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

Plastic: Part of the Problem . . . Part of the Solution – Part 3: Sorting Technology

As I mentioned, this 4 part presentation is being done by Sesotec GmbH, a company which manufactures recycling equipment. Even so the information given by Sesotec is to the point on the topic of pollution by man made packaging and products which can be sued again and again and in some cases up to 8 times. Fair warning as the pitch comes with regards to Sesotec’s abilities.

Around 70 years after the first plastic product hit the market, a world without plastic waste now seems like a distant vision. It’s time for a new perspective on this supposed waste. In the third instalment of our series, we focus on how we must all manage how we deal with plastics in future, and the role materials sorting technologies and contaminant detection systems play in recycling.

Each year, Europeans generate 25 million tonnes of plastic waste. At a global level, 78 million tonnes of plastic waste is created annually. The world has to respond to this global problem together, as recycling rates everywhere have been at a low level so far: 30% in Europe, 25% in China, and just 9% in the USA (Plastikmüll-Statistik 2017). A large portion of the supposed waste is still incinerated, or ends up in landfills and the environment, which harbors risks for our water, air, and food chain.

To achieve a Circular Economy, it’s important that all players contribute to this task: from product design and manufacture on the part of the plastics industry, along with conscious use and avoidance of plastics as well as waste separation on the part of consumers, followed by proper recycling and sorting by the waste and recycling sector, all the way up to conversion into high-quality secondary raw materials and their use in the manufacture of new products.

Past the leap, how a Circular Economy will work.

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Plastic: Part of the Problem . . . Part of the Solution – Part 2: the European Union’s Solution

As you can read for yourself, this is the second part  of the series. This part will introduce the EU’s proposed solution to plastic waste material of which Sesotec is to be a part of the solution. Since I am using Sesotec’s information, I will be stating their name as owner’s of this information from time to time.

Some 70 years after the first plastic products hit the market, a world without plastic waste still appears far off. We need a different approach to dealing with what many consider to be rubbish – and we need it fast. In this multi-part series, we will take a look at the role that the waste management and recycling industry can play in the process. Part I took us to China. Now it is time to take a look at Europe.

China is no longer taking on the world’s plastic waste, and our oceans could soon be home to more pieces of plastic than fish. The time to act is now.

There are many ways to reduce plastic waste. Banning their use is one of them. A great deal of plastic packaging is, in fact, unnecessary. Yet it also offers benefits in certain areas, such a hygiene and shelf life, making a complete ban rather unrealistic.

Another approach is to avoid plastic in many situations and to practise “plastic fasting”. Still, even that will not work everywhere, especially in the industrial sector. It is therefore essential to find an alternative solution – one that is also reflected in the EU’s plastics strategy: a circular economy.

The European Union presented its plastics strategy on 16 January 2018. Under the strategy, all plastic packaging must be either reusable or recyclable at low cost by 2030. One of the EU’s goals in its plastics strategy is to stop marine litter. The long-term goal must be to avoid marine plastic waste entirely. However, creating a circular economy and recognising the value of a material that is widely considered to be refuse will be essential to achieving this aim.

The overall EU strategy is based specifically on four basic tenets:

  • manufacturing recyclable products
  • optimising the separation and collection of plastic waste
  • increasing recycling capacities
  • reusing recyclates in production

Past the leap, the EU’s Commitment

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SECURE Act Up for Consideration in the Senate – A Rehash

I covered the House SECURE Act and the Senate RESA version last July. The House RESA Act is up for consideration in the Senate now. It does not look like it is going to make it due to the impeachment process going on and a potential trial in the Senate. There is also a small matter of a budget needing to be passed. It was to be considered under an unanimous consent vote; however, three Republican Senators (Mike Lee of Utah [unidentified reason], Ted Cruz of Texas (529 Accounts), and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania [Gold Star tax exemption]) put holds on the bill (reasons in parenthesis). Then there is McConnell, who will not bring it to the floor for a vote.

