Monday, June 20, 2016

We Must Unite To Defeat ISIL

U.S. Senator Deb Fischer

Many questions surrounding this attack remain unanswered.
What was the terrorist’s path to radical Islamism?
Recently, I attended a classified briefing given by FBI Director James Comey and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to learn more about the specific circumstances of this tragedy.
While there is much we still do not know about the attack in Orlando, there are a few, very important things we do know.
We know 49 people were killed, and 53 others were injured. We know their families are suffering, and we grieve with them. We know the gay community was targeted.
There is something else we know: this attack was violence against innocent people. It was an assault on the age-old Western value of social pluralism. This principle forbids doing violence to others just because we strongly disagree with them. It’s a basic belief that unites Americans.
We have many disagreements in our country. We have them in the Senate. We have them at work and around the dinner table. Sometimes our words are heated. But we don’t kill people who disagree with us.
We protect their right to think differently. This is a key part of our identity as Americans. The Orlando attack reminds us that we are in the middle of a global battle between two ways of life: open democracy and violent jihadism.
Our way, the American way, values pluralism. It permits dissent from dominant social and political views. It protects the freedom of expression and the freedom of religion. It defends our shared human dignity. In our society, the value of your life is not determined by your views. Here, your life has value because you exist. That’s good enough for us.
That’s not good enough for radical Islamism. Its followers do not believe these things. They impose uniformity and destroy dissent. For the radical Islamist, there is no ‘live and let live.’
Their ideology demands obedience. It allows only one way to live your life. It demands that people who think differently, live differently, or pray differently stop thinking, living, and praying how they do.  
Radical Islamism does not use words to get what it wants. We observe its methods in Syria, through ISIL. There, they stone women and throw men from buildings for violating their code. This contempt for other cultures drives them to destroy historical artifacts and ancient holy sites. They exterminate entire communities for practicing a different set of religious beliefs.
And, they celebrate it.
While the extent to which the Orlando shooter was influenced by this is unclear, he clearly identified with ISIL’s barbaric glorification of violence. This is why we must unite to ensure ISIL’s lasting defeat. Their defeat on the battlefield will diminish the power of their calls to butcher, pillage, and defile.
Responding to this terror is the shared responsibility of all Americans, and not reserved only for the military or law enforcement. We can all play a role in the response.
In our day-to-day lives, we can deliver a direct challenge to radical Islamists. By living out our values of pluralism, of freedom of speech, and freedom of religion we can stand against the forces of hatred and injustice.
Thank you for taking part in our democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.

