What would Jesus do?

By Jeff Koob
Columbia, SC

We’re undoubtedly the most powerful nation on earth, and arguably the most prosperous. All of the other major industrialized nations recognize health care as a basic human right, not a privilege.

Republicans who oppose this principle are on the wrong side of history. They say they’re against the Affordable Health Care Act because it’s unworkable, but have no alternative plan to care for people who are too poor to get preventive health services, or too disabled to support themselves financially. The conservative hardcore doesn’t think that the government should be responsible for caring for our neediest citizens, even in times of relative prosperity.

Many Republicans in the SC legislature want to turn down Medicaid funds that would prevent illness and save lives, purely on ideological grounds. The federal funds SC turns down will go to other states.

What’s happened to Christian values like, “love thy neighbor as thyself”? When Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” he told the story of the Good Samaritan. Legislators who profess to be Christians seem to be more wedded to the values of dog-eat-dog capitalism: “Every man for himself.”

They are like the priest and the Levite who passed by their injured neighbor, unconcerned with his plight. They need to put the welfare of the neediest of their constituents above their more-conservative-than-thou political posturing.

IMG_1807Jeff Koob (wearing blue hat) was among 17 people arrested on March 18 for blocking the road outside the SC State House as part of a sustained lobbying effort to pressure lawmakers as they debated the “Nullify Obamacare” bill. Read more about South Carolina’s Truthful Tuesday movement here.

Nullifying the nullifiers; a political primer

sen davis

SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey challenges Sen. Tom Davis outside Senate chambers before senators take up the “Nullify Obamacare” bill. Truthful Tuesday activists have been lobbying lawmakers since the legislature reconvened on Jan. 14.

The “Nullify Obamacare” bill was voted down in the SC Senate late Wednesday night, with a vote of 33 opposed to nine in favor of the House-passed version. It’s complicated, but here’s a breakdown.

Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) completely rewrote H- 3101, which expressly rejected Medicaid expansion and regulated federal ACA Navigators. (The Network was among the groups in South Carolina awarded a grant to help people navigate the insurance marketplace to be in compliance with the new health care law.)

The amended bill died after Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell ruled that Davis’ amendment was not germane to the House version. McConnell, who serves as president of the Senate, said of the House version, “I was having trouble understanding what that bill really did.”

Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) raised a point of order that the regulations placed on Navigators had nothing to do with the original bill. McConnell agreed, and ruled Davis’ entire amendment out of order.

In a move seen as disrespectful in the body that prides itself on being deliberative and cordial, Davis appealed McConnell’s ruling to the Senate floor. Twenty-eight senators, 14 from each party, upheld the decision to kill Davis’ amended bill.

With Davis’ version of H-3101 dead, the vote then was called on the original House version that even Davis had declared unconstitutional. Only nine Republicans voted to adopt the “Nullify Obamacare” version of the bill. In the end, 19 Republicans joined 14 Democrats to reject the bill on a 33 – 9 vote.

That only nine of 28 Republican senators took the rigid Tea Party stance against “Obamacare” is seen by SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey as “a rare victory for rational thought in the legislature.”

That said, Bursey cautioned that the damage has already been done, calling the time-sapping legislative posturing “bad political theater.” South Carolinians are already suffering from the state’s refusal to participate in the Affordable Care Act, with more than 1,000 deaths predicted here this year because lawmakers refused to accept Medicaid expansion money (which, we remind you, is OUR tax dollars.)

The death of H-3101 doesn’t mean that South Carolina lawmakers will stop obstructing the ACA. South Carolina is still refusing money for a state insurance marketplace and Medicaid expansion. The Davis bill would have added regulating state Navigators and blocking public bodies from helping people get insurance to the state’s anti-Obamacare campaign.

“A goal of our Truthful Tuesday protests,” Bursey said, “was to get people talking, change the dialogue, and reduce the Tea Party influence on Republicans. That is happening.”

Truthful Tuesday Day of Shame in SC State House lobby on Feb. 25. Be there!

tt2

In anticipation of the Senate taking up the Nullify Obamacare bill next week (H-3101, which passed the House last year), we are calling for a Truthful Tuesday Day of Shame on Feb. 25. We will gather in the upstairs lobby at 11am and greet the Senators as they go into session at noon. Bring signs and scarves (we’ll have some for folks who don’t.)

We will politely ask each one of them whether they support the Affordable Health Care Act and expanding Medicaid. If they say no, or refuse to answer, we will look them in the eye and simply say “Shame!”

