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Economy

OP-ED: Legislative proposal will lower the cost of health care

NASHVILLE PRIDE — Republicans and Democrats in the United States Senate have announced a proposal of nearly three-dozen specific provisions that will reduce the cost of what Tennesseans pay for health care. These are common sense steps we can take, and every single one of them has the objective of reducing the health care costs that you pay for out of your own pocket.

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By Sen. Lamar Alexander

If there’s one issue I hear about most from Tennesseans, it is ‘What are you going to do about the health care costs I pay for out of my own pocket?’ Well, I’ve got an answer.

Republicans and Democrats in the United States Senate have announced a proposal of nearly three-dozen specific provisions that will reduce the cost of what Tennesseans pay for health care. These are common sense steps we can take, and every single one of them has the objective of reducing the health care costs that you pay for out of your own pocket.

Here are just a few ways our proposal would lower the cost of health care for Tennesseans:

• Stop surprise medical bills so Tennesseans don’t get an unexpected bill of up to several thousand dollars from an out-of-network doctor after a hospital visit.

• Lower the cost of prescription drugs for example, by bringing low cost drugs to market faster for patients by increasing competition.

• Restore discipline to the health care market. This would be done by banning gag clauses that prevent employers from letting their employees know that a knee replacement might cost $15,000 in one hospital and $35,000 at another hospital.

• Help Tennesseans lead healthier lives, for example, by making it easier to access specialty care, especially for those living in rural areas.

• Make it as easy to get your personal medical records as it is to book an airplane flight. Improving electronic health records will also allow doctors to spend less time on paperwork and more time with patients.

High health care costs are a drain on taxpayer dollars, eat up employer budgets and (most importantly) are a top financial concern for Tennessee families. So my hope is to move this legislation through the Senate health committee that I chair in June, put it on the Senate floor in July and make it law.

Health insurance has gotten a lot of attention lately. President Trump said last month that ‘‘deductibles, in many cases, are way over $7,000, making it almost worthless or unusable.’’

I agree. High deductibles tied to high premiums make health care inaccessible for too many Tennesseans. But the truth is you can’t lower the cost health insurance until you lower the cost of health care, and the proposal announced this week aims to do just that.

Some on the other side of the aisle propose to resolve the problems surrounding our nation’s health care system with ‘Medicare for All.’

Well, if you get your insurance on the job, as more than half of Tennesseans currently do, your insurance would essentially be taken away under this Medicare for All system. And if you are currently on Medicare, who would pay your medical bills when we add 181 million more people to Medicare’s system that is going to be bankrupt in seven years?

Our proposal is a far better solution to the problem of expensive health care in our country. The federal government is not going to lower the cost of health care overnight, but I believe there are steps we can take that would make a real difference to Tennessee families, and we shouldn’t allow this opportunity to make progress pass us by.

This article originally appeared in the Nashville Pride

Community

California Unemployment System Backlogged With Over 200,000 Claims

Many Californians are still waiting for the state’s Employment Development Department (EDD) to clear their backlog of claims, with the department’s data page showing over 221,000 claims are pending past 21 days as of June 12.

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California EDD

California may be reopening beginning June 15, but for many unemployed workers, the economic struggle caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is nowhere near ending.

Many Californians are still waiting for the state’s Employment Development Department (EDD) to clear their backlog of claims, with the department’s data page showing over 221,000 claims are pending past 21 days as of June 12.

On May 28, Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson (D-Carson) hosted a press conference featuring constituents from his district who are seeking immediate help from EDD. Three constituents spoke about their struggles while trying to get their unemployment benefits. They experienced extremely long wait times while calling EDD and faced difficulties trying to verify their identity or correct claim amounts with the department.

The difficulties with EDD that the speakers expressed in their stories mirrored complaints the department’s service and call centers have been reporting since the pandemic began last year.

Roneisha Williams, a Gipson constituent, is waiting on an appeal after receiving an incorrect benefit amount. She described her experience communicating with EDD representatives over the phone as “confusing.”

She said that she received conflicting information from the EDD and representatives asked her for a different set of documents each time she called.

“When you call and speak with someone regarding the solution, you’re not given the same information. You can call one representative and they’ll tell you to submit a documentation. You submit that documentation. You call to confirm that it has been received. The other representative will tell you that not only you weren’t supposed to submit that documentation, but really you need to go to this step, and we need to see this documentation.”

