Dangerous Dan Thoughts and musings on the world


They Told Me…

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 9:08 pm

They told me when critics said health care reform would hurt businesses' bottom line that it was a Republican scare tactic.

AT&T to Book $1 Billion Cost on Health-Care Reform

And it's the biggest in a series of companies doing the same thing.


Facebook Vapidity

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 10:28 pm

Among the reasons I've probably posted less to this blog was because I discovered Facebook and it's a remarkable time waster.  While it's unlikely I'll leave it, I've grown tired of some of the utter shallowness of it all.  It's like a gigantic polite dinner party where everybody engages in some basic small talk and avoids mentioning anything mildly controversial.

The problem is that I don't find that very interesting.  And I'm also not always that polite.  I have my share of uninteresting statuses, but toss in some link posts, statuses, and comments that are meant to provoke, and they do.  Many folks just ignore them, some complain that I'm breaking the mellowness, and others engage in the same level of debate you'd see in just about any blog comment thread, i.e. fairly useless and filled with about every logical fallacy in the book.  I probably wouldn't bother, but sometimes I just like to argue.  I figure they'll convince me, I'll convince them, or we both improve our arguments.  I just get tired of being the only guy with arguments.  At least posts about relevant topics are (or should be) more interesting than details about what people had for lunch.  Don't be one of those people.



Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 8:50 pm

Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat: We may have overpromised on the health care bill, but it will take several years for it to be fully enacted. But the other side went over the top in saying the sky would fall and it hasn't fallen.

Yet, Rep. McCaskill. There's a correlation in the bill not being fully enacted and the sky not falling.

They Told Me…

Filed under: Health Care,Media,Politics — Dangerous Dan @ 12:55 pm

They told me when opponents said I wouldn't actually be able to keep my insurance plan, even though I liked it, that it was a Republican smear tactic.

AP: Companies say health care costs hard to swallow.

(With respect to Instapundit.)


Where Goes Our Republic? Where Goes My Daughter?

Filed under: General,Health Care,Politics,Society,World — Dangerous Dan @ 9:19 am

I'm worried.  I've been fighting this feeling for awhile and tried to avoid appearing reactionary or overreactionary to recent events, but I'm worried.  Something is happening here and it isn't pretty.

I've grown to distrust modern liberalism.  Its adherents keep changing the U.S. into something it's not supposed to be and wasn't meant to be.  While they claim the changes are consistent with the spirit of America's promise and are making it better, they break it down and rebuild it into something bearing no resemblance to what has made it great.  Where they find nothing broken, they break it so they can repair it.  Where they find something broken, they dash it so they can replace it.

I have always considered America to be something great on this good earth.  Where the rest of the world lived by the grace of kings, we lived by virtue of our own efforts.  When others were ruled by despots, radicals, and the shifting powers of wars, we held firm trusting that our ability to govern ourselves was the answer.  We demanded nothing but the rights of life, liberty, and property and a government composed of our own citizens who would not only protect our rights from foreign and domestic threats, but would also respect those rights itself and not threaten them.  But our social contract isn't what it used to be.  We'll give up some liberty if it means some personal security.  We'll give up some property, especially someone else's, if it means we can get something else in return for little effort.  We have sacrificed so many others in our society for our own gain and in the name of justice and generosity, never realizing that we were really sacrificing ourselves.  We've given up our obligations but expect to keep our rights.  We've given up the rights that make us citizens so that we can enjoy the pleasures that make us hedonists. 

America is not perfect and has never been perfect.  But in a world of deep darkness and oppression, by God, our light, no matter how dim or imperfect it's been at times, was a blinding beacon on a hill, beckoning others to us and to like us.  Our light is now dimming more than ever and we threaten to pitch ourselves into the same darkness the rest of the world inhabits.  We will no longer be exceptional and we will no longer be able to help others or ourselves.  The beacon, the great hope for humanity and the great pro-human force for the past 220 years will be snuffed – not by anybody else.  No external power could ever have defeated us.  Instead we will die the only way we could have – we will have killed ourselves.

Our decline will be slow, but it will be certain.  Those other nations across the Atlantic that so many of our citizens envied will go down with us, and they'll realize the hyperpower they so long criticized, looked down on, and which they celebrated the more it became like them, was the only thing that made their arrogance possible.  With no military to protect it, a hampered economy, and a lack of innovation, they'll have no one to be parasitic upon.  They'll also realize that in America's defeat, they are now subject to the whims of an increasingly despotic Russia, an expansionary China, and aggressive foreign immigration.  They survived in the valley by basking on our light, but they will no longer have it.

So where goes our good republic?  I honestly don't know, but with fiscal time bombs, unsustainable entitlements and ever more people wanting something for nothing, it doesn't look good.  But I'd like to talk about somebody else.

I have a little girl.  When I found out I would have a daughter several years ago, I saw the future stretched out in front of her.  I saw her as a toddler and a young girl.  I saw her as a difficult, but talented teenager.  I saw her going off to college and doing what she found productive and fulfilling.  I saw her contributing to her community and being a good person, friend, and citizen and as someone who would be a credit to the nation that had raised and done so much for me, my father, my grandfather, and my immigrant great-grandfather.  I saw her get married to a good man.  I saw her having children of her own for whom she would see a future like I saw for her.  I saw her grow old and I saw her finish a life well-lived.

Someday, I'd like to sit her down and tell her the future I saw.  None of it specific, more like a cloudy haze. It's a future that exists based upon a society that does not restrict her, that protects her freedoms and allows her to make choices.  I'd like to tell my daughter that it's a great future; that it's cloudy, yes, but she may choose her path and all the side-paths and detours she wants.  I'd like to tell her that the best path will always be found with hard work, with skill, with duty, with being productive, with contributing to the society that protects her, with willingly giving of herself to help those around her, that reason will be her best guide and that virtue is never wasted.  I'd like to be able to tell her that with all this, that haze before is bright and that what lies ahead is better than the cleared area behind us.  That, just as my ancestors had covered so much more of that ground before I began my walk, was cleared ground I had advanced upon so she could go farther.

