Quote of the Day: Bill Maher on The Ryan Budget And Obamacare

“Game of Thrones returns this weekend on HBO. I’m sure you know it as a magical fantasy where you’re never quite sure who’s going to live or die. Or maybe I’m thinking of Paul Ryan’s budget.” –Bill Maher

Bonus Quote:

“Obamacare hit its numbers. Despite all the initial problems, Healthcare.gov surpassed the enrollment goal, over 7 million. Now the Republicans are saying that they’re going to repeal the Internet.” –Bill Maher

Stephen Colbert To Succeed David Letterman

Colbert Letterman

White smoke could be seen rising from CBS Headquarters today. CBS will not be going through the same drama which we saw at NBC when Johnny Carson and Jay Leno left The Tonight Show (twice in the case of Leno). There was no consideration of forcing Letterman out before he was ready. One week after David Letterman announced his planned retirement on his own schedule, CBS has announced that Stephen Colbert will be replacing him. While I think Craig Ferguson does an excellent job following Letterman’s show, it was not expected that Ferguson would receive the 11:35 time slot. I do like Ferguson’s show but, if he leaves CBS, it would not be as significant as David Letterman and later Conan O’Brien leaving NBC. I hope Ferguson does remain where he is, providing a choice between his show and Seth Meyers at 12:35.

Stephen Colbert has already said that (as would be expected) he is not going to do the show in character as on The Colbert Report on Comedy Central show. It has been an excellent run, but I am also confident Colbert can do a fine job hosting as “himself.” I do hope that from time to time Colbert, instead of stupid pet tricks, goes back into his stupid conservative character for a skit.

I suspect that Colbert will tone down politics to some degree with the move to a late night network talk show. His liberal credentials are well known after pointing out that “reality has a well-known liberal bias.” Or maybe not. A study at Ohio State in 2009 found that many conservatives took him seriously and didn’t realize he was mocking them.

Here is a selection of one liners from Stephen Colbert when in character, many of which have been featured here as a Quote of the Day:

“Our president has gotten so desperate that he appeared on this website Funny or Die. By the way, ‘funny or die’ is also the ultimatum you got from Obamacare’s death panels.” –Stephen Colbert

“No one has signed up for Obamacare, give or take 4.2 million people.” — Stephen Colbert

“You know what, folks? I miss George W. Bush. That man knew how to sell a war. Obama has hard evidence of weapons of mass destruction and he can’t even get England to go along with it. Meanwhile, President Bush got an international coalition with nothing more than Colin Powell’s reputation and half a test tube of crystal light.” –Stephen Colbert

“Conservatives like me know that in a budget crisis, everything nonessential has to go — whether it’s food for kids who aren’t mine or some other stuff for people I don’t know.” –Stephen Colbert

“It seems like every single day, President Obama finds a new way to waste our tax dollars. I mean, two daughters? Seems a little redundant.” –Stephen Colbert

“Where did we go wrong? The Republicans had everything going for them – a terrible economy, an unpopular incumbent, and a positive message for the American voter: ‘less than half of you are parasites.’” –Stephen Colbert

“Folks, I’m no fan of ‘Sesame Street.’ They expose our children to dangerous liberal ideas like befriending the homeless, two men sleeping in the same bedroom and counting.” –Stephen Colbert

“This is America. We must defend the principles symbolized by Lady Liberty – unless she’s on the pill, in which case, she is a giant green tramp.” –Stephen Colbert

One of Stephen Colbert’s finest moments outside of his show was at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2006. Here is the video of his tribute to George Bush, with full text under the fold:

(more…)

Newly Insured Able To Find Doctors Despite Republican Predictions Of Shortage And Long Waits

With people actually becoming enrolled in health insurance due to the Affordable Care Act, we have further evidence that the Republican scare stories are not coming true. There are no death panels. The government has not taken over health care. Enrollment in plans sold through the exchanges have met earlier projections despite the initial problems with the computer system. While it is too early for final numbers, it appears that the number of people who do not receive insurance due to failing to pay premiums will be lower than earlier projections. Now we have additional data debunking claims that physicians would not accept patients enrolled through the exchanges, there would be doctor shortages, and long waits for medical services.

The claims from Republicans that doctors would not accept patients enrolled under Obamacare were never taken seriously by those who understand how the Affordable Care Act works. Despite Republican misinformation, Obamacare is not a separate government health care plan. People obtaining coverage through the exchanges purchase private insurance which doctors would find indistinguishable from anyone else with private insurance. There is not a big red stamp saying “Obamacare” on their insurance cards. If they are to accept patients based upon coverage, medical practices give preference to patients with private insurance as it pays significantly more than government programs, and there are less collections problems compared to the uninsured.

