Petition: Stop the cuts to Food Stamps

The Trump administration recently announced changes to SNAP that will cause hundreds of thousands of people to lose access to their “food stamp” benefits. Will you sign the petition to urge Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to stop these attacks on families who depend on SNAP?

USDA’s newly proposed rules for SNAP will cut food stamp benefits for hundreds of thousands of hungry people. We demand that you stop these proposed changes before they take effect on April 1, 2020.

According to Feeding America, “SNAP provides families with their basic nutritional needs to get them through temporary hard times. It helps people get back on their feet and on the road to a better life.”

But the Trump administration has been working for the last three years to undermine SNAP as part of their agenda to limit access to public assistance programs.

This newly announced attack on SNAP is especially outrageous, because Congress rejected these proposed changes to the program during the Farm Bill debate last year. The House rejected them in a bipartisan vote of 330-83, and the Senate voted down a similar amendment 68-30.

But now, Sonny Perdue, Trump’s secretary of agriculture, is moving forward with these changes through an undemocratic “executive order” that targets very poor people struggling to work—many of whom are homeless, living in small towns and rural communities with little or no access to employment, or have health conditions that prevent them from working.

Click here to add your name to this petition, and then pass it along to your friends.

Thank you.

—Matthew Hildreth,

Petition: Tell Congress to Ban surprise medical bills.

It’s bad enough that Americans have to pause in the midst of medical emergencies to ask if insurance companies will cover the cost of treatment. But it’s even worse that visits to “in-network” providers can still result in hundreds or thousands of dollars in surprise medical bills.1

Today, one in five emergency room visits — and 70 percent of critical air ambulance transports — result in surprise medical bills. When healthcare providers and insurance companies can’t agree on how much treatment costs, they turn around and bill patients for the difference.2

Insurance companies’ greed has broken our healthcare system in more ways than we can count. But right now, we have a chance to take real, bipartisan action to end surprise medical billing, and we can’t let it go to waste.

One surprise medical bill can tip someone into bankruptcy, and they are growing more and more common. Maybe the insurance company pads its profits by paying the hospital or ambulance less than the treatment costs. Or providers demand higher and higher fees that the insurance company won’t pay. Or the insurer reimburses the hospital, but not the doctor who provided treatment. Regardless, the story ends the same: patients end up stuck paying for the balance, with no warning and through no fault of their own.3

The good news is that there is new momentum behind legislation that would ban this “balance billing,” based on three commonsense principles:4

  • Ban surprise balance billing and fully protect patients with no exceptions, especially in emergency situations where people can’t make sure they will see an in-network provider
  • Contain costs by establishing a reasonable payment level between providers and insurers based on actual prices, not corporate greed
  • Ensure comprehensive protection nationwide so federal law reinforces the strongest state laws and helps people in states with no protections

A bipartisan consensus in Congress is emerging against surprise medical bills but insurers and emergency medical providers are fighting back to preserve their profits.5 It’s up to us to fight for the strongest possible legislation with no loopholes or handouts.

Sign CREDO’s petition to Congress: Ban surprise medical bills.

Thank you for speaking out,

Heidi Hess, Co-Director
CREDO Action from Working Assets

Sweden Provides Free Higher Education, Universal Healthcare, Free Daycare — Why Can’t the U.S.?

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Medicare for All and tuition-free universities have been at the core of the 2020 Democratic presidential campaigns, creating a stark division between progressive candidates and their centrist counterparts. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have proposed to make Medicare for All and public universities cost-free by taxing massive corporations and the super wealthy, and earlier this year, Sanders introduced legislation that would cancel student loan debt. His plan would be paid for with a new tax on Wall Street, he says. It would also make public universities and community colleges free — a key pillar of Sanders’s 2020 education platform. These proposals are not radical ideas in Sweden, a country that has built one of the world’s most extensive social welfare systems. In Sweden, healthcare costs are largely subsided by the state. Daycare and preschool programs are mostly free. College and university are free. Public transportation is subsidized for many users. To explain how Sweden does it, we speak with Mikael Törnwall, Swedish author and journalist focusing on economic issues at Svenska Dagbladet, a Stockholm daily newspaper. His most recent book is titled “Who Should Pay for Welfare?”