Congress has been working on a much-needed improvement for “Middle Class” savings and growth over the span of employment in order  to boost retirement resource for citizens who can afford to save. Both the Senate and the House versions have been sitting since July. Whata surprise, heh?

Dueling bills to restructure IRAs and 401ks appear to be redundant; but, there are differences.  Better known as the “Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Act” (SECURE Act) H.R.1994 and the Senate has the “Retirement Enhancements and Savings Act” S.792 (RESA) version. Both bills were passed with bipartisan support. Both bills for the Middle Class had pluses and rather big negatives also. It appears the House RESA Act is going forward for a vote.

The RESA Act is mostly for the masses who may be able to save some money for retirement in spite of stagnant wages. No worries for the for the rich in income (unless something has changed since I last looked at this).  A major outcome of the Trump tax bill were tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations. Besides much of the resulting income increases going to 1% of the household taxpayers, the same 1% were given the ability to shelter large amounts of income in gifts to their heirs. It is a great time to be rich in income and have the ability to shelter it by making gifts of it to your heirs’ tax free! Keep in mind, seven or so years out and those income tax cuts will disappear for the middle income brackets. Somebody has to pay for the overall breaks otherwise their tax relief will sunset as they were passed under reconciliation in the Senate.

A little history (past the leap) on why Congress did something which will help those who can afford to save presently, penalize those bequeathed whatever is left over after death, and pay for the IRA and 401k break.

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Plastic: Part of the Problem . . . Part of the Solution – Part 1 (of 4): A Global Problem

Introduction: I am still on the mailing lists of quite a few resin and plastics companies. This particular presentation is from Sesotec GmbH (“company with limited liability”). Sesotec was an exhibitor at the K trade fair in Düsseldorf and now is reflecting on an exciting and positive trade fair appearance (for them) with its topic of a “Circular Plastics Economy.” This is part 1 of a 4 part presentation which I believe to be done in an exemplary manner and worthy of repeating.  Having cost modeled plastic parts at SY and Yazaki NA and purchased resins for Marquardt, Flex, and Stoneridge, I enjoyed the presentation.

This is why I thought this was worthy of presentation  at Angry Bear: “The K trade fair is held every three years and is an optimal opportunity to learn about current topics in the industry and to exchange information about these topics.

Marc Setzen, CEO of Sesotec GmbH: ‘We are more than satisfied with the results of the trade fair. With concern to the focal topic of the K trade fair, the Circular Economy not only is a technical challenge but also requires a change of the way people think. The attitude of plastics being throwaway products must be abandoned and people must become aware of the fact plastics being valuable reusable materials. Our machines and systems only are one component in the material cycle; but nevertheless, they make an essential contribution because they ensure the high quality of secondary raw materials made from recyclate and guarantee that the cycle really works.'”

This fits with what we must change to and be doing today.

Some 70 years after the first plastic products hit the market, the vision of a world without plastic waste still appears far off. Yet this substance – a plague once it becomes waste – is an extremely attractive material. What we need is a different approach to dealing with plastic waste. In this multi-part series, we will take a look at the role that the waste management and recycling industry can play in the process. Part 1 takes us to a variety of destinations, including China.

The production of plastic has increased dramatically around the world in recent decades and currently stands at 200 times the amount manufactured by factories back in 1950. Europe is responsible for one-quarter of the world’s plastic consumption, mainly due to packaging that lands in the rubbish bin after being used for only a short time. Plastic is also used in construction (20%), vehicles (8.6%) and electronics (5.7%).

After the leap, how China and the EU are increasing the pressure . . .

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Italy to make climate change study compulsory in schools

Reuters: Italy will become the first nation to require all schoolchildren to study climate change and sustainable development.

Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement: “The entire ministry is being changed to make sustainability and climate the center of the education model. All state schools would dedicate 33 hours per year or almost one hour per school week to climate change issues from the start of the next academic year in September 2020.

