Tales from the Trail

Prospects for healthcare up, insurance stocks down

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It may be a gamble, but at least one tell says that President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress may win the big bet they have made to push healthcare reform legislation over the finish line, despite public doubts and Republican opposition.

Just look at the healthcare provider stocks.  Health insurer shares were lower on Thursday in afternoon trading after the White House announced Obama would meet with several House Democrats in an apparent  bid to lock in votes.

“It looks like he’s really getting involved at the very micro level, and I think that probably shows the administration is really going to put everything on the line for this initiative,”  Morningstar analyst Matthew Coffina told Reuters correspondent  Lewis Krauskopf in New York.   ”They’re kind of going for broke at this point.”

“The prospects of healthcare reform are up. Stocks are down,”  said Tim Nelson, a healthcare analyst with First American Funds. “These stocks go up and down with the prospects of healthcare reform.”

With the help of some well publicized health insurance premium increases, Democrats  have decided that they will be better off  in the November congressional elections having passed the sweeping healthcare overhaul than letting it die. Many rang the death knell for the reform effort after Democrats lost their supermajority of 60 votes in the Senate when a Republican won a  special election in liberal Massachusetts.

Healthcare reconciliation: easier said than explained

The process intricacies that go into lawmaking can stump the hardiest of congressional watchers.

Now that Democrats may decide to use reconciliation to get healthcare legislation passed in Congress, everyone has been scrambling for the easiest possible explanation. OBAMA/

What we found were lots of words and several reports aimed at explaining the process that everyone’s talking about, but no one-line, easy-to-understand, explain-it-to-your-grandmother, definition.

Senator Coburn cites Thomson Reuters at healthcare summit

USA-HEALTHCARE/Republican Senator Tom Coburn is obviously a big fan of Thomson Reuters. He cited Thomson Reuters reports throughout his presentation at the White House healthcare summit.

Coburn, an Oklahoma physician who opposes the sweeping Democratic healthcare overhaul, said lawmakers should focus first on reducing hundreds of billions of dollars of wasteful spending in the U.S. healthcare system. He cited recent studies by Thomson Reuters showing wasteful spending and how patients are postponing medical care due to cost.

They can be found here, here and here.

Coburn often cited these reports during Senate debate on healthcare reform. He wants to bring down costs by tackling waste, fraud and abuse, and limiting medical malpractice lawsuits. And like most doctors, he wants us to live healthy lifestyles and avoid junk food. He also wants to change some popular government programs that he said are contributing to unhealthy eating habits.

Gingrich once again at head of Republican pack

Once, a first-term Democratic president failed to deliver on healthcare reform and found his party USA-POLITICS/swept from office by a wave of voter anger that brought Republican Newt Gingrich to the forefront of American politics. Could this history lesson from the Clinton era be repeated?

Healthcare reform is stalled, voters are angry and Gingrich — who rose to prominence as House speaker after Republicans won Congress in 1994 — is again leading the pack, this time among  potential White House hopefuls for 2012.

The Washington-based political news outlet, Politico, says Gingrich’s political action committee is raising money far faster than those of 2008 campaign veterans including Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Most Americans want Republican input on healthcare – poll

Most Americans want President Obama and the Democrats to jettison the healthcare bill they almost got together before USA-HEALTHCARE/WELLNESSthis week’s political earthquake in Massachusetts and instead look for something Republicans can support.

That’s according to a new USA Today/Gallup poll which says 55 percent of Americans want work stopped on a House-Senate compromise between Democrats, while 39 percent want the Democrats to press on.

In fact, a sizable minority — 46 percent of the 1,010 adults surveyed — say healthcare reform is important but should not be Obama’s top legislative priority. Nineteen percent say healthcare shouldn’t be a major priority at all.
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The poll was conducted the day after Republican Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy’s dyed-in-the-wool-Democratic-blue Senate seat in Massachusetts. The findings have a 4 percentage point margin of error.

Mindboggling in Massachusetts

The Republicans are coming, the Republicans are coming… to Massachusetts. USA-POLITICS/MASSACHUSETTS

The Senate seat comfortably held by Edward Kennedy for nearly half a century has gone to Republican Scott Brown. 

We can only imagine what the late “Liberal Lion” of the Senate would have thought if he were still alive.

Democrats politely congratulated Brown, who defeated Democrat Martha Coakley, knowing full well that the dynamics have changed. Democrats no longer have a 60-vote filibuster-proof Senate — and that can affect their plans for healthcare reform.

Gallup poll gives Obama some good news on terrorism issue

President Barack Obama’s approval ratings may have slipped in some polling data. But there’s a tiny bit of good news for him on an issue that his Republican critics have been whacking away at for weeks now: terrorism. USA HEALTHCARE/

A USA Today/Gallup poll says public approval for Obama’s handling of terrorism has risen since the Christmas Day bomb attempt, with more Americans than not giving him their approval on a political issue likely to rank high in this year’s congressional election campaign.

The numbers still aren’t great for the president, however. The thumbs up comes from less than half of the public — 49 percent – and those expressing disapproval are close behind at 46 percent. That three-point gap is well within the Jan. 8-10 survey’s 4 percentage point sampling error. Approval is also way down from May, when 55 percent of Americans endorsed his handling of terrorism.

Obama’s approval rating dips in CBS poll

President Barack Obama, about to mark his one-year anniversary at the White House, has seen his job approval rating drop to 46 percent in a new CBS News poll, the lowest recorded in this particular poll. USA/

CBS said it is domestic issues that are hurting the president. His approval rating on handling the U.S. economy is at 41 percent and his handling of healthcare is at 36 percent. These are all time lows.

The poll comes as Obama seeks to gain congressional passage of a healthcare overhaul in the early weeks of this year.

Healthy lifestyle discount or insurance loophole?

Dozens of healthcare reform advocates are sounding alarm bells over a Senate proposal to allow companies to reward employees who quit smoking, exercise or engage in other healthy activities.

The groups, including the American  Heart Association, say the measure would create a “dangerous”  loophole that would allow insurance companies to discriminate against people with health problems if it is included in the final healthcare yoga2reform legislation.

The healthcare overhaul aims to stop insurance companies from excluding coverage for people with pre-existing conditions or charging people more based on medical history. But Sue Nelson of the American Heart Association said the provision is written in a way that would allow insurers to raise premiums but then provide discounts, as much as 50 percent, for people who quit smoking or join gyms and exercise more.

Tweets to Tackle Health Care

Public anger boiled over at some highly publicized town hall meetings during the summer as U.S. lawmakers weighed health reform plans — but what happens when the debate moves online?

New Jersey Representative Frank Pallone will find out Monday.
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He’s holding a three-hour online Town Hall meeting to discuss healthcare reform on Twitter, the micro-blogging website known for its short 140-character text messages.

Pallone, a Democrat and one of the authors of the House of Representatives health bill that passed Nov. 7, will use the time to help answer questions about the roughly 2,000-page measure.