Friday, June 17, 2016

STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSES MOUTH


Duane A. Lienemann
Nebraska Extension Educator
   
     Gosh, first we were wanting the moisture, then we got it and we were all happy, then some farmers were getting nervous about planting and the chance of fungus and perhaps not as happy, and now we have come full circle to, not just wanting moisture – but needing it. Oh, I know some folks around us had some good showers and even some heavy rains, but it seems as per normal usual that we have an umbrella over us lately. There are a couple of other things that are really furthering the concern and that is the heat with temps right at or either side of 100 degrees. 
     One thing is for sure, it is certainly acting as a catalyst for the wheat to turn.  My guess is that we will be seeing combines in the field in as few as 7-10 days. It will be interesting to see what the field reports will be on our wheat crop this year. It to like the weather from not looking good to looking really good, so I guess we will soon see. Wheat has always surprised me, and I have wrote it off and underestimated yield, but it seems it is like a cat with 9 lives, so I will reserve my prediction until after it is harvested! It would not surprise me if we see most of the wheat out before the fourth of July and certainly before the Webster County Fair which is early this year – July 9-16. I was worried that our fair may hit wheat harvest, but with this weather, I don’t think I have to worry. Here’s wishing all our wheat producers a bountiful and safe harvest.
     Speaking of these high temperatures and even some accompanying humidity we are getting some brutal days, not only for humans but particularly for our animals. We have to be cognizant about staying cool, drinking plenty of liquids (water being the best), dressing appropriately, finding shade, doing what we can early and late and limiting activity during the hottest part of the day. Those are great suggestions for we humans. But what about our livestock?
     I am sure that everyone is keeping an eye on the heat stress level for their livestock and particularly those in confinement. I sent out some material a week ago concerning the early heat wave with a number of resources available.  It may be good to remind you of them. So here are links to some information that we have released: BeefWatch News Articles: June 2015 http://beef.unl.edu/feeder-cattle-heat-stress ; May 2016  http://newsroom.unl.edu/announce/beef/5311/30522 . You can find the “Feedlot Heat Stress Information and Management Guide” @ http://go.unl.edu/94bo . There is also a handy Temperature Humidity Index (THI) or Cattle THI Chart that can be found at http://go.unl.edu/sdxt . The USDA actually has a Heat Stress Homepage which may be found at:  http://www.ars.usda.gov/Main/docs.htm?docid=21348
     It looks like we may not have a break from this heat and probably humidity until the middle of next week. The main thing is to consider that our animals need many of the same things we do in weather like this. The most important of which is accessibility to lots of clean, cool water. Then see to keeping an eye on them, utilizing cooling apparatus and breeze, providing shade in any way you can, and certainly watch when, where and how you work livestock (early morning and evenings may be best). If you do handle livestock, be sure it is in a quiet, slow manner and if you are shipping livestock please be cognizant of early morning or late evening schedules to avoid the heat in trucks and trailers.
     One thing that the heat doesn’t seem to bother is weeds. There are plenty of them this year and some that I haven’t seen for years. That is the bad thing about good moisture in the early growing season. There is some new information on weed control. I suggest that every farmer, crop consultant and anyone interested attend the Nebraska Extension Weed Management Field Day which is being held at Clay Center on Wednesday, June 29. It will go from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the South Central Agricultural Laboratory near Clay Center. An early morning tour will focus on weed management in soybeans followed by a tour of weed management in corn and sorghum. 
     The field day will provide an opportunity to identify several broadleaf and grass weeds commonly found in corn and soybean fields in Nebraska. UNL agronomists have indicated that several new herbicides and technologies are coming to the market, including Enlist Corn and Soybean, Roundup Ready 2 Xtend Soybean, Balance Bean and INZEN sorghum. Attending this field day will help you understand each new herbicide and learn of the technologies being used. The field day will also include on-site demonstrations of new technology and new herbicides for corn, soybean and sorghum. Field experiments will provide information for weed control options using several herbicide programs including the new products.
     June 15 has significance for county fairs all across Nebraska as that is the last day to register potential exhibits and especially for those livestock projects that may go on to the Nebraska State Fair. But that date is also important to the USDA Farm Service Agency as it starts the process for nominations for the local FSA County Committee. Webster County FSA election this year is looking for representation for Local Administrative Area #1 which consists of residents of Harmony, Glenwood, Potsdam and Oak Creek townships. Election will also be held for Local Administrative Area #3 this year. It consists of Stillwater, Cowles, Pleasant Hill, Beaver Creek, Guide Rock, Garfield, and Line townships. Eligible voters can either apply or nominate someone of your choice to appear on the election ballot. Eligible voters in these townships will then elect County Committee (COC) representatives for a 3 year term. Forms can be obtained from the Webster County FSA Office or from the Nebraska Extension office in Red Cloud. I will close with a sincere wish that you all keep cool, protect your livestock, pets and certainly yourself and wish you the very best as we near wheat harvest and final preparations for fair!


