Archives

Insurance is Not Healthcare

For a long time, conservatives and libertarians have been pointing out that Obamacare has come at a steep price for the insured. Not only are health insurance premiums rising, but the new plans cover less, demand healthcare within ever-shifting networks of approved providers and foist larger out-of-pocket expenses on patients.

Well, looks like the New York Times finally figured this out:

A study by the Commonwealth Fund this month found that the rise in health insurance premiums in employer-based plans had slowed in 31 states since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (good news, right?). But premiums were still rising faster than median incomes (hmm). More important, perhaps, the researchers found that patients were paying more in health care expenses than ever before, during a time of stagnant wages (not so great). In fact, nearly 10 percent of median household income now goes to pay premiums and deductibles, the study found. And that does not include other kinds of health payments that patients now encounter, such as co-pays and uncovered drugs or services.

A recent New York Times/CBS poll found that 46 percent of Americans said they had trouble affording health care, up 10 percentage points in just one year. Some of the cost problems may ease as patients — now known as health care consumers — learn what to expect and how to choose and navigate their plans.

In other words, premiums slowed down … but only because out-of-pocket expenses increased. On balance, that might not be such a bad thing. I’ve long advocated high-deductible plans as a way to bring the healthcare consumer back into the picture. David Goldhill once pointed out that if we replaced Medicaid with a high-deductible plan, we’d save enough money to give every poor person a voucher to cover their deductible.

But this isn’t the high-deductible idea. This is creating a hyper-regulated marketplace in which insurers are expected to provide “reasonably priced” health insurance to everyone, no matter how sick they may be. So doctors flit in and out of approved networks. Out-of-state clinics come to be preferred over in-state ones. And all of this is enforced with the threats of massive bills if you don’t do the insurance company’s bidding. And if you do their bidding, you’re still facing far larger healthcare bills than you were dealing with before Obamacare.

All of this was predictable of course. You simply can not expand health care coverage to ten million people — many of whom couldn’t get coverage because of expensive medical conditions — and not have it make insurance more expensive. We warned people about this for years. We had concrete examples of this in places like New York and Massachusetts. And yet everyone is acting all surprised when they discover that healthcare isn’t free.

Note one thing the story leaves out: the increasing number of doctors who are refusing to see Medicaid patients. Medicaid expansion is a big reason the Obama Administration can claim that they’ve insured ten million people. Only a couple of million have gotten private insurance thanks to Obamacare; most are in the Medicaid gulag.

Given the media’s lag, I expect we’ll start seeing stories about that in about 2019, at which point it will be blamed on President Walker.

Addendum: You may remember that a big pillar of Obamacare was that it would be paid for, in part by the savings from Electronic Healthcare Records. Yeah, that’s not working out either. Again, this was predicted. The one thing we all knew going into this was that EHRs are very expensive.

Kitzhaber Out

The governor of Oregon, John Kitzhaber, has reportedly resigned. The reason is that his fiance, a member of his energy task force, was getting tens of thousands of dollar of undisclosed consulting fees from energy interests. You can read the details here. This is all from “clean energy” concerns, by the way, including the involvement of liberal billionaire Tom Steyer.

Keep this in mind the next time someone starts ranting about the Koch Brothers and evil oil money.

GoreSat Finally Orbits

One of my pet peeves is the contention that conservatives and Republicans are “anti-science” while liberals and Democrats are “pro-science”. Having been in the field for twenty years, I’ve observed little difference in how well science is funded under the two parties, with a slight bias in favor of Republicans. And while it’s true that Republicans are more dubious of science on the big topics du jour — global warming and evolution — that doesn’t mean they are more anti-science in general. When it comes to GMOs, vaccines or nuclear power, the Left is way more anti-science.

My dislike of this meme is embodied in the person of Algore, who has a reputation as this great scientific mind but has always crossed me as a poser: someone who pretends to be a friend of science because he wants to look smart (and, in his case, wants to advance a big government agenda). He wrote a well-praised book — Earth in the Balance — that was shredded in P.J. O’Rourke in All The Trouble in the World and proved to be massively wrong on many issues. He touted a plan to move the United States to alternative energy within ten years that was total science fiction. His advocacy on global warming — hypocritical advocacy — touted doomsday scenarios and marginal studies. It was ultimately a disservice to the climate debate.