But I can't tell my daughter any of this.  Not anymore.  How can I tell her to follow hard work when hard work will only be exploited?  Shall I point to her mother, who worked hard for seven years to become a doctor, sacrificed so much and accrued debt, who started working and making decent money at age 30 by treating the children of her community only to be called rich, greedy, selfish and then be claimed by a bureaucracy that will dictate how she exercises her career and from which she cannot escape while remaining a doctor?  Shall I point to the small business owners who invested money and worked hard only to have so much of their work's reward stripped away, to be called greedy and exploitative of their workers?  Meanwhile, those who do less receive rewards for their lack of effort, with their laziness subsidized, handed the fruits taken from the ones naive enough to still work hard.  While handed the fruits, they're told they're the victims and that they're the ones being exploited by the hard workers.  Worse, the lazy, the exploiters, begin to believe they are victims.  Worse still, the hard workers, the victims, begin to believe they are exploiters.  And worst of all, they both begin to think of the lazy as deserving of the fruits.  Shall I tell my daughter that hard work prevails?  Or shall I be honest and tell her that hard work makes her the rube?

How can I tell her to follow duty when her duty is continually narrowed down to being little more than rank obeisance to those who govern her?  What duty has she to others when her duties are taken from her and given over to the anonymous collective?  She'll have no duty to help, to do what she knows is right while risking everything for it, to willingly give of herself for others, to teach, to learn, to fight.  Those responsibilities will not be her's.  The collective will do those things.  It will tell her what is right, it will take from her for others, it will teach.  And should it fail?  No matter.  In the collective, no one is to blame.  All that will be required of her is to do as told.  Shall I tell my daughter to follow duty?  Or shall I be honest, cut out the pointless middle step that has turned into nothing more than a controlling faleshood, and tell her that she need only obey?

How can I tell her to be productive and contribute to the society that protects her when so much of what she produces is taken away and when her society preys upon and exploits her?  Shall I tell her to produce and contribute?  Or shall I be honest and tell her it's better to prey on others?

How can I tell her that reason is her best guide when emotion, base appeal, irrationality, and lies rule?  Why tell her to search out what is in a world that no longer searches for it or believes it's there?  Why tell her to even think in a world that says thinking is nothing more than believing and, worse, feeling?  People don't look for truth, they look for what's "true to them."  They turn inward, gaze at a hollowness they never filled, then look back out to commit themselves to what they feel is right, not to what they think is right and certainly not what is right.  They appeal to their bestial sides, banishing what about them is most human, and maximize freedoms available to any common weevil.  The rationality occasionally rediscovered and championed throughout the West's history has once again been surrendered.  Shall I tell my daughter to follow reason?  Or shall I be honest and tell her to just follow emotion without the threat of ever being wrong (since it can't be wrong) and to enjoy the lies of the moment while new lies will always be available when the old ones are exposed as false?

How I can tell her virtue is never wasted when the only courage shown by leaders is the courage to defy the will of citizens?  When intemperance and self-indulgence are celebrated except when they get in the way of state priorities?  When the virtue is not taught or expected, but is merely compliance with rules she will be forced to follow?  When temperance makes you the rube whose goods and savings will be taken for others?  When generosity disappears amid the collective doing what was once the duty of the individual?  Shall I tell my daughter to practice virtue?  Or shall I be honest and tell her that it will be cold comfort when her virtue will be taken advantage of?

And so I look back at her future.  What was once a bright haze with any number of paths darkens and the paths narrow.  Many paths have been closed off and she is no longer free to pursue whatever makes her happy.  Those liberal elites determined they know better what should make her happy than she herself can and so those paths are no longer acceptable.  They cannot make her happy and it's not best for her, they might say, but more likely those paths are considered contrary to the good of the collective as determined not by the public, but by the elites themselves.  Or perhaps those paths are still open, but they are far more difficult and rocky than before and the costs of taking them outweigh the benefits.  And so I must set my daughter forth not into a future of promise like I originally envisioned for her, but into a future filled with trepidation, soft smiling tyranny, and exploitation by the worst of society.  A future ruined by the hubris of the liberal elites who think they can direct humanity to its betterment, but who fail always and then create more failure to fix their mistakes.

I want my daughter's future back, you sons of bitches.



Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 3:01 pm

Just realized that Monday of last week marks the 8th year of this blog's operation.

Then Ends…

Filed under: Health Care,Politics — Dangerous Dan @ 2:59 pm

For Nancy Pelosi, the ends justify the means.  But I guess we knew that, didn't we?

Pelosi: Health Reform "Model" For Future Reform Efforts


Biden Gaffe, #???

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 5:59 pm

Oh, Joe Biden.  You make Bush and Quayle gaffes look positively lame.

Healthcare Thoughts

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 5:09 pm

(Note – This was written prior to the passing of the bill)

The current health care reform proposals from the Democrats are simply bad. If nothing else, it asks the American people to engage in a massive suspension of disbelief. Obama, Pelosi, Reid, and the rest claim that the reform will cover more people, cut health care costs, cut insurance premium costs, reduce demand and not ration, improve care, increase choice and competition, and cut the deficit. They may as well add how the plan will benefit the unicorn population and that it will be funded with rainbow-terminus leprechaun gold. It is impossible for any plan, especially this one, to do all those things and in the positive manner people suppose. We're being asked to believe a fairy tale long enough for the opening pages to get passed into law and once that's done, we'll be unable to close the book before the tale turns from Disney to Grimm.

Let's handle the contentions one by one, but first some groundwork.

You may never have considered it, but health care and health insurance in the U.S. are pretty bizarre. The operate like no other segment of the economy.

Unlike pretty much every other type of insurance (save maybe life insurance), you get health insurance through your employer. Why? Why not also get your employer to pay for your car insurance, renter's insurance, homeowner's insurance, maybe insure your collection of Star Wars figurines? The reason the majority of Americans get it through their employer is because of history and previous/current government policies. Back in World War II, there were wage and price freezes in effect (by Federal fiat). This created a problem for businesses that wanted to attract qualified personnel because they would normally compete for labor by using wages. With the wage freeze, however, that wasn't an option and they had to come up with something else they could use to compete for labor and that was health benefits. It became popular enough that the tax code was changed to accommodate it, but the change also encouraged it. For employers, money spent on providing health insurance premiums to employees is a tax deductible business expense. For employees, the income they receive as health benefits is considered non-taxable income. The same tax courtesies are not extended to the individual market. If I want to buy an individual policy from an insurance company, I must do so with after-tax dollars. Thus, employers have an incentive to provide health insurance to its employees and employees have an incentive to expect and demand it from their employers.

