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

Michigan Senate and House Majority Republicans Will Usurp the Public’s Right to Vote on an Abortion Ban

As I pointed out in a public meeting, Republicans have had control of the Michigan Senate since 1992, the House two-thirds of the time, and the governorship two of 3 times up till Gretchen Whitmer came to office. Yet under the control of Republicans, the state’s infrastructure is crumbling, its economy has decreased when compared to other nearby competitive states, and employment Participation Rate still has not returned to what it was pre-2008 when the Republicans left a nation’s economy in shambles and a large deficit.

The one thing Republicans are good at is attacking the rights of everyday citizens,  a woman’s right to birth control and information, the rights of minorities to societal equality, and the rights of those living homeless and in poverty. In Michigan, the majority Republican legislature mostly sponsored by creative districting will pass a veto – proof bill based upon petitions from those who wish to deny women the right to decide rather than put the decision on a ballot initiative in Michigan.

From Bloomberg Law:

“Anti-abortion group Right to Life Michigan said it handed in more than enough valid signatures Dec. 23 to put its proposed ban of dilation-and-evacuation abortion procedures before the Legislature in 2020. The procedure, which dismembers the fetus, is the most common second-trimester abortion operation.

The vote would be held under a divisive process that allows the Michigan House and Senate to adopt citizen referendums headed to the ballot on a majority vote not subject to veto. Right to Life of Michigan has used the referendum-to-adoption process four times in the past when a governor opposing abortion restrictions proved a barrier in Lansing, and the group says it already has assurances from GOP leaders in the House and Senate that the ban will be adopted.

‘The 379,418 people who signed their names on this life-saving dismemberment ban should be confident that our prolife majorities in the Michigan Legislature will pass the bill again, just like they did back in May,’ Right to Life of Michigan President Barbara Listing said in a Dec. 23 statement.’”

Michigan Edges Toward Ban on Common Abortion Procedure, Bloomberg Law, December 23, 2019

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NAFTA Revision, H.R. 1865, and Biologics (Pharma) Switcheroo

Sigh . . .

If the general public has not caught it, there are some of us who watch the political mechanizations by commercial healthcare to improve their lot in Congress. I know the public has not caught this switcheroo in Congress causing them to look good (and boast of it) in removing new drug exclusivity from NAFTA. What we have missed is it was granted in H.R. 1865 instead and for a longer period of time to boot. Read on to see how this was accomplished.

Addressed to Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin:

The Good:

Yes with the revision of NAFTA, Democrats “removed a provision giving the makers of ultra-expensive biologic drugs 10 years of protection from less expensive knockoffs. This is up from 5 years.

Democrats opposed what they called a giveaway to the industry locking in inflated prices by stifling competition. Top examples of the injected drugs made from living cells include medications to fight cancer and immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. This legislation impacted drugs such as Rituxan, Humira, and Enbrel. Humira and Rituxan being two of the more expensive drugs on the market which have incurred pricing increases exceeding twice Medical CPI. From January 2012 to December 2017, Humira experienced price increases of 124%. Rituxan which I use from time to time is right behind Humira in cost.

The Bad:

Recently finished up an article on the prices/costs of healthcare and the resulting increases in Healthcare Insurance and deductibles whether it be Employer, ACA, or Medicare/Medicaid. House Bill H.R. 1865 was passed in the Senate and one of the few to make it through the Senate. It was the 2020  budget bill coming out of the House, altered by the Senate and altered by the House and finally passed by the Senate.

Besides repealing the Cadillac tax and the Medical Device tax which were never implemented and the Healthcare Insurance tax which was implemented; the bill also included (page 1503) a phrase to include “chemically synthesized polypeptides,” medicines such as Novo Nordisk’s Victoza. While it is only for new drugs and not drugs newly deemed to be Biologics such as Humulin and Humira, it is similar to what was removed from the NAFTA bill, is 12 years long for exclusivity, and it is still a huge and similar give away to Pharmaceutical companies the same as what was in the NAFTA revisionary bill.

And The Ugly:

The reasoning for the designation is to give companies a chance to bring new and cheaper bio-similar drugs to market. Ok fine bringing a drug to market, risk adjusted costs can be recouped in 5 years for the most expensive drug such as Humira and Rituxan as detailed by the recent World Healthcare Organization Technical Report on Cancer Drugs. With anywhere from 50% increases to a doubling of prices over a two year period (JAMA Network Open), Pharma does not need legislative incentives through extended exclusivity to be creative and profitable.

