SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – When Keith Yaskin and his wife, Loren, rushed their 2-year-old son to the hospital with a dangerous infection in his neck, they weren't thinking about how much his care would cost. After his three-day inpatient stay with nonstop intravenous antibiotics, they were hit with $8,900 in charges.
But the toughest lesson for the Scottsdale, Ariz., couple came a month or so later when they began to sort out the hospital bills. Their insurance policy had a $10,000 deductible. So they scrutinized every item, made some calls and had a few surprises.
When, for instance, they asked a medical group they had never heard of why it was charging them $839.25, they said they got no clear answers, just threats if they failed to pay.
After 21/2 months of calls and a complaint to their state attorney general, the Yaskins finally learned that a pediatrician affiliated with the group had treated their son in the hospital. The medical group eventually cut the bill in half.
None of this surprises Pat Palmer, the founder of Medical Billing Advocates of America. "We get feedback from consumers saying that providers are telling them 'We can't give you an itemized statement' or 'You should have asked for it before you left the hospital.'"
The idea is to discourage patients from asking for the details behind the charges, she said.
Experts offer a range of suggestions for dealing with medical billing problems.
Know your rights. Most states have laws saying that patients are entitled to an itemized medical bill that details what services and supplies are included in their charges.
"You can't be billed if they can't tell you what they are charging for," Palmer says.
Contact the billing department at either the hospital or medical group where you received services, she said. Let them know that you want an itemized bill, and tell them you are aware of your legal right to have it.
Also, a few states have laws limiting how much hospitals can charge patients who pay for care on their own. In 2006, California passed a law to prevent hospitals from collecting more money from uninsured patients than what Medicare or other public programs would pay for the same service.
"Once a patient contacts the hospital and shows evidence of their financial situation, state law requires us to offer a discount based on Medicare rates," says Jan Emerson-Shea, vice president of external affairs for the California Hospital Assn.
Get explanations in writing and take protests to the top. All communications with a provider should be in writing, experts say. Insist that your account be placed on hold until the dispute is resolved to avoid having the bill sent to collections.
If you meet with resistance, don't waste time by calling back the customer service line or billing department. Go straight to the top.
Address a certified letter to the chief executive or chief financial officer of the hospital or medical group explaining that you have tried to resolve billing issues but have hit a brick wall. "The CEO and CFO will take it very seriously," Palmer says.
Get help from your insurer. In the Yaskins' case, both the hospital and the medical group were in their insurer's network and had contracts to provide services at a negotiated discount.
"If you are in network — and this is one of the good reasons to stay in network — you can go to your insurer for help. It has a responsibility to some degree to what happens between you and a contracted physician," says Susan Pisano, spokeswoman for the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans.
Also, ask to make sure you're getting the rate your insurer has negotiated with in-network providers, says Lynn Quincy, senior health policy analyst for Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports. Insurers often pass claims through without processing them at the reduced rate. Ask your insurer to re-process the claim if the discount wasn't applied.
Seek help and file complaints. If your bill is large or you're having a hard time making headway, patient advocates can help sort things out. For either a flat fee or a share of the money you save, organizations such as Medical Billing Advocates of America (www.billadvocates.com) and Health Proponent (www.healthproponent.com) can help you fight charges or lower your bill.
If you're being stonewalled by your healthcare provider, and your insurer hasn't helped, Quincy of Consumers Union suggests filing a complaint with your state's department of insurance. In California, patients with HMO coverage can file a complaint with the California Department of Managed Health Care by calling (888) 466-2219 or visiting healthhelp.ca.gov. Californians with PPO coverage should try the Department of Insurance at (800) 927-HELP (4357) or visit http://www.insurance.ca.gov. If your provider isn't contracted with your insurer, your state's attorney general's office is a place to turn for help.
The Yaskins ultimately enlisted the services of an advocate to help them sort through all their billing questions.