The way health insurance operates is also quite odd. Think for a moment about the last time you went to the doctor. Now… how much did it cost? Likely, the amount you thought of was your copay, probably somewhere around $5-$50 depending on your plan. But that's not how much it cost, that's only how much you had to pay and it will be the same every time, no matter what you go in for or for what treatment you receive. How much did the appointment cost overall? If you don't know, you've stumbled upon the giant problem with health insurance and health care costs in this country. Try to name any other good or service that you consume for which you don't know the price before, during, or after you consume it. I'll be surprised if you can think of any.

The difficulty is that unlike other types of insurance that cover large damages while you cover regular costs and maintenance costs, health insurance covers nearly all the costs. You don't pay a $5 copay when getting your oil changed while Geico picks up the rest, for example. But let's say it did. Would you care about the price of the oil change before you got it? Would you bother to get the prices of oil changes at different shops? Would you demand the oil of sufficient quality or would you want the best synthetic available? Would you go with just the oil change you need or also have them do other work while you're at it? Therein lies the problem. One great absolute truth is that you will always spend your own money more wisely than you will spend somebody's else's. And in the case of health care, you're spending somebody's else's money, i.e. the insurance company's. As such, you have no incentive to price shop or to find out prices at all; no incentive not to get unnecessary procedures or treatments; no incentives to get cheaper medication that will work as well as more expensive ones, etc. You don't have these incentives because you're not spending your own money and so you don't care about prices. This makes health care a distorted market. Since you have no incentive to pay attention to prices, doctors don't compete on price like suppliers must in other markets. Providers can and will charge more because they can, not necessarily because they're greedy but they have no incentive to lower what's charged and given the way insurance and Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement schemes work, they have an incentive to charge more. They will also tend towards inefficiency without normal competitive market pressures and with having staff who solely deal with reimbursements.

If we observe health care segments where health insurance does not play a role, e.g. Lasik and cosmetic surgery, what we see is a reduction in prices, lots of competition, better service, and yet still better and more effective treatments. That's because in these segments, people are spending their own money and so they have a tremendous incentive to make sure their money is spent judiciously. So they compare prices, results, doctors, staff, etc., just like they would any other good or service they consume.

So let's go back to the Democratic health care reform and see if it can achieve the various things they claim its supporters claim it will.

1. Covering more people. This is probably the one believable part, though its necessity is vastly overstated. Supporters can't quite decide just how many millions of people don't have health insurance (and let's not conflate health insurance with health care as many are wont to do since lack of the former does not entail lack of the latter)… figures have ranged anywhere from 30 million Americans to nearly 50 million. When the group is examined, however, we discover that its population is not static. That is, it's not the same 30 million all the time. Some are illegal immigrants. Some are people who qualify (or their children do) for existing coverage, e.g. Medicaid, but they simply haven't signed up for the benefits. Some are folks who are between jobs and therefore between insurance plans. Some are healthy younger folks who could afford insurance, but, because they are young and healthy, have opted not to purchase it. Once those groups are accounted for, the number of consistently uninsured number closer to 10-15 million. A not insignificant number, but it's 5% of the population for which the other 95% will be heavily affected, not just in terms of how they receive health care, but also in other effects on the economy.

Given the structure of the reform and its compulsory requirement for purchasing insurance, this would also be an unfair restriction on people's freedom. The justification often given is that the young and uninsured are a risk to the system and drain it by not carrying coverage and so they must be required to have it. They must not be freeloaders. The real reason is that the system will need the young and healthy paying into the system and not using it or it will not be able to sustain older Americans who will be drawing from the it.

2. Cut health care costs. As we've covered, the biggest factor driving up health care costs is that people do not pay their own money for health care. The reform won't change this except to make it worse. People will be even more distant from the prices and costs of health care and they will naturally go up. Now it's true that the government, especially should it have firm control over the sector, can control costs, but it won't be through market systems. The control will come simply from the government dictating how much it will pay for various services, which is what it already does now to control costs in Medicare and Medicaid. The plans decide on their own how much they'll pay, regardless of how much it costs the doctor or how much she wants to charge. Many doctors either lose money or make rather little money on Medicare/aid patients, especially compared to privately insured patients. With an expanded government role in health care, we'll only see more of this. And the more private insurance is crowded out, the more it will reduce the incentive for doctors to stay in business or to provide superior care. Right now, Medicare/aid is tolerable to doctors and hospitals because they can still make respectable profits on the privately insured. Once that's taken away, however, there's nothing left.

3. Cut insurance premium costs. The long term idea for most liberal reformers is to get rid of private premiums altogether and shift to a government-only single payer system. For now, let's falsely assume they'll stop at what's currently being proposed. A cornerstone of their plan and what they keep touting is indeed popular, but still stupid. Laws would be enacted that would require companies to sell policies to those who have preexisting conditions and the cost of those policies would have to be the same or close to policies sold to those without preexisting conditions. Now this sounds nice and humane and nobody likes stories of poor individuals who couldn't get insurance because of some known or unknown health problem (though the occurrence of this is statistically far less than what many make it seem).

There is a reason insurance companies do this, however, and it's not because they're greedy and are trying to make mad profits (the average profit margin for health insurance is only about 2.2%, far less than many other industries). It's because they're trying to control costs: their's and, by extension, their customers'. If insurance companies are required to sell policies to the sick and at the same prices as to the healthy, the rational choice for consumers is simply not to carry coverage when healthy and only buy a policy when sick. This obviously can't work, though, since the insurance company would pay out far more money than is paid in and they will either have to raise their prices or go bankrupt. This is another reason the reform plan includes compulsory measures requiring people to always carry insurance. I imagine getting around this, however, won't be overly difficult and, at $1,500 to $4,000, or in other instances 2.5% of income, the proposed penalty for not carrying coverage is still less than cost of most policies… currently anyway. The typical government response to non-compliance of bad government policy is simply to increase penalties so as to force compliance. I imagine the current proposed penalties are just not to sound scary in order to aid passage, but they would quickly increase once full implementation is on. At least one Pelosi House draft indicated the possibility of $250,000 in criminal fines and five years in prison.

