March 23, 2010

Health Care "Reform" Writ Large by Lawyers and Lobbyists

I take no credit for what follows other than merely finding it. Cory Willard's blog comments are priceless.
What has Congress done to us by passing this monstrous health care reform legislation? The health results notwithstanding, we have, as is obvious by the language and at our peril, turned our U.S. health care reform over to lawyers and lobbyists. What have we wrought?

"I’ve been trying to read the actual 2,000 page health care reform bill, or as it’s actually titled:


I’m serious, that’s the title. Read on though, and they’ll try to simplify even the title for us:

Strike all after the enacting clause and insert the

(a) SHORT TITLE.—This Act may be cited as the ‘‘Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010’’.

If that title makes sense to you, then maybe you can answer some of my questions below, which I was asking both before and after reading such things as these new laws (all bold text in this blog post today is verbatim from the health care reform bill):

(a) PREMIUM TAX CREDITS.—Section 36B of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as added by section 1401 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and amended by section 10105 of such Act, is amended— (1) in subsection (b)(3)(A)— (A) in clause (i), by striking ‘‘with respect to any taxpayer’’ and all that follows up to the end period and inserting ‘‘for any taxable year shall be the percentage such that the applicable percentage for any taxpayer whose household income is within an income tier specified in the following table shall increase, on a sliding scale in a linear manner, from the initial premium percentage to the final premium percentage specified in such table for such income tier…

I kid you not — that is the FIRST page from the text of the actual bill that your Republican/Democrat Regime passed with only Democratic votes, but that all Republican/Democrat Regimers accept as the kind of laws that our country needs written to protect and provide security to its citizens.

But wait, there’s more! And maybe you can find some answers in THE VERY NEXT PARAGRAPH, PAGE TWO OF THE ACTUAL BILL here and then explain it to me:

(B) by striking clauses (ii) and (iii), and inserting the following:

‘‘(ii) INDEXING.— ‘‘(I) IN GENERAL.—Subject to subclause (II), in the case of taxable years beginning in any calendar year after 2014, the initial and final applicable percentages under clause (i) (as in effect for the preceding calendar year after application of this clause) shall be adjusted to reflect the excess of the rate of premium growth for the preceding calendar year over the rate of income growth for the preceding calendar year.

Again, I kid you not — that’s the actual next statement after the table that attempts to explain the so-called “tiers” of citizens in our country. Want to continue reading the bill? I’ll paste the next couple paragraphs, from pages 4 and 5 of the bill so you can read on and see for yourself the result of letting corporate lobbyisists write what was supposed to be a “liberal”, welfare-based, bill:

‘‘(II) ADDITIONAL ADJUSTMENT.—Except as provided in subclause (III), in the case of any calendar year after 2018, the percentages described in subclause (I) shall, in addition to the adjustment under subclause (I), be adjusted to reflect the excess (if any) of the rate of premium growth estimated under subclause (I) for the preceding calendar year over the rate of growth in the consumer price index for the preceding calendar year. ‘‘(III) FAILSAFE.—Subclause (II) shall apply for any calendar year only if the aggregate amount of premium tax credits under this section and cost-sharing reductions under section 1402 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for the preceding calendar year exceeds an amount equal to 0.504 percent of the gross domestic product for the preceding calendar year.’’; and (2) in subsection (c)(2)(C)— (A) by striking ‘‘9.8 percent’’ in clauses (i)(II) and (iv) and inserting ‘‘9.5 percent’’, and (B) by striking ‘‘(b)(3)(A)(iii)’’ in clause (iv) and inserting ‘‘(b)(3)(A)(ii)’’.
My biggest problem is - this HC bill is neither conservative nor liberal. It’s written by corporate lobbyists. Same thing as any Repub fixes would be. Regardless, here are my top ten questions from reading the actual health care bill:

