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

Pence Makes Deciding Vote Allowing States to Defund Planned Parenthood

Second time Pence has cast the deciding vote in the Senate. Last VP to do so was Cheney in 2008.

VP Pence has made it no secret he is opposed to allowing women the right to decide on having an abortions. While in Congress, Pence sponsored the first bill to defund Planned Parenthood in 2007 and when it did not pass then he continued the effort until it did pass in the House in 2011.

More recently a Federal Court blocked a bill signed by then Indiana Governor Pence forcing women to have a funeral for the aborted fetus which would then go through a burial or cremation. The cost of the burial or cremation would have increased the cost of the abortion dramatically in Indiana. The court ruled Pence’s law would have blocked a woman’s right to choose.

If you remember VP Pence had used his tie breaker vote to approve Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Today, VP Pence was again called upon to break a Senate tie involving the right of states to defund Planned Parenthood.

The Department of Health and Human Services under President Obama ruled organizations providing family planning and preventive health care services could not be barred by states from receiving Title X grant dollars for any reason other than those related to their “ability to deliver services to program beneficiaries in an effective manner.” It required states and local governments to distribute federal Title X funding for services related to contraception, fertility, pregnancy care and cervical cancer screenings to health providers without regard for whether those facilities also performed abortions outside of Title X. Title X funding covers services such as contraception, STD screenings, treatments and can not be used to pay for abortion services.

Weighing in after the tie-breaking vote to overrule President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services, Senate Majority Leader McConnell had this to say:

“It was the Obama administration’s move that hurt ‘local communities’ by substituting Washington’s judgment for the needs of real people. This regulation is an unnecessary restriction on states that know their residents a lot better than the federal government.”

Not sure what needs McConnell’s real-people would have to block a woman’s decision to have an abortion which is not taken lightly by a woman and using it as an excuse to defund Planned Parenthood. It appears McConnell, Pence, and the Republicans are practicing a tyranny of a majority to disregard the rights of an individual in favor of their own views.

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Employment in coal mining

Trump is claiming he can restore coal mining to its former glory by reversing the new regulations that Obama enacted.

 

Obvious he has no idea what the history of employment in coal mining is.

Just note that it peaked in 1923.

 

Update: Today the NY Times had a very good article on coal and jobs: “Coal Mining Jobs Trump Would Bring Back No Longer Exist

COALMINING

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Poor Salesman Great Grasp of Policy

I am aware of all internet traditions (with notably rare exceptions) and I think this might be another classic.

In a generally very good article in Politico Tim Alberta wrote “Ryan is poor salesman with a great grasp of policy” [skip] “After he unveiled the bill, leading health care experts on the right like Yuval Levin and Avik Roy trashed it as a poorly conceived mess; ”

So having a great grasp of policy is consistent with writing an immensely important poorly conceived mess. I am googling [Ryan salesman "great grasp of policy"] which only gives 142 results. Does seem twitter has taken over the snark industry. This thread burns. Also at least 1% of the US Senate took Alberta to task.

update: I was wrong. The classic is actually

TimAlberta

So the fact that Ryan’s polics don’t withstand scrutiny shows that Ryan has a great grasp of policy. OK I fell for it. Tim Alberta is just trolling me. He. will. not. make. my. head. explode. No he won’t.

end update:

I think the crazy claim shows a few things. One is that conventional wisdom is invulnerable to evidence. Ryan has been declared a super wonk by the cool kids, so the assertion is riskless. Another is that Alberta wasn’t thinking about policy (he wrote almost nothing about the content of the AHCA). Another is that he assumes that the problem for Ryan with Levin and Roy was that he didn’t flatter them enough and not that his bill was a poorly conceived mess (the preceding sentence was “There was no such effort on Ryan’s part, and it showed. (Several allies argued he had done some outreach, but they failed to provide any specific examples.)”). Finally, symmetry is dangerously tempting. The whole crazy claim is “If the bill failed because Trump is a great salesman with a poor grasp of policy, it also failed because Ryan is a poor salesman with a great grasp of policy.” This is symmetry at the expence of accuracy. Ryan is a brilliant salesman who has a weak grasp of policy.

