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

Browncare. Go for it, New Hampshirites! It’s BETTER!

In a new radio interview, [Massachusetts senator-cum-New Hampshire senate candidate Scott] Brown professes support for protecting people with preexisting conditions and other general goals of the law. But he reiterates his support for repealing Obamacare, claiming its goals should only be accomplished by states:

“I believe states can do it better. They can certainly cover preexisting conditions, cover kids to X age, whatever you want — catastrophic care, covering those who need additional coverages…other states have addressed these issues.”

But when asked whether, under Brown’s vision, states could decline to offer protections for preexisting conditions, Brown replied:

“I have to respectfully disagree. It’s something that’s very important for our state and its citizens. It’s something that more than likely would be covered in any type of plan that we offered…that is one thing that is important to me. I’ve already voted on something like that. And I would continue to support that.”

That appears to be a reference to Brown’s previous support for Romneycare in Massachusetts.

— Morning Plum: Scott Brown calls for replacing Obamacare with Romneycare, Greg Sargent, Washington Post, today

I, too, believe states can do it better.  If, say, they wanted to.  Which, since there was nothing to stop from doing better, or even from doing as well as, Obamacare, before 2010, and in fact there still is not—and since only one state, Massachusetts, did in fact do better. (Romneycare’s coverage of everyone who needed subsidies did not depend upon whether the person’s county agreed to accept payments from the state for people whose income is between the poverty level and 133% of the poverty level, after all, which for those who fell into that category, was, y’know, better.)

Since Obamacare is, in essence, Romneycare on a national level, with the exception that (to my knowledge) Romneycare had no distinction between in the way the subsidies worked, on the one hand, for people whose income under Obamacare means that they have no coverage at all if their state has not adopted the Medicaid expansion, and people whose income entitles them to federal subsidies under Obamacare irrespective of whether or not that their state has not adopted the Medicaid expansion.  And with the exception that, well, under Romneycare, the total cost of the subsidies was paid by the state of Massachusetts.  Rather than, y’know, the federal government.

So, take note, New Hampshirites: Scott Brown wants your state to pay the healthcare insurance subsidies for New Hampshire residents who now receive federal subsidies under Obamacare or who apparently are about to receive coverage paid virtually entirely by the federal government once New Hampshire adopts the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, as it reportedly is about to do.

Well, okay, he doesn’t want New Hampshire to actually provide subsidies to everyone who needs subsidies in order to afford healthcare insurance, as Romneycare did.  No, he wants those subsidies to go only to a certain segment of people who can’t otherwise afford healthcare insurance and who, until this year via Obamacare didn’t have insurance.  Because, y’see, it’s better—his word—to have a substantially higher percentage of New Hampshirites uninsured because they lack access to subsidies to help them afford it.

And he also thinks it’s better—his word—to have insurance premiums skyrocket because, under Browncare would, like Romneycare and Obamacare, prohibit insurance companies from declining coverage to people with preexisting conditions or charging them higher premiums, but unlike Romneycare and Obamacare, would not require anyone to purchase healthcare insurance before, say, they needed major medical care.

Unfortunately, though, Brown is not a candidate for governor or even for the state legislature.  So, as popular as Browncare is likely to be in New Hampshire, electing him to the U.S. Senate won’t cause New Hampshire to take over healthcare subsidies for some state’s residents who now receive federal subsidies under Obamacare, and to return many others to their pre-2014 uninsured status.  And electing him to the U.S. Senate won’t even cause healthcare coverage premiums to price many (most?) individual-market policyholders out of the individual market.

Well, at least not within the following two years, anyway–since Obama will remain president until Jan. 2016.  Or, if Obama is impeached and convicted of high crimes and misdemeanors, Joe Biden will be president for the remainder of the current presidential term.  If Brown is elected, this will be very frustrating for everyone who voted for him, as the continued presence of a Democrat in the White House will prevent New Hampshire from making it’s healthcare coverage system worse, er, I mean better.

Of course, there’s always the option of a coup.

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The Binders That Bind

The most revealing moment last night came as Ann Romney walked toward her husband onstage at the end.  That expression on her face.  I thought she looked like a woman in a binder.

It is, I suppose, poetic justice for Romney that an obviously misspoken phrase of that sort is the catch phrase from last night.  But the phrase, while generating hilarious witticisms, is not the reason why Romney won’t recover.  Instead, it is the binders that Romney has placed himself in that surely became clear to many of his new-found fans of the last two weeks—the binders that underlie his entire campaign. 

Most significantly, in my opinion, that his tax plan is, rather than the new math—as he’s been claiming—actually is no math. 

And that he takes contradictory positions at the same time—starkly, last night, for example, that he’s proud that because of him, virtually everyone in Massachusetts has healthcare insurance, yet Obamacare must be repealed because it’s keeping employers from hiring.  (There were others that surely became clear to a lot of people, but this one just bowled me over, because he said these two things within a few minutes of each other.)

And—yes; finally!—that he habitually plucks statistics out of their context and misrepresents their meaning, although the most clearly illustrative one was one that Obama wasn’t able to make fully clear last night because of time constraints on his reply to Romney’s allegation.  It will be easy for him to do so now, though.

That statistic: Romney’s claim that Obama has reduced oil production from drilling on federal lands by 14% by denying drilling permits and leases.  Romney first claimed, falsely, that there has been a 14% reduction in oil production from drilling on federal lands since Obama took office.  After Obama repeatedly interjected that that was false and that the level of that oil production actually had increased during his administration, Romney finally qualified his claim; production had decreased by 14% over the past year.