We have been advised that disturbing a legislative session is punishable by three years in prison and a $5,000 fine, AND the Fifth Circuit Solicitor has advised our lawyers and the police that they WILL be using that charge should anyone violate 10-11-330. Given the unreasonable consequences, we are not calling for civil disobedience at this time and place.

We firmly believe that civil disobedience is a legitimate tactic that should be pursued. There are times when it is morally imperative for people to take a stand (or sit-in) against evil. It is what ended Jim Crow, brought an end to the Vietnam war, and is the people’s ultimate weapon against fatally wrong state actions. The primary beneficiary of CD is the participant whose principles are tested and found victorious. The tactic wakes the public, and forces the media to address why people are willing to get arrested.

If you are considering CD in the future, you must check in with our CD coordinator, Network Director Brett Bursey, for a briefing. Call 803-808-3384 for details.

We believe that when a majority of our legislators make partisan decisions that will cause hundreds of unnecessary deaths, it is incumbent on citizens to “disturb the orderly conduct” of such a body. We are committed to disturbing these politicians by exposing their shameless, petty, partisan self-serving conduct that violates their oath to serve the common good.

We have been reluctant to call shots when the legal liabilities were unclear, and our commitment to an open and democratic process has had us waiting for consensus from parties that are not responding.

We invite those allies who have fallen away from the effort to re-engage. The Moral Mondays spotlight in the regional and national media has given our own movement a boost, as the media has taken to linking our movements. We are resolved to press on. Please join us for the good fight and the long haul.

Bookmark TruthfulTuesday.net to stay connected. Finally, watch Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter in this clip at a Truthful Tuesday planning meeting, where she says she’s saving bond money in case she needs it. She’s stepping up. So can you.

Gov. Nikki Haley bashes “Obamacare” in 2014 State of the State address

But let us ask a simple question. “Are taxpayers getting the most health for the money they spend on health care?” My answer is no – not by a long shot.

We spend more money for health services per person than any nation on earth. Year after year we devote a larger and larger portion of our paychecks, our payrolls and our state and federal budgets to health care services.

Maybe we wouldn’t worry about all of this spending if our outcomes were better, but they aren’t.

The United States is falling behind the rest of the world in infant mortality and life expectancy – and here in South Carolina we have one of the lowest life expectancies and highest infant mortality rates in the U.S.

With such high costs and such poor outcomes, why would we throw more money at the system without first demanding improved efficiency, quality, and accessibility?

The Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, says expand first and worry about the rest later.

Connecticut expanded early under Obamacare and just reported a $190 million Medicaid deficit – in spite of subjecting their citizens to a massive tax increase.

California just raised taxes in part to cover their Medicaid deficit and yet needs $350 million more to pay for Obamacare next year.

That’s not us. That’s not South Carolina.

The federal government likes to wave around a nine-dollar match like it is some silver bullet, some extraordinary benefit that we cannot pass up.

But what good do the nine dollars do us when we can’t come up with the one?

And what good are any dollars when they come through a program that doesn’t allow us the flexibility to make the decisions that are in the best interest of the people of South Carolina?

In the end, I cannot support this expansion for a very simple reason: it avoids addressing our health system’s high costs and poor outcomes.

As long as I am governor, South Carolina will not implement the public policy disaster that is Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

Instead, we need to improve health care value. And we will.

rally crowd

Rally Jan. 14, the first day of the legislative session. Among the demands was that lawmakers accept the federal grant to expand Medicaid, a move that would save an estimated 1,400 South Carolina lives. Join the Truthful Tuesday movement! Details at TruthfulTuesday.net.

South Carolinians to rally at State House Jan. 14!

ft adOutraged by lawmakers’ refusal to fund education and health care, South Carolinians from across the state will rally at noon on the south side of the SC State House Jan. 14 to demand that lawmakers quit grandstanding and start governing.

The Truthful Tuesday Coalition – a grassroots campaign led by members of the faith community and advocacy organizations – is working to hold lawmakers accountable and to help the public understand the truth: South Carolina is not too broke to fund these core services. It simply lacks the political leadership to properly fund and manage responsible government.

“These are not political issues,” said Rev. Brenda Kneece, Executive Minister of the SC Christian Action Council. “These are moral issues we are called on to address.” The Council’s 16 denominations have endorsed the rally.

Gov. Nikki Haley led the opposition to reclaiming billions of our federal tax dollars to provide health care for South Carolina’s poorest citizens by refusing to participate in “Obamacare.” These federal funds would have expanded Medicaid to 250,000 people living below the poverty level.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was intended to provide health insurance to working people by subsidizing policies for people earning less than $45,000 a year, and to provide free coverage to those earning less than $11,490.

