Nel's New Day

August 11, 2015

‘Obamacare’ Good for the Country

Another federal ruling has come down on the Affordable Care Act, and we can only hope that this one is the last. After the Supreme Court once again decided in favor of the ACA, the entire Circuit Court of Appeals for D.C. refused to rehear Sissel v. Department of Health and Human Services. Over a year ago, a three-judge panel had turned down a lawsuit that attempt to strike down the ACA based on a procedural issue that the law should have originated in the House rather than the Senate. Judge Brett Kavanaugh disagreed. That loss led Sissel to ask for the entire court to hear the case. He lost in a unanimous decision.

The D.C. circuit court is split between seven Democrat-appointed judges and four of the most conservative judges nominated by Republican presidents. Sissel might have expected to get a ruling in his favor at least from the conservative judges because the release of a decision took a long time. Instead, the lengthy time before a ruling came from a disagreement about why the court wouldn’t hear the case. Judges disagreed only on academic grounds.

It is unlikely that the Supreme Court will take up Sissel’s case, and the conservative nature of the judges ruling in favor of the ACA may discourage other people from going to court. For example, Judge Janice Rogers Brown, who ruled against Sissel, called the New Deal a “socialist revolution” and claimed that Social Security is a kind of intergenerational cannibalism because of all the “free stuff” that “the political system will permit [Social Security recipients] to extract.”

As time goes one, the ACA continues to get stronger.

A Forbes report by Bruce Japsen, who has covered healthcare and healthcare policies for over 20 years, indicates that unpaid hospital bills drastically declined, both in number and cost, after ACA went completely into effect. Steve Filton, CEO of Universal Health Services (UHS), said that uncompensated care in the company’s hospitals has been on the decline for six quarters. The company’s cost for “doubtful accounts” declined some 17 percent over the first six months of 2015, compared to the same time period in 2014. In 2015, UHS acute care hospitals have seen a “decrease in the aggregate of charity care, uninsured discounts and provision of doubtful accounts as a percentage of gross charges.”

Filton reported something that is obvious to everyone except Republicans. Of the six states with UHC acute care hospitals, two of them—California and Nevada—show a greater participation in Medicaid expansion. The other four states are Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas. A bonus of the ACA is that healthcare stocks are going up, with a surge after the Supreme Court issued its positive ruling in June.

Florida, one of the states that refused Medicaid expansion, denies health insurance to almost one million working poor people. Senate Republicans were in favor of accepting the expansion because the funding would come from the federal government, but Gov. Rick Scott persuaded the House to vote against the working poor. Legislators do understand, however, how important health insurance is: they also voted to keep their own low-cost health insurance. Almost 30,000 state workers, including Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi (who sued the government over the Affordable Care Act), each pay just $8.34 a month for individual coverage or $30 a month for family coverage. Members of the House, Senate and rank-and-file state employees pay $50 a month for themselves or $180 for family coverage. Their insurance rates are frozen through 2016.

Another Forbes report shows that the ACA has added almost one million jobs in health-related fields through June 2014. The first of over 67 attempts to repeal ACA was called “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.”

A new report in The Journal of the American Medical Association shows that the ACA is a great success especially for minorities previously without healthcare. Over the first two enrollment periods, 10.2 million Americans have received private coverage through Obamacare, and another 12.2 million have been covered by Medicaid and the Children’s Health Program. Costs for Medicaid have dramatically dropped, and the program is fully funded for the next thirty years.

Six measures were used in the survey: self-reported rates of being uninsured, no personal physician, difficult access to medications, inability to afford needed care, overall health status, and health-related activity limitations. Five of these measures improved after people were able to purchase insurance on ACA exchanges; only days limited by poor health didn’t improve.

The study concluded:

“As states continue to debate whether to expand Medicaid under the ACA, these results add to the growing body of research indicating that such expansions are associated with significant benefits for low-income populations.”

An ACA provision mandating that insurers must pay 80 percent of the premiums on health care saved individuals or their employers $5 billion in rebates or premium adjustments for 2011 and 2012. Unlike dire predictions, few—if any—insurers went out of business.