Williams also spoke about her difficulties going through the identity verification process with the third-party company ID.me.

EDD launched the ID.me verification process in October 2020 as part of an effort to crack down on fraud. The department also suspended 1.4 million accounts last December and made some claimants verify their identities.

Since then, unemployed Californians directed to ID.me have faced delays and technical issues. Willams also expressed concern for less technologically-savvy claimants who may have to use ID.me.

“Having to contact a third party to qualify for your unemployment benefits is very stressful, especially when they do not have any human contact customer service available. With the ID.me verification, everything is done through your phone. So that in itself is very isolating. I know how to work technology but what about the constituents that aren’t familiar with it. What about the constituents that don’t have a high-powered or accurate camera on their phone to send a copy of their ID?” Williams said.

Roger Lozoya, a pipeline welder who also lives in Gipson’s district, lost his job five months ago and has had no income since. He said his identity was stolen and used to receive EDD benefits. So, when he tried to get benefits, the EDD told him that he owed them money.

Lozoya said, “I’m a welder, and I’m blessed to have a career that I worked hard to get. I pay a lot of taxes and I pay into EDD. The only thing they constantly do to me is call me a liar — that I’m stealing from them. They told me I owe them $69,000. How do I owe $69,000? At the time they were saying that I was claiming it, I was working.”

In the months without income, Lozoya said that he has sold his possessions, including his work truck and tools, to support his family.

During the press conference, Gipson called on the EDD to take measures to get through the claims backlog. He also urged the EDD to extend working hours and keep phone lines open during evenings and weekends.

Gipson also mentioned the state audits of EDD and suggested that implementing the recommendations of the State Auditor would likely help address the backlog.

“We absolutely have to do everything we can to make sure that the people who need this help the most get the help that they’re seeking to put food on the table, clothes their children’s back and also a roof over the head,” said Gipson.

In response to a California Black Media request for comment, EDD Media Services said, “We understand how challenging this pandemic has been for millions of people. Since April 2020, EDD call centers are — and have been open 12 hours a day, seven days a week — which includes evenings and weekends, among many other efforts to continually work to improve the customer experience. EDD offers useful self-help information including a 24-hour self-help line 1-866-333-4606, AskEDD and an online chatbot answering frequently asked questions, a YouTube channel with helpful videos, and many articles on at EDD.ca.gov. The call center can be reached 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. seven days a week at 1-800-300-5616.“

EDD also shared the actions that the department has taken to improve the customer experience, including, “improving the online help text to clearly explain what is required by the bi-weekly certification questions to help claimants avoid delays, deploying document upload, including a mobile-friendly version, to help claimants save time over mail, launching a new feature that allows a caller to hold their place “in line” when contacting the call center until the EDD calls the claimant back, [and] continuing to monitor customer areas of confusion and trending issues and addressing them with improved public information.”

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Bay Area

Vice Mayor: Business Group Wants to Buy Coliseum, Attract WNBA Team

The group will provide additional details of its effort at a news conference at 11:00 a.m. Friday at a site to be determined.

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Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan.

Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan said a local business group has made serious inroads to buy the city’s 50% stake in the Oakland Coliseum complex and to bring a WNBA team to the city.
Kaplan’s office shared a news release Monday about the effort by the African American Sports and Entertainment Group.

Kaplan said the group is in negotiations with the Oakland-Alameda Joint Powers Authority, has submitted a formal proposal to WNBA officials, and has submitted a term sheet to the city, which the City Council’s rules committee recently voted to advance to the full council for a vote.

The group will provide additional details of its effort at a news conference at 11:00 a.m. Friday at a site to be determined.

“I am pleased that there is such great interest in doing an important development at the Oakland Coliseum that will provide jobs, revenue and community positivity,” Kaplan said. “My goal is to help this process move forward before the summer recess.”

Kaplan said the group has the backing of more than 30 community groups of faith-based institutions, labor organizations, civic leaders, and job development organizations. She did not name the groups

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Activism

California Pushes Back on Judge’s Decision to Outlaw State’s Ban on Assault Weapons

According to Statista Research Department, California had a total of 22 mass shootings  between 1982 and 2021.

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assault rifle courtesy sctimes

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta announced last week that the state has appealed a federal court’s decision that declared California’s ban on assault weapons unconstitutional.