Additionally, the government would require certain base levels of coverage in policies allowed to be sold on the "market" exchanges, which, on average would be greater coverage than is often now the case. The more conditions, illnesses, procedures, etc., that must be covered, the greater the cost since there is greater chance of payout. Many states already have various requirements, with the greater coverage being more expensive. This is where straight-up politics will play a role. It will not matter whether people really need coverage for something or whether there are enough people to necessitate it. It will be up to politics. Let's say a small group of people suffering from condition X think their illness should be covered. They make a lot of noise and politicians cover it lest they be considered heartless and face voter wrath. Let's say some doctors come up with an expensive new procedure that isn't really any better than the older cheaper one, but they lobby the right pols and grease the right palms and it will be covered. Or let's say a newer, cheaper procedure is introduced by a startup company. The older, established, and very wealthy company that provides the older, expensive procedure greases the right palms to make sure the new version isn't covered, likely on some made up or inflated excuse of it being dangerous or not proven or some such. There will never be an incentive to strip away coverage, though. The only incentive will be to add coverage or prevent new coverage and along with that will come greater costs and premium prices.

Making the issue worse is a proposed Federal board that would review premium increases and determine whether or not the increases are justified. The board could even roll back increases it doesn't like. Again, though, the companies aren't doing this purely because they're jerks. The thing to bear in mind is that many increases are because A) of greater required coverage, but mostly B) health care costs keep increasing due to the reasons discussed. As health care costs increase, so do the costs to the insurance companies, and so must the price of the policies. It's a bit of a vicious cycle, really. Such a review board will technically have the ability to control health insurance costs to the consumer, but not to the companies or in general. If anything, they will increase the path toward insurance company bankruptcy. And, much like the required coverage, the board will not be guided by the reality of the marketplace or by the necessity of the company; it will be guided by politics. If a particular needed price hike proves to be unpopular with people (and what hike won't be?), the board will either prohibit it or significantly cut it back. Once more toward bankruptcy we go (which is a feature, not a bug for some since it advances us towards government dominance).

4. Reduce demand and not ration. This has got to be the most patently ridiculous assertions and anyone who says the reform will do either is lying or has absolutely no clue how economics works. If you increase the level of coverage, reduce copays, and trend toward a more single-payer system, you further distance people from any personal costs for their care. The more you disassemble pricing structures, the more people demand of something, not less. Lower personal costs equals greater demand. If you make something "free," you flatten out the demand curve and make demand nearly infinite.

And this leads us into why rationing will happen. Rationing will absolutely happen, though some supporters bizarrely claim it won't. It will happen for the very simple fact that everything is rationed. Rationing occurs for absolutely every resource, good, and service because there's no such thing as an infinite supply of anything. Everything is finite and because everything is finite and if there are people who want it, everything must be rationed in some way. This is the problem of scarcity that all economic systems try to solve: how to use finite resources in order to satisfy as many and as much of the nearly infinite wants of people. In a normal market system, rationing is done through prices. The more costly something is to do or produce or the rarer it is, the higher the price. The higher price means fewer people will demand it and so the item is effectively rationed. This occurs for everything from luxury yachts to a box of cereal. If you take away the pricing mechanism, demand becomes infinite since there's no reason NOT to want that thing, but supply remains finite. So without prices as our rationing mechanism, we must find some other method to ration our good. Our options are A) command, where the government makes all the determinations, but it couldn't fully get away with that here and probably couldn't manage it anyway; B) majority decides, which wouldn't work here; C) contests, and as much as I'd like to see a Running Man competition for seeing the doctor, that won't happen; D) equal shares, which won't work since people necessarily require unequal shares of health care; E) lottery, where the lucky get care; and F) first-come, first-served waiting lists.

The last two will be the rationing methods of choice. You laugh at the lottery method, but this is actually used in some smaller towns in Canada. A doctor comes around for a day once a week or once a month and those who get to see him are picked at random. But the waiting lists will be ubiquitous as they are in other, more socialized systems. Again, if you take away the price mechanism of rationing, it must be replaced with something else.

Imagine, if you will, the following scenario. Let's say we determine that people have the right to TV's. Because of this, people must be provided a television by the government at no cost (ostensibly) to the recipient. Because TV's are now "free," demand will skyrocket. Everyone wants a TV. It remains, however, that there are still only so many TV's to go around. So who receives a TV will be based on their place on the waiting list. Not only that, but people won't want just any TV. They will want the big screen, fancy flat screen HDTV's. While people can get them, the wait for these will be even longer since there are necessarily fewer of them. The TV's most readily available will be smaller, less complex sets. Indeed, since the government will want to satisfy as many people's wants for TV's as possible, they will focus funding on providing the smaller sets that will cost the system less money.

So it goes with health care. Waiting lists will become de rigueur for care and the lists will become longer due to the greater demand for care. The waiting lists for specialty care will be longest since people will have demand for them, but government will have focused spending on primary care since that's what most people will need and demand. This means that as long as you only require primary care, you will likely be satisfied with the system. As soon as something is actually, you know, really wrong with you, you will find yourself increasingly ill (or maybe just increasingly dead) as you must wait for specialty care that in a relatively freer market system is rather easy to come by. Canada and Great Britain are littered with cases of people waiting months for care that could be gotten in days in the U.S. Just getting what in America is same-day diagnostics, e.g. CT scan or MRI, can be a three week waiting period. The difference is that in a system that is more market-oriented, more expensive specialty care equals an opportunity for profit and providers therefore have an incentive to offer it as it's demanded by consumers. In the more socialized system, where funding comes more from government, the government has less of an incentive to provide this care as it is more costly and will be needed by fewer people. For it, specialty care is actually an inefficient use of resources when in the market system, it's efficient.

This form of rationing is not an unfortunate outcome of the proposal. It is a necessary outcome. Indeed, it really can't happen any other way.

