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The official blog of the National Center for Public Policy Research, covering news, current events and public policy from a conservative, free-market and pro-Constitution perspective.

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What Does It Say of the Administration's Priorities...

Ebola DPC

...when, after one Ebola death and two infections in Dallas, the Administration still hasn't sent as many personnel to Dallas as it did to Ferguson following the shooting death of Michael Brown?


Congratulations to Bethany Diamond on her Wedding Day

BethanyDiamondWCongratulations to Bethany Diamond, an invaluable member of the National Center for Public Policy Research staff, who is getting married this afternoon.

I'm sure everyone at the National Center joins me in wishing her and her soon-to-be husband many years of happiness together.

Bethany is marrying Scott Whitlock of Newsbusters and the Media Research Center. The National Center has worked with both institutions for many years and are huge fans, but this is the first time we've been "in laws."

Looking forward to it!


ObamaCare And Employer-Based Insurance: Costs Going Up, Quality Going Down

On Wednesday, we took a look at the effect ObamaCare is having on employment.  It’s also worth examining the impact it is having on employer-based insurance.

In their recent surveys, the Federal Reserve Banks of Dallas, New York and Philadelphia asked businesses whether ObamaCare was causing them to make changes in their health care plans:

That ObamaCare is causing most businesses to make changes in their health plans is not a surprise.  But what kind of changes?  The Dallas Fed survey did not ask questions about that.  The New York and Philadelphia Fed, fortunately, did:

The one bit of good news is that the percentage of businesses that are increasing the number of employees covered exceeds those that are covering fewer employees.  Other than that, the changes are all bad.  The percentage of businesses that are increasing employee contributions, premiums, deductibles, out-of-pocket maximums and co-pays far exceed the percentage that are reducing them in every single case.  As for range of services covered and size and breadth of the networks, the differences between the percentage of businesses that are reducing them versus increasing them aren’t as large, but they are still substantial.

In short, costs are going up and quality is going down.  But, then, what did you expect when the government got involved? 


Eating Snow's Siblings

My lovely wife fixed me a plate of Snow’s Siblings this morning:

And they tasted even better than usual after watching this video:



The Ripple Effect Of ObamaCare On Jobs

With ObamaCare’s employer mandate less than three months from coming into effect, it’s a good time to review what impact ObamaCare is having on the job market.

1. Part-Time, Outsourcing, Lower Wages, etc. In August, the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta, Dallas, New York and Philadelphia all released reports on ObamaCare’s impact in their respective regions.  The Atlanta Fed surveyed businesses in its region about the “elevated levels of part-time employment.”  There were many reasons for the increase in part-time employment, with one reason being “a large amount of uncertainty around the future cost of health care and the future pace of economic growth.”

The Atlanta Fed did not survey businesses about the specific effects ObamaCare was having on employment, but the Dallas, New York and Philadelphia Feds did.  Here’s a summary table:

If you squint real hard you’ll find one indicator in there going in the right direction (barely). Otherwise, the table shows that if you mandate that employers with 50* or more full-time employees, with “full-time” defined as 30 hours a week or more, must provide insurance to their employees, then employers have an incentive to decrease the total number of workers they hire and pay them less, hire more part-time workers, outsource more work and charge higher prices.  That President Obama unlawfully suspended that mandate until after the 2014 election makes an awful lot of sense now, doesn’t it?

2. Those Who Most Need Full-Time Work Are Having A Harder Time Finding It.  At one point various liberal economists claimed ObamaCare’s employer mandate was not increasing part-time work.  Then Jed Graham of Investor’s Business Daily dug into the data and found that the reason part-time employment was not increasing is that the number of hours worked was increasing for people in relatively high-paying jobs.  But, for workers in industries where the average hourly wage was $14.50 or less, the number of hours worked had been declining:

Graham states, “Overall, in these low-wage industries which employ 30 million rank-and-file workers, the average workweek shrank to 27.3 hours per week in July….For low-wage industry workers…the recovery in the workweek from a then-record low 27.5 hours in mid-2009 began to reverse in the latter half of 2012, and it’s been pretty much all downhill since then.”  Thus, for employees who are least likely to have employer-provided insurance, employers appear to be limiting the hours those work.  Given the relatively low wages, it is likely that there are many workers in this group who are in need of full-time hours.

3. What Ever Happened To ‘Job Sharing’?  I haven’t seen anything in the news lately about the new practice of “job sharing” whereby businesses share employees so that employees can work close to full-time hours—yet the businesses can list them as part-time to avoid the employer mandate. Back in February of last year, the Wall Street Journal reported, “It’s already happening across the country at fast-food restaurants, as employers try to avoid being punished by the Affordable Care Act. In some cases we’ve heard about, a local McDonalds has hired employees to operate the cash register or flip burgers for 20 hours a week and then the workers head to the nearby Burger King or Wendy’s to log another 20 hours. Other employees take the opposite shifts.”