But if you want Algore in a nutshell, I give you the Triana satellite, a version of which was launched today. Triana started with this crackpot idea of Gore’s to have a satellite launched which would sit in the L1 Lagrange point and take pictures of the Earth. That’s it. It would take pictures of the Earth to “raise awareness” of our climate. NASA devoted $100 million to this boondoggle, without any peer review, and desperately tried to get scientists to find some use for it. The best they could come up with measuring Earth’s albedo and cloud patterns, although Triana was not what you would have designed with that science program in mind. When the SOHO spacecraft was having trouble, they came up with a plan to put instruments on it to measure solar activity, since the L1 point is good for that.

Triana was mothballed after Bush won the White House but was resurrected by Obama. The satellite — now named DSCOVR — has been revamped so that its primary mission is to measure solar storms and provide and early warning of space weather. The Earth picture thing is an afterthought. Notice that’s NASA’s video doesn’t mention Algore’s original Triana mission at all.

If anyone other than Algore had proposed Triana, burned $100 million on it and had NASA scramble to find an actual scientific use for it, they would have been laughingstock. But today the press is filled with stories about how this is Algore’s “dream” even though his original proposal had nothing to do with DSCOVR’s primary mission.

DSCOVR is a good mission and I’m glad it launched today. I’m even gladder that it was launched by SpaceX. Space weather is a serious issue and we desperately need to address the impact that a severe solar storm could have on our planet (think about a world-wide power grid meltdown to get the picture). But let’s not pretend this has anything to do with Algore. This is NASA making some very good lemonade from a $100 million lemon.

Go Divest Yourself

When I was in college, “divestment” was a big thing. The idea was that colleges, which generally have nine or more figure endowments, should use their investments to bring political pressure on social issues, pulling their money away from “bad” companies and putting it into good ones.

As a rule, colleges and universities are reluctant to do this because the purpose of the endowment is to fund the school, not play politics. And once you start playing that game, you get lost in a morass of conflicting political squabbles trying to figure out which companies aren’t going to annoy some segment of the student population. But that didn’t stop student organizations from constantly agitating to divest from … well, whatever they were mad about that week. In my senior year, they were pressuring my college to divest from the Mall of America. Not because it was a shitty investment but because they had a Hooters there, if you can imagine such a thing. Because I’m sure the one thing that would persuade the Mall of America to boot out a profitable business was a for a small liberal arts college to pull their investment.

It turns out that, in the last twenty years, student organizations have only gotten stupider:

We have covered anti-Israel student government divestment votes the past couple of years.

Groups, typically led by Students for Justice in Palestine assisted by Jewish Voice for Peace, try to get student governments to vote to divest from specified companies doing business in Israel, such as Caterpillar and HP. Sometimes they succeed, mostly they fail. In the end, it’s purely symbolic, since student governments have no such power.

Symbolism matters, though, because the campus movement is part of a larger goal of demonizing and dehumanizing Jewish Israelis. Even when they lose a vote, the BDS crowd claims victory because they forced people to talk about their issue.

Last academic year there were a series of divestment initiatives that failed, but recently in the U. California system, several have passed. The anti-Israel groups are very strategic, taking the time to elect their supporters to student councils, and that long-term strategy has paid off in places like UCLA, which rejected divestment last spring, only to see it pass this fall after a change of board membership.

One thing that slowly is coming to light, however, is that the anti-Israel movement is not the grassroots, student-led movement it purports to be. In fact, it has a highly coordinated, well-funded action plan assisted and coordinated by outside groups.

Over $42 million has been designated for this kind of agitation, including money from the Students for Justice for Palestine, who featured a terrorist at their 2012 conference. Those of you old enough to remember the Cold War may remember that the Communists did the same thing: funding “grass roots” organizations to advance their agenda.

