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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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Benghazi: They Knew What They Were Getting Into?

AirplaneMoviePoster"Asked by [ABC's Diane] Sawyer why [U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris] Stevens was in Benghazi even though his own diary noted that there were 'never-ending security threats' there, [former Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton said he was there 'of his own choosing'"... apparently trying to shift responsibility for his death away from herself and onto Stevens.

Kind of reminds me of this clip from the movie Airplane!...


Health Care Odd & Ends: Exchange Edition (aka, Bad News Edition).

Although little of the news about the ObamaCare exchanges is good, let’s see if we still can’t find some humor in it.

1. Two Million Discrepancies.  Of the 5.4 million people who signed up on the federal exchanges, about 2.1 million (or 39 percent) have information in their applications that does not match up with what the government has on record.  Of those, 1.2 million are related to income reported by the enrollees which could result in an insurance subsidy that was either too larger or too small.  The other 966,000 have a discrepancy with their immigration or citizenship status.  

But not to worry.  The Dept. of Health and Human Services “believes that most of the errors are small and will be quickly resolved.”


See, told you we’d find something funny.

2. Swell.  “Officials at the Connecticut public health exchange that administers Obamacare reported on Saturday that they are unable to determine whether personal information found in a backpack on a Hartford city street Friday was related to an effort to steal personal information of enrollees of the exchange.”  More here and here.

3. Specialty Drugs and Politics. In May of last year, I noted that expensive specialty drugs were not given much coverage in ObamaCare exchange plans.  Thus the very ill would be exposed to large out-of-pocket costs since specialty drugs are usually taken by patients who are quite sick. This seems like an odd results since ObamaCare was, in theory, supposed to protect such people.  But if you looked at it from a political perspective, it made a lot of sense:

…one of the drawbacks of any government-run health-care system is that the care you get will depend in part on how much political power you have.  This is particularly bad news for those who are really sick.  They tend to lack political clout because: 1. The very sick are relatively few in number, which means they amount to a very limited number of voters, too limited to have much impact on elections; and 2. They are too sick to engage in the type of political activities such as organizing, protesting, etc., necessary to bring about change in health care policy.

People taking speciality drugs amounted to a small number of voters, too small to have much impact on elections. Further, since they are sick, “they probably aren’t organizing get-out-the-vote drives, protests, lobbying efforts, etc.”

A new report from Avalere reveals that the politics of it shows up in the cost-sharing part of the exchanges. Exchange enrollees who make less that 250 percent of the federal poverty level and choose a silver plan are supposed to receive help with the plan’s cost-sharing.  However, the subsidy to help with the cost-sharing goes to the insurance companies.  John Graham explains that the Avalere report shows that few insurance companies use the subsidy to cover the cost-sharing of specialty drugs:

…the plans apply more of the subsidy to the deductible, somewhat less likely to apply it to specialist charges, and much less likely to apply it to the most expensive tier 4 drugs on the formulary. What this means is that generally healthy patients who go to see their primary-care physician occasionally, but need no specialist care or specialty prescriptions, are most likely to benefit from the cost-sharing reductions. Those who need specialist care and, especially,  tier 4 drugs will be less likely to benefit.

This blog has written frequently about how ObamaCare motivates health plans to seek out healthy enrollees and shun sick ones. Avalere’s latest report demonstrates how this is magnified for low-income enrollees. 

Why are insurers able to get away with this?  For starters, lower-income people don’t vote at rates as high as middle-class or upper-income folks.  Lower-income sick people probably vote at even lower rates.  Since such people won’t be putting much if any pressure on their elected officials, they will be exposed to large out-of-pocket costs for their health care needs.

Full Avalere report here.


A Salute to Those Who Bravely Went Ashore Seven Decades Ago

Much love and respect goes out to those who served 70 years ago yesterday in the invasion of Normandy and the beginning of the liberation of Europe from Michael Dozier, a veteran and member of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network:

Imagine being on a ship whose walls do not allow you to see over them.  It slowly creeps toward land.  The closer you get, the louder the thunder gets.

But it’s not thunder.  It is rifle fire and mortar explosions engulfing the place you’re about to occupy.  You are 19-years-old and your commanding officer is 22.

You’re afraid because you see the smoke rising above your boat.  You hear the screams of your fellow soldiers who are laying dying on shore.

You look around at your fellow squad members and watch as they clutch their rifles in one hand and crosses in the other.

You look into their eyes and see the fear that is aggressively overcoming you as well.  You pray as your boat wheels touch solid ground.  The dreaded time has come.

You pray for courage.  You want another minute, but you know that your battle buddy depends on you as much as you do on him.  Your squad depends on you all to do your job.

Your commanding officer yells out orders, but you can’t hear them.  Your other senses have taken over, and you smell the death that surrounds you.  You hear the agony of the wounded, and you taste the sulfur in the air.

It is time.

You think of home.  You remember your high school graduation, your first kiss.  You see your mother’s face smiling in the bright sunlight.  You remember how proud your dad was when you told him you would be serving your country.

The time has come.

You hear the creaking of the sprockets that will lower the landing platform.  Overhead, you see rounds of gunfire zip by.  You close your eyes and hope that, when you open them, you will be sitting at home eating a piece of your grandmother’s homemade apple pie.  As you open your eyes, reality sets in.

You are out of time.

The boat rocks as the ramp is lowered.  Sweat invades your eye sockets – or are those tears that have involuntarily presented themselves.  The ramp opens.  Instinctively, you charge forward.

Your time is now.

It is June 6, 1944.  You are on the shores of Normandy.  This is World War II, and you are a 19-year-old United States soldier who is ready to sacrifice your life for your country.

You are a true hero.

God bless our soldiers and God bless the United States of America.


Amy Ridenour Discusses EPA's Anti-Coal Rules, Bergdahl Deal

Proposed Obama Administration rules to regulate coal are said to help stop global warming by its leftist supporters.  The problem is that there hasn’t been any global warming since at least when Bill Clinton was still in the White House, and this fact has been verified by many different scientific surveys.

On the 6/5/14 edition of the “Rick Amato Show” on the One America Network, National Center Chairman Amy Ridenour said the left continues to cling to the global warming argument because it “gives them an excuse, through the government, to seize control of our energy policy.”

