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Pass the Bill So We Can Find Out Who Wrote It

November 19, 2014 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Obama

FrankenG-640-LIIt’s ironic that conservatives are outraged over MIT healthcare economist Jonathan Gruber’s comments about lack of transparency being necessary to pass Obamacare due to Americans’ stupidity. It’s conservatives who saw through bill architects’ obfuscation and contempt for voters’ intelligence, and liberal suckers who fell prey to their sweet nothings.

Consider Gruber’s history of tricking liberals by “misspeaking”:

The Supreme Court will soon hear the case of King v. Burwell to reconcile disparate lower court rulings regarding whether the federal government can create a healthcare exchange with tax credits for the 37 states that decided not to set up their own Obamacare exchanges. Though the administration claims that the failure to specify the legitimacy of establishing a federal exchange is a typo—and the left believed it—Philadelphia accountant Rich Weinstein caught Gruber on tape arguing in favor of the funding stipulation as a necessary feature to get states to set up their own exchanges.

Recently Weinstein unearthed video of Gruber admitting at a conference at the University of Pennsylvania, “This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies… [I]f you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in… it would not have passed… Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really really critical for the thing to pass.”

Gruber claimed that his remarks were “off the cuff” and inaccurate.

Then Gruber was caught in a second video saying the same thing. Gruber again claimed that he misspoke.

Then Gruber was caught in a third video saying the same thing. Once again, Gruber claimed that he misspoke.

Then Gruber was caught in a fourth video saying the same thing. Gruber isn’t even bothering to defend himself anymore.

Obama spokesman Josh Earnest disavowed Gruber’s comments, claiming that they don’t represent the views of the administration—though Obama once claimed he had “stolen ideas from [Gruber] liberally.” Obama paid Gruber $400,000 of taxpayers’ money for the privilege of incorporating those ideas into Obamacare.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi went further, saying she didn’t know who Gruber was and that “he didn’t help write our bill.” Then video emerged of Pelosi citing Gruber by first and last name and institutional affiliation, and commenting on the pivotal role he had played in shaping the bill’s cost-cutting measures. Pelosi’s spokesman lamely responded, “She said she doesn’t ‘know who he is,’ not that she’s never heard of him.”

To paraphrase Pelosi, I guess we have to pass the law so we can find out who wrote it.

Meanwhile, visitor logs show that Gruber attended 19 meetings at the White House to discuss the bill.

As Slate’s John Dickerson points out, the left played up Gruber’s influence on Massachusetts’ health care bill before the 2012 presidential election, and argued that Gruber’s Obamacare ideas were identical to those that influenced Romneycare. If the left can use Gruber to bash Romney, then the right can certainly use him to indict Obama.

Even The New York Times called Gruber a liar for not disclosing his sole-source consulting contract with the Department of Health and Human Services before penning a pro-Obamacare column in their pages.

Conservatives saw through the administration’s lack of transparency and paternalistic attitude all along. Obama and Gruber’s constituents were the ones who were snookered.

Let’s see: Was it The Washington Times that was stupid enough to be taken in by Gruber’s lies about the amazing cost-cutting properties of Obamacare? Was it FOX News? Was it conservative radio hosts? No, it was The New York Times, whose editors desperately wanted to believe Gruber’s reassuring lies.

Was it economist Thomas Sowell who gushed over Gruber’s rosy projections? Was it George Will? Was it Charles Krauthammer? No, it was liberal columnist Ron Brownstein (among many others), who published a 2,600-word puff piece on Obamacare in The Atlantic, parroting Gruber’s claims without bothering to learn or report that Gruber had a paid contract with the administration.

Brownstein’s article was so influential that President Obama declared it “mandatory reading for all senior staff… [E]veryone involved in, or covering, the health care debate should see the piece.” Brownstein centered his story around Gruber’s analysis, citing Gruber five times in the first three paragraphs. Yet we’re supposed to believe that Gruber had no influence on the bill.