"We're raising a family and running a business, and this is like a second job," Keith Yaskin says. His conclusion: "Hospitals, medical groups and doctors' offices have much to learn about communicating with real people."-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- This week, business leaders are gathering in Davos to debate global priorities at the World Economic Forum. The forum declares itself to be "committed to improving the state of the world". So why isn't education higher up on the agenda?
On the face of it, there should be little need to make the business case for education. It is intrinsically tied to all positive development outcomes. Economic growth, health, nutrition and democracy are all boosted by quality schooling. If all children in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, poverty would fall by 12 percent - and that's good for business. The private sector benefits directly from an educated, skilled workforce.
The private sector spends only $683 million per year to support education in developing countries, however, making up equivalent to just 5 percent of total education aid, as we found in the latest Education for All Global Monitoring Report. This is equivalent to less than 0.5 percent of the annual profits of the ten biggest companies in the world. It is about the same as the price of two Boeing 747s or the amount Americans spend on pizzas in just over a week.
By contrast, health usually features high on the agenda at Davos and is one of the top three global risks identified by the forum. Health, as each of us knows, is the foundation of well-being. From an education perspective, having visited classrooms around the world I know all too well that children cannot concentrate and benefit fully from school if they are ill or malnourished.
Why does health figure so much more prominently than education? One reason is that recent campaigns against malaria, polio, HIV and AIDS and tuberculosis have been headed by Bill Gates or endorsed by the Gates Foundation. A vaccination summit held in 2011 and championed by the Gates Foundation raised $4.3 billion, enabling 250 million children to be vaccinated worldwide.
Such sums give pause for thought. There are still 61 million children out of school, and it would cost $16 billion a year to get them all into school - but universal primary education might truly be possible by 2015 if a leader like Bill Gates galvanised private companies and foundations to prioritise schooling.
The reality is that, without such a champion, education gets little attention from the private sector: 53 percent of US foundations' grants are allocated to health and only 8 percent to education. And contributions that are made need to be set in context. ExxonMobil - the world's second-biggest company - is one of the top five corporations giving to education. But its annual contribution of $24 million is equivalent to just 0.06 percent of its 2011 profits.
A Bill Gates for education may yet appear. We hope the quest for new targets to replace the Millennium Development Goals will underline the considerable power of education to boost progress in every other development sector - and persuade the private sector to abandon its reluctance to fund education.
One thing is for certain: Without new investments, education funding will continue to stagnate. As populations increase, we will start to see the number of children out of school going up rather than down, as is already the case in sub-Saharan Africa.
Our hope is that on the global stage at Davos, business leaders will find the motivation to step up alongside governments and donors to help fill the funding gap and reinvigorate progress towards Education for All.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Former US President Bill Clinton has delivered a prime-time defence of Barack Obama, nominating the president for a second term in the White House.
His 50-minute speech at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, was strongly critical of Republican economic plans.
He launched a full-throated defence of Mr Obama's policies, saying his economic policies were working.
Mr Obama will take on Republican Mitt Romney in November's election.
Bill Clinton's speech is being seen as the high point of a revitalised relationship between the two presidents and as an attempt to boost Mr Obama's appeal with white working-class voters.
Polls show these traditional Democratic voters are wary of Mr Obama, but Mr Clinton has a strong record in winning their support.
Mr Clinton told the crowd that they would "decide what kind of country you want to live in".
"If you want a 'you're on your own, winner take all society' you should support the Republican ticket," he said. "If you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibilities - a 'we're all in it together' society - you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden."
Mr Clinton attacked Republicans for blocking further progress on the economic recovery and getting deep into the detail of policy debates.
"In order to look like an acceptable, moderate alternative to President Obama, they couldn't say much about the ideas they have offered over the last two years," he said, referring to the Republican convention in Florida a week ago.
Reminding the crowd that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell had revealed that their number one priority was to get Mr Obama out of office, he declared: "We're going to keep President Obama on the job."
Mr Clinton argued that Mr Obama's economic policies on taking office had prevented further collapse and begun the recovery, but said he knew that many Americans were still struggling.
He compared Mr Obama's experience to his own first term in office, when "our policies were working and the economy was growing but most people didn't feel it yet".