I want to make the Italian education system the first education system that puts the environment and society at the core of everything we learn in school.”

Fioramonti goes on; “The entire education ministry is being changed to make sustainability and climate the center of the education model.”

Minister Fioramonti is also behind the popular proposals for taxes on airline tickets, plastics, and sugary foods to help pay for education and are being attacked by critics complaining taxes are too high already.  His progressive positions on the economy and the environment are the antithesis of Matteo Salvini’s hard-right League, which has overtaken 5-Star to become Italy’s most popular party with more than 30% of voter support. Surveys showed 70-80% of Italians backed taxing sugar and airline tickets.

The government has gotten off to a shaky start  with weeks of bickering over the budget. Fioramonti said the new government “will only last if it is brave,” and stops letting Salvini set the news agenda.

Exclusive: Italy to make climate change study compulsory in schools Reuters, November 5, 2019

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Some Election Results

I am not quite sure how to begin other than say I am angry at why it has to come to this , and still not enough, before people react.

  • Loudoun County, Virginia: One election event ended positively for a woman who had given Trump’s motorcade (and supposedly Trump) a message of defiance, a one finger salute, as it passed her while she was riding her bike. Former government contractor Julie Briskman won a seat on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. Ms. Briskman defeated eight-year Republican incumbent, Suzanne Volpe and this is her first time in elected office.

 

  • Virginia House: Gaining 15 seats in the House in 2017; in 2019, Democrats added another five seats and perhaps a few more as other races are still to be decided. Democrats in Virginia  have not lost momentum in the third year of a Trump presidency. The ultimate size of the new Democratic majorities is still to be decided as a few close races were undecided. Republicans held a 51 to 48 edge going into 2019.

 

  • Virginia Senate: Ms. Ghazala Hashmi will be the first Muslim woman in the Senate, a state which was the former seat of the confederacy. Democrats have picked up at least two seats in the Senate shifting the balance from 20 to 19 favoring Republicans going into the 2019 election. Wondering if people would speak up against the assault on civil liberties, Ms. Ghazala Hashmi anxiety was relieved with her upset victory in a suburban Richmond district.

 

  • Kentucky Governorship:  Andy Beshear appears to have beaten incumbent Matt Bevin by ~5000 votes. Andy Beshear’s message in his victory “It’s a message that says our elections don’t have to be about right versus left, they are still about right versus wrong.” Other races in Kentucky went to Republicans with the Democrats losing the State AG office for the first time in 70 years with the election of an African American, Daniel Cameron.

Update: While a recanvas (less than 1% margin) will follow, the Republican dominated state legislature is poised to establish who is the winner of this election. Kentucky Republicans are going to try and steal election in favor of Bevin.

Stivers said he thought Bevin’s speech declining to concede to Beshear was “appropriate.” He said believes most of the votes that went to Libertarian John Hicks, who received about 2% of the total vote, would have gone to Bevin and made him the clear winner.

A candidate can file a formal election contest with the state legislature, but it must be filed within 30 days of the last action by the state board of elections. The state board is scheduled to certify the results of the race for governor on Nov. 25 this year.

Under this contest, the candidate challenging the results must specify the grounds for the action, such as a violation of campaign finance rules or specific problems when it comes to how ballots were cast.

Such an election contest is covered under Section 90 of the state constitution, which addresses a “contest of election for Governor or Lieutenant Governor.”

Section 90 states: “Contested elections for Governor and Lieutenant Governor shall be determined by both Houses of the General Assembly, according to such regulations as may be established by law.”

Sam Marcosson, a constitutional law professor at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law, told The Courier Journal that this language of the state Constitution suggests there must be procedure established by law for a review of a contested election to take place by the House and Senate.

Mr. Marcosson contends the legislature can not just make a procedure up.

“If the House and Senate were just to proceed on vague allegations without proof, that raises serious questions about disenfranchisement of the voters who voted for Attorney General Beshear. It’s an extraordinary proposition to suggest that the General Assembly would take vague allegations of unspecified irregularities and call into question a gubernatorial election.”

 

  • Arizona Tucson:  Democrat, Regina Romero appears to be victorious in the Tucson mayoral race and becomes the first woman and Latina to lead Tucson.

 

  • Mississippi: Republicans won the open Governor’s seat with former Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves beating former Democrat AG Jim Reeves . In the Senate, Republicans have expanded their control to a super majority which they already had in the House. No surprise here.

 

  • New Jersey: Republicans appear to be to picking up two seats in the Assembly and one in the Senate due to a surge in the southern part of the state where Mr. Trump won easily in 2016.

If you have other election results from Tuesday, feel free to add them. Otherwise, we still have a long way to go to beat Trump and Republicans.

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Another Look at Drug Pricing, Costs, and Why

Median total costs Table for the most common prescriptions of each of the 49 high-volume brand-name drugs from 2012 through 2017 as detailed in JAMA Network Open’s “Trends in Prices of Popular Brand-Name Prescription Drugs in the United States” 2019.”

A Bit of A Summary: This particular table relates back to a post I wrote; Does Trump Read JAMA Network Open? which reviewed the latest JAMA findings (Trends in Prices of Popular Brand-Name Prescription Drugs in the United States) on pharmaceutical price increases from 2012 to 2017. It is another in a series of articles which have looked at the rising prices of pharmaceuticals. The World Health Organization (2018) findings reflected on R & D costs for cancer drugs and the amount of time needed to recoup those costs (median of 3 years for $750 million) with an average return of $14. 50 for every $1 invested in R & D for cancer drugs.  For the maximum estimated risk-adjusted cost of R&D (US$2.827 BN), the time to cost recovery was 5 years (range: 2 years; 10 years, n=56).

Click on the JAMA Table: Median Total Cost of Top-Selling Brand-Name Drugs 2012 – 2917 to enlarge and again to magnify if needed.

Taken “From the Trends in Prices of Popular Brand-Name Prescription Drugs in the United States” findings, substantial cost increases among these drugs was near universal, with a 76% median cost increase from January 2012 through December 2017, and almost all drugs (48 [98%]) displaying regular annual or biannual price increases. Of the 36 drugs available since 2012, 28 (78%) have seen an increase in insurer and out-of-pocket costs by more than 50%, and 16 (44%) have more than doubled in price. Insulins (ie, Novolog, Humalog, and Lantus) and tumor necrosis factor inhibitors (ie, Humira and Enbrel) demonstrated highly correlated price increases, coinciding with some of the largest increase in drug costs. Relative price changes did not differ between drugs that entered the market in the past 3 to 6 years (2012 – 2017)  and those having been on the market longer (number of drugs, 13 vs 36; median, 29% increase from January 2015 through December 2017; P = .81) nor between drugs with or without a Food and Drug Administration – approved therapeutic equivalent (number of drugs, 17 vs 32; median, 79% vs 73%; P = .21). Changes in prices paid were highly correlated with third-party estimates of changes in drug net prices (ρ = 0.55; P = 3.8 × 10−5), suggesting that the current rebate system, which incentivizes high list prices and greater reliance on rebates, increases overall costs.

The ICER Report (Unsupported Price Increase Report) compared the percentage increases in the  Wholesale Acquisition Cost (WAC – second Column)  to the increase in the Medical Care Consumer Price Index (CPI) over the same period and excluded those drugs with a WAC increase less than 7.32% or two times the increase in Medical Care CPI over the same period. The medical care CPI is one of eight major components of the CPI recorded and reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics .

CPI for Medical consists of medical care services (professional services, hospital and related services, and health insurance) and medical care commodities (medical drugs, equipment, and supplies). ICER using overall Medical CPI and not a lone services or commodity related one or subcomponent(s) of either or each was to reflect increases in drug prices relative to inflation in the overall price of medical care. The 77 drugs shown in the ICER Table 2.2 had an increase in Wholesale Acquisition Cost (WAC) greater than 7.32% over  the two-year period (4th quarter 2016 – 4th quarter 2018). The remaining 23 drugs were excluded from further analysis even though they may have been greater than one times CPI.

