Archive for July, 2010

>Passion

July 30, 2010

>pas·sion

[pash-uhn]
–noun
1. any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate.

2. strong amorous feeling or desire; love; ardor.

3. strong sexual desire; lust.

4. an instance or experience of strong love or sexual desire.

5. a person toward whom one feels strong love or sexual desire.

6. a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything: a passion for music.

7. the object of such a fondness or desire: Accuracy became a passion with him.

8. an outburst of strong emotion or feeling: He suddenly broke into a passion of bitter words.

There are a few more definitions, mostly relating to Christ, but it is this one, “an outburst of strong emotion or feeling” that we saw yesterday from Rep. Anthony Weiner of NY after Republicans sought delaying tactics over the 9/11 health compensation bill.

From 9/11 health now The bill would spend $3.2 billion on health care over the next 10 years for people sickened from their exposure to the toxic smoke and debris of the shattered World Trade Center.. It would spend another $4.2 billion to compensate victims over that span, and make another $4.2 billion in compensation available for the next 11 years.

Republicans blocked it. Weiner’s passion I believe is directed not just at the blocking of this bill, but at the Republican – Tea Party strategy that we have seen ever since Barack Obama was sworn in, and that in to be the Party of No. Last week it was forget the unemployed they are not important. Now it’s forget the victims of 9/11 that are still suffering, and that the Republican – Tea party minority does not care about.

An unscientific poll on CNN that I saw a little while ago showed that most responders predict that the Republican – Tea party will not gain control of either house of congress this year.

We can only pray that they are right, because if they do, just look for more suffering, more neglect, greater disparities and less compassion.

No wait, we can do more than pray. We can work to get Democrats elected, we can make phone calls, we can donate money. We can put our passion into action.

>Discordant

July 29, 2010

>Main Entry: dis·cor·dant
Pronunciation: \-dənt\
Function: adjective
Date: 14th century
1 a : being at variance : disagreeing b : quarrelsome : relating to a discord
— dis·cor·dant·ly adverb

It sure seems that we are living in discordant times. There are many examples, but certainly highlighted by the example of Joe Wilson’s shout of “You lie,” during the president’s state of the union address, and Republican Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle urging supporters to use “second amendment remedies” if they don’t get their way.

Immigrants are among the targeted. I heard someone on the local radio yesterday telling about watching a soccer game and stating that she “knew” that 95% of the young guys playing were “illegal.”

First, there is this:

Second, where does she come up with the 95% figure?

As of 2008 there were 46,822,476 Hispanics in the United States (out of 304,059,728 people). Of these, it is estimated that 11,000,000 or around 23 %, are undocumented. Saying that 95% of the young men in a soccer game are illegal is not only plainly wrong, but it’s also misleading and contributes to the discordance in our country.

It results from the xenophobia in our community, and across the nation.

In Birmingham yesterday there was a pro-immigrant rally rally that cheered the judge’s ruling on the Arizona law. Isabel Rubio, executive director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama said that officials in other cities in our state are interested in passing versions of the proclamation issued by Birmingham at the rally declaring the city as one that welcomes all.

But the Republican Tea Party loves the controversy. They want to keep us divided, hoping it will allow them to win a few races.

But I have this America-view that we are better than that. I grew up seeing the worst that America had to offer during the 20th century in the worst city be in during the 1960’s. (Disclaimer – I lived in Vestavia, but I was close enough to Birmingham to know what was going on and to see it with my own eyes.)

And as a result I can recognize hatred when I see it, or hear it. The Republican Tea Party depends on hatred to survive. And what they want to do to the country is deplorable.

Their platform:

1. Repeal health insurance reform
2. Privatize social security or get rid of it.
3. End medicare.
4. Extend the Bush tax breaks for the wealthy and big oil.
5. Repeal Wall Street reform.
6. Protect those responsible for the oil spill.
7. Abolish the Department of Education
8. Abolish the Department of Energy.
9. Abolish the Environmental Protection Agency.
10. Repeal the 17th amendment (ending the direct election of U.S. Senators)

The Republican Tea Party Contract on America

A vote for a republican, any republican, is a vote for this agenda. Remember this in November.

Sitting at home is a vote for this agenda as well. Remember to vote in November.

