Health Care Research, Minimum Wage and Employment, Low-Income Spending, and Voting Glitches

Before you take "expert advice" on health care reform that mysteriously seems to enrich companies like the pharmaceutical industry, check out a new study to be published in the New England Journal of Medicine which finds that one-third of review-board members who monitor patient studies in US hospitals take money from the companies whose products are being tested.

This kind of industry bias of business advice on health care reform is worth keeping in mind as industry groups push for the privatization of Medicaid management in many states. But a new Commonwealth Fund study finds that private Medicare HMO plans cost $922 more per year than traditional fee-for-service plans run by the government-- or a total of $5.2 billion more for the 5.6 million Medicare enrollees in managed care, a pretty strong warning sign to states considering following Medicare's moves towards privatization.

With 17 states increasing their minimum wage by the end of 2005, we've now had time to see the effect on low-wage workers. And the result has been not only higher wages but even increases in employment for workers in many low-wage industries, an Economic Policy Institute report finds.

While stagnant family income data has gotten more media attention, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has looked at data on what families are actually spending -- and found that while high-income households saw big gains in spending between 2000 and 2005, low-income families saw a significant decline in spending, thereby increasing the economic divide in our economy.

While much of the media dismissed election day problems with voting machines and voter intimidation as no more than a "glitch" on voting day, a new Briefing surveyed state election problems across the nation and found that "voters in a large majority of states encountered difficulties at the polls due to equipment delays, long lines, ballot shortages or other problems."