The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study in which people called physician offices to see if they would be able to obtain an appointment. Kaiser Health News summarized the results:

Researchers posing as nonelderly adult patients made nearly 13,000 calls to primary care practices across Pennsylvania, New Jersey and eight other states between fall 2012 and spring of last year.

What they found may provide some comfort amid growing concerns of doctor shortages, especially as more people gain coverage through the Affordable Care Act, potentially straining the health system.

Dr. Karin Rhodes, from the University of Pennsylvania and a lead author on the study published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine, says when researchers said they had insurance, they were able to make an appointment about 85 percent of the time — on the first try, no less.

“Capacity exists. I think this is a very optimistic message,” Rhodes says, adding that researchers were usually able to get scheduled within a week. The median wait in Massachusetts was about two weeks.

Medicaid pays significantly less, often less than a third of what private insurance plans pay for physician services and it would be expected that fewer physicians would accept new Medicaid patients. As fewer doctors accept Medicaid patients, and those who do only accept a limited number, only sixty percent accept of researchers identifying themselves as Medicaid patients, as opposed to 85 percent saying they have private insurance, were accepted on the first call. As is currently the case withe Medicaid patients, I would expect that those in the expanded Medicaid programs will have to make multiple calls to find physicians willing to accept them and/or go to clinics which receive higher reimbursement than private physician practices.

To attempt to improve access for those with Medicaid, including those in the expanded Medicaid program, the Affordable Care Act  does increase reimbursement for primary care services to Medicare levels for Medicaid patients for two years, and there is talk of extending this period. While Medicare also pays less than private insurance, the payment is more reasonable and most doctors will accept Medicare, while Medicaid payment is often insufficient  to meet overhead in private practice without the temporary increase.

In other health care news today, The Los Angeles Times reports that the number of people covered under insurance from their employers has increased under the Affordable Care Act (contradicting further Republican claims):

In addition to gains in insurance coverage as a direct result of the Affordable Care Act, the number of Americans covered by employer-provided insurance also has increased in the last year, according to newly released data from the Rand Corp.

As previously reported by my colleague Noam N. Levey, Rand estimated that the number of Americans with health insurance rose by about 9.3 million as of mid-March. The group’s researchers note that the number probably has increased as their survey missed much of the final surge of enrollments in the online marketplaces created by the healthcare law, also known as Obamacare.

The share of Americans aged 18 to 64 who lack coverage dropped from 20.5% to 15.8% by Rand’s calculations.

The 9.3-million increase in coverage, which takes into account people who lost coverage, includes people who enrolled in plans on the marketplaces, those who bought a plan directly from an insurer and those who became eligible for Medicaid. About half the states have expanded Medicaid under the law’s provisions.

But the full Rand report, released Tuesday, notes that the figure also includes a significant increase in employer coverage. That increase contradicts predictions made by both opponents of the law and some of its supporters who had expected employer coverage to drop when the 2010 healthcare law took effect.

Joan McCarter wrote more on the increase in the number of newly insured.  Adrianna McIntyre also looked at the recent RAND study, including how some conservatives try to play games with numbers they don’t like.

The New York Times reports that, as would be expected, sicker people enrolled earlier. It is not surprising that those with medical problems, many of whom were denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions in the past, would be more motivated to obtain health care coverage as soon as offered while healthier people were more likely to procrastinate until the March surge. The early enrollment of those with serious medical problems is another indication of the value of the Affordable Care Act.

There is also considerable attention being paid today to reports from Medicare regarding payment to physicians. In some cases, those receiving the highest payments might be those with the largest volume of Medicare patients doing high-cost procedures, while in other cases there may be indications of Medicare fraud. Medicare has already been placing those receiving the highest reimbursement under increased scrutiny.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Quote of the Day From Bill Maher on Fox

“Absolutely nothing new has happened with the missing plane. It is astounding how they continue to report ‘news’ even though they have zero information, although, it never stopped Fox News.” –Bill Maher

Bonus Quote:

“Fox News, they may be a little biased. We had an earthquake here on Monday and they reported that the Earth’s crust was emboldened by Obama’s weakness.” –Bill Maher

Obama Administration Announces Increase In Payments To Medicare Advantage Plans

Presumably in response to Republican scare stories about Medicare cuts to Medicare Advantage plans and insurance company lobbying, CMS has announced an increase in payments of  0.4% in 2015, in place of the expected 1.9% rate cut as of February. This negates a distorted Republican attack that Obama is cutting payments to Medicare.

The proposed cuts were to what is essentially corporate welfare for insurance companies running  Medicare Advantage plans. The plans increased payment compared to what it costs to care for similar patients in the government Medicare plan. Republicans have included the same cuts which were previously proposed by the Obama administration in their proposed budgets despite faux attacks against Democrats for cutting Medicare.