I foolishly said that ignoring policy and discussing inside baseball is what Politico does, then found out that they also published an excellent article by Harold Pollack “Paul Ryan Failed Because his Bill was a Dumpster Fire”

update: Ouch

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The Battle for Healthcare in the US

In 2026, an estimated 52 million would be uninsured in the US, a dramatic reversal from the 2016 uninsured count of 28/29 million. Pretty much, the Republicans will put healthcare back to the way it was pre-2014 if Paul Ryan’s bill is passed by Congress and Donald signs the bill in its present form.

- By 2018, 14 million could be uninsured with many of the uninsured practicing the tyranny of a minority, as John S. Mill might call it, upon the rest of the insured population as they drop out. Others will simply lose healthcare insurance as states withdraw from the Medicaid expansion and employers drop the coverage they were required to carry as they had 50 or more employees. Many of today’s insured will be unable to afford the increased premiums due to smaller subsidies. The elderly will be faced with smaller subsidies and a higher 5:1 ratio premium, which is up from the present 3:1 under the ACA program.

- Doctors, clinics, and hospitals have seen increased numbers of patients coming through the front door rather than the rear door due to the expansion of Medicaid to 138% FPL and subsidies for healthcare insurance to those under 400% FPL. My own PCP has seen many new patients who have never been to a doctor before except at the ER. With the proposed reversal of the mandate to have healthcare insurance and the dropping of Medicaid, it will fall upon hospitals and doctors to still provide stabilizing care as defined by law to all who arrive at their door. Except this time, the subsidizing payments for care for the uninsured to hospitals and clinics will not be available as it was reduced with the advent of the PPACA. It appears the AHA is not too pleased with Paul Ryan’s AHCA bill either.

- Our new Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price had this to say; “You’re falling into the same old trap of individuals who are measuring the success of Medicaid by how much money we put into it. We ought not be measuring programs by how much money we put into it, we ought to be measuring them by whether or not they work.” Or take one aspirin and you will be alright in the morning. Interestingly, Republicans are happy with constituents paying a surcharge/mandate for not having healthcare insurance or healthcare. And if they suddenly have to have healthcare insurance, they pay the penalty to private companies rather than use it to fund subsidies. Who would have thought?

- Medicaid currently is not working according to Tom Price and as many as one in three doctors are not accepting Medicaid patients. That part is partially true. In a survey of its membership, the American Academy of Family Physicians discovered 68% of its members accepting new Medicaid patients in 2016. This is the highest level of Medicaid acceptance since 2004. The same argument was made for Medicare in the past. As Health Beat’s Maggie Mahar has said, “if Medicare is the largest business in town, are you going to ignore it or work within its confines?”

- Mr. Price argues on behalf of states claiming the granting of greater flexibility would result in better results and quality. My own observations with Michigan Medicaid when there was no Federal Government expansion disagrees with Tom Price’s claims. Michigan State Senator Joseph Hune said it all in one sentence when he stated; “I am ‘sick to his stomach with the expansion of Medicaid in Michigan.” Even with the expansion, the state legislature delayed the implementation of it to the following year so they could go on Christmas vacation and lost $thousands in Federal aid. This occurred in a state which can not fix its roads and bridges, argues about replacing Flint lead pipes, and wastes money going to 6th District COA and SCOTUS because it does not like rulings conflicting with its absurd beliefs. After all, Hune and his associates have their healthcare for life having been in the legislature for short periods of time; why should 600,000 Michigan residents matter to Hune and his associates.

Pre-Michigan expansion in order for adults to be insured and they had to be working. If they were working they had to be making just so much in order to be eligible. If they were not working, they were ineligible. Michigan and State Senator Joe Hune did their damnest to block people from access to healthcare. If this is Tom Price’s better results and quality, it did not work then and will only make it worse now.