Social Security Works: What’s included in improved Medicare for All?

With Thanksgiving around the corner, and Medicare for All a hot topic, we thought it would be worth refreshing everyone about all of Medicare for All’s benefits for seniors. Have a great holiday! –Nancy and the SSW team

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The enactment of Medicare for seniors in 1965 was intended as just the first step to Medicare for All. But for years, corporate-funded propaganda has attempted to scare those who would benefit the most.

Right now, long-term care―at home or in a nursing home―is not covered by Medicare. And the cost of a semi-private room, food and housecleaning in a nursing home averages $225 a day, or $82,125 each year.

As a result, many seniors have no choice but to impoverish themselves until they can qualify for Medicaid.

Improved Medicare for All includes comprehensive long-term care coverage, including at-home services and supports, as well as nursing home care. This would be life-changing for tens of millions of seniors and their families, who would could live with dignity and still get the care they need.

The recently introduced Medicare for All Act of 2019 also includes vision, hearing and dental coverage. And the legislation eliminates every penny in premiums, co-pays and deductibles.

If Medicare for All were the law of the land, health care costs would no longer consume over 40% of the average Social Security benefit—effectively increasing benefits.

Improving Medicare’s benefits and expanding it to cover everyone will make the program stronger, more successful and more popular.

Right now, according to the most recent Trustees Report, Medicare spends just 1.1 penny of every dollar collected and spent on administrative costs. The other nearly 99 cents are spent on providing health care. In contrast, the administrative costs of private health insurance are generally more than 12%.

For-profit insurance corporations, big pharma and the other industries that profit off of our current wasteful health care system are terrified of Medicare for All. They will do everything they can to defeat it, including scaring those who are most dependent on health care and therefore have among the most to gain from Medicare for All. We are just beginning to see their campaign of fear.

Opponents of Medicare for All are seeking to scare older and younger Americans alike into opposition in spite of the fact that Medicare is significantly more efficient than commercial health insurance.

Adding everyone to Medicare would not only increase the size of the risk pool—it would reduce costs even more by adding healthier, younger beneficiaries to that risk pool, driving the per capita costs even lower.

Even conservative analyses show that Medicare for All will reduce what seniors and the rest of us pay currently.

Under improved Medicare for All, Americans will be able to choose whatever doctors and hospitals they prefer. They will be able to afford their medications. They will be able to get early treatment when medical problems arise.

We can make Medicare for All a reality, but only if millions of us mobilize to defeat the power of big money.

Chip in today to educate the American people and grow our movement for Medicare for All.

Right now, around one in three seniors aged 65 to 74 suffer from hearing loss. The number is nearly one in two for those aged 75 or older. However, three out of five of those over age 65 are untreated for their hearing loss.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

Untreated dental problems can lead to malnutrition. And untreated gum disease can result in heart and lung disease. Improved Medicare for All covers these critical medical issues.

Let’s not let the fearmongers scare us from this better world. Together, let’s make high quality health care a human right for everyone in America.

Thank you,

Nancy Altman
Social Security Works

Job posting touting Maine’s ‘short season of decomposed bodies’ adds to the drumbeat against Dr. Mark Flomenbaum.

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A Maine state medical examiner who fancies himself a comedian. What could possibly go wrong?

Dr. Mark Flomenbaum, Maine’s embattled chief medical examiner, has for the better part of a year been under the microscope for all kinds of eyebrow-raising activities.

But revelations last week go beyond previous questions about Flomenbaum’s competence and his moonlighting as a private consultant in addition to his day job.

Now we learn he makes jokes, on the internet, about dead people.