The preceding information comes from the research and personal observations of the writer, which may or may not reflect the views of UNL or Nebraska Extension. For more further information on these or other topics contact D. A. Lienemann, Nebraska Extension Educator for Webster County in Red Cloud, (402) 746-3417 or email: dlienemann2@unl.edu or on the web at: http://extension.unl.edu/statewide/webster 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Honoring Nebraska’s Vietnam Veterans

U. S. Senator Deb Fischer
     
No matter how busy or loud Washington, D.C. becomes, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is usually quiet. The long, black wall, with the names of thousands of fallen heroes, is a visually striking monument and one of Washington’s most powerful places.
Here, the names of more than 58,000 American service members are engraved in black granite. Beside some of these names is the symbol of a cross, indicating missing in action. Most include the symbol of a diamond. The diamond designates someone who died and gave the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial holds the names of 395 Nebraskans. While this war remains a deeply controversial period in our history, each of these heroes deployed for the purposes of fighting communism and defending freedom.
Altogether, more than 40,000 Nebraskans served in our military during the Vietnam era. Most of them returned home. They started families and built careers. They formed a new foundation of pride for communities from Omaha to Scottsbluff. Unfortunately, not all of Nebraska’s Vietnam veterans are able to visit the memorial dedicated in their honor. Over the years, family obligations, financial constraints, and health concerns have prevented them from traveling to our nation’s capital.
Now, over fifty years since the war began, Bill and Evonne Williams of Omaha have taken a step to change that. With help from generous donors throughout Nebraska, they arranged to fly more than 500 of Nebraska’s Vietnam veterans to Washington to see the Vietnam Memorial. Their nonprofit organization, Patriotic Productions, chartered three commercial airplanes, organized other accommodations, and tapped numerous volunteers to assist in this enormous undertaking.
Hundreds of these veterans arrived in Washington, D.C. on June 6, the 72nd anniversary of D-Day. It was my honor to greet them as they arrived on the National Mall that morning. We gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and, from there, we walked to the wall. The veterans searched carefully across the thousands of names carved into the smooth, granite surface. They looked for comrades. They looked for friends. When they found a name, many of them pressed pieces of paper flat against the wall. With pencils, they took rubbings of the name, and of the diamond or cross beside it.
They told their stories. We shared tears. Many were memories of great courage and tragedy. Not all of these stories were sad, though. Some shared fond memories of the special time they spent with their fellow service members. One veteran pointed to a name and told me how, as a young pilot, he and this friend tried to impress some girls by flying acrobatics. They had just 9 hours of flight experience, but managed to land the plane in one piece. The girls loved watching their air show.
This honor flight is a profound display of respect for military service. When these 500 Vietnam veterans returned home at the end of their long day in Washington, they received a hero’s welcome. Family, friends, volunteers, and grateful citizens greeted them at Eppley Airfield to celebrate this proud moment.
I was humbled to walk with these heroes and grateful for the opportunity to thank them, in person, for their service to our country. I am also proud of all those who helped make this trip possible. Their work reflects the character for which Nebraskans are known all over the world.
Thank you for taking part in our democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSES MOUTH