On the topic of the Bowe Bergdahl exchange deal with the terrorists, Amy said that this matter has become a constitutional crisis made worse by the fact that President Obama ignored a law that he signed into law.


VA Scandal, Bergdahl Controversy Can’t Hide Poor Obama Economy

It’s more of the same when it comes to jobless numbers.  And that’s not good.

The federal unemployment rate, which was released today, remained the same at 6.3 percent for the month of May.  Fewer jobs, however, were created — 71,000 fewer — than during the previous month.

The percentage of people participating in the labor force also remained unchanged.

But while the April and May jobless numbers were relatively unchanged, the quality of life in America can definitely be observed as in decline.  All around, there is a sense of foreboding.  There is misery about the present and trepidation about the future.

For example, a new poll of college seniors commissioned by the Young America’s Foundation found that 51 percent those soon to be in the workforce are “nervous” about life after graduation.  The fears are justified, since 56 percent reported not having obtained a single job interview thus far and 44 percent are planning to move back in with their parents after graduation.

And 37 percent of graduating seniors don’t believe they will end up better off than their parents as has generally been the case in the modern era.

As he does regularly when the federal unemployment figures are announced, Project 21 member Derryck Green gives his analysis of the state of the economy under the stewardship of the Obama Administration.

And Derryck is very skeptical of the suggestion made by some that the American economy is actually in recovery:

Bad news for the Obama Administration related to the Veterans Affairs scandal, a tepid commencement speech at West Point that was coldly received by its graduates and the extremely questionable decision to trade five high-level terrorists from Gitmo for “missing” soldier Bowe Bergdahl seems to have — for now — distracted the nation from ongoing troubling economic news.

But none of these things change the reality that a country forced to depend on leftist policies for wealth creation and economic growth won’t create wealth and won’t grow.

Such as appears to be the case in America right now.

According to the federal National Bureau of Economic Research, the nation is now into the sixth year of a supposed economic recovery.  But the economy seems to embody anything but recovery.

The new jobless rate, as measured by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, held at 6.3 percent in May.   ADP, a private company, announced prior to the government’s release that they found only 179,000 private sector jobs were added in May.  The BLS said 217,000 jobs were created, which was still down by 71,000 from April.

Despite an appearance that the unemployment rate remained relatively steady over the last two months, May was instead yet another month in which job creation didn’t keep up with population growth.

This is economic recovery?

The labor force participation rate remained unchanged at 62.8 percent, keeping America at a nearly 30-year low.

Speaking of those left out of the workforce, the BLS’s alternative U-6 rate — the rate that includes all those looking and those who are underemployed or have given up looking for work — fell only slightly to 12.2 percent.  That means the total unemployment rate, the real and all-encompassing unemployment rate according to many economic experts, is around twice what the government claims and most of the media reports about.

This is economic recovery?

As it pertains to Hispanics and blacks, jobless numbers rose to 7.7 percent and fell slightly to 11.5 percent, respectively.

Black unemployment has a history of being roughly twice the national rate.  Unfortunately, the black employment rate hasn’t “rallied” nearly as quickly or effectively as it has for the country overall.  A reason?  Blacks have continued to diligently look for work longer than the national prospecting average, which means they’re counted as being part of the labor force for a longer period of time.

This extended duration of prospecting is partially responsible for the perpetually high unemployment rate, including, the disparity between the black/white unemployment rates.

This is economic recovery?

And the joblessness crisis is just one of America’s economic maladies.  The growth of the nation’s gross domestic product during the first quarter was recently downgraded from 0.1 percent to -1 percent.  This means that the economy actually contracted during the last quarter.  This is the second such economic contraction in three years — the other being the first quarter of 2011, when the economy “grew” at -1.3 percent.

Earlier this month, when addressing the most recent economic contraction before the congressional Joint Economic Committee, Federal Reserve Board Chairwoman Janet Yellin told lawmakers that she viewed the contraction as a “pause” in growth.  A pause?  A pause would be zero growth.  A percentage-point shrinkage of the GDP isn’t a pause.

Only a progressive can walk backwards while claiming to be moving forward.

In addition to the economic contraction, the Wall Street Journal reported that worker productivity also plunged 3.2 percent in the first quarter.  Economists continue to blame the harsh winter for the drop in worker productivity and contraction of the GDP, but drops such as these cannot just be a freak byproduct of the weather.

This is economic recovery?

The sixth year of President Obama’s prosaic economic recovery also sees stagnant wages and increased school loan debt which now collectively totals over a trillion dollars.  People with increased debt are partially responsible for the low volume of mortgage applications.

Many of those who can’t afford to purchase homes are the often-cited Millenials. With increasing school debt, less-than-perfect credit, tougher qualifications for lending approval — combined with the inability to find work — Millenials are being prevented from productively participating in and contributing to the economy.  That’s why probably a third of Millenials are currently living with their parents.

The present situation affecting Millenials doesn’t inspire much optimism for the future of our economy.  But it’s not just Millenials who are having a rough go at finding work.

According to the Labor Department’s own statistics, more than 10 million men aren’t in the labor force.  This means they’re not working or looking for work.  This is a record high.

Additionally, there are 3 million men who are counted as being in the labor force but who aren’t employed.  These are men who would work if they could find a job.  That’s 13 million men negatively affected by the recovery who would otherwise be participating and contributing to the economy.

And people think there’s a war on women.

This, apparently, is economic recovery.

To give more insight into just how bad the national apathy is regarding our current economic picture, a recent poll commissioned by Express Employment Professionals showed that 47 percent of unemployed people have completely given up the hope of finding a job.  In a CNN poll, 60 percent said that their version of the American Dream was unachievable.

Can Obama do something advantageous for the country to spur the economic engine, if only for optics?  Forget it.

Obama’s new, congressionally-circumventing EPA regulations that claim to reduce carbon emissions over the next 15 years will actually reduce the presence of the coal industry.  It is also expected to wipe out over 200,000 jobs, cost the economy upwards of $50 billion dollars a year and increase electricity rates — fulfilling Obama’s assertion that “electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”

This isn’t economic recovery under his energy agenda by any stretch of the imagination.

