Not following the process makes it political

With the untimely death of a Antonin Scalia, the US Supreme Court loses a key voice on the court. He has been a strident voice in thinking more about the written words, especially when it relates to Constitutional matters. He has given rise to a valued term which has been used to describe him – an originalist.

The sad irony is he would likely be perturbed by those who are advocating not following the Constitution to replace him. These folks have said the President should not offer a replacement letting his successor pick Scalia’s replacement. But, that would mean SCOTUS would be one less justice for the rest of this term and much of the next, which begins in October. Starting out a new term, where the justices select the cases to be heard is not prudent and is unfair to the process.

To me, not following process makes it political. The process gives the President the right and duty to recommend a replacement. He should do his job. Then, it will be left to the Senate to do its job. I will be urging my state’s Senators to do their job and review the President’s recommendation. There have been fourteen justices confirmed in the final year of a President’s term, that last being one of our sitting judges, Anthony Kennedy.

In my view, when you do not do what you are obligated to do makes any action fraught with politics. I want a solid candidate nominated and from what I read there are several excellent candidates. When you don’t follow the process, the deviation makes it more political than it already is.

As for the politics of waiting, the leader of the Senate may want to think that through. If Donald Trump is the nominee, his party may risk losing the White House and Senate majority. His best bet to influence the decision may be right after the primaries.

Yet, it is grossly unfair to those who have spent time, energy and money in legal fees to present a case in front of SCOTUS. To end in a split verdict wastes many people’s time and money. So, let’s follow the process. The President will nominate someone he thinks will pass muster and the Senate should vet that person just as before. Do your job.

A little data goes a long way

It is hard to make headlines with data, when the sensational sells more easily. With this week’s decision by the US Supreme Court to permit the health care subsidies to continue in the 34 states where the federal exchange is used for the Affordable Care Act, the onus is now on the ACA to continue to work. Per several sources, this imperfect and complex law is working pretty well. These sources include – the Congressional Budget Office, Kaiser Family Foundation, The Commonwealth Fund, RAND Corporation and the Economic Policy Institute. Even Credit Suisse and Charles Schwab improved their outlook on US Treasury Bonds due in part to lower healthcare projections resulting from the ACA.

So, it should not be repealed, but could use some improvements. One key improvement would be for the remaining 20 some odd states who have not expanded Medicaid to do so. In these states, the expansion would not only help those in need, per a George Washington University study, it would help rural hospitals, the state’s economy and add jobs. Attached is an article on the impact in my home state of North Carolina.

http://www.wataugademocrat.com/news/study-nc-economy-would-grow-under-medicaid-expansion/article_2f1b4fc6-8aed-11e4-a01a-332771204a95.html

Yet, what the ACA could use most is some honest discussion rather than political posturing. While working pretty well, the law needs some improvements beyond the Medicaid expansion. With the exception of the mandate to buy coverage, its component parts are well received. But when the nickname of Obamacare is used, the entire law is viewed less favorably. When the name ACA is used, the entire law favorability improves, but is beneath 50%. Yet, in Kentucky, when the ACA name of KyNect is used, it polls more favorably than its national name or nickname.

Part of these findings relate to the overall complexity of health insurance, in general and due to some real concerns over the law.  Part of these findings relate to some who want National Health Care insurance, so the ACA did not go far enough in their eyes. Yet. part of these findings relate to politicians using the name Obamacare as a weapon of mass destruction using labels with negative connotation such as Nazism, Apartheid, and slavery, some of which have been used by Presidential candidates. When a strident, uninformed base of voters hears these labels, they tend to believe the labeler. Yet, where I come from, when people use labels, it usually means their argument is less valid or even poor.

Yet, while cost increases have been dampened somewhat by the ACA per the CBO, with increased risk comes the potential for cost increases in areas where competition is small. The overall dampening effect will be more long term with more folks getting treatment before they become train wrecks. The short-term pressure on costs is evidenced by the headline grabbing double-digit increases in some areas. But, those are the headlines. I would look to what people like the Kaiser Family Foundation notes in the attached, that average expected cost increased expected in eleven cities is 4.4% for 2016.

http://kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/analysis-of-2016-premium-changes-and-insurer-participation-in-the-affordable-care-acts-health-insurance-marketplaces/

The ACA is here to stay. We need honest dialogue and not labels to discuss how to make it better. We do not need any more votes to repeal, as we have wasted far too much time with ceremonial votes. We need seriousness of purpose using real data and informed discussion. My advice is if you hear a politician use a demonic label on anything, ask them some questions about why they feel that way. You may find that they do not have any sound information to back up those claims.