“It’s outrageous … that he has such a callous disregard for the sanctity of what it means to hold that job,” said state Rep. Jeff Evangelos, an independent from Friendship, who has several complaints pending against Flomenbaum with the Maine Attorney General’s Office, which oversees the medical examiner.

The latest flap involves a listing for a deputy medical examiner posted on the National Association of Medical Examiners job website, among other places, in August 2017. Flomenbaum and Kirsten Figueroa, who left the AG’s office last winter to become commissioner of Maine’s Department of Administrative and Financial Services, are listed as the contacts.

The ad is pure boilerplate at first – workload, areas of responsibility, that sort of thing. But then, in a list of bullet points detailing why Maine is “an ideal environment” for a forensic pathologist, the post takes a sudden lurch into the macabre.

Calling Maine “a winter mecca” for various outdoor sports, it adds parenthetically, “translation: really short season of decomposed bodies.

Lauding Maine’s “vast waterways and enormous coastline ideal for aquatic and marine sports,” it quips: “translation: many bodies are lost at sea or wind up in either New Hampshire or Canada.”

On our relatively small population distributed over a large area: “translation: only the bodies that really need to come in for autopsies will do so.

If he was serious, Flomenbaum has a truly bizarre way of looking at the state that in 2018 paid him just under $280,000 in salary and benefits to pick up where death, often violently or tragically, leaves off.

And if he was joking, well, maybe the man needs a long sabbatical.

Some undoubtedly will dismiss the ad as gallows humor, that built-in defense mechanism that serves as an emotional shield for those who regularly deal with horrendous situations. But a wisecrack in the relative privacy of a police station or trauma center or, for that matter, autopsy room, is one thing – a momentary stress reliever intended for the benefit of a small, sympathetic audience.

A posting on the internet? That’s public. That sticks around. That’s a statement to the world about who you are and how you view work that, by any societal measure, is no joke.

“They can have their funny moments whenever,” Evangelos said. “But this was the job posting for the deputy medical examiner. Gimme a break.”

The medical examiner’s office declined a Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald request for an interview on Friday. The AG’s office did not respond to a request for an interview. Contacted via his cellphone on Saturday, Flomenbaum refused to speak on the record.

And from Gov. Janet Mills, on whose watch as attorney general the ad went out, we got only this from spokesman Scott Ogden on Friday: The governor “has a great deal of respect for and confidence in Dr. Flomenbaum and his office.”


This is the same medical examiner who 12 years ago was fired in Massachusetts by then-Gov. Deval Patrick after an investigation found that state’s medical examiner’s office “on the verge of collapse.” They’d even lost track of a body.

The same medical examiner who, as part of his Lincoln Forensics LLC consulting gig, was found “not credible” as a defense witness in a 2016 Connecticut manslaughter trial involving the fatal beating of a 3-year-old girl. The prosecutor, who won the case, went so far as to alert then-AG Mills that Maine might want to disclose Flomenbaum’s credibility problem when he testifies in court cases here.

It’s the same medical examiner whose last-minute change of opinion on the angle of a gunshot caused a mistrial last February in the murder trial of Noah Gaston. Fortunately, following a retrial that proceeded without incident, a jury on Friday found Gaston guilty of murdering his 34-year-old wife, Alicia.

And it’s the same medical examiner who cited “acute and chronic alcoholism” as contributing to the heart-and-diabetes-related death of Appalachian Trail hiker Jeff Aylward, 63, who was found dead near his Rangeley campsite in August after having no contact with his family for 13 days.

Late Friday, under pressure from Aylward’s widow, Ann, and two private experts who said the alcohol in Jeff Aylward’s system was actually the result of the body’s decay, Flomenbaum quietly removed any mention of alcoholism from his report.  Under “major findings,” he included “moderate postmortem putrefaction,” which is known to produce sometimes high levels of alcohol in the body as it decomposes.

Any one of these flubs would be enough to wonder if Maine is getting its money’s worth from this guy. Taken together, it’s hard to grasp how the normally no-nonsense Gov. Mills still has “a great deal of respect for and confidence in” him.