Update: Full Text of Press Release from CMS

CMS Ensures Higher Value and Quality for Medicare Health and Drug Plans

Rate Announcement Details Plan Payments and Other Program Updates for 2015

Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued the 2015 rate announcement and final call letter for Medicare Advantage and prescription drug benefit (Part D) programs. The announcement sets a stable path for Medicare Advantage and implements a number of policies that ensure beneficiaries will continue to have access to a wide array of high quality, high value, and low cost options while making certain that plans are providing value to Medicare and taxpayers.

Since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, Medicare Advantage premiums have fallen by 10 percent and enrollment has increased by 38 percent to an all-time high of more than 15 million beneficiaries. Today, nearly 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan. Furthermore, enrollees are benefiting from greater quality as over half of enrollees are now in plans with 4 or more stars, a significant increase from 37 percent of enrollees in such plans in 2013.

 “The policies announced today will provide improved benefits in Medicare Advantage and the Prescription Drug Plans while keeping costs low for Medicare beneficiaries,” said Jonathan Blum, CMS principal deputy administrator. “We believe that plans will continue their strong participation in the Medicare Advantage program in 2015 and beneficiaries will continue to have access to a wide array of high quality and affordable Medicare health and drug plans.”

After careful consideration of public comments, key changes and updates finalized in the Rate Announcement and final Call Letter include:

Lower Out-of-Pocket Drug Spending: Beneficiaries in the Part D prescription drug coverage gap, or “donut hole,” will benefit from greater savings on prescription drugs. As a result of the Affordable Care Act, in 2015, enrollees who reach the donut hole will receive coverage and discounts of 55 percent on covered brand name drugs and 35 percent on covered generic drugs, an increase from 52.5 percent and 28 percent, respectively, in 2014. The Affordable Care Act’s Coverage Gap Discount Program has provided discounts to more than 7.9 million Medicare beneficiaries, saving $9.9 billion on prescription drugs, or an average of $1,265 per beneficiary.

Greater Protection for Beneficiaries: CMS intends to again use its authority, provided by the health care law, to protect Medicare Advantage enrollees from significant increases in costs or cuts in benefits, and, for the 2015 contract year, finalizing the permissible amount of increase in total beneficiary cost to $32 per member per month (down from $34 per member per month for the 2014 contract year). CMS also continues to require plans to refine their offerings so that beneficiaries can easily identify the differences between their options.

Increased Protections for Beneficiaries Affected by Changes in Medicare Advantage Plan Networks: The final Call Letter strengthens tools used to ensure compliance with established provider access requirements and establishes best practices for Medicare Advantage Organizations to follow when they make significant changes to their provider networks.

Payments to Medicare Advantage Plans:

  • CMS estimates that the overall net change to plan payments between 2014 and 2015 to be +0.4 percent, compared to the estimated overall net change to plan payments of -1.9 percent for the proposals in the Advance Notice   Individual plan payments will vary by plan based on, but not limited to, its location and star rating.
  • Before the Affordable Care Act, Medicare Advantage plans were paid more than 10 percent compared to traditional Medicare, costing the program more than $1,000 per person each year, while quality and health outcomes were similar to those enrolled in traditional Medicare. The changes underway reduce excessive payments to Medicare Advantage plans, while incentivizing quality improvements by basing part of Medicare Advantage payment on plan quality performance.
  • To provide for continued stability in the Medicare Advantage program, CMS will implement a new phase-in schedule for the Part C risk adjustment model introduced in 2014. In addition, to improve payment accuracy, CMS has refined its risk adjustment methodology to account for the impact of the influx of baby boomers. In addition, for 2015, CMS will not finalize the proposal to exclude diagnoses from enrollee risk assessments.

Other policies that are not being finalized as proposed include:

Delayed implementation of new Part D Risk Adjustment Model.

Not implementing some proposed changes to the Star Ratings.

Not implementing the proposal to require additional coverage in the gap for generic and brand drugs in Enhanced Alternative plans.

To view a fact sheet on the 2015 Rate Announcement and final Call Letter, please visit: http://www.cms.gov/Newsroom/MediaReleaseDatabase/Fact-sheets/2014-Fact-sheets-items/2014-04-07.html

The 2015 Rate Announcement and final Call Letter may be viewed later today through: http://www.cms.hhs.gov/MedicareAdvtgSpecRateStats/ and selecting “Announcements and Documents.”

Update II: The mainstream media is starting to pick up the news. Here are reports from AP and from The Hill.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Obama Delivers “The Best Medicine” To Ted Cruz, John Boehner, and Michele Bachmann

CV1_TNY_04_14_14Blitt.indd

Barry Blitt said this about the above cover for The New Yorker: “This whole enterprise was just an elaborate excuse. I enjoyed drawing Ted Cruz, John Boehner, and Michele Bachmann as petulant children—and I especially wanted to draw an open-mouthed Mitch McConnell being spoon-fed his meds.”