But, you might say, don't health insurance companies already ration care? Yep, they do. They make determinations on whether certain care is appropriate in certain cases. Here's the thing, though. Despite the horror stories, insurance companies actually rarely reject care ordered by doctors. Certainly, out of cost control, they have to pay attention to things and they may prefer some treatments over others or that some are tried first, but they don't often deny care generally unless there is some kind of justification. And if you don't like your current company, you can always (though it may be costly) go with another company, another policy, etc., and you always have recourse to courts and the government. If, however, the government dominates the industry, you have far fewer options. It, after all, doesn't have infinite money (despite the apparent attitudes of some) and must also budget itself. It will also determine what care will be distributed. Only it will care less and you will have less recourse. It's hard to fight insurance companies. It's impossible to fight city hall.

The other aspect is that companies must provide certain care as obligated, and, because of the greater market freedom, will be able to provide it in a timely manner. Government, on the other hand, can change the rules of the game at will and will provide care less efficiently. Even many of the problems with the insurance companies will be alleviated with the reforms I'll get to. If we stick to the proposal itself (and not with the eventual government takeover), with certain mandated coverage and increasing medical costs, you will see less variation among the insurance companies, more tight-fistedness, and more restrictive rationing since they will seek ways to control costs other than premium increases that will be heavily regulated by the new review board. You will start seeing the very same government-dominated problems, e.g. less access to specialty care. This would likely be followed as justification for something akin to single payer and then it will become even worse.

5. Improve care. This won't happen. Remember that incentives matter. Take into consideration the incentives that providers will have in an increasingly regulated sector in which they will have less say in what they do. Among the ways insurance companies will try to control costs is through striking harder deals with providers, which will cut down on provider incentives to provide better or more costly care. Should the government dominate, it can determine its payments purely by fiat, which will be below profitable level for many doctors who will quit the field altogether or just scale back.

Another problem is taking into consideration the skimping on specialty care that will result from insurance companies and/or government plans. While the U.S. health care is made to seem terrible, it really isn't. Longevity statistics, for example, make it seem like we don't live as long as folks in other countries. And that's what they show, but they're skewed. Americans are far more likely to die at younger ages due to murder, car accidents, obesity, smoking related diseases, and a few other things that are not related at all to the quality or nature of the health care system. That skews our overall rate downward. Once those variables are accounted for, we come out as well or better than other countries. And that's longevity at birth. If you look at longevity at later ages, we come out much better. For example, a newborn male in 2005 would be expected to make it just shy of 75 years old (80 for women and overall average of 77.4). A 40 year old man in 2005, however, stood to make it to 77 (81 for women and overall average of 79.4). A 50 year old guy to 78 (82 for women and overall average of 80.4). At 60, it's 80 men, about 84 women, and overall average of 82. And this is for 2005. That same newborn when he's 40 in 2045 may have a greater life expectancy than his original 75.

Let's compare to France. In 2003, life expectancy at birth was about 80 years overall. For 40 year olds, it was 81. For 50 year olds, it was 82. And for 60 year olds, it was 83.

So at birth, Frenchies had 2.5 year advantage on us. At 40, it was 1.5 years. At 50, it was 1.5 years, and at 60, it was 1 year. The gap narrows at greater ages.

I feel kinda dirty even talking about longevity statistics since I'm not even confident they tell us anything overly informative about… well… any one thing. There are so many factors that go into longevity, e.g. health care, diet, genetics, lifestyles, crime, accidents, drugs, wild animal attacks, that it's nearly impossible to point to any one thing as being the primary determining factor and in all countries. Certainly, health care is a significant contributory factor, but given all the other possible factors that also apply, it's simply not possible to say that it alone makes the difference in, say, a 1 year difference in longevity between American and French 60 year olds.

We can, however, look at some stats where we can be slightly more confident in health care systems being primary factors. If you pay attention to five year survival rates for most cancers, for example, you are significantly more likely to be alive in the U.S. five years after diagnosis than you are in most other countries. For all cancers, 56% of European women will be alive in five years versus 63% of American women. For men, it's 47% Europe and 66% America. If you compare to, say, Great Britain and their government-run system, we come out even better since their survival rates are 53% women and 45% men.

Now this isn't to say that our system is perfect, doesn't need reform, and doesn't use money inefficiently. It's merely to say that other systems aren't necessarily better than ours in comparison nor ours worse. Also that you face some serious sacrificing of health care with more government control.

6. Increase choice and competition. Nope again. Adding a government option doesn't help competition. The problem is that government gets to make the rules and it can easily game the system in its favor. Not only that, but the government plan would be heavily subsidized which gives it a massive advantage in a marketplace as it can easily beat other plans on price.

Even without a public option, the other measures will destroy the competitive nature of the marketplace and force players out. You can't fix prices, make insurance companies cover expensive customers with preexisting conditions at the same prices as the healthy, and all the rest, decreasing the profit incentive of companies and expect them to remain. Some insurance companies are chomping at the bit for the reform because compelling people to buy insurance means more revenue. Other companies, however, have been smart enough to look past the short term gains and realize that greater government control of their industry will be bad for them in the long run.

There are some great ways to increase competition and choice, but, like most things, it involves less government action, not more and I'll discuss those options later.

7. Cut the deficit. I'm not sure that anybody really believes this one. Hell, even SNL has made fun of it. It's true the CBO said the deficit would go down, but it has to score based purely on what's written and the bills presented to it (at least the public ones since other drafts the Democrats had it score weren't made public) were full of all sorts of creative accounting shenanigans. For example, having ten years of revenue but only six years of spending, pulling money from Medicare, double counting money by crediting health care with money that's already designated for other government programs like Social Security, cutting payment amounts to doctors that Congress always includes in budgets only to negate it in later bills, and more. Credibility had to be strained on multiple fronts just to make it appear to work. If you've ever looked at government mandatory spending, however, it never goes down; it only goes up. With typical government efficiency, it will only get worse.

So, all told, I argue that none of the claimed benefits will obtain. They won't obtain individually and they certainly won't obtain in combination.

So what to do? Here are my proposals. New list!

1. Allow competition across state lines. Right now, you can only buy insurance in state. This automatically limits competition. It also means that residents of certain states (I'm looking at you, California!) must pay much more for their policies than resident of other states, often due to oppressive regulation and requirements by the state governments. Buying across state lines will increase competition not only among the companies but also among the states which will be forced to modify their regulations and requirements in such a way that it makes their companies competitive.

2. Either get rid of the fool tax policy incentivizing employer-based health insurance or extend it to individual policies. I don't want health insurance through my boss. I want my insurance to be a policy I own, that I directly pay for, and that I can take with me no matter what job I do or where I move. As it is, you have many people who might prefer to leave their job and do something else or even to start their own business, but they don't because they're afraid of losing their health insurance. Liberals agree that employer-based insurance isn't ideal, but their solution in greater government control is wrong. The real solution is a fairly simple matter of removing the overwhelming incentive for workers and bosses to want employer-based insurance.

The first option is to remove the tax privilege for employer insurance. If businesses can longer offer it as a tax deduction, they will be less likely to provide. For employees, if compensation as health benefits is taxable, they'll have no reason to want it from their employer. It would be better if the health benefits compensation is converted into wages and people can then buy policies on the open individual market just like any other type of insurance. The result would be much greater diversity and competition in the individual health insurance market. Right now, insurance companies do very little to compete for individuals since that's not where most people get their health insurance. They instead compete for companies. This in itself creates a conflict of interests in that the insurers must cater to and operate primarily in the interests of what the employers want and only tangentially what the consumers themselves want. When the insurers must compete directly for consumers, they must, like in any other market, offer a number of different types of policies catering to different preferences and at better prices in order to compete with other companies.

The second option is to extend the tax privileges to the individual market. With this, the money I spend on a individual policy would become non-taxable income (we could have a special 1099 form and everything). Employers could also provide a health benefits wage that would go directly to an insurer as would be a tax deduction for the business. Again, the incentive to have a policy through the employer is eliminated and the individual market is fostered.

3. Get rid of state-mandated required coverage items. I should have the opportunity to get the kind of coverage I want and not be forced into getting more than I need. Right now, both because of the state requirements and the fact that employers only offer a few policies that are one size fits all for their workforce, you're insured against any number of things that will not or are unlikely to be a problem for you. I, for example, am quite willing to forgo insurance for cervical cancer, getting my tubes tied, or for birth control pills. I am also willing to forgo coverage for diabetes, breast cancer, and STD's. While it's possible I could get one or more the last ones, due to my known history and behavior, I judge the chances of any of them befalling me to be sufficiently low that coverage for them is unnecessary. In the process, I am willing to accept the risk of non-coverage as well as the consequences should they happen to me.

The reason I want this is two-fold. First, it would make policies much cheaper for many people since they will have to be insured against fewer things. Second, it increases the competition that is possible within the market. With a wide variety of things that states require must be covered, you have reduced the possible product differentiation in the market and turned policies into less of a variable good and more into a standard commodity. This isn't in the consumers' best interest.

The down side is that policies for people who want or need certain conditions covered would be more expensive than plans with less coverage. This, however, is simply natural in any market. The more features you need or want, the more expensive it will be. And with insurance, the more you want to be insured against, thereby increasing chances of payouts, means you must pay more. This is just how insurance works and health insurance shouldn't be different. With a healthy individual market, even these plan prices will be better than in the current system.

4. Expand the role of Health Savings Accounts (HSA). This is a dandy idea that was started back in 2003. This allows you to deposit a potion of your wages into an account as non-taxable income. This money can then be used to pay for medical care and whatever is unspent in a given year will roll over, allowing you to accumulate funds. The money in the fund can then be used to pay for health care expenses. Why this is great is that consumers are suddenly spending their own money for health care. Because it's their own money, they will become much more concerned with the prices for care and will shop for what they judge to be the best use of their dollars. This in turn will encourage competition among providers who must now use price as a competitive factor. You will consequently see more efficient operations, better prices, better care, and more transparency. Many doctors would likely prefer being paid in this manner since it means they get paid immediate for services rendered instead of weeks for months wait between appointments and reimbursements from the government and insurance companies. It also means less paperwork and less staffing. That equates to greater efficiency and greater profits.

Ideally, I would like a solid HSA combined with a high deductible policy. Any ordinary health expenses would be paid out of the HSA (and heck, if enough is saved up, even unusual stuff, say, if a person really wants cosmetic surgery) and the insurance policy is still there for catastrophic coverage in case of serious injury or illness. The high deductible policy, especially on a healthy individual market, would be much cheaper than first dollar policies. So let's an HSA that can take $5,000 a year and a policy with a $5,000 deductible (or more if your finances can absorb the gap). That would be much better than the current system and create much greater responsibility among consumers who are increasingly insulated from costs and some of whom are beginning to think any kind of copay is too much.

What could be done then is raising the cap on how much can be contributed towards a plan in a given year. Money put into an HSA should also be allowed to be used to purchase a high-deductible policy, which is not now the case.


Branch Interference

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 12:00 pm

Obama does like to play Chicago-style politics.  Politics itself is a rough business, but the O has taken it to a weird public degree that does not respect the separation of the branches.  Recall how he chastised the Supreme Court during his State of the Union address.  He appears to be up to something similar again.

Somehow or another during the 2008 election, I got on the e-mail list for Organizing for America, Obama's permanent campaign group, which uses barackobama.com.  Well, since it's a permanent campaign, I still get e-mails from them.  The current batch is a multi-day plan of action for OFA faithful to try to help get the Democrats' health care reform passed. 

So starting today, we're launching an unprecedented week-long campaign sprint — our "Final March for Reform." Each day until the vote, we'll feature a powerful new way for OFA supporters to speak out in our communities and weigh in directly with Congress.

Day 1 was to "get the facts out." 

Today, we'll start by spreading the facts about reform in our communities. Smears and falsehoods have clouded this debate — Congress must understand that if they pass reform, their constituents will know the truth about what we've finally achieved.

I'm assuming they mean to distribute what they consider facts.  After looking at them, though, I think a more appropriate interpretation would be to get the facts out of the debate, i.e. remove them.  The first "fact" is, "If you have health insurance through your employer and you like your plan, you can keep it."  Frankly, I'm surprised they're still using this canard.  If I have health insurance through my employer, it's not my decision on whether I keep my plan.  It's my employer's.

