MRF Direct Connection - Vol. 1, No. 4
By Steve Zimmer, Vice President of Government Relations
Motorcycle Riders Foundation , Washington, DC
The 2000 Elections Are Heating Up
The November elections are a year away, but if you think you don't need to worry about those things just yet, think again. If you have plans to run for an office, now is the time to set that plan into motion. If you have plans to support a particular candidate, now is the time to get involved in the campaign. Believe me, you can never start too soon. If you are wondering how things are stacking up at the federal level, here is what Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, calls the Casualty List:
In the House, three current Representatives, Jim Talent (R-MO), Bob Wise (D-WV), and David McIntosh (R-IN) are running for Governor in their home states. Representatives Talent and McIntosh have both supported motorcycling issues at the Federal level. Representative Wise has voted against the motorcycling issues that came up in the past. Another six Representatives are running for the U.S. Senate. They are Robert Weygand (D-RI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ron Klink (D-PA), Bill McCollum (R-FL), Tom Campbell (R-CA), and Bob Franks (R-NJ). Of these six representatives, only two - McCollum and Franks - have a voting record that supports motorcyclists' issues. One House member, George Brown (D-CA), has passed away.
Fifteen House members and five Senate members have indicated they will not seek reelection and are retiring at the end of their term in 2000. In the House, Representatives Bill Archer (R-TX), Bill Gooding (R-PA), Charles Canady (R-FL), Mark Sanford (R-SC), Helen Chenoweth (R-ID), Matt Salmon (R-AZ), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Jack Metcalf (R-WA), William Clay (D-MO), John Kasich (R-OH), Rick Hill (R-MT), Tom Ewing (R-IL), John Porter (R-IL), Bill Barrett (R-NE), and Ron Packard (R-CA) are retiring. Senators that are retiring include Richard Bryan (D-NV), Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Connie Mack (R-FL), and John Chafee (R-RI) who announced his retirement prior to his death on October 24th.
This list from December 13 will grow and change as the election draws nearer. There are several races we will be watching closely. Due to retirement, the races in New Jersey for Senator Lautenberg's seat, in New York for Senator Moynihan's seat, and in Florida for Senator Mack's seat will be of particular interest. Another interesting scenario is unfolding in Missouri, where a political domino effect is setting up. The current Governor of Missouri, Mel Carnahan (D) is running against incumbent U.S. Senator John Ashcroft (R). Most of you will recall that Governor Carnihan vetoed Missouri's helmet repeal during the 1999 session. Meanwhile, Missouri Congressman Jim Talent (R), a strong supporter of motorcyclists' rights, is running for Governor. At least two Missouri state senators have indicated they will run for Talent's seat in Congress, leaving those seats in the Missouri Senate open. Several current state representatives are planning to run for the open senate seats. Each of these races offers a real opportunity for motorcyclists' rights activists to make positive changes in the legislature.
Two of the seats mentioned in the first part of this article have been filled. As stated above, Senator John Chafee (R-RI) didn't get to retire as the senior Senator from Rhode Island. Senator Chaffee - never a friend to motorcycling - died while in office. In accordance with Rhode Island statute, the governor then appointed a replacement Senator. On November 4, 1999, Lincoln Chafee (R), the son of the former Senator, was sworn in to fill the balance of his father's term. Lincoln Chafee, now the ex-mayor of Warwick, Rhode Island, is expected to follow closely in his father's footsteps. He was immediately appointed to two of the three committees his father served on (Environment and Public Works, and Foreign Relations). He is reported to be very closely aligned with his father's political philosophy.
On the House side, Rep. George E. Brown, Jr. passed away on July 15, 1999. In a special election, State Sen. Joe Baca (D) was elected to fill the seat in California's 42nd Congressional District for the remainder of Brown's term. The 52 year old Baca barely beat Representative Brown's widow in a very close primary race, and then went on to win the special election over attorney Elia Pirozzi (R) by 52 to 44 percent. There may be another Pirozzi/Baca match up in 2000 if Pirozzi wins the March 7 primary with ex-Rep Jay Kim (R). Baca also received good news from his own party when Marta Macias Brown (D), the widow of his predecessor, the late Rep. George Brown (D), said she would not challenge Baca in the primary. In the meantime, Congressman Baca has been appointed to Rep. Brown's former committees, the House Science Committee and the House Agriculture Committee. Representative Baca has been a strong supporter of motorcycling issues in his past service in the California statehouse. We look forward to working with him in Washington.
The Shape Of Things To Come
The headline reads, "Arrest that hamburger- Taking obesity to court". In a recent op-ed piece in the Washington Times, Rick Berman, executive director of Guest Choice Network, a coalition of 30,000 restaurants and taverns, reported that the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and the American Obesity Association (AOA) are "launching an all out war against obesity in America." This war is following the model used against the cigarette producers. Ideas being tossed around are labels on foods determined to be bad for your health, a fat tax on fast food and junk food to be used to offset the cost to society posed by obese individuals (read social burden), and bans on junk food advertising. Does any of this sound familiar? In the article, Mr. Berman pointed out the successes of trial lawyers against tobacco companies and cited pending lawsuits against gun makers and HMO's.
"It makes perfect sense the next place to go would be for victims of fast food to sue " states Daniel Akst, a New York Times columnist. Speaking against the idea, Mr. Berman made his point by saying, "All but lost in the debate over diet are such down-to-earth tenets as individual accountability, personal preferences, and responsibility for the discretionary lifestyle choices one makes."
Motorcyclists have been making these arguments for years. The real question is, where is all this going to stop? Once the door to litigation is opened on any "questionable" lifestyle choice the door could remain open to litigate all lifestyle choices. Watch your backs folks. If the good doctors at JAMA and AOA have their way, you could be forced to wear a label stating: "Warning - living the biker lifestyle may be hazardous to your health"
Movement on the HIPAA
In 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (originally known as the Kassebaum-Kennedy Bill and now referred to as HIPAA) was passed in Congress. The MRF and the AMA worked hard to make sure language was included in that Act, and the accompanying conference report, assuring that motorcyclists would not be discriminated against regarding health care insurance. Now, after three years and numerous unkept promises, the agencies responsible for promulgating the rules and putting the legislative intent into action are calling for comments from interested parties. Comments being solicited are those reflecting the experiences individuals have had regarding the interim regulations issued in April of 1997. The Federal Register posted a call for comments with a deadline of January 25, 2000. In addition to comments regarding experiences based on the interim regulations, the Register indicates the Departments of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services will publish separate comprehensive regulations "shortly" regarding the nondiscriminatory provisions, and will solicit comments in connection with that rulemaking.
Anyone wishing to view this first posting for comments may log on to the Federal Register at www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/aces140.html. This address will bring up the search engine. From there, you can search by selecting *Rules and Regulations, then select *on 10/25/99, then enter Health Insurance Portability as the search terms, hit search and the search engine should find the document. The MRF will be watching for the proposed rules on nondiscrimination and make appropriate comments. Following past experience, the agencies have been promising these rules for some time, so exactly when "shortly" takes place remains to be seen.
Hospitals Proven To Be Much More Dangerous Than Motorcycles
For years, the medical industry has claimed that the costs associated with motorcycling injuries are so great that government intervention is necessary. These claims are based on inaccurate reporting by doctors and other health care professionals. They consistently proclaim that motorcyclists, particularly those who choose to ride without a helmet, are a social burden because they fail to have enough insurance coverage. As motorcyclists' rights activists, we have proven time and again that these claims are false, and that bikers - either helmeted or unhelmeted - are just as likely as any other segment of the American population to have adequate health insurance.
Now we find that one of the largest safety hazards in America is being a recipient of healthcare service. On November 30, 1999, USA Today carried a front-page story titled, "Medical Mistakes 8th Top Killer." The article states that medical errors kill more Americans than traffic accidents, breast cancer, or AIDS. It also estimates that from 44,000 to 98,000 deaths each year can be attributed to medical mistakes, making this the eighth leading cause of death. And if you want to talk social burden - a favorite topic when doctors line up to testify in favor of mandatory helmet laws - consider this. The report estimates that these medical blunders resulting in death cost the nation $8.8 billion a year. Now that's a social burden!