Obama is certainly delivering the “medicine” as news comes in showing that enrollment in the Affordable Care Act exceeded projections of seven million, and the number of uninsured is falling to new lows. While good for the United States, this is certainly bitter medicine for Republicans. There is additional bitter medicine for Mitch McConnell as the number signing up in Kentucky exceeded 360,000 with 75 percent previously uninsured.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Republicans Had To Hide Support For Fix To Affordable Care Act To Limit Attacks From The Right

The “doc fix”  has become a strange legislative tradition as Congress regularly votes to stop the automatic  cuts in physician payment called for under the flawed Sustainable Growth Rate formula. As I discussed in March, this time there were a couple of new twists which were known, but in addition it turns out that another item hidden in the bill reveals a lot about the Republican Party.

First I’ll recap what we had already known. The “doc fix” proposed to block the cuts which would have taken effect in April was for one year and included multiple other measures, including a delay in implementing change to ICD-10 diagnosis codes until at least October 2015. Physician groups actually opposed this bill because a permanent fix was also under consideration and it was feared that passing yet another temporary fix would lead to abandonment of the permanent fix (which does now appear dead).

The “doc fix” regularly passes with bipartisan support because Congress is not going to risk the backlash which would be created if many Medicare patients could no longer find physicians willing to accept them. This time the House passed the “doc fix” on a voice vote, which allows individual members to avoid being held accountable for the vote.

Over the weekend we learned why House Republicans wanted to pass this on a voice vote. Another item in the bill made some changes in the Affordable Care Act which was desired by small business and which Democrats were willing to make:

At the prodding of business organizations, House Republicans quietly secured a recent change in President Barack Obama’s health law to expand coverage choices, a striking, one-of-a-kind departure from dozens of high-decibel attempts to repeal or dismember it.

Democrats describe the change involving small-business coverage options as a straightforward improvement of the type they are eager to make, and Obama signed it into law. Republicans are loath to agree, given the strong sentiment among the rank and file that the only fix the law deserves is a burial.

“Maybe you say it helps (Obamacare), but it really helps the small businessman,” said Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., one of several physician-lawmakers among Republicans and an advocate of repeal.

No member of the House GOP leadership has publicly hailed the fix, which was tucked, at Republicans’ request, into legislation preventing a cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients.

It is unclear how many members of the House rank and file knew of it because the legislation was passed by a highly unusual voice vote without debate.

This shows how dysfunctional Congress has become. Normally both parties would see it as a victory for the system that they passed a measure to make requested changes in the Affordable Care Act. However, Republicans felt compelled to hide this vote because it contradicts their public policy of only supporting repeal (having voted for repeal over fifty times). Since this became public, the Republicans have faced criticism from the right, probably making it even harder for them to vote on improvements in the Affordable Care Act in the future.

The fix which passed allows small businesses to offer policies with higher deductibles. This allows for lower premiums, and the higher deductibles are often handled separately with Medical Savings Accounts. There are also added protections in new insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act such as annual limits on out of pocket expenses and the elimination of annual and lifetime caps on coverage which help offset the problems created by higher deductibles.

If Republicans should attack the Affordable Care Act based upon including high deductible plans, keep in mind that this is exactly the type of plan which Republicans frequently advocate, and that the Republicans voted to increase the allowable deductible levels in response to requests from small business.  Democrats had no objection to the change as the limit on deductions was originally placed in the bill because it was supported by Republican Senator Olympia Snowe. In response to this addition, Snowe voted for the Affordable Care Act when in the Senate Finance Committee but ultimately voted against the bill on the Senate floor, along with every other Republican Senator.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Gallup Finds Number Of Uninsured Continues To Fall

Percent Uninsured

New figures from Gallup show a further decrease in the number saying they are uninsured. The number of uninsured decreased to 15.6 percent in the first quarter of this year, a 1.5 percent decrease from the fourth quarter of 2013. This is the lowest recorded level since late 2008 and suggests that the Affordable Care Act is successful in providing insurance to the previously uninsured. This also shows a further decrease from a similar survey conducted last month.

The uninsured rate has been falling since the fourth quarter of 2013, after hitting an all-time high of 18.0% in the third quarter — a sign that the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” appears to be accomplishing its goal of increasing the percentage of Americans with health insurance coverage. Even within this year’s first quarter, the uninsured rate fell consistently, from 16.2% in January to 15.6% in February to 15.0% in March. And within March, the rate dropped more than a point, from 15.8% in the first half of the month to 14.7% in the second half — indicating that enrollment through the healthcare exchanges increased as the March 31 deadline approached.