Only fools rush in – why do the pawns get punished over fights to derail Obamacare?

Elvis used to sing “wise men say, only fools rush in…” Unfortunately, we have too few Elvis fans or, maybe, they were watching more than listening to the words. There have been some foolish behaviors that will come back to haunt the ones who are executing the behaviors. If they don’t, others will pay the price for their foolish acts.

The Cato Institute is funding the legal teams that are fighting court battles against the subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, if they were provided through the federal exchange. There is one place in the law that can be taken out of context with the rest of the document, with its intent and with the practicality that some states could not or did not want to run the exchanges. One ruling said that only the state exchanges could offer the subsidy per this interpretation, while other court decisions looked at the broader picture and said the federal exchange subsidy is OK. Fortunately, the one case should be overturned in appeal, but there are other ones as well in the works.

From where I sit, what do you gain by winning your narrow-minded argument? You will screw over 5 million people which will likely grow to more, if these cases go to the Supreme Court in a year or two. I often say that it is the pawns who get screwed in these political zero-sum games. To me, it is prima facie evidence that there are some who only want to win an argument without caring about who is impacted. In this case, people of all political stripes and races will be impacted.

The irony here is the Affordable Care Act is largely a Republican idea, borrowing from Romneycare which was supported by Tea Party leadership until Romney ran for President. The reason there is no countervailing GOP idea is Obamacare is largely it. People think I make this up, but I encourage them to Google “Jim DeMint and Romneycare” and read the many articles. And, the larger truth is Obamacare is showing many signs of success, especially with lowering the rate of uninsureds.

Here is where I remind people that I am Independent voter who has over 33 years of experience in benefits consulting and benefits management before retiring. I am also a former actuary by trade. I have long grown weary of the many attacks on this imperfect and complex law. I have been saying for two years, make the law better, as we will be better for it with more people insured. We have to get people to the doctor before the inevitable train wrecks happen. We also need the remaining states to expand Medicaid. Those states are in the bottom half of the country on healthcare quality and child poverty. This will gain even more coverage for people in need of all political stripes and races. This would include Republicans and Libertarians.

As a volunteer who helps people in need, the absence of healthcare insurance creates poverty. It can create homelessness. We need for people to be covered and when politicians or pundits tell people not to consider coverage because they do not like the President, his party or the law, they are doing that person a disservice. The subsidies go up to a family of four making $94,000 in income. For larger families, it is even more. So, my question for that so-called advisor is, should the person go into the hospital following your advice, will you pay that person’s $50,000 expense? This may sound trivial to some, but a friend of our family was told this very thing and she is in poor health. I encouraged her to speak with a navigator and she now has coverage. One month later, she entered the hospital. She would have had to declare bankruptcy otherwise. By the way, most people who declare bankruptcy cite the lack of healthcare insurance (or poor insurance) as the key reason.

My strong suggestion is for the Cato Institute to drop their cases. The one case where their contention was upheld, will likely be overturned, but if it goes to all the way to our highest court, with this Supreme Court, who knows what will happen? And, if it gets that far and it is not overturned, then what? You will be happy you won. And, at least 5 million Americans will be screwed. They should know now, that this Independent voter says they should ask their politicians to drop this Obamacare witchhunt and help make the law better. In the long run, we will be better for it. They should also know whom to blame now when they vote in the fall. If a candidate continues to harp on Obamacare, vote for someone else. I am tired of these machinations and most Americans have said they are, as well. Unfortunately, the Cato’s foolish behavior could cause us to be the fools. And, that would be a shame. My belief is it will fall back on them, but stranger things have happened.

