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America Outdoors Association

July 23, 2009

America Outdoors Association Bulletin

Ninth Circuit Throws Out Wilderness Watch Lawsuit Over NPS Colorado River Management Plan in Grand Canyon

Latest Updates and Details on Health Care Reform Legislation


Ninth Circuit Throws Out Suit Against NPS over the Grand Canyon Colorado River Management Plan

In a ruling with implications for many concession operations in National Parks, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld and adopted a lower court's ruling that affirmed the necssary and appropriateness of outfitted services on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.  An adverse ruling may have thrown into question many concessions authorized in National Parks.  In the decision, Wilderness Watch, Rock the Earth and River Runners for Wilderness were dealt a major blow in their efforts to throw out the National Park Service Colorado River Management plan.  The Plaintiff’s had argued, among other things, that the National Park Service had failed to adequately establish the necessity and appropriateness of outfitter commercial services as required by the National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998.  Aside from challenging commercially provided services, one of the plaintiff's goals was the elimination of motorized trips.

A copy of the Court of Appeals 2009 opinion can be found on the park’s Web site at http://www.nps.gov/grca/parknews/upload/APPEL-220576-v1-Riv_Run_9th_Cir_Opinion.pdf , the 2007 District Court judgment can be found at http://www.nps.gov/grca/parknews/upload/alston%20judgment%20112707.pdf.

Latest Updates and Details on Health Care Reform Legislation

In President Obama’s press conference on Wednesday, July 23, he reiterated that health care reform was needed because the status quo would lead to the nation going bankrupt from unfunded Medicare obligations.  He insisted the drive to cover the 40 million uninsured be deficit neutral and said that the savings from Medicare reform would offset two thirds of the costs with the remainder coming from taxes on high income Americans.  But as details of the proposed legislation are being reported by various sources, it is clear that Health Care Reform will not pass Congress before the August recess as the President had hoped. 


Representative Mike Ross (D-AR) is the leader of 51 “Blue Dogs” in the House of Representatives --  Democrats who are threatening to block the proposed health care reform bill (H.R. 3022) unless it cuts costs before raising taxes.   The opposition forced Representative Waxman, Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee to postpone a vote this week.  Representative Ross wants Congress to look at cost cutting measures such as reducing fraud in Medicare (estimated to total as much as $70 billion annually by some), setting Medicare rates, and better management of chronic disease. In the Senate, a group of seven freshmen Democratic Senators sent Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus a letter commending him for seeking a bipartisan compromise and urged him to continue his work with Republicans Grassley, Snowe and Enzi. Senate Majority Leader Reid today said the Senate would not meet the August deadline for a floor vote, but Speaker Pelosi threatened to hold the House in session past the planned recess.

Strategies to fund universal coverage or health care reform have become a central point of the debate.  Many Republicans have moved past the point of agreeing that something needs to be done about the looming funding crisis and rising costs.  There is still disagreement on the role of government, how to pay for it, and how much it will cost. The cost of the H.R. 3022 is estimated at $1.04 trillion over 10 years by the Congressional Budget Office, although supporters and President Obama argue that estimate does not factor in savings for wellness programs and Medicare reform. Republicans want to treat employer provided coverage as taxable income as one strategy to pay for reform and hold down costs.


At the forefront of the current debate in the House of Representatives is H.R. 3022, which would establish national requirements for health insurance coverage, such as requiring coverage for hospital stays, maternity benefits, prescription drugs and 100% payment for preventative care.  The actuarial benefit of the proposed insurance requirement in the bill may be about 70% of expenses.  The House bill proposes a $1,500 deductible and a 25% co-pay except for those unable to afford it.  For the first time the federal government would be defining what constitutes adequate health insurance.


Some common threads run through the House and Senate bills.  For individuals and families not eligible for subsidies, the bills in the House and Senate do not cap premiums for private coverage.  Premiums will not be tied to the health of the individual.  Premiums can factor in the age of the insured, although the House and Senate bills apply greater restrictions to this factor than are currently practiced, thereby shifting some of the burden to the young. 


Many small businesses are concerned about the coverage mandates for employers.  In H.R. 3022 businesses would have to cover 72.5% of the premiums for individuals and 65% for families.  The Senate bill requires employers to pick up 60% of the costs.  Among the provisions of the 1,018-page House bill (H.R. 3022) are mandates for small businesses grossing over $400,000 to provide employees with coverage or pay an 8% penalty.  Businesses grossing between $250,000 and $400,000 would pay less penalty and those under $250,000 would be exempt from providing coverage.   The bill also includes a public health insurance provision for individuals and small businesses who otherwise cannot afford coverage.  The tax benefits of Health Savings Accounts are not yet impacted by the bills.  Employers would also have to cover part-time employees, but how part-time will be defined is unclear.


The cost of health insurance is a major concern for small businesses, including outfitters.  The cost of coverage and drugs has skyrocketed in recent years, providing support for reform of a system that many agree will bankrupt the country through unfunded Medicare, Medicaid and other obligations. The Medicare hospital insurance trust fund is projected to go broke in 2017 and its unfunded obligations into the future are projected to run into the trillions as more baby boomers qualify for coverage. The question is whether the reform under consideration by Congress will really lead to something better and bring down costs or add more bureaucracy, deficit spending and taxes on small businesses.  One thing is certain, the status quo is not a viable option in the long run since Medicare will run out of money soon. 
 

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