The Washington Post - USA (2020-09-16)

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A2 EZ SU THE WASHINGTON POST.WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 16 , 2020


HAPPENING TODAY

For the latest updates all day, visit
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All day | Th e Organization for
Economic Cooperation and
Development updates its
economic outlook for nations in the
Group of 20. For developments, visit
washingtonpost.com/world.

8:30 a.m. | Th e Commerce
Department issues retail sales for
August, which are expected to rise 1
percent. Visit washingtonpost.com/
business for details.

10 a.m. | The Commerce
Department issues business
inventories for July, which are
estimated to increase 0.2 percent.
For developments, visit
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10:30 a.m. | British Prime
Minister Boris Johnson discusses
the government response to the
pandemic before a parliamentary
panel. Visit washingtonpost.com/
world for details.

2:30 p.m. | Fe deral Reserve Chair
Jerome H. Powell holds a
teleconference on interest rates. For
developments, visit
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l A Sept. 10 Page One article about
the deaths of West African
soldiers after World War II
incorrectly said 82-year-old
Biram Senghor, whose father was
among those killed, had been
pleading for the exhumation of
the soldiers since the 1970s. He
has been appealing for justice
since then but has been asking
the French and Senegalese
governments to exhume the
bodies only for the past several
years.


l In some Sept. 14 editions, a
Local Digest item in the Metro
section about a collision on
Interstate 95 in Prince George’s
County misstated when the
incident occurred. It was on Sept.
6, not Sept. 13.


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burn pits, she said, including a
National Academies of Sciences,
Engineering, and Medicine study
issued Friday.
None of 27 severe illnesses met
sufficient criteria to be linked to
toxic exposure, the report found,
and other conditions such as
chronic persistent cough, short-
ness of breath and wheezing had
limited or suggestive links.
Noel said the study found “in-
sufficient evidence” linking respi-
ratory illnesses and combat de-
ployments. The report authors
cautioned against such an inter-
pretation, saying incomplete data
prevented researchers from draw-
ing definitive conclusions.
A tiny number of compensation
claims filed since 2007 — more
than 14,000 out of nearly 16 mil-
lion — are related to burn pits,
Noel said.
VA opened a burn pit registry
for veterans to document health
concerns, and the agency recently
noted the 200,000th registrant —
a fraction of the overall number
who may have been exposed.
alex.horton@washpost.com

to many denials of claims and
care, according to Gillibrand and
advocates.
VA has maintained there is not
enough evidence to conclusively
link exposure and chronic health
problems, and it evaluates claims
on an individual basis.
Danielle Robinson said her hus-
band, Heath Robinson, developed
Stage 4 lung cancer after serving
with the Ohio National Guard in
Iraq, where he lived near burn
pits. Doctors said his condition
was consistent with toxic expo-
sure, Robinson told reporters. He
died in May.
“My husband is dead because
America poisoned its soldiers,”
Robinson said.
Gillibrand told The Post she
and other advocates have tried for
years to broaden the scope of ben-
efits and care for sickened veter-
ans, contending with other law-
makers and VA.
VA spokeswoman Christina
Noel said eligibility requirements
for VA health care and disability
compensation are set by Congress.
VA monitors the latest research on

deployed after the 9/11 attacks,
Gillibrand said.
That would reduce the burden
of evidence they must provide, she
said, such as exposure to specific
burn pits and authoritative links
to illnesses. That high bar has led

Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who
proposed the legislation with Rep.
Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.). The measure
would grant presumption of expo-
sure to veterans with certain con-
ditions and who served in one of
33 countries where troops were

hundreds of open-air burn pits,
some larger than a football field.
Veterans advocates say service
members exposed to the pits de-
veloped cancer and respiratory ill-
nesses, but the U.S. government
has said the toxic substances have
not been conclusively linked to
severe illnesses.
In an address at the U.S. Capitol,
Stewart blasted lawmakers for not
granting broad care and benefits
to veterans sickened by burn pits
and said the U.S. government has
failed service members by setting
an “almost impossibly high bar”
for proof of exposure to toxins.
“War after war after war, we
treat them as expendable. And
when they come home, we’re done
with them,” Stewart said later
Tuesday in an interview with The
Washington Post. “If an enemy did
this to us, we’d... bomb them into
oblivion. We did it to ourselves
and we’re ignoring it.”
As many as 3.5 million service
members were exposed to burn
pits and toxic chemicals during
the 1991 Gulf War through the
global war on terrorism, said Sen.

BY ALEX HORTON

Lawmakers flanked by veterans
and comedian Jon Stewart on
Tuesday announced legislation
that would deliver care for veter-
ans who developed health prob-
lems after they were exposed to
open-air pits used to burn trash
and waste during overseas wars.
The legislation would declare
certain illnesses among combat
veterans as linked to toxic burn
pits, removing barriers of proof of
exposure that advocates have said
are too high.
The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq
and elsewhere generated enor-
mous amounts of waste, including
vehicle parts, lithium-ion batter-
ies, solvents and amputated limbs.
U.S. contractors soaked the items
in jet fuel and set them ablaze in


Jon Stewart urges health-care law for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits


VA maintains there is
inadequate evidence
o f link to illnesses

STEFANI REYNOLDS/BLOOMBERG NEWS
Comedian and activist Jon Stewart, seen Tuesday on Capitol Hill,
said of U.S. troops: “When they come home, we’re done with them.”

