Sunday, May 12, 2013

Obama's health secretary seeks donations from companies for healthcare law

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is asking companies for financial donations to help implement President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul, months before it is due to take effect.

Kathleen Sebelius
Kathleen Sebelius
elephone calls that began around March 23, officials say, Obama's top healthcare adviser has been seeking assistance from companies in the healthcare field and other industries as well as from healthcare providers, patient advocacy groups, churches and other charitable organizations.
"The secretary has been working with a full range of stakeholders ... We have always worked with outside groups, and the efforts now ramping up are just one more part of that work," said Jason Young, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services.

HHS declined to identify the targeted donors but said none of the companies are regulated by department agencies.

The administration's aim is to win financial help for nonprofit groups, including Washington-based Enroll America, which are mounting a private-sector effort to persuade millions of uninsured Americans to obtain health coverage in 2014 through new online marketplaces, known as exchanges, slated to begin enrollment for federally subsidized private insurance on October 1.

With Republicans in Congress unwilling to consider allocating new money to finance government outreach efforts, the White House and HHS have appealed to private sources, including the insurance industry, to help with an implementation effort that could lead to higher costs and jeopardize a cornerstone of Obama's presidential legacy if it were to fail.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, blasted Sebelius' action as "absurd."

"Moving forward, I will be seeking information from the administration about these actions to help better understand whether there are conflicts of interest and if it violated federal law," he said in a statement.

HHS said the secretary began phoning companies after getting advice from department lawyers. "There is a special section in the Public Health Service Act that allows the secretary to support and to encourage others to support non-profit organizations working to provide health information and conduct other public health activities," Young told Reuters in an email.

Obama: Don't Be 'Bamboozled'

Sebelius' fund-raising activities were originally reported by the Washington Post.

Organizations like Enroll America are expected to play a key role in public outreach efforts set to begin this summer.

A nonpartisan group dedicated to extending health coverage to nearly 49 million uninsured people, Enroll America's board includes representatives from Teva Pharmaceuticals, the Kaiser Permanente health system and the American Hospital Association, a Washington trade group.

Enroll America President Anne Filipic said cooperation between the public, private and nonprofit sectors is vital to making sure the marketplaces are ready on time. "Secretary Sebelius recognizes the importance of the work Enroll America is doing and we're thrilled to be working with her," she said.

Obama defended his Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on Friday at a White House event intended to kick off the administration's promotional campaign with a focus on the law's benefits for women.

The president said he was "110 percent committed" to the law's success and warned listeners not to be "bamboozled" by misinformation.

"This is too important for political games," Obama said. "Regular access to a doctor or medicine or preventive care - that's not some earned privilege, it is a right."

The law is expected to provide health coverage to 38 million people by the end of the decade through the new marketplaces and an expansion of the Medicaid healthcare program for the poor. Some 7 million people are expected to gain coverage through the marketplaces alone in 2014, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Republicans have turned up the volume on their opposition to the law. The House of Representatives is to vote next week on a Republican measure to repeal the law. Like three-dozen previous House votes to repeal or defund healthcare reform, the measure is expected to go nowhere in the Democratic-led Senate.

HHS officials say the department has put together $1.26 billion to finance Affordable Care Act implementation between now and September 30, the end of the fiscal year. That includes an outreach campaign that has already cost $240 million, as well as funding for the establishment of 17 state insurance exchanges, and 33 others that HHS will operate in states that are either not ready or unwilling to run their own.

The exchanges are scheduled to begin operating on January 1, 2014, when the healthcare law comes into full force.

By David Morgan

Source: The Reuters

Obama honors law-enforcement officers and pitches gun control

President Obama on Saturday paid tribute to the nation's law-enforcement personnel, applauding them for their courage and summoning lawmakers to take steps to reduce gun violence.

At a White House ceremony for the 2013 National Association of Police Organizations TOP COPS awards, Obama said, If Top Cops can risk their lives to do their jobs, the rest of us should just be able to summon some tiny fraction of courage and the same sense of responsibility.

"Certainly, that applies for those of us responsible for supporting law enforcement and first responders here in Washington," Obama continued. He spoke about giving law-enforcement agencies the resources they need to fight crime and added, "We also need to take some common-sense steps that protect our rights, protect our children, protect officers in the line of duty by making it harder for dangerous criminals to get their hands on lethal weapons."
President Obama

That was a reference to the president's gun-control agenda, which includes universal background checks -- an idea that polling shows nine in 10 Americans support -- and which failed to pass in the Senate last month. Law-enforcement leaders have been some of the White House's leading allies in the push for stricter gun laws.