The past six years have demonstrated a clear, unadulterated truth.  From the moment Obama sat down in the Oval Office, the well-being of the economy was never really a priority of his domestic agenda.

Instead, Obama eagerly sought to implement as much of his expensive ideology as he could.  From the stimulus bill, to investing in “green” energy, to increasing taxes and nurturing class warfare and entitlements and government dependency.  To his financial reform bill and endless new pages of EPA regulations, the President apparently never intended to resurrect the economy.

Don’t expect him to start now.

top and bottom photo credits:


Paying Respects to President Reagan on the Tenth Anniversary of his Death

Reagan1980CampaignPhotoWesternHatWjpgThis is a re-post of a post I made on this blog on June 9, 2004.

Our family paid its respects to President Reagan today.

It's not very easy for four-year-old children to understand that a giant has left us, but as Ronald Reagan bequeathed to our children and millions of others a safer, more prosperous world, he deserved what thank you they could give him.

In this case, it was by hanging around a hot sidewalk at Constitution and Louisiana Avenues, essentially, at the bottom of the literal Capitol hill, for a couple of hours and generally behaving well despite a lack of toys and entertainments. And, I hope, by beginning to get a little germ of understanding that there is such a thing as a United States of America; that good men and women protect it, and great men and women protect it especially well.

Before we left, I showed the children the cover of Time magazine, with its 1980 campaign picture of Reagan. I explained that we were going to say "thank you, President Reagan."

By some coincidence, on Friday evening our son Christopher had taken an interest in watching a Ronald Reagan video containing testimonials and speech clips. Our family had no advance word of the President's then-approaching death. But Christopher saw the video in its case and wanted to view it. I explained that wasn't a cartoon, but as he still wanted to see it, so I plopped him on the kitchen counter and he plugged it into our little kitchen TV/VCR. He watched the whole thing -- about twenty minutes -- much to my surprise. His twin, Jonathan, came by and wanted to look at the tape box, which contained a photo of Reagan with a horse. I pointed out both; he seemed to be interested in looking at Reagan.

Perhaps children know things we adults don't, because the next day Christopher wanted to watch the Reagan video again. After he did, the video popped out, and the Fox News Channel announced that the President was gravely ill. We didn't know whether to believe it, but by the time we came back home from an outing with the kids, we learned it had, indeed, been true. President Reagan was dead.

So, on the day of his funeral possession to the Capitol, armed with memories of video and photographic images, holding three small U.S. flags their father had bought for them, and remembering (maybe) my explanation that we were going to town to say "thank you, Ronald Reagan," three little children and some somber adults went to pay our respects as the President's caisson traveled from the Washington Monument to the Capitol building.

It was hot, and crowded, but we heard no one complain. No one talked about politics, either, or much that was specific about why they had come. Everyone was friendly, but somber. A woman next to me wearing a shirt that made it clear that she works for a labor union spoke to me about how she wouldn't miss the opportunity to pay respects to President Reagan for anything. As a Reaganite, that's not what I am used to hearing from professional labor union organizers. I wondered at her sentiments, but appreciated them.

It got increasingly crowded as the time for the procession drew near, but there was no pushing. Everyone respected those who had arrived earliest, and stayed in the spots they had found open when they arrived. The procession drew close. Police officers on motorcycles and vehicles; military men and women in formation; black cars whose occupants' identities we could only guess at. A band marched by. Funny, I can't remember what the music was, now.

Then the airplanes flew overhead. Loud, almost directly above us, perpendicular to the procession route. The missing man formation.

Then the caisson containing the President's mortal remains. The honor guard; the horses, the caisson itself. The casket seemed smaller than I remembered Reagan being; my husband later said the same. He must have just seemed bigger.

Then a horse, sans rider; the rider's boots on facing backward.

As the caisson approached and passed, the crowd was silent and respectful. Only children -- not just ours -- made sounds and were shushed by their parents. To paraphrase what a surgeon -- a Democrat, if I remember correctly -- reportedly told Reagan the day the President was shot: today, we're all Republicans. Just not necessarily in the partisan sense.

I had told the children we were there to say thank you to President Reagan, but when the time came, I forgot to prompt them. Katie remembered. As the caisson was perhaps ten feet past us, her little voice floated out from her perch on Daddy's shoulders: "Thank you, Ronald Reagan."

When the caisson was out of sight, applause broke out. It lasted a while. As applause goes, it was rather somber. I think people were aware that this was a funeral, and did not wish to behave as if it were a hockey game -- and yet, they wanted to do something to say goodbye.

As the crowd disbursed, we walked along. I kept expecting to see someone I knew. I worked in the Reagan '80 campaign; I've run a conservative Capitol Hill organization for 22 years; we were at the foot of the Capitol building where I know so many staffers. However, except for people who work for or with our own organization, I didn't recognize anyone.

We were still among the crowds when we heard the cannons begin the 21-gun salute. People around us stopped, and turned the face the Capitol. We couldn't see it through the trees, but the sound was loud and clear. We counted, silently. No one moved until it was over.

On the walk back to the car, David and I compared notes. We'd both expected the sight of the caisson to be the most moving part for us. We found that it hadn't been. Instead, that moment came while we were watching the missing man formation. The jets flew by, wave after wave. Then, in the last wave, one jet separated, and flew up and away.

The cloud cover was low. As we watched, the jet vanished into the sky.


If ObamaCare Saves Lives, It Does So Very Inefficiently

Referring to a recent study about RomneyCare in Massachusetts that finds a link between insurance status and mortality, The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn saysit makes Obamacare look good.”  In fact, it shows that ObamaCare is a grossly inefficient way to reduce mortality.

Entitled “Changes in Mortality After Massachusetts Health Care Reform,” the study compared certain counties in Massachusetts with other counties in the U.S. with similar demographic characteristics both before and after RomneyCare. It found that after RomneyCare, Massachusetts counties had an average mortality rate 2.9 percent lower relative to the other counties.  The authors find that about every “830 adults gaining health insurance [prevented] 1 death per year.”

