By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, Mar 26 a bi-partisan plan to ensure seniors who rely on Medicare aren’t denied access to doctors passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday. Without the legislation the amount of money that doctors receive for treating Medicare patients would have dropped by 21 percent after April 1 due to automatic cost cutting legislation passed by a GOP controlled Congress in 1997. U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R from Montgomery) voted in favor of the plan. The Alabama Congresswoman said this proposal is a long-term solution that makes sense.
Rep. Roby said, “Seventeen times now, Congress has put a temporary ‘Band-Aid’ fix on the Medicare reimbursement issue. “It’s time for a solution that is both lasting and healthy for our country over the long term. This plan makes sure seniors who rely on Medicare aren’t denied access to doctors.”
In 1997, the Congress passed the Sustainable Growth Rate, or SGR, which tied Medicare reimbursements to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. Unfortunately, health care costs have grown faster than the economy.
In 2003, Congress began passing short-term measures to temporarily prevent the cuts from happening. Seventeen of these short-term “doc fix” proposals have passed since then. H.R. 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, repeals SGR and replaces it with a new system that hopes to reward doctors for quality care instead of patient volume. The bill also extends funding for both the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and community health centers for two years. The bill costs $210 billion over ten years including $70 billion by raising fees on Medicare beneficiaries, including means testing of high-income beneficiaries. This plan is expected to save taxpayers almost $1 billion over 10 years versus continuing perpetual temporary fixes.
Rep. Roby said, “I’m not for raising taxes, as some have insisted must happen for this to get done,” Rep. Roby said. “I’m for structural changes that ensure our seniors can count on healthcare and make fiscal sense long term. Now we have a solution that meets the criteria.” “Every year since I’ve been in Congress, we have had to ‘kick the can down the road’ on Medicare SGR reform. I’m pleased we can finally deliver a good product, one that is a great first step toward more meaningful entitlement reforms.”
President Barack H. Obama (D) said in a speech later that day in Birmingham, “The good news is that today the House of Representatives passed a bill. No, no. You think I’m joking. I’m not. It was a bipartisan bill designed to make sure that doctors in our Medicare system get paid on time; that the Children’s Health Insurance Program continues to work.”
Pres. Obama said, “I called the Speaker, John Boehner, and the Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi, and I said, congratulations, this is how Congress is supposed to work. They came together; they compromised. They had a good idea. They didn’t get everything they wanted. They passed a bill. Now the Senate hopefully will pass the bill, and I’ll get to sign it, and the American people will be better off for it. And I thought, this is great. Let’s do more of this. Let’s make it happen. So I want to give John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi credit. They did good work today. And they deserve credit, and the House of Representatives deserves credit for that.”
Congressman and medical doctor Phil Roe (R from Tennessee) said in the weekly Republican Address: “This week, the House passed bipartisan legislation to permanently repeal this formula (SGR). Instead, we’re delivering the first real entitlement reform in nearly two decades.”
Rep. Roe said, “These reforms ask higher-income seniors, like myself, to pay a little more for their premiums for Part B and D, and encourage certain beneficiaries to think more like consumers when it comes to their health care – a concept we know is the right approach to reducing health care costs. Both reforms will be phased in over time. For seniors, this will end years of needless concern and frustration that care will suffer from arbitrary cuts. And for families, this will mean a more stable Medicare program to care for their elderly parents. And for taxpayers, this will result in a huge amount of savings 20, 30, 40 years down the road.”
Rep. Roe, “Of course, much more needs to be done and like you, my to-do list for fixing our health care system is pretty long. We need to repeal the president’s flawed health care law. We need to put the focus on patient-centered reforms that lower costs. And we need to make the real reforms necessary to ensure Medicare and all of our entitlement programs can serve future generations. For now, this is progress, and it’s an example of what we can accomplish when we focus on finding common ground.”
Congressman Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District.
Alabama hospitals nearing COVID-19 summer surge levels
Wednesday was the 18th straight day with more than 1,000 people in hospitals in Alabama with COVID-19.
Alabama hospitals reported caring for 1,483 people infected with COVID-19 on Wednesday, the highest number of patients since Aug. 11, when the state was enduring its summer surge. Wednesday was also the 18th straight day with more than 1,000 people in hospitals in Alabama with COVID-19.
The seven-day average of hospitalizations was 1,370 on Wednesday, the 36th straight day of that average rising. The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 2,453 new cases Wednesday. The 14-day average of new cases was — for the eighth day in a row — at a record high of 2,192.
Across the country, more than 80,000 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 on Tuesday, a record high and the 15th straight day of record hospitalizations nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project, a coronavirus tracking website.
The CDC this week recommended people not travel for Thanksgiving to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
“The only way for us to successfully get through this pandemic is if we work together,” said Dr. Kierstin Kennedy, UAB’s chief of hospital medicine, in a message Tuesday. “There’s no one subset of the community that’s going to be able to carry the weight of this pandemic and so we all have to take part in wearing our masks, keeping our distance, making sure that we’re washing our hands.”
Kennedy said the best way she can describe the current situation is “Russian Roulette.”
“Not only in the form of, maybe you get it and you don’t get sick or maybe you get it and you end up in the ICU,” Kennedy said, “but if you do end up sick, are you going to get to the hospital at a time when we’ve got capacity, and we’ve got enough people to take care of you? And that is a scary thought.”
The Alabama Department of Public Health on Wednesday reported an increase of 60 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths. Deaths take time to confirm and the date a death is reported does not necessarily reflect the date on which the individual died. At least 23 of those deaths occurred in November, and 30 occurred in other months. Seven were undated. Data for the last two to three weeks are incomplete.
As of Wednesday, at least 3,532 Alabamians have died of COVID-19, according to the Department of Public Health. During November, at least 195 people have died in Alabama from COVID-19. But ADPH is sure to add more to the month’s tally in the weeks to come as data becomes more complete.