Anyway, the disturbing part is day 2's call to action:

President Obama has called for the House to vote to move health reform forward as early as next week. Your representative, Rep. Mark Kirk [for some reason, they think I live in Illinois -DD], voted last fall to allow insurance companies to continue to jack up rates, drop coverage when folks need it the most, and discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions.

Now, we're in the final march for reform and there's one last chance to do the right thing. Please call Rep. Kirk today and let them know there is a political price to favoring big insurance companies over the American people — OFA supporters in Illinois have pledged 400,168 volunteer hours to fight for candidates who support reform.

My guess is these were sent out to OFA subscribers and customized per district.  I don't know what the ones say for people who live in districts whose representatives did vote for Obamacare.  The troubling part here is that the President's campaign arm is blatantly threatening representatives and encouraging its minions to do the same.  That seems at best improper.  Trying to convince people is one thing.  Advising people to contact their representatives if they want the rep to vote a particular way is ok too.  But to throw this kind of threat out there publicly is not respecting the separation of the branches, is unseemly, and makes Obama come off as a thug.


My Current Thoughts on Politics and Other Things

Filed under: General — Dangerous Dan @ 7:38 pm

The Democrats' current fixation with health care reform and the lengths to which they'll go in order to obtain it are impressive while utterly wrong and politically suicidal. I also find their behavior, especially their determination to use reconciliation, profoundly undemocratic. The blowback from the maneuver, if used, will be immense. A good number of Democratic representatives and senators will likely lose their seats in the this year's midterm elections. And they know this will be the case if they keep pushing the issue and in the way they're pushing it because either or both have become so immensely unpopular with their constituents. But they keep going. We must then ask why they would be so willing to sacrifice themselves, their political capital, and possibly even their party's Congressional majorities? Obama, Pelosi, and Reid have been framing the reform as a necessary good for which there is some kind of moral imperative. In the face of Democratic Congressional losses, they have advocated that their legislators must have the courage to pass reform even if it means sacrificing themselves and their party's dominance.

What kind of courage is this? It's described as some kind of personal courage to risk self-sacrifice. It's put in terms of consequences to the person and the party. In reality, however, the courage in question is the courage to defy the will of the people. Obama has said in the past that if constituents don't like their legislators' decisions, they can fix that at the next election, and that's certainly true. This kind of vote only fixes a problem that already exists, though. It's a corrective measure, not a preventative one. Voting, however, is also meant to be preventative. If you are an elected representative and you discover it's unlikely you will win reelection, then that is an indication your constituents have a problem with you and you have an opportunity to make corrections. If you go against their will and what they desire, then you're not acting as a representative and you will accordingly be replaced with someone who will behave and vote in line with the constituents' wills. What is galling, then, is that many of the elected so-called representatives in Congress would continue to pursue health care reform and use certain tactics even though it means they lose reelection since this likely loss indicates that the representative is defying the will of the people.

Certainly, a representative may not perfectly match up with his constituents' desires on all issues and votes and many voters may not particularly care about many issues. A politician can also tack in different directions, against the constituents' will in some cases while with it in others and the latter often enough to preserve their favor. In this case, however, this single issue of health care reform is enough to determine voters' intent at the next election such that nearly no amount of currying their favor will be sufficient to save the politicians' skins this November. This means their will on this issue is particularly strong and deserves their representatives' deference.

So the representatives who are at great risk are not being representative at all. I suppose someone could claim they are demonstrating leadership, another position Obama has taken. Good leaders must occasionally defy their followers in order to do what is right, best, or simply necessary (and Obama would likely claim all three are in effect for his reform). But this doesn't wash. First, leaders must have followers and the people have increasingly shown their unwillingness to follow in this matter. If leaders are going to be effective, they must be able to communicate the rightness, superiority, and necessity of their chosen course of action such that the followers will truly follow. Given that Obama and the Democrats have had a year to accomplish this and have been unsuccessful indicates not that the message has been poorly communicated as Obama claims (indeed, how he is supposed to be both a gifted rhetorician and great communicator and also a man unable to sway majorities to his side after a year of trying is unknown). Instead, it indicates that the message itself and its content have been rejected. Finally, in this leader-follower relationship, the leaders have no authority in their own right. Their right to govern is not absolute, is not handed down from above, nor are they installed in a position of managerial authority over others. It comes from the consent of the governed themselves. This means the leadership abilities of the leaders is stunted. They are not free to defy the will of the people to do what they judge what is right, best, or necessary, especially when it comes to long-term, well considered legislation (as opposed to, say, responses to crises when there is no time to determine the will or passions are inflamed). The majority opposition in public opinion to the Democrats' reform has been constant for months and any changes only see it grow larger. Indeed, the more people learn about the plan, the less they like it. Our leaders can try to sway public opinion, and in this they have clearly failed. The governed have determined that the proposed reform is not right, best, or necessary and, much like the politicians cannot continue to be representatives when they do not representative the will of their constituents, they cannot be leaders when they pointedly defy those who provide them with the right to lead.

What are we then left with? If the Democratic majorities continue to push their reform in defiance of the people, then they act as elitist paternalistic tyrants who seek not to follow the people's will, but who seek to force the people into compliance with their will.

And elitist paternalism it is, which disgusts me. Some people need the guidance of those who necessarily know better than them. Moreover, the knowledge, wisdom, morals, and judgment of these people are so deficient that they can easily and almost constantly cause both themselves and others harm without the proper guidance of others. Because these people lack even the basic abilities to properly care for their daily physical well-being or direct their efforts towards what should be their rational self-interest, they often require the attentions and ministrations of their superiors who will provide for them and direct them and they are as a result quite dependent on their superiors. These people exist. These people are called children.

I, however, like most other citizens of our good republic, am not a child. I am an adult. As such, I possess sufficient knowledge, wisdom, morals, and judgment to operate and preserve myself and others. I can care for myself and my own dependents, can direct my efforts, judge what is in my self-interest, set goals, etc. And where I do not have or cannot do these things, it is at least within reach of my abilities and only I bear the blame for their absence or for accepting the risk of their absence. I need not have others determine for me what I will do as would a parent to a child. I need not have my options restricted, my behavior manipulated, or my hand forced in order that I may do what others have determined it is my best interest to do. Indeed, it is in no other human's purview to decide what is best for me. Yet this is what paternalism does and worse.

