ strategy of  broadening health reform support among members of religious communities. With leaders from the San Francisco Bay Area Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities arrayed behind her, the Speaker made repeated references to health care for all being a moral issue. Responding to the above question, she said, “People of faith, people in healthcare” and others know that “it makes life better if a person has expressed his or her own wishes. The key to this is that it is voluntary; it serves the purpose of saying what is your wish, rather than someone else having to make a decision you might not want. I don’t know what will happen (to the provision); I surely hope it will stay in.”

Pelosi was unequivocal, however, in her response to questions about the public option and to one reporter’s comment that “some Democrats and liberals are frustrated because it seems you are caving in to the far right.” “Is that you?” she repeated, pointing to herself. “The public option is the best way to go. If anybody can come up with a better alternative we’ll consider it. But the President is not backing off. The co-op might work in some states and that’s fine.  There is no way I can pass a bill on health reform without the public option.”

Pelosi was equally emphatic about her intention to retain the 400% of poverty measurement. Hesitantly using the term “seniors,” she said that many people between the ages of 50 and 65 have lost jobs, or may be making just $30,000 to $40,000 per year, and cannot afford needed medical care or prescription drugs. “I believe we have to have the 400% of poverty for them.”

Would the Democrats accept a scaled-down version of health reform? Pelosi repeated her litany of what is needed: reduced costs, improved quality, expanded coverage, affordable care for all; “What are you going to give up? At the end of the day, this is what we must have. And we must have reform of the insurance industry.”

In the small, carefully selected audience assembled at St. James Episcopal Church where her children attended preschool, Pelosi was on her own turf and among friends.  And she was characteristically upbeat. “Have we lost control of the debate? I disagree. I have 218 votes, and expect to have more. I am optimistic, and the President is committed to change.”

Rallying the Faithful for Health Reform

President Obama sought to strengthen support for health reform among one of his core constituencies Wednesday afternoon, the community of believers. He served as keynote speaker of sorts, in a conference call with some 140,000 members of faith communities around the country. The call sponsor’s title, 40 Days for Health Reform, suggests those communities are mobilizing for action. 40 Days for Health Reform includes progressive interfaith groups PICO National Network, Sojourners, Faith in Public Life and Faithful America; and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. Web sites of the first four list members as adherents of faith traditions including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Urging his listeners to “spread facts and speak truth,” Obama said social change has always involved “a contest between hope and fear.” He reviewed some of the more glaring misrepresentations that have been made by opponents of reform — government take-over, “death panels,” funding for abortions — labeling them “ludicrous,” and said the response to “not wanting government bureaucrats meddling with your healthcare” is that “we don’t want insurance bureaucrats meddling with your healthcare.” There were no surprises, or new ideas floated. Director of White House Policy Council Melody Barnes fielded a few pre-selected questions from listeners but dodged any, such as one direct query about a public option, of substance. Still, among a small group of listeners surveyed after the call everyone was enthusiastic about the happening. “Nobody’s expecting policy pronouncements on a conference call,” said one; “what we need is just the recognition of how many good people want good health reform now.”

The call was clearly designed to rally and encourage the troops of the faithful. And those troops, many weary of watching debate co-opted by the religious right, may indeed now be reinvigorated. Most of the call was taken up with prayers or comments from religious leaders, or stories of tragedies caused by the current healthcare disarray. There were plenty of Biblical touchstones — the call lasted for 40 minutes — for listeners of Abrahamic faith traditions, and more than one of the speakers expressed the certainty that it is God’s will for all of His (or Her) creatures to have affordable, quality healthcare. Sponsoring organizations and participating individuals are gearing up for action in the weeks ahead toward that end.

The call can be heard on the 40 Days for Health Reform site. It may not change any Republican minds, but it does indeed claim a pretty powerful ally for the cause.

Counseling Improves Life's End. Surprise!

Knowledge, care and compassion really do bring peace. Why should this be a surprise? And why should a few strident opponents prevent those approaching life’s end from having this benefit?

A study appearing in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association points out the benefits of end-of-life counseling, although the widespread misinformation loose in the land may have doomed what should be a significant piece of health reform.

As a political uproar rages over end-of-life counseling, a new study finds offering such care to dying cancer patients improves their mood and quality of life.

The study of 322 patients in rural New Hampshire and Vermont also suggests the counseling didn’t discourage people from going to the hospital.

The Senate bill provision axed by Finance Committee chair Charles Grassley would have allowed coverage for conversations with physicians about things like hospice care, advance directives and treatment options.  But to opponents of reform, it was a handy attack mechanism. They enlisted a few standard bearers like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and media darling Rush Limbaugh to twist the issue into menacing “death panels,” and in no time at all Sen. Grassley had his excuse to excise.

Losers in this are all of us. Eventually, 100% of us will die. Aggressive treatment and expensive, futile procedures are common today to that experience; compassion and peace are harder to come by.

In the new study, trained nurses did the counseling with patients and family caregivers using a model based on national guidelines. All the patients in the study had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Half were assigned to receive usual care. The other half received usual care plus counseling about managing symptoms, communicating with health care providers and finding hospice care.