That’s not even the worst part:

The anti-Israel movement had another success today, at the University of California system-wide Student Council, where two divestment motions passed, 9-1-6.

The first Resolution was the usual divestment from Israel, and the Israel motion was the focus of heated protest.

Inside, the anti-Israel students also voted to support a boycott of the U.S., among other countries, through a second Resolution calling for divestment from American, Mexican, Russian, Turkish, Indonesian, Brazilian, Sri Lankan, and Egyptian government bonds.

Yes. The U Cal student government has called on the university to divest from America. As Jacobson points out, if you’re going to define Israel’s actions as worthy of divestment, you’re going to have to divest from basically the entire world.

There’s no crazy like student crazy.

Update: Speaking of divestment idiots.

They’re Coming for Your Bits

For the past few years, a debate has been raging over net neutrality. While, in principle, I’m sympathetic to the idea of a neutral net, I’ve always suspected there was a secondary agenda, that “net neutrality” was a backdoor for something more sinister. It is well known the power that be hate the open internet, hate anonymous commenting and posting, despise free speech and would love to have officially approved channels of information.

Well, the mask is torn, at least a little bit:

Proponents of network neutrality regulation are cheering the announcement this week that the Federal Communications Commission will seek to reclassify Internet Service Providers as “common carriers” under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. The move would trigger broad regulatory powers over Internet providers—some of which, such as authority to impose price controls, the FCC has said it will “forbear” from asserting—in the name of “preserving the open internet.”

Sanchez goes on to point out the FCC is contemplating a broad action in response to … a very nebulous situation. It’s not clear exactly what menace is so dire they need to respond to it immediately. It is clear, however, that moving toward a regulatory model will give them unprecedented power, as warned by … um … one of the FCC commissioners:

First, President Obama’s plan marks a monumental shift toward government control of the Internet. It gives the FCC the power to micromanage virtually every aspect of how the Internet works. It’s an overreach that will let a Washington bureaucracy, and not the American people, decide the future of the online world. It’s no wonder that net neutrality proponents are already bragging that it will turn the FCC into the “Department of the Internet.” For that reason, if you like dealing with the IRS, you are going to love the President’s plan.

Second, President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet will increase consumers’ monthly broadband bills. The plan explicitly opens the door to billions of dollars in new taxes on broadband. Indeed, states have already begun discussions on how they will spend the extra money. These new taxes will mean higher prices for consumers and more hidden fees that they have to pay.

Third, President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet will mean slower broadband for American consumers. The plan contains a host of new regulations that will reduce investment in broadband networks. That means slower Internet speeds. It also means that many rural Americans will have to wait longer for access to quality broadband.

Fourth, President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet will hurt competition and innovation and move us toward a broadband monopoly. The plan saddles small, independent businesses and entrepreneurs with heavy-handed regulations that will push them out of the market. As a result, Americans will have fewer broadband choices. This is no accident. Title II was designed to regulate a monopoly. If we impose that model on a vibrant broadband marketplace, a highly regulated
monopoly is what we’ll get. We shouldn’t bring Ma Bell back to life in this dynamic, digital age.

Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC, is promising us that they won’t apply outmoded regulatory models to the internet. But one thing a decade of blogging has taught me: never take that sort of thing on trust. If the FCC has the power to do anything — control prices, restrict technology, regulate providers — they will use it. And a good reason to be suspicious is that they’re trying to keep their plans a secret:

But perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the proposal, which is 332 pages long, is that it is being kept secret from the public—and it will remain secret until after a vote later this month in which it is likely to pass on a 3-2 basis, with Wheeler and the FCC’s two Democratically appointed commissioners outvoting the two Republican-appointed commissioners.

The commissioners can see the plan before they cast their votes. But the rest of us can’t. Lobbyists will likely be able to discover key details affecting their clients, and some details will leak out in the press. But the full text of the plan won’t be made public at all before the vote.

Wheeler previously opposed such a move and it’s generally felt that he came under immense pressure from the White House to do this. That is, our “most transparent administration in history” is pressuring the FCC to engage in massive regulatory expansion completely in secret that could give them a stunning amount of power over one of the most important communication networks in history.