The Democratic National Committee invoked Gruber’s name and contributions to Obamacare in 71 emails to subscribers. Liberal politicians who lauded Gruber include Obama, Pelosi, Harry Reid, and John Kerry. Yet we’re supposed to accept that no one in the party ever heard of Gruber or absorbed his ideas.

Left-wing politicians and wonks uncritically cited Gruber’s work as evidence that Obamacare would insure 30 million more Americans, all while lowering costs, increasing choice, but failing to hire a single new doctor. How gullible can you get?

Obamacare authors’ failure to see how thoroughly most Americans rejected their scam reveals how transparently stupid they are.

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The Consequences of Democracy

July 09, 2014 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Obama

republicAs House Speaker John Boehner prepares his lawsuit against President Obama for excessive and illegal use of executive orders, consider that Obama’s behavior over the past five-and-a-half years reflects his having governed as though this country were a democracy.

As Hamilton Abert Long pointed out in his bicentennial volume The American Ideal of 1776, democracy—not “democracy” as in the feature of many political systems whereby everyone gets to participate in government—but the specific form of government that goes by that name, is not only dissimilar to republicanism (the system we live under) but its polar opposite.

Democracy as a system of government embodies unlimited majority rule, or majority rule without safeguards to protect the rights of the minority and individuals. The majority is omnipotent and can rule however it wants, no matter how shabbily it treats everyone else, so long as it can get fifty percent-plus-one representatives to agree.

In contrast, republicanism is about limited majority rule, specifically majority rule with safeguards built into a written constitution to protect the liberty of individuals and the minority, and with checks and balances among branches of government to prevent the tyranny of a few elite rulers.

The modern-day Democratic Party embodies the principles of a democracy, and the Republican Party embodies the principles of a republic. The unlimited majority rule that characterizes a democracy catalyzes a number of illegitimate governing tactics, all of which have been legion in the Obama presidency. For example:

  • Haste and recklessness

If all that matters is getting a majority to support your position, then why waste time letting people contemplate the implications of major legislation?

The brand-new Obama administration and Democratic Congress routinely broke promises to post bills online for 48 hours for voters to read. Democrats tried to rush Obamacare through Congress without having read it or become familiar with its details, while tossing major provisions in and out of the legislation willy-nilly in an effort to get something passed before the public started to object too strongly. And Harry Reid’s Democratic-controlled Senate refused, for three consecutive years, to pass or propose a federal budget as required by law, which resulted in an endless series of panicky, last-minute continuing resolutions and threats of fiscal cliffs that put Republicans on the defensive.

  • Cheating and rule-bending

If you can convince the public that it’s OK to use whichever tactics are necessary to accomplish an important goal, then why not use that consensus as political cover for actions you otherwise wouldn’t legally be allowed to take?

Democrats tried every maneuver under the sun to pass Obamacare, inappropriately using budget reconciliation to overcome a non-filibuster-proof Senate majority and attempting sleazy schemes like “deem and pass” and the Cornhusker Kickback. Recently Obama has announced endless delays and special breaks for various interest groups in implementing Obamacare, in an attempt to postpone the electoral consequences of carrying out its unpopular provisions.

Consider liberal cheating at the ballot box: Al Gore’s push for hand recounts using loosened standards in select counties in the 2000 Florida Presidential recount, or Al Franken stealing a Minnesota Senate election by finding a judge to approve alternative vote-counting standards. Or liberal double standards regarding appointed seats: Massachusetts Democrats withholding Governor Mitt Romney’s right to appoint a successor to John Kerry in 2004 and then changing the rules so Governor Deval Patrick could fill Ted Kennedy’s seat, or liberal Mayor Mike Bloomberg supporting the law that prevented Rudy Guiliani from serving more than two terms and then pushing to suspend it so he could serve three terms.

  • Usurping other branches’ powers

If other branches of government or private parties won’t cooperate in helping you enact your schemes, then why let checks and balances or limits on rule get in your way?

Consider Obama’s aforementioned inappropriate use of executive powers, including directing the EPA to enact carbon dioxide restrictions after Congress wouldn’t pass a bill doing so; making hiring and firing decisions for automobile manufacturers and banks; capping executive pay for companies that took bailout money; nationalizing the student loan system; appointing dozens of unaccountable czars; and unilaterally and illegally declaring dozens of delays to Obamacare.

