Blog Posts by Liz Goodwin, Yahoo News

  • Can the health care reform law survive without the individual mandate?

    Two health care reform protesters on the first day of oral arguments. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

    Could President Obama's sweeping health care reform law survive if the court strikes down the requirement that all Americans buy insurance?

    The short answer is yes -- but insurance companies certainly won't be happy about it.

    Both Justice Department lawyers and their challengers agree that the individual mandate is not "separable" from the rest of the law, which means the rest of the law can't survive if the individual mandate is surgically removed by the court.

    [Complete coverage of the Supreme Court health care case]

    The lower courts have been split on the question, but one of them, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled in August that only the mandate should be struck down, leaving the rest of the law's provisions -- including an expansion of Medicaid to cover all low-income people and federal subsidies for lower-income and middle-class people to buy insurance -- in place.

    That decision no doubt sent shivers down the spines of some insurance executives. Striking down the mandate could be a nightmare scenario for the health insurance industry, since the rest of the law compels them to accept sick customers and to not charge higher premiums based on a customer's health, age or gender. Sick customers would flood the insurance market and drive up costs, while young, healthy uninsured people would take their chances and not buy coverage, in what insurers worry would be a "death spiral" of rising costs.

    [Related: Monday's audio of the Supreme Court health care law oral arguments]

    The Congressional Budget Office estimated that premiums in the individual market would increase 15 to 20 percent if just the mandate is struck down, since millions of healthier Americans would could forgo buying insurance and thus not offset the costs of new sick customers. But a study by the Rand Corporation estimated a more modest premium increase of less than 3 percent. MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber wrote in an analysis for The Center for American Progress that 50 to 75 percent fewer uninsured people would be covered by 2019 under the law if there was no mandate, but that the government would only save 25 to 30 percent on the lower numbers.

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  • The Supreme Court’s health care reform case–What to expect

    The U.S. Supreme Court building, where oral arguments begin Monday. (J. Scott Applewhite, AP)

    On Monday, the Supreme Court begins hearing oral arguments in one of the most politically charged cases in years. Attorneys representing 26 states, most led by Republican governors, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) will spar with Justice Department lawyers over what President Obama called his proudest achievement--health care reform.

    Challengers will argue that requiring all Americans to buy health insurance is an illegal and unprecedented act of government overreach, while the Justice Department will counter that it's a routine exercise of Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce. The Supreme Court will most likely hand down its decision in late June, right in the middle of the heated 2012 presidential election.

    Here's our handy guide to the six hours of arguments which will take place over three days.

    Day One: Is it too early for the Supreme Court to decide on the law?

    If you're looking for fireworks between the opposing camps, you may want to come back on Tuesday.

    That's because on Monday, government lawyers and their opponents will start off on the same side. Both will fend off the argument from an outside attorney that the 1867 Anti-Injunction Act--which prohibits individuals from challenging a tax in court before it is enforced--prevents the Supreme Court from deciding on health care reform's legality before 2015.

    The challengers--the NFIB and 26 states--will retort that the health care mandate penalty is not a tax and thus doesn't fall under the Anti-Injunction Act. They also argue that they are not suing over the monetary penalty, but over the mandate itself. The Justice Department uses a more complex legal argument to oppose the Act's application, since it doesn't want to rule out the possibility that the penalty, which will be collected by the IRS, is a kind of tax.

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  • Obama’s health care law passed 2 years ago, but where are we now?

    President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act two years ago. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

    It seems like President Barack Obama's controversial health care reform law has been fodder for Republican swipes and grievances for ages. And it sort of has. Wednesday marks the two-year anniversary of the House narrowly squeezing through health care reform, which the Supreme Court will begin reviewing next week before deciding on its legality sometime this summer.

