Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Obama administration: Cap and trade could cost families $1,761 a year

How would you like to support the Goracle (Al Gore) and his various eco related business schemes with what amounts to a 15% tax hike. Read the article below from CNET.

Obama administration: Cap and trade could cost families $1,761 a year

by Declan McCullagh

The Obama administration has privately concluded that a cap and trade law would cost American taxpayers up to $200 billion a year, the equivalent of hiking personal income taxes by about 15 percent.

A previously unreleased analysis prepared by the U.S. Department of Treasury says the total in new taxes would be between $100 billion to $200 billion a year. At the upper end of the administration's estimate, the cost per American household would be an extra $1,761 a year.

A second memorandum, which was prepared for Obama's transition team after the November election, says this about climate change policies: "Economic costs will likely be on the order of 1 percent of GDP, making them equal in scale to all existing environmental regulation."

The documents (PDF) were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute and released on Tuesday.

These disclosures will probably not aid the political prospects of the Democrats' cap and trade bill. The House of Representatives approved it by a remarkably narrow margin in June--the bill would have failed if only six House members had switched their votes to "no"--and it faces significant opposition in the Senate.

Cap and trade--or emissions trading--is an approach to reducing pollutants by offering companies financial incentives to clean up their acts. The current bill focuses specifically on reducing greenhouse gases linked to climate change.

One reason the bill faces an uncertain future is concern about its cost. House Republican Leader John Boehner has estimated the additional tax bill would be at $366 billion a year, or $3,100 a year per family. Democrats have pointed to estimates from MIT's John Reilly, who put the cost (PDF) at $800 a year per family and noted that tax credits to low income households could offset part of the bite. The Heritage Foundation says that, by 2035, "the typical family of four will see its direct energy costs rise by over $1,500 per year."

One difference is that while Heritage's numbers are talking about 26 years in the future, the Treasury Department's figures don't have a time limit.

"Heritage is saying publicly what the administration is saying to itself privately," says Christopher Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute who filed the FOIA request. "It's nice to see they're not spinning each other behind closed doors."

"They're not telling you the cost--they're not telling you the benefit," says Horner, who wrote the Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming. "If they don't tell you the cost, and they don't tell you the benefit, what are they telling you? They're just talking about global salvation."

The FOIA'd document written by Judson Jaffe, who joined the Treasury Department's Office of Environment and Energy in January 2009, says: "Given the administration's proposal to auction all emission allowances, a cap-and-trade program could generate federal receipts on the order of $100 (billion) to $200 billion annually." (Obviously, any final cap-and-trade system may be different from what Obama had proposed, and could yield higher or lower taxes.)

Because personal income tax revenues bring in around $1.37 trillion a year, a $200 billion additional tax would be the equivalent of a 15 percent increase a year. A $100 billion additional tax would represent a 7 percent or 8 percent increase a year.

One odd point: The document written by Jaffee includes this line: "It will raise energy prices and impose annual costs on the order of XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX." The Treasury Department redacted the rest of the sentence with a thick black line.

The Freedom of Information Act, of course, contains no this-might-embarrass-the-president exemption (nor, for that matter, should federal agencies be in the business of possibly suppressing dissenting climate change voices). You'd hope the presidential administration that boasts of being the "most open and transparent in history" would be more forthcoming than this.

Update 9/16/2009: The Environmental Defense Fund has responded to the documents' release with a statement saying, in part:

Even if a 100 percent auction was a live legislative proposal, which it's not, that math ignores the redistribution of revenue back to consumers. It only looks at one side of the balance sheet. It would only be true if you think the Administration was going to pile all the cash on the White House lawn and set it on fire. The bill passed by the House sends the value of pollution permits to consumers, and it contains robust cost-containment provisions. Every credible and independent economic analysis of the American Clean Energy and Security Act (such as those done by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the Energy Information Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency) says the costs will be small and affordable -- and that the U.S. economy will grow with a cap on carbon.

Friday, September 11, 2009

NOAA: Summer Temperature Below Average for U.S.

Well, here's another stunner. The midwest has its 6th coolest summer. No surprise to anyone in the region (I'm in the Chicago area). We've had only a couple of 90 degree days all summer. I've had to wear a jacket for the morning commute more days than I can remember. Oh but wait. I forgot about the glowbull warming thing. I must be imagining the year without a summer. Whatever, this cooling must be caused by AGW. At least that's the claim I expect to hear as a rebuttal to this report.

NOAA: Summer Temperature Below Average for U.S.

September 10, 2009

The average June-August 2009 summer temperature for the contiguous United States was below average – the 34th coolest on record, according to a preliminary analysis by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. August was also below the long-term average. The analysis is based on records dating back to 1895.

U.S. Temperature Highlights – Summer

June-August 2009 statewide temperature ranks.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

  • For the 2009 summer, the average temperature of 71.7 degrees F was 0.4 degree F below the 20th Century average. The 2008 average summer temperature was 72.7 degrees F.
  • A recurring upper level trough held the June-August temperatures down in the central states, where Michigan experienced its fifth, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota their seventh, Nebraska its eighth, and Iowa its ninth coolest summer. By contrast, Florida had its fourth warmest summer, while Washington and Texas experienced their eighth and ninth warmest, respectively.
  • The Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota region experienced its sixth coolest summer on record. Only the Northwest averaged above normal temperatures.

U.S. Temperature Highlights – August

August 2009 statewide temperature ranks.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

  • The average 2009 August temperature of 72.2 degrees F was 0.6 degree F below the 20th Century average. Last year’s August temperature was 73.2 degrees F.
  • Temperatures were below normal in the Midwest, Plains, and parts of the south. Above-normal temperatures dominated the eastern seaboard, areas in the southwest, and in the extreme northwest.
  • Several northeastern states were much above normal for August, including Delaware and New Jersey (eighth warmest), Maine (ninth), and Rhode Island and Connecticut (10th). In contrast, below-normal temperatures were recorded for Missouri and Kansas.