  • Hypocrisy

If the integrity of political tactics doesn’t matter, only achieving your desired outcomes, then why bother to be consistent in which behaviors you condemn and which you practice?

Obama decried all of Bush’s post-9/11 security policies as a campaign strategy, then adopted almost all of them as his own once in office. Liberals loudly protested the Iraq War at townhall meetings under President George W. Bush, then denounced voters who attended townhall meetings to confront their representatives about Obamacare. And the left accused conservatives of politicizing the Benghazi attacks after the 2012 election, then got indignant when Republicans produced evidence that the administration had politicized the IRS audit process before the 2012 election.

  • Intimidation

If those out of power aren’t cooperating with your plans, then what’s wrong with reminding them of their place and putting your boot on their necks?

The administration threatened to sic the Department of Homeland Security on Tea Partiers; unleashed the IRS to subject conservative groups to extra scrutiny before the 2012 election; asked supporters to send along “fishy” information on Obamacare and the email addresses of those who sent it; and tried to regulate the Internet and talk radio to ensure “balanced” content.

*

The left denounces Boehner’s lawsuit as folly. Perhaps it won’t prevail in the courts. But a key feature of a republic is that the majority in power can’t just do whatever it wants if its actions violate rights enshrined in the constitution. If they try, officials in other branches of government can step in and try to curb their power. And that is exactly what suing the President is intended to accomplish.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Supreme Court’s Drama Queen

July 02, 2014 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Health Care

???????????????If Justice Clarence Thomas is the Supreme Court’s intellectual leader, surely Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is its resident drama queen.

On Monday the Supreme Court decided 5-4 in favor of craft supply store Hobby Lobby and cabinet maker Conestoga Wood Specialties, which filed suits against the federal government in 2012 opposing Obamacare’s mandate that they offer 20 birth control methods to employees or pay fines of up to $1.3 million daily.

The Court ruled that these “closely held” family-owned businesses aren’t obligated to offer 4 out of 20 birth control options they object to, at least one of which is considered an abortifacent or “morning-after pill.” Such a requirement, the Court ruled, violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Mitigating the left’s inevitable claim that the ruling constitutes another salvo in the war on women, here are all the things female Hobby Lobby and Conestoga employees can do if they don’t like the decision:

  • Use one of the other 16 methods of birth control Hobby Lobby and Conestoga offer;
  • Pay out-of-pocket for one of the 4 methods not offered;
  • Apply for government-funded coverage directly from insurers, just as employees of non-profits who object to paying for birth control can do, to obtain one of these 4 methods;
  • If it’s that big a deal to them to work for an employer that makes Sandra Fluke happy, choose one of the 8 million other companies in the country who offer all 20 methods.

Instead, the White House is jabbering about setting up a federal fund to pay for birth control, and Senate Democrats are chewing over legislation to ensure that every woman in America has free morning-after pills perpetually at her fingertips.

Meanwhile, back on the bench, three of the four liberal Justices had the sense to cast their votes and then keep their contorted reasoning to themselves.

But leave it to the histrionic Ginsburg, who gets inspiration for deciding Supreme Court cases from the opera, to hyperventilate for 35 pages about the disastrous consequences of the majority decision in a separate dissent.

Here are a few nuggets from Ginsburg’s jeremiad:

Ginsburg claims that the decision will wreak “havoc” on society. She argues that birth control facilitated women’s entry into the labor force, and that not requiring every employer to give out free morning after pills will drive women back to a barefoot and pregnant state of existence.

Ginsburg warns that the decision will require “the government, i.e., the general public, [to] pick up the tab” for birth control pills if employers don’t cover them. But only in the fevered imagination of a liberal does a commercial transaction require the federal government to either (1) force some private party to pay for it or (2) force taxpayers to subsidize it. How about individuals who want it buy it themselves?

