Repubs Fight Obamacare, Botched Executions, Firing Squads, Obama Limits Business Mergers, Failed VA Reform and the End of a Dream

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According to federal data released Wednesday to ProPublica, nearly one million transactions on the federal exchange have occurred following more than 5 million people who signed up using Healthcare.gov before April 19, the end of the open enrollment period, according to Charles Ornstein, Obamacare Website Getting So Much Traffic It’s Surprising Experts. All told, between federal exchange and 14 state exchanges, more than 8 million signed up fro coverage. The data covers the 36 states using the exchange including Texas, Florida, Illinois, Georgia and Michigan. Charles Gaba, who runs the site acasignups.net tracks enrollment numbers estimating that between 6,000 and 7,000 people sign up for coverage reach day on the exchange after the official enrollment period ended. About 86 percent of those sign ups are eligible for government subsidies to help lower their monthly payments, whole those subsidies are being challenge by lawsuits in federal court contenting that they aren’t allowed by the Affordable Care Act. Two federal appeals courts came to conflicting decisions Tuesday on the permissibility of subsidies with one saying no and one saying yes. The Obama administration said they will remain in effect as the cases proceed in court. The next time that the general public can sign up fro coverage through the exchanges is November 15 to February 15, 2015. On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters: “You know, the discussions about Obamacare and what the replacement bill would look like continue. We’re trying to build consensus around one plan. Not there yet.” According to Igor Bobic, Don’t Worry, Republicans Are Still Working On A Plan To Replace Obamacare, the remarks were made following an April decision by the party to delay a promised alternative to the exchange. However, Boehner is intent on keeping his focus on Obamacare by trying to sue the Obama administration for failing to implement a portion of the law in a timely manner.

While healthcare seems to continue to be a hot button issue, another issue has taken the spotlight recently due to botched executions. An influential federal appeal court judge on Thursday said that the nation’s third botched lethal injection in six months reinforces his call to bring back firing squads, according to the Associated Press, Judge argues for return of firing squad executions. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. circuit Court of Appeals, said lethal injection was a dishonest way to disguise the brutal nature of capital punishment, the AP reported. Kozinski wrote unfavorably about lethal injection in his decision Monday and while arguing against delaying the execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood III in Phoenix, who gasped for more than 90 minutes for breath taking nearly two hours to die Wednesday. According to Kozinski, a properly trained firing squad would be foolproof and quick in executing an inmate and avoid complications surrounding lethal injection. He told the AP: “I’ve always thought executions should be executions not medical procedures.” Kozinski said he supports capital punishment but states and federal government should stop lethal injections for a foolproof plan such as firing squads or the guillotine, however, he doubted that the public would accept the latter form.

From botched executions to bad business practices, President Obama is addressing misgivings about tax driven overseas mergers of U.S. corporations by issuing a new call to end the practice now and questions the patriotism and citizenship of those companies, the Associated Press explains, Obama wants limits on US company mergers abroad. The push comes as many companies try to reorganize with foreign entities partly to reduce their tax payments to the U.S. Though Obama did include a proposal to rein in such mergers and acquisitions in his 2015 budget, his administration brought more attention to these transactions last week with a letter from Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to House and Senate leaders saying such deals known as inversion “hollow out the U.S. corporate income tax base.” Obama is urging Congress to enact legislation retroactive to May in order to stop companies from rushing into deals to avoid the law. However, Republicans and some Democrats prefer to make these changes as part of a comprehensive overhaul of corporate tax code that would also lower corporate tax rates and reduce incentives for companies to seek out countries with lower taxes. Administration officials estimate the deals if continued will cost the U.S. Treasury $17 billion in lost revenue over the next decade. Lew in the letter said: “We should not be providing support for corporations that seek to shift their profits overseas to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.”