>Auburn greatness

July 28, 2010

>

The 2004 Auburn tigers rocked, winning all 13 games including the Sugar bowl where they beat Virginia Tech.

Now they are likely to be awarded the National Championship for that season, since USC has been sacked with NCAA sanctions for that year and had to vacate 14 wins including the national championship game.

Congratulations, Auburn! A little premature, perhaps.

But there is more to Auburn than football. I’m a product of the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine. Here’s a bit of what’s going on with the Vet School.

Canine Detection

Auburn’s Canine Detection Research Institute is the largest program of its kind in the nation.

The animals that come out of the program provide protection and security for U. S. soldiers and others in Iraq and Afghanistan by detecting explosives and narcotics.

EcoDogs have been developed for the A. U. School of Forestry and Wildlife Services and can detect scat related to endangered or invasive species, tree fungus and invasive insects that are affecting our habitats.

The Auburn trained bomb sniffing dogs patrolled the NBA All-Star game this year and will provide protection at the 2011 Super Bowl.

They have a Vapor Wake Detection canine team that can sniff body-worn explosives in a person in a crowd.

Auburn is about more than football championships, that’s for sure.

But, we’ll take it, if they award it.

War Eagle!

>A virtual tea bag

July 26, 2010

>I get a little p-o’ed when I receive a tea bag via email. A virtual tea bag.

That is how I refer to the forwarded emails full of lies and propaganda. But usually I use them as a teaching tool and I correct the lies and misinformation and send a response to the person who forwarded it to me, along with every email address in the chain.

So today I sent an email to 90 people who had received an email about congress voting them selves a pay raise and Social Security recipients being denied a cost of living increase and medicare recipients having a premium increase. At the end the email urged the reader to replace all 100 House members and up to a third of Senators.

Here is my response:

Recently I received an email from a friend that urged readers to paste a
reminder on the refrigerator about our congress and what they have done.
Let me respond to each point in the email.

But first a reminder. There is a commandment, number 9 I believe, that says “you shall not bear false witness to your neighbor.” On the Internet, we are all
neighbors, and composing the email that I received and sending it out, or even
forwarding it, is bearing false witness. I urge each of you to do some
research before forwarding emails that you receive.

Here are the facts surrounding each point in the email.

1. U..S. House & Senate have voted themselves $4,700 and $5,300 raises. LIE!
This is a 100% lie, made up, assuming you are talking about the current congress. In May 2010 President Obama signed into law a bill passed by both the house and senate that lawmakers passed to opt out of the automatic cost of living increases that they would have gotten. This is the second year in a row that this congress has passed such a bill.

Source: thehill.com

2.They voted to NOT give you a S.S. Cost of living raise in 2010 and
2011.

By law, Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits increase automatically each year if there is an increase in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), from the third quarter of the last year to the corresponding period of the current year. This year there was no increase in the CPI-W from the third quarter of 2008 to the third quarter of 2009.

Thus, by law, no Social Security Cost of Living increase was implemented, and there never is if there is no increase in the CPI.

Source: Social Security Administration


3. Your Medicare premiums will go up $285.60 for the 2-years.

Most Medicare beneficiaries will not see a Part B monthly premium increase as a
result of a “hold harmless” provision in the current law. This allows for
73 percent of beneficiaries to be protected from an increase raising the 2010
Part B monthly premiums from $96.40 to $110.50. The Administration
continues to urge Congressional action that would protect all beneficiaries from
higher Part B premiums and eliminate the inequity of a high premium for the
remaining 27 percent of beneficiaries.

Source: Medicare.org

Items 4 – 7 were just repeats of the first three lies, written in a different
way.

8. Will they have your cost of drugs – doctor fees – local taxes – food, etc., decrease?

This is just a broad condemnation of the congress based on nothing. But, “will they have your cost of drugs decrease? Yes. The Health Care Reform bill is closing the “doughnut hole” that affected many seniors. Many of you have already received a $250 check to help cover the difference until the policy change catches
up.

? Why should they care about you?
? You never did anything about it in the past.
? You obviously are too stupid or don’t care.
? Do you really think that Nancy, Harry, Chris, Charlie, Barney et al care about you?

Ok, you just called the reader of your email “stupid.” But congress does care. They cared about the hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people with pre-existing conditions that could not get insurance. Now…already…children cannot be denied insurance because of a pre-existing condition. Adults will be added in a couple of years.