In his speech Saturday, delivered in the East Room of the White House, Obama singled out one of the award recipients, Brian Murphy, a lieutenant who was shot multiple times while responding to a deadly mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., last August.

"He did not consider his own safety," Obama said of Murphy. "He fought back until help arrived and ordered his fellow officers, who are here today, to protect the safety of the Americans worshiping inside -- even though he was lying there bleeding from 12 bullet wounds. When he was asked how he did it, he said, ‘That's just the way we're made.' "

Obama also credited the heroic actions of Ivan Marcano, a police detective in New York City and another award recipient. One night, while off-duty and on a date, Marcano intervened when he saw two muggers attacking a cab driver in the Bronx.

"He got out of his girlfriend's car to stop them and was shot point blank in the chest, a bullet inches from his heart," Obama said. He added that as Marcano's girlfriend drove him to the hospital, they coincidentally ran into the shooter's getaway car.

"So what does Detective Marcano do?" the president asked. "He jumps out of the car -- he's been shot -- keeps pressure on his chest with his left hand, holding a service weapon with his right, he runs after the suspects. He took one of them down, which led to the capture of the others. He wasn't on the clock when any of this happened. This was his date night. It's unbelievable."

By Philip Rucker

Source: The Washington Post

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The global study examined political, social and religious views

Devotion to Islam shapes the lives of most Muslims but their views on democracy, religious law known as sharia, and family life are varied, a new study finds.

The research report on Muslim views on religion, politics and society was released Tuesday by The Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.

It finds that Muslims in Africa, Asia and the Middle East -- no matter age, education or gender -- overwhelmingly want to see sharia be "the official law of the land," said James Bell, primary researcher for the report and director of international research for Pew, in a press phone-in discussion of the report.

That includes 99% in Afghanistan, 89% in the Palestinian territories, 74% in Egypt and 72% in Indonesia, for example.

However, they don't agree on what sharia means. "There is no monolithic code. … No common understanding from Africa to Asia to the former Soviet Union," said Amaney Jamal, professor of politics at Princeton University and special adviser to Pew for the report.

ndeed, the more experience Muslims had with living with "a narrow, rigid form of sharia," the less supportive they were of it, Jamal said. "In counties that have less experience with (laws ordained by God) you find widespread support," she said. This may be because their view of the law is "informed by Islamic ideals about social justice and equality and redistribution," not a strict code of what is permissible and what is not.

Most Muslims are comfortable relying on religious law for family or property disputes but there is "considerably less support" for drastic punishments such as executing people who convert away from Islam to another religion. And even in the family law sphere, views on polygamy, divorce and family planning vary widely, the research finds.

Even the most enthusiastic sharia supporters still favor religious freedom for people of other faiths, in part because they believe it should apply only to Muslims. That explains how 84% of Muslims in Pakistan want to enshrine sharia law, but three in four say non-Muslims are free to practice their faith.

Many Muslims want religious leaders to have some -- even large -- influence political matters: 53% in Afghanistan, 41% in Malaysia and 37% in Jordan, the research finds.

Similarly, many Muslims see no incompatibility with democracy, said Farid Senzai, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, at Santa Clara University, another adviser to the Pew Muslim research. "You can have a democracy and yet also have strong support for Islam to play a role in politics."

The opinion research is based on 38,000 face-to-face interviews conducted between 2008 and 2012 in 39 countries and territories in Africa, Asia and Europe -- with four notable exceptions. "Political sensitivities or security concerns" prevented opinion research in China, India, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

While Muslims in the USA were not included, the report did examine international views in comparison to earlier studies of American Muslims.

Among U.S. Muslims, 81% say suicide bombing or other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam are never justified. And the new study finds the global median for Muslims who agree on that is 72%.

However, the report finds, "substantial minorities in several countries say such acts of violence are at least sometimes justified, including 26% of Muslims in Bangladesh, 29% in Egypt, 39% in Afghanistan and 40% in the Palestinian territories.