In the most sweeping section of her dissent, Ginsburg slams the Citizens United (2010) decision and analogizes the two cases, claiming there is “no support for the notion that free exercise rights pertain to for-profit corporations. Until this [Hobby Lobby] litigation, no decision of this Court recognized a for-profit corporation’s qualification for a religious exemption from a generally applicable law.”

She adds, “The absence of such precedent is just what one would expect, for the exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities.” To which I would respond: Tell that to Marriott Hotel, which phased out pay-per-view adult TV and stocks its rooms with The Book of Mormon; In-N-Out Burger and Forever 21, which print Bible verses on their packaging; Whole Foods, whose CEO incorporates Buddhist philosophy into his management practices; and dozens of other corporations whose religions motivate their values.

Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, who agreed with Ginsburg’s ruling, politely distanced themselves from large chunks of her nutty rantings, averring, “We need not and do not decide whether either for-profit corporations or their owners may bring claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.”

Is it any wonder that a justice who thinks government has the right to trample on people’s checkbooks when they refuse to buy a product on the private market also thinks it’s OK to force citizens to follow a law even if it tramples on their religious freedom?

Ginsburg gives the game away when she writes, “The state may justify an inroad on religious liberty by showing that it is the least restrictive means of achieving some compelling state interest.”

So Ginsburg thinks it’s peachy to crush religious liberties if that’s the least painful way to ensure some crucial government goal—in this case, the left’s century-long dream of socialized medicine.

Come to think of it, if I were a liberal who had been drooling over the fantasy of national health care for 81 years and faced the prospect of having it snatched away, I might react dramatically, too.

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What You Don’t Know Will Make You Vote Democratic

April 23, 2014 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Health Care

originalLately the media have been trotting out their timeworn strategy of lecturing the public that the only reason Democrats face imminent electoral trouble is that people are too stupid to know any better.

The New York Times recently published a front-page story warning that those who benefit most from Obamacare are the ones who are least likely to vote in this fall’s midterm elections.  (Would that Democrats were lucky enough for that trend to continue, given the miserable experience signups have had finding affordable plans, competent doctors, and timely appointments.)

The problem, according to the Times, isn’t that Obamacare stinks—it’s that those for whom it was designed can’t comprehend the immeasurable largesse Democrats have generously bestowed upon them.

For example, young people who investigate what’s available to them and decide that their money could better be spent on things like paying back student loans for the college tuition Democrats artificially drove up, are shortsighted and don’t realize that they could at any moment fall out of a tree or acquire Zucotti Lung.  Millennials couldn’t possibly be smart enough to have researched the healthcare exchanges’ premiums, deductibles, and copays and made a rational choice about where their limited funds should go.  No—they’re too focused on booze and birth control.

Meanwhile, Republicans are allegedly busy spinning fantasies about the law and using ignorance and fear to drum up opposition to the bill. Representative David E. Price (D-NC) says of the health care debate and rollout, “There was an ability to exploit the unknown, to exploit the fear of people losing something that they have.”  An ability to exploit the fear of people losing something that they have?  Does Price think that that might have anything to do with the fact that people lost something that they had?  Is it “exploiting the fear” of losing your baby if I point out that a kidnapper is about to run off with your stroller?

Jonathan Martin, author of the Times piece, reiterates Obama supporters’ point that because Obamacare wasn’t designed to be a universal, single-payer system like Social Security or Medicare, that made it easier for Republicans to dupe voters into seeing it as a wealth transfer from rich to poor.  So a less universal transfer scheme involves greater redistribution than a more universal transfer scheme?  Who does Martin think was going to pay for that universal, single-payer program—the mountain folk of Appalachia?

The media treat voters who are eligible to receive coverage, yet leery about accepting it, as either morons for not accepting free goodies from the government or monsters who want their communities to suffer.  (Isn’t it liberals who are always accusing conservatives of being selfish and caring only about themselves?)

In an unguarded—and ill-advised—departure from script at the end of his press conference last Thursday, President Obama let loose the following tirade: “You have 5 million people who could be having health insurance right now at no cost to these states, zero cost to these states, other than ideological reasons, [Republican governors] have chosen not to provide health insurance for their citizens.”