References:

Generic Drug Groups See Giveaway to Brand Names in Spending Bill, Bloomberg Law, Alex Ruoff and Jaquie Lee, December 19, 2019

THE HOUSE AMENDMENT TO THE SENATE AMENDMENT TO H.R. 1865, Appropriations Act, 2020, Page 1503, December 16, 2019

TECHNICAL REPORT Pricing of cancer medicines and its impacts, World Health Organization

run75441 (Bill H)

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Summing Up the Last Decade

To steal from Sandwichman’s excellent commentary on 2020 Hindsight and use a quotation from it which does give the magnitude of the last 10 years in financial terms;

“A fourth wave of debt began in 2010 and debt has reached $55 trillion in 2018, making it the largest, broadest and fastest growing of the four” (since 1970). There is a cost to this and one which can be seen in the US as this debt formation is not going to “meet urgent development needs such as basic infrastructure, as much of the current debt wave is taking riskier forms”

akin to what we began to see in 2000 and culminating in 2007/8 with a disastrous economic collapse.

The Atlantic’s Anne Lowry also writes about the last decade. Perhaps, she is the wrong author to pick upon and use to summarize the impact of the economy on the nation’s population. And again others may disagree with my choice; however in this case, I appreciate her summation on what she notes in passing; The Decade in Which Everything Was Great But Felt Terrible.

Picking the best story encapsulating the economy of the last decade she chose CamperForce: depicting elderly nomads living in vans and RVs and spending their twilight years temping at Amazon fulfillment centers, other places, setting up temp businesses, etc. after losing savings, homes, and belongings in the 2008 crash.

If there was a positive spin to this recital it would be of people wanting the structure and community work can provide well into retirement age, the freedom and mobility associated with a RV life, the flexibility of temp gigs, or not being nailed down to place, job, etc. The story is not of a newly realized freedom in retirement; CamperForce consisted of grandparents who had been evicted from their homes during the housing collapse and were struggling to stay out of poverty. It’s a modern-day, AARP twist on The Grapes of Wrath.

To use Anne’s words; perhaps the most representative story is that of the former graduate student who ended up as a warehouse janitor or the thousands of people who have gone online to beg for money to help them stay afloat through a life-threatening illness.

In finality these stories cast a reality in the names and faces depicting today’s economic impact; the real, urgent, and indelible marks of this past decade’s failings. The ten years without a single month of serious recession with the United States growing to its wealthiest point ever and still longevity fell, and it became clear that a whole generation was losing its place in the hierarchy.

The central economic message given to us from the 2010s? No matter how well the market was doing, how long the expansion lasted, and how much the economy grew; families still struggled and lost ground in the economic hierarchy. Because the decade did so little for so many, it strained America’s idea of what economic growth could and should do.

The rest of Anne Lowry’s story can be found here; “The Decade in Which Everything Was Great But Felt Terrible,” The Atlantic, December 31, 2019.

It is a good read.

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The criminalization of homelessness

Poverty is the worst form of violence.  Mahatma Gandhi

This particular Baltimore Sun commentary goes hand in hand with Paul Krugman’s commentary on making life more difficult for the <less than 138% FPL  using Medicaid. The motive of the Trumpians. Trump, and Republicans is to punish people for things impacting them through no fault of their own. Trumps plays to a crowd who believe others less fortunate are getting something for nothing. It is an old ploy to establish a class lower than the next level so they believe they have a her level of existence.

Imagine if sleeping were to get you thrown in jail. Or sitting and lying down in public. Or camping. Or snoozing in your car.

In cities across the country, that is exactly what is happening to homeless people who engage in these activities. In an effort to clean up their cities and make residents and visitors more comfortable, lawmakers have taken an inhumane approach to homelessness and made all these actions illegal.

Civil liberties advocates have challenged these laws arguing, arguing they violate the 8th Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment. This month, they were handed a victory from the Supreme Court, which declined to review a lower court ruling that allowed people to sleep in public when shelters are full. The justices made their decision with no comment or dissent in the case, which stemmed from a lawsuit filed by homeless people in Boise, Idaho, who were ticketed for sleeping outside.