U.S. Precipitation Highlights – Summer

June-August 2009 statewide Precipitation ranks.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

  • The Northeast region had its eighth wettest June-August summer on record. By contrast, the South, Southeast and Southwest regions, were drier than average. Arizona had its third driest summer, while both South Carolina and Georgia had their sixth driest.

U.S. Precipitation Highlights – August

  • In August, precipitation across the contiguous United States averaged 2.34 inches, which is 0.26 inch below the 1901-2000 average.
  • Above-normal averages were generally recorded across the northern U.S., west of the Great Lakes. The South and Southeast regions experienced below-normal precipitation.
  • Precipitation across the Southwest region averaged 0.85 inches, which is 1.10 inches below normal and ranks as the 4th driest August on record. Arizona had its fourth driest, New Mexico its fifth, and it was the eighth driest August on record for Colorado, Utah and Texas.

    August 2009 statewide precipitation ranks.

    High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

  • By the end of August, moderate-to-exceptional drought covered 14 percent of the contiguous United States, based on the U.S. Drought Monitor. Drought intensified in parts of the Pacific Northwest and new drought areas emerged in Arizona and the Carolinas. Montana, Wisconsin and Oklahoma saw minor improvements in their drought conditions.
  • About 27 percent of the contiguous United States had moderately-to-extremely wet conditions at the end of August, according to the Palmer Index (a well-known index that measures both drought intensity and wet spell intensity).

Other Highlights

  • There were more than 300 low temperature records (counting daily highs and lows) set across states in the Midwest during the last two days of August.
  • A total of 7,975 fires burned 1,646,363 acres in August, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center. August 2009 ranked fifth for the number of fires and sixth for acres burned in August this decade. From January through August, 64,682 fires have burned 5.2 million acres across the nation.

NCDC’s preliminary reports, which assess the current state of the climate, are released soon after the end of each month. These analyses are based on preliminary data, which are subject to revision. Additional quality control is applied to the data when late reports are received several weeks after the end of the month and as increased scientific methods improve NCDC’s processing algorithms.

NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Twenty-six Lies About H.R. 3200

So, what's the deal with HR 3200 (better known as Obamacare or Kennedy's legacy)? There have been many claims by both sides that are misleading or just plain false. I personally want only 3 things from a healthcare overhaul. 1: Coverage for pre-existing conditions. 2: No denial of coverage. 3: Tort reform. Oh, and no coverage for illegal immigrants. Anyway, check out the fact check below from It lays out the facts on healthcare reform and sets the record straight on misleading and false claims made by someone on the internet (conservative?). Its a helluva long read but slog through it if you can.

Twenty-six Lies About H.R. 3200

A notorious analysis of the House health care bill contains 48 claims. Twenty-six of them are false and the rest mostly misleading. Only four are true.

August 28, 2009

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Our inbox has been overrun with messages asking us to weigh in on a mammoth list of claims about the House health care bill. The chain e-mail purports to give "a few highlights" from the first half of the bill, but the list of 48 assertions is filled with falsehoods, exaggerations and misinterpretations. We examined each of the e-mail’s claims, finding 26 of them to be false and 18 to be misleading, only partly true or half true. Only four are accurate. A few of our "highlights":

  • The e-mail claims that page 30 of the bill says that "a government committee will decide what treatments … you get," but that page refers to a "private-public advisory committee" that would "recommend" what minimum benefits would be included in basic, enhanced and premium insurance plans.
  • The e-mail says that "non-US citizens, illegal or not, will be provided with free healthcare services" but points to a provision that prohibits discrimination in health care based on "personal characteristics." Another provision explicity forbids "federal payment for undocumented aliens."
  • It says "[g]overnment will restrict enrollment of SPECIAL NEEDS individuals." This provision isn’t about children with learning disabilities; instead, it pertains to restricted enrollment in "special needs" plans, a category of Medicare Advantage plans. Enrollment is already restricted. The bill extends the ability to do that.
  • It claims that a section about "Community-based Home Medical Services" means "more payoffs for ACORN." ACORN does not provide medical home services. The e-mail interprets any reference to the word "community" to be some kind of payoff for ACORN. That’s nonsense.


This chain e-mail claims to give a run-down of what’s in the House health care bill, H.R. 3200. Instead, it shows evidence of a reading comprehension problem on the part of the author. Some of our more enterprising readers have even taken it upon themselves to debunk a few of the assertions, sending us their notes and encouraging us to write about it. We applaud your fact-checking skills and your skepticism. And skepticism is warranted.

Chain e-mail: Subject: A few highlights from the first 500 pages of the Healthcare bill in congress Contact your Representatives and let them know how you feel about this. We, as a country, cannot afford another 1000 page bill to go through congress without being read. Another 500 pages to go. I have highlighted a few of the items that are down right unconstitutional. ⬐ Click to expand/collapse the full text ⬏

A few readers alerted us to the fact that a state representative in North Carolina, Rep. Curtis Blackwood, published a version of the e-mail in a newsletter to constituents, telling them that while going through e-mail, he came across "some interesting information on the Democrats’ big health care bill, H.R. 3200. … While this is federal legislation and not state, the topic is of enough significance that I thought many of you would be interested in reading it." We’d refer Rep. Blackwood to our special report on viral messages titled, "That Chain E-mail Your Friend Sent to You Is (Likely) Bogus. Seriously."

