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Archive for the ‘Health Care/Senior Services’ Category

It’s all coming back to me now. In my younger days, people used to call really potent marijuana “kind bud.” And the stuff that someone bought quickly on a lark was simply known as “commercial weed” or “schwag.” In the debate over marijuana potency in New Jersey “schwag” has also been referred to as “dirt weed.”

Ok, glad that is clear. The recent agreement between Governor Christie and Democratic Assemblyman Reed Gusciora will keep the THC content in medical marijuana at 10%. “Good stuff” is usually 18% THC, I am told. So that means people who need medicinal marijuana will have to smoke a lot more schwag to reap the benefits of the drug. THC btw, is the psychotropic chemical that gives marijuana it’s kick. That means helping to relieve pain and suffering in chronically ill patients. It is the same ingredient that produces a “high” for college students. That “high” can best be described as euphoria, followed by a deep paranoia in which the smoker is 100% convinced that Federal Agents ( not the local police mind you, but Federal Agents! ) are about to bust in the door and haul you off to jail. That soon morphs into boredom, followed by an overwhelming desire to drink a beer, smoke a cigarette and finally order Dominoes.

Or, you know – so I’ve heard.

But getting back to the issue at hand, if patients are required to smoke a lot – oh wait, they can’t because all recipients of the drug are limited to 2 ounces a month. Hmmmm. So that means, that patients might be smoking and smoking, but not enough to ease their suffering. Critics also say that you don’t want to encourage people to smoke more of anything. Marijuana may not be as bad for your lungs as tobacco, but it’s probably still not something that people should smoke a lot of…if they can avoid it.

Anyway, such are the thoughts of Democrats who feel they may have to go ahead with the Resolution scrapping the Med Marijuana rules anyway since there was no broad agreement on some of these other points. Wait, did I only give you one point? Right. Short term memory loss, dude.

Another issue is that it would still be illegal to distribute the drug in school zones which would render most cities off-limits as distribution centers. That might wind up discriminating against certain individuals who may need or want the marijuana just as much as folks in the suburbs. After all, someone who is ailing often can’t travel that far.

Senator Nick Scutari was noticeably absent at the Gusciora-Christie announcement last Friday. Scutari says he never heard from the Administration about signing onto the agreement. Christie meantime, says he didn’t want to wait around for the Union Dem to play political games. I’m not sure who is right, since I don’t have full access to private phone records and text messages ( although I feel like I have been spending some time looking at those elsewhere lately ).

What is notable is that as of Monday, Gusciora and Scutari still hadn’t spoken after working so closely together to get this bill passed last year.

Whatever. “The Big Lebowski” is coming on in ten minutes and all will be forgotten.

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Is it take 3, or take 4 now on women’s health funding? I have sorta lost count. Christie knocked $7.5 million for women’s health funding outta the budget, and Dems ( particularly women legislators ) have been trying to get it restored ever since. They have gotten no help from their women counter-parts in the Republican caucus.

Well, now it appears as though the coalition is fraying in the Dem caucus as well. After the last override, advocates decided on a new approach. they would move some money around, but split the bills in two. One bill would restore the state’s portion, the other would once again go after federal matching funds that would otherwise be lost.

Senator Weinberg signed on for the first bill, and she approached Senators Ruiz and Gill for the second one. Both lawmakers agreed to sponsor it and had their names attached to it…until yesterday when they were mysteriously withdrawn.

So, what is going on here? I have sought the reason, but have not gotten it, which has left others to speculate. Some believe that once again we are seeing the Joe D-Essex County influence here. By now, the closeness of Gill and Ruiz to the Essex machine in terms of gainful employment have been well documented. We also know about the strong alliance between those Essex Dems and Christie. Could this be an attempt by the Governor to snub this issue out once and for all?

Possibly. And while it may not prevent a vote, the Governor can certainly flex his muscle and make sure that his allies in Essex don’t help the process along. Both bills are supposed to go before committee Monday.

Is this all idle speculation??? Enquiring Minds Want to Know!!!

Programming Note: Remember those National Enquirer ads? Ah, those were the early days before magazine tabloids came to be mandatory poolside reading for the younger set.

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The flip the script moment in the great national health care debate came late in the game. In January, after the Scott Brown victory in Tax-achusetts, it seemed like there wasn’t much of a public appetite for comprehensive reform.

But a couple of months later it was the President himself  who pointed out that Republicans keep yelling from the rooftops ( And by that I mean on Fox News ) that the Democrats will suffer a major bloodbath in the mid-term elections if this massive health care bill ( which besides being enormously complicated essentially expands Medicaid ) goes through. This is from a March 8th NY Times article:

“We may be nearing the final act for this bill and the legislative process,” the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said in a floor speech on Monday. “It’s just the beginning for those who support it. Americans don’t want this bill. They’re telling us to start over. The only people who don’t seem to be getting the message are Democrat leaders in Washington.”

Mr. Obama scoffed at Mr. McConnell’s warning.

“First of all, I generally wouldn’t take advice about what’s good for Democrats” from a Republican, Mr. Obama said to laughter in Pennsylvania. “But setting aside that, that’s not the issue here. The issue here is not the politics of it.”

Of course we know what happened next…the bill was signed on March 23rd. And here is the funny thing…Obamacare may wind up helping New Jersey ( the state which elected the antithesis of Obama nine months after the new prez took office ). I’m told that certain Federal Medicaid rebates ( perhaps up to 8% ) for managed care may become available in the third quarter of this year. That could mean tens of millions of dollars that would help restore funding which will enable the state to make funds available elsewhere and perhaps soften the blow of other proposed cuts.

