If there were fairness in this world, Rita Rizzo would be a media star. Rizzo, 60, owns a management consulting firm for nonprofit groups and government offices in Akron, Ohio, with her husband, Lou Vincent, 64. Vincent, who suffers from Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, has gone without health insurance for 10 years. “We got 30 denial letters,” Rizzo told me last week. Three years ago, Rizzo got a hip replacement. Her own insurance premiums were going to rise by $500 a month, to about $800, so she chose instead to triple her deductible to $6,000 to keep the increase to a mere $150 a month. The couple used a $5,000 tax-deductible health savings account to cover her out-of-pocket expenses; Vincent’s medication, which ran to $178 a month; and his blood work-ups, at $2,400 a year. In December, Rizzo signed up for Obamacare. She now has a policy that covers her and Vincent together, including all his meds and lab work, for $379 a month, with a $2,000 family deductible. “I feel like I died and went to insurance heaven,” she says.
Today I turn 40, & I'm grateful to @BarackObama for the gift I am finally able to give myself. #Healthcare. Thank you Mr. President! #ACA
While Rizzo was working her way to thousands of dollars in annual savings, for example, Southern California Realtor Deborah Cavallaro was making the rounds of NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, CBS, Fox and public radio’s Marketplace program, talking about how her premium was about to rise some 65% because of the “Unaffordable” Care Act. What her viewers and listeners didn’t learn was that she hadn’t checked the rates on California’s insurance exchange, where (as we determined for her) she would have found a replacement policy for less than she’d been paying. The millions of beneficiaries of the measure — families excluded from insurance because of high premiums or preexisting medical conditions, low-income individuals made newly eligible for Medicaid, seniors receiving a new subsidy for prescriptions, women granted the legal right to affordable maternity coverage for the first time — seem to be absent from the news media or political ad campaigns. But you can’t turn on your TV without seeing a well-produced 30- or 60-second spot featuring a purported tale of woe.
NYT: Obama To Call For End To N.S.A.’s Bulk Data Collection
The Obama administration is preparing to unveil a legislative proposal for a far-reaching overhaul of the National Security Agency’s once-secret bulk phone records program in a way that — if approved by Congress — would end the aspect that has most alarmed privacy advocates since its existence was leaked last year, according to senior administration officials. Under the proposal, they said, the N.S.A. would end its systematic collection of data about Americans’ calling habits. The bulk records would stay in the hands of phone companies, which would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would. And the N.S.A. could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of court order.
As part of the proposal, the administration has decided to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to renew the program as it exists for at least one more 90-day cycle, senior administration officials said. But under the plan the administration has developed and now advocates, the officials said, it would later undergo major changes. The new type of surveillance court orders envisioned by the administration would require phone companies to swiftly provide records in a technologically compatible data format, including making available, on a continuing basis, data about any new calls placed or received after the order is received, the officials said. They would also allow the government to swiftly seek related records for callers up to two phone calls, or “hops,” removed from the number that has come under suspicion, even if those callers are customers of other companies.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two cases challenging the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It’s the second time in as many years that conservative business owners have argued to the Court that all or part of the health-care law is unconstitutional. While this challenge may look to be limited to just birth control, there is in fact a lot more at stake.The Supreme Court will hear in one hearing the legal challenges of two for-profit businesses, Hobby Lobby and the Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation. Hobby Lobby is a national arts-and-crafts retail chain, while Conestoga is a Pennsylvania-based furniture maker. Both companies object to providing health insurance coverage for some kinds of contraception, claiming that the ACA’s requirement that businesses provide employees equal health insurance coverage violates the companies’ religious beliefs.
Prepping for tommorow's Hobby Lobby argument by reading the bible verse where God tells Moses to exclude birth control from insurance plans
Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood (and the myriad other for-profit businesses challenging the mandate) are arguing that the birth control benefit violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. The RFRA is a federal law that says the government may not “substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion,” unless that burden is “necessary to further a compelling government interest” and uses the “least restrictive means” necessary. Conestoga also claims that the mandate violates its religious exercise rights under the First Amendment generally, citing the Citizens United case for precedent. In plain English, that means the Court will be tasked with answering several distinct questions. The first is the most direct: Do secular, for-profit corporations fit the definition of “individual” under the statute? But to get to that answer, the Court will have to wade into the much more troubling question of whether individual business owners can transfer their religious beliefs to that of their business in a way that allows businesses to exercise religious rights.