The ICER Table 2.3 depicting 9 drugs of the 77 shows  the percentage change in net price (Column 3) over the two-year period from the fourth quarter of 2016 to the fourth quarter of 2018, and the and the increase in drug spending during calendar years 2017 and 2018 and the 4th column depicts net revenue after discounts, rebates, concessions to wholesalers and distributors, and patient assistance programs same as Table 2.2 in the report. Only the ICER Table 2.3 is shown here (JAMA chart above).

The first seven drugs under assessment did not display evidence meeting the criteria accepted evidence grading system called GRADE. As a result, the seven are reported as having price increases “unsupported by new clinical evidence.” GRADE is a method used by systematic reviewers and guideline developers to assess the quality of evidence and decide whether to recommend and intervention.  GRADE differs from other appraisal tools for three reasons: (i) because it separates quality of evidence and strength of recommendation, (ii) the quality of evidence assessed for each outcome, and (iii) observational studies can be ‘upgraded’ if they meet certain criteria.

So What Does All of This Mean?

Other reports recognize similar. Healthcare costs are increasing at a much higher rate than inflation, enough so, JAMA is reporting patented pharmaceutical price increases to be 50% to 100% between 2007 and 2014, as are the generic versions, and those introduced during 2007 and 2014 have seen similar sizeable increase. The exhibited JAMA report details the increases.

The ICER report goes a bit further and establishes a benchmark of increase at twice Medical CPI and whether a price increase greater than the benchmark can be justified by the result of significant value brought to the market to account for the increase. At greater than a generous twice Medical CPI, the top nine drugs exceeded this benchmark and after investigation,  did not bring significant value to the market place following the 4 significant values claimed by pharmaceutical companies. This analysis was completed on  9 of 77 drugs having price increases greater than twice Medical CPI. Seven of the nine drugs were shown to have price increases for which additional value could not be substantiated. The remaining two had evidence of clinical value which could not be examined at this time. Then there is the balance of the 77 drugs which have had price increases greater also. Legit or not?

Remember, the ICER is the organization which justifies pricing for many of the new drugs coming to the market place.

The World Health Organization Report reviews the costs of R & D for Cancer Drugs which pharmaceutical companies blame as a the major factor for higher prices over the life of their patents. The WHO document reports the R & D costs are recouped in a median 3 to 5 years for R & D investments of $750 million to $2.8 Bn. Drug patents are significantly long than the recovery. Rent taking . . .

This is just pharma alone and I did not look at hospitals, clinics or hospital supplies. Briefly, “Health Affairs – Hospital Prices Grew Substantially Faster Than Physician Prices For Hospital-Based Care In 2007–14″ reports  inpatient care at hospital prices grew 42 percent, while physician prices grew 18 percent. Similarly, for hospital-based outpatient care, hospital prices grew 25 percent while physician prices grew 6 percent. Both this report and Kocher and Berwick’s “While Considering Medicare For All: Policies For Making Health Care In The United States Better: Health Affairs” point to increases in hospital care as the leading cause of increased healthcare insurance premiums.

The emphasis by politicians has been on the pricing of drugs without looking at the supply chain and the PBM’s influence on it; without looking at the costs of R & D, the return from sales revenue and how quickly those costs are recovered; and without looking at the exclusivity granted drugs through patents that allow the ability to increase pricing without a returning benefit clinically, socially, to the system, and most of all to the patient. The emphasis by government should be a review of drug costs to establish a fair market value/price. I do not see a foundation being established for the setting of pricing.