We caught a glimpse of this recently with the restoration of the Senior Gold and PAAD programs. It appears as though there might be additional monies beyond even that. It might allow the Christie Administration more flexibility with health care dollars and an ability to claim ownership of the economy and the budget just as these dollars are kicking in, and the overall economic picture improves.

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Governor Christie called it. When you start targeting teachers, some may invoke the “what about the children” defense. In reality that is a somewhat intimidating argument. No one wants to be against children.  And in reality no one wants to be “against” teachers.

But in a time of shared sacrifice there are some uncomfortable issues that teachers and their union, the NJEA must face. Some Democrats in the legislature are very unhappy about the tactics the NJEA has employed since this discussion began. That includes threats to the Dems if they go along with the Governor and try and force teachers to pay for health care, among other concessions.

But here is the reality. Roughly 10 – 11% of teachers pay something towards their health benefits. So when Christie says the vast majority do not, he’s right. The NJEA argues that teachers have reached those contracts through the collective bargaining process meaning they may have given up something else to get there. True enough. And the cold hard fact is this: You can’t really make any demands on the NJEA. After all, every contract is negotiated at the local level with individual bargaining units. There are more than a thousand of them spread out through more than 600 school districts.

So, you can pressure them publicly on health care, but you can’t make a sweeping change in Trenton like you can with say, the CWA. But during his budget speech Christie chose to highlight the teachers union as an example of what needs to change in Trenton. That was a departure from the usual punching bag which is the union representing state employees. he has clearly tapped into some public resentment, which if it’s not felt in Trenton, may very well be widely felt in towns across New Jersey.

Even enrollees in FamilyCare pay up to 2.3% of their salaries. FamilyCare is the option for poor families that is funded through the state. If the most vulnerable among us can cough up a certain percentage, it’s hard to argue that teachers don’t have to.

Programming note: Title is from the 80’s classic “The Flamingo Kid” where the guy from the old neighborhood asks his girlfriend to acrobatically fold herself up like a pretzel. She says no, but when he asks her to do it “for the kid,” she acquiesces…which prompts Matt Dillon to say “get me outta here.”

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Toke if ya’ got ’em.

By now we have all heard the debate about the legalization of medical marijuana, so I am not going to re-hash it here ( get it? ‘hash’ hehe ).

Besides, NJ is hardly a pioneer on this. Numerous other states have already gone forward with similar laws and legislation ( 14 to be precise ).

So, here it is in a  nutshell: people with chronic illnesses and painful degenerative diseases say it stimulates appetite ( particularly true for cancer patients undergoing chemo ) and eases pain. Opponents say this is merely a trojan horse to begin  legalizing pot.

Whatever your view, what is happening at the State House on this is worth noting. The full Senate passed a bill last February 22-16. But in the Assembly Health Committee a bunch of amendments were added to make the bill far more restrictive.

In fact one of the bill’s sponsors joked to me that the Senate version is the “Jerry Garcia” version.

To get the bill through committee ( it ultimately cleared 8-1 ), the sponsors had to eliminate a provision that would have allowed patients to grow their own. Now, the drug would only be available through licensed centers. It also limits what diseases it can be prescribed for. Here is the piece that backers of the old bill don’t like. Either we trust doctors to decide what is best for their patients or we don’t, they argue. You don’t try and legislate what constitutes a serious illness.

So now, the Senate will have to re-pass this new version. In another strange bedfellows moment the bill is being sponsored by conservative Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll and liberal Reed Gusciora. I guess it’s a non-partsian issue.

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Now we know most of the budget particulars for FY 2010…

rebates are gone for non-seniors – that’s about a million people for a savings of $900 million. Taxes will go up on people earning over $400 k ( the Corzine admin claims that is just 1% of the population ), and the Guv was forced to scale back his plan to expand Pre-Kindergarten programs.

So how does that shape up? Democratic leaders are arguing that basically it’s pain all around, and no one gets what they want.

But here is the key question since the Dems control the legislature and don’t need Republican votes to pass the budget…are there enough D votes to get this thing through?

Senators Ron Rice, Jeff Van Drew and Joe Vitale all appear to be on the fence. In fact, last week Vitale threatened to vote against the budget unless the Governor maintains funding for Family Care. That’s the program that provides health insurance for the working poor. The budget would keep it flat, in essence cutting the rate of growth and not allowing new enrollment.

But now Vitale says he will not be the one to hold the budget hostage. And as Majority Leader Steve Sweeney told me, in the end, they’ll have the 21 Senate votes needed for passage because no one program should be saved over anyone else’s pet project.

That’s a fair point. I suppose another fair point is that the Dems are not going to embarrass Corzine by voting against his budget in a  critical election year…or will they?

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The main event wasn’t really a disappointment, because there were some staggering figures thrown out today. But when State Treasurer David Rousseau presented the budget for FY ’10 to the Assembly Budget Committee, the surprise wasn’t in the declining revenues.

We know that it’s an unprecedented economic climate. Revenues are down in every category – biz tax, sales tax and an astounding 19% down in income taxes.

But here was the May surprise: property tax rebates will be taken away for all but seniors and the disabled. There I said it.

This is going to be interesting to watch politically. Will the voters punish the Governor for this? Hard to say.

Here is what we do know…the proposed budget’s final number is $29.6 billion. That is $1.2 billion less than what the Governor laid out in his Budget Message March 10. And that is roughly $4 billion less than the orginal ’09 budget.

That is a significant reduction, and maybe the public will understand. Then again, maybe they need someone to blame.

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