They cared about young adults that could not afford insurance and who could not
remain on their parents policies. Now they can, until age 26. They cared about people who were being dropped from their insurance coverage after being diagnosed with breast cancer or other serious diseases.
Beginning September 23, that practice will be illegal.

They cared about people who have catastrophic diseases and would reach a lifetime cap on insurance coverage. Beginning September 23, that practice will be
illegal.

You can read about all of the provisions of Health care Reform that are going into effect this year – Bessemer Opinions – Health Care Reform Provisions

I don’t mind when people debate policies and base their arguments on the
facts. I do mind when people base their arguments on lies.

>Bessemer election primer

July 23, 2010

>Next month Bessemer voters will return to the polls to elect the next mayor and city council and school board.

There is a big grumble among the masses about the local officials, and many are calling for a clean sweep, at least among the races for council and mayor.

This is not the year for incumbency. The entire Jefferson County Commission will be new. Incumbents in state and national legislative positions are in trouble.

Let’s bring it on down to the local level.

There are only 4 city council members seeking re-election. Two others are trying to unseat the mayor and one is poised to become a county commissioner.

Only 2 of the 7 school board seats are being contested.

And there are 6 candidates for mayor.

The Progressive Voice of Bessemer has about decided who the best candidates are to lead us into the next decade. These will be announced shortly. In the meantime, join our new facebook group, Progressive Bessemer Coalition. After you join, start a discussion or post a comment on the wall. And invite your friends that want to see some change in our city.

Oh, and about our endorsements. They are based on a candidate’s progressive platforms, their level of education, and their response to the pressing issues rather than on money given to the group, old friendships, pay backs and expectations.

And remember, candidates, especially those for mayor, these are the things that you need to be concerned about.

Candidates for council should be concerned about historic preservation and restoration of neighborhoods, ability to work with the business community, “plays well with others” (ability for the council and mayor to behave like grownups), community garden support, finding a way to build a rec center for teens and seniors, respect for retirees, and other issues.

Here are the candidates:

Mayor: Louise Alexander (current city council), Donald Ballard, Darayl Blue, Dorothy Davidson (current city council), Kenneth Gulley, Edward May (current mayor). These candidates are also known as Lu Lu, Don, D.M., Dot, Ken and Ed.

City Council District 1: Ronnie Johnson, Temike Reasor, Robert A. Thomas, David Vance

City Council District 2: Albert Grant, Chester Porter, Sherrina V. Rice

City Council District 3: Sarah Wallace Belcher (incumbent), Jessie Burrell

City Council District 4: Ralph Hodge, Donna Thigpen

City Council District 5: Ron Marshall, Albert Soles (incumbent), Robert Dale White

City Council District 6: Jesse Matthews (incumbent), Edward E. May II, Dock Scott

City Council District 7: Earl J. Cochran Sr (incumbent), LaBrenda Marshall Jones, Cleo King

Board of Education District 1: Vera M. Eades (incumbent)

Board of Education District 2: Earlean B. Cochran, Lester S. Mulligan Sr., Janet A. Ruffin

Board of Education District 3: Renna Soles Scott (incumbent)

Board of Education District 4: Samuel Morris (incumbent)

Board of Education District 5: Darlene Perkins (incumbent)

Board of Education District 6: Christine Knight (incumbent)

Board of Education District 7: Hattie J. Aikerson (incumbent), Elvira Kidd, Wanda Faye Thomas, Carolyn Wilson Hudson

I ran into current school board member Bessie Pippens (District 2) at the grocery store yesterday. Ms. Pippens has been a prominent figure around the Bessemer political scene for a long time and I believe she was the first female city councilor. She will not be running for school board this election as she has other priorities that must be tended to. I am sure the school board will miss her cool-headedness and her leadership.

New on Bessemer Opinions are the reaction buttons, and the new share buttons below. You can express your like or dislike or other reaction to each post and easily share a favorite post on facebook, twitter, or a number of other sites.

>Standing in the school house door

July 22, 2010

>

One hundred and three students will be denied their scholarships as a result of Governor Bob Riley’s raid on Greentrack earlier this month.

This information comes from The Tuscaloosa News.

The scholarships provided between $500 and $900 each semester to the students.

