OUR CRUCIAL SPRING CAMPAIGN IS NOW UNDERWAY
Please donate now to keep the mission and independent journalism of Common Dreams strong.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
Dave Lemmon, Director of Communications
Geraldine Henrich-Koenis, Deputy Director of Communications
Robert Meissner, Press Secretary
A first-of-its-kind report released today by the national consumer health organization Families USA analyzes the Tennessee health care plan CoverTN, spotlights numerous problems with the plan, and calls CoverTN a bad model for other states to follow as they seek to assist their own uninsured residents.
The report goes on to conclude that all such so-called "barebones," "limited-benefit," or "defined-benefit" plans, as exemplified by CoverTN, are far from the quality, affordable health coverage that people need. As outlined in the report, the problems with CoverTN include the following:
* Consumers' health needs may quickly exceed restrictive coverage or service limits;
* Consumers may face high costs due to a lack of caps on out-of-pocket spending;
* Plans may fail to meet the needs of targeted low- and moderate-income, high-risk populations;
* Enrollment may be low due to consumer skepticism; and
* Provider participation may be inadequate.
"The CoverTN plan is part of a continuing health care disaster for Tennessee residents who struggle to find health care coverage," Ron Pollack, Executive Director of Families USA, said today. "In 2005, the state purged its Medicaid rolls, literally cutting some residents off from life support. Now the state is offering a facade of a health care plan that is so skimpy that BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, the plan's administrator, even declines to call it insurance.
"This Tennessee plan serves as a perfect example of how states should NOT go about providing coverage for the uninsured," Pollack said.
Restrictive coverage, service limits and a lack of protection against high out-of-pocket costs are the most troublesome problems with CoverTN, which offers a choice between two plans. For example, the hospital coverage limits of $10,000 or $15,000 could easily be exceeded as a result of a single illness or accident. The plan's prescription drug benefit limits of $75 or $250 per quarter fall far short of covering drug costs, which averaged $1,234 annually in 2005 for those Tennesseans with prescription expenses. Limited coverage for both durable medical equipment and cancer treatment will likely leave many enrollees with high medical bills.
The consumer health advocacy organization Tennessee Health Care Campaign (THCC) said today it was waving a red flag as a warning about the pitfalls of the CoverTN health plan. THCC is urging residents to take extreme caution when considering the program, and it is cautioning other states that Tennessee's plan is a bad model to adopt.
The people of Tennessee seem to be getting the message: CoverTN offers little more than a false sense of health care security.
"Common-sense would dictate that Tennesseans would be signing up in droves for CoverTN, given that one in six is chronically uninsured and one in three is uninsured for at least part of the year," Tony Garr, THCC Executive Director, said today. "Yet, CoverTN enrollment, which was predicted to reach 100,000 by 2010, is currently covering about 18,000 people.
"CoverTN leaves those most likely to need health care and least able to pay for it with a plan that does not provide real protection," Garr said. "These plans are promoted to families and individuals as a cheap way to gain health care security when in fact they remain financially at risk if they ever need more than a wellness visit.
"Such plans are comparable to owning a house and buying homeowner's insurance that only covers the bathroom in the event of fire, flood, or other disaster," Garr said.
"As the nation looks at health care reform, the reform efforts of individual states can provide guidance or a hint of a path for a national program to follow," Pollack said. "The clear message from Tennessee to the nation is, 'Don't go down this road!'"
Families USA is a national nonprofit, non-partisan organization dedicated to the achievement of high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans. Working at the national, state, and community levels, we have earned a national reputation as an effective voice for health care consumers for 25 years.
The president "can stop MVP just like he stopped Keystone XL" and "can reclaim his climate legacy by stopping all new fossil fuel projects."
Progressives descended upon the White House on Thursday to demand that U.S. President Joe Biden use his executive authority to cancel the Mountain Valley Pipeline and declare a climate emergency to expedite the end of the fossil fuel era.
Approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) was fast-tracked last week via the debt ceiling agreement that Biden, eschewing his options for unilateral action, forged with House Republicans who took the global economy hostage. The fracked gas development in Appalachia—pushed hard by the GOP and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a coal profiteer and Congress' top recipient of Big Oil money—is one of several fossil fuel projects that Biden has the power to stop.
While Biden was inside the White House talking with right-wing United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, hundreds of people gathered outside to remind the president that "he can stop MVP just like he stopped Keystone XL." The rally was organized by People vs. Fossil Fuels, a coalition of more than 1,200 organizations. It marks the start of multiple days of action nationwide.
\u201cBREAKING: Frontline communities (@OurWVRivers, @POWHR_Coalition, and more) and allies are rallying for Biden to declare a climate emergency and stop dirty oil and gas projects like the Mountain Valley Pipeline.\u201d— Elise Joshi (@Elise Joshi) 1686250842
Many people wore masks due to the hazardous air quality in Washington, D.C. The East Coast's smoke-filled skies are a direct result of climate change-intensified wildfires now spiraling out of control in Canada—a fact that observers were keen to point to as evidence for why Biden should revoke the permits needed to complete MVP and other planet-heating fossil fuel projects.
\u201cLawmakers in the Senate now can\u2019t see the Washington Monument because of wildfire smoke. Those same lawmakers just voted to expedite a fossil fuel pipeline.\u201d— David Sirota (@David Sirota) 1686228891
\u201cCan\u2019t stop thinking about how Congress just had to prevent a fake and manufactured \u201cdebt ceiling crisis\u201d by fast-tracking fossil fuel projects like the Mountain Valley Pipeline which will only make the very real climate crisis even worse. This is the price of corruption. Look up.\u201d— Warren Gunnels (@Warren Gunnels) 1686191276
When asked by a reporter Wednesday if the coalition planned to cancel Thursday's protest as a public health precaution, Fossil Free Media director Jamie Henn said, "No, this is exactly why we have to take these sorts of actions." On Thursday, he added that "we're not going to sit idle as the world burns."
A separate rally scheduled for Thursday in New York City had to be canceled, however, because the record-setting air pollution blanketing the country's most populous metropolitan area in an apocalyptic orange haze poses too great a risk.
"We're fighting for a future," West Virginia resident Maury Johnson said during the demonstration in the nation's capital. "Not one that's filled with smoke."
Climate justice advocates were joined outside the White House by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). Noting that MVP has nothing to do with raising the nation's debt limit—an arbitrary and arguably unconstitutional cap on federal borrowing the GOP has weaponized to impose its agenda on multiple occasions—the progressive lawmaker denounced the inclusion of the project's approval in the debt ceiling deal.
\u201c\ud83d\udd25\ud83d\udd25\ud83d\udd25\u201cWe have the right to breathe clean air. Do you know what 1 asthma attack can do to a whole family? Mountain Valley Pipeline should never have been part of the debt ceiling deal. I call bullshit!\u201d @RepRashida \ud83d\udd25\ud83d\udd25\ud83d\udd25 @POTUS #StopMVP #EndtheEra #ClimateEmergency @FightFossils\u201d— Ben Goloff (@Ben Goloff) 1686249477
As The Guardianreported Thursday, "The Mountain Valley Pipeline project has been enmeshed in legal challenges for years due to opposition from grassroots groups and landowners but the deal passed by Congress to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, signed by Biden over the weekend, singles out the pipeline as being 'required in the national interest' and therefore should be allowed to proceed, shielded from any future judicial review."
The approval of MVP comes just months after Biden greenlighted ConocoPhillips' massive Willow oil drilling project in the Alaskan Arctic. Additionally, despite possessing the executive authority to cancel nearly two dozen proposed fracked gas export projects that threaten to generate heat-trapping emissions equivalent to roughly 400 new coal-fired power plants, the Biden administration has moved to increase fracked gas export capacity, especially in the U.S. Gulf Coast, since Russia invaded Ukraine last February. The president has also rubber-stamped more permits for fossil fuel extraction on public lands and waters than his White House predecessor.