"No president - not me or any of my predecessors - could have repaired all the  damage in just four years," he said. "But conditions are improving and if you'll renew the president's contract you will feel it."
Mr Clinton criticised Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who he said misrepresented Mr Obama's Medicare policy at last week's Republican convention.
He argued that Mr Ryan had made the same amount in cuts as part of his plan for the goverment-sponsored healthcare plan for the elderly.
"It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did," Mr Clinton.
He also countered a Republican ad that Mr Obama had weakened the work requirement for welfare, which Mr Clinton signed into law.
"When some Republican governors asked to try new ways to put people on welfare back to work, the Obama administration said they would only do it if they had a credible plan to increase employment by 20%," Mr Clinton said, adding that the Republican charge was "just not true".
After the former president finished a lengthy and partially ad-libbed speech, Mr Obama joined him on stage.
The pair have previously sparred, most notably during the 2008 primaries when Mr Clinton supported his wife Hillary's bid for the nomination, and they are known not have a close personal bond.
Earlier, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi was just one of a string of speakers who highlighted social causes including women's issues, and economic concerns such as the future of the auto industry.
Ms Pelosi warned that "democracy was on the ballot" in November.
"Republicans support opening the floodgates to special interest money and suppressing the right to vote," she said. "It's just plain wrong."
Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren railed against inequality, saying Mitt Romney's policy would amount to "I've got mine, the rest of you are on your own".
And Sandra Fluke, a student branded a "slut" by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh during a row over contraception, made a prime-time appearance calling for action on women's issues.
In a procedural surprise as Wednesday's events got under way, the convention reinstated language from the 2008 platform describing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
In confusing scenes a voice vote on the language was called three times. Despite loud boos in the audience, convention chair Antonio Villaraigosa said he had determined that two-thirds of the convention had voted in favour.
Reports emerged shortly afterwards that Mr Obama had personally intervened to change the platform's language—www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Legislation to remove flaws in existing laws that enable militants to win bails from courts; Electricity theft, meter tampering also made criminal, punishable offences - The federal cabinet on Wednesday accorded approval to two bills aimed at tightening the noose around terrorists, their facilitators, collaborators and abettors by plugging the gaps and removing flaws in the laws related to properly prosecuting militants involved in terrorism and other related activities.
The cabinet accorded approval to the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill, 2012, concerning terrorism financing and while “Investigation for Fair Trial Bill,2012” was also considered by the cabinet besides giving approval to draft Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2012 and Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill.
The legislation is long overdue as terrorists after being arrested have been successful in taking advantage of the legal flaws to get bails from courts. The Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill, 2012, which was approved by the cabinet, provides for addressing flaws relating to the terrorism financing provisions in the Anti-terrorism Act, 1997. The bill strengthens the provisions creating the offence of terrorism financing; covering all aspects of the offence in the light of international standards and provides for more effective measures for law enforcement agencies to investigate the offence.
Provisions on freezing, seizing and forfeiture of property involved in the terrorism financing offence have been strengthened to ensure that the funding of the terrorism financing offence is detected and seized after due process of law. The cabinet also discussed in depth the “Investigation for Fair Trial Bill, 2012” and gave its approval with certain amendments. The bill provides for investigation for collection of evidence by means of modern techniques and devices to prevent and effectively deal with scheduled offence and to regulate the powers of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies and to prevent law enforcement and intelligence agencies from using their powers arbitrarily. It was felt necessary to regulate the said powers and provide for their permissible and fair uses in accordance with law and under proper executive and judicial oversight keeping in view Article 10A.
It will also provide for admissibility and use of the material collected during investigation under the present law in judicial proceedings and all other legal proceedings or processes to ensure fair trial.
Electricity pilferage: The cabinet also approved a bill on Offenses and Penalties relating to Electricity Amendments in the PPC, CrPC and Electricity Act 1910.
The Ministry of Water & Power is faced with a situation whereby recoveries affected by the distribution companies from the consumers are insufficient and inadequate to meet the cost of generated electricity.