Zero cost to these states—other than high startup costs at a time when most states are groping their way through budget crises, and the dollars they must shell out after three years once the free money from the federal government stops rolling in.  Given his track record with blanket promises and black-and-white declarations on the glories of Obamacare, the President might want to modulate his healthcare assurances in the future.

The left refuses to acknowledge the existence of principled, thoughtful opposition to Obamacare.

But it’s liberals’ stupidity that got us into our current mess.

Skilled doctors are the centerpiece of our world-renowned healthcare system, and training new doctors is an expensive, labor-intensive process that takes more than a decade.  Yet liberals touted Obamacare as a humane, utopian scheme that would somehow manage to cover millions more people and save billions of dollars—all without adding any new doctors to the rolls.

Suppose we grant liberals’ declaration that they’re wiser than conservatives.  What good is a high IQ if it leads you to believe crap like that?

Liberals always accuse conservatives of being anti-intellectual, but there’s something to be said for common-sense insight.  And it’s sad when some of the supposedly most intelligent minds in our society produce a destructive policy like Obamacare—then sneer at young, low-income, and minority voters for being too dumb to recognize the brilliance of their benevolent overlords.

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Obamacare Enrollment Counted Using Common Core Math Standards

March 26, 2014 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Health Care

ABC-Diane-Sawyer-Obamacare-numbers-release-11-13-2013-620x427Last year the Congressional Budget Office estimated that Obamacare would enroll 7 million customers by March 31, 2014, a number the administration subsequently adopted as its goal.  As it became clear that that target would remain elusive, the administration proceeded to move goalposts and extend deadlines so that they would be able to claim, at the end of the open enrollment period, that they had succeeded.

Despite all their cheating and number-fudging, they still can’t make that claim.

On October 23, 2013, after three weeks of dismal healthcare.gov performance, President Obama extended the deadline for complying with the individual mandate from February 15 to March 31, 2014.

On November 22, he extended the deadline for those who wished to receive coverage starting January 1 from December 15 to December 23.

On December 12, he strong-armed insurance companies into letting consumers make their first payments by January 10 rather than January 1.

On December 23, he extended the December 23 deadline for January coverage to December 24.

On December 24, he announced that those signing up at the last minute who were having trouble with healthcare.gov could have their enrollment deadlines extended if they could prove they had tried but failed to enroll in a plan.

In February 2014, when time was running out, the administration quietly revised its enrollment target from 7 million down to 6 million.  This would allow them to later falsely claim that their goal was never 7 million, and that they needed only 6 million enrollees for Obamacare to be sustainable.  (Note: The administration’s original projection in 2010 was 13.9 million, which means that the 7 million target was already a 50% reduction from their original expectation.)

Yet all of these tricks haven’t been enough to carry Obamacare over the finish line.  Perhaps because of the politically motivated one-year delays in the large and medium employer mandates, and the three-year delayed individual mandate for those with health plans that don’t comply with Obamacare, total enrollment isn’t predicted to hit even 6 million by March 31.

The Obama administration reported 5 million enrollees as of March 17, 2014.  Democratic activist Charles Gaba, who styles himself as a Nate Silver of Obamacare enrollment prediction, correctly foresaw the date the government would hit the 5 million mark.  He projects 5.4 million enrollees by March 31.

But Gaba admits that his estimate doesn’t factor in whether these enrollees end up paying their first monthly premiums.  Insurance companies have estimated that about 20% of so-called enrollees never make their first payment.  So even by the modified estimate of a pro-Obamacare statistician, total paid-for enrollments by the repeatedly extended deadline would be a paltry 4.3 million, or 62% of the administration’s goal.

As embarrassing as are that number and the administration’s attempts to spin it as a huge success, the crucial recruitment test is whether they get the right mix of enrollees.