However, moving to a system in which health insurance covers most of the cost of physician visits and preventive care (what used to called “first-dollar” coverage) wouldn’t be cheap.  As Michael Cannon notes, Massachusetts shows that reducing mortality via expanding insurance is already pretty pricey:

If we assume the per-person cost of covering those 830 adults is roughly the per-person premium for employer-sponsored coverage in Massachusetts in 2010 (about $5,000), then a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that RomneyCare spent $4 million or more per life saved. The actual figure may be much higher if we include other costs incurred by that law.

Prof. Harold Pollack comes up with a slightly less expensive figure of $3.3 million.  Prof. Chris Conover does an even more detailed analysis along these lines here.

Using figures from the study and from the Congressional Budget Office, though, shows that ObamaCare is an even more expensive way to save lives.  

Using a formula developed by the Institute of Medicine and plugging in the findings from the Massachusetts study shows that about 30,395 people die each year from lack of insurance.  (To see the calculations behind that number, go here.) The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the ObamaCare exchanges and the Medicaid expansion will cover 25 million, or 46 percent, of the 55 million uninsured by 2017.  Let’s assume those numbers are accurate, and let’s also assume that the number of deaths due to lack of insurance declines 46 percent.  That would be 13,982 more lives saved that year.

The CBO also shows that the net cost of expanding coverage under Obamacare is $142 billion in 2017. Divide that by 13,982, and the cost of saving one life is a staggering $10.1 million.  Even if we make the much more generous assumption that ObamaCare coverage expansions saves all 30,395 lives, the cost per life save is still about a hefty $4.7 million.

Efforts at smoking cessations and hypertention screening, for example, are far less costly.  A 2009 article found that anti-smoking efforts had a median cost of $4,400 per year of life saved.   The cost per year of life saved via hypertension screening is about $79,832.  Annually we lose an estimated 480,000 people due to smoking and 26,634 due to hypertension, far more than we lose due to a lack of insurance.

Now, this is not an attempt to put a price tag on human life.  Rather, this shows that if the goal is improving mortality, a massive government expansion of health insurance is a very inefficient method of doing so, especially when compared to the alternatives.

Resources are limited and they need to be used in ways that are most efficient, especially if the goal is saving lives.  That is, in general, best left to free markets, but as long as government controls so many resources, they should be directed toward methods that improve mortality at the least cost, since those are the methods most likely to save the most lives.  Government expansion of health insurance, alas, isn’t one of those methods.

Related thoughts:

-The title of this post suggests it is an open question whether ObamaCare saves lives.  And it is.  First, while the study on Massachusetts is a pretty solid piece of research, it does have its shortcoming which have been examined elsewhere.  Next, it is only the latest entry in the ongoing controversy over whether health insurance actually saves lives. At present there are five reputable studies that find no link between health insurance and mortality, and five studies, including the most recent one, that do find a link.  Thus, we cannot say with any confidence that health insurance improves mortality or that the ObamaCare expansion will save lives.

-Ross Douthat of the New York Times focused on the portion of the Massachusetts study showing that much of the decline in mortality can be traced to insurance giving people who were previously uninsured more access to a regular source of care and preventive physician visits.  This leads Ross Douthat to perhaps go a bit overboard when he writes that “we should revise down the extent to which…a reform that would shift the system toward flat, universal subsidies for catastrophic coverage — represents a kind of public policy free (or at least relatively-inexpensive) lunch.”  Douthat claims the Massachusetts study suggests that “bigger co-pays and higher deductibles and health savings accounts” that are part and parcel of catastrophic insurance may create “gaping chasms between the care people need and the care they can afford and get.

If Douthat is concerned that paying for primary-care visits reduces deaths, then we could address that much more efficiently if the taxpayers funded $500 for each of the 55 million uninsured to pay for primary care.  That would cost $27.5 billion, or $904,754 per life saved—a bargain compared to the Obamacare exchanges and Medicaid expansion.


More Black Conservatives Speak on VA Scandal

As the scandal over the quality of veterans’ health care provided by the government continues to simmer, more members of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network who have served their country are speaking out about the bureaucratic abuses of veteran benefits.

An Air Force veteran, Project 21 member Emery McClendon said:

Our veterans deserve better than the treatment that they have been receiving from the Department of Veterans Affairs under President Barack Obama.

Every day, those who serve our country in the armed forces put their lives on the line.  Veterans were made the promise of care in exchange for their service.  They have been betrayed.

Everyone involved in this apparent cover-up must be investigated and disciplined if they were part of these gross abuses.

Having served in the military and being classified as a disabled veteran, I believe the level of care for those who served should never be compromised by a government employee.

The VA needs a good housecleaning from the top down.

Project 21 member Wayne Dupree, another veteran of the U.S. Air Force, said:

As I look over this VA scandal and the deaths of possibly at least 40 veterans as a result of it, my heart is terribly broken.

These results could have been averted if someone would have taken responsibility to fix the initial problem.

There is too much blaming going on with no concrete solutions to fix the problem.

The problems at the VA didn’t start with the Obama Administration, but he promised conditions would be fixed and it would get better.  The American people, and the military veterans who served this nation to protect her from foreign and domestic enemies, were sold a bad bag of goods.

Speaking to a broader and more political marginalization of retired members of America’s armed forces, Project 21 member Bob Parks — veteran of the U.S. Navy — added:

First, PTSD was exploited to officially and legally disarm a growing number of veterans.

We’ve also witnessed the Department of Homeland Security’s linking of “rightwing extremists” and “disgruntled” veterans, even though the vast majority of political unrest and violence over the last few years seems to have been perpetrated by the left.

Now, veterans are allegedly being allowed to die without receiving the medical treatment they were promised.

Why?  Maybe because some of us think the very people who’ve defended our liberty are better qualified to lead than those who routinely devise legislation that consistently takes it away.

We now have a better understanding of why veterans and their health was placed on the could-give-a-care backburner, why they are such a threat to the political entitled arrogants and why the very politicians who send others off to war need to have either served or have family serving in the military.

Skin in the game tends to breed common sense.  This is something that many presently in power today clearly lack.


Policies On Vermont Exchange Could Have Substantial Rate Hikes

Yesterday came news that policies on the Vermont ObamaCare exchange would likely rise, although it wasn’t reported by how much.

Today the Vermont Digger finds that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont is asking to raise its premiums by an average of 9.8 percent for 2015.  Here is a chart of the requested increases:

This chart suggests that the healthier people who enrolled went for the plans with high deductibles (since they have the lowest requested increases).  But as the premiums rise faster for the other policies, healthier people will abandon them for the lower-cost high-deductible policies.  That will drive the cost of those other policies higher as the people in them will be generally sicker.  Eventually, those sicker people will gravitate to the lower-cost high-deductible plans as well. Once that happens, the high-deductible plans won’t be so “low cost” anymore.


This is similar to what we’ve seen elsewhere, with Ohio facing an average increase of 13 percent and Virginia and Washington State facing increases of just under 9 percent.

These rate hikes suggest two things:  First, in theory the ObamaCare risk corridors exist to limit premium hikes. It’s a testament to how badly designed this law is that even with the added taxpayer money from risk corridors, policyholders are facing big premium hikes.

Second is, as always, the exchanges are likely headed for a death spiral. 


How to Submit an Official Comment to the EPA about the Obama Administration's New Climate Regulations

IStock ElectricitySmallWNo, trading terrorists for a hostage isn't all that's happened in Washington lately. This morning, the Environmental Protection Agency announced draconian new regulations on carbon dioxide emissions in a costly-yet-futile attempt to control planetary temperature.

In "honor" of the ridiculous rule, earlier today we released a paper, Top Ten Reasons Washington Should Not Impose New Global Warming Laws or Regulations. I've been doing a lot of radio interviews and being asked by folks what they can do to get these costly, job-killing, electricity-price-increasing regulations stopped or (at minimum) modified.

My first answer is that you should take advantage of the Environmental Protection Agency's 120-day window for public comments on these regulations by writing what you believe about them and what you want the EPA to do (or not do) in the most persuasive way you know how and sending it to the EPA by email, fax or U.S. Mail/Federal Express. This process is open to everyone regardless of age, profession, educational level, etc. You can send one paragraph notes or lengthy letters.

You can find the complete instructions here. There also will be four public hearings in July in Pittsburgh, Denver, Atlanta and Washington D.C. at which the public can speak, although you must register in advance. Information on that is also included at the link.

A note of caution: This is a serious public comment procedure. All comments are reviewed and they are made public online (including any personal information you include with your comments), so do your best work, use spellcheck, and be prepared to live with whatever you say for the rest of our life, because the Internet is forever.

Until we run out of electricity to run it, that is.


Will Obama Call Keontai? Was the Call to Sandra Just a Fluke?

Remember when Henry Louis Gates, the Harvard professor President Obama supported when the professor got in a dispute with Cambridge, Massachusetts police?

Remember Sandra Fluke, the law student who championed ObamaCare’s contraceptive mandate, got criticized by conservatives and then was lionized by the left and asked to speak at President Obama’s re-nomination convention?

Remember Keontai Price, the pro-life activist who was beaten for his belief in the sanctity of life?  Remember how his story was a headline issue across the media and spoken of in the White House briefing room?

Well, not that last example.  There are limits to presidential and media grandstanding.

Neither the media nor President Obama have yet to come to Price’s defense, and the lack of outcry over the beating has members of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network outraged.

According to a report from Students for Life, Price — a student at Central High School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama — ended up in a hospital emergency room with a broken nose after being assaulted by a man who disagreed with the student’s stance against abortion.

Price said that he was peacefully disseminating pro-life literature in a public park in Tuscaloosa when a man confronted him.  The man, estimated to be around 350 pounds in weight, alleged that his wife just had an abortion because “that’s what they needed to do.”  Soon after making this declaration, the man is said to have pushed Price to the ground and proceeded to punch him in the face.

Price was sent to the ER the next day at the urging to his school principal.  His nose was broken.

The silence about such brutal intolerance has gotten the attention of Project 21 members who call the incident inexcusable despite Price’s own stated willingness to forgive his attacker.

For example, bringing up the celebrity status of the Gates and Fluke incidents, among others, Project 21 member Murdock “Doc” Gibbs said directly to President Obama:

Hey, President Obama, please call Keontai.

You supported Professor Gates at Harvard when you accused the Cambridge police for acting “stupidly.”  You called Sandra Fluke for an alleged verbal insult from a radio talk show host.  You also issued a statement to praise gay football player Michael Sam him for his courage.

How about a call or some support for this 17-year-old black student in Alabama who got assaulted — where his face was bashed and nose broken — by a 350-pound pro-abortion attacker?

We’re waiting to hear about your call… or even for some mainstream media to pick up on the story.

Praising the non-violent and forgiving response from the high school activist, Project 21 member Derryck Green added:

If Keontai, a member of the Students for Life organization, is emblematic of the current state and the future of the pro-life movement, then I am further assured and encouraged about the resolve and fortitude of the movement to withstand both verbal and physical confrontations.  

While handing out pro-life information in his neighborhood, Keontai was assaulted and had his nose broken by a man whose wife had reportedly recently had an abortion.  One can speculate as to why the man attacked Keontai — up to and including the pain, aguish and guilt associated with killing his pre-born child.  But that certainly doesn’t excuse his behavior.

Acting in true Christ-like manner, Keontai didn’t file charges against the man.  In fact, he turned the other cheek.  Keontai forgave the man, and encouraged others in the pro-life movement to pray for the man and his wife.

It’s easy to talk about turning the other cheek and praying for those who persecute you, but it’s actually very difficult to do.  Yet this boy did, and his reaction is a clear insight into his character.  His courage should not only be applauded, but also emulated.

As Keontai pointed out that when Jesus was beaten, he didn’t stop.  And neither will he.

God bless Keontai Price and all of the people he’s inspired and emboldened to continue on in the mission of saving lives.


Health Care Odds & Ends: Good News Edition

Let’s start this Monday with good news on the health care front.  (Back to your regularly scheduled commentary on ObamaCare exchanges and Veterans Affairs tomorrow.)

1. Reference Pricing.  A few years ago the health care plan that services CalPERS workers decided to try a practice known as reference pricing for hip and knee replacements.  A study in Health Affairs found that prices for those procedures dropped considerably for CalPERS employees.  Now an article in Health Data Management reveals even more good news:

A reference pricing policy for elective surgeries, implemented by Anthem and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) returned $5.5 million in aggregate savings and a 26 percent reduction in price paid for the first two years of the policy’s existence.

The model, used by CalPERS’ self-funded preferred provider organizations and highlighted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Innovation Exchange, was originally put in place for elective knee and hip replacements and has since been expanded to outpatient elective cataract surgeries, colonoscopies, and arthroscopy procedures. For each procedure, CalPERS sets a maximum allowable charge (the reference price) at a level that ensures enrollee access to an array of high-quality, low-price providers.

The reference price is based on a review of hospital pricing and outcomes, with the threshold chosen to ensure that the vast majority of enrollees have multiple high-quality, low-price providers from which to choose. For example, with hip and knee replacement surgery, CalPERS adopted a reference price for the facility fee of $30,000.

Ultimately, the price for joint replacements for CalPERs employees fell from an average of $42,000 in 2010 to  $27,148 in 2012—a drop of 35 percent.

There is one thing that should be added to reference pricing to improve it:  Let the patients share in the savings. If a patient chooses a hospital that charges less than the reference price, he should, say, receive 10 percent of the difference.  That will put even more pressure on health care providers to reduce prices and improve quality.

2. CIGNA’s Choice Fund.  Insurer CIGNA has just released its 8th Annual Choice Fund experience study that examines the experience of the 2.6 million enrollees in CIGNA’s consumer-driven plans.  Here are some of the results:

-Choice Fund customers increase their compliance with recommended care in the second year, even more than in the first year;

-They improve their health-risk status by six percent;

-Medical cost trend goes down 12 percent versus traditional plans;

-The improvement persists over time, up to $7.900 savings by fifth year;

-The improvement occurs in low-risk, medium-risk, and high-risk patients; and

-Because employers contribute to HSAs and HRAs, employees spend less money out of pocket than peers in traditional plans! 

3. House GOP Holding Firm In Virginia Medicaid Expansion.  Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates have adjourned their session without passing a budget because Government Terry McAuliffe  insists on having a budget that includes the Medicaid expansion.  McAuliffe, of course, isn’t going to let a little thing like separation of powers get in his way: “The governor has also signaled an interest in expanding Medicaid without General Assembly approval, but that, too, remains an open constitutional question for the same reason.”

House Republicans, though, don’t seem intimidated: “Republicans have hinted that they will sue if McAuliffe tries.”

Rule of law may not prevail much at the Federal level these days, but Virginia shows there may be hope for the states.


Celebrity-Studded Anti-Obesity Film Is Pure Propaganda

In a piece featured on Politix today, I explain what’s going on behind the scenes in Katie Couric and Laurie David’s big-government film, “Fed Up.”  

If you don’t watch to watch the film or even read the reviews, you just need to know what New York City’s former mayor, Michael Bloomberg called the film. “A masterpiece.”

As my piece details, 

The film lays the groundwork for the nanny state food policies that Bloomberg and others are pushing. On Thursday, May 29, the California Senate passed a bill that would mandate obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay warning labels on sugary soft drinks. The bill now moves to the state assembly, and if it passes, to Gov/ Brown to sign into law.


It’s no wonder Michael Bloomberg, who still reigns as king of the Nanny State, loved it so much.

Fans of “Fed Up” seem to believe that sugar is the new tobacco and we need warning labels, marketing restrictions and heavy excise taxes to protect not only children, but adults, from making choices the activists think are unwise. But why compare sugar to tobacco, when you can say it is “just like” heroin? That’s what best-selling author and advocate Dr. Mark Hyman says in the film to manipulate emotions and claim that “you are going become an addict.” That’s the type of language that earned Hyman a coveted clip in the movie trailer. It won’t help Americans be healthier.

Does the film give viewers an unbiased and factually balanced perspective on obesity in the United States?My answer is more succint than Mayor Bloomberg’s one-word review. “No.”

In fact, as I wrote for Politix, 

  “Fed-Up” is less a documentary, more an “argue-mentary”.

Food police activists love the film - not only because they all seem to be in it. But because “Fed-Up” pushes the premise that obesity is caused by industry and government, while “personal responsibility” is just a canard cooked up by “big food” to lull us into reckless Twinkie-eating automatons.

Laurie David even admits the film was meant to advance the nanny-state agenda. 

While the film never keeps the viewer guessing about who is to blame for obesity, (not the person with the fork,) advocates complain the film didn’t go far enough because it didn’t propose any actual policy solutions. But David dropped the ball, perhaps hoping the public wasn’t paying attention to her talk at an elite Capitol Hill screening. “Whatever issue you’re working on, [“Fed Up”] will help move that agenda,” David told her DC soldiers.

 Read the entire piece on Politix, here.


OIG Investigation Into Veterans Affairs Scandal Doesn't Go Far Enough

The Office of Inspector General’s interim report on the Veterans Affairs scandal is too limited in scope.  The only health consequence of waiting lists at the VA that the investigators are focusing on is mortality.  But patients who must wait long periods for treatment often suffer a myriad of health problems.

In the report the OIG says he has directed his “teams to focus on two fundamental questions: 

(1) Did the facility’s electronic wait list (EWL) purposely omit the names of veterans waiting for care and, if so, at whose direction? 
(2) Were the deaths of any of these veterans related to delays in care?”


If the OIG only focuses on deaths it will likely miss much of the suffering inflicted by VA wait times.

For example, by now you’ve probably heard or read about the story of Navy veteran Edward Laird who lost half of his nose due to cancer because he had to wait two years to see a specialist at the VA facility in Phoenix.  Since he didn’t die, though, his case won’t show up in the OIG report.  

Researchers have conducted many studies over the years about the effects of waiting for care in single-payer systems.  Here’s are a few summaries:

-Researchers studying Swedes waiting for hip or knee replacement concluded that “almost every aspect of daily life is affected by the indeterminate wait for surgery and the related experiences of pain and disability.  The respondents express a deep sense of lost dignity, powerlessness and frustration.” 

-Of over 8,000 Canadian patients waiting for an angioplasty, 109 “had a major cardiac event, namely, death, myocardial infarction or congestive heart failure.”

-A study of Swedish patients waiting for bypass surgery found that “half of the patients had daily attacks of chest pain.”

-A meta-analysis of wait times for surgery found that patients often described the experience “as stressful and anxiety provoking.”