    The law was quickly challenged by states' attorneys general, while congressional Republicans vowed to "repeal and replace" it. The new regulation also galvanized the tea party movement, which was credited with changing the political landscape and driving home a Republican-swinging 2010 midterm election. But since then, the public demonstrations have quieted, in part because the most controversial aspects of the law will not go into effect until 2014. The popular consumer-protection parts of the law were intentionally front-loaded.

    Even so, a recent Gallup poll found that Americans are evenly split on whether they think the health care law should be repealed. Only 1 in 7 respondents in another poll said they had experienced something positive from the law. A recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report estimated that 5 million people may lose their employer-based insurance between 2019 and 2022. The CBO also found that 2 million fewer uninsured Americans would gain coverage by 2016 than previously thought, and that the law would also be slightly cheaper than original estimates.

    With the Supreme Court arguments about to begin, let's make sense out of what's happening health care wise. Here's a quick rundown of what's gone into effect and what to expect in the future, with the help of research from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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  • Suspected Army shooter’s defense may argue Army didn’t see warning signs

    Bales in August of 2011 ( AP Photo/Spc. Ryan Hallock)The staff sergeant suspected of shooting 16 Afghan civilians, many of them children, had a trail of legal troubles behind him, and his defense team may use those to argue the Army didn't properly screen him before deployment, experts say.

    Yesterday, Gary Liebschner from Carroll, Ohio, told ABC News that Robert Bales was ordered to pay him more than $1 million after an arbitrator ruled that Bales defrauded him the year before he joined the Army. Liebschner says he never received the sum. Bales was Liebschner's stockbroker, and wasn't charged criminally in the case.

    During recruiting, the Army screens applicants' criminal history, and occasionally hands out "moral waivers" to applicants who have two or more misdemeanor convictions or one serious conviction so they can still join the force. (Murder and some other crimes cannot be waived.) In 2007, the Boston Globe reported that 12 percent of the Army's entire recruiting class had criminal records, a reflection of how badly the Army was struggling to meet its recruiting quotas then.

    The Army won't release details of Bales' 11-year military record, so it's unclear if his fraud charges showed up in the background search the military did, or whether Bales needed a moral waiver to join the military. The AP reported that he also had a 1998 citation for possessing alcohol on Daytona Beach, and never paid the $65 ticket. That would most likely count as a minor nontraffic violation, which wouldn't require a waiver.

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  • This American Life retracts Apple episode, says Daisey fabricated parts

    Daisey (MikeDaisey.blogspot.com)The public radio show This American Life has retracted an entire storyline told by comedian and self-described Apple fanboy Mike Daisey that aired in early January after Daisey's translator said he made up significant details of the tale.

    In a press release, the show says the episode was the most popular in its history and was downloaded 888,000 times. The episode also sparked a petition for Apple to improve its working conditions that was signed by a quarter of a million people.

    Daisey said in the 39-minute episode that he became curious about the conditions of Chinese factories where Apple products are made after he discovered photos of factory workers that were left onto his iPhone by mistake. He travelled to the factories in Shenzhen, China and interviewed workers there, who told him they endured terrible working conditions. Daisey described meeting workers whose hands were shaking after they were poisoned with the neurotoxin hexane and meeting several children right at the gates of the factory who were as young as 12 years old.

    The China correspondent for the radio show Marketplace, Rob Schmitz, wrote that he decided to track down Daisey's translator after he found it suspicious for Daisey to ferret out some of the worst labor abuses reporters have been hunting for years in a six-day trip to the site. Translator Cathy Lee told Schmitz that she never saw the underaged or poisoned workers, and that she also never saw armed factory guards, which Daisey describes.

    So why didn't This American Life talk to Cathy Lee earlier, before they aired the episode? In a press release, the show says Daisey told them he lost her cell phone number. "At that point, we should've killed the story," show host Ira Glass said in the release. "But other things Daisey told us about Apple's operations in China checked out, and we saw no reason to doubt him. We didn't think that he was lying to us and to audiences about the details of his story. That was a mistake."