We can trace the origins of this collection of claims to a conservative blogger who issued his instant and mostly mistaken analyses as brief "tweets" sent via Twitter as he was paging through the 1,017-page bill. The claims have been embraced as true and posted on hundreds of Web sites, and forwarded in the form of chain e-mails countless times. But there’s hardly any truth in them. We’ll go through each of the claims in this message:

Claim: Page 22: Mandates audits of all employers that self-insure!

False: This section merely requires a study of “the large group insured and self-insured employer health care markets.” There’s no mention of auditing employers, only of studying “markets.” The purpose of the study is to produce “recommendations” to make sure the new law “does not provide incentives for small and mid-size employers to self-insure.”

Claim: Page 29: Admission: your health care will be rationed!

False: This section says nothing whatsoever about “rationing” or anything of the sort. Actually, it’s favorable to families and individuals, placing an annual cap on what they could pay out of pocket if covered by a basic, “essential benefits package.” The limits would be $5,000 for an individual, $10,000 for a family.

Claim: Page 30: A government committee will decide what treatments and benefits you get (and, unlike an insurer, there will be no appeals process)

False: Actually, the section starting on page 30 sets up a “private-public advisory committee” headed by the U.S. surgeon general and made up of mostly private sector “medical and other experts” selected by the president and the comptroller general. The advisory committee would have only the power “to recommend” what benefits are included in basic, enhanced and premium insurance plans. It would have no power to decide what treatments anybody will get. Its recommendations on benefits might or might not be adopted.

Claim: Page 42: The “Health Choices Commissioner” will decide health benefits for you. You will have no choice. None.

False: The new Health Choices Commissioner will oversee a variety of choices to be offered through new insurance exchanges. The bill itself specifies the “minimum services to be covered” in a basic plan, including prescription drugs, mental health services, maternity and well-baby care and certain vaccines and preventive services (pages 27-28). We find nothing in the bill that prevents insurance companies from offering benefits that exceed the minimums. In fact, the legislation allows (page 84) any company that offers an approved basic plan to offer also an “enhanced” plan, a “premium” plan and even a “premium plus” plan that could include vision and dental benefits.

Claim: Page 50: All non-US citizens, illegal or not, will be provided with free healthcare services.

False. That’s simply not what the bill says at all. This page includes "SEC. 152. PROHIBITING DISCRIMINATION IN HEALTH CARE," which says that "[e]xcept as otherwise explicitly permitted by this Act and by subsequent regulations consistent with this Act, all health care and related services (including insurance coverage and public health activities) covered by this Act shall be provided without regard to personal characteristics extraneous to the provision of high quality health care or related services." However, the bill does explicitly say that illegal immigrants can’t get any government money to pay for health care. Page 143 states: "Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States." And as we’ve said before, current law prohibits illegal immigrants from participating in government health care programs.

Claim: Page 58: Every person will be issued a National ID Healthcard.

False. There is no mention of any “National ID Healthcard” anywhere in the bill. Page 58 says that government standards for electronic medical transactions "may include utilization of a machine-readable health plan beneficiary identification card,” to show eligibility for services. Insurance companies typically issue such cards already, but if such a standard were issued the cards would need to be in a standard form readable by computers. The word “may” is used to permit such a standard, but it does not require one.

Claim: Page 59: The federal government will have direct, real-time access to all individual bank accounts for electronic funds transfer.

False. This section aims to simplify electronic payments for health services, the same sort of electronic payments that already are common for such things as utility bills or mortgage payments. The bill calls for the secretary of Health and Human Services to set standards for electronic administrative transactions that would "enable electronic funds transfers, in order to allow automated reconciliation with the related health care payment and remittance advice." There is no mention of "individual bank accounts" nor of any new government authority over them. Also, the section does not say that electronic payments from consumers is required.

Claim: Page 65: Taxpayers will subsidize all union retiree and community organizer health plans (read: SEIU, UAW and ACORN)

Misleading. Page 65 is the start of a section (SEC. 164. REINSURANCE PROGRAM FOR RETIREES) that would set up a new federal reinsurance plan to benefit retirees and spouses covered by any employer plan, not just those run by labor unions or nonprofit groups. Specifically, it covers “retirees and . . . spouses, surviving spouses and dependents of such retirees” who are covered by “employment-based plans” that provide health benefits. It’s open to any “group health benefits plan that . . . is maintained by one or more employers, former employers or employee associations,” as well as voluntary employees’ beneficiary associations (page 66). Furthermore, the aim of the fund is to cut premiums, copays and deductibles for the retirees. Payment “shall not be used to reduce the costs of an employer.”

Claim: Page 72: All private healthcare plans must conform to government rules to participate in a Healthcare Exchange.

True. This page begins a section setting up a new, national Health Insurance Exchange through which individuals and employers may choose from a variety of private insurance plans, much like the system that now covers millions of federal workers. Any private insurance plans offered through this exchange must meet new federal standards. For example, such plans can’t deny coverage for preexisting medical conditions (page 19).

Claim: Page 84: All private healthcare plans must participate in the Health care Exchange (i.e., total government control of private plans)

Partly true. Nothing like this appears on page 84. No insurance company is required to sell plans through the exchange if it doesn’t want to. Any employer may choose to buy coverage elsewhere. In fact, the vast majority of employers will still be buying private plans through the normal marketplace, because only employers with 10 or fewer employees are even allowed to buy through the exchange in the first year. The limit rises to 20 employees in the second year. However, new plans sold directly to individuals will only be sold through the exchange. Individuals who currently buy their own coverage can keep those plans if they wish, and if the insurance company continues to offer them.

Claim: Page 91: Government mandates linguistic infrastructure for services; translation: illegal aliens

Misleading. It’s true that page 91 says that insurance companies selling plans through the new exchange “shall provide for culturally and linguistically appropriate communication and health services.” The author’s “translation,” however, assumes that anyone speaking a foreign language or from another culture is an illegal immigrant, which is false.