Several state officials, including San Francisco Mayor London Breed, also shared their disagreement with the court’s ruling during a press conference held at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. The state partnered with a number of gun control advocate groups for the event, including the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Giffords Law Center.

“We can agree that the decision was disappointing,” said Bonta. “In many ways, the opinion was disturbing and troubling and a big concern, but we cannot be, and we are not, deterred by this,” he said.

Federal Judge Roger Thomas Benitez presided over the decision in Miller v. Bonta. The case was heard at the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.

Bonta said his office has appealed the decision, requesting that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit leave the current laws in effect for 30 days.

California’s gun laws are some of the strictest in the nation under the Roberti–Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 (AWCA) which bans the use of specific models of firearms classified as assault weapons.

In the pending court case Miller v. Bonta, James Miller, a lawyer who serves as a board member of the San Diego County Gun Owners, advocated for the use of the AR-15 rifle. However, the semiautomatic rifle with certain features is an illegal assault weapon according to California gun laws.

Miller argued that AR-15 rifles can be used for self-defense under the second amendment. Miller, who also serves on the Cajon Valley School Board, initially challenged former Attorney General Xavier Becerra on California’s criminalization of AR-15 rifles in April this year.

The ongoing case, which Bonta inherited, sparked heated debates about gun laws in the wake of increasing gun violence and mass shootings.

Breed recalled her personal experience with gun violence growing up in the Bay Area.

“We’re here at San Francisco General Hospital. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been here after a friend that I grew up with was shot,” she said.

Breed was joined by Mattie Scott who lost her son to gun violence. The mayor grew up with Scott’s son who was killed in 1996 at a graduation party in San Francisco.

“We don’t want to see another person, another child lost to gun violence in this city in this state in this country,” said Breed.

“We’ve had a law on the books in the state for over 30 years, and a judge decides that our law is no longer constitutional. That law has saved countless numbers of lives,” she said.

According to Statista Research Department, California had a total of 22 mass shootings  between 1982 and 2021. In the court decision, Benitez compared the effectiveness of an AR-15 rifle to a Swiss Army Knife. Based on the federal court’s ruling, the semiautomatic machine gun is, “Good for both home and battle,” said Benitez.

“Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment,” the federal judge said in favor of Miller.

Although the murder of Scott’s son remains unsolved, she is an avid activist for social justice related to gun violence.

“The judge who issued this decision is wrong,” said Scott. “It is insulting to read his decision when he called the kind of weapon that killed my son akin to a pocketknife,” she said.

“Pocket knives don’t tear families apart. They don’t shoot up schools, churches, movie theaters, and street corners,” she said in reference to the recent mass shootings across the country.

Contrary Benitez’s belief that AR-15 rifles can be compared to pocket knives, trauma surgeon Dr. Andre Campbell said that the semiautomatic rifle is a lethal assault weapon designed for the battlefield.

“An AR-15 is a weapon of mass destruction. It is used in the battlefield to kill the enemy. It’s a gun that is used in warfare and should not be available or used in the streets of the United States,” said Campbell.

Campbell has treated many bullet wounds on the frontlines of trauma care for more than two decades and has witnessed the devastation a single bullet can cause to the human body.

“It is as if a bomb went off in the tissues of patients,” said Campbell describing the impact of an AR-15 bullet in patients he’s treated over the years.

Giffords Law Center Executive Director Robyn Thomas said that the federal judge’s decision to give civilians access to military-grade weapons sets California’s gun laws back by 32 years.

“The decision is not based on the correct interpretation of the law,” said Thomas.  “The comprehensive gun regulation which we have pioneered here in the state is protecting the lives of Californians. It is making us safer,” she said.

In its budget for 2021-22, the state has allocated $200 million for the California Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program. The investment was set up to prevent gun violence in high-risk communities statewide.

“Folks that wax on about public safety and (then) they sit back passively and say nothing about this outrageous decision. Shame on them. What frauds,” said Newsom.

The governor urged lawmakers to evaluate the absurdity of the court’s decision to justify the personal use of a rifle that is, “nothing more than a weapon of war,” he said.

The governor said that gun control has always been a bipartisan issue that helped California lawmakers enact, “progressive and aggressive,” gun safety laws that regulated the people’s right to bear arms for over three decades.

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