By restricting my options and funneling me down into preset paternalistic notions of what I should do and what I should want, not only is my liberty restricted, but so is my ability to pursue what I consider to be happiness. If I am going to be treated like a child by those who have decided they are my and others' paternalistic superiors, then I am no longer in a position to determine what should be happiness. Indeed, this is one of the many threats of all the paternalist favors granted by governments. The beneficiaries of the favors are handed a vision of what others decide should be best for them and the favors push them into accepting that vision instead of determining their own happiness. What they want and what makes them happy were determined not by them but by someone else. Those who are compelled to pay for the favors are also restricted since with fewer funds, they have a lessened ability to pursue what makes them happy and are slowly forced to conform to what the paternalistic few determine.

And still it get worse. Paternalism creates a terrible dependency. Children are necessarily dependent on others. Adults, however, are made to be dependent. Among the abuses heaped upon slaves is that they become dependent on their oppressors. They cannot be independent as they are dependent upon the owner for their food, housing, place in society, and for their very survival. Paternalism fares no better. It throws chains on people, only instead of being done with a fist, it's done with a smile. The newly enslaved are told it's for their own good and that they need the guidance of others in order to succeed. And the dependent believe them. More damage surely was done by the hard-fisted slave owners of the antebellum South, but the damage wrought by smiling liberals from the 60's on can't be too far behind. Only the latter is in some ways more insidious. When somebody abuses and oppresses you, openly restricts your freedom, and creates an obvious and personal dependency even though all the while they may say it's for your own good and that you need the guidance… it's easy to know the enemy. But when somebody keeps you down through the myriad machinations of society and government, covertly restricts your freedoms through your own acceptance of its restrictions and creates an anonymous dependency to an anonymous system while being smiled at and being told it's for your own good and that you need the guidance, and you believe them… the enemy is far less obvious.

Minorities and the poor have suffered most from this smiling paternalism through untold measures that generate dependency on the government and on those who grant the favors, though they're not alone and its scope is ever expanding. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, minimum wage, affirmative action, the projects and other government housing, food stamps, now health care and any number of other programs which create not independence, but dependence and all by the paternalistic few who have determined what's best for others. And like some kind of Stockholm Syndrome, the recipients think that's true, no matter what damage they face, no matter what stagnation they suffer, no matter how they may fail to advance or better their conditions over not just years, but decades. The paternal few implicitly ensure them through word and deed that the unfortunate just aren't quite qualified enough to achieve on their own or direct themselves. They need the help and guidance of the paternal few. They'll call it a hand up. The paternalistic few will smile and will grasp hands with the unfortunate many and both sides will tug slightly while never pulling. Instead of pulling them up, they are merely suspended. But don't worry. A new program will always make sure they get pulled up and always tomorrow.

And still it gets worse. The necessary paternalism set over children has a particular goal, namely its own destruction. The dependency of children is supposed to be temporary and parents raise their children and direct them in such a way that they will one day be sufficiently able to be independent of the parents' direction, that their paternalism will no longer be necessary. The paternalism over adults, however, seeks not its own destruction, but its own perpetuation. Rather than taking children and turning them into adults, it takes adults and turns them into children. It infantilizes them and makes them more dependent, not less. And, tragically, the more dependent they become where they allow others to make their important decisions and to direct their lives, the less able they are to direct their own lives and make important decisions. Unlike with children where paternalism builds up abilities, the paternalism over adults breaks them down. In the process, the paternalism becomes self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating. In saying that people require the well-intentioned guidance of their so-called superiors and then imposing it, it creates people who then slowly begin to actually require it and then who continue to need it since their ability to operate without it has been destroyed. And so the paternalism will continue to be offered and only enslave more people and more generations.

And still it gets worse. The dependent will want more of it and even begin to demand it as they thrust out their hands for the chains. And more people who did not previously benefit will want to be included as well. Because there is a strange freeing aspect in not having to worry about things or having to make the big decisions. Indeed, many liberals argue for government paternalism on the grounds that its positive action is necessary for people to truly achieve their potential, possible freedom, potential, fulfillment, etc. If people are free from want, they are free to do more with their lives. But this freedom of being protected from decisions, from self-determination, from hardship, from effort, from risk, from responsibility, from blame, from duty, from obligation is not the freedom of men and women, it is the freedom of boys and girls; of children. The inherent freedom of humans is the freedom to choose for oneself without undue restriction or guidance resulting from compulsion. It's to make decisions and choices. It's not the freedom to achieve, it's the freedom to try to achieve while sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing.

I suppose I could be accused of being paternalistic myself in that I seem to be arguing that I know what's best for others. But I advocate that's what's best for anyone is that they have the freedom to decide what's best for themselves. I seek not to guide anyone but to let them guide themselves; not to treat them like children, but to treat them like adults.

We need to strip away the manifestations of paternalism, not add more.

Notes (possibly unrelated):
– I'm advocating from a position of natural rights and negative rights. That means your freedoms still aren't unlimited, e.g. you're not free to assault and murder. You're not free to do things, even those that make you happy, that fail to fulfill others' negative rights.

– I don't know that there's a hierarchy of freedoms necessarily, but perhaps at least those of differing levels of importance. Many on the left, for example, are obsessed with expanding sexual freedoms. While perhaps unwise, I'm not against this in and of itself, especially when it entails expanding legal freedoms, i.e. less paternalism on the part of government in determining how people should behave. But far less import is often given to other freedoms and/or they are restricted. Campus speech codes, fairness doctrine, pushing back religion in public entities, guns, etc. All these other freedoms, however, are uniquely human while sexual freedoms are not. Nearly all animals engage in sex. Only humans, though, engage in speech, religion, press, freedom to assemble, et al. In other words, the freedom the left pushes most is bestial while they are willing to sacrifice human freedoms. While I'd prefer to push forward all freedoms, if I have to prioritize them, I'll go for human freedoms over bestial ones and I will oppose those who try for the reverse.

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