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Another Reason to Oppose the Medicare Doc Fix Bill

I’m trying really hard to support the “Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act” (MACR).

Yesterday, I pointed out that it included a new Medicare payment system called the Medicare Incentive-Based Payment System (MIPS) that will incentivize physicians to avoid the sickest patients.  I concluded:

One of the goals of MACR, eliminating the unworkable Sustainable Growth Rate, is a worthy one. Getting rid of this perennial problem, however, should not come by way of a new payment system that will make it harder for sicker patients to obtain physician care. The Senate should remove MIPS. Otherwise, lawmakers risk installing an IPAB-style payment system in Medicare.

Unfortunately, the bill also contains an incentive under Medicare to encourage physicians to join accountable care organizations (ACOs).  For those of you who are unaware, an ACO is a relatively large group of physicians and other health care providers that are responsible for a group of patients.  If this sounds like bureacratic medicine, it is.  It’s not clear that ACOs are working as intended, and there is also evidence that smaller physician practices may be better for patients.

Nevertheless, Republicans have included in MACR a 0.75 Medicare payment increase for physicians who join an ACO and 0.25 percent increase for those who don’t.  (Those who don’t join will also be subject to the MIPS system).

Here’s the kicker: ACOs were the creation of ObamaCare.  

This leads to two questions:  First, why would Republicans be reinforcing a component of ObamaCare, especially one that incentivizes bureaucratic medicine?  Second, what were Republicans thinking when they drafted this bill?  (“They weren’t thinking!” —the Wife.)

At the very least, the Senate needs to remove MIPS.  MIPS imposes a penalty on physicians who don’t meet certain benchmarks.  Without that, there is less incentive for physicians to join an ACO.

I’m reluctantly willing to let slide the $147 billion increase in costs over ten years that MACR entails, as there is a decent case to be made that the other changes this bill makes to Medicare will generate savings over the much longer term.

I would so love to see the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) be repealed.  As I’ve argued elsewhere, it probably isn’t good for Medicare patients either as it incentivizes physicians to see fewer Medicare patients.  But with both MIPS and the ACO incentives in this bill—forget it!  Those costs are greater than the benefits of repealing the SGR.

Either remove MIPS or scrap this piece of junk and start over.


Medicare Doc Fix Bill Is IPAB-Lite

The Daily Caller has run our David Hogberg's new paper, "Medicare Doc Fix Bill Is IPAB-Lite":

David Hogberg

When the Senate returns from recess this week, it will consider the "Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act" (MACR). The bill has acquired many names such as "The Doc Fix Fix" and "Budget Buster," but a more appropriate one is "IPAB-lite."

IPAB -- the Independent Payment Advisory Board -- was created as part of Obamacare to cut Medicare expenditures whenever those expenditures grew too quickly. Thankfully, IPAB's unpopularity has thus far prevented it from getting off the ground. Unfortunately, the changes MACR makes to Medicare's payment system seem very much along the lines of what IPAB would do. After all, the new payment system within MACR is consistent with IPAB's mission, incentive structure, and likely outcomes...

Read it all here.

If this bill is not changed before passage, Medicare literally will have incentives in it that cause doctors to get paid more if they avoid the sickest patients. This is morally wrong. The House has already passed this bill, so we have to look to the Senate for any improvements. Here's hoping the Senate sees fit to make them.


Leftist Concern for Black Lives Seems More Political than Compassionate, Says Project 21’s Cooper On “O’Reilly Factor”

Debunking the left-wing narrative that police-related killings of black men proves a “systemic problem in America” Project 21 co-chairman Horace Cooper pointed out on the Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” that the facts show there is really “an elevated risk of death that will not come from law enforcement, but that will come from other black Americans.”

Debating liberal talk radio Alan Colmes on the 4/9/15 edition of the show, Horace noted the risk of police-related deaths in the black community needs to be seen in context:

The truth is… if you consider the elevated number of times that black Americans encounter law enforcement versus the actual number of deaths, it turns out that black people are not actually at risk.  They’re actually in a favored category.

Citing government statistics showing homicide as the second-highest risk of mortality for black men and greatly outpacing other demographics, Horace said this is “a sign that there is a disparate amount of criminality happening in this one group… [and] there will be a higher level of encounter with  law enforcement.”

Another disparity Horace revealed was a disinterest on the left when it comes to addressing the crime problem within the black community:

This is the progressive impulse.  Every single police killing is documented.  We understand all of the details of every police killing.  But what we don’t need is to have that argument made that there is a systemic problem when the evidence shows that there are other problems that progressives don’t care about.

They say black lives matter….  But when, in Chicago, there are more black deaths that happened in 2014 than in the last ten years… they say nothing about it.

Horace further suggested:

In the black community, we need to have a conversation that’s unencumbered by the radical left and progressives’ agenda that tries to use government coercion to address some problems.

Watch the full segment here.


As Liberal Congressman Blames Conservatives for SC Shooting, Project 21's Horace Cooper to Speak Sense on O'Reilly Tonight

According to veteran liberal Congressman James Clyburn (D-SC), commonsense conservatives are to blame for the shooting in South Carolina.

I'm not exaggerating: Clyburn claims the climate for the shooting was created by people who believe in self-defense, voter ID -- even redistricting!