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  • Multimillionaires for Mitt: Occupy protesters stake out Romney NYC fundraising event

    Protesters near New York's Waldorf Astoria hotel. (Liz Goodwin/Yahoo)

    A group of about 150 protesters, some dressed in formal wear, marched around New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Wednesday afternoon where Mitt Romney appeared for a $2,500-a-plate fundraising luncheon.

    As police and secret service guarded the entrances to the luxury hotel, Occupy Wall Street protesters derided Romney as "Mr. 1 Percent" and waved signs criticizing both Obama and Romney for favoring Wall Street banks. ("Mittrack Obamney 2012--Wall Street Always Wins," one sign read.) "We're here, we're rich, get used to it," the formally-attired protesters chanted sarcastically.

    Diana Lutzak, who lost her job last month at a clothing store, said she was protesting Romney's rhetoric on birth control. "Romney does not have the right to tell me what my reproductive rights are," she told Yahoo News.

    Margaret Passley, a 48-year-old homecare worker who immigrated from Jamaica 13 years ago, said she was angry at the low tax rate Romney pays and that he uses offshore accounts for some of his money. "He thinks he pays 15 percent? Fifteen percent is nothing, I pay 26 percent," Passley said.

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  • Multiple combat tours linked to mental strain, disease

    A U.S. soldier outside a base in Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Allauddin Khan/AP)The Army sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan men, women and children on Sunday was reportedly on his fourth combat tour and had suffered a traumatic brain injury when his vehicle rolled over in 2010. He served three deployments in Iraq and was currently on his fourth tour of duty, this time in Afghanistan.

    There is no way of knowing if the sergeant's brain injury and multiple deployments are related to the brutal crime he allegedly committed. But the incident highlights the enormous strain the country's beleaguered all-volunteer military force is under. The longest war in U.S. history has meant extensive and frequent deployments with troops now reporting mental illness at record rates.

    The Army's own research has shown that a higher rate of soldiers are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after their second deployment, and that multiple deployments put soldiers at risk for a slew of mental problems. An Institute of Medicine study found that 27 percent of "those who deployed 3-4 times received diagnoses of depression, anxiety or acute stress compared to 12% of those deployed just once." As of the end of last year, the Army had more than 125,000 soldiers who have been deployed three to four times. The Army recently moved to shorten deployments from 12 to nine months and to lengthen rest periods between them.

    The group Iraq Veterans Against the War has called for an end to multiple deployments, citing this mental strain. Member Alejandro Villatoro, an Army reservist sergeant who was deployed in 2003 to Iraq and in 2010 to Afghanistan, tells Yahoo News that he thinks most soldiers volunteer for multiple deployments for financial reasons, and that it should raise a red flag if someone is asking to serve many combat tours. One of Villatoro's comrades volunteered for a fifth tour of duty in seven years, in part because of a lack of job opportunities in his home state. (Unemployment rates are higher for veterans than for the general population.) "Just because the soldier's not suicidal or poses no danger to other people doesn't mean that they're OK," he said. "It's just the fact that he doesn't feel comfortable going back home because he has no life there anymore." Another man in Villatoro's unit assaulted his wife after returning home from his first deployment. He had shown behavioral issues in Afghanistan, and at one point had to have his weapon temporarily taken away, he says. But no one wanted to report him outside the company. "They would hide a lot of these incidents under the table just to keep a clean record," Villatoro says.

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  • Third female lawmaker introduces bill to limit men’s Viagra access

    Ohio state Rep. Nina Turner (OhioSenate.gov)Democratic Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner is the third female lawmaker to introduce a bill that would limit men's access to Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs to make a statement about the dozens of anti-abortion bills that have passed statehouses around the country over the last year.

    Turner is opposed to a proposed bill that would prohibit abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The Dayton Daily News reports that Turner's bill would mandate that men seeking Viagra be "tested for heart problems, receive counseling about possible side effects and receive information about 'pursuing celibacy as a viable lifestyle choice.'"