Congress needs to act immediately. The President is usurping their power to decide net neutrality regulations. They need to kill this power grab before it’s enacted. This isn’t a partisan issue. If the government gets this kind of regulatory hold of the internet, we are all screwed — liberal, conservative, libertarian, monarchist or upside-down pineapple cakeist.

The Minimum Wage Kills Jobs, Part 5529

Of all the sounded-clever-but-was-actually-idiotic things Obama said in the State of the Union address, this was the most cleverly-sounding-but-really-stupid:

And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.

As I said, sounds clever. A bunch of liberals in my Twitter feed said the equivalent of, “Oh, snap!” But the reality is that you’re not supposed to be raising a family on minimum wage. Minimum wage is an entry level wage, a wage to get your foot in the door for future better-paying jobs. I made minimum wage once. Actually, I made less than minimum wage because I was paid in cash under the table. But I was a teenager, so it was fine.

The biggest reason to oppose the minimum wage, of course, is the Law of Supply and Demand. If you artificially set the price of something high (low-skill labor), you will find that people learn to live without it (i.e., they stop hiring people). We’ve been told this is a myth, despite clear evidence that it’s not. Well, here’s another example of this thing that supposedly never happens:

In November, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly passed a measure that will increase the minimum wage within the city to $15 per hour by 2018. Although all of us at Borderlands support the concept of a living wage in principal and we believe that it’s possible that the new law will be good for San Francisco — Borderlands Books as it exists is not a financially viable business if subject to that minimum wage. Consequently we will be closing our doors no later than March 31st. The cafe will continue to operate until at least the end of this year.

Many businesses can make adjustments to allow for increased wages. The cafe side of Borderlands, for example, should have no difficulty at all. Viability is simply a matter of increasing prices. And, since all the other cafes in the city will be under the same pressure, all the prices will float upwards. But books are a special case because the price is set by the publisher and printed on the book. Furthermore, for years part of the challenge for brick-and-mortar bookstores is that companies like Amazon.com have made it difficult to get people to pay retail prices. So it is inconceivable to adjust our prices upwards to cover increased wages.

The change in minimum wage will mean our payroll will increase roughly 39%. That increase will in turn bring up our total operating expenses by 18%. To make up for that expense, we would need to increase our sales by a minimum of 20%. We do not believe that is a realistic possibility for a bookstore in San Francisco at this time.

I will point out something else that they gloss over. It’s true that businesses like the cafe side of Borderlands can cover the minimum wage hike by increasing prices. But you know who pays those increasing prices? Primarily poor and middle class people who go to the kind of places — fast food restaurants, cheap bookstores, etc. — that pay their employees minimum wage. So you’re giving them money with one hand while taking it with the other.

This is a liberal bookstore ownership. That’s clear from the way they talk about this. But they point out that the minimum wage hike will increase their operating costs by 18%. Other business will see similar hikes. Do you know how many business are operating at an 18% profit margin? Very very few. And certainly none that are patronized by the poor and middle class.

Minimum wage hikes sound good and make liberals feel good. But they are a nightmare for the job market. If you don’t believe me, believe the guys at Borderlands. They have no reason to spew “right wing propaganda”.

Brian Williams Caught Out

For years, NBC anchor Brian Williams has been claiming he was in a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq in 2003. Today, he had to admit that he lied.

“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams told the newspaper. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”

In a post on Facebook, Williams wrote:

“I feel terrible about making this mistake, especially since I found my OWN WRITING about the incident from back in ’08, and I was indeed on the Chinook behind the bird that took the RPG in the tail housing just above the ramp. Because I have no desire to fictionalize my experience (we all saw it happened the first time) and no need to dramatize events as they actually happened, I think the constant viewing of the video showing us inspecting the impact area — and the fog of memory over 12 years — made me conflate the two, and I apologize.”

Williams, the newspaper said, most recently made the claim about being on the helicopter last Friday when presenting his network’s coverage of a tribute to a retired soldier who provided security for grounded helicopters.