- Joan Aker at Georgetown University Healthcare Policy Institute puts greater state flexibility into perspective:

“So in practical terms what does that mean? States could get new flexibility to limit enrollment. They could gain the ability to limit enrollment directly by imposing enrollment caps or rolling back eligibility; or indirectly by putting up barriers such as imposing work requirements or lockout periods, which reduce enrollment. States could also gain more flexibility in determining what benefits people receive (in the case of children this might mean limits on the child-centered EPSDT benefit) or on how much families have to pay for those services (including premiums, cost-sharing or spend down rules before seniors qualify for long term services and supports). In fact, one piece of this so-called “flexibility” that is included in the repeal bill would allow states to require seniors to spend down even more of their assets before qualifying for long-term care services and supports by placing restrictions on how much equity seniors can have in their homes.” We did this in Michigan already and pre-PPACA.

- The AHCA penalizes the poor and elderly more severely than the ACA did. The ACA has a penalty for not getting healthcare insurance, which is based on the income of the uninsured and is paid yearly at tax time. The AHCA also has a penalty for not getting healthcare insurance. It is based upon the premium you would pay, not income, and each person pays the same penalty regardless on income; however if you are older, the 5:1 ratio will apply to your penalty. As I showed using a Avalere* chart, a 27 year old person making $11,880 annually would be paying $695 at tax time under the ACA and under the AHCA plan $1,006 for a bronze plan.

If the insured was 50 years old and made $11,880 annually, the penalty under the ACA is determined by income and remains the same; however under the AHCA, the penalty under a Bronze plan format jumps to $1,713. This is an ~ $700 difference between a 27 year old and a 50 year old. If it is a Silver plan add ~100 dollars for a 27 year old and ~ $250 for a 50 year old. Whether 27 or 50 and making $11,880 annually; the payment is harsh and is harder to pay the larger it gets.

As I get more information I will pass it on. There is much going on at a rapid pace and it takes a bit to gather it up.

*After leaving the White House Office of Management and Budget in 2000, Dan Mendelson founded what is today Avalere firm and initially named it The Health Strategies Consultancy LLC.

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U.S. Has Worst Wealth Inequality of Any Rich Nation, and It’s Not Even Close

I’ve discussed the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Reports before, an excellent source of data for both wealth and wealth inequality. The most recent edition, from November 2016, shows the United States getting wealthier, but steadily more unequal in wealth per adult and dropping from 25th to 27th in median wealth per adult since 2014. Moreover, on a global scale, it reports that the top 1% of wealth holders hold 50.8% of the world’s wealth (Report, p. 18).

One important point to bear in mind is that while the United States remains the fourth-highest country for wealth per adult (after Switzerland, Iceland, and Australia) at $344,692, its median wealth per adult has fallen to 27th in the world, down to $44,977. As I have pointed out before, the reason for this is much higher inequality in the U.S. In fact, the U.S. ratio of mean to median wealth per adult is 7.66:1, the highest of all rich countries by a long shot.

The tables below illustrate this. First, I will present the 29 countries with median wealth per adult over $40,000 per year, from largest to smallest. The second table also includes mean wealth per adult and the mean/median ratio, sorted by the inequality ratio.

 

1. Switzerland  $244,002
2. Iceland  $188,088
3. Australia  $162,815
4. Belgium  $154,815
5. New Zealand  $135,755
6. Norway  $135,012
7. Luxembourg  $125,452
8. Japan  $120,493
9. United Kingdom  $107,865
10. Italy  $104,105
11. Singapore  $101,386
12. France  $  99,923
13. Canada  $  96,664
14. Netherlands  $  81,118
15. Ireland  $  80,668
16. Qatar  $  74,820
17. Korea  $  64,686
18. Taiwan  $  63,134
19. United Arab Emirates  $  62,332
20. Spain  $  56,500
21. Malta  $  54,562
22. Israel  $  54,384
23. Greece  $  53,266
24. Austria  $  52,519
25. Finland  $  52,427
26. Denmark  $  52,279
27. United States  $  44,977
28. Germany  $  42,833
29. Kuwait  $  40,803

Source: Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2016, Table 3-1

Now that I’ve got your attention, let me remind you why this low level of median wealth is a BIG PROBLEM. Quite simply, we are careening towards a retirement crisis as Baby Boomers like myself find their income drop off a cliff in retirement. As I reported in 2013, 49% (!) of all private sector workers have no retirement plan at all, not even a crappy 401(k). 31% have only a 401(k), which shifts all the investment risk on to the individual, rather than pooling that risk as Social Security does. And many people had to borrow against their 401(k) during the Great Recession, including 1/3 of people in their forties. The overall savings shortfall is $6.6 trillion! If Republican leaders finally get their wish to gut Social Security, prepare to see levels of elder poverty unlike anything in generations. It will not be pretty.

Let’s move now to the inequality data, where I’ll present median wealth per adult, mean wealth per adult, and the mean-to-median ratio, a significant indicator of inequality. These data will be sorted by that ratio.

 

1. United States  $ 44,977  $344,692 7.66
2. Denmark  $ 52,279  $259,816 4.97
3. Germany  $ 42,833  $185,175 4.32
4. Austria  $ 52,519  $206,002 3.92
5. Israel  $ 54,384  $176,263 3.24
6. Kuwait  $ 40,803  $119,038 2.92
7. Finland  $ 52,427  $146,733 2.80
8. Canada  $ 96,664  $270,179 2.80
9. Taiwan  $ 63,134  $172,847 2.74
10. Singapore  $101,386  $276,885 2.73
11. United Kingdom  $107,865  $288,808 2.68
12. Ireland  $ 80,668  $214,589 2.66
13. Luxembourg  $125,452  $316,466 2.52
14. Korea  $ 64,686  $159,914 2.47
15. France  $ 99,923  $244,365 2.45
16. United Arab Emirates  $ 62,332  $151,098 2.42
17. Norway  $135,012  $312,339 2.31
18. Australia  $162,815  $375,573 2.31
19. Switzerland  $244,002  $561,854 2.30
20. Netherlands  $ 81,118  $184,378 2.27
21. New Zealand  $135,755  $298,930 2.20
22. Iceland  $188,088  $408,595 2.17
23. Qatar  $ 74,820  $161,666 2.16
24. Malta  $ 54,562  $116,185 2.13
25. Spain  $ 56,500  $116,320 2.06
26. Greece  $ 53,266  $103,569 1.94
27. Italy  $104,105  $202,288 1.94
28. Japan  $120,493  $230,946 1.92
29. Belgium  $154,815  $270,613 1.75

Source: Author’s calculations from Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2016, Table 3-1

As you can see, the U.S. inequality ratio is more than 50% higher than #2 Denmark and fully three times as high as the median country on the list, France. As the title says, this is not even close.

The message couldn’t be clearer: Get down to your town halls and let your Senators and Representatives know that it’s time to raise Social Security benefits and forget the nonsense of cutting them.

Cross-posted from Middle Class Political Economist.

 

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No One Knows What It’s Like to be Paul Ryan

Who can tell us how he feels knowing that no one likes his health care reform ?
The Who can tell us how he feels knowing that no one likes his health care reform !

This is some cause for optimism, as we can note The Who’s further forecast that, by the last verse, he will recognize the importance of access to emergency medical care and the moral imperative to share with those in need.

No one knows what it’s like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes

ryan

No one knows what it’s like
To be hated
To be fated
To telling only lies

But my dreams
They aren’t as empty
As my conscience seems to be
I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance
That’s never free

ryansad

No one knows what it’s like
To feel these feelings
Like I do
And I blame you

No one bites back as hard
On their anger
None of my pain and woe
Can show through

But my dreams
They aren’t as empty
As my conscience seems to be
I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance
That’s never free

ryanlaughs

When my fist clenches, crack it open
Before I use it and lose my cool
When I smile, tell me some bad news
Before I laugh and act like a fool

And if I swallow anything evil
Put your finger down my throat
And if I shiver, please give me a blanket
Keep me warm, let me wear your coat

coats

No one knows what it’s like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes

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Paul Ryan not taking Phone Calls Faxes, or Petitions

A suggestion from Michael Halasy:

The Randian Congressman Paul Ryan has turned off ALL of his public telephones & fax machines in response to protests in favor of the Affordable Care Act, Planned Parenthood, Medicare, etc. He is also NOT accepting signed petitions and is TURNING-AWAY voters who deliver the petitions. So, let’s see what 67 million postcards looks like in his driveway. Please start mailing postcards to his HOME:

Congressman Paul Ryan
700 St. Lawrence Ave.
Janesville, WI 53545

Costs less than a buck to deliver this protest and makes sense to me.

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“Nothin’ but ‘blue skies’ do I see”

A little Ella Fitzgerald for you today. Kind of fits with what is going on in the US today.

Over at Vox, Matt Yglesias has an interesting article on the Trump Transition Team ordering government economists to cook up rosy economic forecasts. With his far reaching economic “it will be great” promises during the election, delusional Trump has laid out a “blue skies” future which is likely unobtainable with the past economic growth of less than 2%. Trump intends to get there with increased spending on military and infrastructure, tax reform, cuts in regulations, etc. and never touching Randian Paul Ryan’s favorite target of cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Still, The Fed and CBO are forecasting growth at less than 2% going forward.

The Transition Team has a plan . . . “a regulatory rollback and tax reform unleashing growth, driving a recovery in productivity, sending business investment higher, and drawing idled workers back to the labor force.” Trump asserts faster growth to be the result of regulatory rollback and tax reform and will result in economic growth soaring to 3 to 3.5% . . . well above the CBO and Fed’s reasoned estimates. All of this and no Fed interest rate increases forecasted as foreign funds will flock to the US to invest and fund this growth (think of the mortgage market pre-2008 attracting all the foreign money looking for safe haven after Greenspan nixed Fed Rate increases).

The Wall Street Journal’s Nick Timiraos suggests the numbers arrived at for growth were not arrived at by any process at all; instead, “the transition team gave CEA staff the growth target the budget would produce and told them to fill in data supporting the target and necessary to make it happen.” The logic could work if the end result, the target, is realistic. As Matt points out the deficit would be larger; but the economy would be 17% larger and the deficit as a part of GDP much smaller (hmmm, deficit growth . . . sounds like Reagan and Bush II all over again).

So, Trump has an overly optimistic budget based upon phenomenal growth which defies what every one else believes will happen and he will pass the budget to Congress. Watching everything else which has happened over the last 30 days; if Congress balks or does not find a way to make Trump’s budget proposal happen, similar accusations will be forth coming from The White House as to how Congress failed (think Appeals Court) to make things happen which impacts every citizen in the US. Everybody’s fault except his. Then too, Trump was left quite a mess . . .

Expect another week of listening to Trump complaining about how everyone failed him.

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Dumbest Statement Coming Out of Congress Yet on Healthcare . . .

A partial of the Republican plan:

introduced by Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), would end Medicaid expansion, decouple health insurance from employers, offer a tax credit of up to $5,000 to fund HSAs, and eliminate most regulations on what health plans must cover. Insurers would be able to sell policies across state lines; regulations that mandate birth-control coverage would be nixed.

Hmmmm, that’s nice . . .

This is about the dumbest statement I have read yet by Senator Rand Paul;

“What if 30 percent of the public had health savings accounts?” Paul asked. “What do you do when you use your own money? You call up doctors and ask the price. . . . If you create a real marketplace, you drive prices down.”

“What if” we were all billionaires, able to buy the best care, and negotiate with multi-billion dollar hospitals? Yea “what if” . . . “What if” all the Senators and Congressmen, and Judges had our very same healthcare plan? Yea “what if” . . . “What if” all of those people fighting against the PPACA had really put some effort into learning about it, put the effort into forcing Congress to move forward with making it better . . . where would we be today? Yea “What if” . . .

Still love kicking the one layer deep naysayers around as they too will get a douse of what this is all about if ESI disappears as well as birth-control. Healthcare policies across state lines will be similar to what bank chartering is like with a couple of states controlling all the policies and no real competition (just like interest rates and usury).

“What if . . . “

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