Horace Cooper on O'Reilly

He calls these people "a cancer eating at the innards of our society," and ties our views directly to the shooting by saying "that's why you have these rogue police officers feeling they have license to do what they want to do and there will be no consequences paid for it."

Our Project 21 black leadership group isn't sitting still for this. Tune in to Fox's O'Reilly Factor tonight, April 9, to see Project 21's Co-Chairman Horace Cooper defend you and me and conservatives everywhere.

And sign up for free our e-mail newsletter to follow our work to defend YOUR RIGHT to hold commonsense conservative views without being falsely accused of murder.

Don't let Congressman Clyburn get the last word!


Black Conservatives on South Carolina Police-Involved Shooting

Members of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network are speaking out about the shooting of an apparently unarmed black man during a foot chase after a traffic stop in North Charleston, South Carolina.

Caught on video by a witness and alleging showing the officer firing eight bullets at and killing Walter Scott, Michael Thomas Slager has since been fired from the North Charleston Police Department and is charged with Scott’s murder.

Project 21 member Nadra Enzi, a community policing activist in New Orleans, said:

The South Carolina police shooting involving now former North Charleston officer Michael Slager illustrated the unfortunate cold-bloodedness of some police officers.

Supporters of the police and anti-crime activists shouldn’t be timid in loudly demanding the severe punishment of officers who blatantly murder and then hide behind their badges to try to cover up their handiwork.

Legitimate outrage can be easily drowned out by the rogues’ gallery of predatory protesters, such as those who wrought havoc in the Michael Brown case.  Conservative voices denouncing this crime can help dampen the racial flames fanned by radical protesters’ rhetoric.  

Americans can also unite around this issue and use it to strengthen the frayed ties that bind us.  Not doing so lends aid and comfort to professional cop-haters, career criminals and skeptics who use atrocities to justify and spread profound mistrust.

When an innocent man is unjustly killed, it should remind police supporters and skeptics alike that violent crime isn’t the exclusive province of callous citizens.  A privately owned camera phone recorded the officer’s alleged crime and possible attempt to plant evidence.

When officers do this, society is less safe — especially the segment from whence this particular victim hailed.

Project 21 member Christopher Arps, a resident of the St. Louis area who was witness to the violence in Ferguson, Missouri after the death of Michael Brown and subsequent grand jury decision not to indict the officer involved in Brown’s death, added:

The video showing the tragic shooting of an unarmed African-American man in the back, who was fleeing from a police officer, has now convinced me that body cameras should be standard equipment for all law enforcement personnel.

Until the amateur cell phone video surfaced, the officer’s account of a life-and-death struggle between him and the victim over the officer’s Taser may have prevailed.  Police body cameras safeguard everyone involved, and the time for their widespread use has come.

According to North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, 101 body cameras are already on order for the city.  Additionally, 150 more cameras were ordered in the wake of the shooting.  There is also legislation currently under consideration in the state legislature to require that all members of South Carolina law enforcement to wear body cameras.

Project 21 member Stacy Swimp, a community activist in Michigan who is a native of South Carolina, said:

It seems that the officer not only murdered this man, but also tried to place an object by his body to justify killing him.

South Carolina has the death penalty.  I believe this officer acted maliciously and then tried to cover up his evil deed.

He should be considered for the same death penalty he handed down, except in his case it should be decided upon and administered under the law.


Good News for Rare Diseases: Big Profits

For people who had a rare disease, defined as an ailment that strikes less than 200,000 Americans, there was often little hope, at least when it came to pharmaceuticals.  Drug companies didn’t see much profit in sinking resources into developing drugs to treat them.

Thankfully, that’s changing. As the Wall Street Journal notes:

Incentives from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to develop so-called orphan drugs can mean quicker approval, tax benefits for the developer and seven years’ protection from competition after approval. Conventional drugs typically get five. Patient groups have raised hundreds of millions of dollars to give to firms for development of orphan drugs, defined as experimental treatments for diseases with fewer than 200,000 patients at any one time.

But perhaps most persuasive: Drug companies have found that they can charge towering prices for such drugs, which often treat deadly conditions for which there are few or no options.

Those “towering” prices may seem undesirable, but they are in part responsible for the big profits on these drugs.  And it is the profits which will drive innovation.

When companies and their investors realize there is a lot of profit to be made in a certain area, they will start directing resources to that area in hopes of reaping some of the profits.  This leads to competition which, eventually, will help lower the drug prices.

But if it wasn’t for the ability to make a profit, drug companies wouldn’t be moving into the area of rare diseases.  Right now, there is no drug therapy to treat primary-progressive multiple sclerosis, the worst kind of MS.  Now that drug companies have an incentive to make money off of it, one can hope there will soon be some drug treatments for primary-progressive MS.

I’ve occassionally heard people on the political left decry profits in health care.  Companies should make a profit off of people’s illnesses, they argue.  But that’s incorrect.  Companies aren’t making a profit off of illness; they are making a profit from curing illness.

So here’s hoping that many areas of health care become very profitable.  Profit is what attracts investment in cures.


Winter Blues Can’t Be Blamed for Poor Economy — “About Those Jobs Numbers” For March 2015

It’s not a good Friday for the Obama Administration.  A new report on jobless numbers, compiled by the federal government, came out today.