In July 2013, the Huffington Post reported on different owners of Fatburger franchises engaging in the practice and noted, “The Fatburger scheme is legal, as long as the franchises technically have different owners, according to Catherine Ruckelshous, the legal co-director at the National Employment Law Project, a low-wage worker advocacy group”

It seems likely that the practice is accelerating as the January nears.  Unfortunately, the practice is not without costs.  The owners will no doubt have more paperwork costs while employees will have the added time and travel costs of working at more than one eatery.  I doubt those costs will be that big, but they could be entirely avoided if the employer mandate were repealed.

*In 2015 the employer mandate will only apply to employers with 100 or more full-time employees per another unlawful decree by the Obama Administration.  Presumably it won’t apply to companies with 50 or more full-time workers until 2016.


Labor Force Participation Lowest Since Carter!

While President Obama and his supporters may love that the official unemployment numbers — released today by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics for September —is the lowest monthly report since July of 2008, the devil is in the details and are much more ominous.

What’s bad about the 5.9 percent official unemployment rate?  Further into the BLS report, it’s noted the labor force participation rate dropped to 62.7 percent.  That’s also a record of sorts, but not something to celebrate.  The labor force participation rate has not been that low since February of 1978!  This translates to 92.6 million Americans NOT in the workforce.

No wonder that official rate is so low.  But there’s trouble evident in the factor that really counts.  The alternative U-6 unemployment rate — the rate that includes the unemployment, underemployment and those who aren’t looking for work because they have given up — is double the official rate at 11.8 percent.

Not even the President’s most ardent supporters can deny that the economy, and the jobless numbers, rest on precarious footing.  A new report from the radical left-wing Center for American Progress noted “beneath the top line numbers, [the job market] still has a long way to go before it returns to historically healthy conditions.”

In his monthly “About Those Jobs Numbers” analysis of the unemployment numbers and the state of the economy under Obama in general, Project 21 member Derryck Green remains unconvinced things have turned a corner under the President’s leadership.

Like most people, it seems, Derryck remains skeptical about recovery in the near-term.  Of course, Derryck hopes for change, but he — like so many others — is cynical about the performance and potential of the Obama agenda:

There’s a lot on the nation’s plate right now.  President Obama’s perpetual, head-shaking incompetence in dealing with threats — whether it’s confronting the perils of ISIS, dealing with Iran as it continues its pursuit of nuclear weapons, the socio-economic consequences of illegal immigration and the potential new costs of amnesty or Ebola as well as the new and mysterious enterovirus — has created a tendency to overlook the nation’s lagging economic situation even though this also poses a very serious threat to the national well-being.

And, as if on cue, the President — in an attempt to remind people he hasn’t forgotten about our continued financial struggles — took to giving yet another campaign-style speech.  At Northwestern University, Obama praised his administration’s economic achievements.  At this point in his presidency, however, the fact that he has to reassure us that the economy is slowly recovering seems to signal that a majority of Americans don’t feel as optimistic as the President would mislead them to be.

According to one poll, almost 60 percent of likely voters disapprove of Obama’s leadership on the economy.

There’s a good reason very few Americans believe in the President these days.  Given Obama’s tendency to aggressively flee from the responsibility of leadership on almost every issue, losing the public trust may be the least of his worries.

For example, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that — based upon its third estimate of second quarter data — the GDP grew at an annual rate of 4.6 percent.  That’s an increase from its previous estimate of 4.2 percent.  But, before opening bottles of cheap champagne, know that — when averaged with the first quarter’s 2.1 percent contraction — means the economy only grew 1.25 percent so far this year.

As for today’s jobless report, the overall unemployment rate dropped slightly to 5.9 percent while the U-6 rate was double at 11.8 percent.  The unemployment rate for blacks and black teens is at 11.0 percent and 30.5 percent, respectively.  Black women seem to be getting hit pretty hard as almost ten percent of black women over 20 years old are unemployed.

The labor force participation rate dropped to 62.7 percent, while 92.6 million remain out of the workforce.

Job creation for the month of September was up from the previous month, with varying estimates.  ADP, a private source, estimated that 213,000 private sector jobs were created, while the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics said 248,000 jobs were created.  But there were 7.1 million involuntary part-time workers in September.  These are the ones who want more work but cannot find it.  So though jobs were created, which is good, not enough full-time jobs are being created at a pace needed to have the kind of economic impact many Americans need.

Speaking of not having enough jobs, a survey from Rutgers University found that 20 percent of workers were laid off in the last five years (post-recession!), and more than 20 percent of those who lost their jobs still haven’t found another one.  The survey reports it took almost seven months for nearly 40 percent of those who were laid off to find another job.  Furthermore, half of the estimated 30 million people who were laid off and then found new work are now being paid less than their previous jobs.

The Senate Budget Committee released a report showing the stark facts related to this jobless recovery.  The report said that 25 percent of Americans in their prime working years — the almost 30 million Americans between the ages of 25-54 — aren’t working.