Children wave as the First Lady leaves after her visit to School No.7 in Chengdu
Rebecca Kaplan: Despite Tensions, No Sign Russia Has Backed Away From Nuclear Security
President Obama’s European trip, which is serving as a de facto background for international meetings around the Ukraine crisis, continues Tuesday with the second day of a Nuclear Security Summit.Though the news out of Monday’s meeting was a move by the Group of Seven (G-7) nations to further isolate Russia on the world stage, the U.S. announced the completion of projects with Belgium and Italy to remove nuclear material and reaffirmed a working relationship with Japan to dispose of highly-enriched uranium and separated plutonium stocks worldwide in order to prevent the materials from falling into the hands of criminals or terrorists.
Although Russia and the U.S. remain at odds – and trading sanctions – over the Russian incursion into the Crimean peninsula, National Security Advisor Susan Rice said Friday that the two countries continued to cooperate on the issue. “Nuclear security is an area where the United States has and continues to have an enduring interest in cooperation with Russia and other important countries where the security of nuclear materials remains of concern,” Rice said at a White House briefing last week. “We have every interest in continuing to cooperate with Russia and other countries, even where we have differences with them on other issues, on the issue of nuclear security.”
Miami Herald: Enrollment Drives Kick Into High Gear As Deadline Approaches To Sign Up For President Obama’s Health CareLaw
With a week to go before the March 31 deadline to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, South Florida enrollment efforts have surged. Organizers from elected officials to religious institutions are marshaling one last campaign to cover as many eligible consumers as possible. An army of volunteers and federally funded and trained counselors have fanned out across Miami-Dade, setting up shop in community rooms, public parks, local churches and health centers, hosting enrollment drives and health fairs nearly every day. At the Calle Ocho street festival in downtown Miami, a Liberty City health fair and the 93rd Street Community Baptist Church in West Little River, ambassadors for Obamacare have been signing people up for health insurance in South Florida.
Miami-Dade leads all Florida counties in sign-ups and has the nation’s second-highest enrollment rate among counties, according to April Washington, a regional government relations director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services who attended the Liberty City enrollment drive. Florida, with the second highest rate of uninsured residents in the nation, leads all 36 states in sign-ups on the federally run exchange, with more than 442,000 people selecting a health plan, and an additional 124,000 assessed eligible for Medicaid. Many, such as Makiesha Victor, 20, bought health insurance for the first time. “I didn’t know anything about health insurance,” said Victor, a server at a McDonald’s restaurant. “I feel good knowing I’m covered. Before, I felt I couldn’t see a doctor.’’ Karina Valdivia, 32, an uninsured single mother of two young children, signed up at the 93rd Street church, too. Valdivia, who lives in Miami’s Brickell area and works for a cleaning service six days a week, found a silver-level plan that she said will cost her $21.36 a month in premiums. “I can afford it now,” she said, a surprised tone in her voice. “I thought it was going to cost more, but it was less.”
Eliza Thompson: American Nuns Announce Their Support For Obamacare Contraception Access
The National Coalition of American Nuns recently came out in support of the Affordable Care Act’s provision for contraception coverage. In a petition addressed to the U.S. Supreme Court (who will soon hear two cases where employers are denying their employees coverage because they don’t personally support contraception), the nuns wrote, “We want to make clear that the sin is not a person using birth control. The sin is denying women the right and the means to plan their families.” Well, that’s awesome.
Sister Donna Quinn, the head of NCAN, told ReligionDispatches.org that “it isn’t ‘faith and freedom’ when reproductive autonomy isn’t extended by the Catholic Church to women.” She added, “It isn’t freedom when a woman can be held hostage by the owner of a business.” The petition (which is extremely close to reaching its goal of 5,000 signatures) also had this to say about religious freedom: “We know that religious freedom means that each person has the right to exercise their own religious beliefs; religious freedom cannot mean that an individual or a corporation gets to impose their religious beliefs on their employees.”