Refusing $1.4 billion to expand Medicaid this year means our state’s citizens will continue to have difficulty in accessing affordable care for costly chronic conditions and in accessing the ACA’s “essential health benefits” — not the least of which is cost-effective preventive care, warned Dr. David Keely, who heads the state’s chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program.

The SC Hospital Association estimates that the $11.7 billion in federal funding being refused through 2020 would create 44,000 jobs and generate enough tax revenue to completely offset the state’s 10 percent match required in 2020.

Dr. Robert Oldendick, Executive Director of the USC Institute for Public Service and Policy Research, reviewed a Harvard School of Public Health study on the consequences of states refusing the Medicaid expansion. “The study concluded that every 176 adults covered by Medicaid prevents one death each year. So if we assume that all 250,000 eligible South Carolinians were covered, about 1,420 deaths would be prevented annually.”

“It is unacceptable that our lawmakers are willing to throw our neighbors under the bus to make political points,” said SC Progressive Network Cochair Virginia Sanders, who works as one of the Network’s trained navigators helping people secure insurance through the health exchange. “It’s heart-breaking to tell people they are too poor to receive help. These are human beings; not numbers. They shouldn’t be political pawns.”

All 170 legislators and the governor have been invited to descend the State House steps at 12:30 to join the rally. Rep. Joe Neal will make a statement on behalf of legislators.

“One of our goals is to put a face on what is too often just an ideological debate,” said SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey. “We need 1,300 people to stand together on the State House grounds to symbolize the human cost of playing politics with people’s lives.”

The rally will also address lawmakers’ continued refusal to adequately fund education. “In 2013, K-12 funding was nearly $500 million below what is required by state law,” said Jackie Hicks, Executive Director of The SC Education Association. State higher education funding is 40 percent lower than it was in 2002, and tuition at our state colleges is among the nation’s highest.

The Coalition will be calling on legislators to address the fact that our state has the nation’s least-competitive elections, with nearly 80 percent of lawmakers facing no major opposition in the general election. “With only about half our citizens voting, and most of us only having one choice at the ballot box, it’s a shame that the legislature keeps trying to make it harder to vote rather than easier,” said Dr. Lonnie Randolph, President of the SC NAACP.

“The rally is a continuation of the work for sound public policies and a moral budget that we have been doing for years,” Bursey said. “The rally is not just an event; it is the launch of the next phase of our ongoing efforts.”

The hour-long rally will take place on the south side of the State House at noon on Jan. 14. The initial conveners are the SC Christian Action Council, The SC Education Association, SC NAACP, National Association of Social Workers, the SC AFL-CIO and the SC Progressive Network. Dozens of sponsoring organizations and churches, as well as information on the rally, transportation and parking, can be found at the coalition’s web site: TruthfulTuesday.net.

Free food and beverages will be available. Attendees are asked to wear black as a symbol of mourning for the 1,300 who will die this year is South Carolina because of petty partisan politics.

Contact the Coalition at 803-808-3384 or info@TruthfulTuesday.net.

Network launches ACA help center in Charleston; seeks volunteers

From the SC Progressive Network’s Lead Navigator in Charleston, Loreen Myerson:

Dear Friends, Trusted Allies, and Valued Volunteers:

I am writing to request your help with a matter of great urgency. The demand for Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace policies has been intense since its historic launch on Oct. 1. As an ACA navigator for the SC Progressive Network, it has been my honor to assist dozens of SC families in enrolling in comprehensive health insurance policies at a reduced cost.

I have spoken with hundreds of members of civic groups throughout our region, educating them about the implications of the ACA for South Carolina’s families and small businesses. Yet, obviously, no one person can meet this great need alone. That’s why I’m writing to you.

On Monday, Dec. 2, the SC Progressive Network will launch its Lowcountry Surge Center at 360 Concord St. in Charleston, on Fountain Walk, near the aquarium. I ask you to please sign up for a shift or three between Dec. 2 and Dec. 13 to help folks to improve their lives by enrolling in the Affordable Care Act Marketplace policies.

We will have trained healthcare navigators and certified application counselors on hand to meet with the public both by appointment and on a walk-in basis. Additionally, we require volunteers to make the public feel comfortable and welcome as they arrive; register voters; supervise children in the arts and crafts area; answer phones and schedule appointments; distribute flyers, etc. We will be working hard, but we will celebrate with each new application.

Please take a moment to review the sign-up sheet here.

For more information, call (843) 475-2859.

Thank you!