 

Trends in Prices of Popular Brand-Name Prescription Drugs in the United States, JAMA Network Open, Nathan E. Wineinger; Yunyue Zhang; Eric J. Topol, May 2019

Unsupported Price Increase Report, Institute for Clinical and Economic Review; David M. Rind, Foluso Agboola, Varun M. Kumar, Eric Borrelli, Steven D. Pearson; October 2019

Technical Report, Pricing of cancer medicines and its impacts; World Health Organization; 2019

While Considering Medicare For All: Policies For Making Health Care In The United States Better; Health Affairs; Kocher and Berwick; 2019

Health Affairs – Hospital Prices Grew Substantially Faster Than Physician Prices For Hospital-Based Care In 2007–14;” Health Affairs; Zack Cooper, Stuart Craig, Martin Gaynor, Nir J. Harish, Harlan M. Krumholz, and John Van Reenen; 2019

Run75441 (Bill H)

 

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DC Circuit grants Postal Watchdog’s challenge to PRC’s approval of rate hike on Forever stamps

An introduction to Save the Post Office and Steve Hutkins. I am not quite sure how I got to Steve; but, I do remember chatting with Mark Jamison who also wrote at Save the Post Office and posting his words up at Angry Bear (Asking the Wrong Questions: Reflections on Amazon, the Post Office, and the Greater Good earlier this year. Mark and I still exchange emails and I owe him a trip out to western North Carolina. Steve is the blog owner, a Prof. of Literature teaching “place studies” at the Gallatin School of New York University. Prof. Steve Hutkins has been writing about the Post Office for at least a decade and the attempts of government, UPS, Fedex, etc. to close it down or limit its operations.

“Save The Post Office” has been writing about the last 5 cent increase in First-Class mail earlier this year.

Back in January 2019, the Postal Service raised the price of a First-Class stamp from 50 to 55 cents. Postal watchdog Douglas Carlson filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (aka the DC Circuit) challenging the Postal Regulatory Commission’s decision to approve this rate hike.

Carlson argued that in approving the rate hike on Forever stamps the Commission had failed to consider the statutory pricing factors and objectives in the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) and the public comments questioning this increase. He also argued that the Commission did not reasonably explain its decision. Therefore, he claimed, the Commission’s decision was arbitrary and capricious.

Today the court issued a ruling granting Carlson’s petition and vacating the PRC’s approval of the rate increase on First Class postage. (The court’s opinion is here; the order vacating the PRC ruling is here.)

It’s not clear what will happen next. The PRC could file a petition for a hearing en banc, meaning that it will ask the entire DC Circuit to review the case, as opposed to the three-judge panel that issued today’s ruling. Apparently anticipating such a possibility, the DC Circuit today also issued an order “that the Clerk withhold issuance of the mandate herein until seven days after disposition of any timely petition for rehearing or petition for rehearing en banc.”

If such a petition is not granted, the PRC could even appeal to the Supreme Court. (After the DC Circuit ruled against UPS on an unrelated case involving postal rates, UPS took both of those steps, to no avail.)

In the meantime, we don’t know what impacts today’s ruling will have on the rate hike, which has been in effect since January.

Under the PAEA, the Postal Service has the right to request its next inflation-based rate increase this fall, with an effective date in January 2020. How the next increase will interact with today’s court decision is also unclear.

Past the leap is the section of a court determination that reviews the main issues in the case:

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Georgetown University Report Finds Number of Uninsured Children Now at Highest Levels –

Since Major Provisions of Affordable Care Act Took Effect

Key Findings:

  • The number of uninsured children in the United States increased by more than 400,000 between 2016 and 2018 bringing the total to over 4 million uninsured children in the nation.
  • These coverage losses are widespread with 15 states showing statistically significant increases in the number and/or rate of uninsured children (Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia), and only one state (North Dakota) moving in the right direction.
  • Loss of coverage is most pronounced for white children and Latino children (some of which may fall into both categories), young children under age 6, and children in low- and moderate- income families who earn between 138 percent and 250 percent of poverty.
  • States not expanding Medicaid to parents and other adults under the Affordable Care Act have seen increases in their rate of uninsured children three times as large as states that have expanded Medicaid.

Causes of Decreased Coverage

The Georgetown Health Policy Institute (full report) details in its report the following factors have contributed to the erosion in children’s health coverage: efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid; an intentional delay by the Republican administration to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (2017); the elimination of the individual mandate penalty (2019); cuts to enrollment outreach and advertising pre-ACA enrollment; inadequate oversight by the federal government of state Medicaid programs which create more red tape barriers; and an administration enacted, climate of fear of deportation and intentional confusion for immigrant families discouraging them from enrolling eligible children in Medicaid or CHIP (2016).

The Republican party has made it a goal to repeal the ACA as passed by Barack Obama and Democrats early on in its administration. Under President Trump, the Republicans have done everything possible to deny healthcare coverage to legal immigrants and their families, the poor, and those who are marginalized. The full report includes a series of charts which pictorially represents the issues briefly cited here. It also includes a state by state analysis of the uninsured. It should come as no surprise, the South has 52% of the total uninsured children with Texas have 21.5% of the total uninsured children in the nation.

The Number of Uninsured Children Is On the Rise,” October 2019, Georgetown Health Policy Institute, Joan Alker and Lauren Roygardner

Families looking for information on how to enroll their children in Medicaid or CHIP should call 877-KIDS-NOW or visit insurekidsnow.gov

Run75441 (Bill H)

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Republican Renegade Emulates Warren’s Student Loan Cancellation, but it’s Still Problematic

Today we have a commentary  by Student Loan Justice Organization Founder Alan Collinge with support from an Angry Bear editor.

Alan:

A key Republican Education Department official and Trump Appointee, A. Wayne Johnson, recently resigned his position at the Department and later made a radical call for student loan cancellation. Johnson noted the lending system was “fundamentally broken” and called for loan cancellation for all loan holders up to $50,000. He also called for a tax credit of the same amount for those who have already repaid their loans. Interestingly, Johnson’s plan sounds very similar- and even more generous- than what presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is proposing.

The proposal is strong stuff coming from a Republican and his comments could indicate the problem is far worse than the Department of Education has said publicly on student loans. He noted that he came to this conclusion after having a “firsthand look” at defaults, which we already know are running at about 40% for 2004 borrowers, who had borrowed a third of what is being borrowed currently. One can only wonder how bad the internal projections are for more recent students.

Johnson is to be applauded for calling out this big-government lending monstrosity, and even, perhaps, for his call to get the government out of the lending business altogether. In the absence of both bankruptcy protections and statutes of limitations, the Department of Education has become one of the largest lenders on earth and a viciously predatory one at that. In his commentary, Johnson is correct in pointing out the various forgiveness programs run by the Department are failing badly.

Editor Comment:

Dependent upon which manner of accounting is used, student loans can be considered to be profitable or unprofitable. Using the Federal Credit Reform Act (FCRA) accounting methodology, student loans are profitable. Regardless, student loans have no escape unless one dies or becomes disabled. Student Loan Bankruptcy was effectively thwarted by Senator Joe Biden’s efforts since the nineties. If in default, the government will garnish wages, Social Security, and whatever else they can in order to get back their funds.

Others such as Jason Delisle of New America advocate using the Fair Market Value methodology of accounting to assess the risk of default for student loans. Delisle claims the interest rate of a student loan should be set at 12% as there is risk and yearly losses with making low interest rate student loans that do not cover risk of default which is not assessed in the beginning.

Disputing Jason Delisle’s commentary; Malcolm Harris pointed out on Twitter, it’s worth noting that the CBO’s fair-value accounting analysis finds no subsidy for PLUS loans and unsubsidized Stafford loans, but a big one for subsidized Stafford loans, where rates are rising. Overall, there’s a negative subsidy – profit. That’s a way the government could be making a profit even under other accounting specifications, though obviously skeptics like Delisle dispute that.

Outside of student loans, a student could walk into a car dealership, purchase a $30,000+ automobile, which is about the cost of an education, have little down payment and maybe a second signature, and both people could still escape through declaring bankruptcy. This is something major businesses and people such as President Trump have been doing for decades without having wages and benefits garnished for a lifetime.

Alan:

Some of the $50+ billion the Department books in profit every year is being used to fund unrelated social programs. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared that these loans would be “free of interest.” The former should not be the case and the later has not happened.

However previously, there were problems with Warren’s plan of student loan relief and these have not gone away under Johnson’s current proposal.

For example: while it is clear that the default rate is screaming upwards and this is crushing many borrowers, many are doing fine, and there is no particularly good reason to cancel their debt. Conversely, there are many borrowers who owe far more than $50,000, who have seen their debt explode with penalties, fees, and interest, such that writing them down by $50,000 really wouldn’t make much of a dent. So this “one-size-fits-all” approach makes little sense. And at an estimated $925 billion, it’s expensive.

Editor Comment:

What is clear to me is people complaining “what about.” Those who paid their loans have little  idea of what has been happening in the student loan industry which is profit driven. There are any number of stories being told of hucksters signing up students into for profit schools which sadly go bankrupt or steer students into course curriculums which will not lead to employment in a job to which they were trained. The system protects the servicer and the loan originator until that loan is paid off.

Does it make sense for people to be entrapped in a loan which can not be paid off thereby keeping them as an economic burden rather than a productive, taxpaying member of society? What about-isms and false equivalencies offers no solution other than indenture.

Alan:

Also, any cancellation program would be administered by the Department of Education, which has a well-documented history of bungling such programs, as Johnson rightly points out. For example, of the roughly 40,000 people who thought they were getting cancellation this year through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, fewer than 100 (less than 1%) actually will. Similarly, a whopping 57% of people in the Income Based Repayment Program (IBR) were disqualified for administrative reasons. So the borrowers are cruelly left owing far more than had they never tried!

The Department of Education cannot be trusted to administer yet another loan cancellation program. As they have done before, they will surely find ways to disqualify the vast majority of borrowers so that the agency captures the wealth rather than those who it was intended.

Editor Comment:

The Department of Education has always been troublesome in administering programs impacting students. The public service program has been haphazardly run and has left many who have paid back loans over ten years in service to the nation without forgiveness of part or the rest of their loan. The current Secretary of Education is a ditz who did not understand the training leading to gainful employment rule was for both nonprofit and for-profit schools and not just about for-profits as she claimed. I too would look for someone else to administer programs given the circumstance.

Alan:

A more efficient solution to this problem is simply returning standard bankruptcy protections to these loans. The Founders called for uniform bankruptcy laws ahead of the power to raise an army, and declare war, and this lending system proves their wisdom. Borrowers must have bankruptcy on their side in order for the lending system to be fair. It is only with this threat that the lenders will act with a modicum of good faith.

Bankruptcy is also a far less expensive solution. While there would be an unavoidable spike in filings initially, bankruptcy scholar Robert Lawless estimated that in the “steady-state,” annual discharges would come to less than $3 Billion per year. Even if it turned out to be double or triple this rate, that is still far less than the proposal in question. Not to mention, no tax hikes would be required. This could be achieved by simply repealing the one line of federal code that exempts student loans.

There is legislation in Congress that would achieve this: HR. 2648, a bipartisan bill, and its Senate companion, S. 1414. Alternatively, President Trump could simply direct the Department of Education to stop opposing student loan borrowers in court. Either way, we would get a much more efficient and well suited outcome.

And the Founders? They would agree with returning bankruptcy capability for student loans.

Alan Collinge is Founder of StudentLoanJustice.Org, and author of The Student Loan Scam (Beacon Press)

Angry Bear: Thank you Alan  .  .  .

Run75441 (Bill H)

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