BY AMY GOLDSTEIN
AND RACHEL SIEGEL

Health insurance became
slightly more scarce in the Unit-
ed States last year, even before
the coronavirus pandemic ar-
rived and stole the jobs and
health benefits of millions of
Americans, according to federal
data released Tuesday.
Nearly 30 million people in
the country lacked coverage at
some point during 2019, 1 mil-
lion more than in the previous
year. Last year marked the third
year in a row that the ranks of the
uninsured swelled, according to
a U.S. Census Bureau report
regarded as the most solid depic-
tion of the nation’s health insur-
ance landscape.
Still, the new findings provide
contrasting images of Ameri-
cans’ financial well-being, also
showing that the proportion of
people living in poverty reached
a record low in 2019. According
to the Census Bureau figures, the
official poverty rate fell to 10.
percent last year — the lowest in
six decades that such figures
have been tracked and the fifth
consecutive annual decline in
the national poverty rate.
Poverty rates decreased for all
major racial and ethnic groups,
with the poverty rate for Blacks
falling to 18.8 percent and that
for Hispanics falling to 15.7 per-
cent. Still, those measures re-
mained well above the poverty
rate for Whites, at 9.1 percent.
Meanwhile, median house-
hold income jumped to its high-
est recorded level. But income
and poverty levels are expected

to have worsened markedly this
year as the pandemic has
wreaked havoc on the economy
and millions of Americans have
lost their jobs.
Though the reasons are sharp-
ly debated, the new data signifies
that the first three years of
President Trump’s tenure were a
period of contracting health in-
surance coverage. The decreases
reversed gains that began near
the end of the Great Recession
and accelerated during early
years of expanded access to
health plans and Medicaid
through the Affordable Care Act
— the sprawling law that was a
signature domestic achievement
of President Barack Obama and
has been derided by Republi-
cans, including Trump, ever
since.
“President Trump has been
unsuccessful in repealing the
ACA, but he has taken steps to
weaken the law and that are
showing up in these numbers,”
said Larry Levitt, executive vice
president for health policy at the
Kaiser Family Foundation. Those
steps including allowing states
to make it harder for people to
renew Medicaid coverage or get
it retroactively and slashing aid
for encouraging people to sign
up for ACA health plans. Enroll-
ment in those health plans de-
clined by 1 million last year, the
Census Bureau figures show.
Trump and other Republicans
have long insisted that the law
has simply failed.
The erosion of coverage left
more people exposed to the bur-
den of medical costs — and
potentially rendered some of
those infected reluctant to seek
care once the pandemic hit. That
erosion “disproportionately” af-
fects Black and Hispanic Ameri-
cans, said Dan Mendelson,
founder of Avalere Health, a
D.C.-based consulting firm.
Nearly 17 percent of Hispanics

and nearly 10 percent of Blacks
lacked coverage throughout last
year — far higher than among
Whites and Asians.
“This only exacerbated the
awful disparities in care we see,”
Mendelson said. “The numbers
this year are not especially dra-
matic, but just wait until next
year.”
The Census Bureau findings
are laden with political signifi-
cance, given that polling consis-
tently has shown health care as
among the most prominent is-
sues on voters’ minds ahead of
the presidential election less
than two months away. And the
pandemic — with over 6.5 mil-
lion reported coronavirus cases
in the United States and deaths
approaching 200,000 — has fo-
cused attention on the impor-
tance of being able to afford
health care when sick.
As has been true historically,
the majority of people with
health insurance received it
through their job — 55.4 percent.
That is a slight increase from the
55.2 percent with employer-pro-
vided coverage the previous year.
The findings show Americans’
reliance on public insurance pro-
grams was a mixed picture last
year. The proportion insured
through Medicaid, the insurance
for lower-income Americans that
is a shared responsibility of the
federal government and states,
fell a bit, from 17.9 percent in
2018 to 17.2 percent. The share
using Medicare, the federal in-
surance for Americans who are
65 and older or disabled, rose
from 17.8 percent in 2018 to 18.
percent, largely because the pop-
ulation of older people is expand-
ing.
Tuesday’s data also showed
that median U.S. income — the
point at which half of U.S. fami-
lies earn more and half earn less
— rose to $68,703, up 6.8 percent
from the 2018 median of

$64,324. Rising employment and
broad-based wage increases in
2019 helped drive that uptick,
Census Bureau officials said in a
call with reporters.
The 2019 data offers a final
snapshot of the United States’
record-long economic expan-
sion, which came to a sudden
and devastating end with the
pandemic. By the end of 2019,
the unemployment rate was at a
50-year low of 3.5 percent. Wom-
en outnumbered men in the
workforce for only the second
time, buoyed by a tight labor
market and fast job growth in
health care and education. Mini-
mum-wage increases were also
fueling faster wage growth for
those at the bottom.
Those historic gains also
meant that some Americans long
marginalized from the workforce
were increasingly able to join it.
Since March, however, job
losses have disproportionately
hit low-income workers and
women, many of whom held
service-sector jobs that were gut-
ted by shutdown measures to
help protect people from infec-
tion. Nearly 40 percent of house-
holds with income below
$40,000 were laid off or fur-
loughed by early April, according
to the Federal Reserve.
Meanwhile, even before the
recession brought on by the
pandemic, the Census Bureau
findings show that the nation’s
long-standing income inequality
persisted last year, though it did
not widen significantly from
2018.
Households with the top one-
fifth of earnings accounted for
almost 52 percent of all income
earned in the United States —
more than the bottom four-fifths
combined. The poorest one-fifth
of households received 3 percent
of all income.
amy.goldstein@washpost.com
rachel.siegel@washpost.com

Fewer Americans had health insurance last year


Census Bureau data
shows poverty numbers
down — before pandemic

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