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Kamora Cyprian, 2, gets her teeth cleaned as part of a free health care service for the uninsured at the Care Harbor clinic at the Los Angeles Sports Arena on September 27, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Closing Arkansas clinic: 'We've done our mission'

04/11/14 10:22AM

Before the Affordable Care Act became law, it was fairly common during the congressional debate to hear opponents say the legislation was simply unnecessary. After all, Republicans insisted at the time, the United States already had the "best health care system in the world."
Chances are, these GOP policymakers never stopped by a free clinic, where thousands of struggling, uninsured Americans would routinely sleep outside, hoping for an opportunity to receive medical treatment they otherwise couldn't afford. I still remember watching Bill Moyers sit down five years ago with Wendell Potter, a former executive at a major health insurance company, who discovered the need for systematic reform after visiting a free clinic.
Potter visited a health care expedition in Wise, Virginia, in July 2007. "I just assumed that it would be, you know, like booths set up and people just getting their blood pressure checked and things like that," he said. "But what I saw were doctors who were set up to provide care in animal stalls. Or they'd erected tents, to care for people.... I've got some pictures of people being treated on gurneys, on rain-soaked pavement. And I saw people lined up, standing in line or sitting in these long, long lines, waiting to get care."
Potter added that families were there from "all over the region" because people had heard, "from word of mouth," about the possibility of being able to see a doctor without insurance. He asked himself, "What country am I in? It just didn't seem to be a possibility that I was in the United States."
That was then; this is now. This story out of Arkansas is a sign of the times (thanks to reader R.B. for the tip).
An article in the Mena Star explains that -- despite the efforts of state Rep. Nate Bell, the Mena Republican who has made it his mission to stop outreach informing people of their options for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act -- citizens in Mena are getting covered under Obamacare.
Announcing that 9th Street Ministries, sponsored by the First Baptist Church in Mena, will offer its last clinic later this month, Nurse Stacey Bowser, the clinical director at 9th Street Ministries, said, "We've done our mission." The clinic has offered free medical services once a month to the uninsured in Mena since 1998. For years, they were seeing hundreds of people a month desperate for care (the clinic only served people with no insurance of their own). But now folks in Mena are signing up with the private option and other coverage options via the ACA. "This complete dropoff of numbers of people coming to the clinic is a result of all those who have successfully enrolled in an insurance policy now," Bowser said.
Ordinarily, it might seem like a tragedy to see a free medical clinic close its doors forever, but this story out of Arkansas is actually the opposite -- it's evidence of historic progress that the clinic no longer feels needed.
In a photo taken Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, the then newly-elected Rep. Vance McAllister (R-La.) waits to be sworn in at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Standards, scandals, and sex in Louisiana

04/11/14 09:37AM

It's been about five days since Rep. Vance McAllister, a self-described "faith and family" Louisiana Republican, was caught on video in an extra-marital dalliance with a staffer and donor. He issued a statement acknowledging that he'd "fallen short" and is "asking for forgiveness."
As of yesterday, many of McAllister's fellow Republicans apparently aren't in a forgiving mood.
On Thursday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal amped up the pressure on the so-called "kissing congressman" to step down, releasing a statement calling McAllister's behavior "an embarrassment." [...]
Earlier in the day, the chairman of Louisiana's Republican Party asked for McAllister to step down as well – and he didn't mince words while doing it.
"Mr. McAllister's extreme hypocrisy is an example of why ordinary people are fed up with politics," Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere Jr. said in a statement. "A breach of trust of this magnitude can only be rectified by an immediate resignation. He has embarrassed our party, our state and the institution of Congress."
By all appearances, McAllister is resisting these calls and hopes the controversy will blow over. While we wait to see if this strategy works, however, it's become increasingly difficult to ignore a relevant question: can anyone explain why McAllister's personal misdeeds are worse that of Sen. David Vitter's (R)?
Or more to the point, why is it, exactly, that the same Louisiana Republicans calling for McAllister's ouster are holding the congressman to an entirely different standard than the one applied to Vitter after the "family values" senator was caught having hired prostitutes?
The answer isn't as mysterious as it may seem.