Other findings include:

  • Many U.S. Muslims take a more liberal view on whether Islam is the "one true faith that leads to eternal life," said Alan Cooperman, associate director of research for the Pew Forum. In Pakistan, 92% say there's just one path to salvation but only 51% of U.S. Muslims of Pakistani origin agree. 
  • Many, including 67% of Muslims in Egypt, 68% in Iraq and 78% in Indonesia, are deeply concerned about religious extremists within their own countries.
  • Muslim men and women agree: A wife must always obey her husband. The view holds from Morocco, 92%, to Malaysia, 96%. But the majority also say it's up to the woman herself if she wants to wear a veil. Most say honor killings are never justified -- with two exceptions. In Afghanistan and Iraq the majority would allow executions for women who "allegedly have shamed their families by engaging in premarital sex or adultery."

A 2011 global Muslim population study by Pew found that, based on immigration patterns and birth rates, Muslims will be more than one-quarter of the Earth's population within the next two decades. The numbers will climb from 1.6 billion people in 2010 to 2.2 billion in 2030, concentrated in Muslim-majority countries.

By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA Today

Source: The USA Today

Health Care Law is ‘working fine,’ Obama says in addressing criticism

President Obama said Tuesday that his health care law was "working fine," and he played down concerns that the law could disrupt coverage or lead to higher premiums for people who already had health insurance.
At the same time, federal officials released simplified application forms to be used by people seeking health insurance, tax credits and other government subsidies under the law, which Mr. Obama signed three years ago.

The new application forms -- one for individuals is three pages long, and another for families is seven pages -- are significantly shorter than a 21-page draft that the administration circulated earlier this year.

Major provisions of the law take effect next Jan. 1, when most Americans will be required to have health insurance.

The law represents one of the biggest changes in domestic policy in decades, as significant in some ways as the creation of Social Security or Medicare. But at a news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Obama suggested that most Americans would not be affected by changes taking effect next year. And some of his comments may lower public expectations.

President Obama
Americans who already have insurance do not have to worry about "implementation issues," Mr. Obama said. These matters, he said, will affect a "small group of people, 10 to 15 percent of Americans -- now, it's still 30 million Americans, but a relatively narrow group -- who don't have health insurance right now, or are on the individual market and are paying exorbitant amounts for coverage that isn't that great."

"What we're doing," Mr. Obama said, "is we're setting up a pool so that they can all pool together and get a better deal from insurance companies. And those who can't afford it, we're going to provide them with some subsidies."

He added: "That's it. I mean, that's what's left to implement, because the other stuff's been implemented, and it's working fine."

Consumer advocates, employers and insurers have been saying for months that the Obama administration needed to step up planning for the new health insurance options. Consumers can sign up in October for coverage that starts in January. Some employers, especially those with many part-time, temporary and seasonal employees, say they expect to have difficulty carrying out new requirements for employer-sponsored coverage.

Tuesday was to have been the deadline for insurers to file applications describing the benefits and costs of health plans they wanted to sell to the public in marketplaces run by the federal government. But some insurers said they still had many unanswered questions and were having difficulty filing applications electronically, as required by the government.

So the Obama administration extended the deadline by three days, to 8 p.m. on Friday.

At a hearing two weeks ago, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said that many of his constituents were confused about the new law, and that "education and outreach" efforts by the administration were inadequate.

"I just see a huge train wreck coming down," Mr. Baucus said.

Asked about that comment on Tuesday, Mr. Obama said that most Americans would not be affected and that they should not fret.

"The main message I want to give to the American people here is -- despite all the hue and cry and ‘sky is falling' predictions about this stuff -- if you've already got health insurance, then that part of Obamacare that affects you, it's pretty much already in place," he said. "And that's about 85 percent of the country."

The president acknowledged that some people might encounter problems trying to obtain insurance.

"Even if we do everything perfectly, there will still be, you know, glitches and bumps, and there will be stories that can be written that say, ‘Oh, look, this thing is, you know, not working the way it's supposed to, and this happened and that happened,' " Mr. Obama said. "And that's pretty much true of every government program that's ever been set up."

Consumers will be able to use the same forms to apply for Medicaid and assistance with the cost of buying private insurance in the new marketplaces, known as exchanges.

One of the new forms emphasizes that federal aid is not just for low-income people.

"You may qualify for a free or low-cost program even if you earn as much as $94,000 a year (for a family of four)," the application says.

The president's comments came just hours after the Kaiser Family Foundation issued a poll showing that many Americans were confused about the 2010 law.

Twelve percent of Americans said they believed that the law had been repealed by Congress, 7 percent said they thought it had been overturned by the Supreme Court and 23 percent said they did not know enough to say what the status of the law was.

By Robert Pear

Source: The New York Times