As a result, the government of Pakistan has to provide subsidy especially to those distribution companies where leakages, pilferage and thefts are rampant. Primarily, this phenomenon emanates from fragile legal and enforcement structure.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2012 enumerates offence of dishonest abstraction, illegal interference or tampering with transmission and distribution power systems with penalty of rigorous imprisonment which may extend to three years and fine which may extend to ten million rupees for transmission offence and two years and three million rupees, respectively for distribution offence.
Similarly, offence against improper use, interference or tampering with electric meters by domestic, industrial, commercial and agricultural consumers has been included.
The penalties for such offence may extend to one year or fine which may extend to, one million rupees or both in case of domestic consumers, and three years or fine which may extend to six million rupees or both in case of industrial, commercial and agricultural consumers.
Moreover, offence for damaging, destroying or destructing the transmission lines, distribution lines or electric meters have been specified with punishment of up to seven years imprisonment and with fine which shall not be less than three million rupees.
The cabinet considered the report of the committee examining the issue of seats of non-Muslims in the legislature. A number of proposals were made by the members of the cabinet and it was decided that the committee would present its final report to the cabinet in the light of the recommendations made by the ministers.
At the onset of meeting, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf reiterated the government’s resolve to confront the challenges of energy shortage and the scourge of terrorism with all available resources of the state.
He said he would like to convey the strong resolve of the government to overcome the challenges being faced by the people of Pakistan.
The prime minister also asked the provincial government of Balochistan to implement Supreme Court’s verdict in order to improve law and order in the province.
He assured that the federal government would extend all out assistance to the Balochistan government and all possible measures would be taken for improvement of law and order, not only in Balochistan but throughout the country.
The PM said he appeared personally before the Supreme Court in the contempt case for allegedly not implementing apex court’s decision in the NRO case, adding that the appearance was a testimony to the respect held for courts.
“The government, its coalition partners, and the Supreme Court jointly want to resolve the issue pertaining to non-implementation of apex court’s verdict in the NRO case according to the law and constitution,” the prime minister said.—www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — BRITISH taxpayers paid a record £19.2BILLION to the EU last year — £53million every day.
Official stats reveal our payments to Brussels rose by around £1.7billion in the last two years.
We get £8.4billion back in subsidies, but our net contribution in 2011 was still a record £10.8billion — up from £6.8billion in 2009. The rise was fuelled by the last Labour Government’s decision to sacrifice a big chunk of our EU rebate.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage called the rise “astonishing”, adding: "We know the costs of Europe. What are the benefits?—www.shafaqna.com/english
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — US wars of “invasion, aggression and occupation” are no longer sustainable economically and socially, veteran war critic and US scholar Professor Bill Ayers told RT. He adds that if NATO, the US or Israel attack Iran, it would lead to a catastrophe.
The activist says America has an old colonial mentality and grotesque double standards. Washington is frantic about the possibility that Iran might have a nuclear warhead someday – but not frantic about the fact that Israel, as Ayers says, is the third-largest nuclear power in the world. And it is not part of nuclear non-proliferation treaty, or even admits to having the weapons.
Ayers is part of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which he says has a growing “anti-war energy.”
RT: Let’s get started with protests in the United States. We’ve seen the Arab Spring, we’ve seen the uprisings in Europe, we’ve seen Occupy Wall Street in the United States. Who do you think is really the face of the modern protester in the US today?
Bill Ayers: Well, I think Occupy is an unpredictable but wonderful development and it comes directly out of the Arab Spring. The idea that people can actually make a difference is infectious. And so Occupy came out of Madison and Madison came out of Tahrir Square and Tahrir Square came out of Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks. So we kind of can see a real development where people are saying that the world as it is, is not the world as it must be, it could be otherwise and when people feel that way they get into motion, they get into action. Very exciting, very hopeful.
RT: We obviously have critics of Occupy Wall Street who say that the main flaw of the movement is a lack of a tangible unified message. Do you think this kind of message exists apart from the obvious Occupy Wall Street, what is it really about?