Claim: Page 95: The Government will pay ACORN and Americorps to sign up individuals for Government-run Health Care plan.

False: This page is the start of “SEC. 205. OUTREACH AND ENROLLMENT OF EXCHANGE-ELIGIBLE INDIVIDUALS AND EMPLOYERS IN EXCHANGE-PARTICIPATING HEALTH BENEFITS PLAN.” It says a newly established Health Choices Commissioner “shall conduct outreach activities” to get people covered by private or government health insurance plans. The section says on page 97 that the Commissioner “may work with other appropriate entities to facilitate … provision of information.” But there is no authorization anywhere in the entire section for the Commissioner to pay money to any group to engage in outreach.

Claim: Page 102: Those eligible for Medicaid will be automatically enrolled: you have no choice in the matter.

Partly true. Page 102 says certain Medicaid-eligible persons will be “automatically enrolled” in Medicaid (which is the state-federal program to provide insurance to low-income workers and families) IF they are not already covered by private insurance. That would happen only if they had “not elected to enroll” in one of the private plans offered through the new insurance exchanges, however. So on paper at least, they would have a choice. Also, it’s estimated that one in four persons who lacks health insurance is already eligible for Medicaid or its offshoot, the state Children’s Health Insurance Program, but simply haven’t signed up or been enrolled by their parents.

Claim: Page 124: No company can sue the government for price-fixing. No “judicial review” is permitted against the government monopoly. Put simply, private insurers will be crushed.

Half true. It’s true that page 124 forbids any review by the courts of rates the government would pay to doctors and hospitals under the new “public option” insurance plan. But there’s no mention of “price fixing” in the bill; that’s the e-mail author’s phrase. It also remains to be seen if the “public option” plan would grow to become a “government monopoly,” as the author predicts.

Claim: Page 127: The AMA sold doctors out: the government will set wages.

Misleading. Nothing in the bill would “set wages” for doctors in general. Page 127 says the government would ask doctors to accept below-market rates set by the government for their patients who are covered by a new “public health insurance option,” just as they now are asked to do so for patients covered by Medicare. Physicians would still be free to charge what they wish for other patients, and free not to accept patients covered by the new program just as they are now free to refuse Medicare patients. That’s not a choice many doctors make, however, so as a practical matter the government would be setting rates (not “wages”) for many patients. On the other hand, the new “public” plan is aimed mainly at covering people who have no insurance now and can afford to pay doctors little if anything.

Claim: Page 145: An employer MUST auto-enroll employees into the government-run public plan. No alternatives.

False. It’s true that employers would be required to sign up their workers for coverage automatically, but it doesn’t have to be the “public plan.” It would be the employer-offered plan “with the lowest applicable employee premium” (pages 147- 148). This would only be the "public option" if the employer was eligible to buy coverage through the Health Insurance Exchange (not likely, at least during the first two years when only small businesses would have access), and the "public option" was the cheapest plan (which would be likely). Furthermore, while the employer isn’t given an alternative, the workers are. They may reject auto-enrollment under an opt-out provision (page 148).

Claim: Page 146: Employers MUST pay healthcare bills for part-time employees AND their families.

Half true. There’s nothing in this section about part-time employees’ families, but this provision does call for employers to contribute toward part-time employees’ health insurance. The bill says that “for an employee who is not a full-time employee … the amount of the minimum employer contribution” will be a proportion of the minimum contribution for full-time employees. This proportion will depend on the average weekly hours of part-time employees compared with the minimum weekly hours required to be a full-time employee, as specified by the Health Choices Commissioner. (For a point of reference: The minimum contribution for individual plans of full-time employees is not less than 72.5 percent of the premium of the cheapest plan the employer offers.)

Claim: Page 149: Any employer with a payroll of $400K or more, who does not offer the public option, pays an 8% tax on payroll Claim: Page 150: Any employer with a payroll of $250K-400K or more, who does not offer the public option, pays a 2 to 6% tax on payroll.

Both Partly True. The bill requires employers either to offer private health insurance coverage or pay a percentage of their payroll expenses to help finance a public plan. The 8 percent payment would indeed apply to employers with payrolls over $400,000 in the previous year, and lesser amounts would apply to smaller firms. Those with payrolls of $250,000 or less would pay nothing. But the penalty isn’t incurred if an employer "does not offer the public option," as the e-mail claims. Rather, it’s a penalty for not offering health insurance to employees.

Claim: Page 167: Any individual who doesn’t have acceptable health care (according to the government) will be taxed 2.5% of income.

True. This is the mechanism in the bill to enforce the individual mandate requiring everyone to have insurance. A person who doesn’t have insurance that meets minimum benefit standards (or other acceptable coverage, such as a plan that was grandfathered in) would pay a penalty of 2.5 percent of modified adjusted gross income for the year. The total penalty can’t exceed a national average premium for individual coverage, or family coverage if applicable.

Claim: Page 170: Any NON-RESIDENT alien is exempt from individual taxes (Americans will pay for them).

False. “Non-resident aliens” are generally those who have spent less than 31 days in the U.S. during the year. The claim that “Americans will pay for them” assumes that such visitors would somehow be getting federal benefits that would cost taxpayers money. In any case, they are not “exempt from individual taxes” at all. Under current law, the Internal Revenue Service says: “If you are a nonresident alien, you must file Form 1040NR (PDF) or Form 1040NR-EZ (PDF) if you are engaged in a trade or business in the United States, or have any other U.S. source income on which the tax was not fully paid by the amount withheld.” All that page 170 says is that non-resident aliens who don’t obtain health coverage don’t have to pay an additional 2.5 percent federal tax that would apply to U.S. workers who fail to get coverage, or to immigrants who are working here legally under green cards and who fail to obtain coverage. The tax is spelled out in subsection (a) starting on page 167.