Patients who got the counseling scored higher on quality of life and mood measures than patients who did not.

Could someone please get this information to Sarah Palin?

Study: End-of-life advice aids terminally ill.

Public Option Dead? Barbara Lee Says No

You think the public option for health coverage is dead? Try telling that to Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Never known for going along (she was the lone member of Congress to vote against giving President Bush a virtual blank check to go to war after 9/11) or for mincing words, she wants it known that no health reform battle — other than that for single-payer — is over.

“It’s all about give and take,” she said tonight; “we gave single payer.”

The Representative from California’s 9th District was at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club to talk about her new book, Renegade for Peace and Justice.  But the conversation with KQED TV host Belva Davis and the Q&A session with a largely friendly audience tilted immediately, and  heavily, toward health reform. Has the Administration lost control of the debate? Not in Lee’s opinion. “Mainstream media coverage has been very biased,” she observed in opening the Q&A session. “The focus has been on the ruckus made by a small percentage of people, who probably didn’t vote for President Obama. I didn’t see CNN covering my Town Hall meeting.”

Because “we spent over a trillion dollars on this war that didn’t have to be fought,” Lee said, the issue of health reform is now “all about choice, and about competition.” And before either of those get to the public, congressional give-and-take will lead to a final bill. As current Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus and member of several powerful committees, Lee expects to play an active part in that process. “We will insist on a bill that has a strong public option,” she says. “At least 60 members are saying the public option is key to their support.”

The new book was enjoying brisk sales, but health reform comments drew the loudest applause. One audience member told me at the end of the event that “Congresswoman Lee won’t ever get medals for moderation, but I’m not throwing in the towel if she’s not.” We were both leaving a few minutes before the final gavel; he said he was on his way home to start sending out more e-mails.

Straight Talk Q&A on Health Reform

One of the best fact-checks re health reform I’ve seen lately was just sent out by Ricardo Alonso-Zalvidar for the Associated Press:

Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin says the health care overhaul bill would set up a “death panel.” Federal bureaucrats would play God, ruling on whether ailing seniors are worth enough to society to deserve life-sustaining medical care. Palin and other critics are wrong.

Nothing in the legislation would carry out such a bleak vision. The provision that has caused the uproar would instead authorize Medicare to pay doctors for counseling patients about end-of-life care, if the patient wishes. Here are some questions and answers on the controversy:

Q: Does the health care bill promote “mercy killing,” or euthanasia?

A: No.

Q: Then what’s all the fuss about?

And here’s where it all started:

A: A provision in the House bill written by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., would allow Medicare to pay doctors for voluntary counseling sessions that address end-of-life issues. The conversations between doctor and patient would include living wills, making a close relative or a trusted friend your health care proxy, learning about hospice as an option for the terminally ill and information about pain medications for people suffering chronic discomfort.

The sessions would be covered every five years, more frequently if someone is gravely ill.

Alonso-Zaldivar covers all the basics in this brief, to-the-point article. My personal favorite opinion is also in there. It’s a comment made by Monsignor Charles Fahey, 76, a Catholic priest currently chairman of the board of the National Council on Aging:

“What I have said is that if I cannot say another prayer, if I cannot give or get another hug, and if I cannot have another martini – then let me go.”

Maybe we should put that martini provision in the bill.

via Health care overhaul bill Q&A.

Justice Souter's Retirement Housing

It turns out not even Supreme Court justices are exempt from the dilemmas of senior housing. Too many steps? Too many books? What’s a retiree to do?

When he retired from the Supreme Court in June, it was expected that Justice David H. Souter would return to his beloved family farmhouse in Weare, N.H., a rustic abode with peeling brown paint, rotting beams and plenty of the solitude he desired. While the new home is only eight miles from his rustic farmhouse, the two could be worlds apart.

But Justice Souter, an individualist on and off the bench, decided to move.

On July 30, he bought a 3,448-square-foot Cape Cod-style home in neighboring Hopkinton listed at $549,000. The single-floor home, for which he paid a reported $510,000, sits on 2.36 well-manicured acres.

This is not going to work for the downsizers who don’t have access to a cheap, reliable lawn service. But it’s easy to pinpoint a few of Justice Souter’s upgrades in the downsize:

The farmhouse has no phone lines; the Hopkinton house has “multiple,” according to the real estate listing. The farmhouse’s lawn was spotted with brown; the Hopkinton house has a verdant lawn and neatly trimmed hedges. And for Justice Souter, 69, who is known to be a fitness buff, there is a home gym as well as a spa bath.

Or, he can just mow his own lawn. The core issue, however, is closer to those reported by hundreds who are opting for retirement apartments, urban condos and other housing choices mentioned in earlier columns.

Justice Souter told a Weare neighbor, Jimmy Gilman, that the two-story farmhouse was not structurally sound enough to support the thousands of books he owns, according to The Concord Monitor, and that he wished to live on one level.

Perhaps Justice Sotomayor will want to keep a lid on her library shelves.