Obamacare needs enrollees in the following categories, in descending order of importance: healthy young people, healthy old people, sick young people, and sick old people.  Tracking healthy and sick participants is difficult, but so far the administration has enrolled a smaller-than-desired percentage of young people.  The administration needs the enrollee base to consist of at least 40% young people, but they’ve hit only 25%.

So recruitment is well below the needed enrollment target, and well below the target percentage of young enrollees.  In addition, there’s an elephant in the room that upends all of these calculations.

Namely, it’s still the case that more people have been kicked off their plans than have enrolled and paid for plans on the federal exchange.

Even if every single exchange enrollee had been previously uninsured, the net difference between new enrollees and those who lost their plans would be negative.  But many consumers who signed up for the exchanges did so only because they were kicked off their old plans.  A recent McKinsey survey revealed that only 14% of exchange enrollees had previously been uninsured, and that most who had been insured were finding replacement coverage.

Everyone knows that it’s difficult to precisely track participation in large, unwieldy programs like Obamacare.  It’s understandable if groups for and against the legislation derive slightly higher or lower counts.  But when Democrats cut themselves break after break in interpreting the numbers, ignore qualifiers that greatly alter, mitigate, or render their counts useless, and redefine the meaning of the word “enrollment,” we’re not talking about harmless rounding error.  We’re talking about brazen mendacity.

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Obamacare Is a Negative-Sum Game

March 19, 2014 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Obama

????????????????????????????????????????????????????Democrats’ strategy for vulnerable Obamacare-supporting Congressmen up for reelection this fall seems to be: “Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative.”

That may be great advice for characters in Hollywood musicals, but it’s a lousy way to judge a shoddily-written, government-mandated, never-read-in-its-entirety-by-any-human-being takeover of one-sixth of the American economy, and voters know it.

As Democratic shill Eugene Robinson coos, “Democrats should talk about what’s right with the ACA [Affordable Care Act].  They should talk about the millions of formerly uninsured Americans who now have coverage.  They should talk about the millions of others who are covered for the first time under Medicaid.  They should talk about the young people who are able to be covered under their parents’ policies.  They should talk about the diabetics and cancer survivors who now cannot be denied coverage because of their conditions.”

First, there’s no evidence that “millions” or even a million formerly uninsured Americans have coverage.  Of the few million Americans who have signed up for coverage via the exchanges—most of whom the government can’t verify payment for—multiple large-scale surveys suggest that the overwhelming majority of these previously had insurance, and that the preponderance of the latter shopped on the exchanges because they were kicked off their old plans.  Only a sliver of the uninsured report having browsed the exchanges, let alone chosen and paid for plans.

Second, a vast expansion of a behemoth federal welfare program that’s going bankrupt isn’t something to crow about.  And ballooning Medicaid coverage can hardly be considered an integral part of a supposedly innovative healthcare redesign that was supposed to cut costs by restructuring the insurance industry and fostering vigorous competition in the private market.

Third, it’s not clear that most Americans view coddling young adults through their 20s by allowing them free coverage while living in their parents’ basements as a gain.  Voters ridiculed the administration’s recent “Pajama Boy” ad—and that guy was trying to buy insurance!

As for those with preexisting conditions who can get coverage more easily and don’t have to shell out for high-risk pools, that is a legitimate example of an Obamacare feature that is popular with the public and will do good for a lot of people.  Another such provision is “community rating,” which prevents high-risk populations such as older people and smokers from having to pay higher than a certain percentage more than their low-risk counterparts.

People with chronic illnesses, older folks, and females will do relatively better under Obamacare than the healthy, young, and male.

But we can’t just point to people who make out like bandits under Obamacare and call it a day.  There are more people who end up worse by being kicked off their plans, having to sign up for plans with more expensive premiums or deductibles, getting stuck with narrower networks of doctors and hospitals, not being hired by employers keeping their employee counts down, or having their hours cut to compensate for the cost of covering other workers.