This report is consistent with The Urban Institute’s Health Reform Monitoring Survey (HRMS) which estimated that the number of uninsured adults had fallen by 5. 4 million before the surge in enrollment in March . Another study performed prior to the late March surge in enrollment showed that at least 9.5 million new people received insurance.

SciFi Weekend: Hannibal; Arrow; Continuum; Doctor Who; 12 Monkeys; The Wil Wheaton Project; The Americans; The Big Bang Theory Does Star Wars; How I Met Your Mother Ends In The Darkest Timeline

hannibal6

With Futamono, we are about half way through the second season of Hannibal, and some people are beginning to suspect that bad things are happening to people around the title character. We know that he will be exposed by the end of the season, but at the moment he is a sort of Superman who is able to outsmart almost everyone and evade detection. He can even manage to get Abel Gideon out of the psychiatric institution in order to have him over for what is probably his last meal. (“You intend me to be my own last supper?”)Fortunately for Gideon, he is insane himself and can be witty while being served his own leg. Bryan Fuller explained why Gideon suffered this type of fate:

 I think part of the reason he meets the horrible fate that he does was the symmetry. Here he is, a guy who claimed to be the Chesapeake Ripper and was the grand pretender to the throne. For him to both become the Chesapeake Ripper and the Chesapeake Ripper’s victim felt like there was a certain poetry that Hannibal would appreciate. We see in episode five, Abel Gideon really goes out of his way to save Hannibal Lecter from Will Graham, but more importantly, save Will Graham from Will Graham by preventing Will from taking a life out of malice. We see that there is a humanity to him and an understanding and even a sympathy for Will Graham and his plight. So as Beverly Katz has carved the path for all of those who believe Will Graham in any capacity, he had to go down the same chute.

It appeared that Jack might obtain some evidence about Hannibal when he finally paid attention to Will’s theories: “If the Ripper is killing, you can bet Hannibal Lecter is having a dinner party. You and I probably sipped wine while swallowing the people who who we were trying to give justice, Jack.” Jack took some food from one of Hannibal’s dinner parties to be tested. Hannibal outsmarted Jack that night as the beef really was wagyu beef (which really is delicious).

While there was not conclusive evidence against Hannibal, there was evidence showing that both the Chesapeake Ripper and the alleged copycat who continued after Will’s incarceration were the same killer, proving it could not be Will. I did not expect to see Will go free until much later in the season. (Can I still wear my Free Will Graham t-shirt?) There was also a piece of rare tree bark which led to the discovery of Miriam Lass, the young FBI agent who figured out Hannibal’s secret in a first season flash back. Surprisingly she is still alive, but is missing an arm.  From the interspersed scenes with Hannibal, I suspect that the discovery of Miriam was a planned move on his part and there is not enough of her mind left after all these years to incriminate him. Coincidentally, Anna Chlumsky returns to Hannibal the same weekend she also returns to television on a new season of Veep.

Hannibal - Season 2

Seeing Hannibal seduce and drug Alana was as chilling as the scenes with Gideon. While her fate (so far) is not as terrible, we have far more invested in her character. For the purposes of this episode, sleeping with Alana provided an alibi for Hannibal capturing Gideon. Television sedatives work wonderfully, with the victim being guaranteed to neither wake up or realize anything was unusual during the night. Next we presumably will see the consequences of a newly freed Will finding that while Jack might now be open to his theories, Alana is almost literally sleeping with the devil.

Dr. Chilton seems to be the smartest one after Will in Hannibal’s circles. He both figured out the rhyme (“They’ll call him Hannibal the Cannibal; he does fit the profile”) and revealed that he only eats salads when dining with Dr. Lecter. He also theorized that Hannibal “is attracted to medical and psychological fields because they offer power over man. Cannibalism…cannibalism is one act of dominance.”

Seeing Hannibal wink at Chilton was enough to suggest he may be doomed, but there would also be some justice in keeping him alive to see Hannibal’s downfall. There has to be someone left to begin treatment of Hannibal once he takes Will’s place in the hospital for the criminally insane. Besides, unlike Miriam Lass and Beverly Katz, Chilton is not likely to allow himself to be alone with Hannibal Lecter.

Arrow Deathstroke

Arrow had yet another strong episode with Deathstroke. It was a key episode for Thea, who is now angry at Oliver after Slade revealed that Oliver was keeping secret the fact that Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) was really her father. I had expected the secret was going to be about Oliver on the island and now being the Arrow. We never saw how Slade also knew about Malcolm Merlyn, but it does not contradict anything we have seen for him to have discovered this on his own.