But the case of National Security Adviser Susan Rice, counsel Kathy Ruemmler and homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco — the three women on the couch — offers a unique counterpoint to the argument that only men carry influence in the Obama White House. Nobody in the West Wing outranks them on national security issues, marking the first time that women have occupied all three positions in what has traditionally been a male-dominated field. Rice and Monaco are the ones who wake up Obama when something bad happens overnight. Collectively, the three women handle the most sensitive issues that cross the president’s desk — including the administration’s drone policy, military actions and the review of government surveillance techniques, which was the topic of discussion when the photograph was taken.
Waiting to see my new doctor. I am having my first appointment using my new insurance under ACA. Thank you President Obama!
“The notion that this is an all-male place is a joke,” Rice said, pointing out that women occupy half the seats at the senior adviser meetings. “I’m always struck by the disconnect between perception and reality.” Ruemmler said she had to be persuaded to do the interview, underscoring her point that women, more so than men, tend to shun the spotlight. “That, I think, is the general philosophy for most of the women here and that is just consistent with the way, to be candid, most of us were raised,” Ruemmler said. “It is about doing the work, getting the work done, and the work will speak for itself.” Rice chairs meetings in the Situation Room, where the people around the table are mostly men, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and CIA Director John Brennan. But she said she’s generally not conscious about her status as one of a handful women in the room.
@BarackObama Thank you Mr. President. With the Affordable Care Act I've been able to get my neck checked out from injuring it two years ago.
The women try to do dinner once a month with the female Cabinet secretaries and White House senior staff. The confabs — part mentoring, part venting — were started by Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary in the first term, and continued by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Ruemmler sometimes coaxes Jarrett and Mastromonaco out of the building for Friday afternoon lunches. They said they weren’t particularly struck by the photograph of the three of them sitting on the couch with Obama. That wasn’t an unusual moment, they said. It’s just what they do.
On one Friday earlier this month, more than 11,000 Muslims in mosques across the country heard a sermon about the Affordable Care Act. Hindu and National Baptist groups, meanwhile, are posting online announcements about the White House’s “Faith and Community ACA Days of Action”. Jewish women’s groups have visited college campuses to get students who think they’re “invincible” to sign up for health insurance. “What other time in our history will we be able to help our communities focus on wellness, to help every citizen access a means to be healthy and treat medical conditions, breaking the trend of making emergency rooms and ‘urgent care’ our primary care physicians?” asked Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker, director of the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s Social Action Commission.
The Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, has spearheaded information sessions at predominantly Latino churches around the country and radio spots on Hispanic Christian radio stations. Salguero noted that one in four persons who are eligible but uninsured are Latino. “It’s an urgent need in our community,” he said. “It’s a real service to that underserved community.” Salguero said he shares other evangelicals’ concerns about Obamacare’s coverage for what they consider to be abortifacients but nevertheless wants to make sure people have a chance to be educated about what the law does and does not include.
@BarackObama Thank you for my health care Mr. President
“My position is I’m a pro-life person so I don’t want anybody dying of preventable diseases if they can get health care,” he said. Likewise, in a rare move, the Roman Catholic bishop of San Bernardino, Calif., wrote a letter that was read at Masses in his diocese on March 15-16, noting that undocumented parents should “sign your child up for health insurance immediately” and that opting out could result in fines that will increase over time. “It is true that our Church has raised objection to elements of the law that relate to contraception and abortion services that might be provided through it,” Bishop Gerald R. Barnes wrote in the March 11 letter, “However, these factors do not mean that we, as Catholics, should disobey the new health care law. If we happen to have an insurance plan that includes services that are objectionable to our faith, which most plans in California do, our response is to not utilize these services.”