Despite the overwhelmingly positive news about the ACA, the GOP continues to waste its time trying to repeal the law—the last time at the end of July. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says that he is prepared to hold another vote “to bring an end to the nightmare of Obamacare.” This is a dream that patients, investors, and healthcare companies want to preserve.

In mid-June, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported that a ACA repeal would “probably increase budget deficits with or without considering the effects of macroeconomic feedback.” The deficit could increase up to $353 billion over a decade. The repeal would also add 19 million people to those uninsured by 2016 and grow by several million in the following years.

Media and candidates are constantly criticizing Donald Trump for not having specifics in carrying out his ideas, but Republicans have the same problem with healthcare reform. After five years of claiming that they will have a plan, it still doesn’t exist. At this time, their only plan is to add billions to the deficit while denying health care to millions of people.

Each state is allowed to set the income level at which people can no longer get Medicaid. In Texas, for example, a family of four must make less than 20 percent of the poverty level to qualify. That’s $4,531 in total annual income. If the family makes $4,532, then they can’t get Medicaid. In Alabama, the cutoff is $4,293. In a Catch-22 a family of four that makes over one-fourth the poverty level in Texas can’t get subsidies for health insurance until it hits 100 percent of the poverty level–$18,128 a year. In addition, childless adults cannot get any Medicaid in all the 19 states without expansion except for Wisconsin.

Two years after ACA became the law of the land, only one state has a rate of uninsured citizens over 20 percent—Texas with 21 percent of its residents lacking health insurance. Before ACA, 14 states were 20 percent or above. California halved its uninsured rate, and both Arkansas and Kentucky dropped their rates from 20 percent to 9 percent in these two years. The national average went from 20 percent uninsured to 13.2 percent with the highest rates for states with Republican governors. New England has insured 95 percent of its population; Rhode Island has only 2.7 percent uninsured.

As of now, 31 states have accepted the Medicaid expansion and its accompanying federal funding, an increase from 26 states a year ago. Time is gradually changing perspectives as more people demand health care and people continue to die without health insurance. In the same year, approval of the ACA has gone up 10 points while disapproval has gone down 12 points. The 47-percent approval is almost triple the 17-percent approval rate of Congress.

approval

During the first GOP presidential candidate debate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich said that the state’s Medicaid expansion cut down the prison population. He said, “Eighty percent of the people in our prisons have addictions or problems,” Kasich added. “We now treat them in the prisons, release them in the community and the recidivism rate is 10 percent….” The average rate in the United State is 52 percent. Ohio is one of 31 states saving money and keeping people alive with Medicaid expansion.

November 21, 2012

Peace, Economic Security a Little Closer

Today’s Best News:

Israel and Hamas have agreed to a 72-hour cease-fire in Gaza after eight days of rocket fire and retaliatory Israeli air strikes left at least 100 Palestinians and three Israelis dead. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed to pursue a “comprehensive peace,” suggesting the Obama administration will rekindle two-state peace talks that have been frozen for the past three years over disagreements about Israeli settlements and future borders.

Occupy Wall Street (by now it seems to be Occupy the World) has come up with a great idea: the Rolling Jubilee project. When people can no longer pay their debts, individuals or companies can buy these debts at pennies on the dollar and then try to collect something from the people who owe money. Occupy has decided to buy these debts—and then forgive them. Even Forbes likes the idea. To test the idea, Occupy purchased $14,000 worth of outstanding loans for $500 and then pardoned the debtors. Now they are looking for donations to expand the project. Thus far they have managed to wipe out almost $10 million of debt for less than $50,000.

Occupy used Iceland for their model. After that country’s banks forgave loans equivalent to 13 percent of the GDP, Iceland’s consumer debt, its economy grew at 2.5 percent in this year’s first quarter. The result is expanded consumption, increased wages, improved standard of living, and no economic collapse. The banks’ action eased the debt burdens of over one-fourth of the country’s population.

Contrary to the beliefs of most conservatives, the U.S. “federal deficit has fallen faster over the past three years than it has in any such stretch since demobilization from World War II,” according to Matt Yglesias. This year the $1.089 trillion deficit is $200 billion smaller than last year and almost $300 billion smaller than when Barack Obama became president. This is not necessarily good news for economists because such a fast reduction in the deficit could lead to a recession, but learning about it might shut up all those candidates who use the deficit to whip the president. This chart, showing the rise and fall of the deficit over the past 60 years also indicates that Democrats seem to do better than Republicans. It appears that the liberals always have to clean up after conservatives. At least the Republicans shouldn’t be able to destroy the decrease in the deficit during the next four years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last piece of good news for today is that people in the United States may become more educated. There was a time when progressives felt that Fox News had a permanent stranglehold on the country’s population. Study after study showed that people watching Fox were more ignorant of political facts than those who didn’t follow any news, but the number of watchers kept growing. There’s a chance that Fox’s popularity is winding down. During the eight days after President Obama’s re-election, MSNBC’s average audience for the key 25-54 year old demographic drew about 8% more viewers than Fox, according the Nielsen ratings.

Two programs were at the top of the MSNBC lineup. Rachel Maddow won seven of the eight days against her Fox competition, Sean Hannity, beating him by an average 18 percent, and her 544k average was second to only Bill O’Reilly in all of cable news. Lawrence O’Donnell won all eight days against Fox’s Greta Van Susteren with a margin of victory of 17% for the eight days. Hannity, perhaps the most strident partisan host on Fox, frequently invites on his show Dick Morris, the man who loudly claimed the errors of polls indicating the president’s defeating Romney. Van Susteren has a close association with friend and client of her husband, Sarah Palin. The question is whether Fox will become more reasonable to keep an audience or ramp up the rhetoric of hatred and fear.

I’m guessing that the majority of conservatives had no idea how many lies the Republican candidates, led by the master of mendacity Mitt Romney, told them in expensive advertising. If the trend of watching MSNBC continues, the voters in the next election will be more aware of facts rather than Fox pundits’ impassioned attempts to sway the voters’ opinions through the largest collection of lies in any general election campaign since the invention of television.

In the election that seems so long ago but was decided only 15 days in the past, the majority of people voted for Democrats both in Congress and in the presidency. This happened despite the Republicans’ attempt to weed out Democratic voters across the country. Republicans need candidates who can win on their own merits, not through lying to voters and suppressing the votes. Maybe they will learn this.

 

December 12, 2011

Republicans’ Payroll Tax Benefits Wealthy

Last week the conservatives in Congress who got elected to find jobs for millions of people in the country while not raising taxes voted against an extension of a payroll tax break for middle-class families. Their objection is that the top 0.1 percent of income earners would have a 1.9 percent tax increase. They defend their refusal to increase taxes for the wealthy by claiming that the Grover Norquist pledge prevents them from doing so. But last week they were comfortable raising taxes for half the people in the nation.

Tomorrow, in the last week before they leave on their holiday recess at the end of the year, the Republicans will vote on a proposal that won’t raise taxes, and they will proudly announce this while accusing the Democrats of wanting to penalize the poor and middle class. The good news about the Republican proposal is that it would maintain the payroll tax at 4.2 percent, partially continue the unemployment payments, and slightly raise the Medicare payments for doctors rather than drastically reducing them. As usual, however, with Republicans there’s lots of bad news.

The Republicans’ bill would add $25.3 billion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, increasing the deficit by $166.8 billion in just the coming year. They are willing to do this after swearing that any raise to the deficit is evil. Democrats have pointed out that the Republicans’ cut-go rules state that a bill must not add to the deficit in the 5-year and 10-year budget windows, but Republicans seem to ignore the rules whenever they choose.

The Republicans’ bill would allow states to require drug testing as a condition of receiving unemployment benefits. A judge has already declared that a Florida law requiring those who apply for welfare benefits to be unconstitutional. Judge Mary Scriven ruled that this law would violate the constitution’s Fourth Amendment ban on illegal search and seizure. “If invoking an interest in preventing public funds from potentially being used to fund drug use were the only requirement to establish a special need,” she wrote, “the state could impose drug testing as an eligibility requirement for every beneficiary of every government program. Such blanket intrusions cannot be countenanced under the Fourth Amendment.”

The Republicans’ bill would repeal $8 million in mandatory funding for the healthcare reform law and cut another $34.9 billion necessary in implementing that law. Language in the bill would also delay and potentially weaken Environmental Protection Agency air-pollution regulations for industrial boilers and incinerators. Republicans have been very strong in asserting that these regulations will hurt business, but EPA says revised boiler regulations aimed at reducing harmful air pollutants such as mercury and soot would only apply to about 1 percent of the country’s boilers and would offer major public health benefits.

The Republicans’ bill would extend a pay freeze for federal workers, prohibit millionaires from receiving unemployment benefits and food stamps, and gradually increase Medicare premiums for the upper-income retirees, those who make more than $80,000. The bill raises the number of Medicare recipients who pay higher premiums from 7 percent of them to 25 percent, affecting not only wealthy but also middle-class retirees.

The Republicans’ bill also changes the health co-payment structure for certain federal retirees, raises fees for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and increases revenue through spectrum auctions, selling the rights (licences) to transmit signals over specific bands of the electromagnetic spectrum and to assign scarce spectrum resources. In addition, the bill allows businesses to deduct the full cost of their equipment investments in as little as one year.

The Republicans’ bill forces the administration to fast-track a permit decision on the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline which the Obama administration wishes to delay until after the 2012 election.

Missing in the Republicans’ bill is the 1.9 percent surtax on millionaires.  Republicans continue to protect the wealthy. Their reason for keeping the money flowing to the wealthy is the same one that they’ve used for the past decade: doing so will hurt the “job creators.” Sen. John Thune (R-SD) used his intuition to declare that a tax increase will keep businesses from job creation. NPR (always on the conservatives’ chopping block) set out to search for these “job creators” who will be affected by the 1.9 percent tax increase.

NPR reporters first went to Republican congressional offices, including House and Senate leadership, who couldn’t find any millionaire “job creator” to be interviewed. Then the reporters went to business groups lobbying against the 1.9 percent surtax. Once again no one. A reason for this failure might be that only 2 percent of people with any business income, large or small, would be affected by the 1.9 percent tax increase.

Instead, several business owners who would get the 1.9 percent increase insist that the tax wouldn’t hurt hiring at all. Business owners continue to tell Republicans that the marginal tax change makes “zero difference” in hiring. Anchor Brewing CEO Keith Greggord said that not a lot of “small-business owners I know are millionaires.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney derided the GOP package, saying, “Their plan seeks to put the burden on working families while giving a free pass to the wealthiest and big corporations by protecting their loopholes and subsidies.” As usual, the Republicans are also blackmailing the Democrats into passing this bill and penalizing the poor people through their additions to the bill such as requiring people getting welfare to take drug tests.

With a raise in the payroll tax, 160 million people would pay an additional 2 percent on the first $106,800 that they earn, an average of an extra $1,000 per year. A surtax on millionaires would charge 1.9 percent on their money over $1,000,000. Only 328,000 people have an adjusted gross income over $1,000,000; they are the top one percent. The bottom 160 million people are the real job creators because each one of them will spend their $1,000. That $120 billion will go into the economy.

The 328,000 millionaires, includes over 250 in Congress, are also developing spending “savvy,” according to a Newsweek article on 12/5/11. This means that the 2010 Bordeaux is too expensive; they’ll stick to the 2009 vintage. According to concierge services at Fischer Travel, the wealthy need a dermatologist in London or former White House doctors who treat them on yachts or private jets. So when they save money because the Republicans take money from the bottom 160 million people in the U.S., they can afford these luxuries–probably from out of the country.

 

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