Poor Oliver, now being blamed by Thea for keeping the same secret which he was now become estranged from his mother over. Speaking of secrets, if she knew the full story, Thea would also have good reason to be angry at Oliver for not warning anyone about how dangerous Slade was. If Oliver had said something when he showed up in their home, Thea might not have gotten into the car with him.  Having released Thea, it no longer appears that Slade has any interest in keeping his actions a secret. It seems like after this week, most of the secrets are out in the open.

Arrow Queen Industries

Not only has Oliver lost Thea, he has also lost control over his company as we learned that Isabel Rochev (Summer Glau),  who he had only planned to make CEO pro tempore, was also working with Slade.This is all part of Slade’s plan to take away everything from Oliver.

The episode ended with yet another cliff hanger. While he didn’t tell the secret I had expected him to tell to Thea, Slade did visit Laurel at the end to tell her that Oliver Queen is the Arrow.  Most likely this will change things, especially as her father’s freedom now depends upon him revealing the Arrow’s identity, but there is no guarantee she will believe Slade. After all, as I pointed out last week, she couldn’t even tell that her own sister was the Black Canary when sitting right next to her. Although common in the comics for a mask to be sufficient to hide one’s identity, the mask did very little to hide her face. If Laurel had encountered Sara at the beach wearing large sunglasses, which would cover as much of her face as the mask, would she be unable to recognize her? Just how much alcohol and drugs did that girl consume?

Continuum minute-by-minute

Continuum season three finally aired in the United States on Syfy with resolution of last season’s cliff hanger, answering some questions and raising new ones. Alec has gone back in time a week in hopes of saving Emily, creating a new timeline. I feel like I’m in yet another time jump, being three weeks ahead of where the show is in the United States by downloading the episodes after airing on Showcase. I will limit spoilers to the episode which aired in the United States and will avoid mentioning events of subsequent episodes which have aired.

Minute By Minute began with action scenes with Kiera (Rachel Nichols) and Garza working together to escape, but things got far more complicated with the timeline collapsing and the Freelancers sending Kiera (who has now joined up with them) to the new timeline created by Alec going back into the past. The episode deals with some of the central questions of the series regarding time travel but hardly settles anything.  If traveling in time creates a new timeline, does this mean that Kiera cannot ever return to the time she left? Perhaps the fact that the Freelancers could send her to the same timeline Alec had created suggests some ability to move between timelines and presents a mechanism by which Kiera could ultimately return to both the same time and timeline she came from.

The episode does suggest that the problems and paradoxes from time travel occur if one encounters another version of the same person. They eliminated one possibility of problems here by having the Kiera of the new timeline get killed, leaving only the problem of two Alecs. The suggestion is that one will lead to the future we saw while the other must be eliminated–not that it appears to be a desirable future. Kiera wants to return to her family, and fails to understand many of the problems of her own time. The Freelancers don’t have any interest in choosing which future is best, only wanting time to run its course as it should, but is there really one correct future timeline from the perspective of people in our time? (Might future Freelancers intervene to correct the timeline in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies?)

Possibly actions by people from the future might give some insight into how time travel works if we can assume that they really understood it. Now we know why Kagame made sure he died on the day he was born, understanding the consequences should he ever meet himself. I think the real key is that future Alec Sadler, having his memories of what happened in the past, must have had some master plan in sending both Liber8 and Kiera back in time. Presumably he had some goals based upon changing the conditions he created. However, will this really change the future he lives in, or just create a second and hopefully better timeline?

There are already some key changes in the new timeline with Escher dead, although now any death might not be permanent if there is the possibility of the show moving to yet another timeline. We no longer know Emily’s fate. Can Alec succeed in saving her, or must she be allowed to die to save the future, like Edith Keeler in the classic Star Trek episode, City on the Edge of Forever?  The final scene from last season with Carlos deciding to join Julian will probably never occur.  Hopefully changing timelines doesn’t turn into an easy cosmic reset switch.

tardis-tomb-trenzalore-finale-300x168

Steven Moffat has sort of given an answer to another time paradox–how the Doctor’s tomb can be on Trenzalore when he escaped his fate and wound up not dying there in The Time of the Doctor:

Moffat replies: “I’ve often wondered about that. Fortunately, late one night, the Doctor turned up in person and explained it to me:

“THE DOCTOR: Changing time is tricky. It’s a bit like a detective story: so as long there isn’t an actual body, you’ve got a certain amount of wiggle room – for instance, if the body has, rather conveniently, been burned on a boat in Utah.

“Here’s the thing: I can change the future so long as the future has not already been established as part of my own past. I can’t rescue Amy and Rory because I already know that I didn’t.

