Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Paul Ryan Can Not Take the Truth So He Hides It with Legislation

Paul Ryan and other House Republicans voted along party lines “Adopting rules for the One Hundred Fifteenth Congress.” The vote was 234 Yeas to 193 Nays. Three Republicans voted with Democrats to block the new rules for the 115th Congress. No big deal, right? and the New Rules passed.

As many of you probably know, I have been writing about the PPACA/ACA/Obamacare since 2008; answering questions, presenting information, and rebutting the stories, outright lies, and silly remarks. I did a lot of Maggie Mahar’s editing to get her columns up on Angry Bear and subsequently became familiar with the healthcare law. Now before you attempt to get into this with me, I will say this; “it was not perfect; but, it was all we had for the time being.” Now we are going backwards. We will be worse off under the new healthcare law.

Typically, this is not big deal except Randian Paul Ryan stuck a couple of sentences into the new House Rules. Before I get there, I want to take this a step backwards and explain. I was angry enough after reading the Rules Change to write my Congressman Mike Bishop. This is unusual for me as it typically is a waste of time. They represent upwards of 700,000 people in high density states. It was never supposed to be that way until Congress decided to freeze the number of Reps in the House. If the number of constituents represented had stayed at 60,000; my vote and opinion would have counted for more when drop kicking him across the room. There is a reason they did this and if they did not do this, the number of Reps would have been much higher.

I wrote Congress Person Mike and started explaining how Senator Sessions with the help of Rep Upton also from Michigan wrote the GAO asking why the HHS could appropriate funds. The GAO said they could not; but, the GAO left an opening for the HHS and the Administration by stating they could transfer funds from other programs into the Risk Corridor program. The Risk Corridor program for the PPACA is a 3-year program. Since there was a lot of risk for insurance companies and Co-ops, it was established along the same lines as the one for Part D Medicare which the Republicans created. An insurance company was limited to 3% profit,. If you made more than that, you kicked into the program a ratio of those profits. The higher the profit, the more you kicked in. If you lost money as the new Co-ops did, the program gave them money if the loss was greater than 3%. The CBO estimated the Risk Corridor program would generate $16 billion over its 3 year life time. Companies were taking on people who were denied insurance before due to pre-existing conditions. It was a higher risk and no one could be sure how many high risk insured they would get. They could not deny insuring them or increase premiums. This worked well for Part D.

Session and Upton were able to make the Risk Corridor program budget revenue neutral so the HHS and administration could not appropriate funds for it. They enlisted the aid of Rep Jack Kingston Appropriations Panel Chairman who stuck a sentence in Section 227 of the 2015 Appropriations Act (dated December 16, 2014). The sentence said; no

“funds made available by this Act from the Federal Hospital Insurance Trust Fund or the Federal Supplemental Medical Insurance Trust Fund, or transferred from other accounts funded by this Act to the “Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services–Program Management” account, may be used for payments under section 1342(b)(1) of Public Law 111-148 (relating to risk corridors).”

If you are wondering why Co-ops went bankrupt, healthcare premiums started to go up, insurance companies withdrew, and insurances companies lost millions; here is the reason why. So I laid this treachery on Congressman Mike Bishop.

I then proceeded to tell him that under reconciliation, you can not create a budget deficit. This would happen with the repeal of the PPACA. In Summer of 2016, the CBO estimated it would be ~$350 billion.

Now, back to my Roll Call on New House Rules. Randian Paul Ryan stuck a few sentence into the House Rules for the 115th Congress. Here is what they said:

“This subsection shall not apply to any bill or joint resolution, or amendment thereto or conference report thereon –

(A) repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and title I and subtitle B of title II of the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010;

(B) reforming the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010.”

In simple English here is what it meant; the CBO could not review the Repeal of the PPACA and the costs associated with it. My question to Congressperson Mike Bishop was; “Why did you vote yes to this knowing you were covering up the truth and creating a budget defict?”

Not that I will get one; but, I asked for a return reply.

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Equality in Retirement

Sarah Anderson and Scott Klinger of the Institute of Policy Studies released “Tale of Two Retirements”, a study discussing how well CEOs will retire in comparison to the low and middle income citizens who only have 401ks and Social Security to retire on in the US and what President-Elect Trump’s actions will do to CEO retirement.

invisible hand

One hundred CEOs have company retirement funds worth approximately $4.7 billion or a sum equal to the entire retirement savings of 41 percent of U.S. families with the smallest nest eggs.

The $4.7 billion total is equal to the entire retirement savings of:

59 percent of African-American families
75 percent of Latino families
55 percent of female-headed households
44 percent of white working class households

The average of the top 100 executives is enough to generate an ~$253,000/month life time check.

In comparison:

• Ordinary workers have ~$18,000 of 401K savings or enough for ~$100 in a monthly payout.
• 39% of workers 51 to 61 years of age have no employer sponsored retirement plan and will be mostly dependent upon an ~$1200/month Social Security check.

Many CEOs have tax-deferred accounts totally with ~$3 billion in deferred payout. If President-Elect Trump cuts the marginal tax rate, they will also gain in retirement funding.

• Cutting the top marginal tax rate to 33 percent, Fortune 500 CEOs would save $196 million on their income taxes.
• These deferred payout accounts are also exempt from 401k contribution limitations

.

Mirroring the same racial and gender gap exiting today in business, white male CEOs have done better than their minority male and their female counterparts.

• The top 10 white male CEOs have a combined $1.4 billion in the tax deferred compensation accounts
• Eight times more than the top ten minority male counterparts and five times more than the top ten female counterparts.

Top 10 White Male CEOs

I want to take a moment and dwell on this topic a bit more. While some readers are distracted by immigration and its impact on the economy, they ignore the crop-picking, laboring, and housekeeping jobs where many of these immigrants end up. We are losing sight of some real issues plaguing the middle income bracket making less than $100,000 annually which comprises most of the population.

“Just” 50% of the American Labor Force are offered a 401K in which to set aside money in for retirement. The maximum contribution to date for most who have a 401k is $18,000 annually with an exception for older workers who get bumps up to $24,000 annually, if . . . if you are making enough to be able to set aside the initial amount and more if older. It is a tease from the beginning and worse now with stagnant incomes. If I do not set a minimum aside, I am in deeper trouble when I am older. If I do set this aside now and I have a college loan, can I have a life, married life, and a family? Which would you choose if the potential was there to set this aside now? The choices are not easy and we are seeing the results as more people go on SS with college loans still outstanding and have their SS garnished to pay them off.

Top Ten CEO (Clink on the chart to make it larger and for clarity.)

As the report details, CEOs have few if any limits to set aside taxable retirement income and more have the income to set aside. As a perk, many CEOs are given tax deferred accounts in which companies do not pay taxes until the funds are withdrawn. In the mean time the executives benefit from tax free compounding investment returns. As proposed if President Trump decides to do so, a reduction in the maximum income tax bracket from 39% to 33% because it might (laughing) create jobs, the very same executives stand to make an unearned jump in income. “At a 39.6 percent income tax rate, they would owe $1.2 billion to the IRS and at a 33 percent rate, they would owe $979 million, for a combined savings of $196 million.”

Whether $1.2 billion or 979 million, $millions in taxes are lost yearly to states and the federal government due to Tax-Deferred accounts.

• In 2007, the Senate passed a minimum wage bill that would have limited annual executive pay deferrals to $1 million, but the provision was dropped in the conference committee. According to the Joint Tax Committee, the measure would’ve saved taxpayers $806 million over 10 years.

• In 2015 alone, 215 Fortune 500 CEOs invested a combined $227 million more of their pre-tax income in these plans than they would have been able to invest if they’d been subject to the maximum $24,000 cap that applies to ordinary workers. If they had been subject to this limit, they would’ve owed the U.S. Treasury $90 million more in income taxes last year.

What is surprising is how many are willing to defend this type of compensation calling it theft if taxed. Yet this type of compensation is limited to 1% of the population and numbering less than 1 million people. At the same time, the same people defending huge salaries will decry the loss of jobs in the US going overseas or automated which many executives are handsomely compensated for in the name of cutting cost and increased profits. We also have a president today who is promoting a populist agenda and telling people he will bring back the jobs whether automated out of existence or resourced out of the country by the executives of companies. While there may be a few jobs saved over the next 4 years, most will still be quietly moved or automated.

I am sure you have noticed the all star team for promoting the well being of the nation beyond what Sarah Anderson and Scott Klinger of the Institute of Policy Studies has reported on is being assembled in Washington DC by President D. Trump. Beyond the scapegoating and misdirection promulgated by President Trump in his inaugural speech, this team is just another example of chutzpah beyond Trump’s absolutely, awesome, and amazing (it will be great) standards expressed during the runup to a momentous inaugural day. As identified, there is a group of people who have been sucking up the economic gains that should be going to the middle class and President Trump has surrounded himself with them . . . the billionaires and multi-millionaires in his cabinet. No other populist administration has gone to this extreme in selecting a group so dedicated to their own well being.

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Aurora, Colorado; Republican Congressional Representatives in Action

In Colorado, on Saturday, Republican Rep. Mike Coffman held an event for his constituents at a
Coffman a public library in Aurora, Colorado. At least 150 constituents showed up, most of them hoping to ask Coffman about his recent vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act and his plans for a replacement. But only about 70 people got to meet with Coffman: Despite booking a large room with ample space, Coffman allowed in only four constituents at once for five minutes at a time. When the crowd grew restless, police put up crime scene tape and Coffman snuck out the back door—six minutes before the event was scheduled to end.

Coffman co-authored a Denver Post op-ed on Friday urging the full and immediate repeal of the ACA. About 419,000 Coloradans have gained health care coverage since the enactment of the law, and many of them stand to lose their insurance if it is repealed. Yet Coffman has not proposed a clear replacement for the law, an issue constituents hoped to ask him about on Saturday. “I am potentially going to lose my health insurance,” Berthie Ruoff told NBC 9 while she waited to meet with her representative. “I’ve had a preexisting condition. I’ve had breast cancer. What’s going to happen to me? My spouse who had health insurance passed away. What do I do? You know, what am I supposed to do?”

But neither Ruoff nor many other constituents who stand to lose coverage had an opportunity meet with Coffman. When it grew clear that Coffman would refuse to meet with a majority of those at the event, the crowd channeled its agitation into patriotic songs:
This show of unity, however, did not impress Coffman. Indeed, it appears to have scared him: Rather than address the crowd, Coffman had police officers secretly escort him out of the back door before the event was set to conclude.

A few people noticed Coffman sneaking out and attempted to address him. “Next time,” one woman pleaded, “please be sure you hear all your constituents!” Coffman ignored them, hopped into a waiting car, and drove away.

“Have a good afternoon!” yelled another exasperated woman.

GOP Rep. Sneaks Out of Townhall Meeting, Mark Joseph Stern, Slate, January 15, 2016

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Millions Are Uninsured

When People claim “Millions Are Uninsured Under the PPACA,” it is a garbage statement meant to elicit a negative reaction without going into the detail of who is uninsured and why. Repeatedly Charles Gaba, Maggie Mahar, Commonwealth Fund, Urban Institute, Kaiser Foundation, etc. have explained the numbers and the whys of the uninsured, most of which are not the fault on the PPACA.

I see commenters come to AB and outside AB discussing the uninsured. Some being legitimate bloggers claim “millions are uninsured” and some have exaggerated it even more with citing “tens of millions” with their credibility disappearing as they can not recite the make-up of or the reasons for the number as they do not know it or are trying to make a political statement. The latter being worst than the ignorance of the former.

invisible hand

There are reasons for the uninsured as detailed by Kaiser Family Foundation. For example, Republican states which do not allow expansion of Medicaid accounts for 2.6 million, undocumented citizens 5.4 million, those eligible for Employee sponsored insurance 4.5 million, and 3.0 million who could have unsubsidized insurance. Then there are 6.4 million adults and children eligible for Medicaid and another 5.3 million eligible for Premium Subsidies and for some reason have not chosen to be insured. Some states like Michigan do make it difficult to enroll in Medicaid. These are the Kaiser numbers for 2016 and they total ~27 millionfor uninsured and why. A “tens of millions” uninsured is a BS numeric when we start accounting for Republicans blocking Medicaid Expansion in states, undocumented immigrants, ESI available insurance, 6.4 million eligible for Medicaid, and another 5.3 million eligible for subsidies. Other than undocumented citizens and states blocking the Medicaid Expansion, there is access to healthcare insurance in one form or another through the PPACA, much of which exists today due to the PPACA, or Employer Sponsored Insurance. When we account , the number drop as there are those without subsidy who chose not to be insured, others who could be on Medicare or have Premium subsidies, and those who could have Employee Sponsored Insurance.

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The Cost of Repealing the PPACA

Would love to tell you; but, Randian House Leader Paul Ryan along with most of the Republicans voted on a Bill restricting the CBO from examining what the cost would be. The vote was 234 Repubs “for” restricting the CBO to 193 (190 Dems + 3 Repubs) against restricting the CBO examining the cost automatically. I wonder why they are afraid of the CBO examining the cost resulting from the repeal of the PPACA?

An earlier June 2015 study had this information. “Excluding the effects of macroeconomic feedback—as has been done for previous estimates related to the ACA (and most other CBO cost estimates)—CBO and JCT estimate that federal deficits would increase by $353 billion over the 2016–2025 period if the ACA was repealed.” CBO Estimate. I chose the harsher number as this I believe is a fairer numeric to take into consideration. A lesser number is $137 billion over the same 10 years.

I suspect the number is higher as the Repubs are restricting the CBO from weighing in on their plans.

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Repealing the PPACA

I am back to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, as it gives an accurate assessment of what the public really wants with healthcare insurance rather than a political view. Given that Senator Sessions, and Rep. Upton, and Rep. Kingston stopped all funding of the Risk Corridor by placing a sentence in Section 227 of the 2015 Appropriations Act (dated December 16, 2014) effectively eliminating the financial assistance to Co-ops and Insurance companies; it comes as no surprise healthcare insurance premiums would rise, Co-ops would be especially hit hard and go bankrupt, and healthcare insurance companies would leave the PPACA insurance exchanges all together. For sure, we have seen healthcare insurance premiums go up due to the unregulated healthcare industry, less competition due to fallout of companies and bankruptcies, and mostly because of the impact of Section 227 of the 2015 Appropriations Act (dated December 16, 2014). This was a well-orchestrated attack on the PPACA by Republicans, Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, Rep. Fred Upton, and Rep. Jack Kingston to disrupt healthcare coverage, claim to be saving taxpayers money, and shift the blame for increased out-of-pocket costs to the PPACA and President Barack Obama.

invisible hand Kaiser does a good job of tracking trends with little of the political bias you might see in other polls. The number one concern of the Democrat and Republican constituency is not repealing the PPACA; but, lowering out-of-pocket costs paid by individuals such as premiums, co-pays, and deductibles. 93% of the people polled found this to be a #1 priority followed by lowering the cost of prescription drugs (89%). For sure, Sessions, Upton, Kingston, and their fellow Republicans have aggravated the healthcare premiums costs by restricting the Risk Corridor funding and are hiding in the weeds knowing they put one over on the Dems and the voters. The opportunity was there for Repubs to work with Dems and come up with ways to lower the overall out-of-pocket cost. Republicans let it go by for political reasons and now we have the head Randian Republican Paul Ryan trying to kill the PPACA, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. To replace them, you will get tax vouchers for each of those programs and a copy of “Atlas Shrugged” telling you to tough it out and be independent. This is coming from a man who has been in politics much of his life, has worked little in the private sector, went to college on Social Security Survivor benefits, and occasionally drove the OM Wiener Mobile around. Unlike ours, Representative Ryan’s congressional healthcare and retirement are a sure thing.

There are those in Congress who wish to repeal the PPACA in favor of whatever might be better as determined in their own minds. It took a long time to get to this point and the last time someone made an attempt at healthcare coverage was in the early nineties by someone named Clinton. In the early nineties, Congress did not like a President telling them what to do which is why Obama had Congress write the PPACA . . . well at least the Democrats put together the PPACA with no input from Republicans. In the chart above, 58% of the constituency favors repealing the PPACA. It is a majority; however within that majority, there are some other questions to be answered. This particular Kaiser Poll is dated December 13, 2016 so it has some relevance to invisible hand what is going on today. For example, most Americans prefer Congress to either not repeal the PPACA or at least wait until the detail of the alternative plan is revealed. The second chart gives the percentages. 75% do not want to repeal and want to know “first” what is going to replace the PPACA before repealing.

The percentage of who oppose and support the PPACA shifts with the argument being made for or against. Sometimes the phrasing of the question can determine or lead to the answer given. While healthcare is one of the top priorities for the President – Elect and Congress, repealing the PPACA is not the first or even the second actions the constituency wishes the President to take as shown by the Kaiser pie and bar charts. Overwhelming the constituency wants to know what will replace the PPACA before Congress acts. Furthermore the constituency would rather see Congress deal with lowering out-of-pockets costs first, fix pharmaceutical costs second, and deal with the Opiod epidemic before even deciding on repealing the “catastrophic event ” Mr. Trump called it today. By asking for an immediate repeal of the PPACA by Congress, perhaps Mr. Trump is attempting to distract attention away from the Senate Confirmation Hearing of Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions an AG candidate who has some serious issues challenging his candidacy. We can be just as lively in both political arenas.

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Risk Corridor, Healthcare Premiums, Companies Leaving the Exchanges, and Republicans

The Washington Post story “Rubio’s inaccurate claim that he ‘inserted’ a provision restricting Obamacare ‘bailout’ funds” is about a year old. Its relevance to the PPACA is in depicting how the Republicans undermined the PPACA causing many Co-ops to go bankrupt, insurance companies to leave PPACA exchanges, saddled insurance companies with $millions in debt, and is a reason for much of the premium increases. I am not pro-insurance; but, this effort to get even with Obama has set the stage for what will negatively affect millions of the insured.

I had written earlier about Rubio playing a part in cutting the funding for the Rick Corridor funding. He did play a not-so-critical part and while researching some additional information I ran across a better explanation.

The Risk Corridor program in the PPACA protects insurance companies from losses during the first three years if they did not estimate premiums properly which can happen in new markets with different characteristics. With the mandate to insure all with pre-existing conditions, keeping children on parents plans, the exchanges, etc.; the Risk Corridor program was put in place (besides two other safe guards) giving insurance companies and Co-ops a three year window to get it right. Besides looking at losses, the Risk Corridor also looked at the profits of companies who had estimated accurately, had excess profits as a result, and required them to pay a ratio of excess profits into the Risk Corridor fund to help underwrite the losses of other companies. Outside of a plus or minus 3% was the basis for whether you gave up a ratio of profits or received a ratio of funding from the Risk Corridor program. The Risk Corridor program is nothing new and was used successfully with Medicare Part D forcing the evil insurance companies to share profits with the government. It still is in place for Part D and “still” generates additional revenue for the government. I do not recall any Republicans complaining about funding for insurance companies then; but then too, Part D was Bush’s legislature while the PPACA legislation was Obama’s. Strictly politics and constituents will pay the price of it.

Depicting the Risk Corridor particulars rather than attempting to explain it in writing will give a better explanation. Click on the image to better read the chart. Please note the plus or minus 3% and then the different ratios of revenue sharing or funding from and to healthcare companies and Co-ops.

invisible hand So what happened? The Risk Corridor program works well for Part D, brings in revenue for the government, and is still in place. February 2014 found Rubio testifying to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on behalf of his bill. At the same time the CBO released their evaluation of the Risk Corridor program. Instead of being detrimental and a fiscal drag, the CBO projected the federal government would collect $16 billion from health insurers. Premiums would outpace claims, $8 billion would be distributed to the plans losing money, and $8 billion in additional revenue would be left for the federal government. Another House probe suggested initially there would be a shortfall with claims exceeding premiums.

The Republicans were not sitting idle and were investigating ways to derail the PPACA. As the ranking member of the Budget Committee, Senator Jeff Sessions and the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Fred Upton came up with a plan to attack the legality of the Risk Corridor payments. They joined forces with the Appropriations Panel Chairman Rep. Jack Kingston whose panel funds the Department of Health and Human Services and the Labor Department. Kind of get the picture so far?

Questioning whether the Risk Corridor payments were being appropriated correctly, the Appropriations Panel forced the HHS to make changes in how they appropriated funds allowing Congress to stop all appropriations. The PPACA could no longer appropriate the funds as they were subject to the discretion of Congress. The GAO issue an opinion on the legality of what the HHS was doing with funds.

GAO Letter to Senator Jeff Sessions. September 30, 2014: Discussion; “At issue here is whether appropriations are available to the Secretary of HHS to make the payments specified in section 1342(b)(1). Agencies may incur obligations and make expenditures only as permitted by an appropriation. U.S. Const., art. I, § 9, cl. 7; 31 U.S.C. § 1341(a)(1); B-300192, Nov. 13, 2002, at 5. Appropriations may be provided through annual appropriations acts as well as through permanent legislation. See, e.g., 63 Comp. Gen. 331 (1984). The making of an appropriation must be expressly stated in law. 31 U.S.C. § 1301(d). It is not enough for a statute to simply require an agency to make a payment. B-114808, Aug. 7, 1979. Section 1342, by its terms, did not enact an appropriation to make the payments specified in section 1342(b)(1). In such cases, we next determine whether there are other appropriations available to an agency for this purpose.”

Further down in the GAO letter, the GAO leaves the HHS an out of using other already available appropriations for the Risk Corridor payments to insurance companies. Classifying the payments as “user fees” was another way to retain the authority to spend other appropriations already made by Congress. Otherwise if revenue from the Risk Corridor program fell short, the administration would need approval for addition appropriations from Congress. As it was, the HHS could no longer appropriate funds to make Risk Corridor payments unless the funds were already appropriated by Congress or Congress approved new funds which was not going to happen with a Republican controlled House.

Appropriations Panel Chairman Rep. Jack Kingston put the final nail in the coffin by inserting one sentence in Section 227 of the 2015 Appropriations Act (dated December 16, 2014) which escaped notice. In the 2015 Appropriations Act, the sentence inserted said no “other” funds in this bill could be used for Risk Corridor payments.

Sec. 227. None of the funds made available by this Act from the Federal Hospital Insurance Trust Fund or the Federal Supplemental Medical Insurance Trust Fund, or transferred from other accounts funded by this Act to the “Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services–Program Management” account, may be used for payments under section 1342(b)(1) of Public Law 111-148 (relating to risk corridors).

This action blocked the HHS from obtaining any of the necessary Risk Corridor funds from any other Congressional appropriated program funds.

Nothing was said by Sessions, Upton, or Kingston before passage on what they had managed to do. It was Rubio who issued a news release saying the provision was appropriate even though he had little to do with it. In the end, Rep. Jack Kingston’s one sentence purposely created a $2.5 billion shortfall in the Risk-Corridor program in 2015 as the HHS had collected $362 million in fees. Insurers who had misjudged the market sought nearly $2.9 billion in payments, many nonprofit insurance Co-ops failed, healthcare insurance companies began to raise premiums to compensate, and some healthcare insurance companies recognizing an untenable environment created by Republicans took their losses and left the market.

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Why Healthcare Premiums are increasing Faster than Healthcare Costs

invisible hand In the first three years of the PPACA, a Risk Corridor Program was established to help insurers get past the initial loss phases. This is typical of startups and was used with Republican President George Bush’s Part D Drug insurance program. The PPACA had built-in protections for insurers who enrolled many abnormally sick people, provided backup payments for very high-cost cases, and protected against big losses and gains during the first three years. Due to eliminating all “pre-existing conditions” with the implementation of the PPACA, this was the protection for companies and the incentive to take on the people with health issues. Not only did it help Insurers cover their losses; but, it was an incentive for insurers not to increase premiums. Much of the funding for the program comes from the Federal Government and profitable Insurance companies paying into the Risk Corridor fund which unprofitable companies use to recoup losses. However in the first three years losses exceeded funding from profitable companies due to a Republican Congress passing laws forcing the Risk Corridor Program to be budget neutral leaving 12.6% of the necessary funds available to make insurance companies whole. As many probably know, the shortfall of funding already forced many CO-OPs to go bankrupt and resulted in Healthcare Insurance companies pulling out of the Exchanges.

Those Healthcare Companies still a part of the PPACA have gone to Federal Court to sue the administration for sustained losses. Moda Health sued the administration for $191 million due to losses in implementing the PPACA supposedly covered by the Risk Corridor Program. Moda has dropped its program in Alaska as a result of its losses and has only received ~$14 million. The Risk Corridor Program ended in 2016 and companies now face the issue of never recouping losses beyond just this.

Interesting how the Republicans have been the proverbial slugs in the process and took advantage of the crisis they created by forcing the PPACA to be budget neutral when the Part D Drug Program had no restrictions. They limited how the PPACA can fund the same Risk Corridor Program used for George Bush’s Part D Program. In September of this year, “ five Republican Senators sent HHS Secretary Burwell a letter demanding how HHS is handling a much-maligned insurance provision within the Affordable Care Act. Earlier this month, the CMS had sent a memo to health insurance companies that said the agency would not be making risk-corridor payments for 2015 because any collections would be used to cover the $2.5 billion shortfall from 2014.”

Under the PPACA Budget Neutral Act passed by the Republicans, the administration (DOJ) must now defend the law claiming they were not guaranteed the massive payouts in the first place. In November Republicans introduced the “HHS Slush Fund Elimination Act,” which restricts the Administration from using any Federal funds for the Risk Corridor Program to settle with the healthcare companies owed money.

“We are going to repeal and replace Obamacare but, in the meantime, the last thing Americans need is for the Obama Administration to sneak in one last bailout on its way out the door,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.)”

You can see;

- Why United Healthcare pulled out of the PPACA Exchange early as it did when a Republican controlled Congress reneged on the funding for the Risk Corridor Program to cover losses in the startup of the PPACA.

- Why Healthcare Insurance companies losing money would resort to increased premiums to compensate for the lack of Risk Corridor Program funds to cover the startup and losses.

- Why the Part D Drug companies have become successful and competitive amongst each other due to their successful startup with the availability of Risk Corridor Program funds.

All of this was an effort to deny the PPACA an opportunity to be successful by a Republican Congress who would deny its constituents healthcare just to get even with a President they did not like and deny him a legacy. Risk Corridors and associated programs still exist and will continue to exist for Medicare Part D; but then, this was pre-Obama and occurred under Republican President George Bush. No one called it a bailout then.

Furthermore, do you think any healthcare insurance company would ever want to be a part of a Government Healthcare plan for the public as implemented by Republicans after they have been repeatedly screwed by Congressional Republicans?

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Neel Kashkari and the Minneapolis Plan to End Too Big to Fail

Neel Kashkari has been President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis since January 1, 2016. Prior to that, he was brought over from Goldman Sachs to be Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Stability from October 2008 to May 2009. His job was to hand out money to the banks as bailout.

I believe the first time first time he was mentioned at this blog was right after he was appointed to give away our money:

The bail-out will succeed only, repeat, only in the sense that the US succeeded in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 when Simone Ledeen and the rest of the Heritage interns were running around the country handing out trash bags full of money and giving Halliburton money for services it would never begin to render. There will be less yabbering of silly catchphrases like “but what about all the schools that were painted?” this time around, though, because the schools will be exploding when GW is no longer in office. To be extremely precise, this is what I think the success will look like: shady, undeserving characters will be enriched, young versions of the idiots who got us into the mess will launch successful careers (can you say “Kashkari”?), and the promised benefits to the American public, the schmucks footing the bill, will never materialize.

From memory, not only is that the first time I mentioned Mr. Kashkari, it is also the most complementary I have been toward him yet. But now, Mr. Kashkari is back with a new scheme to reduce the likelihood of a meltdown.

Kashkari provides this slide as a summary of his plan:

Figure 1 - The Minneapolis Plan

Figure 1  (click on the slide to embiggen)

Accompanying the slide is this platitude which also functions as a fly in the ointment:

We cannot make the risk zero, and safety isn’t free. Regulations can make the financial system safer, but they come with costs of potentially slower economic growth. Ultimately, the public has to decide how much safety they want in order to protect society from future financial crises and what price they are willing to pay for that safety.

Because Kashkari is a political creature who won’t speak clearly, to get an understanding of what the vegetables he wants us to eat taste like we go to the full plan:

We measure the cost of higher capital requirements in terms of lost GDP due to tighter lending conditions. This calculation requires a number of steps. We trace the impact of higher capital requirements to lower bank return on equity (ROE) and then to higher loan rates. Higher loan rates slow economic growth by restricting borrowing. As noted above, this approach closely follows the BIS.

And the banks agree:

The Financial Services Forum that represents U.S. financial services companies cautioned that implementing the recommendations would stymie the economy. “For those looking to accelerate economic growth and job creation, tripling bank capital levels — already double from pre-crisis levels — will make it much harder to meet those goals,” the forum’s spokeswoman, Laena Fallon, said by e-mail.

So, to summarize the negative side of this proposal: more stringent regulatory requirements –> higher interest rates –> less borrowing –> slower growth in GDP.

I recognize that this is gospel in the banking and regulatory community, and its been many moons since I thought of myself as an economist, but this seems pretty daft to me. Or rather, it seems like regulatory capture speaking. Consider for a moment this seemingly unrelated graph:

Figure 2 - The Fed Funds Rate and the Bank Prime Rate

Figure 2.

Note that the bank prime rate (orange line on the graph) is almost perfectly correlated with the fed funds rate (blue line on the graph) which is set by the Federal Reserve Bank. The difference between the two lines is shown in the gray bars. Do you see the large, sustained increase in that difference between the pre-Crisis period and the present that is due to the large increase in capital requirements we’ve already seen? No? Well, that’s because it didn’t happen. This notion that increased capital requirements raises the interest rates that banks charge their customers makes perfect sense in theory, but it stubbornly refuses to actually be true in the real world.

However, let’s assume this time things will be different. Let’s assume that unlike what we’ve seen so far, this time increased capital requirements do lead to a big sustained increase in the bank prime rate. Say for the sake of this post that the requirements effectively doubles the difference between the fed funds rate and the bank prime rate, permanently. What changes?

Well, if the Fed decided, at that point, that it wanted to raise or lower the interest rates charged by banks, it would do what it currently does in the same situation, namely change the federal funds rate. If anything changes at all, maybe, just maybe it will do so at the lower bound. And if there were some evidence that the Fed knows what its doing when the Fed Funds rate is near the lower bound, I admit that would be a concern.

So there’s no downside to this plan, at least as far as I can see.  Of course, the plan is just the tame one we’ve already enacted, but with a bit more in the way of a bite and, courtesy of Mr. Kashkari, a more extravagant soundtrack.  The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has a good sized research team. Kashkari could have asked any of them of to explain how the Fed Funds rate works, or about the relationship between the Fed Funds rate and the rates charged by banks. But failing upwards requires ignorance.  The higher up you are, the more ignorance is required. It is clear Mr. Kashkari has further to rise.

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