So, does this report come from some wacko, special-interest group? No. It comes from the Institute of Medicine, which is an arm of the National Academy of Sciences. The name of the report is "To Err is Human." SMROs can use this information to carry the following message for health care professionals who testify against motorcyclists: "If you really care about saving the lives of people and lowering the costs of unnecessary health care, then quit lobbying against motorcyclists and go clean up your own profession!"
Better still - this information needs to be supplied to our friends in the legislatures so they can ask these medical professionals why not, if their real concern is lowering deaths and health care costs, expend their efforts reducing the life threatening hazards in their own profession first? They could even suggest that they follow the example of motorcyclists, who by focusing on rider education have reduced the number of annual motorcyclist deaths by over 50% in the last 15 years."
Health Insurance- Social Burden?
The Health Insurance Association of America (HIAA) has released information contained in a study conducted by Georgia State University researchers that describes an impending problem for the American public. According to the report, in the Bureau of National Affairs daily report, the HIAA describes the current state of health insurance, and the future, with a warning. Currently about one in six Americans have no health coverage, but according to the study that number could rise to one in four by the year 2008. One of the main reasons for the increase in the number of uninsured is the rising cost of purchasing health care. The study shows that not only are the number of low income Americans that are uninsured hovering around 24 million, but families and individuals who have an income over 200 percent above poverty level increased by 25%, from 16 to 20 million, between 1994 and 1998. The poverty line is described as $16,660 for a family of four.
The relevance of this information to motorcyclists relates to the social burden theory. Motorcyclists are part of the general public described in the study and as such have an insured rate equal to this public. In other words it is reasonable to say that motorcyclists are covered by some form of insurance at the same rate of 83.34%, or five out of six people have coverage. How can we be a burden to society when we buy insurance just like everyone else? It is unreasonable to think that because we ride motorcycles we are less likely than the rest of the public to have some form of health coverage. It is also just as unreasonable to say that because we ride a motorcycle we should not have the right to make a claim on that insurance, but that is what the social burden theory seems to assert. It is our responsibility as concerned citizens to point out this fallacy to legislators every time the social burden theory is discussed. Because of the projected rising cost of health insurance we must also continue working through the legislative process to ensure that this insurance is available, and affordable for all motorcyclists.
The Blue Ribbon Conference for the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety
On November 12, 1999 in Phoenix, Arizona a Blue Ribbon Conference was held to discuss and seek public input to the National Agenda For Motorcycle Safety (NAMS). The two-day conference drew approximately 130 stakeholders from a broad cross section of groups and individuals interested in motorcycle safety. Most of the major manufacturers were represented as well as several riders groups including Gold Wing Road Riders Association, BMW Motorcycle Owners Association, and Brothers of the Third Wheel to name a few. State Motorcyclists' Rights Organizations from across the country represented their constituency. The American Motorcyclist Association and the Motorcycle Riders Foundation represented motorcyclists at the national level as members of the Technical Working Group (TWG). As we have throughout our involvement with the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety, the MRF will continue to hold to the position that no language is included in the NAMS report regarding any recommendation for legislation. Law enforcement agencies, the medical profession, and insurance companies along with motorcycle and sidecar/three wheeler rider education programs were represented as well as injury research, and various national and state departments of public and highway safety. Research facilities, academia, and several branches of the military also came to provide input.
The input and comments continue to come in through the website which is accessible through the MRF website at www.mrf.org. It will take some time to sift through the comments, but all in all the conference was a success. The deadline for comments to be submitted was extended at the conference to December 15,1999 to provide for those who were not able to attend the conference adequate time to submit their comments. The conference provided insight to other ideas and ways to improve safety that had not occurred to the TWG as well as an acute awareness of the deep emotions tied to certain areas relating to motorcycle safety. The following statement was released from the TWG.
The Technical Working Group met immediately following the Blue Ribbon Conference to assess the event overall and review the themes the TWG members had observed. The members agreed that the Conference had allowed them the unique and valuable opportunity to observe a broad range of perspectives and interests of the motorcycle community in a single venue. Initial impressions were shared and reviewed resulting in a resolved commitment to position the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety document as an opportunity for all members of the community to target issues of common interest in the promotion of greater motorcycle safety. They subsequently resolved to pursue the following objectives:
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