Duane A. Lienemann
Nebraska Extension Educator
     I think sometimes I just get burned out dealing with the onslaught of misinformation, fear marketing, and flat-out false (and by that, I mean purposely false) information making its way around social media, websites, and our everyday lives about all phases of agriculture and particularly animal agriculture. It can be frustrating and exhausting, at times, to be an advocate for truth and all the good work that farmers are doing each and every day. And what is most frustrating is that it seems to me that the animal activists – who want nothing more than to end animal agriculture as we know it – are winning!
     I saw this coming and wrote about it with Proposition 2 in California. I certainly had a lot of people that thought I was nuts and over reacting to something that was far away and with people who were not like us. Let’s revisit that a bit. That proposition involved cage-free eggs. I predicted that it would eventually hit the whole nation and it has. Barely a day goes by without hearing of some foodservice company or retail establishment declaring they will only source eggs from cage-free production systems by some certain timeline. Two of the biggest in the world both made these announcements – McDonald’s in 2015 and Walmart just a couple of months ago. When that happens, it seems almost a forgone conclusion that most other companies are going to fall in line behind them. In fact if you go to www.WattAgNet.com  you can find the companies who have announced their shift to cage-free eggs in the first four months of 2016! I am certain that meat from pork and beef and of course the milk from our dairies will be next in line. These groups are slick and we have not been very proactive!
      I also predicted that the gestation and even farrowing crates would be next - and they were, and what the pundits or media will tell you is that the consumers are driving this. I call BS on that! Guess what? The consumers, by and large, aren’t the ones asking for this switch. According to David Fikes, Vice President, Consumer/Community Affairs and Communications for Food Marketing Institute, “The push for cage-free egg wasn’t mostly by the consumer, but campaigns by animal rights activists.”  My guess is that we will find that to be true in almost all cases. The real truth is that the animal activist groups like the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), Mercy for Animals, PETA and many more are exceptionally good at putting pressure on companies to push their anti-meat agenda. And they are equally adept at describing these moves as the best things to happen to animals and consumers since sliced bread.  All we are missing is the Kumbaya music!
     Unfortunately it is ultimately the consumers that lose. Cage-free for chickens and crate free for pork production systems are expensive to implement, require more land and facilities to house less birds and pigs as well as a heck of a lot more labor and in the case of sow systems more danger to the farmer. Now comes the caveat that most of us could have predicted. It has not been proven to be any better, as a whole, than other production systems. This has already increased the cost for eggs in California and other states and as the deadlines for facilities to comply to the “demands” will increase dramatically (an example is when the bird flu hit). I guarantee that with further regulations, propositions and the act of using emotions rather than science and common sense, that all of our food will increase; and the sad part is that we will be seeing excellent sources of protein and nutrition potentially being taken away from lower-income families who do not have the resources to purchase more expensive options. I guarantee that these families don’t care how it is raised and under what restrictions.
     Farmers and food companies, of course, will adjust if the market asks them to; they are in business to sell eggs, pork and offer food items consumers want, after all. The bottom line for me as an ag advocate and a consumer is that when animal activists dictate what kind of eggs, meat, milk or even grains are available, they are taking away my choice at the supermarket or restaurant and will eventually have a steep price on producers who may just not produce and don’t forget what it will do to your food budget when demand increases and supply decreases. 
     All of this doesn’t sit well with me and many other ag producers, and yes - consumers. I appreciate my food choices in this country. I know about the safety of our food supply, and the farmers who are committed to caring for their animals. I personally don’t believe in the Luddite philosophy of going back to agriculture of the 40’s and 50’s when it took more land, water, energy, labor and other inputs to produce the food we eat. But really, as I think about it, that’s what it’s all about for the animal activists – pricing eggs, milk, meat and other animal products high enough so there is less consumption, driving farmers out of business. It has never really been about animal rights or even animal welfare. Unfortunately, before long the animal activists and their environmentalist brothers will be calling all the shots? And this should be a huge wake-up call to those of us who support our farmers, U.S. agriculture, and our food choices.
     Agriculture and particularly animal agriculture has been subjected to scrutiny and even ill-conceived attacks with alarming frequency for years and now it is becoming closer to home, right here in Nebraska. How do we approach this and respond? If you want to learn more about what is happening, what is ahead of us and what we can or must do I suggest you utilize the organizations that are in place to help with animal ag advocacy. You have a golden opportunity on Tuesday, June 14 to attend a Seminar that is being put on by one of those organization. Join me and hopefully many others in attending this Crisis Management Seminar sponsored by We Support Agriculture at the Holiday Inn in Kearney at no cost to you but your travel and time. Use this link to register and get your ticket: http://www.wesupportag.org/   See you there!