The Biden administration has done all of those things despite mounting evidence of the climate emergency's worsening toll and ample warnings from scientists about the incompatibility of expanding fossil fuels and preserving a livable planet. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently told Biden and other wealthy country officials in no uncertain terms that their current climate policies amount to a civilizational "death sentence."
People vs. Fossil Fuels has argued that the president "can reclaim his climate legacy by stopping all new fossil fuel projects."
Thursday's rally outside the White House marks the beginning of what the coalition called "a stampede of distributed actions across the country" from June 8-11.
Participants have four main demands for Biden:
As another alliance of progressive advocacy groups has explained: "The president has a long list of actions that he could take or instruct his agencies to take, ranging from stopping fossil fuel infrastructure approvals to instructing the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] to issue a stringent pollution prevention rule for the oil and gas sector. Declaring a climate emergency under the National Emergencies Act would unlock additional statutory powers, including the ability to halt crude oil exports and directing funds to build resilient, distributed renewable energy."
In a statement this week, Zero Hour organizing director Magnolia Mead said that "young people are angry and fed up with watching President Biden cave to the fossil fuel industry time and time again."
"We need an immediate transition to renewable energy to slow the climate crisis, and that's impossible while our president is still approving massive fossil fuel expansion," said Mead. "If President Biden cares at all for future generations and frontline communities, he must choose to end the era of fossil fuels."
"If Biden lets this case proceed," said one advocate, "future administrations will surely use the precedent of the Assange prosecution... to go after journalists they don't like."
Press freedom groups on Thursday said that following the United Kingdom High Court's rejection of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's appeal against his extradition order to the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden has a choice to make: continue with the federal case against the publisher or stand on the side of journalists everywhere and drop the charges against Assange.
High Court Judge Jonathan Swift on Tuesday handed down the decision rejecting Assange's appeal of an extradition order that was signed a year ago by U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel, leaving Assange's legal team with less than a week to submit another appeal to a panel of two judges.
The judges could convene a public hearing on the case of Assange, who has been charged in the U.S. with violating the 1917 Espionage Act for publishing classified military documents that revealed the United States' alleged war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Press freedom and human rights groups have maintained that Assange has been prosecuted for publicizing government information just as newspapers routinely do and have demanded that the White House drop the charges.
"The idea of Assange or anyone being tried in a U.S. court for obtaining and publishing confidential documents the same way investigative reporters do every day should be terrifying to all Americans," said Seth Stern, director of advocacy for Freedom of the Press Foundation. "It's time for Biden to drop this case and show the world he's serious about press freedom."
\u201cFPF's statement on the rejection of Julian Assange\u2019s extradition appeal.\nhttps://t.co/sbPqRfVH8j\u201d— Freedom of the Press (@Freedom of the Press) 1686247315
The Daily Mail reported Thursday that the U.K. Home Office is currently preparing paperwork to rapidly extradite Assange and that he could be sent to the U.S. "in the next few weeks."
Human rights lawyer Stella Assange, who is married to the WikiLeaks publisher, said Assange will "make a renewed application for appeal to the High Court."
"We remain optimistic that we will prevail and that Julian will not be extradited to the United States where he faces charges that could result in him spending the rest of his life in a maximum security prison for publishing true information that revealed war crimes committed by the U.S. government," she said.
Assange's extradition was originally blocked in 2021 when a Westminster Magistrate Court judge ruled that he should not be sent to the U.S. because of the risk that being held in an American maximum security prison would pose to Assange's mental health.
The High Court overturned that ruling after the U.S. claimed Assange would not be held in highly restrictive prison conditions.
Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), denounced the continued prosecution of Assange as "judicial harassment" and "an attack on global media freedom."