“But what do I know about Trenzalore? There’s a big monument that looks very like my TARDIS. There’s a temporal fissure leading to my timeline. Maybe it’s my grave. Maybe, one day, it’s my burial ground. Maybe it is something else entirely, and we got it all wrong. Don’t know. Don’t plan to find out for as long as possible. The main thing is, Clara still jumped into my time stream, and ended up helping me through all of my life. All that is established, unchanged – but there’s wiggle room!”

There will be additional time travel coming on Syfy. The network has picked up an adaptation of 12 Monkeys:

The cable network on Friday announced that its adaptation of the Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis feature film has been picked up to series with a 13-episode order for a January 2015 premiere.

Nikita’s Aaron Stanford and Suits’ Amanda Schull star in the drama based on Universal Pictures’ Terry Gilliam film. In Plain Sight’s Natalie Chaidez serves as showrunner on the drama about a time traveler from the post-apocalyptic future who appears in the present day on a mission to locate and eradicate the source of a deadly plague that will eventually decimate the human race.

Chris Hardwick's A Celebration Of "The Nerdist Way"

In addition, Syfy has picked up The Wil Wheaton Project:

Syfy has picked up 12 episodes of The Wil Wheaton Project (working title), which the actor-blogger has dubbed “sort of like Talk Soup for geeks.” The half-hour show, hosted by Wheaton, will allow the geek hero to dissect the week’s biggest stories in sci-pop culture with the witty commentary that has made him a social media star.

In his own words, Wheaton describes the show as a “weekly roundup of the things I love on television and on the Internet, with commentary and jokes, and the occasional visit from interesting people who make those things happen.” In a blog post, Wheaton gives a charming behind-the-scenes account of the year-long process that led to the series being greenlit; his enthusiasm for genre entertainment and insider status serve his audience well. ”We discovered that nobody was doing a show like this that was just focused on the genre shows that nerds like us love, and we decided that we’d make that show,” he writes.

The Wil Wheaton Project premieres May 27 at 10 p.m. ET on Syfy.

The Americans Behind the Red Door

The Americans remain on the trail of the murders of the other spy couple in Behind The Red Door.  We learned why this is personal for Claudia, who might have let some information slip out while dating. There’s historical references to Reagan’s actions in Nicaragua. There’s also both discussion of the heroin overdose of John Belushi and a young agent using poisoned heroin to kill the Congressional aide to eliminate the risk of stolen material leading back to her.

The strongest scene of the episode might have been the aftermath of last week’s visit from Elizabeth to Martha. Elizabeth couldn’t get past  Martha’s talk of how wild Clark was in bed and wound up regretting forcing Philip to remain in the Clark role. Initially it seemed that what Martha found wild was the usual for Elizabeth, but then Phillip went further when Elizabeth seemed disappointed.

Meanwhile Oleg is making matters far more complicated for Stan and Nina, trying to turn Stan into a double agent. This week we saw primitive 1980′s technology, a dot matrix printer, used to print out reports. Next week we will see if Nina can fool 1980′s lie detector technology.

Big Bang Star Wars

The Big Bang Theory will be airing a Star Wars themed episode which also includes the return of Bob Newhart as Professor Proton:

CBS’ The Big Bang Theory is teaming with Lucasfilm for an epic Star Wars episode timed to Star Wars Day, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

In “The Proton Transmogrification” — the episode set to air May 1 and timed to the annual May 4 Star Wars Day — the gang gets together to celebrate the annual geek holiday, while Sheldon (Jim Parsons) is guided by visions of his childhood idol and mentor, Professor Proton (Emmy winner Bob Newhart), who appears to the socially challenged genius as his own Jedi master.

For those not in the know, Star Wars Day is recognized every year on May 4, with the traditional celebratory greeting being “May the fourth be with you” — a play on Star Wars’ famed “May the Force be with you” line. Fans across the globe celebrate the film franchise with screenings and special events.

For the episode, the CBS comedy teamed with a group of special effects technicians from Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic to re-create Dagobah — the remote world of swamps and forest that served as a refuge for Yoda during his exile — and provide props for the episode, including a light saber. Lucasfilm experts consulted on the episode and visited the Big Bang Theory set to oversee the production, with the final touches completed at its San Francisco headquarters.

Last Forever Part One

How I Met Your Mother was a remarkable sitcom. It was the best ensemble show of young people in New York despite multiple attempts at this theme following the end of Friends. It did a far better job of telling a story by jumping around in time like Lost than any of the more explicit genre attempts to follow Lost. Unfortunately, instead of being, wait for it, legendary, the finale was a huge disappointment to most fans. If this was Community, the series would have ended in the Darkest Timeline.Fortunately the shock of Tracy’s death was made bearable by advance warnings in fan theories which turned out to be true.