Claim: Page 195: Officers and employees of Government Health care Bureaucracy will have access to ALL American financial and personal records.

False. This section of the bill discusses “Disclosures To Carry Out Health Insurance Exchange Subsidies.” It says that government employees of the health insurance exchange will have access to federal tax information for purposes of determining eligibility for affordability credits available for low- and moderate-income Americans. In other words, in order to qualify for a government subsidy to purchase health insurance, the government needs to confirm your income. And, no surprise, the government already has access to your federal tax information. The bill also says nothing about “ALL … financial and personal records.” Instead it says “Such return information shall be limited to—(i) taxpayer identity information with respect to such taxpayer, (ii) the filing status of such taxpayer, (iii) the modified adjusted gross income of such taxpayer (as defined in section 59B(e)(5)), (iv) the number of dependents of the taxpayer, (v) such other information as is prescribed by the Secretary by regulation as might indicate whether the taxpayer is eligible for such affordability credits (and the amount thereof).” The bill goes on to limit use of this information “only for the purposes of, and to the extent necessary in, establishing and verifying the appropriate amount of any affordability credit … and providing for the repayment of any such credit which was in excess of such appropriate amount.”

Claim: Page 203: “The tax imposed under this section shall not be treated as tax.” Yes, it really says that.

Misleading. What this actually says is: “The tax imposed under this section shall not be treated as tax imposed by this chapter for purposes of determining the amount of any credit under this chapter or for purposes of section 55,” which deals with the Alternative Minimum Tax. It would limit the ripple effects of the new taxes the bill would impose on individuals making over $350,000 a year.

Claim: Page 239: Bill will reduce physician services for Medicaid. Seniors and the poor most affected. Claim: Page 241: Doctors: no matter what specialty you have, you’ll all be paid the same (thanks, AMA!)

Both False. Both of these claims pertain to Section 1121, which updates the physician fee schedule for 2010 for Medicare. It doesn’t "reduce physician services for Medicaid" (which wouldn’t pertain to seniors anyway); instead it modifies a section of the Social Security Act that defines physicians’ services. The section also doesn’t say that doctors will be paid the same “no matter what specialty you have.” Instead it sets up two categories of physician services with different growth rates for fees under those categories. As the Kaiser Family Foundation says of this section of the bill: "Allows the revised formula to be updated by the gross domestic product (GDP) plus 2% for evaluation and management services and GDP plus 1% for all other services." The measure will cost $228.5 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation.

Claim: Page 253: Government sets value of doctors’ time, their professional judgment, etc.

Misleading. It’s true that page 253 refers to “relative value units” to be used when determining payment rates for doctor’s services, and that such RVUs would weigh factors “such as time, mental effort and professional judgment, technical skill and physical effort, and stress due to risk.” But this is nothing new; the government already uses RVUs when setting rates it will pay under Medicare. For example, the RVUs assigned to a colonoscopy are currently double the RVUs assigned to an intermediate office visit. In fact, page 253 is part of a section (Sec. 1122) that sets up a process for correcting existing but “potentially misvalued” rates.

Claim: Page 265: Government mandates and controls productivity for private healthcare industries.

Misleading. This claim doesn’t even make sense. How can anyone "mandate” that somebody else be productive, or “control” how productive they are? The author has simply misunderstood what this controversial item would do. In fact, page 265 is the start of a section (Sec. 1131) that is among several designed to slow future growth of Medicare payments to help offset the cost of the bill. It would require that “productivity improvements” be taken into account when setting annual “market basket” updates to Medicare rates for hospital-based services. The hospital industry has estimated this would translate into a 1.3 percent cut next year and a total of $150 billion in reduced payments over 10 years, and is opposed to it.

Claim: Page 268: Government regulates rental and purchase of power-driven wheelchairs.

Misleading. What page 268 does is to stop Medicare for paying for “mobility scooters,” which have been widely marketed as a Medicare-financed benefit, leading to ballooning costs to the program. They would no longer qualify as a “power-driven wheelchair.” Only a "complex rehabilitative power-driven wheel chair recognized by the Secretary” would be covered. The Congressional Budget Office estimates this will save the government $800 million over 10 years (see page 2).

Claim: Page 272: Cancer patients: welcome to the wonderful world of rationing!

False. This page merely calls for a study of whether a certain class of hospitals incur higher costs than some others for the cancer care they deliver. It also says the secretary of HHS “shall provide for an appropriate adjustment” in payments “to reflect those higher costs.” It’s hardly “rationing” to pay hospitals more to compensate for higher costs.

Claim: Page 280: Hospitals will be penalized for what the government deems preventable re-admissions.

True: This does say that “the Secretary shall reduce the payments” to hospitals with too many “potentially preventable” readmissions of patients that they previously had discharged.

Claim: Page 298: Doctors: if you treat a patient during an initial admission that results in a readmission, you will be penalized by the government.

False. That section is part of a list of potential physician-centered approaches to reducing excess hospital readmissions. The bill states that the secretary of Health and Human Services will conduct a study on the best ways to enforce readmissions policies with physicians. One of the approaches the secretary must consider is the option to reduce payments to physicians whose treatment results in a hospital readmission. Another is the option to increase payments to physicians who check up on recently released patients. Neither of these approaches is mandated in the bill – what’s mandated is that the secretary consider them, among others.

Claim: Page 317: Doctors: you are now prohibited for owning and investing in healthcare companies!

False. It’s already illegal, with certain exceptions, for doctors to refer Medicare patients to hospitals, labs, medical imaging facilities or other such medical businesses in which they hold a financial interest. Page 317 would modify an exception to that “self-referral prohibition” for rural providers, and says doctors can’t increase their stake in an exempt hospital after the bill becomes law.