The preceding information comes from the research and personal observations of the writer, which may or may not reflect the views of UNL or Nebraska Extension. For more further information on these or other topics contact D. A. Lienemann, Nebraska Extension Educator for Webster County in Red Cloud, (402) 746-3417 or email: dlienemann2@unl.edu or on the web at: http://extension.unl.edu/statewide/webster 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Monday, June 6, 2016

EPA Mandates Are Harming Nebraskans


        
U. S. Senator Deb Fischer

Many of these producers store fuel in aboveground tanks on their property. Often, this is because they live miles from the towns where they can refuel.
While most fuel storage tanks are located miles from major waterways, Washington wants to regulate them anyway.
Despite the EPA’s limited understanding of production agriculture, the agency believes these fuel tanks threaten water quality. Under a regulation intended for major oil refineries, known as the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule, the EPA wants to restrict the amount of fuel our ag producers can store on their land. This rule would force families to make costly upgrades to fuel storage tanks. It would also impose heavy fines if these tanks go over the on-farm fuel limit exemption mandated by the federal government.
As a cattle rancher, I understand the negative impact this mandate would have on our agriculture community. As your U.S. senator, I am doing something about it.
Last Congress, I successfully brokered a bipartisan provision in the 2014 Water Resources Reform Development Act, which was signed into law. My provision protected Nebraska’s ag community from the SPCC rule by implementing a 6,000-gallon exemption for on-farm fuel storage. It also required the EPA to conduct a study to examine and determine the exemption threshold for on-farm fuel storage. The study was released last year and it quickly became clear that the results were based on flawed data.
EPA regulators claim we need this rule to protect water quality, but the facts tell a different story. In its study, the EPA failed to show that on-farm fuel storage poses a significant risk to water quality. The report cited seven examples of significant fuel spills, yet none of them occurred on a farm or ranch. Even more misleading, they pointed to one spill in particular that leaked 3,000 gallons of fuel. The only problem is, the liquid was jet fuel, something I have yet to find on farms in Nebraska.
Nebraska’s ag community remains under threat by this burdensome rule and for no reason. That’s why, last month, I introduced a bill that will address this issue head on.
My legislation, known as the Farmers Undertake Environmental Land Stewardship or “FUELS” Act, would provide relief for Nebraska families with on-farm fuel storage tanks. This bill completely exempts farms and ranches with 10,000 gallons or less of on-farm fuel storage. This exemption would also apply to farms with larger storage capacities of up to 42,000 gallons and no history of fuel spills. Finally, regardless of capacity, the exemption applies to livestock operations with animal feed ingredient storage tanks.
Both the Nebraska Farm Bureau and the Nebraska Cattlemen strongly support this legislation. I was glad to work with them to help ensure producers are not harmed by this unnecessary federal red tape.
We all want clean water. We all want to maintain a healthy environment. But the citizens of Nebraska know how to protect our state’s resources better than bureaucrats in Washington.
Through common-sense legislation like the FUELS Act, we can work together to provide regulatory relief. I will continue this work to lower costs and cut red tape so that our ag producers can support their families.
Thank you for taking part in our democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week