  1. Can health insurance companies just start refusing coverage of the most expensive treatments, but still cover everybody?
  2. Are the fines for health insurance companies who drop increasingly expensive customers enough to make it painful for them to actually try to avoid such fines?
  3. Are the tax credits for small business who provide health insurance going to last as long as the tax credits for big corporations?
  4. Are you going to go to prison if you refuse to get health insurance and refuse to pay any fines levied for not doing so?
  5. Can health insurance companies jack up your rates right now before the new “reforms” hit and/or how we do manage to cap their rates if they have unlimited demand for their services all paid for by taxpayers?
  6. Why do we even have health insurance companies at all if the government’s going to dictate all the terms and conditions and pay for all of it through tax-breaks, subsidies and other targeted tax tricks?
  7. Are pharma, device manufacturers, hospitals, health insurance companies and/or any other major industry full of giant, powerful corporations going to be hurt by a 2,000 page bill that their own lobbyists wrote?
  8. Doesn’t the big-government trillion dollar Wall Street bailouts that the Republicans forced upon the American taxpayer who was outraged that they were redistributing private wealth to corrupt bankers provide all the cover the Democrats needed to redistribute trillions of dollars into health care reform? Don’t you see why the Republicans are just as guilty for the big government realities of today as the Democrats who voted for this health care reform bill are? (okay, that’s two questions in one, I know.)
  9. What’s hidden on page 1323 and/or 1842 if pages 1-5 of this health-care reform bill read like what they do above?!
  10. If government spending and allocation of wealth funded by borrowing huge sums of money from our kids is “stimulative”, then won’t all this spending on health care initiatives for the near-term have the reverse “trickle up” effect that the Wall Street bailouts and/or targeted tax cuts for the rich in times of deficits had in their so-called “trickle down” effect?"

    We Have Met the Enemy and He is ...

    Should I buy a Droid or not? I sometimes think I read too much. Well maybe not too much, but with excessive diversity. In any event, my recent 'try to keep up with PCs and technology' reading found this. (Credits to Steve Fox at PC World).

    If you're like me, frequently dithering when deciding when and what to buy in the technology domain, Steve Fox at PC World quotes Patrick Noonan, a professor at Emory University, explaining our dilemma:

    "Our brains work nothing at all like our computers do. To the extent that humans have an operating system, it's simply a heuristic engine shaped entirely by survival rules on the savannah, which is why all modern life tends to be perplexing and usually beyond our competence. We were shaped in an environment that didn't change much from century to century. And now a product life cycle lasts what...a month or two. We are seriously outmatched by the world we have created!"
    Should I buy a Droid, a Nexus One, or wait for something better?

    March 21, 2010

    Redux -TeamObama Must Believe We Are Both Gullible and Stupid

    In an earlier post, I argued that the numbers floated out of the Congressional Budget Office and ever-so-dutifully reported by the media were impossible to believe and just plain wrong. I obviously had no detailed analysis at my disposal to cite the specifics, but a former CBO director, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, has since done just that with far more realistic and believable results...a defict of $562 billion

    His analysis is far more plausible than the garbage floated by the the CBO last week. I urge you to read the rest of the story from someone who has taken the time to expose the facts and gimmicks that make
    TeamObama's deficit-reduction claim for this 'reform' patently false.

    "...The answer, unfortunately, is that the budget office is required to take written legislation at face value and not second-guess the plausibility of what it is handed. So fantasy in, fantasy out.

    In reality, if you strip out all the gimmicks and budgetary games and rework the calculus, a wholly different picture emerges: The health care reform legislation would raise, not lower, federal deficits, by $562 billion.

    Gimmick No. 1 is the way the bill front-loads revenues and backloads spending. That is, the taxes and fees it calls for are set to begin immediately, but its new subsidies would be deferred so that the first 10 years of revenue would be used to pay for only 6 years of spending.

    Even worse, some costs are left out entirely. To operate the new programs over the first 10 years, future Congresses would need to vote for $114 billion in additional annual spending. But this so-called discretionary spending is excluded from the Congressional Budget Office’s tabulation..."

    March 18, 2010

    We all receive emails from friends that exhort us to do this or that, write your Congressman about that or this. I usually pass on most of those emails that fill my inbox and consume my time, but the content of this one caught my eye.

    I believe that America has created a political class that has become so entrenched as to fail us when fundamental change is called for in many areas of public policy. This is more the case in the Senate than the House, but it applies to both chambers.

    This entrenched political class serves itself first and we, the people second, perhaps third behind the special interests. Elections do not seem to produce the results we need because of the influence of incumbency, perks, special interest money and the voting blocs that often accompany the money.

    Here's a prescription for changing this perversity.

    .Congressional Reform Act of 2010

    1. Term Limits: 12 years only; one of these options:

    A. Two Six year Senate terms
    B. Six Two year House terms
    C. One Six year Senate term and three Two Year House terms

    Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators.serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

    2. No Tenure / No Pension:

    Congresspersons collect a salary while in office and receive no pay when they are out of office.

    Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators. Serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

    3. Congress (past, present & future) participate in Social Security:

    All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system; Congress participates with the American people.

    Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators.serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

    4. Congress may purchase their own retirement plan just as all Americans.

    Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators. Serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

    5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

    Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators. Serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

    6. Congress lose their current health care system and participate in the same health care system as 'we the people'.

    Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators. Serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

    7. Congress must equally abide all laws they impose on the American people.

    Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators. Serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

    8. All contracts with past and present congressmen are void effective 1/1/11

    The American people DID NOT make this contract with Congress. Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

    Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators. Serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

    TeamObama Must Believe We Are Both Gullible and Stupid

    The Wall Street Journal today reports that:
    "The Congressional Budget Office has determined the latest version of the health overhaul will cost $940 billion over a decade, according to a Democratic aide. House leaders plan to unveil the final package later today.

    Rep. Steny Hoyer said the health-care package will also reduce the federal deficit by more than $100 billion over its first 10 years -- and more than $1 trillion in the second decade.

    House Democrats have been working on a package of changes to the health bill passed by the Senate on Dec. 24."

    Frankly I don't believe these projections. It's nonsensical that +/- 30 million people can be added to the health care/insurance system in an aging population without substantially increasing the deficit in the next 10 years. Many of the people who will be added will require subsidies. Most assuredly the $ trillion spent will add to the deficit.

    This Congressman says that the U.S. will spend nearly a $ trillion and reduce the deficit by a $100 billion. Against what baseline? This is totally unrealistic since the Obama budget projection for the next decade shows cumulative deficits as shown in the chart above (also from the WSJ) of ~ $10 trillion.

    Even if it's correct, $100 billion is only 1% of the projected cumulative deficit, a prediction far outside the limits of accuracy for a 10-year projection of ANYTHING!

    Sadly, TeamObama must believe the American public is both stupid and gullible to believe these numbers.

    March 14, 2010

    Middlebury College Orchestra Performance - March 11, 2010

    On March 11 Carol and I enjoyed a very tasty lamb risotto diner with our son, Mark, and Caroline in Shoreham followed by a very strong performance of the Middlebury College Orchestra in the Concert Hall at Mahaney Center for the Arts at Middlebury College.

    Mark's youngest son, Gawain playing the viola, practices and performs with this orchestra. On Thursday we were treated to performances by Possini (Overture: The Italian Girl in Algiers), Mozart (Piano Concerto No. 20 in d minor, K.466) and Brahms (Symphony No. 3 in F major Op.90).

    The Mozart piece featured a piano solo by a Middlebury freshman, Richard Chen. He is an astounding artist! I know little about music but thoroughly enjoyed his superb piano performance. He is a gifted musician and as you can see from his awards below, has excelled from an early age.

    I expect we will hear more about Richard!

    Richard Chen (from the concert program):

    "Richard P. Chen was born in Taiwan and began his piano studies with his aunt at the age of four. He came to the United States when he was ten years old and attended the Fessenden School, a junior boarding school in Boston, where he began to study with Dr. Nilly Epstein Shilo. Since then, he has won numerous musical awards, including First Place in Massachusetts Music Teachers Association Piano Competition (2007, 2005, 2004, 2002), First place in Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) Competition (2008, 2006, 2005, 2004) and First place in New England Piano Teachers Association (NEPT A) High­ School Competition as a high school freshman in 2006. He has also been presented in major concert venues in the United States, including Carnegie Hall in New York by the American Fine Arts Festival in 2007 and Steinert's Hall in Boston. He is a student of Diana Fanning and has also studied with Dr. Ivan Citera at the Conservatorio de Zaragoza, Spain. Ricky is currently a freshman at Middlebury College in Vermont and is interested in Arabic, History, Geography and Middle Eastern Studies.

    Richard is the winner of the 2010 Alan and Joyce Beucher Concerto Competition that took place in January, 2010. This competition was established by a gift from Susan Beucher Cady and George L. Cady '72, P '08, ' II, in honor of Susan's parents. Alan and Joyce Beucher both had careers in music: Alan was the Master of Ceremonies for Radio City Music Hall where he sang and introduced the Rockettes for more than 20,000 performances and Joyce taught elementary school music and performed choral works on Long Island."

    March 9, 2010

    America, the fragile empire -

    America, the fragile empire -

    A friend sent this link. I urge you to read the LA Times story carefully and if you find a germ of probability in it, I also suggest you read "The Black Swan" by Nassim Taleb.

    The implications of a destabilizing event suddenly triggering massive changes in hugely complex systems is real and usually negative. We see some of that in our present Great Recession.

    We should recognize that America's prosperous future is by no means guaranteed, particularly as our country is spending money we do not have. This policy is creating ever more massive debt mostly owned by other countries who do not necessarily share our American vision for the future.

    "...Neither interest rates at zero nor fiscal stimulus can achieve a sustainable recovery if people in the United States and abroad collectively decide, overnight, that such measures will ultimately lead to much higher inflation rates or outright default. Bond yields can shoot up if expectations change about future government solvency, intensifying an already bad fiscal crisis by driving up the cost of interest payments on new debt. Just ask Greece..."

    March 8, 2010

    LTE Speeds Faster Than Expected in Verizon Trials - PCWorld Business Center

    LTE Speeds Faster Than Expected in Verizon Trials - PCWorld Business Center

    While WiMax 4G wireless from Sprint/Clearwire is now avaible in in limited markets, it seems Verizon wil have the first-mover advantage on a much larger scale. They intend to serve 30 or so markets this year. That means Vermont may see it in 2011 or 2012.

    Pricing and tethering policies will determine whether LTE 4G service can be a substitute for wireline broadband. However, these potential upload and download speeds, which rival today's broadband connections, may make the service a viable substitute for DSL or even cable broadband.

    Because the momentum is with mobile services and devices these days, I'd be concerned if I were a company offering only wireline broadband. These speeds and fair pricing signal a rapid uptake in 4G wireless services as they become widely available.

    The limiting factor may well be a scarcity of available frequency spectrum. When that crunch arrives, the broadcast TV folks will be asked by the FCC to give up some of the spectrum they control, I'll bet.

    March 6, 2010

    Government Workers Cannot Expect Job Security in a Sick Economy

    Not all government jobs contribute to a healthy economy. Yet, most government employees do provide valuable essential services. We accept that certain functions of government are necessary to a healthy, vibrant society. Nevertheless, we should vigorously debate the degree of funding for government functions (protection and policing, education, transportation, courts, the justice system, et al).

    Always, but especially in times of economic stress, we must closely examine the fundamental role of government in a free society. Career politicians are usually incapable and unwilling to do this, their rhetoric notwithstanding, because they desire to continue or enhance their careers by pandering to their constituencies. People in the private sector more realistically understand the pain in a faltering economy and adjust more quickly.

    Those folks who choose government service or depend on government largess for their livelihood are subject to the vagaries of both the private sector economy and the will of the taxpayers and voters. In this unhealthy economy they can no longer expect a guarantee of job security. Some seem to be adjusting to this reality by accepting pay freezes and cuts. That's an encouraging sign.

    Unless the Vermont Legislature chooses to deficit-spend (God forbid!), their budget cuts to eliminate the $150 Million gap WILL eliminate jobs. We should encourage legislators to cut expenditures intelligently, examining the services that government should sustainably provide over the long term.

    We must also encourage Legislators that raising taxes is a VERY bad idea. Let's hope they'll listen.

    Voters question budget defeat in well-off Charlotte | The Burlington Free Press | Burlington, Vermont

    Voters question budget defeat in well-off Charlotte | The Burlington Free Press | Burlington, Vermont

    Molly Walsh's excellent story in Saturday's Free Press spotlights the egregious shortcoming of Vermont's school funding mechanism. Income sensitivity, a politically correct term for subsidies, has become far too generous (See highlighted portion of story below).

    Vermont legislative leadership apparently considers income sensitivity the 'third rail' of legislative spending programs. If they touch it, they must fear the wrath of the education establishment and the 65% of Vermont taxpayers who benefit from it. Meanwhile, as Ms Walsh points out, taxes and annual spending for the subsidy will soon reach $182 Million.

    This travesty cannot be allowed to continue. It makes a mockery of local control because far too many taxpayers are insulated from the effects of their 'yes' vote for school budgets that continue to escalate the tax rate. The result is ever higher education spending and taxes for a declining student enrollment.

    Legislators must change the rules of the game. Do they have the courage? No evidence of that to date.

    "Are tax breaks fair?

    Tax breaks based on income also play a role in the final tax rates. Discounts claimed under this exemption have grown dramatically statewide and are projected to keep ballooning by 53 percent from fiscal 2009 to fiscal 2012, from $119 million to $182 million.

    Vermont Tax Commissioner Richard Westman flagged the scale of the tax break as a problem in December and noted that such exemptions diminish the tax base and place more pressure on remaining properties and taxpayers who aren’t exempted.

    Charlotte is one of the wealthier towns in Vermont. However, even there, 41 percent of primary homes qualify for school property tax breaks. Thirty homes qualified for the maximum $8,000 tax break allowed under state law this year. Eighteen of the 30 homes were assessed at $1 million or more, and one home was assessed at $2.17 million. The lowest assessed value for a homestead qualifying for the full $8,000 tax break was $740,900, according to town records.

    The tax breaks are based on a household’s income.

    Some critics of the current system say it’s too easy for people with sizable wealth in real estate and other assets to qualify for tax breaks.

    It’s unclear if concern over income sensitivity played any role in the Charlotte school budget outcome, but the pattern of tax breaks is prompting questions. Mary Mead, Charlotte’s town clerk and treasurer, said the formula doesn’t make sense.

    “It needs a big fix,” she said."