ADPH on Wednesday announced a change that nearly doubled the department’s estimate of people who have recovered from COVID-19, bringing that figure up to 161,946. That change also alters APR’s estimates of how many cases are considered active.
ADPH’s Infectious Disease and Outbreak team “updated some parameters” in the department’s Alabama NEDSS Base Surveillance System, which resulted in the increase, the department said.
Judge reduces former Alabama Speaker Mike Hubbard’s prison sentence
The trial court judge ordered his 48-month sentence reduced to 28 months.
Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker on Wednesday reduced former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s prison sentence from four years to just more than two.
Walker in his order filed Wednesday noted that Hubbard was sentenced to fours years on Aug. 9, 2016, after being convicted of 12 felony ethics charges for misusing his office for personal gain, but that on Aug. 27, 2018, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed convictions on five of those counts. The Alabama Supreme Court later struck down another count.
Hubbard’s attorneys on Sept. 18 filed a motion to revise his sentence, to which the state objected, according to court records, arguing that “Hubbard’s refusal to admit any guilt or express any remorse makes him wholly unfit to receive any leniency.”
Walker in his order cited state code and wrote that the power of the courts to grant probation “is a matter of grace and lies entirely within the sound discretion of the trial court.”
“Furthermore, the Court must consider the nature of the Defendant’s crimes. Acts of public corruption harm not just those directly involved, but harm society as a whole,” Walker wrote.
Walker ruled that because six of Hubbard’s original felony counts were later reversed, his entrance should be changed to reflect that, and ordered his 48-month sentence reduced to 28 months.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Wednesday said Walker’s decision to reduce Hubbard’s sentence was the wrong message to send.
“Mr. Hubbard was convicted of the intentional violation of Alabama’s ethics laws, the same laws he championed in the legislature only later to brazenly disregard for his personal enrichment,” Marshall said in a statement. “Even as he sits in state prison as a six-time felon, Mike Hubbard continues to deny any guilt or offer any remorse for his actions in violation of the law. Reducing his original four-year sentence sends precisely the wrong message to would-be violators of Alabama’s ethics laws.”
Nick Saban tests positive for COVID-19, has “mild symptoms”
It’s unlikely Saban will be able to coach in person during Saturday’s Iron Bowl against Auburn.
University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban has tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the Iron Bowl and has mild symptoms, according to a statement from the university on Wednesday.
“This morning we received notification that Coach Saban tested positive for COVID-19,” said Dr. Jimmy Robinson and Jeff Allan, associate athletic director, in the statement. “He has very mild symptoms, so this test will not be categorized as a false positive. He will follow all appropriate guidelines and isolate at home.”
Saban had previously tested positive before Alabama’s game against Georgia but was asymptomatic and subsequently tested negative three times, a sign that the positive test could have been a false positive. He returned to coach that game.
It’s unlikely Saban will be able to coach in person during Saturday’s Iron Bowl against Auburn, given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for quarantining after testing positive and with symptoms. Neither Saban nor the university had spoken about that possibility as of Wednesday morning.
Civil rights leader Bruce Boynton dies at 83
The Dallas County Courthouse Annex will be renamed in honor of Boynton and fellow Civil Rights Movement leader J.L. Chestnut.
Selma attorney and Civil Rights Movement leader Bruce Carver Boynton died from cancer in a Montgomery hospital on Monday. He was 83. The Dallas County Courthouse Annex will be renamed in honor of Boynton and fellow Civil Rights Movement leader J.L. Chestnut.
“We’ve lost a giant of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama. “Son of Amelia Boynton Robinson, Bruce Boynton was a Selma native whose refusal to leave a “whites-only” section of a bus station restaurant led to the landmark SCOTUS decision in Boynton v. Virginia overturning racial segregation in public transportation, sparking the Freedom Rides and end of Jim Crow. Let us be inspired by his commitment to keep striving and working toward a more perfect union.”
Boynton attended Howard University Law School in Washington D.C. He was arrested in Richmond, Virginia, in his senior year of law school for refusing to leave a “whites-only” section of a bus station restaurant. That arrest and conviction would be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where Boynton and civil rights advocates prevailed in the landmark case 1060 Boynton vs. Virginia.
Boynton’s case was handled by famed civil rights era attorney Thurgood Marshal, who would go on to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. The 1960 7-to-2 decision ruled that federal prohibitions barring segregation on interstate buses also applied to bus stations and other interstate travel facilities.
The decision inspired the “Freedom Rides” movement. Some Freedom Riders were attacked when they came to Alabama.
While Boynton received a high score on the Alabama Bar exam, the Alabama Bar prevented him from working in the state for years due to that 1958 trespassing conviction. Undeterred, Boynton worked in Tennessee during the years, bringing school desegregation lawsuits.
Sherrilyn Ifill with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said on social media: “NAACP LDF represented Bruce Boynton, who was an unplanned Freedom Rider (he simply wanted to buy a sandwich in a Va bus station stop & when denied was willing to sue & his case went to the SCOTUS) and later Bruce’s mother Amelia Boynton (in Selma after Bloody Sunday).”
His mother, Amelia Boynton, was an early organizer of the voting rights movement. During the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in 1965, she was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. She later co-founded the National Voting Rights Museum and annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma. His father S.W. Boynton was also active in the Civil Rights Movement.
Bruce Boynton worked for several years at a Washington D.C. law firm but spent most of his long, illustrious legal career in Selma, Alabama, with a focus on civil rights cases. He was the first Black special prosecutor in Alabama history and at one point he represented Stokely Carmichael.
This year has seen the passing of a number of prominent Civil Rights Movement leaders, including Troy native Georgia Congressman John Lewis.