BA: Well, I think people are mistaken with that kind of criticism. Occupy is not a point of arrival, it is not a manifesto, it is not a demand. Occupy is an invitation and it is an opening of a public space. That means that every grievance, every complaint, as well as, every aspiration and dream can find a place in a new, open public square. I think Occupy already has accomplished something amazing, which has shifted the frame on how we discuss wealth, how we discuss war, how we discuss austerity.
The metaphor the 1 per cent, 99 per cent is a marvelous metaphor. But as usual power responds to these kids of upheavals in a pattern that is predictable. They ignored Occupy for a while, then they ridiculed it, then they tried to co-opt it with language like “what is your demand” and then they beat it up and then they repeat it. That is very typical of how these things happen, but Occupy is not going away: it’s morphed, it’s transformed. So Occupy is a marvelous thing and is still evolving and we shall see.
RT: Occupy also seems to have brought police violence and arrests that we have not seen in a while in the United States. And every time there are clashes, like we saw here in Chicago, it seems to be the protesters are saying the police are violent, the police are saying the protesters are violent. Who is right?
BA: What we see in our whole society is militarization of our society. So when NATO comes together for example for a summit, this is an organization all wearing suits and ties, all speaking very quietly, but they represent three-quarters of the military budget in the world, three-quarters are represented by the NATO-G8 world. And that is violence that is institutional violence.
So in Chicago, when there were clashes between NATO demonstrators and police we have to also note that the city was incredibly militarized. That is there were tens of thousands of police in the streets, gear that nobody had ever seen before, troop carriers, buses transformed into military vehicles. We take for granted in this country that the military must be under civilian control. If it’s not under civilian control it is a dictatorship. Well what is NATO under, how is NATO governed? Who takes care of making sure that it is not a military dictatorship and the problem is in many ways it is.
RT: Obviously people are quite annoyed to see millions spent on a summit, billions spent on wars abroad, whereas, obviously a lot of people are still not in the best economic situation. What is this all about? Is there a huge disconnect between those in power and the people or is this something that is purposefully being done?
BA: Well I think both are true. Is there a huge disconnect? Absolutely. What is NATO, if it is not kind of a fig leaf for the United States? NATO in Europe for example has 260 tactical nuclear weapons. Those are not allowed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but they are allowed because NATO is not a signatory. It is a way around the law, it is a way around common sense. But speaking of a disconnect, yes there is a disconnect: [only] 27 per cent of Americans support the war in Afghanistan and we can’t end it. This has been true for seven years. No one wants it.
Eleven years ago when the war started, we could have said “this is a police action, to get the people who did 9/11.” But no, it was an invasion and a war. We overthrew the government.
Where are we 11 years later? They are now talking about negotiating with the Taliban and moving out of Afghanistan, but leaving $4 billion a year in American aid. That is an outrage and it should be an outrage. That is why only 27 per cent still support that war, but we cannot end it. That is a disconnect between power and the people.
RT: The first time we interviewed you, four years ago, you said you wanted to create the biggest anti-war movement in the US. Are you closer to that? Is Occupy Wall Street part of that?
BA: The energy of Occupy is in part an anti-war energy. It is an energy that says our priorities are all messed up, our society is off the tracks spending trillions on war every couple of years while we ignore basic human needs, privatizing the public space, destroying the electoral process under the term “reform”, reforming everything from public school to elections to pensions. And what reform is, is a kind of cover for destruction. I think that the anti-war movement is represented in the Occupy moment. My hope is that we continue to evolve and grow.
RT: Do you think with the wars the US is fighting it is living beyond its means? Can it really sustain those wars?
BA: Absolutely not. And one of the things that happened to the old Soviet Union was that it spent itself into destruction. I mean, you cannot arm at this level and create the conditions for an arms war with China, with India, with Russia, with all the countries of South Asia. It is an outrage that we are now entering into a new arms race, which is going to spend us into catastrophe. It is anti-democratic, it is not what people want, it is not how we want to see ourselves and it is something that has to end.
RT: What do you think about US and NATO missile defense plans? Is that necessary?
BA: Absolutely unnecessary. If you think of all the toys and gimmicks and war materials that are being developed, what are they for? Why 150 American military bases abroad? What are they doing? Who are they encircling? So now it gives itself permission for preemptive war, for war against non-state actors, which can take the form of any country it wants to invade, so NATO in Afghanistan, NATO in Iraq, NATO in Libya – these are illegal, immoral, and unnecessary moves.
RT: We are hearing war drums beating over Iran a lot lately. Do you think we will see the US embark on a new military escapade?
BA: It would be a catastrophe for everyone if the United Sates or NATO, which is just the United States’ fig leaf, or Israel, went into Iran and attacked Iran. We can live in this world as a nation among nations, as long as we insist on the old colonial mentality that we can dominate other peoples, we can tell them how to be and have a double standard that is so grotesque. So we are frantic about the possibility that Iran might have a nuclear warhead someday. Meanwhile, we have 2,000 nuclear warheads and that doesn’t make us frantic.
Israel is the third largest nuclear power in the world, not part of nuclear proliferation and not part of even admitting that they have them. This is the world that is dangerous, that is unstable, but it is not unstable because of Iran. There is so many better ways to be a citizen of the world than to shake your sword every time you feel like it.
RT: The US has the biggest military budget in the world.
BA: A trillion dollars a year.
RT: What is really the necessity? We understand that if somebody attacks you, you have to be ready to defend yourself. But considering many people and critics of US war mongering say the US actually starts these wars, by itself builds this long list of enemies.
BA: Well that is my view. My view is that if you look at my whole lifetime, 67 years, the US has been engaged in a war virtually every year. And the wars are primarily wars of invasion and aggression, and occupation. Vietnam we can now look back and say well that was illegal, immoral, a tragedy, 3 million people were killed, 6,000 a week were killed in that unnecessary war – mostly civilians – and the US did it, it made it happen, under a lot of guises of bringing democracy and so on. There was a wonderful sign in the demonstrations recently that said “If you want to build democracy someplace, build it here.” And I think that is true. Peace is the answer and it begins here. We have to cut back our military budget, we have to close off our foreign military bases, we have to become a nation among nations, not the uber-nation exporting our will everywhere.
RT: We have the US elections fast approaching. Four years ago, a lot of people in the US were really hopeful that Barack Obama will become sort of a real face of change. A lot of Americans now say that it has not happened, democrats and republicans seem to be the same side of one coin. What should we expect? Is it naïve at this point to expect some real true change to come from elections, regardless of who wins those elections?
BA: I think we have to build a movement for change, I think that is what brings change. If you look back even in our fairly recent history, it wasn’t Lyndon Johnson, although Lyndon Johnson passed the most far-reaching civil rights legislation in history, he wasn’t part of the black freedom movement. He was responding.
Franklin Roosevelt wasn’t part of the labor movement, yet he accomplished all that labor legislation and social legislation. And Abraham Lincoln didn’t belong to an Abolitionist Party. Each of them was responding to movements on the ground. What we need if we want peace is to build a movement on the ground that could bring about real change from the bottom, and that is what I think we should be concerned about.
RT: During the last presidential elections obviously your name was talked about a lot by the mainstream media. What do you think is going to be the main controversy this time around?
BA: The one thing we know for sure is that money is always corrupting in politics. Not just here, but in Russia, in Europe, everywhere. Money corrupts politics. This election season in the US is going to see an absolute tidal wave of cash come in to this election. So last time out the Obama campaign spent half a billion dollars. This time each campaign will spend over a billion. It is hard to believe that anyone can look at that and say that this is what democracy looks like.
I think that is what plutocracy looks like – rich people throwing cash around, buying votes, buying legislators. And that is unseeingly and certainly undemocratic sight. I have no idea what the controversy will be, but you can be sure it will be dirty and it will be expensive.—www.shafaqna.com/english