I loved it that Obama stepped forward—literally—and explained that the leases and permits that his administration had revoked were ones that the leaseholders and permit holders had not been using, and that that was the reason for the revocations; he wanted the leases and permits to be reissued to others, who would use them.

That was a great moment, albeit one that probably won’t get much attention.  But even more important is that, as Andrea Mitchell explained during the NBC recap and analysis, the 14% reduction occurred (as Romney finally acknowledged) only in the last year—and that the reason for the drop was … a fire at, and consequent shutdown, of a major refinery in Texas!  And, even with that 14% drop in the last year, production from drilling on federal lands has increased more than 10% since Obama took office.

I think the Obama campaign should do an ad on this, saying that apparently Romney thought it was Obama administration policy to have a fire at a major refinery.  And that Romney’s so inept at math that he doesn’t know the difference between a 10% increase and a 14% decrease.

The public will get the point.  Romney is trying to game them. Not a particularly attractive trait in a presidential candidate.

But one misuse of a statistic by Romney came earlier in the debate, and it downright shouted sophistry, thanks to Obama’s unmasking of it: Romney’s comparison of gas prices in January 2009 and gas prices now.  When Obama pointed out why gas prices were so low when he assumed office—and why they’ve doubled since then—I knew Obama would win the debate.  And when, later, during the discussion of the policy similarities between G.W. Bush’s policies and Romney’s proposed ones, Obama cleverly said Romney probably would send gas prices falling, by crashing the economy and thus lowering demand for oil, I thought then that Obama won the election last night.  
And in the light of today, I’m pretty sure of it.
Binders.  Indeed.

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As Goes Obamacare, So Goes Romneycare … and State Laws Requiring Auto Insurance?

I’ve written repeatedly now on AB that the challenge to the constitutionality of the ACA’s minimum-coverage provision (a.k.a., the individual-mandate provision) is not really a Commerce Clause challenge but instead a challenge under the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause, under what is known as the “substantive due process” constitutional law doctrine.  The Fifth Amendment’s due process clause limits what the federal government can do vis-à-vis individuals.  A clause in the Fourteenth Amendment is nearly identical, and identical in substance, to the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause, except that it limits what state governments can do vis-à-vis individuals.  

SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston’s early report suggests that I was right.  The outcome of the case, he predicts, will depend on whether Kennedy believes that the Court can uphold the mandate provision without opening the door to unlimited congressional mandating of purchase specific things, not because Congress lacks that power under the Commerce Clause but instead because it violates liberties protected under the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause. Denniston does not mention the Fifth Amendment, but, whether or not the justices themselves did specifically, that is the upshot.

The “substantive due process” doctrine holds that there are certain incursions into personal autonomy and certain impositions on individual liberty beyond which the Constitution allows the government to go.  It is this doctrine by which the Court has stricken down such laws as state laws barring the sale and use of contraceptives, state laws prohibiting abortion under all circumstances (Roe v. Wade),  and state laws criminalizing sodomy.

But based on Denniston’s early report about the nature of Kennedy’s concerns, I don’t see how, absent an utterly artificial Commerce Clause-based ruling, a ruling that the mandate unconstitutionally infringes upon person choice, upon personal liberty, would not also mean that Massachusetts’s “Romneycare” law, and state laws that  require drivers to purchase auto insurance, would be constitutionally permissible. 

Kennedy likes to wax eloquent, as he did last year in an opinion in a case called Bond v. United States, about how divisions of power among various governments—by which he means state governments vs. the federal one—protect individuals from tyranny. (He’s usually less interested in constitutional checks than on balances to state power—especially to state-court power—but that’s another subject.)  In Bond, he said, rightly, in my opinion, that a person indicted under a federal criminal law has legal “standing” (the legal right) to argue that the federal statute unconstitutionally infringed upon an area of criminal law reserved solely for the states to address, because the federal statute impinged (literally, in that case) her personal freedom.  So if the problem with the insurance mandate is that it exceeds Congress’s authority under the Commerce Clause, then a ruling that the ACA, a federal statute, is unconstitutional would not affect state statutes.
But that’s a separate issue from whether the mandate is an unconstitutional violation of personal liberty irrespective of whether or not the Commerce Clause power would allow Congress to enact the law.  And under the Court’s longtime Commerce Clause jurisprudence, Congress does have the authority to legislate the mandate to buy health insurance, given the impact on the healthcare market of the uninsureds’ usage of health care.  A ruling to the contrary would be transparently artificial. Which probably won’t matter to Kennedy.

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This will be cross-posted later today to the Firedoglake blog.

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Why Romney Doesn’t Want A Canadian National Healthcare ID Card

Romney’s best line of the day was unscripted. A stray Canadian had driven from Ontario to ask Romney a question and in the process joked that Romney could not have his ID card for Canada’s national health-care system.

The ball sat on the tee for a long second before Romney hit it. “I don’t want it!” Romney said. The crowd roared.

— “Two Michigan rallies revealRomney, Santorum flaws,” David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post, Feb. 25, reporting on a rally earlier that day in Shelby Township, Mich. (suburban Detroit)

Hmm.  Well, okay.  Romney and his wife Ann, an MS victim, have about $220 million with which to pay their medical expenses. 
But there’s another reason that they don’t need national medical insurance: They live in Massachusetts, and so, by law, have medical insurance, even though neither Romney nor Ann is employed and even though Ann has a serious medical condition the onset of which predates the end of their coverage through Romney’s last employer.  That law is known, among those who deride it, as “Romneycare.”

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