“This governor, in 2010, is standing in the schoolhouse door,” Rev. John Kennard said. “He is standing in the schoolhouse door to prevent 103 of our children from furthering their education, and we’re not going to take it.”

Kennard is vice president of the group, Clergy Who Care.

Several students attended a rally organized by Kennard. They seem determined, in spite of the governor’s action.

Governor Riley’s office issued a statement yesterday about the VictoryLand profits that actually reflect his beliefs about bingo in general, thus, also about this issue in Green County.

“The casinos mislead people into believing they’re helping charities. But the reality is, the only people who actually benefit from it are the casino bosses and their cronies.”

So, the governor does not consider these students as “people,” I guess.

Governor Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door on June 11, 1963. He thought he was big stuff, but that attempt to preserve his way of life looks pretty foolish now, doesn’t it.

And remember, Republican candidate for Governor Dr. Robert Bentley wants to do away with electronic Bingo too. So he would leave these students out in the cold as well.

This is not about looking for other sources of funds for each student to continue his or her education. The students are doing that, and let’s hope they are successful.

No, it’s about stripping away a source of college education funds that the students already had secured and on which they were depending.

It’s about making things more difficult for students of color.

It plays right along with this undercurrent of racism that has swollen into a torrent over the last two days following the release of an edited video by a right wing blogger meant to further divide our nation and remind white people that they are supposed to be afraid of black people.

Rachel Maddow tells how white voters are being targeted to be afraid of black people.

Part 1, where she talks about George Wallace, and shows a comic book he used during a campaign to promote his views, and the “southern strategy” for winning political races by making white people be afraid of black people. Wallace used it in the 60’s, and it is still being used today.

Here’s part 2 of Rachel’s segment.

How long will the real racists, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Andrew Breitbart, Fox News, who are among us be allowed to control the news in this way? How long will we (the big we…the media, the White House, the bloggers) continue to be fooled in this way?

>Bessemer city council: a day late and a dollar short

July 21, 2010

>The Bessemer City Council is truly a comedy of errors. It’s not all the fault of the current council president, because I have witnessed this in the past (at that link I also made a reference to what I would like to do now: unseat all the current city council members).

Please set aside a Tuesday morning or evening, when the council is meeting, and come and see for yourself. For the real show be there for the “pre-council meeting,” which in the distant past only took an hour, (because the real meeting was aired live on the radio, and had to start on time), but since we’ve been taken off the radio, can last two hours or longer, with as much bickering and infighting as one might see at a Kentucky family reunion after the Hatfield-McCoy wedding.

Yesterday was no exception. Often this council is recognized for not acting on issues of importance in a timely matter. Look how they stretched BINGO along for months. Look how they often don’t introduce or approve a budget. Look how long it took to get paving started (conveniently just before an election). Look how long it took to pass the anti-smoking ordinance.

Yesterday, item number 12 on the agenda was “An Ordinance to Prohibit Electronic Messaging While Driving.” The item was deleted from the agenda. A question was raised as to the origin of the ordinance; as to whether it came from the Public Safety Committee (headed by Jesse Matthews, I believe) or not. It did not, and it was decided that the item be sent to the Public Safety Committee, where it will probably languish for a while before being returned in the same form. Who knows. Let’s just hope and pray that a high profile traffic accident does not occur on a Bessemer street and someone be killed because a driver was texting. No, I’m not naive enough to think an ordinance would prevent everyone from texting, but passing it would allow an educational effort from the city, and some publicity, and maybe a life would be saved.

And remember National Night Out, that oft criticised event that is supposed to bring residents onto their lit up porches and to their fences to talk with their neighbors? But that in the city of Bessemer means spending money for community events that draw people away from their homes and neighborhoods in the evening with the promise of free stuff.

Last year the council voted to give each council member $8000 to spend on their district’s celebration, it seems. This year times are tough, and the amount agreed on was $2000 per district “pending identification of funds.” In other words, as at least two council members mentioned, they have no idea how much money is in the general fund, so they cannot make a commitment to fund anything. Oh, and side-stepping a little bit, that includes Item 21, which was also deleted, which was to purchase “Two New (Trucks) for the Department of Public Improvements.” This was dropped because, again, they did not know how much money they had or where the money would come from.

But, here is the news I wanted to report. In today’s Birmingham News is an article headlined “Bessemer misses tax holiday deadline.” The article explains that the deadline for a city or county to notify the department of revenue about participation was July 7, 2010.