The official unemployment rate is 5.5 percent.  That’s unchanged from last month, and that’s no cause for celebration.  Even though this official number did not go up, the more complete and nearly double alternative unemployment measure and the workforce participation rate still points to peril.  There are even more reminders that the American economy continues to underperform despite the assurances from the Obama Administration that things are getting better.

As he does every month, Project 21 member Derryck Green provides his monthly analysis of these unemployment statistics and the general state of the economy in the Obama era:

Spring is finally here, but the harsh winter is no real excuse for the poor economy.

Bad weather — snow, in particular — often gets blamed for a lull in economic activity.  That is being used as an excuse right now, and there was plenty of snow across the United States this past winter to take the blame.

That being said, a lot of the problems with the American economy likely have more to do with Barack Obama’s fiscal stewardship than Jack Frost’s prolonged and prodigious visit.

Today’s report on jobless figures issued by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics helps make that point.

According to the official government estimate, there was an unemployment rate of 5.5 percent in March.  But this unchanged rate pales to the alternative — and much more sobering — U-6 jobless rate of 10.9 percent.  This is the rate that tends to be a clearer indicator of the employment situation because it includes those who are unemployed, underemployed and have removed themselves from the job market altogether.

As Jim Clifton of the Gallup polling firm recently pointed out, this official unemployment rate can be made to seem lower than it may truly be through all sorts of manipulative trickery.

And that more unforgiving alternative rate is, per usual, around twice the official rate the media will focus on and the Obama Administration will cite.  Disappointment will likely be explained away as a result of a bad winter.  For example, state labor reports in Massachusetts and Connecticut already blame snow for slowed job growth and even losses.

But any positivity or assurances of a snowy anomaly cannot cover up how the labor force participation rate is an appallingly low 62.7 percent and has been no higher than 62.9 percent through many seasonal changes of the past year.  Nothing can deny that the estimated 126,000 jobs created in March fell below expectations and marked the end of a year-long streak of monthly job creation over 200,000 jobs.  ADP, a private company that works in payroll processing, was actually optimistic earlier in the week when it estimated 189,000 jobs were created.  Both numbers are below the 225,000 that were projected.

There’s also should be concern about joblessness in key demographics that are long-term and hurting constituencies allegedly of the utmost concern to this presidency.  For example, the black teen unemployment rate was 25 percent — a sky-high number that improved but has nonetheless hovered around 30 percent for much too long.  Overall black unemployment was also way too high at 10.1 percent, which was a slight decrease from February.  Hispanic unemployment was up to 6.8 percent.

These higher-than-average unemployment rates were not just during the winter months.  Black unemployment, for example, was 11 percent in November of 2014, before a lot of snow began falling.  The unemployment rate has been dismal, whether there was snow or leaves on the ground.

These unemployment numbers could be getting worse in the future as more illegal immigrants come “out of the shadows” to benefit from the President’s recent executive action allowing some families to benefit from what’s everything short of full amnesty.  In news that should not surprise anyone, the Center for Immigration Studies revealed that Department of Homeland Security statistics indicate that over 2,000 youth are still crossing the border into the United States each month.  The lure of what is believed to be real amnesty is obviously an incentive to those flooding the border.

According to the CIS, 84 percent of these kids currently crossing the are teenage boys.  They are, or soon will, be competing in the workforce — legally or not — rain, snow or shine.  And they will be going head-to-head with unemployed American citizens for similar jobs.

It’s clearly a build-up for disaster.

Getting back to the change in seasons, unemployment is not the only poor economic indicator being blamed on the snow when it really should not.

Construction of new homes, for instance, fell the furthest in February than in the previous four years.  Housing starts were down 17 percent from January and, according to IHS Global Insight, this “poor” Commerce Department report suggests that reduced spending on construction could drag down the entire economy for the first quarter of 2015.

Bank of America’s Michelle Meyer dispelled the weather myth as it pertains to housing, telling Bloomberg: “While the initial reaction is to dismiss much of the drop because of the bad weather, the level of home construction continues to be depressed.”  There are also still 1.4 million fewer construction jobs than in 2006.

In addition to problems in the construction industry, there is a potential problem for auto sales as well.  It appears the expected drop in sales of new cars has arrived, with automakers such as Ford and Nissan reporting March sales were down by three percent.  Honda sales were down by five percent.  Volkswagen fared even worse with an 18 percent decline.  General Motors also lost two percent.

Some people want to blame a snowier March, but it is still generally supposed to be a good month for car sales.  Alec Gutierrez of Kelly Blue Book told the Associated Press that “we’re at a point where sales are going to grow at a much slower pace.”

What are government officials thinking?  Over at the Agriculture Department, while many families are planting their own vegetable gardens this spring, it would appear bureaucrats are instead trying to find better ways for Uncle Sam to deliver fruits and vegetables to those on public assistance.  They are apparently less focused on helping people in need do things themselves, and would prefer spending more on enhanced benefits.

SNAP/food stamp participation more than doubled since the start of the Great Recession.  It is expected to cost an estimated $80 billion in 2015.  At least $31 million of that is allegedly to be spent on encouraging “incentive strategies to help SNAP participants better afford fruits and vegetables.”

