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Tag: 2012 Election

The Audacity of Dupe

Let me get this straight. Catholic institutions won’t have to pay for contraception coverage in their health insurance? Instead, their health insurers will provide it for free? Did I hear that right?

The President seems to have found the long elusive free lunch. If he has, hand him his Nobel Prize in Economics now; no economist will ever top that. (That would make him just the fifth person to win two Nobel Prizes. Such greatness inspires.) I am afraid that the Nobel Prize committee will have more work to do, as the free lunch will remain as scarce as the unicorn. Just bear in mind that health insurers charge different prices for all of their clients. How is anyone to know whether they are providing contraception to some Catholic institution for free? Will we have a federal agency auditing whether an insurer’s 6.743 percent price increase should have been 6.682 percent? And is this new rule even Constitutional? Since when can the government force private businesses to give away their products? I guess a government that believes it can mandate that consumers purchase contraception coverage regardless of the price also believes that it can mandate insurers set the price for contraception coverage to zero.

And suppose insurers really do provide contraception for free to Catholic institutions, but not for any others. This gives the Catholic institutions a competitive advantage in labor markets. Mr. President, may I suggest that as long as you are giving away stuff to employees at Catholic institutions, why not force Apple to give away iPads to Northwestern University employees? (Most of them voted for you and surely deserve it!) Apparently all it takes is an executive order. What did Mel Brooks say about this? Oh yeah, “It’s good to be the king.”

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Obama’s Broken Promises

I didn’t vote for Barack Obama. But like a lot of Americans, I was hopeful about his presidency.

Just as it took a Republican to thaw our relationship with China, it will probably take a Democrat to reform our entitlement programs. Again and again, Obama promised to step up to the challenge. Then he left the country at the altar and pursued partisan politics instead.

Bill Clinton was going to be the first Democratic president to tackle entitlement spending. Although the effort has been completely ignored by the establishment media, Clinton was planning historic reforms during his second term. These were to include private accounts under Social Security and vouchers for Medicare.

If that doesn’t knock your socks off, you haven’t been paying attention. When Republicans propose these things, Democrats invariably claim the GOP is trying to destroy the social safety net and leave the elderly to fend for themselves.

Clinton was serious. He had his Treasury Department draw up detailed plans. In fact, when Pat Moynihan, the colorful intellectual senator from New York, was appointed by President George W. Bush to co-chair the Social Security reform commission, the first thing he did was ask the Treasury to send him the Clinton-era planning documents so that the commission could continue where Clinton’s policy team left off.

So what derailed Bill Clinton’s ambitious reform agenda? Monica Lewinsky. Left wing Democrats in Congress threatened to throw him under the bus in the impeachment proceedings unless he completely dropped the reform ideas they regarded as heresy. Unfortunately for the country, he obliged.

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Dismantling the Affordable Care Act

I have no idea which way the Supreme Court will rule this year on the Affordable Care Act. Let me go out on a limb and predict a 5-4 vote on the question of whether the individual mandate is Constitutional. Just don’t ask me which way the vote goes.

I found the recent Obama administration brief submitted to the Court on the mandate question somewhat ironic. Not surprisingly, the Obama Justice Department argued that a finding by the Court that the individual mandate is unconstitutional should not jeopardize the vast majority of the new health law.

But the Obama Justice Department did concede that there are two provisions of the Affordable Care Act that should also be declared invalid if the Court rules the individual mandate is unconstitutional—the health insurance guaranteed issue and community rating provisions.

Now, I know there are lots of other people, many of them filing briefs with the Court, that disagree arguing that the whole law needs to be found invalid because the mandate is the lynchpin for all of it. But I will suggest it is significant that the administration would appear to be building a firewall for the rest of the law as they concede these points.

But consider this potential scenario.

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A Better Way to Avoid Pregnancy

You know we have entered the silly season when a major national debate gets underway over whether people should be given something for free that they could easily pay for out-of-pocket. Take the decision of the Obama administration to force Catholic universities, hospitals and charities to provide health insurance that includes free contraceptives. The reaction was poignant and hyperbolic, but (what can I say?) completely deserved:

What makes this so amazing is that it is déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra might say. Do you remember the death knell for HillaryCare? I bet you can’t.

Mammograms and Pap smears. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

[Yes, I know. There were many things that helped derail HillaryCare. The biggest mistake was the White House’s failure to throw everything aside and endorse the Senate Republican health plan, which was about as close to HillaryCare as RomneyCare is to ObamaCare. Hillary would have ended up with about 90% of everything she wanted. More about that, perhaps, in a future Alert.]

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Does Obamacare Limit Profits for Health Insurance Companies in Your State?

One of the provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a ACA, a.k.a. Health Reform, a.k.a. Obamacare) is that it limits the profits of health insurance companies. The ACA imposes a minimum medical loss ratio (MLR) on all insurers. The MLR is the amount of money spent on covered person medical care divided by the total revenue received through premiums. There is some debate of what constitutes ‘medical care’ (e.g., do investments in electronic health records count as medical care?), but insurer profits certainly are non-medical.

The ACA requires health insurers in the individual and small group market to spend 80 percent of their premiums (after subtracting taxes and regulatory fees) on medical costs. The corresponding figure for large groups is 85 percent. According to a recent Kaiser tracking poll, 60 percent of the public views the MLR concept favorably, although only 38 percent was aware that the provision is in the ACA. Insurance brokers may be getting squeezed for insurers to meet this amount.

Even though the MLR is a national law, it may not apply in your state. Continue reading…

The Massachusetts Miracle: Romney’s Health Care Reform Plan Works

It’s too bad former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney doesn’t want to talk about his state’s health care reform legislation on the campaign trail. If he did, he’d have a pretty good story to tell.

The reform plan, which President Obama used as a model for the national reform, lifted the number of insured residents in the Bay State from 86.6 percent in 2006 to 94.2 percent in 2010, according to a new study published yesterday by Health Affairs.

An expansion of public programs didn’t account for the gains. The number of people with employer-based coverage rose to 68 percent of the adult population in 2010 from 64.4 percent four years earlier. This is exactly the opposite of what many business groups are claiming will happen after the national reform goes into effect in 2014.

Moreover, out-of-pocket expenses declined for the average beneficiary. The number of people reporting they paid 10 percent of their family income on health care fell from 9.8 percent to 6.1 percent over the four years. Again, early fears that the Massachusetts reform would lead to a major shift in costs to consumers have not panned out.

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What Mitt Romney Should Say

Preface: In the past few weeks Governor Romney has received withering criticism for his support for the Massachusetts Health Plan and his seemingly hypocritical opposition to Obamacare. Frankly, his responses to this criticism have not been stellar. I sometimes wonder if he realizes that he is on firm ground here. So as a favor to the Governor, I offer this prepackaged statement:

My fellow Americans. Not a day goes by when some of my colleagues in the Republican Party accuse me of hypocrisy for supporting the Massachusetts Health Plan when I was governor of that great state, while opposing Obamacare. I cannot respond to this accusation in a simple sound bite. So please lend me your ears for five minutes while I explain my position.

My job as governor was to implement policies reflecting the wishes of the people of Massachusetts. By approving the Massachusetts Health Plan, I did what my constituency elected me to do. I am proud to have signed the legislation authorizing the Massachusetts Health Plan, but this does not mean that I support Obamacare.

My critics point out two similarities between the two plans. Both plans mandate health insurance purchase and both create health insurance exchanges. Both features were right for Massachusetts. Health insurance markets do not work perfectly; that is why there isn’t a single state, red or blue, that does not heavily regulate them! Many individuals are shut out from buying health insurance. If they get sick, they face financial ruin. And if they are unable to pay for their medical care, providers shift the costs onto the rest of us.

The health insurance exchange levels the insurance playing field and assures that everyone can purchase insurance at affordable rates. Every health economist with whom I have spoken tells me that the exchange will not work without a purchase mandate. Once everyone is buying insurance, the cost shift will end; this will hold down health insurance costs for everyone.

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Repealed, Replaced and Expanded

Last week’s State of the Union speech was notable because the President hardly mentioned the new health care reform law.

Avoiding what is supposed to be the centerpiece domestic accomplishment of President Obama’s first term stuck out like a sore thumb.

He said almost nothing because the Obama team simply doesn’t know what to say.

The fact is the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is generally unpopular, and its best-known provision, the individual mandate, is wildly unpopular.

Two years after passage and, the implementation of the law’s first steps all designed to build support, the public’s opinion of the law is unchanged and not good. The just out January 2012 Kaiser Health Tracking Poll leaves no doubt:

  • Only 37% of those surveyed have a favorable view of the law.
  • 44% have an unfavorable view of the Affordable Care Act.
  • But even some of those who don’t like it don’t like it because it didn’t go far enough—31% of all of those surveyed want to expand the current law while 19% want to keep it in its current form. That’s a total of 50% that want to keep or expand it.
  • 22% want it repealed outright and another 18% want it replaced with a Republican alternative—a total of 40%, fewer than want to expand it or keep it as it is.
  • On the individual mandate, 67% have an unfavorable view of requiring everyone to buy coverage, while 30% have a favorable view of the requirement.
  • While a total of 50% of those surveyed think the law should be kept or expanded, 54% say the Supreme Court should throw the mandate out, while only 17% say they think the mandate should be upheld.

So, let’s summarize. Only 37% have a favorable view of the law and 67% don’t like the mandate. But 50% think the law should be kept as it is or even expanded.  No wonder Obama and his political team can’t figure out how to play this.Continue reading…

Medical Records Supporting San Francisco’s Universal Care Add Millions to Official Cost

The San Francisco Department of Public Health says it is ahead of the curve in rolling out databases that keep tabs on tens of thousands of patients across a citywide network of clinics and hospitals. The rollout is needed not just to make a local form of “universal health care” work, but also to meet a 2014 deadline under national health reform.

And the city says it spent just $3.4 million on new patient-tracking technology. Not bad for an unprecedented charity care initiative whose total budget has grown to $177 million just this past year.

But while clinics and hospitals across the city are now linked up to a common intake tool that eliminates overbilling and duplicated medical appointments, that is only the first step in making the Healthy San Francisco program successful, directors of local health centers and technology experts say.Continue reading…

Occupational Health In the Electronic Age

When we say our products are made “in China”, what we really should say it that they’re made in Shenzhen–a city in Guangdong Province, just north of Hong Kong. Shenzhen is one of China’s “special economic zones” (SEZs)–754 square miles of industrial space in which foreign corporations are permitted unique rules and regulations, permitting them to run high-throughput factories that currently use 3.3 million people to make products for the Western consumer market. This is where Xboxes and cell phones come from, produced by Chinese contractors like Foxconn (which makes the new iPhone). There is an unusually high rate of suicide in Shenzhen, and in Foxconn factories in particular; behind these suicides are a broader set of public health issues among electronic workers–from those who make the new gadgets, to those who dismantle them after we throw them away.

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