There are votes and there are votes that count

A couple of events occurred last week that galvanized my concern for democracy in our country. They impede our essential right that each of our votes is important and it should be made as easy as possible for us to cast them. Yet, after last week, it is apparent that all of our votes are not important and they certainly are not equal. We have been evolving toward this, but American democracy is up for sale and it goes to the highest bidder. Unless you have a lot of money, your voice does not really count that much. If your call as a constituent is answered, it will only be after your legislator takes a call from someone across the country that funded his or her campaign.

Last week, our Supreme Court ruled on a case called McCutcheon vs. the Federal Election Commission. In essence, the 5 to 4 ruling said it was OK for someone to spread his or her money around and fund as many candidates as possible. Apparently, the previous rule was infringing on the freedom of speech of wealthy people to have a stake in candidates around the country. When added to one of the worst rulings ever made by our Supreme Court in the infamous Citizens United case, people with money and influence can attempt to buy as many elections as possible. The latter ruling on top of previous ones allows unlimited funding of Super PACs to fund advertisements to discredit an opponent of one they favor. These rulings make it easier for an oligarchy to rule our country and state. My friend Barney has a great post on this topic from last week: http://mountainperspective.wordpress.com/2014/04/page/2/

That was only the beginning of the week’s events. Various states like mine in North Carolina (NC) have put forth similar, restrictive voter suppression laws under the guise of Voter ID. A few months ago, a less suppressive law than the one in NC was found unconstitutional in Pennsylvania. The NC law is being sued for unconstitutionality by four separate entities with multiple parts of the law designed to suppress votes of the elderly, African-Americans and college students. This independent voter will not be surprised to see it declared as such when the ruling is made. In fact, the NC Attorney General told the legislature that this law was unconstitutional before it was passed.

These Voter ID Laws were passed to combat the illusion of rampant voter fraud. As former Secretary of State Colin Powell noted in a speech in Raleigh there is no evidence of rampant voter fraud. Our rampant voting problem in this country is not enough people voting. But, last week in an effort to show there is rampant voter fraud, a study was done and found 765 cases of potential dual state voting cases in the last presidential election in NC. This should be looked into as to why this happened, but let’s put things in perspective and look at the numbers. In the 2012 presidential election, North Carolinians cast 4,499,039 votes. If you divide 765 by 4,499,039 you get a result of .017% (less than 2/100th of a percent). This very low percentage would support Mr. Powell’s assertion that we do not have rampant voter fraud.

So, what should we do about all of this? First, we should mute every campaign commercial we can. Just don’t listen to what the funders are selling. In the last Presidential campaign, FactCheck.org said only 1 out of 3 commercials for Romney was fully correct and 1 out of 2 for Obama. So, with those percentages, you are more informed by not watching. Second, we should get informed about the candidates and not the party they represent. Read and watch reputable news sources and not those who will have a biased spin on the news or cover the game of politics and not the issues. The latter especially includes Fox News and MSNBC which provide a version of the news that is spun to fit the demographics of viewers.

Third, let’s advocate common sense voter laws. Let’s start with passing bi-partisan redistricting laws designed to prevent gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is harmful to governance and it hurts both parties, as we end up with unopposed candidates and makes it easier for politicians who are the party fringes to get elected. Next, let’s repeal all Voter ID Laws like the one in NC, before they are ruled unconstitutional; that will save legal fees and let us replace them with more common sense laws to promote voting. A new Voter law should include automatic runoff voting, which means you rank your candidates, so when a runoff is needed, the system can do a runoff election without another vote. This is far cheaper and runoff elections often vote in a candidate with fewer than 10% of the voters making it to the polls. Let’s also change how we call on people for jury duty. This is an impediment to people signing up for voting. And, let’s repeal any laws that make it easier to influence elections of judges. The change made last year in NC, e.g., is akin to the horrible Supreme Court decisions above as it gives people with money too much influence over judges.

Democracy is under fire. We need to do what we can to make all of our votes count. The above is a start. But, don’t just believe me, I would encourage you to watch Bill Moyers’ documentary from earlier this year called “State of Conflict – North Carolina” to get a better sense of how our democracy has been polluted in my state as an example of what can and is happening. http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-state-of-conflict-north-carolina/