It would appear as if there is more emphasis on using welfare dollars to meet the desires of bureaucrats than in encouraging recipients to not need them at all.  It’s like there is no expectation of an end of attempts to slow the economic malaise that has gripped the nation throughout the Obama Administration.

Seven winters have come and gone while Barack Obama has lived in the White House.  The economy has remained in a rut throughout these winters and the following springs, summers and falls.

Even the New York Times article on these latest unemployment numbers can’t find much of merit: “This latest jobs report underscores what has been a persistent theme: that in the recovery, many working Americans have received only scant benefits from the upswing.”

It’s not the rain or the snow probably as much as the drip at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue at fault!


Celebrity Chef Tom Colicchio Divides Us Between Red Plates and Blue Plates 

Vegetable sandwich LW

In a National Review piece just out today, food writer Julie Kelly and I review the divisive activism of celebrity chef and MSNBC food correspondent Tom Colicchio.

We write that,

If you’re looking for practical dinner advice, look elsewhere.  

I’m confident that National Center for Public Policy Center Research readers are erudite enough to already know that an MSNBC food correspondent isn’t the guy you should look to for recipes. 

Recall, for instance, when I told The Washington Post not to give mainstream credence to the 2013 National Food Policy Scorecard sponsored by Mr. Colicchio’s group, Food Policy Action. 

Jeff Stier, senior fellow at the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research, said there’s a good reason for Republican lawmakers’ performance on the scorecard. “It does not, as FPA claims, ‘reflect the consensus of top food policy experts,’ ” he said. “Rather, it represents the narrow views of a select group of some of the nation’s most ideologically divisive activists.”

Stier called the scorecard a “sham,” saying it has all the validity of an “NRA scorecard on gun ownership. But they’re playing it off as otherwise, which I think is misleading.”

Well, not much has changed since 2013. 

Celebrity chef Tom Colicchio probably doesn’t cook much these days. Having built his reputation preparing expensive entrées for his well-heeled customers at Craft Restaurants, Colicchio is now cooking up liberal food policy to expand the government’s ever-encroaching role in how we eat, and what.

 His self-promotion schedule and branding pursuits could put Kim Kardashian to shame. He’s the star and producer of two reality shows on Bravo, Top Chef and Best New Restaurant. Colicchio owns several pricy restaurants and “ethical sandwich” joints on both coasts. He lends his name to a collection of expensive artisanal kitchenware, including a coffee mug for only $46.

 But apparently television and restaurant fame don’t hold enough gravitas for this wannabe political star. Over the last few years, Chef Colicchio has emerged as the face of the food movement, culinary elitists who insist that every bite of food is a political statement (think climate-change folks going after your shopping cart instead of your SUV). 

Testifying before Congress a few years ago about the school-lunch program whet his appetite for politics. Since then, Colicchio has visited Capitol Hill several times to promote mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods, and as the guest of organic farmer Representative Chellie Pingree (D., Maine) he even attended the State of the Union address in January. No doubt the chef will want a seat at the table to spin the now controversial update to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, due for approval later this year.

Read the full piece here.


Repealing the SGR Without Adding (Too Much) to the Deficit

Today the House passed the “Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015” which will repeal the dreaded Sustainable Growth Rate.

Unfortunately, the bill is not without its problems, not the least of which is it will cost $141 billion over ten years.  

Thanks to the folks at the Heritage Foundation for pointing out to me that there is at least $57.6 billion worth of Medicare changes in President Obama’s budget that could be used to defray some of the cost.  They include:

-$62.5 billion by increasing income‐related premiums under Medicare Parts B and D.

-$6.6 billion by increasing the Part B deductible for new beneficiaries.

-$0.8 billion by introducing home health co‐payments for new beneficiaries.

-$17.7 billion by encouraging  the use of generic drugs by low‐income beneficiaries.

-$5 billion by introducing a Part B premium surcharge for new beneficiaries who purchase near first‐dollar Medigap coverage.

That adds up to about $92.6 billion. The House bill already incorporates about $35 billion of it, meaning that there is another $57.6 billion that the Obama Administration is willing to go along with.  Include the rest and the cost drops to $83.4 billion.  

I’d still like to see that final $83.4 billion paid for, but if that was the only thing standing in the way of SGR repeal, it might be worth it.



I walked to the corner coffee shop this morning (not Starbucks) and ordered a mocha. I then asked the clerk if she could write #RaceTogether on it.

She replied that she didn’t know what I was talking about.  I smiled and said, “You know, Starbucks?”  The barista overheard me and said, “Yeah, I heard about that.  I don’t get what they were trying to do with that.”

I couldn’t help myself: “I think the goal was to lose customers.”

My encounter this morning renews my faith that there are normal people in the world who have better things to do with their time than pay attention to silly social justice campaigns.  



ObamaCare At Five: Lipstick on a Pig

The Los Angeles Times editorialists today acknowledged some unpleasant reality about ObamaCare: “…surveys show little love for [ObamaCare]— a view that hasn’t shifted much over time.”

But the Times can’t acknowledge that the law is unpopular without prefacing it with a distortion: “The general public isn’t as eager to do away with the law, widely known as Obamacare…”  Really?  The last poll conducted on the question of repeal showed 58 percent favor repeal.  The poll, commission by FoxNews last December, found that was up 53 percent from a year earlier.

You might think that the persistent unpopularity of ObamaCare would encourage some reconsideration the value of the law.  But then you realize this is the Times editorial page.  Naturally, they quickly get on with the lipstick application:

Despite the relentless attacks, however, the act has been a notable success on one front: It has helped millions of Americans obtain insurance coverage that would otherwise be out of their reach. By March, more than 21 million people had enrolled through new state insurance exchanges or Medicaid, including more than 16 million who’d previously been uninsured, and the number of Americans without coverage has dropped to a little over 12%, according to Gallup

Yes, but that 21 million include about 10 to 11 million more on Medicaid, the worst health care program in the U.S., not exactly something to cheer about.  It also includes some of the 4 to 6 million people who lost their insurance thanks to ObamaCare, rendering President Obama’s promise that if you like your health plan, you can keep you health plan” quite possibly the lie of the decade.  Funny, but the editorial doesn’t mention that.

At the end of that paragraph, they pull a fast one: “There’s much more to be done to make healthcare affordable and sustainable, but lawmakers should build on the foundation laid by Obamacare instead of continuing to battle over whether to demolish it.”  Health insurance and health care are two different things. Making health insurance more “affordable” by heavily subsidizing it does not necessarily make health care more affordable. (Indeed, it might make health care more expensive).

The editorial next claims that “One result [of ObamaCare], according to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute, has been a surge of new businesses into healthcare as entrepreneurs offer their own approaches to less costly, ‘consumer-oriented’ care.”  According to the Congressional Budget Office, ObamaCare will also reduce the number of hours worked by the equivalent of 2.5 million job by 2017.  Sure hope that surge of new businesses is enough to compensate for that.

Finally, it’s hard to know what to make of this passage: “A key part of the effort to rein in healthcare costs is covering more people with insurance plans that promote wellness and prevention. [ObamaCare] has done much of that work, so the rational thing for lawmakers to do now would be to build on that progress.” Either the editorialists are lying or they are ignorant.  Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the latter.   Sorry, but wellness programs do not save money and, of the most part, don’t improve health.  And while preventive care can improve health, it generally does not save money.  Maybe the Times’ editorialists should start getting their information on such subjects from sources other than the propaganda of former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Of course, propaganda is very useful when trying to make ObamaCare out to be a good law.


Upset with Ringling Bros. for Taking Elephants out of the Circus? Blame PETA Instead

In an op-ed for USA Today, I remind readers that radical animal rights activists are to blame for the loss of elephants in the Ringling Bros. circus.

For all the families who have yet to take their children to a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus — hurry. The company announced recently that its storied elephant act will no longer appear in the traveling circus as of 2018.

This decision has been met with disappointment by people like myself who value the wholesome entertainment that the circus provides, and bristle at hysterical attacks by animal rights extremists. Groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), on the other hand, have cheered the decision and claimed victory in the long fight against elephants in the circus. This, in their view, is a major victory in their broader war against any human ownership of animals.

But those, like me, whose initial reaction was anger at Ringling Bros. and its parent company, Feld Entertainment, for “capitulating” to animal rights activists should consider placing the blame on the activists themselves. By engaging Feld in a perpetual stream of litigation and proposed bans, activists were able to distract the company from its core competency — family entertainment — until those distractions became too onerous.

What’s particularly obnoxious about the litigation brought on by radical animal rights groups, including the Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), is that it was summarily dismissed in court. In fact, these plaintiffs ended up paying Feld for bringing such outrageous claims. Just last year, the Humane Society and other animal rights groups paid a $15.75 million settlement to Feld after their lawsuit alleging elephant abuse was found without merit.

Two years earlier, the ASPCA was ordered to pay Feld $9.3 million after making false claims against the company in court. These groups aren’t just having their claims thrown out; they’re so egregious that they are compensating Feld and Ringling Bros. for their misdeeds.

So the claims by these animal rights extremists against Ringling Bros. have been shown in court to be a total fraud, and claims that the “Greatest Show on Earth” is harmful to animals have been debunked repeatedly in court, as well as in the court of public opinion.

But the threats of further litigation didn’t stop. Activists publicly admit that it doesn’t really matter if you’re successful in court — the act of suing is a useful irritant that costs your adversary time, money and focus, and gets them to give in, even if the underlying litigation is without merit. . In fact, here, Feld conceded that the non-stop litigation and costs of opposing regulatory threats in localities around the country were integral to the Feld family’s decision to retire the 13 currently performing Asian elephants from the traveling circus.

The suit against Ringling Bros. is just one of a long and colorful list. I will mention just a few other animal rights zealot’s efforts here. PETA condemned the Pokémon media franchise because the video game “paints a rosy picture of what amounts to thinly veiled animal abuse,” PETA filed suit in federal court in Southern California seeking to declare that SeaWorld’s whales are being held in slavery in violation of the 13th Amendment. The failed litigation sought a court-ordered release of the whales “from bondage.” CNN reported that the suit sought “a permanent order against holding them in slavery, as well as appointment of a legal guardian to carry out the transfer of the whales to a suitable habitat.” The Animal Legal Defense Fund is planning to sue a Napa restaurant for serving foie gras during a now-overturned ban on foie gras.