We knew that Carter Bays and Craig Thomas would have some twist planned considering how the series began, but hoped they had something tricker planned than having the Mother die leaving Ted free to wind up with Aunt Robin. Upon reading that they had filmed the ending with the children during the second season so that they wouldn’t appear too old when the series ended, I feared that this is how they would end the show, but still held out hope that they understood the changes in their own show and would come up for a better ending.

During the second season, when the scene was filmed, this certainly made sense. For years the show centered around Ted and Robin and during that time I did suspect that the twist at the end of the pilot was a diversion and that the two really did wind up together, even if someone else was the mother of Ted’s children. The final scene, with Ted going over to Robin’s apartment carrying the Blue French Horn, with Robin’s dogs in the window, was a recreation of a scene from the pilot when Ted returned to Robin’s apartment after failing to kiss her goodnight the first time. (He also missed the signs and failed to kiss her whens he returned–but just  rewatch it on Netflix if you don’t remember the details).

himym blue french horn

However, over the course of nine years the characters changed. If they had stayed the same, it would have been fine if they used this ending. It is also fine that the people changed, but that required a different ending for the show. By the end, Ted and Robin were no longer Ross and Rachel.

Sure there were plenty of clues in the final episodes as Robin had moments when she said Ted was the one she should have wound up with while Ted finally looked ready to move on. However the final season was more about the couples of Ted/Tracy and Barney/Robin. The Mother was no longer just a MacGuffin to propel the story of Ted and Robin. Thomas and Bays did too good a job of making the fans fall in love with Tracy (whose name we didn’t learn until the final episode), and see that she was really the perfect girl for Ted. They also made us accept and welcome the implausible marriage of Barney and Robin.

If the show ended a year or more earlier, as expected, and an unknown woman, or perhaps Victoria, had married Ted but died after having their children, we could have accepted that as a plausible ending and might have been happy that Ted wound up with Robin. Killing off Tracy was a totally different matter. Thomas and Bays should have realized that the evolution in their characters required a different ending than had been planned back in the second season.

how-i-met-your-mother-dying

Besides being the wrong ending for where the characters had evolved to, the timing for the show now felt wrong. We spent the entire final season seeing the weekend when Robin and Barney got married, and then their marriage fell apart in a quick sequence in the final moments of the finale (which was a huge clue as to where they were going). They left us wanting to see so much more of Tracy and Ted but all too quickly she became sick, and that was that. She pretty much died off screen just as she spent most of her life. If they were going to have her die, she at least deserved a longer exit. It was as if Love Story was all about Ryan O’Neil and past girl friends and then Ali MacGraw appeared in the final five minutes and stole the movie.

Being television, an ending is not necessarily the absolute end. I had thought earlier in the week that if this was the ending they originally filmed, the smarter thing would have been to film a new ending which was consistent with where the show was this season, and then add the original ending as an extra on the season DVD. Instead the went with the wrong ending but reportedly they cut a happier ending to add as a DVD extra. There is also a spin off of the series planned, but I suspect the ending to HIMYM will always haunt Thomas and Bays as fans will now fear that the new series might turn out to be How I Killed Your Dad.

Paul Ryan Admits Consequences Of Replacing Obamacare With Republican Alternative

Republicans who have been attacking the Affordable Care Act have been unable to provide a specific alternative to replace it with. One problem they face is that, while polls show large numbers of people say they oppose Obamacare, a majority also supports many of the individual components of the law. Paul Ryan admitted what repeal of Obamacare and replacing it with a Republican alternative would mean:

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) says in a new interview that it would be too costly for Republicans to reinstate some of the more popular provisions of Obamacare if and when the law is repealed, but that Republicans should look for alternatives.

The former GOP vice presidential nominee was asked on Bloomberg’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” about whether Republicans would keep provisions like requiring coverage for pre-existing conditions, keeping kids on their parents’ insurance until they are 26 years old and barring insurance companies from having different rates for those whose jobs include physical labor.

The first two provisions are among the most popular parts of Obamacare, which as a whole is not popular. But Ryan says such provisions would also drive up the cost of insurance too much.

“If you look at these kinds of reforms, where they’ve been tried before — say the state of Kentucky, for example — you basically make it impossible to underwrite insurance,” Ryan said, according to an advance transcript. “You dramatically crank up the cost. And you make it hard for people to get affordable health care.”

Returning to underwriting insurance would mean that insurance companies could once again issue policies based upon who they find the most profitable to cover, denying coverage to those with pre-existing medical conditions and based upon age.

It is less expensive for health insurance companies to sell insurance only to young, healthy people and to revoke coverage when people get sick. However this is not what we need from health insurance, which to be meaningful must be available to everyone and cover people when they become sick. As I’ve pointed out many times in the past, most people going into bankruptcy from medical expenses were insured at the time they first got sick or injured.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice