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Healthcare’s Reform Pareto Trap

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It is reassuring that in a country which produced HL Mencken, Homer Simpson and Mark Twain, reports of death of satire have been grossly exaggerated.

Recently, the faculty at Harvard were up in arms because their new health plan involves copayments and deductibles. With ninety cents to the dollar covered, the plan is generous by national standards, and would be rated “platinum” in Obamacare’s exchanges. It’s not as if the professors were placed on Medicaid to show solidarity with the poor.

Increased out-of-pocket contribution is the trend post health care reform. That same reform which many Harvard professors supported and some designed. This is why their revolt, an Orwellian political satire, has spread schadenfreude amongst conservatives who are enjoying Gore Vidal’s favorite words in the English Language: “I told you so.”Continue reading…

Healthcare Reform Even the Tea Party Could Support

flying cadeuciiThe Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the law of the land, and nothing the Tea Party does is likely to lead to its repeal.  But the ACA can be amended to make it less objectionable, and it wouldn’t be that hard.  We just need to modify it to allow Tea Partiers (and others) to form their own healthcare groups.

All insurance, including healthcare insurance, works by forming risk pools.  The members of the pool contribute to a pool of money which is then used to pay the claims by the members.  Most participants pay in more than they use.  In healthcare most people pay more money into the pool than the cost of the care they receive.  A few people receive far more care than they pay for.

For risk pools to work, boundaries have to be drawn around what is paid for by the risk pool.  As an example car insurance policies place a limit on how much they will pay for any one accident.  It’s nice to think that as a rich country we don’t have to draw boundaries around healthcare, that we should be able to pay for any possible medical treatment, but we can’t.  We already spend almost twice as much on healthcare as other nations and if costs keep increasing eventually it will bankrupt our country.

Many people blame private insurance companies for our expensive healthcare system, but insurers actually have very little to do with rising costs.  Instead advancing medical technology is the primary cause.  Our for-profit medical technology industry has made amazing advances in treatment and care that have allowed us to save people that used to die.  But its primary goal is still profit.  Every year the industry comes up with new procedures or refinements.  Most provide only incremental improvements in care but they all come with a higher price tag.  Every year the industry spends billions of dollars – yes, billions – successfully encouraging doctors to recommend the new procedures.  And it’s about to get much, much worse.  There is a flood of new treatments and targeted drugs getting ready to hit the market.  Some will undoubtedly be true advances, but all are likely to cost tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars per treatment.

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How One Man Wound Up Deciding the Fate of Healthcare Reform

Personally, I am delighted that Chief Justice Roberts voted to uphold the Affordable Care Act. But, I am troubled that the fate of U.S. healthcare turned on one man’s opinion. This is not how things are supposed to work in a democracy.

Healthcare represents 16 percent of our economy. It touches all of our lives. If we don’t like the laws our elected representatives pass, we can vote them out of office. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, doesn’t have to worry whether its decisions reflect the will of the people. The Justices are appointed for life. This is why they are not charged with setting public policy.

How then, did the Court wind up with the power to affirm or overturn the ACA?

The media shapes our expectations

As I suggested when oral arguments began back in March, a “media narrative” drove the case to the Court – a fiction that caught on, in the press, on television, and in the blogosphere, where it began to take on a reality of its own. A handful of “state attorneys general and governors” saw “a political opportunity” and floated the idea that the law might be unconstitutional. The media picked up the story, repeated the heated rhetoric, and “fanned the flames … Before long, what constitutional experts thought was a non-story became a Supreme Court case.”

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What Will the Supreme Court Decision Mean For the November Election?

Thursday, when Chief Justice Roberts explained that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is constitutional because the “penalty” that some Americans will have to pay is, for all practical purposes, a “tax,” you could hear tea cups shattering from Billings to Boca Raton. In conservative and libertarian circles, the initial reaction was shock, but it didn’t take long for President Obama’s opponents to rally.

The word “tax” might as well have been a pistol shot at a horse race. In the blink of an eye, Obama’s opponents were off and running, megaphones in hand, blasting the president for lying to the American people while hiking taxes under the guise of healthcare reform. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign then began providing regular Twitter updates on the campaign contributions it was raking in following the decision. Friday, it announced that it had collected $5.5 million.

Will Republicans suceed in turning defeat into victory?

Sarah Palin is convinced that they will. On her Facebook page, she celebrated: “Thank you, SCOTUS. This Obamacare ruling fires up the troops as America’s eyes are opened.”   Palin, like Republican leader Mitch McConnell, believed that the Court’s ruling would galvanize Republic voters, sealing Romney’s victory in November.

This might be true if conservatives were not already so ardently committed to what McConnell has called his party’s “single most important” goal: “for President Obama to be a one-term president.”  As Democratic pollster Celinda Lake noted, “Republicans are already as energized as they can get.” It would be hard to turn up the dial on their passion. Opinion surveys have shown that Republican voters already were more motivated than Democrats to go to the polls this fall.   (In November, Obama’s challenge will be to get his supporters out, including those who are disillusioned that the president hasn’t done more to help the poor and the unemployed. )

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The Tea Party Conservative Strategy for 2011

Next week starts the new Congress, and with it the Tea Party conservatives. What’s their strategy? What will they rally around?

They’ll grouse endlessly about government spending but I don’t think they’ll use any particular spending bill to mobilize and energize their grass roots. The big bucks are in Social Security, Medicare, and defense, which are too popular. And their support for a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts will make a mockery of any argument about  taming the deficit.

Nor will they focus on the debt ceiling. Their opposition to raising it will generate a one-day story but won’t rally the troops or register with the public. Most Americans aren’t particularly interested in the debt ceiling, don’t know what it means, and don’t feel affected by it.

Instead, I expect their rallying cry will be about the mandatory purchase of health care built into the new healthcare law. The mandate is the least popular, and least understood, aspect of that law. Yet it’s the lynchpin. Without it, much of the rest of the law falls apart: It’s impossible to cover all high-risk Americans, including those with pre-existing conditions, unless those at far lower risk are required to buy insurance.

Knowing they don’t stand a chance of getting a direct repeal of the mandate (even if they could get a majority in the House for it, they won’t summon 60 votes in the Senate, and have no possibility of overriding a presidential veto), they’ll try to strip the federal budget appropriation of money needed to put the mandate into effect. This could lead to a standoff with the White House over government funding in general, and a possible government shutdown.

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