Claim: Page 318: Prohibition on hospital expansion. Hospitals cannot expand without government approval.

False. Expansion is forbidden only for rural, doctor-owned hospitals that have been given a waiver from the general prohibition on self-referral. It does not apply to hospitals in general. The bill provides for exceptions to even this limited expansion ban (page 321).

Claim: Page 321: Hospital expansion hinges on “community” input: in other words, yet another payoff for ACORN.

False. Page 321 says rural, doctor-owned hospitals that are exempt from the Medicaid self-referral prohibition can ask to be allowed to expand under rules that must allow “input” from “persons or entities in the community.” Under that language, anybody in the community could offer their opinion, but nobody – not ACORN or anybody else – would be paid for it.

Claim: Page 335: Government mandates establishment of outcome-based measures: i.e., rationing.

Misleading. This section does deal with establishing quality measures for Medicare. It does not make any recommendations for treatment, or empower anyone to make treatment recommendations based on those measures. The only effect of these outcome-based measures established in the bill would be ranking and potential disqualification of underperforming Medicare Advantage plans – that’s disqualification of the plans, not of any medical procedures.

Claim: Page 341: Government has authority to disqualify Medicare Advantage Plans, HMOs, etc.

True. The bill allows for the possibility of disqualifying underperforming Medicare Advantage plans, which include Medicare HMOs. Medicare Advantage plans are private health plans that provide Medicare benefits. Under the bill, the secretary of Health and Human Services has the authority to disallow plans that are providing low-quality care under the new quality measures (which include evaluations of patient health, mortality, safety and quality of life). If a plan is disqualified, this will not leave seniors without care. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that “virtually all” Medicare beneficiaries have access to at least two Medicare Advantage plans, and most have access to three or more. In 2008, 82 percent of beneficiaries had access to six or more private fee-for-service plans, one type of Medicare Advantage plan (along with HMOs, PPOs and medical spending accounts). Beneficiaries are also always free to return to the regular Medicare fee-for-service program.

Claim: Page 354: Government will restrict enrollment of SPECIAL NEEDS individuals.

Misleading. Insurance companies already restrict enrollment in so-called “special needs” plans, a special category of Medicare Advantage plans that were created in 2003. Page 354 merely extends the authority to do that beyond the end of next year, when it was set to expire. Furthermore, what’s being restricted isn’t the number of patients, but the type of patients. Plans can be restricted to accepting only those patients who fall into in one or more special categories. These include those who are institutionalized (think, nursing homes), those who qualify both for Medicare and Medicaid (think, both low-income and over age 65) and those with severe or disabling chronic conditions such as diabetes, emphysema, chronic heart failure or dementia. And of course, this has nothing to do with children with learning problems.

Claim: Page 379: More bureaucracy: Telehealth Advisory Committee (healthcare by phone).

Misleading. The advisory committee would not be a “bureaucracy” or have any administrative functions, but instead would bring together experts from the private sector to give advice on how Medicare and Medicaid should treat the practice of medicine via telecommunication, something used in rural hospitals and such places as cruise ships, battlefield settings and even on NASA space missions. Pages 380-381 call for the committee to consist of five “practicing physicians,” two “practicing non-physician health care workers” and two “administrators of telehealth programs.”

Claim: Page 425: More bureaucracy: Advance Care Planning Consult: Senior Citizens, assisted suicide, euthanasia? Claim: Page 425: Government will instruct and consult regarding living wills, durable powers of attorney, etc. Mandatory. Appears to lock in estate taxes ahead of time. Claim: Page 425: Government provides approved list of end-of-life resources, guiding you in death Claim: Page 427: Government mandates program that orders end-of-life treatment; government dictates how your life ends. Claim: Page 429: Advance Care Planning Consult will be used to dictate treatment as patient’s health deteriorates. This can include an ORDER for end-of-life plans. An ORDER from the GOVERNMENT. Claim: Page 430: Government will decide what level of treatments you may have at end-of-life.

All False. These six claims are a twisted interpretation of a provision in the bill that says Medicare will cover voluntary counseling sessions between seniors and their doctors to discuss end-of-life care. Medicare doesn’t pay for such sessions now; it would under the bill. End-of-life care discussions include talking about a living will, hospice care, designating a health care proxy and making decisions on what care you want to receive at the end of your life. Doctors do the consulting, not the "government" or a "bureaucracy." The e-mail author’s assertion that the bill calls for "an ORDER from the GOVERNMENT" for end-of-life plans rests on language about a patient drawing up such an order stipulating their wishes, and having that order signed by a physician. There’s nothing about "an order from the government." The bill defines an order for life-sustaining treatment as a document that "is signed and dated by a physician …[and] effectively communicates the individual’s preferences regarding life sustaining treatment." See our article "False Euthanasia Claims" for more on such assertions.

Claim: Page 469: Community-based Home Medical Services: more payoffs for ACORN.

False. This section defines the term "community-based medical home" as a "nonprofit community-based or State-based organization" that "provides beneficiaries with medical home services." ACORN does not provide medical home services. The section goes on to say such a medical service is one that "employs community health workers, including nurses or other non-physician practitioners, lay health workers, or other persons as determined appropriate by the Secretary, that assist the primary or principal care physician or nurse practitioner in chronic care management activities." The only thing ACORN has in common with that description is the word "community." It’s a community organization that offers services such as free tax preparation help and first-time home buyer counseling for low- and moderate-income people. It also works to register people to vote, and a few of its canvassers have been investigated for registration fraud, a point of concern during the presidential campaign.

Claim: Page 472: Payments to Community-based organizations: more payoffs for ACORN.

False. This section is referring to community-based medical homes.

Claim: Page 489: Government will cover marriage and family therapy. Government intervenes in your marriage.

Half true. It’s true that pages 489 and 490 make state-licensed “marriage and family therapist” services a covered expense “for the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses.” But the therapists wouldn’t be employed by the government, and there’s no requirement for anybody to receive their help. So the claim that this would mean that “government intervenes in your marriage” is false.

Claim: Page 494: Government will cover mental health services: defining, creating and rationing those services.

Misleading. The provision amends Section 1861 of the Social Security Act laying out what services Medicare will cover. It expands coverage for mental health services, stipulating that a "mental health counselor" who can perform mental health counseling is someone with a master’s or doctorate degree, a state license, and two years of practice as a counselor. Is this the government "defining" mental health services? Well, it’s certainly the government defining what government programs will cover.

– by Brooks Jackson, Lori Robertson and Jess Henig, with D’Angelo Gore

Global Warming Could Forestall Ice Age

Oh, this is too good to be true. The Gray Lady (NYT) has an article dated 9/3/09 in the science section about glowbull warming. One has to wonder how this ever snuck in. Be that as it may, the Times is to be congratulated on running this as it offers a perspective on the issue seldom seen in the MSM. Kudos to the NYT.

Global Warming Could Forestall Ice Age

The human-driven buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere appears to have ended a slide, many millenniums in the making, toward cooler summer temperatures in the Arctic, the authors of a new study report.

Scientists familiar with the work, to be published Friday in the journal Science, said it provided fresh evidence that human activity is not only warming the globe, particularly the Arctic, but could also even fend off what had been presumed to be an inevitable descent into a new ice age over the next few dozen millenniums.

The reversal of the slow cooling trend in the Arctic, recorded in samples of layered lakebed mud, glacial ice and tree rings from Alaska to Siberia, has been swift and pronounced, the team writes.

Earlier studies have also shown that the Arctic, more than the planet as a whole, has seen unusual warming in recent decades. But the new analysis provides decade-by-decade detail on temperature trends going back 2,000 years — five times further than previous work at that detailed a scale.

Several climate scientists said the new study was most significant for showing just how powerfully the Arctic climate appears to be responding to a greenhouse-gas buildup that is having more complex and subtle mix of effects elsewhere around the globe.

Darrell S. Kaufman, the lead author and a climate specialist at Northern Arizona University, said the biggest surprise was the strength of the shift from cooling to warming, which started in 1900 and intensified after 1950.

“The slow cooling trend is trivial compared to the warming that’s been happening and that’s in the pipeline,” Dr. Kaufman said.

Several scientists who were not involved with the study concurred that the pace of the temperature reversal far exceeded the natural variability in Arctic temperatures, supporting the idea that the warm-up is human-caused and potentially disruptive.

According to the study, after a slow cooling of less than half a degree Fahrenheit per millennium, driven by a cyclical change in the orientation of the North Pole and the Sun, the region warmed 2.2 degrees just since 1900, with the decade from 1998 to 2008 the warmest in 2,000 years.

In theory, summer temperatures in the Arctic region would be expected to cool for at least 4,000 more years, given the growing distance between the Sun and the North Pole during the summer in the Northern Hemisphere, the study says.

But Jonathan T. Overpeck, a study author and climate specialist at the University of Arizona, said the rising concentration of long-lived greenhouse gases guaranteed warming at a pace that could stress ecosystems and cause rapid melting of Greenland’s great ice sheet.

“The fast rate of recent warming is the scary part,” Dr. Overpeck said. “It means that major impacts on Arctic ecosystems and global sea level might not be that far off unless we act fast to slow global warming.”

In the very long term, the ability to artificially warm the climate, particularly the Arctic, could be seen as a boon as the planet’s shifting orientation to the Sun enters a phase that could initiate the next ice age.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling!

Talk about hyperbole. This article lifted from the Guardian is the ultimate in glowbull warming hype. Mankind will be responsible for tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. All this is in addition to floods, forest fires, famines etc. While this conference looks extreme, I think the lefties are seeing their message fall on deaf ears. The public rejects this nonsense so this would seem to be a last gasp effort to move the issue up in the public awareness. This would be funny if it weren't so pathetic.

Climate change: melting ice will trigger wave of natural disasters

Scientists at a London conference next week will warn of earthquakes, avalanches and volcanic eruptions as the atmosphere heats up and geology is altered. Even Britain could face being struck by tsunamis

Scientists are to outline dramatic evidence that global warming threatens the planet in a new and unexpected way – by triggering earthquakes, tsunamis, avalanches and volcanic eruptions.

Reports by international groups of researchers – to be presented at a London conference next week – will show that climate change, caused by rising outputs of carbon dioxide from vehicles, factories and power stations, will not only affect the atmosphere and the sea but will alter the geology of the Earth.

Melting glaciers will set off avalanches, floods and mud flows in the Alps and other mountain ranges; torrential rainfall in the UK is likely to cause widespread erosion; while disappearing Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets threaten to let loose underwater landslides, triggering tsunamis that could even strike the seas around Britain.

At the same time the disappearance of ice caps will change the pressures acting on the Earth's crust and set off volcanic eruptions across the globe. Life on Earth faces a warm future – and a fiery one.

"Not only are the oceans and atmosphere conspiring against us, bringing baking temperatures, more powerful storms and floods, but the crust beneath our feet seems likely to join in too," said Professor Bill McGuire, director of the Benfield Hazard Research Centre, at University College London (UCL).

"Maybe the Earth is trying to tell us something," added McGuire, who is one of the organisers of UCL's Climate Forcing of Geological Hazards conference, which will open on 15 September. Some of the key evidence to be presented at the conference will come from studies of past volcanic activity. These indicate that when ice sheets disappear the number of eruptions increases, said Professor David Pyle, of Oxford University's earth sciences department.

"The last ice age came to an end between 12,000 to 15,000 years ago and the ice sheets that once covered central Europe shrank dramatically," added Pyle. "The impact on the continent's geology can by measured by the jump in volcanic activity that occurred at this time."

In the Eiffel region of western Germany a huge eruption created a vast caldera, or basin-shaped crater, 12,900 years ago, for example. This has since flooded to form the Laacher See, near Koblenz. Scientists are now studying volcanic regions in Chile and Alaska – where glaciers and ice sheets are shrinking rapidly as the planet heats up – in an effort to anticipate the eruptions that might be set off.

Last week scientists from Northern Arizona University reported in the journal Science that temperatures in the Arctic were now higher than at any time in the past 2,000 years. Ice sheets are disappearing at a dramatic rate – and these could have other, unexpected impacts on the planet's geology.

According to Professor Mark Maslin of UCL, one is likely to be the release of the planet's methane hydrate deposits. These ice-like deposits are found on the seabed and in the permafrost regions of Siberia and the far north.

"These permafrost deposits are now melting and releasing their methane," said Maslin. "You can see the methane bubbling out of lakes in Siberia. And that is a concern, for the impact of methane in the atmosphere is considerable. It is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas."

A build-up of permafrost methane in the atmosphere would produce a further jump in global warming and accelerate the process of climate change. Even more worrying, however, is the impact of rising sea temperatures on the far greater reserves of methane hydrates that are found on the sea floor.

It was not just the warming of the sea that was the problem, added Maslin. As the ice around Greenland and Antarctica melted, sediments would pour off land masses and cliffs would crumble, triggering underwater landslides that would break open more hydrate reserves on the sea-bed. Again there would be a jump in global warming. "These are key issues that we will have to investigate over the next few years," he said.

There is also a danger of earthquakes, triggered by disintegrating glaciers, causing tsunamis off Chile, New Zealand and Newfoundland in Canada, Nasa scientist Tony Song will tell the conference. The last on this list could even send a tsunami across the Atlantic, one that might reach British shores.

The conference will also hear from other experts of the risk posed by melting ice in mountain regions, which would pose significant dangers to local people and tourists. The Alps, in particular, face a worryingly uncertain future, said Jasper Knight of Exeter University. "Rock walls resting against glaciers will become unstable as the ice disappears and so set off avalanches. In addition, increasing meltwaters will trigger more floods and mud flows."

For the Alps this is a serious problem. Tourism is growing there, while the region's population is rising. Managing and protecting these people was now an issue that needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency, Knight said.

"Global warming is not just a matter of warmer weather, more floods or stronger hurricanes. It is a wake-up call to Terra Firma," McGuire said.

Enviornmentalism as Religion? - In UK, Yes

In the UK, if you get fired, you may be able to keep your job is if you claim a "philosophical belief in climate change", allowing you the same legal protection against discrimination as religious beliefs.

So, in essence, the UK will now treat climate belief discrimination the same as religious discrimination. That is of course unless common sense prevails. Guess we'll have to wait and see.

Company fights climate change ruling by employment tribunal

• Judge ruled views were philosophical belief
• Discrimination law 'may bring flood of litigation'

A controversial tribunal decision that some company practices can discriminate against employees with strongly held views on climate change will be challenged in the courts.

Senior executive Tim Nicholson claimed he was unfairly dismissed by a property investment company because his views on the environment conflicted with other managers' "contempt for the need to cut carbon emissions".

In the first case of its kind, an employment tribunal decided that Nicholson, 41, had views amounting to a "philosophical belief in climate change", allowing him the same legal protection against discrimination as religious beliefs.

Nicholson, the former head of sustainability at Newcastle-based Grainger plc, says he was dismissed after disagreeing with practices including an instance where an IT worker was flown from London to Ireland to collect his BlackBerry, and another where Nicholson's attempts to obtain data to develop a carbon management strategy were blocked.

Despite having written policies on the environment, Grainger executives attended meetings in "some of the most highly polluting cars on the road", Nicholson claimed.

"[My belief] affects how I live my life including my choice of home, how I travel, what I buy, what I eat and drink, what I do with my waste, and my hopes and fears," he said. "For example, I no longer travel by plane, I have eco-renovated my home, I compost my food waste and encourage others to reduce their carbon emissions."

Judge David Sneath said at the employment tribunal: "[Nicholson] has certain views about climate change and acts upon those views in the way in which he leads his life. In my judgment his belief goes beyond a mere opinion."

The decision, which is being challenged by the company, comes two years after the law on religious discrimination was changed so that beliefs no longer had to be "similar" to religious faith to receive protection in the workplace.

Under the new law "philosophical belief" is protected by the law alongside religious belief if it passes a legal test requiring it to be cogent, serious and "worthy of respect in a democratic society".

The case has attracted criticism from some, however, who argue that the removal of the requirement that beliefs are "similar" to religious faith will create a potential minefield for employers.

Caroline Doran, employment partner at London solicitors Sprecher Grier Halberstam, said: "The removal of the word similar has [also] led to a range of employment litigation to determine whether patriotism or loyalty to a flag or support for the British National party are covered as suitable beliefs.

"This … may create an abundance of litigation in the future as the tribunals will have to weigh an individual's belief against the yardstick of current popular thinking."

Nicholson's lawyer said that the case reflected a necessary clarification of the law that would affect large numbers of employees.

"This is a case that will clarify the law for the ever-increasing numbers of people who take a philosophical stance on the environment and climate change, and who lead their lives according to those principles", said Shah Qureshi, head of employment law at solicitors Bindmans.

"These are often deeply held views based on the premise that without change humanity will suffer … people should be able to express such views without fear of retribution or discrimination."