Meanwhile, while the tax code has failed to regulate the way it should, the VA continues to suffer from fallout of scandals and Congress failing to do its part. In an interview Wednesday night with Larry King, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) criticized President Obama for underestimating the Republican opposition causing them to spin their wheels waiting for a legislative compromise. Sam Stein reports,
How VA Reform Fell Apart In Less Than 4 Days, on Thursday Sanders told reporters he may have also been victimized by the oppositions, announcing that after weeks of negotiations with House Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) over reform legislation aimed at the Department of Veterans Affairs and his Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that negotiations have ground to a halt. The two men spoke on Monday for an hour via phone conference with acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson on the costs of the VA reform bill that the Congressional Budget Office valued at $50 billion for the Senate bill and $54 billion for the House bill. The money was meant to allow vets without a VA facility the option of going outside the system for medical treatment, however, the discussion moved to funding needed to repair facilities, build new ones, hire personnel and update records systems totaling $17.6 billion according to Gibson. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he was worried on Tuesday that VA reform would not get done before the recess in August. Sanders said that Gibsons request can be reduced and the cost for veterans to find care outside the VA could be lowered as well in an effort to find middle ground. However, Sanders and miller have not talked again since their Monday phone call. On Wednesday, Sanders upped the public pressure by going to the Senate floor to warn about the possibility of Congress leaving for recess without solving the issue that lawmakers deem a must fix crisis followed by a press conference to brief reporters. On Wednesday, Jessica Eggimann, Chief clerk of Miller’s committee, sent an email to a top staffer on Sanders’ committee, asking her to forward the notice that Miller was hosting an open conference committee meeting the next day to discuss the legislation. However, Sanders’ office took the move as inconsiderate and a political stunt. The worst offense for Democrats was a line asking Sanders to join Miller in convening a conference on July 28 “for a formal vote on this proposal.” Sanders organized a press conference with fellow Senate Democrats criticizing Miller for demanding a vote on a proposal that did not adhere to the outlines of earlier discussion, according to an aide. A Senate Democratic aide said that by ratcheting up the politics of VA reform, the party increased the possibility of passage. By the end of the day Thursday, both Sanders and Miller paved the way to restart talks saying that they would work through the weekend to finalize a deal.

Meanwhile, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Thursday demanded in a statement that the Obama administration needed to “wind down” a policy helping more than 550,000 undocumented workers who came to the U.S. as children which could restart deportation of young people who lived here for years. Elise Foley reports, Marco Rubio: End Relief For Dreamers, Rubio’s statement outlined suggestions to deal with the crisis of more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors who cross the U.S. border illegally since October. According to the statement, Rubio believes: “Because the recent wave from Central America spiked after DACA was announced, it is in our interest to wind down this program. If you are not currently in it, you should not be eligible for it.” New immigrants aren’t eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, the Obama administration policy that allows undocumented immigrants called Dreamers who enter the country as children before June 15, 2007 to apply for temporary authorization to stay and work legally. Most Republicans have opposed the policy since its introduction in 2012, but the GOP’s calls to end the policy have gotten louder. All 24 Republican House members and both senators in the Texas congressional delegation sent a letter to Obama on Thursday calling for suspension of efforts to expand deportation relief. The letter reads: “Your Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Executive Order has shielded over half a million illegal immigrants from current law. And it has sent the regrettable message that illegal immigration will not be punished in the United States.” Last month, according to Foley, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was joined by 32 House Republicans calling for Obama to end DACA and in a letter Issa accused Obama of selectively enforcing the law. The letter reads: “DACA rewards families and individuals who have broken our laws, further encouraging others to seek similar benefits.” Lawmakers have been vague about what to do with these undocumented young people who are eligible for DACA. Cruz’s bill would apply to future relief, while Rubio said relief should not be given out in the future meaning current DACA recipients could keep their temporary status. However, ending the policy could mean that undocumented young people could risk deportation and those current under the policy would eventually have to reapply. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) explained earlier this month that if the administration ends DACA and similar policies protecting Dreamers from deportation: “They should not be under a process created that the president doesn’t have the authority to do, and they would be in the status that they were in prior to this program being established.”