Saturday, June 4, 2016

STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSES MOUTH


Duane A. Lienemann
Nebraska Extension Educator

     I just got back from a wonderful experience called the 2016 Cattlemen’s Ball of Nebraska. For you that are not aware of this event, it was formed in 1997 by a small group of beef industry leaders who wanted to create an organization to promote beef as part of a healthy diet – and in the process, do some good by raising money for cancer research. The Cattlemen’s Ball of Nebraska is a 501(c)(3) charity focused on ensuring that the money raised goes to cancer research and local health and wellness programs for which it is intended. Let’s this week take a closer look at this annual event for “Funding a Cure”.
     This weekend saw the 19th annual Cattlemen’s Ball of Nebraska being hosted by the Trevor and Torri Lienemann family at their “Lienetics” Ranch south of Lincoln near Princeton, NE. I have gone to several of these events, but this made it especially satisfying this year, for obvious reasons. It just seemed even more special when you share your last name with those that worked so hard to put this on. I am so proud of Trevor, Torri and the entire family who spent years in planning, coordinating and readying their beautiful home ranch for this event. You have to be amazed and very thankful that God has put people like them and all the other countless people who contributed so mightily to this important happening on this earth. I know Trevor will tell you that he said he would do this because of a Lienemann genetic defect that doesn’t allow a response of “No” when asked to do something, but I guarantee that it goes far beyond that. This family is extraordinary and special!
     As I mentioned, I have attended several of these events, not only for the social benefits of seeing good friends and acquaintances but to help in any way I can to fight cancer. Not only is my wife and I both survivors of this horrible disease, we both have lost relatives. I lost my mother, a younger sister and several other relatives; and my wife lost both of her parents to this scourge to mankind. I would doubt that anyone I know has not been affected either with loved ones or someone they know by this insidious disease! You have a tendency to take it personal when you are effected - so close to your heart. It certainly makes it a mission to buy tickets, participate in raffles and auctions to help in any way you can.
     I would bet that those cattlemen that started this would not have even guessed that this event in the 18 previous years has raised almost $13 million for cancer research in the state up to this point. The very first event that was hosted by Sheryl Graff of Ainsworth, NE netted $95,000, which at the time seemed a very great start. And now to give an idea what may be attained this year is that it has increased incrementally each year since with over one million dollars on several occasions, with the record amount of a combined $2,120,477 in 2013 when it was hosted by Ralph & Beverly Holzfaster Family of Paxton, NE and the Neal Hansen Family of Sutherland, NE. I am sure we will soon learn this year’s amount, but with over 4,000 people in attendance and the generous contributions from sponsors and incredible bidding by those in attendance, you would expect another impressive sum, from which the proceeds will go to benefit cancer research in Nebraska.
     Nebraska’s Own National Cancer Institute Designated Cancer Research Center will receive ninety percent of the money raised at the 2016 Nebraska Cattlemen’s Ball which will provide funding for the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in Omaha. The Buffett Center is a member of the alliance of leading cancer centers known as the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. The Buffett Center coordinates cancer research, patient care, and education. Through four research programs, the center facilitates and applies the newest findings regarding the causes, diagnostic procedures, prevention, and treatment of cancer. It seems that cancer has been elusive across the world and it feels good that Nebraska takes the lead!
     It may interest you that in 2013, as a result of a generous gift from Pamela Buffett, ground was broken on a new cancer center complex on the UNMC main campus, with an estimated completion date of 2016. The Cancer Center complex will include a brand new 10 story cancer research tower, a multidisciplinary outpatient clinic that includes surgical, medical, and radiation oncology, an infusion center, a radiation treatment facility, and an inpatient cancer hospital. That was a great start and the funds collected from donations from events like “Brave Enough to Wear Pink” and this “Ball” bolsters this work!
     It should also be noted that ten percent of the funds raised at the 2016 Nebraska Cattlemen’s Ball will be distributed to deserving local organizations that provide healthcare, medical, and related services to the southeastern Nebraska communities that have helped organize the event. Over the sixteen-year history of the event, nearly 99 percent of the money raised has gone directly to medical research and healthcare programs in Nebraska. As you can ascertain, the Cattlemen’s Ball has been held in spots all across Nebraska, benefitting each of those areas through the hard work and cooperation of those involved. If you want to see a little history of where these have been held and what has been raised you can go to the official website for the story on each year’s effort. Just go to: https://cattlemensball.com/the-history-of-giving-families/ 
     With a great deal of the proceeds each year going to the University of Nebraska Medical Center it was really gratifying to see our new UNL Chancellor, Dr. Ronnie Green, and his wife Jane so intimately involved in the planning and conducting of this year’s Ball. I think that speaks volumes about the man who has shown his love and support for Nebraska and Nebraska’s agriculture industry in his former role as NU Vice President and IANR Harlan Vice Chancellor and now as Chancellor at this great University. It was also good to see NU President Dr. Hank Bounds and several other UNL dignitaries not only attend, but being a part of this year’s 2016 Cattlemen’s Ball of Nebraska. It makes you proud to be a part of this Institute! 