Williams is saying he mis-remembered. But I have to agree with Ace. It’s really hard to imagine how someone could confuse being brought to a crash site with having been in the crash, especially as it appears NBC and Williams were making this claim almost immediately.

This is who we get our news from, guys. These are the guys who inform us the economy is good and Obama is awesome. And they wonder why we don’t believe them.

Vaccines in the News Again

Thanks to low vaccination rates, we are currently experiencing a large measles outbreak in this country. I’ve discussed vaccines before. My position is that vaccines are one of the greatest inventions in history, that they should be mandatory for public school students (with medical exemptions) and strongly encouraged for everyone else. And I’m glad to see that after spending a number of years waffling, our political establishment, from Hillary Clinton to Congressional and Gubernatorial Republicans are coming down strongly in favor of them.

But … there’s no public health crisis that the Left can’t try to politicize. You may remember last year when they tried to blame the Ebola outbreak on mythical Republican budget cuts. Well, now they are jumping on comments by Rand Paul and Chris Christie that supposedly embrace anti-vax lunacy. This supposedly represents how “anti-science” the GOP is (numerous pro-vaccine statement from every other Republican on the planet not withstanding).

The thing is, neither of them said anything crazy. Rand Paul supports vaccines, although he did apparently garble a statement about vaccines and autism and does think parents should make the decisions. And Christie’s statement was perfectly in line with the conventional wisdom. He vaccinated his kids, he supports vaccines but thinks mandates should be based on the danger represented. Both of these are well within the mainstream debate of whether vaccines should be mandated or not.

So … not really much there. And given the number of Republicans who are issuing strong unequivocal statements supporting vaccination, support programs that help poor people get vaccinated and support vaccination mandates for immigrants, this isn’t really a club to bash Republicans with. For all the supposed “anti-science” positions of the Republicans, this isn’t one. The only place I’m seeing opposition to vaccines is the fringe of both parties.

And I find this attention to Christie and Paul especially odd given that one of the biggest anti-vax nuts out there is Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who has often gotten slavering attention from the media as some kind of environmental crusader. But you wouldn’t know that from the mainstream media.

Stop trying to make this a partisan issue, guys. It really isn’t.

They Don’t Want a Welfare State; They Want a Plunder State

The strange thing about the 2014 election is that Obama seems to have taken it as a mandate … for more liberal polices. In addition to unilateral immigration “reform”, he has just released his budget proposal, which has massive tax hikes and spending hikes, no hint of entitlement reform and claims it will find $640 billion in deficit reduction (a paltry amount over the time frame) from tax hikes, immigration reform and, I believe, money imported from Narnia. It’s a fantasy budget that is making the hard-core liberals at Vox swoon but has connection to reality. And it puts the lie to the idea that Obama is a “conservative” as one newly-retired blogger has argued.

Here’s the thing, though. Liberals have long said that what they favor is a European-style welfare state (such as the one that imploded in Greece). Obama says this and his budget makes noises in this direction and is being praised as a step in that direction.

But the Democrats do not want a European welfare state. As much as they claim they do, that’s not what they want and not what they are advocating. If they really wanted a welfare state, they would be proposing something very different: huge tax hikes on the middle class.

The United States has one of the most progressive tax systems in the world, being very reliant on the wealthy for revenue. The European welfare states, by contrast, are more regressive, having flatter taxes and relying on VATs and sales taxes that are regressive. They have to be that way because you simply can’t finance a welfare state by taxing the 1%.

A welfare state financed by the rich doesn’t even work politically. When everyone is paying taxes, there is more support for a welfare state because everyone is pitching in. The perception is that you’re getting out something related to what you paid in, which is why Social Security and Medicare are popular in this country (both financed by a regressive tax that is denounced by Democrats for not soaking the rich enough). But a system that is dependent on taxing the rich isn’t a welfare state, it’s a plunder state. And as I’ve pointed out before, most people don’t want that. They don’t want to feel like they’re living on someone else’s dime or on stolen property. The Communists discovered this 70 years ago when they tried to “redistribute” estates to the commoners only to discover that the commoners didn’t want that wealth if it was stolen.