    Turner said on MSNBC Monday that the bill is about showing "men as much love in the reproductive health arena as they have shown us over the years. My Senate Bill 307 is all about the love and making sure we look out for men's sexual health."

    Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, the heartbeat bill's sponsor, told the Dayton Daily News that the comparison between Viagra and abortions isn't valid.

    Turner is one of several female Democratic state lawmakers who are wielding the power of sarcasm to protest a wave of anti-abortion legislation.

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  • Kansas close to repealing 26-year ban of happy hour, but not in time for cheap post-caucus cocktails

    Happy hours may soon be allowed again in Kansas. (Thinkstock)When a winner is declared Saturday in the Republican presidential caucuses in Kansas, one of the 2012 candidates--and his supporters--will be ready to celebrate. But even though the results are expected to be announced at around 5 p.m. local time, the winning campaign will have to pay full price for any celebratory toasts.

    For 26 years, Kansas has banned happy hour. The after-work tradition, during which beleaguered co-workers drown their sorrows with discounted brews, was outlawed in 1985 after some worried it encouraged drunk driving and binge drinking. The Kansas House and Senate have each passed a repeal of the ban, but the details still need to be worked out in a conference committee, and then the governor would have to sign the bill. (Sorry, thirsty, unpaid campaign volunteers.)

    Until that day comes--possibly as early as July 1, should the bill become law--clever barkeeps will continue adapting to the prohibition on temporary drink discounts by discounting their drinks all day long.

    "What we have in Kansas is happy days rather than happy hours," John Rubin, the Republican state representative who introduced the bill, told Yahoo News. Rubin said his bill, which passed the state House on Wednesday, will help make Kansas bars that are on the state's border with Missouri--a lawless state known for not regulating its discounted after-work drinks--more competitive.

    Hurricane Allie's Bar and Grill in Merriam is one example of the "happy day" phenomenon. It advertises $2 Tuesdays when beers and well drinks are $2 all day. That's followed by Wacky Wednesdays, and then Thirsty Thursdays, according to the bar's Facebook page.

    Page Dickeson, who owns College Hill Tavern in Topeka, told Yahoo News that she thinks her 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. business will increase about 40 percent if the bill passes. Dickeson remembers working in a bar in Kansas City, Mo., when the happy hour ban first passed. Kansans seeking a happy hour drove across the border. "It increased revenue a great deal," she said.

    Kansas is one of 24 states that ban or restrict happy hours, according to the Alcohol Beverage Institute, a group that opposes restrictions to what it calls social, moderate drinking. Most of the bans passed in the 1980s and '90s, but Utah passed its own ban just last year as part of a raft of new liquor-restricting laws. (The Utah Hospitality Association sued and alleged that lawmakers were unduly influenced by the Church of Latter-Day Saints, which prohibits alcohol consumption.) Last year, Massachusetts considered lifting its happy hour ban, passed in 1984 under Gov. Michael Dukakis, but ultimately scrapped the effort. The ban passed after a group of young women won free pitchers of beer in a name-that-tune game in a Braintree bar and then went for a drunken joy ride that left one of them dead.

    Kansas, Indiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Vermont say bars must serve discounted drinks all day long or not at all, while Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Nebraska, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington only allow bars to discount food, never alcohol. Eleven more states ban certain kinds of discounted drinks, free drinks, or paying a price for unlimited drinks ("all you can drink"). Other states prevent bars from advertising their drink specials outside or online.

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  • Why Mitt Romney can’t shut up about his money

    Romney at the Dayton 500 last month. (Rainier Ehrhardt/AP)

    Over the space of a few months, private equity millionaire Mitt Romney has cavalierly bet a Republican rival $10,000 during a debate, enthused about the joys of "being able to fire people who provide services to me," told Detroit voters that his wife drives "a couple of Cadillacs," and said at the Daytona 500 that while he is not an ardent fan of the sport, he does have "some great friends that are NASCAR team owners.''