The preceding information comes from the research and personal observations of the writer, which may or may not reflect the views of UNL or Nebraska Extension. For more further information on these or other topics contact D. A. Lienemann, Nebraska Extension Educator for Webster County in Red Cloud, (402) 746-3417 or email: dlienemann2@unl.edu or on the web at: http://extension.unl.edu/statewide/webster 

Friday, June 3, 2016

ObamaCare continued Co op failures

Rep. Adrian Smith

          

Tens of thousands of Nebraskans lost their health insurance at the end of 2014 when CoOportunity Health, the Obamacare Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan (co-op) in Nebraska and Iowa, announced it was facing liquidation. On May 26, Ohio’s InHealth Mutual became the latest co-op failure, leaving 22,000 Ohioans suddenly without coverage.
CoOportunity Health was the first of Obamacare’s co-ops to collapse, forcing 120,000 Nebraskans and Iowans to search for new insurance. Many had found their way to CoOportunity Health after their original health care plans were cancelled due to Obamacare’s implementation, only to lose coverage a second time due to the law’s own failures.
Since then, a total of 13 co-ops have collapsed, leaving only 10 of the original 23 still operating. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have placed at least seven of the remaining co-ops on enhanced oversight or corrective action plans.
When they were created, the co-ops received $2 billion in federal startup funds, mostly in the form of loans. After seven co-ops closed down within a month of one another, I wrote in the Wall Street Journal in November 2015, “These loans will likely never be fully repaid, while insurers and consumers will be on the hook for any unpaid claims left behind by failed insurers.”
As more co-ops fall and the Obama administration refuses to acknowledge the program’s insolvency, the likelihood of loan repayments decreases by the day.
InHealth Mutual lost $80 million in taxpayer dollars before shutting down. Health Republic of New York had lost well over $100 million by mid-2015 when regulators announced its closure. In August 2015, the New York Times reported the Kentucky Health Cooperative lost $50 million “as it paid out $1.25 in claims for every dollar it collected in premiums.” Unfortunately, these are only a few examples of the more than $1 billion squandered to date by co-op failures.
With co-ops collapsing and other insurers choosing to pull out of the marketplaces, more than 650 counties, largely in rural areas, are projected to be covered by only one health insurance provider in 2017. This compounds the existing barriers impeding access to affordable health care for rural Americans.
A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Urban Institute, as reported by Business Insider at the end of May, examines the increases in Obamacare premiums between the 2015 and 2016 enrollment periods. Premiums in Nebraska rose by 26.2 percent, making it one of 12 states with an increase of more than 20 percent.
To add insult to injury, when a co-op collapses, enrollees are forced to quickly find other coverage despite few choices or go without insurance and face a possible Obamacare tax penalty.
Obamacare was forced upon Americans by the administration under the banner of fairness, but true fairness would be waiving penalties for taxpayers who lost their insurance through no fault of their own. I introduced H.R. 954 to exempt taxpayers from Obamacare’s individual mandate if they lose health coverage because of the failure of the co-ops in their area.
Under my bill, the exemption applies for the remainder of the calendar year for those who lose coverage in the months of January through September, and through the next calendar year for those who lose coverage in October, November, or December. The mid-year closures of CoOportunity Health and InHealth Mutual, as well as recent reports indicating Community Health Options of Maine may be on the brink of collapse, demonstrate the importance of providing time and flexibility for consumers to find new coverage outside regular enrollment periods.
Consumers who made a good faith effort to comply with the law deserve relief from Obamacare penalties. We must put these measures in place before more co-ops shut their doors and leave thousands more Americans with higher health care costs and fewer choices.