Allegations of A Continued Cover Up at Phoenix VA

PHOENIX, AZ  - JUNE 5:   New Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson.  (Photo by Laura Segall/Getty Images)

PHOENIX, AZ – JUNE 5: New Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson. (Photo by Laura Segall/Getty Images)

At the Center of the nationwide scandal, the Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix has had an employee, scheduling clerk Pauline DeWenter, come forward claiming that an ongoing cover up of patients death have occurred and she had maintained a private list of veterans who waited months for appointments. According to the Arizona Republic on June 23, 2014 and the interview DeWenter did with CNN, she has spoken to the VA Office of Inspector General investigators about the list, turned over evidence and reported her suspicions of cover up. DeWenter claims someone change entries on the electronic appointment records of veterans who died while waiting for care from “deceased”  which she entered to “entered in error” and “no longer needed” with some being made in recent weeks. DeWenter further describes that a Phoenix VA Medical Center supervisor told her to gather new patient appointment request and put them in her desk due to the overwhelming influx of patients in early 2013. She further claims that more than 1,000 veterans were placed on the private list and remained there for weeks or months because they couldn’t be scheduled within the 14 day goal for wait times. She objected to doing so but was forced to by the Phoenix VA director Sharon Helman in an effort to cut wait times. At a congressional hearing last Monday, Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., asked VA officials including assistant deputy undersecretary Thomas Lynch if the VA was aware of these claims during the four visits made to the Phoenix facility. Lynch replied, “I’m not aware of the revelation. I am aware that the OIG is looking carefully at all of the deaths that have occurred. I do not know of any attempts to hide deaths, congresswoman.”

Dr. Sam Foote, the retired VA physician who exposed the practice earlier this year, has kept in communication with DeWenter since December about the waiting list and questions why the VA left the former hospital management in place after the problems were found. While the appointment delay issue was first discovered in Phoenix, it was discovered that the issue is widespread throughout the VA nationwide. The VA, serving 9 million veterans, has struggled to deal with the mounting evidence that workers falsified reports on wait times in an effort to cover up long delays in medical appointments. An internal audit found that more than 57,000 new applicants have had to wait three months for their first appointment, while an additional 64,000 newly enrolled vets never got them. The director of the Phoenix VA, Sharon Helman has gone on administrative leave and the FBI has launched a criminal investigation of the facility. Back in Congress, both the House and Senate have passed legislation requiring the VA to pay private providers to treat qualifying veterans who can’t get a prompt appointment. Each chamber has appointed committees to deal with the differences in the two bills with lawmakers meeting Tuesday.

Our Veterans Deserve Better

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An updated audit of 731 VA medical facilities released last Thursday June 19 found tens of thousands of more veterans not included previously have to wait at least a mouth for a medical appointment at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics, according to Matthew Daly’s article – Tens of thousands more veterans than previously reported are forced to wait at least a month for medical appointments. The updated report showed new figures on the wait times experience at most VA facilities were shorter than the waiting lists for pending appointed e.g. new patients at Atlanta VA hospital wait 44 days for an appoint in April where the average wait for pending appointments at Atlanta were 66 days. Similar disparities were found across the country with more than 56,000 veterans waiting more than 90 days for an initial appointment. Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson believes there is more work to be done, though his department has reached out to 70,000 veterans to get them off waiting lists and into clinics. The report shows 10 percent of veterans seeking care at VA hospitals and clinics wait 30 days for an appointment which is double the 4 percent previously reported the previous week. The VA is investigation widespread manipulation of appointment data following dozens of confirmed allegations of veterans dying while awaiting appointments at the Phoenix VA medical center. According to some 13 percent of schedulers surveyed by auditors, they were told to falsify wait times on appointment records by supervisors to make them appear shorter. In exchange for the delay, schedulers were given a performance bonus. The June 9 audit found that 57,000 veterans were waiting 90 days for their first medical appointments and an additional 64,000 have never gotten an appointment. The new report found the numbers to be lower at 56,300 and 46,400. VA Secretary Eric Shineski resigned three weeks ago over treatment delays and wait listing problems at VA facilities nationwide. Shineski took the blame for the lack of integrity within the VA network, while the Hose and Senate approved separate billed to allow veterans to seek local doctors if a VA appointment cannot be made in a timely manner.