The council yesterday, always a day late and a dollar short, passed item 22, A Resolution Authorizing a Sales Tax Holiday during the first weekend of August 7, 2010, and in Accordance with Act No. 2006-574, State of Alabama.

If course, it was not in accordance with the act because it was not filed on time.

So I called Carla Snellgrove at the Department of Revenue and asked her if the city could still participate. She told me that the city would not be able to be placed on the web site list of participating cities, and that there was a reason for the 30 day period, i.e., to allow time to do the web posting and to give retailers (who have to submit the tax payments) and consumers time to prepare and advertise and all.

If you look at the official list, you will see the dates that complying cities sent their notifications, and by “Bessemer” you will see a big blank line. Embarrassing, for a city whose residents probably need the tax break the most.

Ms. Snellgrove did say that the city could still decide not to collect the tax, but that it could not be added to the list.

In doing this, the council acted irresponsibly and unfairly to our local retailers, as even if the stores are allowed skip the tax, they will certainly lose sales to other cities that are on the official list.

There was much more that I had to withhold a snicker at during yesterday’s pre-council meeting. I recorded much of it, and will save it for a day when I’m feeling down. Or, maybe I will make a short highlight reel for public display.

>Bessemer mayor treading on thin ice

July 21, 2010

>Last Thursday I took the mayor up on his invitation, left on my gate the week before:

Mayor Edward E. May invites you to:
The Mayor’s Town Hall Meeting
Canaan Baptist Church, 824 15th street North, Bessemer, AL 35020. Thursday, July 15, 2010 6:30 pm

Come and Share: What is happening? What are your concerns? What can we do to make Bessemer better?

Come, and together we can make it happen.

There was a terrific thunderstorm at 6:20 that evening, and only about 10 people showed up for the meeting. Because there are people who would like to hear what the mayor has to say, and because often it seems unusual things happen at these meetings, I took my camcorder.

Before the meeting began the mayor came and sat down across the table from me, and asked me who I was representing now. He was aware that I used to write an opinion column for his media nemesis, The Western Tribune. I told him that we had a lack of media coverage in the city, and that I was representing myself and the people of Bessemer who are unable to attend his meetings. He replied that we didn’t need any more media, in fact there is still too much media.

I began to record when the meeting began. About 10 minutes later, this dialogue occurred (emphasis mine):

Mayor: I would appreciate it if you would not record that. I would appreciate it if you would not record it.

Joe: If I would not record. If I would not record?

Mayor: Yes.

Joe: Can I ask why?

Mayor: You can, but you’re recording what we’re saying right now. But I would appreciate it if you would not record it. This is inviting of the public, but it’s not a public forum and quite frankly I’m concerned about your motive for being here and the intent that you have of the recording.

Joe: Ok, I’ll turn it off and leave.

I was not asked to leave, but I left of my own accord because I was trying to process what I viewed as an attempt to censor the media by a public official. I remembered that the Alabama Open Meetings Act included this statement in Section 6:

” A meeting of a governmental body, except while in executive session, may be openly recorded by any person in attendance, by means of a tape recorder, or any other means of sonic, photographic, or video reproduction, provided the recording does not disrupt the conduct of the meeting.”

Was this a public meeting? I went home and did some research, then composed and sent this letter to the Western Star. The letter may be printed in today’s newspaper (I haven’t seen it yet).

Dear Editor:

I attended the mayor’s town hall meeting on July 15 but I only stayed for about 10 minutes. I brought my camcorder with me, and was recording the meeting so that those who were unable to attend could hear what the mayor had to say. Elections are coming up, and we have very little recorded media here in Bessemer.


After speaking for a few minutes, the mayor asked me to turn the recorder off. I asked why, and he wouldn’t answer other than to say he questioned my motives. But he did add, “(this meeting) is not a public forum.”


“Town hall meeting” is defined as “an informal public meeting” where “everyone in a community is invited to attend, voice their opinions, and hear from public figures and elected officials.”


Just a week before I had attended a town hall meeting for Terri Sewell in West End where video was recorded by a progressive blogger, a Birmingham News reporter, and a television crew. This candidate, with nothing to hide and full of confidence, welcomed the media.