The gripping hand, of course, is that there isn’t any support for a huge middle-class-funded welfare state either, which Vermont discovered when they had to abandon their experiment in single-payer healthcare. And so the Democrats keep trying to sneak their welfare state through the backdoor. First it was taxes on the savings in 529 plans, which was quickly killed. Now it’s a tax on overseas earnings. Tomorrow, it will be more sin taxes.

(And if that fails, I expect them to embrace Modern Monetary Theory, currently being pushed by Bernie Sanders. This theory says that government shouldn’t worry about deficits; it can just print money. Taxes only exist to keep the rich from getting too rich. Seriously, that’s what it says. It’s like a politician’s wet dream: spend whatever you like and never worry about the bills.)

Thankfully, none of this is going to fly with the Republican Congress. But Obama’s absurd tax-and-spend proposal is a sign that we are still running out of other people’s money.

Sully Retiring?

Andrew Sullivan has announced that’s he retiring:

Why? Two reasons. The first is one I hope anyone can understand: although it has been the most rewarding experience in my writing career, I’ve now been blogging daily for fifteen years straight (well kinda straight). That’s long enough to do any single job. In some ways, it’s as simple as that. There comes a time when you have to move on to new things, shake your world up, or recognize before you crash that burn-out does happen.

The second is that I am saturated in digital life and I want to return to the actual world again. I’m a human being before I am a writer; and a writer before I am a blogger, and although it’s been a joy and a privilege to have helped pioneer a genuinely new form of writing, I yearn for other, older forms. I want to read again, slowly, carefully. I want to absorb a difficult book and walk around in my own thoughts with it for a while. I want to have an idea and let it slowly take shape, rather than be instantly blogged. I want to write long essays that can answer more deeply and subtly the many questions that the Dish years have presented to me. I want to write a book.

I want to spend some real time with my parents, while I still have them, with my husband, who is too often a ‘blog-widow’, my sister and brother, my niece and nephews, and rekindle the friendships that I have simply had to let wither because I’m always tied to the blog. And I want to stay healthy. I’ve had increasing health challenges these past few years. They’re not HIV-related; my doctor tells me they’re simply a result of fifteen years of daily, hourly, always-on-deadline stress. These past few weeks were particularly rough – and finally forced me to get real.

Whatever one may think of Sullivan, he has been a major force in blogging for 15 years. Putting up dozens of posts a day, linking to dozens of different points of view with over a million readers. Almost everyone’s blogging style is based heavily on Sullivan’s. His blog is how I found Right-Thinking and Moorewatch. It’s also how I found great writers like Conor Friedersdorf, Ed Morrissey, Allahpundit, Megan McArdle and Peter Suderman, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ann Althouse, Stephen Bainbridge and probably a dozen others I’m forgetting. I was with him a lot during the Bush years but disagreed with him on Obama. I found his Palin obsession alarming and frankly crazy. But I always found that he would present all sides even if he was wildly and incorrectly opinionated on a subject.

The haters are out in force today. They are dragging out his publicity for The Bell Curve, saying he thought blacks were inferior to whites (because, apparently, you have to think that if you don’t burn every copy of the Bell Curve in existence). They are saying he was irrelevant. This is envy from people who would kill for a thousandth of his readership or influence. And offensive coming from people who are crowing about the victory of gay marriage — something Sullivan pushed for 25 years in the face of withering opposition from other gays as well as conservatives. Sullivan was wrong sometimes or a lot (more since Obama was elected). But he was the only blog that had enough support to go completely independent.

I don’t think this is the end for Sullivan. He’s made similar announcements before, although I suspect he is a lot more serious this time. As someone who swears, at least once a month, that I’m done blogging, I can sympathize. Lee warned me about the addictive power of blogging when he gave me the keys to Right Thinking. I suspect Sullivan will be back at some point, albeit probably in a much-reduced way. But it’s been a good fifteen years, regardless.

Thanks, Andrew.