President Barack Obama rests his foot on a football during the Domestic Policy Council Meeting in the Oval Office, March 25, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
A young woman reacts after seeing President Barack Obama, during his visit to Prairie Lights, an independent bookstore in Iowa City, Iowa, March 25, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
President Barack Obama greets a boy, whose first name is also Barack, following the President’s remarks on health care at the University of Iowa Field House in Iowa City, Iowa, March 25, 2010. The President spoke about health insurance reform and how it will impact families and small businesses. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama surprises Personal Secretary Katie Johnson with a gift and birthday cake in the Oval Office, March 25, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama gestures during a briefing with a bipartisan, bicameral group of members of Congress on the situation in Libya, in the Situation Room of the White House, March 25, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama talks with Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, D-Md., following a briefing with a bipartisan, bicameral group of Members of Congress, in the Situation Room of the White House, March 25, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama greets Medal of Honor recipients on the South Lawn of the White House, March 25, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama visits with Archbishop Demetrios Trakatellis in the Green Room of the White House prior to a Greek Independence Day reception, March 25, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama talks with Sung Kim, U.S. Ambassador to Republic of Korea, aboard Marine One during an early morning flight from Osan Air Base to the landing zone at U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul, Republic of Korea, March 25, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama and President Lee Myung-bak of the Republic of Korea walk down the grand staircase following their bilateral meeting at the Blue House in Seoul, Republic of Korea, March 25, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama meets with senior advisors in the Oval Office, March 26, 2013. Pictured, from left, are: Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett; Alyssa Mastromonaco, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations; Kathryn Ruemmler, Counsel to the President; Pete Rouse, Counselor to the President; Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; Rob Nabors, Deputy White House Chief of Staff for Policy; and David Simas, Deputy Senior Advisor for Communications and Strategy. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama host a Passover Seder Dinner for family, staff and friends, in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, March 25, 2013.
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
First Lady Michelle Obama watches performers dance on the City Wall in Xian, in China’s central Shaanxi province, March 24
AFP: Obama Vows Western Unity Ahead Of Ukraine Crisis Summit
President Barack Obama on Monday vowed Western unity in punishing Moscow for annexing Crimea, ahead of crisis talks that could see Russia excluded from the G8 club of rich nations. In Ukraine itself, the country’s acting president announced that its troops had been given orders to withdraw from Crimea after the fall of another military base to Kremlin troops. “Europe and America are united in our support of the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people, we’re united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far,” Obama told journalists at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. Obama then headed to The Hague where he has called an emergency Group of Seven summit to discuss what steps to take in the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is to meet US Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) for what may be their most tense talks to date. It will be their first meeting since Washington imposed financial restrictions on the most powerful members of Putin’s inner circle for their decision to resort to force in response to the fall of Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin regime after three months of sometimes deadly protests. Kerry has already warned that Moscow risks losing its coveted place among the G8 because of the Crimea crisis. British Prime Minister David Cameron said leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — minus current G8 chair Russia — must discuss the permanent expulsion of Russia from the group, which it was admitted to in 1998 as a reward for choosing a democratic post-Soviet course.
President Barack Obama, right, is greeted by Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, left, upon arrival at Schiphol Amsterdam Airport, Netherlands
President Barack Obama and Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans greet dignitaries upon arrival at Schiphol Amsterdam Airport, Netherlands
President Barack Obama is silhouetted as he walks towards the Marine One helicopter upon arriving at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
President Barack Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping take their seats before a meeting, held on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit, in The Hague. President Obama, who has imposed tougher sanctions on Moscow than European leaders over its seizure of the Black Sea peninsula, will seek support for his firm line at a meeting with other leaders of the G7
President Barack Obama and Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte, shakes hands. President Obama is attending the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, which will form the backdrop for an emergency meeting of Group of Seven leaders on Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
National Security Advisor Susan Rice and members of President Barack Obama’s delegation stand beneath a painting by Bartholomeus van der Helst, as President Obama speaks at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam
President Barack Obama and Mayor of Amsterdam Eberhard van der Laan, look at a guest book during a visit to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Rijksmuseum director Wim Pijbes tells President Barack Obama and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, where to stand in front of Dutch master Rembrandt’s The Night Watch painting during a visit to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands
President Barack Obama and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, look at the Act of Abjuration during a visit at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands