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Making health care unaffordable again

Published in On Distant Shore

After failing for many years to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as Obamacare, Republicans in both the House and the Senate are touting their control of Congress and are now ramming down a cruel legislation to finish a job they started just as soon as Obamacare became a law.


Speaker Paul Ryan and some Republicans accused the Democrats of rushing ACA through Congress. And yet, the House passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which would henceforth be known as the Trumpcare Bill, in a rush, without holding the prerequisite hearings and without waiting for an analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.


The highly credible CBO later said in a report that the House bill would leave at least 23 million Americans uninsuredin 10 years or by 2026. The report also confirmed one of the biggest worries of health-policy experts and constituents: that the bill could undermine protections for people with preexisting conditions.


Despite the unfavorable CBO report and surveys that showed only 16 percent of Americans support the House bill, the Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, announced an almost identical, nay worse, Senate version of the bill, and vowed to pass the legislation before the Fourth of July.


After weeks of meetings behind closed door, McConnell and company finally came up with a proposed Obamacare replacement that they now want to ram down Americans’ throats without the benefit of thorough scrutiny and despite concerns raised, again, by the Congressional Budget Office.


The CBO said that the proposed Senate healthcare bill that would replace Obamacare would increase the number of Americans without health insurance by 2026 to 22 million, only one million short of CBO estimate of 23 million for the House version. The CBO report, which came a few days after McConnell announced the Senate version, said by next year alone, 15 million more Americans would be uninsured compared to the current law (ACA).


The CBO also said the Senate legislation would decrease federal deficits by a total of $321 billion over a decade, compared to $119 billion that the House version would do. Critics said these deficit reduction would result from cuts in federal subsidies to Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides insurance to about 70 million poor, disabled and elderly Americans; to special education programs; to programs that help people who do not get insurance through employers and have to buy their own policies; and to Planned Parenthood, which provides birth control, cancer screenings and other health services to 2.5 million people, mainly women.


In sum, the Republican-sponsored healthcare bills in both the House and the Senate would debilitate critical federal programs that provide health care to millions of Americans that could not otherwise afford to buy medical insurance.  The Senate version would repeal most of the taxes imposed by the Affordable Care Act, including those on high-income people and on health care companies, to the detriment of the poor, disabled and the elderly.


Former President Barack Obama, the real target of President Donald Trump and his fellow hardcore Republicans in their obvious effort to reverse all of Obama’s policies, slammed the Senate bill.


"The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill," he wrote in a Facebook post. "It’s a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America. Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family – this bill will do you harm. And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation."


The Republicans have long wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which is considered by many as Obama’s most remarkable achievement, having provided insurance to 20 million previously uninsured Americans. They said Obamacare has caused insurance premiums to skyrocket and has deprived Americans of coverage in large swaths of the country and that their replacement bill would correct the flaws of Obamacare.


But the CBO and those in the know seem to believe otherwise. Even before the budget office released its report on Monday, the American Medical Association officially announced its opposition to the bill, and the National Governors Association urged the Senate to slow down.


McConnell wanted to force a vote on the Senate bill by last week but may be forced to delay the vote because of pressures from some Republicans. Five conservative Republican senators have said they cannot support the version of the bill and assuming all the Democrats and independents vote against it, only two negative Republican votes are enough to derail yet another move to repeal Obamacare.


"Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor," said four of the senators -- Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Ted Cruz of Texas -- in a joint statement. They said the draft bill would not repeal Obamacare and lower healthcare costs.


The fifth senator, Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada later said he is opposed to the Senate repeal bill in its current form. Heller raised concerns about the bill's phase-out of Medicaid’s expansion.


Reforming Obamacare to make it more beneficial to more Americans is commendable, but repealing it just to spite Obama and making it worse for the millions of Americans who otherwise cannot afford to buy insurance is another thing. The way the Republicans are derailing Obamacare, the new version should be named Unaffordable Care Act. These efforts should be opposed by the American people. (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

Remittances up 4.7% to $10 B in first 4 months

Published in Business

MANILA — Personal remittances from overseas Filipinos reached US$10 billion during the first four months this year, up 4.7 percent year-on-year, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. said last week.


Personal remittances from land-based workers with work contracts of one year or more amounted to US$7.8 billion while those from sea-based and land-based workers with work contracts of less than one year totaled US$2.1 billion for the same period.


However, personal remittances for the month of April (at US$2.3 billion) were 5.2 percent lower than the level posted in the same month last year.


For the first four months of 2017, cash remittances from OFs coursed through banks recorded 4.2 percent growth from the level posted in the same period a year ago, reaching US$9 billion. Specifically, remittances sent by land-based workers increased by 5.8 percent, compensating for the 1.4 percent decline in sea-based workers’ remittances.


For April alone, total cash remittances fell by 5.9 percent year-on-year to US$2.1 billion. This was attributed to the 7.6 percent drop in cash remittances from land-based workers which offset the marginal increase (0.3 percent) in transfers from sea-based workers.


The top countries that registered declines in cash remittances in April were Saudi Arabia (partly as a result of repatriation of workers under the Saudi Arabian Amnesty program), followed by Singapore, Australia, and United Kingdom (UK).


Aside from recorded declines in cash remittances (in original currency) in these countries, the lower US dollar value of remittances in April could be partly due to the depreciation of major host countries’ currencies vis-à-vis the US dollar, such as the Singaporean dollar, Australian dollar, pound sterling and the euro.


Furthermore, the decrease in remittances could be attributed to the lesser number of banking days in April 2017 compared to the same month a year ago.


Cash remittances coming from the United States (US), Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Singapore, Japan, United Kingdom, Qatar, Kuwait, Hong Kong, and Canada comprised about 80 percent of total cash remittances in the first four months of 2017.

PHL gov’t debts up 3.9% to P5 trillion in 2016

Published in Business

MANILA — Philippines' general government liabilities rose to P5.016 trillion in 2016, up 3.9 percent from P4.829 trillion in 2015.


The Bureau of Treasury (BTr) attributed the hike to issuance of more debt securities, depreciation of the peso and drop in the bond sinking fund (BSF).


BTr on Thursday traced the increase to the 3.8 percent uptick in the consolidated national government debt, less BSF- from end-2015’s P5.256 trillion to P5.456 trillion in 2016.


”This was brought about by the net issuance of domestic securities (gross borrowings less redemption); the year-on-year peso depreciation; as well as the decline in BSF holdings,” the statement said.


During the same period, liabilities of local government units (LGUs) went up 13 percent to P 86 billion from P76.1 billion in end-2015.


“The increase in borrowings was utilized for financing public services and economic enterprises,” the BTr said.


Intrasector debt holdings totaled to P526 billion last year, 4.5 percent higher than the previous year's P503.2 billion.


Government security holdings of social security agencies increased by P 19.5 billion last year while LGU loans held by the Municipal Development Fund Office (MDFO) grew by P 3.4 billion.


BTr, however, pointed out that amid these increases, proportion of the GG to gross domestic product (GPD) sustained its improvement to 34.6 percent last year as against the 36.2 percent in 2015 “on the back of careful cash and debt management as well as sturdy economic growth.”

PHL gov't budget deficit up 15%, reaches P63 B

Published in Business

MANILA — Philippine budget gap reached P 63.6 billion in May this year, 15 percent lower than the P 75.1 billion deficit in the same month last year.


Data released by the Bureau of Treasury (BTr) showed that the government spent more than its revenues in May 2017.


Data show that government revenues last May reached P 228.3 billion, 14 percent higher than year-ago’s P 199.8 billion.


But expenditures rose 20 percent year-on-year to P 261.7 billion fromP 217.4 billion in May 2016, data show.


The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), which collects around 70 percent of taxes, contributed P 158.7 billion, up five percent from its P 151.6 billion collections.


The Bureau of Customs (BOC) shared in P39.6 billion, 23 percent higher than its P32.1 billion revenues in May 2016.


Non-tax revenues came from the BTr, which collected P 18 billion, up 214 percent from its P 5.7 billion year-ago collections, and the Other Offices, which collected P 9.3 billion, four percent higher than theHP9 billion revenues in May last year.


In the first five months of the year, revenues rose eight percent year-on-year to P996.5 billion and expenditures by six percent to P1.06 trillion.


BIR revenues for the period totaled P716.8 billion, up nine percent from year-ago’s P659.4 billion.


BOC’s collection increased by 13 percent from year-ago’s P155.3 billion to P174.9 billion.


BTr contributed P48 billion, down 18 percent from year-ago’s P 58.6 billion, and the Other Offices’ share reached P47.7 billion, seven percent more than the P44.6 billion revenues same period last year.

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