The irony here is that Ringling Bros. has done far more to preserve Asian elephants’ on planet earth than the flailing animal rights groups. They, instead, are popping corks that children can’t see elephants in the circus anymore, and I’m certain will continue their tried and true pattern of focusing their time, energy and resources ginning up lawsuits or other bogus attacks on human interaction with animals — impacting the ability of companies and governments who come under their scrutiny from focusing on their missions. Sadly, I guess that’s the point.





Loretta Lynch Race Card Tactics Rebuffed by Black Conservatives

With Senate liberals refusing to allow a vote on legislation that would combat human trafficking because there are long-established protections against taxpayer funding of abortion included in it, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said political shenanigans will come at a price.  Until the filibuster of that human trafficking bill comes to an end, it will also effectively block any confirmation vote for Loretta Lynch to become the next attorney general.

Naturally, rather than lifting the filibuster or seeking a compromise, Senate liberals instead went on the attack.  Their weapon of choice?  The race card, of course!

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) chose to take the fact that Lynch is a black woman to claim that the procedural delay was akin to Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, and that McConnell was making Lynch “sit in the back of the bus.”

Over in the U.S. House of Representatives, which has no bearing on confirmation matters other than to bluster, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) suggested in a MSNBC interview that Lynch’s race and sex are “a factor” in why a vote is not scheduled.

Members of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network take exception to these liberal bullying tactics.  They see Lynch as just another nominee, not someone who deserves special treatment because of her skin color or her gender.

Speaking about the liberals’ race card strategy to push her confirmation and silence dissent, Project 21 Co-Chairman Horace Cooper, a former constitutional law professor at George Mason University and former leadership staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives, said:

This is truly shameful.

Instead of letting Loretta Lynch’s nomination rise or fall on the merits, Washington liberals in the House and Senate are trying to use her race and gender as a tool to prevent any examination of her record or agenda.

When these same so-called progressives opposed women and minorities who were conservative, such as Janice Rogers Brown for a federal judgeship, no one claimed they were bigots.   Liberals should abide by this same standard when they nominate one of their own.

Furthermore, instead of clouding the issue with racist charges, Loretta Lynch should be encouraged to be forthcoming on her positions on gun control, executive amnesty and perpetuating a politicized Justice Department. 

Project 21 member Shelby Emmett, an attorney and former Capitol Hill staffer, said:

As a black woman and an attorney, I am so sick and tired of race always being the liberals’ default talking point.

Ms. Lynch went through four years of college, three years of law school and has decades of experience to put her where she is today.  She is just as qualified as any other candidate, and thus all the scrutiny, questions, procedures and games should be fair game just like with any other nominee during the confirmation process.

God forbid that Senator Dick Durbin should see an attorney instead of a black woman who apparently isn’t on the same level as her white male peers and thus worthy of a defense based on her resume instead of her pigmentation.

True racial harmony is holding this woman’s feet to the fire — just like we would with any white, male candidate.  She can handle it. 


Hey Amy & David, You Should Adopt This Policy for NCPPR!

Now this is an awesome employee incentive program!

For a little more than four years, Eric Puryear with Puryear Law in Davenport, Iowa, has given his employees an extra $50 a month if they get their permits and carry a gun.

“Well, I really like gun rights. I think they’re a basic human right. I think so many bad things wouldn’t happen to people if they were armed for self-defense,” said Puryear.

You know, I’d be okay with even $25 a month!

More here:


Health Care Odds & Ends: Government Incompetence Edition

1. Fixing The Doc Fix Is Tricky.  Congress is finally getting around to eliminating Medicare’s Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR), something it should have done a long time ago.  The SGR is a system for cutting Medicare’s physician fees that has proven unworkable.  Congress routinely suspends the cuts imposed by the SGR and replaces them with a small increase, a process known as the “Doc Fix.”

I’ve argued that Congress should get rid of the SGR (for a somewhat longer treatment go here and scroll down to “Sustainable Headache”.)

Yet some conservative groups are opposing the current SGR fix, and they raise two legitimate points.  First is that Congress has usually found “offsets”—i.e., cuts in the budget—to help pay for the various Doc Fixes. Without those offsets, the national debt would have been $165 billion higher since 2003.  Second, the current reform costs $200 billion over ten years, while only $70 billion of that is offset.  For more on conservative objections, go here.

The opposing view is that the Congress doesn’t need to fully offset it since it won’t be paying for Doc Fixes anymore.  Congress has spent about $170 billion on Doc Fixes over the last 12 years.  “I think what’s happening is that both Republicans and Democrats have come to the conclusion that, first they were paying for patches [Doc Fixes] with mostly gimmicks anyway, and second, that the new payment system has a good chance of saving money in the long run,” said Robert Laszewski, founder and president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates. 

For more on this, see Peter Suderman at Reason.

2. Most ObamaCare Policies In New York Have Restrictive Provider Networks.  “…there’s one popular feature that most New Yorkers can’t find in any of the health plans offered on their state exchange: out-of-network coverage,” writes Michelle Andrews at Kaiser Health News. Most plans, including all in the New York City area, “are health maintenance organization-style plans that cover care provided only by doctors and hospitals in the plan’s network.”