Now, on top of it all, we discover that Flomenbaum likes Maine for its “short season on decomposed bodies” and sees our rivers and bays as conduits for whisking our corpses to other jurisdictions.

“Flomenbaum has no credibility left, yet it is to him who our prosecutors look to for ‘evidence’ that ends up imprisoning Mainers,” Evangelos said in an email on Saturday. “It’s beyond belief and I expect his lack of credibility will continue to plague our court proceedings.”

Contacted Saturday at her home in Plymouth, Massachusetts, Ann Aylward said she had not yet heard about the medical examiner’s ghoulish job posting. After hearing it read to her, she said she was disgusted but not surprised.

Aylward said she felt early on after her husband’s death that Flomenbaum had no interest in hearing her objections to the alcohol finding – because of his diabetes, she has maintained, Jeff Aylward stopped drinking alcohol 15 years ago.

Her inability to get Flomenbaum on the phone – all of her dealings, she said, were with a subordinate – eventually convinced Aylward that she’d only succeed at clearing her husband’s name if she took on the medical examiner publicly.

Apparently, it worked.

“He never picked up the phone. He never spoke to us. He never even made the attempt,” Alyward said, adding that the not-so-funny job posting only confirms to her that “something’s not right” with Flomenbaum.

“If that’s how he has to find his peace in the work that he does, he needs to get out of that work,” she said. “He needs to get out of that job.”

HHS Probes Google’s Program to Collect Healthcare Data of Americans

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In more privacy news, the Health and Human Services Department has opened a federal inquiry into Google’s Project Nightingale program, which seeks to collect health data on millions of Americans. Project Nightingale is a collaboration between Google and Ascension, the second-largest healthcare provider in the United States. In a video posted online, a whistleblower who works with the program says the cache of medical data includes the full names and medical details of millions of Americans.

The Cost of Living: Why US Prescription Drug Prices Are so High

Fault Lines investigates what’s behind the skyrocketing price of prescription medication in the US and the human cost.

In the United States, many people have to choose between financial insecurity or saving their own lives.
The cost of nearly every major brand name drug is on the rise and as a result, millions of Americans are having trouble paying for their prescription medication.

This includes Type 1 diabetics, for whom insulin is a life-saving drug.

“For somebody like me, it’s like the oxygen you breathe. It is like the oxygen you and I breathe, except for me, I have to pay $340 a vial for that oxygen,” says Quinn Nystrom, from T1International, a global advocacy organisation for diabetics. Nystrom is one of at least 1.2 million Americans with Type 1 diabetes, an auto-immune disease that has no cure.

Between 2012 and 2016 alone, the price of insulin nearly doubled, forcing many Americans to search for other routes to access it.

We follow a caravan of Type 1 diabetics as they cross the border into Canada, where insulin is about one-tenth of the cost of the drug in the US.

“It’s not just a bunch of people whining and crying about the price of insulin. There is a true impact,” says Nicole Smith-Holt, whose son died less than a month after ageing off her health insurance, because, she believes, he could not afford to pay for his insulin and started rationing the drug. “My family was destroyed by this. I lost my child. I will never have my son back … Ultimately, the system failed Alec.”

We made multiple interview requests to the top three insulin manufacturers, but none of them agreed to an interview. Sanofi sent a statement and included a congressional testimony by its External Affairs Executive Vice president.

We also meet Jackie Trapp who has a rare form of blood cancer called Multiple Myeloma, which doesn’t respond to traditional cancer treatments. Instead, she has to take a speciality drug to keep her cancer stable. Despite having insurance and taking advantage of multiple assistance programmes this vital drug costs her between $15,000 and $22,000 a year.

“Drugs don’t work if we can’t afford to take them,” Trapp says.

Fault Lines investigates what’s behind the skyrocketing costs of prescription medication, and how the hefty price tag is costing lives.