We hope the high court’s decision will make other cities think twice about adopting such laws, which punishes people for their predicament. A study released last week by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty found the number of cities with such regulations is growing rapidly. In 2019, 83% of 187 cities had at least one law that restricted begging in public. Fifty-five percent of these cities have one or more laws prohibiting sitting or lying down in public and 51% had at least one law restricting sleeping in public. Currently, 72% of the cities have at least one law restricting camping in public. There are even laws that prohibit people from sleeping in their cars.

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Paul Krugman: The cruelty of a Trump Christmas Medicaid, Work Reqmts, and Food Stamps Edition

This sets the tone in Michigan as the richest Republican controlled County of Livingston continues its attack on women along with the State of Michigan House and Senate using a petition to pass a veto-proof law limiting abortion without putting it forward on a ballot initiative. A tyranny of a minority imposing its will upon others.

“By Trump-era standards, Ebenezer Scrooge was a nice guy.

It’s common, especially around this time of year, to describe conservative politicians who cut off aid to the poor as Scrooges; I’ve done it myself. But if you think about it, this is deeply unfair to Scrooge.

For while Dickens portrays Scrooge as a miser, he’s notably lacking in malice. True, he’s heartless until visited by various ghosts. But his heartlessness consists merely of unwillingness to help those in need. He’s never shown taking pleasure in others’ suffering, or spending money to make the lives of the poor worse.

These are things you can’t say about the modern American right. In fact, many conservative politicians only pretend to be Scrooges, when they’re actually much worse–not mere misers, but actively cruel. This was true long before Donald Trump moved into the White House. What’s new about the Trump era is that the cruelty is more open, not just on Trump’s part, but throughout his party.

The conventional wisdom about today’s Republicans is that they are Scrooge-like. The story is that they want to serve the interests of the rich (which is true), and that the reason they want to slash aid to the poor is to free up money for plutocrat-friendly tax cuts.

But is that really why the right is so determined to cut programs like food stamps and unemployment benefits?

(more by Krugman)

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How to Privatize the Post Office: Piece by piece, step by step

Steve Hutkins, a literature professor who teaches “place studies” at the Gallatin School of New York University. A few days ago, the Trump administration announced that one of its goals is to privatize the Postal Service. A private postal system, says the White House proposal, would deliver mail fewer days per week, shift to cluster boxes instead of door and curb delivery, adjust prices and negotiate wages and benefits without government interference, and “shrink its physical and personnel footprints,” i.e., close post offices, consolidate processing facilities, sell buildings, and shed jobs. According to Trump’s proposal, before privatization can happen, the Postal Service must show that it can be profitable, so it needs to cut costs on delivery, wages, benefits, and footprint sooner rather than later. That process is actually well underway, and it has been for decades. The following post was originally published in July 2011, but it seems as relevant as ever, so it’s reprinted here with a few minor edits to update some numbers.

Marketization is “the process that enables state-owned enterprises to act like market-oriented firms.” It is achieved by reducing government subsidies, deregulation, organizational restructuring, The post office thus came to be viewed in terms of a business model. Like a private corporation, it was expected to adopt the methods and values of the marketplace — cut costs, streamline operations, fight unions, don’t run in the red — rather than operating as a public service “to bind the nation together”and decentralization. It often paves the way for complete privatization.

It was the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 that began the marketization of the postal system. It transformed the U.S. Post Office Department – a government agency and part of the Cabinet — into the independent U.S. Postal Service – a government-owned corporation that is self-supporting and receives no tax dollars.

The post office thus came to be viewed in terms of a business model. Like a private corporation, it was expected to adopt the methods and values of the marketplace — cut costs, streamline operations, fight unions, don’t run in the red — rather than operating as a public service “to bind the nation together.”

That’s why you keep hearing politicians and USPS leaders say “the Postal Service is a business,” and it needs to “optimize its infrastructure facilities” and “shed under-utilized assets.” And that’s why a few weeks ago Dennis Ross’s committee on postal infrastructure brought in a couple of corporate execs to explain how they run their businesses.

The Reorganization Act, it’s worth noting, was the product of a presidential commission in 1967-68, chaired by retired AT&T Chairman Frederick R. Kappel, who, in testimony before Congress, said, “If I could, I’d make it a private enterprise and I would create a private corporation to run the postal service and the country would be better off financially. But I can’t get from here to there.” It would be left to others to “get from here to there.”

 

Steps two, three and four after the leap

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Focusing on Congressional Efforts to Control Healthcare Pricing, They Do Not

Perhaps, I am on the wrong side of the argument on how to control healthcare costs of which one proposed solution is a part of the latest budget bill passed in a bipartisan effort in Congress on December 19, 2019. Others may disagree with me on my thoughts.

What was passed was superficial and will not fix the rising cost of healthcare which drives increased healthcare insurance deductibles and premiums. Oh, and surprise billing in hospitals still lives! Fixing surprise billing was set aside by Congress.

The latest bill (H.R. 1865) to impact the ACA passed the House 297 to 120 and the Senate 71 to 23. In the bill, the Health Insurance tax will be repealed in 2021, the Cadillac tax in 2020, and the Medical Device tax in 2020. The repeal of the three taxes will result in the loss of a projected revenue of $373.3 billion over 10 years. The largest projected revenue loss will come from repeal of the Cadillac tax ($197 billion), followed by the Health Insurance tax ($150.8 billion), and the Medical Device tax ($25.5 billion).

All repealed for Congress to be able to say we pushed back on costs and helped to prevent the rising costs by blocking mandated tax increases. Except they also undercut the ACA and increased the annual deficit.

I am going to skip the history involved in the delays of these taxes and go right to my objections after I tell you what these taxes were expected to do.

Cadillac Tax: As Newsweek reported in 2017, the so-called “Cadillac tax” would have capped the tax deductions individuals could claim based on their health insurance benefits. It would have imposed a 40 percent excise tax on employer-sponsored plans that exceeded $10,000 in premiums per year for a single person or $27,500 for a family. The Cadillac tax was set (for the umpteenth time) to take effect in 2022. The reasoning for this tax was to capture special plans for Execs whose plans were hidden amongst the regular plans.

Health Insurance Tax: The CMS’ Office of the Actuary calculated that the net cost of private health insurance grew 15.3% in 2018, up from 9.5% in 2017, the biggest increase since 2003. The actuaries said this was driven largely by the temporary reinstatement of the Health Insurance tax, which was suspended by Congress this year. Actuaries can say what they wish too, except it ignores the last 10 years of increased healthcare costs untouched by this tax.

Medical Device Tax: The medical device tax was a 2.3 percent excise tax on gross sales of medical devices used by humans (not animals) such as x-ray machines and hospital beds. It was implemented in 2013 but had been suspended since 2015, according to the Tax Foundation. It was thought the increase in healthcare would spawn the sales f equipment (it has) and the revenue  would subsidize the ACA.

Preventing the implementation of these taxes does “nothing” to forestall increasing healthcare insurance deductibles and premiums and healthcare costs. Also keep in mind, portions of the ACA were passed under Reconciliation, the loss of revenue from the tax cancellation may cause other cuts to the ACA as the ACA must be deficit neutral at 10 years which is 2020 (?). Fix the issue!

Past the leap, what will impact the rising costs and resulting prices of healthcare and healthcare premiums.

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Merry Christmas Bears and Others

2019 has been a strange year. I hope for  a better 2020 with  a Happy Landing later in the year.

In the spirit of Christmas; Be Safe, Enjoy Family, Be Thankful for Life, Give Freely to Others, Eat Hearty and Drink some good Beer, Wine, or Liquor of your choice, and Relax.

The appropriate saying for the time?

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps… means a little bit more!

 

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The field was rigid and closed until Mark Thoma’s Economist’s View opened the debate to all comers

Noah Smith’s The End of Econ Blogging’s Golden Age, Bloomberg Opinion. December 17, 2019.

“If someone asked you to name the greatest economics blogger of all time, you might name Paul Krugman, or my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Tyler Cowen. But there’s a third name that deserves to be on that short list: Mark Thoma, an economics professor at the University of Oregon. On Friday, Thoma announced a well-deserved retirement. But the changes his blog made in the economics profession will endure.

Thoma’s blog, Economist’s View, began in 2005.”

The rest of the article can be found on the link provided above. As I was told, Angry Bear Blog linked to Economist’s View in the beginning.

Mark announced his retirement Friday, December 13, 2019. Best of luck going forward Mark.

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