This is what happens when the government forces insurance plans to cover ten “essential” benefits, and conform to guaranteed issue, community rating and medical-loss-ratio regulations.  One of the few ways left for insurers to keep costs down is to scrimp on the quality of provider networks.  

3. Guess What Canada’s Oh-So-Wonderful Single-Payer System Doesn’t Cover?  Canadian Alheli Picazo is a writer and former elite gymnast who has suffered from a severe digestive tract problem. Her condition caused her to suffer “from severe acid reflux. This wore down the enamel of her teeth and caused the equivalent of osteoporosis in her oral cavity. The 30-year-old needs urgent oral surgeries, including bone and tissue grafts, to remove and replace what she described painfully as ‘the increasingly diseased bone.’”  Unfortunately, “Picazo has to wait until she can amass the $100,000 needed to pay for the procedures” because Canada’s system does not cover dental care.  

The article, which appeared in Vox, noted that “This is similar to a gap in Obamacare: health plans on the exchange aren’t required to offer dental coverage.”  Guess what? There is another plan in the U.S. that doesn’t cover dental care.  Here’s a hint: it’s the program that activists point to when they want to promote single-payer here in America.


Conservative and Libertarian Alternatives to ObamaCare

I was on the “Up Front” radio program on KTLF out of Minnesota this morning, and as I promised, here is a link to the spreadsheet showing all the health care reform plans offered by the political right.

At issue is the Supreme Court case King v. Burwell, a case that has the potential to unravel ObamaCare.  The Court heard the case about two weeks ago and will likely render its decision in June.  If the plaintiffs win, then about 6 million people in federal exchanges would lose their premium subsidies.  That would give Congress an opportunity to re-open ObamaCare entirely.

While the mantra among the political left is that conservatives, libertarians and Republican don’t have alternatives to—i.e., plans that are better than—ObamaCare, the spreadsheet gives the lie to that mantra.

There are terms in the spreadsheet that are rather “wonky” such as refundable, tax exclusion and HIPPA.  A glossary is provided in the National Policy Analysis that accompanies that spreadsheet.  The NPA is entitled, “If Plaintiffs Prevail in King v. Burwell, Conservatives and Libertarians Have Many Health Care Reform Options Ready to Help People who Lose ObamaCare Subsidies.” 


Many Changed Their ObamaCare Plans Because It Was Too Expensive Not To

According to the headline over at National Journal, “Obamacare Enrollees Are Surprisingly Smart Shoppers”. What makes them so smart?  Well, about 1.2 million exchange enrollees “ended up switching plans.”  

Or perhaps they just aren’t inordinately stupid.  After all, if keeping the plan you chose last year could result in premium hikes of hundreds if not thousands of dollars more this year thanks the ObamaCare’s goofy subsidy mechanism, shopping around is the pretty obvious thing to do.

The National Journal’s Sam Baker, to his credit, makes note of this: 

Before the 2015 open-enrollment period, which ended last month, it was an open question whether consumers who signed up in 2014 would come back to the exchanges and shop around for a better deal.

If they didn’t, they were at risk for particularly large premium increases, because of quirks in the way the law’s insurance subsidies are calculated. The Health and Human Services Department strongly encouraged returning consumers to shop around this year. 

Unfortunately, the article then reports the Obama Administration’s spin without reporting any dissenting voice:

Kevin Griffis, HHS’s acting assistant secretary for public affairs, said the rate of plan-switching was better than HHS had expected and higher than the rates for Medicare Part D.

Consumers’ engagement will also send a message to insurance companies, he said, that “it’s critical to compete on price” on the law’s insurance exchanges.

More likely it is sending the Obama Administration a message that it has constructed a messed up system.  But don’t count on that message getting through.


Fixing Veterans Health Care

About two weeks ago Concerned Veterans for America released a report on how to reform veterans health care.

The title of the report doesn’t exactly inspire confidence: “Fixing Veterans Health Care: A Bipartisan Policy Taskforce.”  Bipartisan is too often a euphemism for liberal.

The members of the taskforce include Dr. William Frist, Rep. Jim Marshall, Dr. Michael Kussman, Darin Selnick, Pete Hegseth and Avik Roy.  Roy appears to be the only free-market oriented member of the group.

However, some of the report’s recommendations are quite good.  For example, one of the Principles for Veterans’ Health Care Reform is: “The veteran must come first, not the VA. The institutional priorities of the VHA weigh too heavily in current planning, funding and care delivery decisions. We believe the interests of veterans should be paramount.”  Another is: “Veterans should be able to choose where to get their health care. Based on eligibility, veterans should have the option to take their earned health care funds and use them to access care at the VA or in the voluntary (civilian) health care system. Because private health care is somewhat costlier than VHA [Veterans Health Administration]-based care, most veterans who choose this option will be expected to share in some of the costs of such care, through co-pays and deductibles.”

So, Veterans can take the money they get from the VHA and use it to buy private health insurance.  That’s a very good start.

But here is where it begins to get worrisome: “Those veterans who choose to use VHA facilities should receive timely and quality care. In order to achieve this goal, the VHA should be restructured—as an independent, efficient, and modern organization—that can compete with private providers.” (Italics added.)

In the VHA’s new, independent role, the Veterans Health Insurance Program would administer the insurance and premium supports.  The Veterans Accountable Care Organization (VACO) would actually provide the care and would be the one competing with the private sector.  But if it competes, will VACO be allowed to go out of business should it fail just like other competitors in the private sector would?  If not, then the playing field is titled at a 45 degree angle, with the VACO’ endzone at the top and everyone else’s at the bottom.

I’ve emailed Avik Roy about this.  Will let you know when he gets back to me.


The VA Scandal May Be Much Worse

From USA Today:

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ [Office of Inspector General] has not publicly released the findings of 140 health care investigations since 2006, potentially leaving dangerous problems to fester without proper oversight, a USA TODAY analysis of VA documents found.

The Inspector General has declined to comment on what is in the reports.  That said,

It is impossible to know how many of the investigations uncovered serious problems without seeing the reports, but all concerned VA medical care provided to veterans or complaints of clinical misconduct.

Thus, it is possible that nothing damaging is in the reports, which means that this is a “nothing burger.”  However, 140 reports would be a very big nothing burger.

For those who need a refresher on the VA scandal, here is my summary from 2014:

Employees at the VA were manipulating data on wait times for care so that the VA appeared better than it was at meeting its standard of a maximum 14-day wait for treatment. Many whistleblowers at the VA were harassed and, in a few cases, even fired. The result was that over 57,000 veterans waited at least three months for a doctor’s appointment while nearly 64,000 veterans were never added to any waiting list. We may never know exactly how many of these veterans suffered in pain or saw their conditions worsen while they waited for treatment. We do know the deaths of at least 23 veterans are attributable to delays. 

From 2000 to 2011, there were at least 26 reports—six from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and 20 from the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG)—that examined wait times within the VA system.  That should have been a warning sign that something was seriously wrong, but, as I explained in my policy analysis, the reports were ignored because intellectuals had convinced policymakers that the VA was a wonderful health care system.

Wait times are far from the only problem with the VA that has been made public, as even a cursory look at the Veterans Affairs OIG websites shows. But to now learn that there may be many more problems that have not been made public is a bitter pill to swallow.


Gender-Bending Gym Rule Goes Too Far in Catering to LGBT Agenda

Yvette Cormier walked into the women’s locker room of a Planet Fitness location in Midland, Michigan and claimed she saw a man changing in there.  She alerted the front desk of the gym.

It was then that Cormier discovered Planet Fitness has a “no-judgment” policy that allows those who consider themselves to be transgendered to use the locker room of their choice.  While no one was apparently confronted that day, a local man who considers himself a woman told the media that he was a guest at the gym that day and used the women’s locker room.

When Cormier later complained to the Planet Fitness corporate office and told other female members of the Midland location about the locker room policy and what happened to her, her membership was cancelled.

A Planet Fitness spokesman told CNN that Cormier’s actions were “inappropriate and disruptive.”  In rebuttal, Cormier said: “I didn’t go out to specifically bash a transgender person that day.  I was taken aback by the situation.  This is about me and how I felt unsafe.”

But it’s not about her, as her concerns about safety and privacy are apparently second to a Planet Fitness policy embracing the LGBT agenda.  People can use locker rooms based on the gender they think they are at that moment.  A unisex changing area is not a compromise at least one local transgender activist is willing to accept.  Charin Davenport told “I don’t think anyone should require me to use [a unisex locker room].  I use the facility that I am comfortable with.”

Planet Fitness seems to feel the same way.  And Cormier will have to find herself a new gym.

Project 21 member Bishop Council Nedd II, the rector of St. Alban’s Anglican Church in central Pennsylvania and the archbishop of Abu Dhabi, says people shouldn’t have to be confronted with such gender-bending surprises when they go to work out.  Those who are offended by Planet Fitness’s embrace of the LGBT agenda over the rest of society, he suggests, should show the gym chain how they feel by taking their business elsewhere:

Planet Fitness claims to offer a “non-intimidating, welcoming environment” for its members.  But when a female member said she was uncomfortable with a transgendered male using the same locker room as her, and warned other women about whom they might encounter in that locker room, it was the woman who lost her gym membership.

This woman, who is now forced to find another gym, had a simple request: “I should feel safe in there.”  The Planet Fitness policy reportedly allows people to choose locker rooms “based on their sincere self-reported gender identity.”  How does Planet Fitness measure and prove sincerity?  This is obviously something that can be abused at the expense of those who paid Planet Fitness to use their facilities with fair expectations of safety.

The policies and practices of Planet Fitness are capricious and arbitrary.  A company claiming to follow a “no judgment” policy harshly judged a woman complaining about a perceived safety issue.  Her compromise for allowing transsexuals in the locker rooms is “post it, tell me or put a unisex bathroom in.”  Yet this is apparently “inappropriate” and politically incorrect.

This woman’s membership should absolutely be reinstated, and Planet Fitness should revise its policies.  Until then, those who believe one’s gender organs should determine which locker room they undress in and those with moral objections or a desire for a family-friendly facility should consider boycotting Planet Fitness gyms wherever they are found.

A reasonable person should not be penalized for expecting a gender-specific gym locker room be free of people of the opposite gender.