There’s other sad economic related news to note:

  • A recently-released Pew Research Center report shows a majority of Americans — 79 percent — sees the current economic conditions as fair or poor while only 22 percent see the economy improving a year from now.  So when the President says to trust him that things are better as he did in his speech at Northwestern University, most Americans simply don’t feel the same way.
  • The negative effects of ObamaCare on businesses continues to grow.  According to data released by the American Action Forum, take-home pay at small businesses was dramatically reduced by almost $23 billion as a result of ObamaCare-related insurance premium increases — totaling nearly $1,000 per employee.  The report also found insurance-related premium increases were responsible for the loss of over 350,000 jobs.  The employer mandate is supposed to begin in 2016, which means this kind of business-related preparation will likely increase and lead to more lost jobs.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that 46,496,145 Americans receive SNAP “food stamp” assistance.  This amount is large enough to fill Yankee Stadium 925 times.

No matter how hard President Obama shakes his pom-poms in an effort to fool the public into believing his economic policies are successful, too many Americans remain unemployed, underemployed, making lower wages and dealing with rising costs.  Very few Americans appear to believe things will improve — economically or otherwise — under the President’s tepid and uninspiring leadership.

My prayer is that the resiliency of American workers, and those who desperately desire to work, is eventually rewarded. 


300,000 More People Find Out That If You Like Your Plan You Really Can't Keep It

Last year, somewhere between 4 million and 6 million people with plans in the individual market lost those plans because they did not meet ObamaCare requirements. President Obama later issued an executive order letting insurers maintain those plans for another year.  For some this came too late, but other people were lucky enough to keep their plans for 2014.

Alas, that’s now coming to an end. Last month, we learned that 250,000 people in Virginia would lose their plans by the end of November.  Earlier this week, news outlets reported that a total of about 50,000 people in Kentucky, Alaska, Tennessee, New Mexico, North Carolina, Maine and Colorado will lose their insurance.

I doubt we’ll see anywhere near the number of cancellations that we saw last year.  On the other hand there are still three more months to go in 2014, so who knows?

And for your viewing pleasure:


Revealed: The Secret Reason ObamaCare's Insurance Options are So Mediocre

LittleGuySquashBigGuyWA just-released federal study reveals the secret behind the inferior insurance options presented on the ObamaCare exchanges.

The small health insurance companies apparently are being driven out of the exchanges.

As reported by Richard Pollock for the Washington Examiner:

Insurance companies with a small share of the health insurance market have virtually disappeared from ObamaCare state health care exchanges, replaced by big-foot carriers that have traditionally dominated the market, according to a congressional watchdog study.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office found in a study made public earlier this week that in 40 states the largest insurers either maintained or boosted their market share through the health exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act. The GAO analysis is the first federal study published focusing on how competition within the health insurance market has been affected by ObamaCare.

The study also found that small-insurer offerings nearly vanished from the exchanges. In 2012, consumers in the individual insurance market on average could choose among 36 small-market company carriers in their state, each holding a market share of five percent of or less.

But by 2014 those consumers could on average choose from only three insurers in their state exchanges, a decline of more than 90 percent.

In the small-group insurance market, at least 15 small-market carriers were available to consumers before ObamaCare. But under the exchanges, consumers found only three insurance companies still competing on average...

Pollock reports the GAO study was requested by Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, M.D.

I am suspicious that there is a causal connection between this and what Dr. David Hogberg discovered and revealed in his latest ObamaCare study for the National Center. David found that many policies on the individual market before ObamaCare had lower premiums and lower or equal deductibles and out-of-pocket costs than the cheapest plans now on the ObamaCare exchanges.

David also found that health insurance policies on sale in the private market before ObamaCare's debut offered health care consumers a greater choice of hospitals and physicians than do the health insurance plans on the ObamaCare exchanges today.

Is a key reason consumer options are more limited on the ObamaCare exchanges the absence of the smaller and more flexible insurance companies? These smaller firms not only filled a market niche of their own, but helped keep the big insurance companies on their toes.

Read the rest of Richard Pollock's Examiner article here; David Hogberg's study, here.


Common Core: Number Sense?

By now, you’ve no doubt seen this photo:


Common Core, it seems, takes the simple way of doing math and makes it convoluted.

Well, , who was a math teacher for seven years, argues that too many people aren’t taking the time to learn what Common Core is about.  In fact, he claims, the bottom part of that photo makes sense while the top part does not.

He doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when he “admits” that the bottom part is “totally confusing” and “ridiculous.”  But let’s parse his main argument:

The top is how most of us learned subtraction. I’m sure your teachers taught you what was going on mathematically, but do you really remember what they said? Probably not. For us, it’s just an algorithm. You can do it without thinking. You hope there’s no “borrowing” of numbers involved, but if you had to do it by hand, you could probably pull it off.

The problem with that method is that if I ask students to explain why it works, they’d have a really hard time explaining it to me. They might be able to do the computation, but they don’t get the math behind it. For some people, that’s fine. For math teachers, that’s a problem because it means a lot of students won’t be able to grasp other math concepts in the future because they never really developed “number sense.”

First off, no, I don’t remember what my teachers said (who does?)  Why is that even important?  It’s not. What matters is that they taught you math and you know how to use it.  

Second, why is it important to know why it works as opposed to using it properly?  It doesn’t seem that crucial either.  When you are balancing your checkbook, which matters more, that you know 100-12=88 or that you know why 100-12=88?  I suspect that it’s more important for most people who use math on a regular basis, such as engineers, computer programmers, accountants, etc., to be able to use the math correctly.  I doubt the “why” of it does much to help them do their jobs properly.