    Each time Romney has slipped up, his Republican and Democratic rivals have seized on his comments to paint him as an out-of-touch millionaire who doesn't understand Americans' economic pain. When Fox News' Neil Cavuto asked Ann Romney about this perception on Monday, she jumped on her husband's gaffe train, saying, "I don't even consider myself wealthy, which is an interesting thing. It can be here today and gone tomorrow." Mrs. Romney was making a larger point about how material wealth is fleeting. But it's surprising that the likeable Mrs. Romney, who humanizes her husband on the campaign trail, is almost as awkward as he is when it comes to talking about their good fortune.

    [Related: Romney faces challenging primaries in Mississippi and Alabama]

    Romney has acknowledged that his comments have hurt him, yet he keeps on going there. "It's really mind boggling, because he seems so disciplined in so many ways, that some of these things would come out of his mouth," Republican strategist Keith Appell told the New York Times.

    "I'm trying to do better and work harder," Romney said in Michigan.

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    Click photo to view more images. (AP/Stephan Savoia)Click photo to view more images. (AP/Stephan Savoia)

    That might be part of the problem. Research suggests that the more Romney tries to not talk about his wealth, the more likely he is to do just that. The human mind is perversely drawn to fixate upon the subjects we most want to avoid, especially when under stress.

    Authors and athletes have known this intuitively. In Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, the childlike and excitable protagonist Prince Myshkin is told by his sweetheart that the worst thing he could do at an upcoming party is to break an expensive Chinese vase. Myshkin becomes consumed by the thought that he must not break it, and makes a point of sitting as far away from the vase as possible. But "an ineradicable conviction had taken possession of his mind that, however he might try to avoid this vase, he must certainly break it." And of course, he does--upsetting the vase near the end of the party with one of his wild gestures.

    [Related: Gingrich not in Kansas anymore]

    In a real-world example, former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel had to give up pitching after he became fixated by--yet unable to prevent--his sporadic wild throws. He called these pitches "the Creature," while others have termed it "Steve Blass disease," after the Pirates' pitcher who suddenly lost his ability to throw strikes in the 1973 season.

    The Harvard social psychologist Daniel Wegner began to examine what he called this "perverse psychological process" in a 1987 experiment, in which he told people not to think of a white bear before asking them to talk aloud for several minutes. Participants who were told not to think of the white bear mentioned it once a minute on average, showing that people are not very good at suppressing even very mundane thoughts when specifically asked to.

    This is because our brain is always helpfully looking around for the very worst things we could do or say in any given situation, and then actively trying to suppress them with other, more appropriate thoughts and actions. The process has two parts--the unconscious, automatic monitoring of our forbidden thoughts, and the conscious, effortful way in which we distract ourselves from it. So when a person is trying not to think or talk about something--say, to pick an example at random, his personal wealth--he needs to both monitor the forbidden thought and distract his mind with other thoughts. This is called the "ironic process," and it usually works, otherwise we would always be blurting out our secrets and insulting our loved ones.

    "By and large this can operate very well. But all bets are off when there are other demands in the situation that require a great deal of cognitive effort," Ralph Erber, a DePaul professor who co-wrote several studies on the ironic process with Wegner, told Yahoo News. When a person is under stress, the automatic process that monitors the forbidden thought still works well, but the conscious part that finds him something else to think about is no longer running smoothly. Public speaking is just the sort of stressful situation to muck up the distraction part of the equation. "That really impairs the part of the process that would help Mr. Romney or anyone else keep thoughts about money out of consciousness," he said.

    "This simple process of trying to keep a thought out of consciousness can become a borderline obsession," Erber continued.

    But there are ways to overcome the problem. Wegner wrote in the American Psychologist journal last year that the best treatment may be "avoiding the avoiding," or, in reference to his own experiment, "setting free the bears."

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