Obviously, mortality is the most serious consequence of this scandal and kudos to the OIG for investigating that. But to understand the full impact that this scandal has had on veterans, the OIG needs to expand its investigation into other health consequences as well.


Illegal Immigration Influx Takes Advantage of Obama Inaction

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson briefed Congress on May 29 about, among other things, a new wave of foreign children who are now illegally crossing into the United States.  Members of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network are speaking out about this growing immigration crisis.

According to estimates reported by Reuters, illegal immigration into the United States by young people under the age of 18 (traveling by themselves) will number 60,000 individuals during 2014 — a ten-fold increase of such action since 2011.  In 2015, that number is expected to more than double to 130,000 youth making unlawful border crossings.

If they are caught, the economic strain on the government posed by young illegals is intense.  Initial detainment costs over $250 per day.  Housing is becoming a scarce commodity, with at least one military facility already being used to house them.

And the law prevents swift deportation for children.  Young illegals are sometimes put in foster care.  In other cases, they are reunited with their parents — even if their parents are living in the United States illegally.

This shocking state of affairs comes as the Obama Administration is expected to announce more executive-level alterations to American immigration policy in the near future that will bypass congressional approval.  While many young illegals claim they are coming to America to escape gangs, abuse and violence, they are also entering the country at a time when their presence can open up to special benefits to them such as specific education opportunities to bring family members living abroad into the United States at a later date.

Responding to this increasing immigration problem, Project 21 member Jerome Hudson said:

While America is, and should be seen as, a place for refuge and boundless opportunity, it should not become an international welfare center.

President Obama’s brazen willingness to cherry-pick certain laws — enforcing some while bending others — has set a terrible precedent and sent a horrifying message to these children and the world that says: If America’s president doesn’t enforce his country’s immigration laws, why should we be expected to respect them?

Additionally, Project 21 member Christopher Arps said:

This is just the next logical evolution of the anchor baby phenomenon.

Instead of illegals coming to the United States to have their children here in hopes they will someday become automatic citizens, many illegal children are coming to the United States in the obvious hope that a compassionate America will bestow amnesty on them now and citizenship for them later.


Black Veteran Speaks Out on VA Scandal

As the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs continues to fester, Project 21 member Kevin Martin, a Navy veteran, weighs in on the lack of decisive action on the part of the Obama Administration:

There are plenty of veterans such as myself who have seen President Obama’s public reaction to the growing Department of Veterans Affairs scandal as both political theater and a desperate attempt by this commander-in-chief to cover his posterior.

First of all, it took the President a few weeks to really seem to take a close look into this scandal.  While he says he wants people to believe this is something he just found out about through the press, the truth if the matter is that the Bush Administration warned him about problems at the VA when he was in transition and after he campaigned before that on fixing problems there.  

Obama chose to campaign on the narrative of fixing the infrastructure of things such as VA hospitals.  He did not, however, campaign on cutting the massive red tape that is sharing the blame for the reported deaths of more than two dozen veterans over the last six years that are allegedly related to VA neglect.

As National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote in Politico: “If six years into his presidency he has yet to fix the VA he promised to fix before he took office, that’s either an indictment of his presidency or the liberal vision of government or both.”

I don’t put much faith in Obama move of dispatching his deputy chief of staff to try to get to the bottom of the VA’s troubles.  It seems pretty clear that nothing was done to fix the problems that existed at the time he took office.  Nor will these troubles likely end with the Obama Administration.

Several presidencies and Congresses, under the control of both political parties over the decades, have mismanaged the plight of veterans seeking their promised medical benefits.  And they seem to have failed to understand that those problems are inherent in a government-controlled, socialistic health care scheme.
We veterans are also intelligent enough to realize the uncovered incompetence is not limited to just a few hospitals.  The suspect in the tragic Navy Yard shooting in Washington, D.C. last year is an example of that.  He visited VA facilities for care, but he was never diagnosed properly and was told to follow-up on his VA treatments with his primary-care doctor.

We should be asking how the federal government can be expected to oversee the health care of 330 million Americans when it cannot even provide the same — or less — for nine million military veterans.  Our nation’s veterans often face massive wait times, with some apparently dying while awaiting what can be simple procedures.

It’s particularly upsetting to hear that returning veterans who heroically served our nation and fought the Global War on Terror are now reportedly receiving substandard care while terrorist suspects imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay are allegedly being provided with better care by comparison.

To add insult to injury, there are elected officials on Capitol Hill seeking to delay new laws meant to hold VA officials accountable for the current state of affairs or help prevent future problems.  It is a slap in the face to veterans and their families for our government to provide bonuses to some of the same officials who allegedly cooked the books and kicked veterans’ concerns under the table as they misled lawmakers and public into believing they were providing promised benefits to those who served.

The time for political double-speak from the government has long since passed.  It’s time to hold the VA accountable for its dismal record.


National Center's Hogberg Suggests Elites Might Benefit Most from ObamaCare 

Even though ObamaCare is still in relative infancy, it already seems to be at a tipping point.  A time can be seen where government subsidies cannot sustain demands for coverage.  Furthermore, the “truly sick… don’t have much in the way of political clout” to complain, and the liberal politicians bent on sustaining (and possibly expanding) the government’s takeover of American health care are largely entrenched in safe districts and “can weather the storm” of constituent outrage.

On the 5/28/14 edition of “Wilkow” on Glenn Beck’s The Blaze network, National Center for Public Policy Research policy analyst Dr. David Hogberg noted the nature of the government’s new health care scheme might ultimately benefit the elites more in the end as those beholden to the government for their coverage will be forced into longer waits for treatment with little recourse.  David also explained that an overwhelmed system with dwindling government subsidy will likely force providers to “prioritize patients with private insurance.”

When host Andrew Wilkow suggested this is a slippery slope to potentially impose a more all-encompassing single-payer system, David explained the inevitable rationing and delays that would come with this increase in government control “wouldn’t work our so well for the sick.”


VA Scandal Not An Reason For Privatization But Is An Excuse For More Spending

Reading over defenses of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs has me wondering if there is ever any reason in the mind of a liberal to turn a government program over to the private sector?  In this particular case dozens of veterans died, so maybe that calls for some drastic changes.  Not according to Suzanne Gordon:
It is of course unacceptable if patients suffered as a result of any delays. But regardless of what went wrong at any VA facility, turning veterans over to private sector insurers and for-profit hospitals is not the solution.
It seems that privatization would be exactly the answer to reduce waiting times for treatment.  After all, how often do you hear about people who have private insurance and go to private hospitals waiting months for treatment?  
Reading further, I also must wonder is there is ever a crisis in government that, in the liberal mind, doesn’t call out for more funding?
If some waited too long to be seen, maybe it’s time for Congress and the White House to figure out how to free up funds to care for veterans who are living longer with more complex conditions.

But is the VA really underfunded? Let’s look at some of the evidence. 

Back in 2000, before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the taxpayers spent just over $47 billion on the VA.  By 2012 taxpayers spent over $124 billion.  That’s an increase, after inflation, of 98 percent.  (To check my math, download Table 4.1 here.  Inflation calculator here.)

That, however, is spending for the entire Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs and not the Veterans Health Administration, where the problem is.  To get a better look at that, go here and download the file for “Average Expenditures Per Patient by Healthcare Priority Group:  FY2000 to FY2012.”  The VA groups puts patients into priority groups for treatment based on their health status.  An explanation of the groups can be found here.  Below is a table of the real change in spending per capita on groups one to seven from 2000 to 2012.

While that paints something of a mixed picture, it tends to show more spending increases than decreases.  The bottom line is that it’s not data that support a “Congress doesn’t spend enough” explanation of the scandal. 

One final point:  Note these two phrases Gordon uses: “If some waited too long to be seen” and “It is of course unacceptable if patients suffered as a result of any delays.”  If?


Commencement Controversies Ignore Holder’s Harangue

It’s graduation time, and that means controversy over college commencement speakers.

On the right as well as the left, political protests led to the cancellations of speakers.  For example, Bush Administration secretary of state Condoleezza Rice bowed out of giving the commencement address at Rutgers University because of anger on campus over her participation in the Global War on Terrorism.  At Haverford College, former University of California at Berkeley chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau pulled out because Occupy Wall Street sympathizers made a stink about treatment of radicals at that very liberal campus.

Someone who hasn’t raised eyebrows despite his actual questionable performance as a commencement speaker is Obama Administration Attorney General Eric Holder.  At Morgan State University earlier this month, Holder used the honor of addressing the graduates of this historically-black university to announce that a better America is being withheld from minorities because there are remaining vestiges of institutional racism that have yet to be defeated.

It was an odd admission by Holder of his own failure on a day that should have been focused on success.

Mentioning the recent media frenzy over unfortunate statements about race made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and embattled Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, Holder warned that obsessing on the spectacular causes people to overlook the bigger problem — that people are now “likely to miss the more hidden, and more troubling, reality behind the headlines.”

Holder implied there is a “more subtle” racism that remains part of American society that “cut[s] deeper” and “endures long after the headlines have faded…”

Can’t see this racism?  Holder obviously has a gift for seeing it — it’s a talent he seems to share with other members of the liberal elite.  “But discrimination does not always come in the form of a hateful epithet or a Jim Crow-like statue,” he said.  “And so we must continue to take account of racial inequality, especially in its less obnoxious forms, and actively discuss ways to combat it.”

Horace Cooper, the co-chairman of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network, takes issue with Holder’s apparent quickness to find a racist boogeyman under the bed who can be blamed as the source of so many of America’s problems.

Horace — a former staffer to congressional leadership, high-ranking federal official and constitutional law professor — notes that times are tough and things are particularly hard for black Americans.  But Horace says that Attorney General Holder and the rest of the Obama Administration, as well as their supporters elsewhere, have a lot to answer for when it comes to the source of this black misery.

In an upcoming New Visions Commentary from Project 21 that is set for early June publication, Horace notes:

Exactly what struggle was Holder referring to?  This presidency has certainly served up its own heaping portion of pain for at-risk Americans.  Tragically, they’ve harmed many of the very groups they claim to protect.
 Under this administration, which is the most progressive in American history, blacks have lost ground.  In the last five years, blacks have faced higher unemployment, a greater loss in household net worth and sizable increases of other indices measuring poverty in the black community.

But let’s be clear: this is not due to racism or because of discrimination.  It is due to the poor stewardship of the nation’s economy by the very White House that claims to have minority interests at heart.

Black America, like the nation as a whole, has suffered greatly in the last five years precisely because of ambitious policies pursued by the Obama Administration that have not worked.  In fact, these policies have made things worse.

Obama can be credited with creating more Americans unable or unwilling to grab a rung on the ladder of opportunity.  This is seen in historically low workforce participation rates, augmented disability rolls, stagnant home values and falling household incomes.

It is this signature failing that is likely the primary reason why fewer black Americans voted for the President’s 2012 re-election.

Putting a historical perspective on modern events, Horace adds:

President Franklin Roosevelt famously said, “the only thing we have to fear… is fear itself.”  This White House has refashioned the saying.  At the Obama White House, all that’s offered is fear itself.

Racism and discrimination are no longer primary influences over the lives of blacks and other minorities, or anyone else.  The stale policies of expanded government and heavy-handed regulation — the primary policy achievements of this White House — are far more consequential.

top photo credit: iStockPhoto


Politix: Consumer Groups Fight Back Against Junk Science Tactics 

In a piece in today’s Politix, I write about some push-back against the junk science activists.

With increasing frequency, activist groups are trying to remove safe and useful products from the market. Why? Because they think they can fool consumers, retailers and legislators into thinking that the extensively-reviewed chemicals in everyday products are unsafe.

Remember when the Consumer Product Safety Improvement act banned ATVs and sport bikes designed for youth because of lead in the engines? The rationale, if one could call it that, was that lead in the batteries presented a risk to children, since children are known to mouth their toys.

Laws and regulations that attempt to set product formulation guidelines through sensationalized headlines, rather than the detailed scientific reviews currently used by regulatory bodies, are bound to lead to absurd outcomes.

Finally, consumer groups and scientists are fighting back with the facts, pointing to the science behind what goes into consumer products. 

Read the full piece here, and be sure to engage in the comments section. That’s what Politix is known for: making your voice heard as well.

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