Off the Bench, Souter Leaves Farmhouse Behind – NYTimes.com.

Can We Hear It for Truth-Telling?

Although the They’re going to kill the grannies! campaign continues, some heavyweight voices of sanity are being heard above the roar. Sojourners founder/author/activist Jim Wallis weighed in Friday with a few choice words of wisdom:

I have said that one important moral principle for the health care debate is truth-telling. For decades, the physical health and well-being of our country has been a proxy battle for partisan politics. Industry interests and partisan fighting are once again threatening the current opportunity for a public dialogue about what is best for our health-care system. What we need is an honest and fair debate with good information, not sabotage of reform with half-truths and misinformation.

Yet in recent weeks, conservative radio ads have claimed that health-care reform will kill the elderly (it won’t), that it will include federal funding for abortion (it doesn’t), and that it is a socialist takeover of the health-care system (it isn’t). The organizations promoting these claims, including some Religious Right groups, are either badly misinformed, or they are deliberately distorting reality.

I think it’s all of the above. But what’s particularly frightening is the number of people who, hearing these messages over and over, are passing them along as presumed truth. My Inbox is having some dark days thanks to conservative friends wanting to know if I’m aware of one untruth or another. Because I have some conservative friends I like and respect, I try to listen, understand their points of view and keep lines of communication open — but it’s getting hard. Wallis cites one reason why:

A particularly egregious example is an ad that the Family Research Council has run in selected states. It depicts an elderly man and his wife sitting at their kitchen table. He turns to his wife and says, “They won’t pay for my surgery. What are we going to do?” He continues, “and to think that Planned Parenthood is included in the government-run health care plan and spending tax dollars on abortion. They won’t pay for my surgery, but we’re forced to pay for abortion.”

These kinds of ads should be stopped. They do not contribute to the debate that is needed to ensure that all Americans have access to quality, affordable health care. It is rather exactly the kind of misinformation campaign that could destroy needed reform.

It’s going to be a long, hard August.

Jim Wallis: Truth-telling and Responsibility in Health Care.

Beavers in Manhattan, Mink in California

Mink
Image via Wikipedia

Maybe beavers have little in common with Boomers, or Beyonders, but after reading T/S Contributor Caitlin Kelley’s Canada/NY beaver piece just now I felt compelled to respond with today’s news of California urban mink. Their newly discovered presence was documented by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carolyn Jones:

First, there were beavers. Then otters and muskrats.

And now – as if the Martinez Public Works Department needed more cute, furry mammals paddling around Alhambra Creek – there are mink.

Ten months after the city spent $500,000 to shore up the eroding creek bank, a condition many blamed on the beavers and their obsessive handiwork, a mother mink and four babies were spotted this week cavorting near the beaver’s primary dam, just north of the Escobar Street bridge in downtown Martinez.

The silky, razor-toothed critters have apparently taken up residence in the pond created by the beavers’ dam, along with a variety of other aquatic wildlife.

But then again, maybe there IS some relevance. Recent posts re health and housing, which seem to be atop the news for over-50 generations if not everyone else too these days, have had friends asking if there isn’t something ELSE to write about? Well, yes. Exercise and fitness. The absolute best of which is snagging a half hour or two and heading out to circle the Central Park reservoir or roam around Golden Gate Park, or wherever your city walking place of choice happens to be. Mine is 16th Street, San Francisco, start at the Bay, end at Market (or continue whatever direction from there) and you’ll encounter every ethnic/social/business/industry/arts category you could want and the views aren’t bad at the tops of the hills. But back to the mink:

Mink are native to the area but are highly unusual. They’re more often spotted in the delta or the Sierra Nevada, but their population could be rising because of the decreasing popularity of mink coats, Bell said.

Maureen Flannery, collections manager for the ornithology and mammalogy department at the California Academy of Sciences, also confirmed that the animals in question are Neovison vison, a.k.a. American mink.

The babies probably were born in April or May and will stay with their mother until fall, when they will head out to claim their own territories, she said.

I’ve also had questions about food-and-nutrition writing, this being another biggie for over-50s (under-50s are either already sold on healthy lifestyles or eating pizza and sushi and fries and just not giving a damn about calories and cholesterol.) And fine dining also enters this late-breaking news:

Dan Murphy, owner of Bertola’s restaurant adjacent to the beavers’ dam, was also taking a wait-and-see attitude. Liability concerns over the restaurant’s weakening foundation were one reason the city decided to shore up the creek bank last fall.

“I don’t really care,” Murphy said. “Although I guess the creek’s becoming more and more of a habitat, which is pretty cool.”

Martinez vice mayor Mike Menesini, proclaiming his “a very welcoming city” is waiting to see how this newly-mixed community gets along.

So far, the mink, beavers, muskrats, otters and turtles have adopted an attitude of mutual indifference. The crayfish aren’t so lucky – they’re often dinner for their carnivorous creek-mates.

The Beaver Fest in downtown Martinez today features bagpipes, bluegrass and jazz bands. Dancing in the streets is good exercise too.