Third, even if the “why it works” is important, how does the bottom part teach that?  You’ll notice in Mehta’s essay there is no explanation of how using the bottom approach enables a student to understand the “why it works” any better than the top part.  It’s also not clear it helps the student develop “number sense” (a term that, you’ll also notice, Mehta never defines).  Perhaps the bottom approach is better for those things, but without actually explaining why, Mehta seems to be saying “trust me on this.”  

Finally, and related to number three, is there any evidence that the Common Core approach to math will help students learn the “why” or develop better “number sense”?  And, more importantly, is there any evidence that they will be able to do math at least as well as the students who used the old method?  Mehta doesn’t point to any.  

Perhaps this approach was tested rigorously before being applied on a wide scale.  But I’m skeptical.  This wouldn’t be the first time the education establishment adopted a new approach that had little empircal evidence to back it up.  Take a look at the controversy over the Phonics versus Whole Language approach to learning reading. By the early 1990s, Whole Language had largely replaced Phonics as the way of teaching reading. How’d that work out?


Health Care Odds & Ends: Skinny Network Edition

About two weeks ago, NCPPR released my study on insurance quality in the ObamaCare exchanges versus the individual market.  One finding was that the quality of provider networks—the network of physicians, hospitals and other health care providers available through an insurance plan—had declined on the exchanges.

Well, here’s more:

1. Zero Percent Of Physicians.  Avalere recently completed a study for the American Heart Association that examined the physicians available through three low-cost silver plans on the exchanges in 10 metropolitan areas.  Specifically, Avalere examined whether the plans covered 10 physicians in a metropolitian area in three specialties: cardiologists, neurologists, and diagnostic radiologists.  A physician was included in the list of 10 if he was one of the 10 highest in terms of Medicare payments (suggesting that he was one of the most in demand in the area among Medicare beneficiaries).  Here are the results:


So, if you live in Louisville, you have a silver plan, and your elderly aunt on Medicare recommends a good cardiologist in the area, you may be out of luck. (Although, the study notes that some of the physicians included in the Louisville area were actually in Lexington, which may have effected the results.) Regardless, the numbers are not that good in Los Angeles, Atlanta or San Jose either.

The next page in the study (page 12) shows the percentage of physicians covered by the plans broken down by specialty.  Zero percent of the top 10 cardiologists are covered in Los Angeles.  It’s the same with diagnostic radiologists in Atlanta, Chicago, and Durham.

2. Network Quality Won’t Improve In California (And May Get Worse).  The Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday that the “state’s largest health insurers are sticking with their often-criticized narrow networks of doctors, and in some cases they are cutting the number of physicians even more, according to a Times analysis of company data.”  Apparently reducing networks by itself won’t be enough to cover costs in some instances, according to the article. Insurer HealthNet is dumping one of its Preferred Provider Network plans and “switching to a plan with 54% fewer doctors and no out-of-network coverage, state data show. Yet premiums for that stripped-down policy are going up as much as 9% compared with pricing for the PPO….HealthNet said its cutbacks were necessary to avoid even steeper rate hikes.”

Premium hikes and even skinnier networks!  Thanks ObamaCare!

3. The Solution To This Politically-Created Problem?  Why, More Politics, Of Course!  A class action lawsuit has been filed against Anthem Blue Cross in California accusing the insurer of “misleading ‘millions of enrollees’ about whether their doctors and hospitals participate in its new reform plans.”  Here’s betting that will be the first of many.

In South Dakota, skinny networks will be on the ballot.  Voters in the Mount Rushmore State will be able to vote on an “any willing provider” initiative that would require insurers to accept any physician as long as he or she meets the insurer’s standards.  Of course, forcing insurers to expand their networks will likely result in higher premiums, but don’t count on supporters of this initiative to acknowledge that fact.  Here’s betting that this initiative will also be the first of many.

4. On A Different Note: Did ObamaCare Increase The Number Of Uninsured?  Part 2.  Last week, I posted some information that a comparison of the 2013 CPS survey with the 2014 Q1 CPS survey from the Census Bureau showed an increase in the number of uninsured under ObamaCare.  However, Adrianna McIntyre at The Incidental Economist points out that the surveys show no such thing.  The explanation is a bit complex, but the short of it is that the 2013 CPS survey measures the uninsured in a different way than does the 2014 Q1 CPS survey.  Thus, it is inappropriate to make comparisons of the rate of the uninsured using these two surveys.  


Can't Bloomberg Businessweek Reporters Do A Google Search?

At Bloomberg Businessweek, reporter John Tozzi recently linked to one of my blog posts in this sentence: “Americans sometimes accuse Britain’s single-payer system of rationing of health care.” More on that in a bit.

Tozzi’s piece focuses on the drug Sovaldi and Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).  The NHS’s National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) decided to approve the use of Sovaldi, a “miracle” drug that can cure hepatitis C that is very expensive—up to $1,000 a pill.

After claiming that the NICE has decided that paying for the expensive drug now will save costs later on, Tozzi states:

That’s not the case in the U.S., where health care is paid for by a mix of employers, private insurers, and government programs such as Medicaid and Medicare. Hepatitis C can take 20 to 30 years to cause liver scarring that might require a transplant. An insurer paying for Sovaldi now is probably preventing an expensive treatment that would have ultimately been paid for by another part of the health-care system—most likely Medicare, the federal insurance program for Americans 65 and older. Insurers don’t have much incentive to do that, even if it would save the U.S. health system money in the long run. (Italics added.)

That second paragraph strongly implies that insurers in the U.S. aren’t paying for Sovaldi.  To check that, all you have to do is put the words “Sovaldi” and “insurer” into Google.  There you find articles—like this one in Reuters and this one in the Boston Globe—that describe the struggles of insurers in the U.S. to cover the cost of Sovaldi. But we also learn that by May “30,000 people have received hepatitis drug Sovaldi,” that the “drug contributed to a first-quarter financial loss at Partners HealthCare, the giant Boston system that runs Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals” and that “MassHealth, the government Medicaid program that insures many patients directly, spent about $10.8 million on the new hepatitis C treatment during the first three months of the year.”

Insurers, it seems, are paying for Sovaldi.  It would have been nice if Tozzi had done a bit of Google searching before he wrote his love letter to the NHS.

Here are a few other things he could search on Google:

1. The NHS, wait lists for treatment and cancelled surgeries. The Google search on this one is a bit tough, but one can eventually find the NHS’s own data showing that 3 million people on the wait list for surgery, 809,000 patients were waiting for a diagnostic test and 15,600 operations were cancelled at the last minute in the second quarter of 2014.

2. NICE and the drugs that it has declined to fund, such as Benlysta,” “Novartis,” “Sorafenib” and “Avastin.”  The first is a treatment for lupus while the last three can extend the life of cancer patients.  The Rare Cancers Forum notes that 16,000 patients annually could benefit from cancer drugs rejected by NICE.

3. What happens to patients in Britain who could benefit from a drug but must endure NICE’s approval process.  For example, put “Alice Mahon” and “Lucentis” into Google.  Mahon is a former Labor MP who was going blind in one eye because of macular degeneration. Lucentis is a drug that treats macular degeneration, but at the time Mahon needed it, NICE had not finished its approval process.  Mahon went blind in one eye because of the time it took for NICE to approve Lucentis. Mahon said, “I have been an ardent supporter of the NHS all my life, and now feel totally let down.”  (For more on Mahon and others like her, see National Center’s publication “Shattered Lives.”)

In short, all it takes is some Google searching to discover that rationing in the NHS is not a matter of “accusations.”  It’s well-established fact.


Danhof Defeats Hartmann in Radio Rumble Over GM Foods

Watch as Justin Danhof, director of the National Center’s Free Enterprise Project takes on and soundly defeats liberal talk radio host Thom Hartmann on the issue of labeling genetically modified foods.

Justin cited settled science and the obvious intent of the organic food industry lobby to demonize GM foods, while Hartmann said he thinks groups such as the American Medical Association that find no harm in genetically modified products are corrupt.

Justin recently attended the annual shareholder meeting of General Mills, where the Free Enterprise Project helped decisively defeat a shareholder proposal to mandate the removal of all genetically modified products from its inventory.


Refugee Status for Illegal Immigrants Rebutted

With the possibility that President Barack Obama may soon attempt to abuse federal refugee policy as a means of offering some sort of amnesty to illegal immigrants, Project 21 co-chairman Horace Cooper told One America News Network host Rick Amato that this potential action could hurt the prospects of legitimate refugees seeking relief in the United States from oppressive regimes and warlords in their home countries.

Speaking about a Project 21 data release on the issue of amnesty and refugee policy, Cooper said that a possible redefinition of refugee status by the Obama White House is unfair and probably unlawful:

Here’s some problems with that: One is [that] this isn’t going to allow for people like the Kurds in Iraq to be able to say, “Well, wait, ISIS is out of control.  We get to come to America.”  This isn’t gonna allow people in Nigeria, who are clearly persecuted by Boko Haram and other terrorist groups….

But, instead, it’s going to attempt to redefine — we believe unlawfully — redefine the definition of persecution to say if drive-by shootings are happening, if high levels of drug activity are happening or other kinds of mayhem and you don’t like it, you get to come to America.

It doesn’t seem to me to be a strong argument that ultimately will bear out, and this is the kind of thing that will lead to litigation.  But it’s not the role of the President to even take on this kind of approach.

Horace is also given some time at the beginning of the segment to provide a concise description of the purpose and performance of the Project 21 black leadership network.


Project 21's LeBon Speaks (Separately) on Sharia Law, School Lunches

Cherylyn Harley LeBon, co-chairman of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network, has been active in pointing out the hypocrisy of liberal policymaking at both the federal and international level.

In early September, Cherylyn discussed the federal nutritional guidelines that are being imposed on schools on the Soul of the South network’s “D.C. Breakdown” program.  Pointing out that requirements for foods served in schools, such as whole wheat pasta that is unpopular with students and hard for cafeteria employees to make in bulk, Cherylyn focused on how federal mandates (especially these that are not phased in over time) are not always the best way to deal with children:

We have these federal bureaucrats who are coming up with these rules and, as a mom, I question, well, “Do you have children at home?  Do you realize that kids have very finicky palates?”  You know, you can’t just all of a sudden just force new food on children.

Cherylyn mentioned that forcing foods on kids that they may not like could have more harmful repercussions in poorer communities:

When we put these requirements — when we say “whole grain” and “fresh” — you know, what I worry about is we’re developing standards which may not fit for the entire population of the United States.  And, again, for low-income kids, if this is the only meal that they’re getting and they don’t like the whole grain pasta, they’re going home hungry.

It was also pointed out to host Angela Rae that pushing guidelines on food with the intention of fighting childhood obesity probably isn’t as effective as it could be as schools cut activities that get out and about:

It seems like a disconnect… On one hand, we’re trying to revamp the school lunches, but, yet, on the other hand, [First Lady Michelle Obama is] advocating “Let’s Move.”  But, yet, we see that the school districts across the country are reducing time — they’re reducing recess.  They’re reducing their [physical education] programs, and they’re reducing after school programs.

With the recent opening of the United Nations session, Cherylyn appeared on the “Rick Amato Show” on the One America News Network to expose how there are celebrities and activists who bring up seemingly trivial concerns regarding women despite a clear and present danger that religious extremism presents to women living under radical Islam.

Noting that movie star Emma Watson used her appearance at the U.N. to complain about description of women as “bossy,” Cherylyn noted there are life and death issues related to the imposition of Islamic sharia law that deprives women of their rights and even their lives aren’t discussed among these alleged advocates:

I find it very curious that, at the U.N., they are focusing on things like “bossy,” sexiness when — really — there are women suffering under radical Islam in the Middle East.  And there’s no discussion on how these women are really living under sharia law.

Cherylyn shared how the political left has had a deaf ear, and has even sometimes been hostile, towards stories of women such as Meriam Ibrahim — a woman who escaped persecution for her Christian beliefs and how some women still under radical Islamic rule are treated as sex slaves and cannot every receive formal education.  She added how this is not only discriminatory and a violation of human rights, such behavior also degrades society:

Women are the backbone of society.  They are the ones that give birth.  If you’re destroying women; if you’re destroying mothers; if you’re destroying those little girls by raping them and making them sex slaves, what do you think is going to happen to your population?  How do you think your society is going to function when these women and girls have been beaten and raped?  These women are going to be unable to function.


Zombie Apocalypse Or VA Cheating?

So Congress, how is that $17 billion in new funds you gave the Veterans Administration working out?  From FoxNews:

The family of a U.S. Marine is demanding answers after Department of Veterans Affairs records indicated that their son had canceled an appointment four days after his death.

Cpl. Jordan Buisman died on Nov. 26, 2012 while waiting for an appointment with a VA doctor in Minneapolis. The records indicate, however, that Buisman called to reschedule his appointment on Nov. 30. (Italics added.)

Let this be a warming to you:


Now that they’ve learned to speak and use phones, we are in big trouble!


Project 21 Members on Obama’s Crusade Against ISIS

Three times over the past week, members of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network appeared on the One America News Network’s “Rick Amato Show” to discuss the resumption in the rise of Islamic terrorism and the Obama Administration’s pivot to a militarized response.

Interviews took place both before and after military action began, and dealt with many facets regarding the new Obama policy and the threat of religious extremism.

In discussing the threat of militant Islam before the missiles and bombs began to fly, Project 21 member Council Nedd II noted on 9/17/14 how “no one took [ISIS] seriously” a year ago.  Now, however, “everyone should be concerned” about the threat of ISIS and other rising militant groups.

Council — an archbishop with the Episcopal Missionary Church who is involved in ministry work in areas of the Middle East and Africa threatened by Islamic extremists — said these radical activists are “like a virus.”  And, when dealing with a virus, he noted that one cannot expect success when “giving it a sub-therapeutic dose of antibiotics… literally, the virus keeps getting stronger.”  Council’s prescription?  “We need to do something drastic.  We need to do something radical.  And it’s not going to be pretty.”  Simple things that Council suggested in the hours before Obama ordered military strikes included revoking someone’s citizenship if they chose to fight for ISIS and not buying or refining oil that comes from fields seized by ISIS and others.

Having already written two recent New Visions Commentaries on the need to contain and combat radical Islam, Council reiterated: “The fact is, unless we do something and unless we do something dramatic — unless we do something big in a big way — ISIS is just going to continue with their march toward Jerusalem and Spain and other places… Somebody needs to step up and say, ‘you know, this is ridiculous and we’re stopping you right here.’”

After military operations began, Project 21 member Hughey Newsome appeared on Amato’s show on 9/22/14 to discuss how Obama seems to have evolved in office regarding decisive action against terrorism.

Noting the difference between Obama as a senator and presidential candidate compared to his recent action as president, Hughey said “it’s night and day.”  He also noted that Obama continues to show that he has “no capacity whatsoever” to deal with Congress — even liberals such as Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

He noted that Obama once had an overriding goal of getting American forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan at all costs, but now that goal-oriented agenda has come back to haunt the President.

Hughey noted how generals have said there is a possibility of needing “boots on the ground” to ultimately prevail against these terrorist networks — something that White House staff seem decidedly against.

“It might be the right thing to do.  Who knows?” Hughey noted.  “But, of course, putting politics first [and] effective policy second is the way the White House has gone… you need Congress to have some oversight.”

On 9/23/14, during Amato’s “grassroots citizens panel,” Project 21 member Kevin Martin, a Navy veteran, when commenting about the motivation of the extremists, said “[t]hese groups want notoriety.”  He added that “[t]hey look at al Qaeda and say ‘we’re gonna do it bigger and better.’”

But Kevin — who commented previously about the Obama military pivot in the war on terrorism — warned about the effectiveness of Obama’s work to build a coalition against the terrorists, saying “We cannot contract our national defense out to ‘moderates.’”  In particular, Kevin said it was valid to wonder about “who picks and chooses” who these alleged moderates are and whether they are working for the same goals as the United States.


Health Care: Equity Vs. Efficiency

In my blog post yesterday arguing that health care is a commodity, I noted that Rashi Fein, one of the architects of Medicare, argued that health care needed to emphasize equity over efficiency.  I claimed that “a system that emphasizes equity over efficiency will end up with neither, while a system that emphasizes efficiency over equity will end up with a good deal of both.”

Here are some examples:

Medicaid: Equity over Efficiency.  One purpose of Medicaid is providing the poor with access to care similar to that available to the middle and upper classes.  But it doesn’t seem to be achieving this goal very well.

Among all physicians, nearly one-third are no longer seeing new Medicaid patients and that number may well be over 45 percent for some specialists. The most likely reason is that Medicaid’s reimbursement rates are among the lowest. This creates access problems.  Medicaid patients have more difficulty getting timely appointments with primary care physicians, specialists and ambulatory clinics than patients with private insurance.  

There is research showing that access to health care for Medicaid patients is as good as it is for those with private insurance.  However, if Medicaid patients didn’t have access problems to physicians and clinics, why do so many go to the emergency room for care versus patients with private insurance?  And, for the most part, they are going because they need the care, not because they are there for some minor ailment. 

Medicaid doesn’t come close to achieving care equitable with those who have private insurance. How does it do on efficiency?  Well, the U.S. spends over $415 billion on Medicaid, and according to the Oregon health experiment, Medicaid has no noticeable impact on patient health.  Other research suggests that children at hospitals that are more reliant on Medicaid funding have more adverse events, and that patients with Medicaid are more likely to receive a diagnosis of late-stage cancer than patients with private insurance who are more likely to receive diagnoses at earlier stages.  Such results probably don’t satisfy any reasonable definition of efficiency.

Minute Clinics: Efficiency over Equity.  Minute clinics are walk-in clinics, usually located in a pharmacy like CVS or Walgreens, that employ physician assistants and nurse practitioners to provide primary care.  (I’m using the term “minute clinic” generically here, even though that is what they are called at CVS.  Walgreens calls them Healthcare Clinics and Wal-Mart calls them Care Clinics.)  The companies that run minute clinics want to make a profit, and thus they were created with efficiency in mind—that is, to make it more convenient, in terms of both time and money, for patients to receive care. More patients increases the likelihood of profitability.

Their efficiency is partially reflected in how much they have grown. The first one was launched in 2000 by CVS and there were 1,400 by 2012.  Accenture anticipates that (1) the number will grow to 2,800 by 2015 due to increased demand brought on by ObamaCare and (2) they will save the health care system about $800 million.

But are they making care more equitable?  Well, prices are relatively cheap, with most visits at CVS costing $79-$99 with some going as low as $59.  At Walgreens they are about $60 and at Wal-Mart some visits are as low as $40.  Those are prices that are affordable, even for many low-income people.  (Also see this study on the costs of more involved health care cases—minute clinics still were the cheapest.)

Minute clinics reduce another cost that is a barrier for the poor: time.  As a recent article from Health Affairs shows, poor people often have a big “time cost” in getting to a physician’s office—taking time off work, setting up transportation, etc.  Minute clinics reduce that cost by offering evening and weekend hours, something that physicians offices don’t do, at least not with the frequency of minute clinics.  Moreover, easier access to such care results in fewer emergency room visits.

In short, minute clinics are creating a great deal of both efficiency and equity.


We Have No Liberty: Now the Government is Coming for Our Hobbies

California lawmaker wineThe state of California has fined a hobbyist winery $115,000 because some of the people working at the --- let me use this word again -- HOBBYIST winery were volunteers.

National Center Senior Fellow R.J. Smith, who knows as much about wine as he does about the benefits of liberty (and that's saying something), has this comment:

Outrageous example of out-of-control government tyranny. Just what California needs, fewer wineries and small businesses. One of the great joys of wines has been the ability to volunteer during harvest season and also grape stomping. All over the world. Widely spreads the enjoyment and love of wine. And sometimes interests young people in a career in wines.

So the government says we can't have volunteers and interns any longer. Who are they to say?

What was that that Mr. Jefferson wrote in 1776 -- about the people facing a government that is no longer protecting life, liberty and property: " is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

Say a prayer for [Westover & Palomares Vineyards President and Winemaker] Bill Smyth -- his wife, family, employees and volunteers.

The state of California, which opposes liberty, has made it illegal for business to accept the help of volunteers. Across the board.

So if you love model trains and want to hang about a California-based model train shop on Saturday afternoons, answering kids' questions, don't. That's illegal.

If a California business seeks volunteers to transport food to a community event or food pantry, don't volunteer. It's illegal.

If a someone in your California church or synagogue is confused about how to do the tax forms for his small business, don't help unless you charge him. You'd be breaking the law.

Heck, by the standards of this law it is illegal to drive your own daughter to her babysitting job, unless you charge her. The law doesn't have exceptions for family members.

As R.J. (and T.J.) noted, we have a duty to throw off governments such as this.

It's difficult to imagine who the idiotic lawmakers who voted for this thought they were helping. Do they really presume hordes of Californians are going to persuaded to work for free for multitudes of businesses, unless they think it is worth their while? And if it is worth it to them, then why should government stop them?

Sadly, even if California lawmakers wise up, the story ends unhappily for this winery, which will close this year, thanks to the state of California. And lest you think, good, these people were taking advantage of their volunteers to make money, be aware: This winery did not sell its wine in stores. It served it to visitors. This was a place where people socialized, picked grapes, made wine and had fun.

Until the government we should overthrow said they couldn't.

More news stories here and here.


Health Care IS A Commodity

Rashi Fein, one of the most important people in the development of Medicare and Medicaid, passed away two weeks ago Monday.

Via his obituary, I discovered that he had written the following in the New England Journal of Medicine back in 1982:

A new language is infecting the culture of American medicine. It is the language of the marketplace, of the tradesman, and of the cost accountant. It is a language that depersonalizes both patients and physicians and describes medical care as just another commodity. It is a language that is dangerous.

Unfortunately, Fein’s view has infected much of health care policy in the last 30-plus years.  That type of wrongheaded thinking leads to removing health care from the discipline of market processes and into the control of government.

But the fact is, health care is a commodity.  Health care, like all commodities, is a marketable item produced to satisfy wants or needs.  

Given that, the only question is in what type of system will a commodity be produced and consumed?  Do we want health care to be bought and sold via markets or via government?  

Fein also urged physicians to “be more vigorous spokesmen for the human values in medicine.”  Medical care, he claimed, wasn’t measured just by the number of treatments administered “but also by the amount of comfort, concern, and compassion provided.”

It’s hard to see how treating health care like a commodity is inhumane.  Subjecting health care to markets is what will reduce its cost while improving its quality.  Making health care more affordable and better for everyone is indeed a very humane result.

Finally, Fein complained that physicians had adopted the language of “a narrow economics the emphasizes efficiency more than equity,” and encouraged them to “speak the language that addresses the unfinished agenda of equity and decency in the distribution of health care.”

Clearly Fein favored equity over efficiency.

But to crib a little from Milton Friedman (at 28:09), a system that emphasizes equity over efficiency will end up with neither, while a system that emphasizes efficiency over equity will end up with a good deal of both.

Are there examples of this?  Yes, but that will be tomorrow’s blog post. 


Health Care Odds & Ends

1. Did ObamaCare Increase The Number of Uninsured?  The American Enterprise Institute’s Joe Antos has a great piece on both the recent health insurance surveys from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Census Bureau.  According to Antos the CDC survey “received a great deal of attention [and] said there were 3.8 million fewer uninsured. The other, which was hardly noticed, found that there were 1.3 million more uninsured.”  So why, possibly, did the number of uninsured rise?  The most likely explanation is that of the 4 to 6 million people who lost their insurance last year, about 1 million of those have not bought new insurance. More on this in a later post.  

As for the lack of media coverage of the Census Bureau survey, I’m at a loss to explain it. No, really.

2. Visual Aid.  Phil Kerpen put this image together comparing the 2013 Census Bureau Survey with the one for the first quarter of 2014:

The number of uninsured rose from 13.4 percent to 13.8 percent, which is roughly 1.3 million people.  The 2013 Census Bureau survey is here and the Q1 2014 is here.  

3. Another Reason ObamaCare Is Cancelling Your Plan.  If you don’t understand the concept of “actuarial value,” you should because it can result in the cancellation of your health insurance.  Thankfully, there is this video from the Mercatus Center that explains it all in layman terms:


4. A Rant, But A Pretty Good One.  Bruno Korschek goes through the ObamaCare insured vs. uninsured numbers and then gives an update on some of things that have gone wrong with ObamaCare recently.  If you have some time, give it a look.

5. Something Non-Health Care:  Catfish Crony Capitalism.  The FDA already regulates Catfish, but buried in the 2008 farm bill was a new regulatory program to be carried out by the USDA.  As the Daily Signal reports:

The program actually is a protectionist scheme for domestic catfish farmers. Foreign exporters won’t be able to sell their catfish that Americans already consume until the USDA works with other countries to establish an equivalent regulatory system. This could take several years, assuming other countries even decide to move forward with such a system.