\u201cPresident @JoeBiden, it is now more urgent than ever to put an end to the judicial harassment of Julian Assange and bring the case against him to a close once and for all. Pursuing his extradition and prosecution\u00a0is an attack on global media freedom. It's time to #FreeAssange!\u2026\u201d— Christophe Deloire (@Christophe Deloire) 1686239616
Along with the possibility of a ruling by the High Court in Assange's favor, the European Court of Human Rights could block the extradition following the journalist's appeal to the court last year.
Rebecca Vincent, director of campaigns for RSF, called on Biden to take action instead of leaving it up to British and European judges, in order to end a case that could "land Julian Assange in prison for the rest of his life and permanently impact the climate for journalism around the world."
"The historical weight of what happens next cannot be overstated," said Vincent. "It is time to put a stop to this relentless targeting of Assange and act instead to protect journalism and press freedom. Our call on President Biden is now more urgent than ever: Drop these charges, close the case against Assange, and allow for his release without further delay."
"We trusted the government not to screw us," said Edward Snowden. "But they did. We trusted the tech companies not to take advantage of us. But they did. That is going to happen again, because that is the nature of power."
With this week marking 10 years since whistleblower Edward Snowden disclosed information to journalists about widespread government spying by United States and British agencies, the former National Security Agency contractor on Thursday joined other advocates in warning that the fight for privacy rights, while making several inroads in the past decade, has grown harder due to major changes in technology.
"If we think about what we saw in 2013 and the capabilities of governments today," Snowden told The Guardian, "2013 seems like child's play."
Snowden said that the advent of commercially available surveillance products such as Ring cameras, Pegasus spyware, and facial recognition technology has posed new dangers.
As Common Dreams has reported, the home security company Ring has faced legal challenges due to security concerns and its products' vulnerability to hacking, and has faced criticism from rights groups for partnering with more than 1,000 police departments—including some with histories of police violence—and leaving community members vulnerable to harassment or wrongful arrests.
Law enforcement agencies have also begun using facial recognition technology to identify crime suspects despite the fact that the software is known to frequently misidentify people of color—leading to the wrongful arrest and detention earlier this year of Randal Reid in Georgia, among other cases.
"Despite calls over the last few years for federal legislation to rein in Big Tech companies, we've seen nothing significant in limiting tech companies' ability to collect data."
Last month, journalists and civil society groups called for a global moratorium on the sale and transfer of spyware like Pegasus, which has been used to target dozens of journalists in at least 10 countries.
Protecting the public from surveillance "is an ongoing process," Snowden told The Guardian on Thursday. "And we will have to be working at it for the rest of our lives and our children's lives and beyond."
In 2013, Snowden revealed that the U.S. government was broadly monitoring the communications of citizens, sparking a debate over surveillance as well as sustained privacy rights campaigns from groups like Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Fight for the Future.
"Technology has grown to be enormously influential," Snowden told The Guardian on Thursday. "We trusted the government not to screw us. But they did. We trusted the tech companies not to take advantage of us. But they did. That is going to happen again, because that is the nature of power."
Last month ahead of the anniversary of Snowden's revelations, EFF noted that some improvements to privacy rights have been made in the past decade, including:
"Despite calls over the last few years for federal legislation to rein in Big Tech companies, we've seen nothing significant in limiting tech companies' ability to collect data... or regulate biometric surveillance, or close the backdoor that allows the government to buy personal information rather than get a warrant, much less create a new Church Committee to investigate the intelligence community's overreaches," wrote EFF senior policy analyst Matthew Guariglia, executive director Cindy Cohn, and assistant director Andrew Crocker. "It's why so many cities and states have had to take it upon themselves to ban face recognition or predictive policing, or pass laws to protect consumer privacy and stop biometric data collection without consent."
"It's been 10 years since the Snowden revelations," they added, "and Congress needs to wake up and finally pass some legislation that actually protects our privacy, from companies as well as from the NSA directly."