From the Whitehouse press office:
Washington, DC – Today, President Obama hosted a National Conference on Mental Health at the White House to discuss ways to help the millions of Americans who struggle with mental health conditions and substance use disorders. U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a strong advocate for legislation to improve care coordination for mental health patients, was with former Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) among the invited guests at today’s conference.
“For too long, Americans suffering from mental-health conditions have been misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and poorly treated,” said Whitehouse. “We’ve made great strides to improve care for these individuals in recent years, particularly through the mental health parity law championed by Congressman Kennedy, but there is still more we can do. I look forward to working with President Obama and his Administration on this important issue.”
Over the past several years, Senator Whitehouse has emerged as one of the leaders in Congress on mental health issues. He strongly supported Congressman Kennedy’s Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act in 2008, and in 2010 Whitehouse and Kennedy teamed up to introduce the Health Information Technology (HIT) Extension for Behavioral Health Services Act. That bill would have made federal HIT incentives available to behavioral health, mental health, and substance abuse treatment providers who are currently ineligible to receive incentives available to a majority of medical professionals and facilities. Whitehouse has continued working on that legislation since Kennedy’s retirement, and plans to reintroduce an updated version of it later this year.
Senator Whitehouse has also been working to amend the Children’s Hospital Graduate Medical Education Program to enable federal support for the training of mental health providers at children’s psychiatric hospitals, like Bradley Hospital in Rhode Island.
Today’s conference at the White House featured appearances by President Obama, Vice President Biden, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, as well as mental health advocates, educators, health care providers, faith leaders, and individuals who have struggled with mental health conditions. Actors Glenn Close and Bradley Cooper also participated.
The event was a part of the Administration’s effort to launch a national conversation to increase understanding and awareness of mental health.
RI Seniors: Help! We’ve fallen into the Doughnut Hole and We Can’t Get Out! Please, Senator Whitehouse, come to our aid!
Senator Whitehouse responds below.
Over 13,000 Rhode Islanders Benefitted from Medicare “Doughnut Hole” Fix in 2012
New Interactive Map Highlights Savings for Each Zip Code in State
Cranston, RI – During a visit with Cranston seniors today to commemorate the three-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts discussed how the health care law is saving money for Medicare recipients in Rhode Island. According to new data, 13,834 Rhode Island seniors saved over $8 million dollars through prescription drug discounts in 2012.
Prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, thousands of Rhode Island seniors fell into the so-called Medicare “doughnut hole” and were forced to pay the full cost of their prescription drugs. In 2010, Senator Whitehouse successfully fought to eliminate the doughnut hole as part of the Affordable Care Act.
“Over the years, I’ve heard from hundreds of Rhode Island seniors who were hurt by the doughnut hole,” said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. “Seniors should never have to choose between putting food on the table and paying for the medication they need to stay healthy. Fixing the doughnut hole was one of my top priorities when I was elected to the Senate, so I’m proud to see the Affordable Care Act saving Rhode Island seniors millions of dollars every year.”
“While much of the country is still trying to figure out the Affordable Care Act, here in Rhode Island we have been fully committed to ensuring that Rhode Island is a national leader in implementing health reform since the law’s passage in 2010,” said Lt. Governor Elizabeth H. Roberts, chair of the RI Healthcare Reform Commission. “And for Rhode Island seniors who are already benefiting from provisions in the law, such as closing the prescription coverage gap or ‘donut hole’, health reform has improved their lives.”
The doughnut hole exposes seniors to the full cost of prescription drugs after they and their plan spend a certain amount of money ($2,970) for covered drugs in a year, but before they hit catastrophic coverage ($4,750). The Affordable Care Act closes the doughnut hole in phases over a ten-year period.
Because of the Affordable Care Act, in 2011 and 2012 seniors in the doughnut hole received a 50% discount from the drug manufacturers on all brand name drugs. Starting this year, the federal government will subsidize an additional 2.5% of brand-name drug costs for seniors in the doughnut hole. These subsidies will increase each year until the coverage gap is closed in 2020.
In 2012, Rhode Island seniors in the doughnut hole saved $579 each on average.
Good news for the middle schools of the United States, as Sen. Whitehouse champions new legislation to fund struggling middle schools.
Whitehouse Announces Legislation to Improve Middle School Achievement
Providence, RI – Today, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed announced the introduction of the Success in the Middle Act, legislation to improve our nation’s middle schools. At the press conference, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, Providence School Superintendent Susan Lusi, and Gilbert Stuart Middle School Principal Edward Halpin shared their support for the legislation and discussed its benefits for Rhode Island children.
“When children reach high school unprepared, it is often too late for them to catch up,” said Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and lead sponsor of the Success in the Middle Act. “This legislation will help struggling middle schools prepare students for the academic rigors of high school, and put children on the path to college or a career early on.”
“I applaud Senator Whitehouse for leading this effort to target reforms to the middle grades, a critical time when too many kids can fall off track and fall behind. This legislation will provide additional resources to improve our middle schools and help kids reach their full potential and successfully transition to high school, college, and the workforce,” said Reed.
“The middle school years can be a difficult, transitional time for children. In Providence, we have put a lot of effort into providing support and services both in and out of school for our middle school students. Senator Whitehouse’s ‘Success in the Middle’ legislation would significantly enhance the ability of communities across our nation to ensure that all students complete the middle grades prepared for success in high school and in the rest of their lives,” said Mayor Angel Taveras.
“We are grateful to our Senators from Rhode Island for their ongoing commitment to education, and especially to that of our most at-risk students,” said Providence Schools Superintendent Dr. Susan Lusi. “This bill would bolster our efforts to ensure that the critical middle school years are full of strong academics, positive school cultures and supportive structures to ensure student success.”
The Success in the Middle Act would help disadvantaged middle-grade students reach their full potential by providing federal grants to underachieving school systems. Senators Whitehouse and Reed announced the reintroduction of the legislation at Gilbert Stuart Middle School in Providence, a school that could benefit from passage of the Success in the Middle Act.
An earlier version of the Success in the Middle Act was originally introduced in the Senate by Barack Obama before he was elected President, and was then championed by Senator Reed. Senator Whitehouse will introduce a new version of the bill next week when the Senate goes back into session.
While being a member of Congress definitely has its benefits, it seems to be a pretty frustrating job these days. Take, for instance, this article by Ezra Klein outlining why this is the worst Congress ever:
Nevertheless, some people are trying to get work done, or at least make it look that way. In fact, some are willing to stay up all night if that’s what it takes to get some attention:
Senate Democrats to Hold “Midnight Vigil” on DISCLOSE Act
If GOP Blocks Effort to End Secret Election Spending, Democrats Will Continue Debating Past Midnight and Ask for Second Vote Tomorrow
Washington, DC – With Senate Republicans threatening to block debate this evening on the DISCLOSE Act, Senate Democrats are sending a clear message that they won’t back down easily. If Republicans succeed in blocking a key procedural vote on the measure today, a group of Democrats have pledged to hold onto the Senate floor late into the night tonight in an effort to bring greater attention to the issue and force a second vote on the bill tomorrow.
The late night “midnight vigil” effort will be led by the members of the Citizens United Task Force, which includes U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Al Franken (D-MN). The group was organized by U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, the Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, who will also take part in tonight’s effort.
“We recognize that you don’t win every fight in round one, and this is a fight worth continuing,” said Whitehouse, the lead sponsor of the DISCLOSE Act. “Putting an end to secret election spending by special interests is an essential step in protecting middle class priorities. For that reason, we are committed to continuing the debate on the DISCLOSE Act late into the night and asking for a second vote tomorrow if need be. We can’t let the special interests off the hook after just one round.”
The DISCLOSE Act requires any organization that spends $10,000 or more during an election cycle to file a report within 24 hours, identifying any donors who gave $10,000 or more. It will require political groups posing as social welfare organizations to disclose their donors and will prevent corporations and other wealthy interests from using shell corporations to funnel secret money to super PACs.
“We are determined to prove that transparency is not a radical concept,” said Udall. “Our bill is as simple and straightforward as it gets – if you are making large donations to influence an election, the voters in that election should know who you are. The American people are blessed with common sense. They know that when someone will not admit to something, it is usually because there is something to hide.”
“This is too important an issue to let it lie quietly,” Shaheen said. “New Hampshire voters were subjected to a flood of negative ads this primary season, many of them fueled by unregulated, secret money. It isn’t right. We need to stand up for accountability and fairness in our politics.”