Dems run on, not from, the ACA

04/11/14 08:40AM

The conventional wisdom on the politics of health care is so widely accepted, it usually goes unchallenged. Democrats -- especially vulnerable, red-state Democrats -- will be desperate to avoid the Affordable Care Act this election year, eager to talk about anything but the health care law.
Indeed, Dems will simply have no choice: they will run from, not on, their record and the ACA successes.
Perhaps now would be a good time to reevaluate those assumptions.
The Affordable Care Act remains deeply unpopular across the conservative terrain of Alaska, but a super PAC supporting Democratic Sen. Mark Begich's reelection isn't shying away from touting the health care law's success stories.
The pro-Begich group Put Alaska First released an ad Thursday titled "Beat," in which breast cancer survivor Lisa Keller notes Obamacare enabled her to get health insurance despite the pre-existing condition.
"I was lucky I beat cancer, but the insurance companies still denied me health insurance just because of a pre-existing condition," Keller says in the ad. "I now have health insurance again because of Mark Begich. Because he fought the insurance companies, so that we no longer have to."
For those who believe the conventional wisdom, an ad like this is simply madness. Why would Begich's allies remind red-state voters about his role in bringing affordable health care and consumer protections to Alaskans?
Maybe because the broader conversation is undergoing a long-overdue shift. As an electoral matter, Democrats will own the increasingly successful health care law whether they brag or hide, so they might as well start reminding the public about why this was a good idea -- and why they're proud to have championed reforms that benefit Americans like Alaska's Lisa Keller.
What's more, Begich's allies aren't the only ones thinking along these lines.
US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius attends an event with President Barack Obama to speak about the Affordable Care Act, October 21, 2013.

Sebelius exits, Burwell waits in wings

04/11/14 08:00AM

Following the announcement that Kathleen Sebelius is stepping down as Secretary of Health and Human Services, the New York Times ran this headline on the front page: "Sebelius Resigns After Troubles With Health Law Website." And if the HHS chief had stepped down in, say, late November, this angle might be more compelling.
This week, however, arguably the more apt headline would read, "Sebelius Departs After Miraculous Comeback, Exceeding ACA Enrollment Goals."
Perhaps it's just a matter of perspective. If what matters most right now is that was a dysfunctional mess last fall, then "website troubles" deserves to be the first line in the Sebelius legacy. On the other hand, if what matters most right now is that the website was repaired, enrollments soared, and the system is working as planned, "website troubles" should be a footnote in history.
Ezra Klein's take rings true: Sebelius can step down because "Obamacare has won."
Calls for Sebelius's resignation were almost constant after Obamacare's catastrophic launch. The problem wasn't just that Sebelius had presided over the construction of a fantastically expensive web site that flatly didn't work. [...]
But President Obama refused. As National Journal's Major Garrett reported, Obama believes that "scaring people with a ceremonial firing deepens fear, turns allies against one another, makes them risk-averse, and saps productivity." Moreover, there was too much to be done to fire one of the few people who knew how to finish the job. Sebelius would stay. The White House wouldn't panic in ways that made it harder to save the law.
The evidence has piled up in recent weeks that the strategy worked.
Sebelius tackled an extremely difficult job and made her share of mistakes -- some of which were her fault, others not. But she and her team persevered and finished the job. What matters is how clutch players finish the game, not whether they had first-quarter turnovers.
In this sense, her departure isn't the final page of a failed story; it's a drop-the-mic moment for an official who got the last laugh after some early stumbles.

Russians on the border and other headlines

04/11/14 07:59AM

Satellite images show Russian forces poised near Ukraine. (NY Times) Missouri becomes the latest Right to Work battleground. (Washington Post) Former CT Governor John Rowland indicted in two alleged campaign finance schemes. (Hartford Courant) The woman who threw a shoe at Hillary Clinton had eluded security to gain access to the event. (Las Vegas Review Journal) read more

Sebelius exit steps on Obamacare good news

Sebelius exit steps on Obamacare good news

04/10/14 10:45PM

David Corn, D.C. bureau chief for Mother Jones, talks with Rachel Maddow about the surprising resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and how this news undermines the good news cycle Obamacare is having. watch

Hillary Clinton takes shoe throwing in stride

Hillary Clinton takes shoe throwing in stride

04/10/14 10:44PM

Rachel Maddow reports on a strange incident at a speech by Hillary Clinton in Las Vegas in which someone threw a shoe at the former Secretary of State, prompting Clinton to make a series of quips and one previously unknown revelation. watch