The mayor questioned my motives. I question his; wanting to keep the public from hearing what he has to say. One thing we know, this candidate does not believe in openness or transparency.

Joe Openshaw

This is not the first time the mayor has shut me up. At a council meeting in 2007 I stood before the group with pictures of abused dogs that had suffered while under the care of the Bessemer Animal Shelter. (Information here) I still have the pictures, (an you can see some of them here ) if anyone wants to see.

I was reporting to the council that the actions of the shelter management were afoul of the law, and at the mention of “Rev.” Eades (the department head that oversees the facility) the mayor stopped me right there and I was not allowed to speak any more.

This is typical of the mayor who operates under the premise that if the people don’t know, there is no problem.

The same thing happened earlier this year when the mayor refused to accept a check for dog food from a bingo operator (story at the second link above) even though dogs were starving in the shelter. The mayor said there had never been starving dogs there (although I have documentation that there has).

Were the mayor’s actions at the Town Hall meeting illegal, according to Alabama law? I don’t know, but when I said in my letter that this mayor does not believe in openness and transparency, I meant it.

>Bessemer Downtown south getting a facelift

July 16, 2010

>There are some good things going on around Bessemer, not the least of which is our upcoming elections. Here’s hope for a clean slate of elected officials. Hey, Jefferson County is going to start afresh, why can’t Bessemer?

Elections are August 24. Just a few weeks of skirting this issue and grandstanding on that issue, for those already in office and seeking re-election. I ran into some of that recently.

In the meantime, on the southern edge of downtown:

The Bessemer Historical Homeowners Association is sponsoring this historically accurate restoration of a sign in Bessemer. I believe the sign was originally painted in 1904.


The letters were roughed in a few weeks ago, but now are being tidied up and will appear just like the original lettering when finished.

Skilled restorer John Neely is heading up the project. He has restored historic signs throughout the state, including some at Sloss Furnace in Birmingham.

Also on the southern edge of downtown, the new DHR building construction is beginning. A trailer, some machinery and such are about all we see so far.

Here is the site where the new DHR building will be. You can see that a little site work has begun.

You can also see that Simmon’s Sporting Goods, which is nearing completion of their expansion, has begun to concrete over the historic sign on the back of their building. That’s too bad, as it was one of the most appealing historic signs in the city, and one which the BHHA had expressed interest in restoring.

>New Health Care Reform provisions being unveiled.

July 15, 2010

>Support for Health Care Reform is increasing, as provisions of the act begin to become reality for people and they see improvements in their own health care situation and yet the world has not collapsed around them.

In the news today is that the Obama administration unveiled new rules about preventive services, which will be free. This means cancer screenings, counseling for overweight kids, diabetes and cholesterol screening, mammograms, flu shots and more.

But did you know that there are many more provisions of Health Care Reform being implemented this year?

Here are the provisons of the Affordable Health Care Act that are being enacted in 2010.

Prohibiting Denying Coverage of Children Based on Pre-Existing Conditions. The new law includes new rules to prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to children under the age of 19 due to a pre-existing condition. Effective for health plan years beginning on or after September 23, 2010 for new plans and existing group plans.

Prohibiting Insurance Companies from Rescinding Coverage. In the past, insurance companies could search for an error, or other technical mistake, on a customer’s application and use this error to deny payment for services when he or she got sick. The new law makes this illegal. After media reports cited incidents of breast cancer patients losing coverage, insurance companies agreed to end this practice immediately. Effective for health plan years beginning on or after September 23, 2010.

Eliminating Lifetime Limits on Insurance Coverage. Under the new law, insurance companies will be prohibited from imposing lifetime dollar limits on essential benefits, like hospital stays. Effective for health plan years beginning on or after September 23, 2010.

Regulating Annual Limits on Insurance Coverage. Under the new law, insurance companies’ use of annual dollar limits on the amount of insurance coverage a patient may receive will be restricted for new plans in the individual market and all group plans. In 2014, the use of annual dollar limits on essential benefits like hospital stays will be banned for new plans in the individual market and all group plans. Effective for health plan years beginning on or after September 23, 2010.

Appealing Insurance Company Decisions. The law provides consumers with a way to appeal coverage determinations or claims to their insurance company, and establishes an external review process. Effective for new plans beginning on or after September 23, 2010.