“Tonight we will debate whether we truly believe in the first three words of our Constitution: ‘We the People.’ The flood of secret money unleashed by Citizens United is drowning out the voice of the people,” said Merkley. “Indeed, those who oppose disclosure are seeking to replace ‘We the People’ with ‘We the Powerful.’ This is wrong in so many ways. It’s way past time to shine a light on the darkness and discover who or what this money really stands for.”
“Coloradans have been inundated with attack ads funded by a small number of people through anonymous groups,” Bennet said. “Disclosure would at least provide information about who is behind these ads and bring accountability that bolsters democracy in our elections. Unfortunately, a minority of senators are poised to block progress on the DISCLOSE Act and prevent necessary transparency in our election system.”
“The DISCLOSE Act will not fix all of the evil effects of Citizens United, but it is certainly a step forward,” said Sen. Franken. “And it will bring much needed sunshine to our political system, which will go a long way toward reducing the number and dishonesty of negative attack ads that further corrode our public dialogue and ultimately threaten our democratic system.”
“We believe that all of the unlimited cash allowed by the Citizens United decision must at least be disclosed,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer. “This legislation seeks to limit the damage of the Supreme Court decision that has given corporations and the very wealthy unprecedented sway over our elections, and represents one of the most serious threats to the future of our democracy.”
Individuals are encouraged to follow the floor debate throughout the night on Twitter, using the hashtag #DISCLOSEVote.
Short interview with Sen. Whitehouse in which he extolls the virtues of Netroots Nation, appreciates the value of the Occupy Movement, and talks about his efforts to keep funding for wellness and health. He also talks about his phone conversation with President Obama following the Buffet Rule vote in the Senate, and how the fight is not over to change our tax policies to support the middle class.
Netroots Nation is going fabulously. I am talking with Sheldon Whitehouse’s office and will be doing a short interview with him while he is at Netroots. If you have any questions you want me to ask, please suggest them in the comments. Keep it short and polite!
I attended a panel this morning entitled “Beyond Occupy: What Does a New Economic System Look Like?” The answers included an economy focused on happiness rather than growth. This idea was suggested by Colin Mutchler, who likened America’s devotion to “growth, growth, growth” to the formation of cancer. Others on the panel were more inclined to answer that the new economy needs to focus on job growth and recognizing and valuing work that is currently undervalued or not valued at all, such as caring for the elderly and small children. The panel leader, Jenifer Fernandez Ancona, suggested that we need to begin developing “Progressive Capitalism” so that as progressives we are not dismissed as being anti-capitalist, since many of us are not.
Had lunch sponsored by Windmade, a consortium of wind, environment, and business organizations. The message there was about how to respond to the misinformation anti-wind campaigns out there. We have written about the increase in wind power here on Kmareka, and we have had comments from some anti-winders, so this was good to know about. I will begin aggregating news about the wind industry and doing more to respond to the anti-wind rhetoric.
What a surprise. George Bush wants all the tax breaks to stay in place for the 1%. “Leave capital in the treasuries of the job creators,” he says in the article linked below. Here’s a concept: what about letting the middle class be job creators? What about helping small businesspeople feel economically strong enough to expand and carry out a plan that would involve employing other people? That would mean the wealthy paying a little more in taxes so that the middle class could see some relief. The Buffet Rule legislation could move us in that direction. But first, a word from our primary sponsor of the Great Recession: Bush wishes his name wasn’t attached to tax cuts – Apr. 10, 2012.
If you listen to most politicians in Rhode Island, they will try to tell you that we can’t tax the rich because “they might leave us!” Well, if we had national legislation to tax the rich such as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is proposing, they wouldn’t have anywhere to go. And furthermore, it’s just not true that our neighboring states are tax havens compared to us. From RI FUTURE (still one of the only sources for independent political thought in the state!):
The median state is Mississippi. The poorest 20% pay about 10.8% of their total income in taxes. The top 1%, OTOH, only pay 5.5% of their income.
In other words, the effective tax rate of the bottom 20% is about twice as high as the tax rate for the top%–despite paying no fed taxes.
And how does RI stack up? We’re worse.
Here, the bottom 20% pays about 11.9%, while the top 1% pays 5.5%.
In other words, the bottom 20% pays a rate that is more than twice the rate paid by the top 1%.
And Mass is two spots worse, CT is one spot better, so spare me the “Oh, I could just move to Mass and save all this money” lie. And founder of a certain ‘alternative’ party, I’m looking at you.
This story was picked up by Ted Nesi at WPRI Eyewitness news. You know the local mainstream media isn’t running the way it used to (yes, Projo, I’m looking at you) when we are getting some of our better news analysis from nom de plume bloggers.
by Elaine Hirsch
What is the future of SOPA?
In October of 2011, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, along with its Senate counterpart, Protect Internet Providers Act (PIPA). Ostensibly designed to strengthen legal responses against the illegal distribution of copyrighted material, these bills caused a firestorm in the internet community. Opposition to the bill focused on two points: the dramatic expansion of power that would allow the US government to take action against internet service providers for material posted by individuals using those providers, and the expansion of government power that would allow the US to take action against “online service providers, Internet search engines, payment network providers, and Internet advertising services” in other countries accused of engaging in illegal activities.
Supporters of the bills touted them as the next step in strengthening legal protections for copyright holders (for example film studios and software manufacturers) against the pirating of their material. Some criminology experts and opponents said that the bills are overgeneralized, and allowed draconian measures such as blocking an entire domain for the actions of one individual using that domain. In noting that the phrase “enables or facilitates” in the bill is so broad in scope that even email falls under the category of enablement, Techdirt analyst Mike Masnick makes an effective point: the entire internet—an interconnected network—by definition enables piracy.
Are SOPA and PIPA needed?
On January 19, 2011, as sites such as Wikipedia initiated a blackout in protest of the bills, the U.S. Department of Justice was engaged in shutting down Megaupload, one of the world’s largest file-sharing services of copyrighted material. Two years earlier, in November 2009, the Pirate Bay, another site famous for file-sharing of copyrighted material, was the subject of blocking by a number of countries in Europe and Asia, and the owners taken to court. These famous cases strongly suggest that existing measures are fully adequate in providing authorities all the power needed to take action against sites engaged in illegal activity.
While the bill has been withdrawn for revision, it is by no means dead. A number of companies such as YouTube and Google support alternative legislation such as Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN), legislation designed to protect “Fair Use” policies while targeting more specifically those individuals engaged in illegal activities, without the sweeping new powers contained in SOPA. It is possible that free speech advocates and those interested in providing the government additional powers to shut down illegal sites may come to a consensus and come up with more effective legislation. One thing is clear, the two sides are far from finding that consensus at present.
Elaine Hirsch, Kmareka’s West Coast correspondent, blogs as a labor of love.
Senator Whitehouse and others have introduced legislation to amend the constitution so that corporations can not qualify as people who can give unlimited cash to campaigns. From Whitehouse’s press release:
In 2010, the Supreme Court concluded in a highly contentious 5-4 ruling that corporations deserve the same free speech protections as individual Americans, enabling them to spend freely from their corporate treasuries on campaign advertising.
“The flawed Citizens United decision allows corporations, including international corporations, to use their vast wealth to drown out the voices of the American people, and it allows them to do so anonymously from behind shell organizations,” said Whitehouse. “We must ensure that government works for the American people, not powerful corporations. The constitutional amendment we are introducing today will undo the Citizens United decision, putting people in charge as the Founders of our country intended.”
Given the shocking amounts of money flowing into elections now, including school board elections such as the recent Denver School Board elections in which the winners were mostly cash coffer candidates for oil companies and other powerful corporate interests, it is becoming glaringly apparent just how much damage the recent Supreme Court ruling has done to our election process. We are being inundated with corporate pressure to change our educational systems in ways that make everything “data-driven” and, in my opinion, strip much of the humanity out of education.
If you want to think about what might be done to improve education, I recommend reading Aaron Regunberg’s post that gives attention to the evolving “Student Bill of Rights” — a student-driven movement to define what students want and need to succeed educationally. Interestingly, there is nothing in their bill about needing more data-driven analysis and standards that declare whole systems (usually systems in poor urban areas) to be failures. The students come back to the basics: that they need good food, access to health care, and access to the full range of educational (including the arts and humanities) in order to benefit fully from their education.