Putting Information for Consumers Online. The law provides for an easy-to-use website where consumers can compare health insurance coverage options and pick the coverage that works for them. Effective July 1, 2010.

(New on Bessemer Opinions is the “Read More” feature. Just click on “Read More” to see the rest of the article, which in this case reveals many more Health Care provisions.)

IMPROVING QUALITY AND LOWERING COSTS

Providing Small Business Health Insurance Tax Credits. Up to 4 million small businesses are eligible for tax credits to help them provide insurance benefits to their workers. The first phase of this provision provides a credit worth up to 35 percent of the employer’s contribution to the employees’ health insurance. Small non-profit organizations may receive up to a 25 percent credit. Effective now.

Offering Relief for 4 Million Seniors Who Hit the Medicare Prescription Drug “Donut Hole.” An estimated four million seniors will reach the gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage known as the “donut hole” this year. Each such senior will receive a $250 rebate. First checks mailed in June, 2010, and will continue monthly throughout 2010 as seniors hit the coverage gap.

Providing Free Preventive Care. All new plans must cover certain preventive services such as mammograms and colonoscopies without charging a deductible, co-pay or coinsurance. Effective for health plan years beginning on or after September 23, 2010.

Preventing Disease and Illness. A new $15 billion Prevention and Public Health Fund will invest in proven prevention and public health programs that can help keep Americans healthy – from smoking cessation to combating obesity. Funding begins in 2010.

Cracking Down on Health Care Fraud. Current efforts to fight fraud have returned more than $2.5 billion to the Medicare Trust Fund in fiscal year 2009 alone. The new law invests new resources and requires new screening procedures for health care providers to boost these efforts and reduce fraud and waste in Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP. Many provisions effective now.

INCREASING ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE CARE

Providing Access to Insurance for Uninsured Americans with Pre-Existing Conditions. A new Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan will provide new coverage options to individuals who have been uninsured for at least six months because of a pre-existing condition. States have the option of running this new program in their state. If a state chooses not to do so, a plan will be established by the Department of Health and Human Services in that state. National program effective July 1, 2010.

Extending Coverage for Young Adults. Under the new law, young adults will be allowed to stay on their parents’ plan until they turn 26 years old (in the case of existing group health plans, this right does not apply if the young adult is offered insurance at work). While the provision takes effect in September, many insurance companies have already implemented this new practice. Check with your insurance company or employer to see if you qualify. Effective for health plan years beginning on or after September 23.

Expanding Coverage for Early Retirees. Too often, Americans who retire without employer-sponsored insurance and before they are eligible for Medicare see their life savings disappear because of high rates in the individual market. To preserve employer coverage for early retirees until more affordable coverage is available through the new Exchanges by 2014, the new law creates a $5 billion program to provide needed financial help for employment-based plans to continue to provide valuable coverage to people who retire between the ages of 55 and 65, as well as their spouses and dependents. Applications for employers to participate in the program available June 1, 2010

Rebuilding the Primary Care Workforce. To strengthen the availability of primary care, there are new incentives in the law to expand the number of primary care doctors, nurses and physician assistants. These include funding for scholarships and loan repayments for primary care doctors and nurses working in underserved areas. Doctors and nurses receiving payments made under any State loan repayment or loan forgiveness program intended to increase the availability of health care services in underserved or health professional shortage areas will not have to pay taxes on those payments. Effective 2010.

Holding Insurance Companies Accountable for Unreasonable Rate Hikes. The law allows states that have, or plan to implement, measures that require insurance companies to justify their premium increases will be eligible for $250 million in new grants. Insurance companies with excessive or unjustified premium exchanges may not be able to participate in the new health insurance Exchanges in 2014. Grants awarded beginning in 2010.

Allowing States to Cover More People on Medicaid. States will be able to receive federal matching funds for covering some additional low-income individuals and families under Medicaid for whom federal funds were not previously available. This will make it easier for states that choose to do so to cover more of their residents. Effective April 1, 2010.

Increasing Payments for Rural Health Care Providers. Today, 68 percent of medically underserved communities across the nation are in rural areas. These communities often have trouble attracting and retaining medical professionals. The law provides increased payment to rural health care providers to help them continue to serve their communities. Effective 2010.

Strengthening Community Health Centers. The law includes new funding to support the construction of and expand services at community health centers, allowing these centers to serve some 20 million new patients across the country. Effective 2010.