The Manhattan Institute’s recent 49-state study of premium cost changes revealed that states like New York, Colorado, Ohio, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New Hampshire—whose state healthcare markets are already heavily regulated—will see cost declines under Obamacare, but most states will face increases.  Presumably Robinson would recommend that Democratic Senators in Colorado and New Hampshire brag about lowered Obamacare costs in their states, while vulnerable Democrats in South Dakota (77% projected increase), Arkansas (138% increase), Louisiana (53%), North Carolina (136%), Georgia (92%), Michigan (66%), and Iowa (72%)… change the subject.

Any piece of legislation that affects the citizenry must be sound in its entirety.  Each of its components must be Constitutional.  The collection together must do more good than bad.  And the bill must not do undeserved harm to any of the people it affects.

Obamacare fails on all counts.

The individual mandate is unconstitutional, despite what Supreme Court Justice John Roberts thinks.  Until recently, Obamacare had booted more insured people off their plans than it had enrolled uninsured customers.  And numerous individuals with life-threatening illnesses found their continuity of care disrupted by having to switch to plans they couldn’t afford or losing coverage for treatments or drugs they relied on.  Even Harry Reid is finally acknowledging that some of the horror stories are true—at least when they involve his constituents.

Certain provisions of Obamacare are popular, but the law isn’t “certain provisions of Obamacare,” it’s “all of it.”  I hear that certain provisions of “having a job” are popular, like “getting a salary,” but that doesn’t mean we can keep the salary without including the “getting up early” and “dealing with annoying coworkers” parts.

In the best-case scenario, Obamacare would be a zero-sum game, in which the government confiscated resources from some taxpayers and redistributed them to needy individuals.  Many would oppose such a plan, but at least we could say the gains of some balanced out the losses of others.

But Obamacare architects weren’t content to spread the wealth around; they had to upend the whole system and rewrite the rules of the game for everyone.  Now, not only do millions of Americans lose at the expense of others, the entire system suffers from the introduction of chaos, uncertainty, arbitrary dictates, and capriciously tendered waivers to politically connected cronies.

Obamacare isn’t a zero-sum game, it’s a negative-sum game.

Previously published in modified form at Red Alert Politics

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Reelecting Democrats: More Urgent Than Fixing Our Healthcare System

March 12, 2014 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Obama

vulnerable_senate_2014_democrats_ap_328Even though there hasn’t been much Obamacare news this week, more happens with the Affordable Care Act during a slow week these days than occurred during long stretches of time after it was passed in 2010.  Why?

Congressional Obamacare supporters could have spent the months and years between the bill’s signing in 2010 and its rollout in 2013 starting bill implementation, including instituting and enforcing the individual mandate.  Instead, Democrats postponed most of the bill’s provisions until after the 2012 Presidential election, because they knew that the bill was unpopular and that voters wouldn’t reelect President Obama if they suffered its damaging effects right before the election.  It was an artificial, three-and-a-half-year, Democrat-induced calm before the storm that started on October 1, when millions of cancellation notices gusted into subscribers’ mailboxes, federal and state websites crashed against shoppers’ screens, and voters with few affordable options in sight became lost at sea.

Those months and years were squandered; the administration can’t get them back.  But why is Obama continuing to postpone enforcement of the individual and employer mandates, when he claimed back in 2009 that it was so urgent for us to fix our hopelessly broken healthcare system?  It’s as though every single essential component of Obamacare turned out to be not so essential after all.  Someone should ask Obama: Do we all need insurance that covers pediatric dental care and marital counseling right now, or don’t we?  Will we need it over the next three years, or won’t we?  Obama presented his bill as necessary to avert millions of unnecessary illnesses and thousands of avoidable deaths, not to mention millions of dollars squandered on treating conditions that could have been prevented.  So how is putting off the bill’s most important provisions for years at a time helpful for the country’s health?

Does Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid think his claim that all health care horror stories are false is remotely believable, when the administration’s endless delays of Obamacare provisions are clearly designed to prevent more horror stories from circulating?  Does anyone believe that all these postponements aren’t taking place for political reasons—first the ones postponed until after the 2010 midterm elections; then those postponed until after the 2012 Presidential election; and now endless delays past the 2014 midterms, the 2016 Presidential election, and probably beyond?

A great campaign strategy to defeat Hillary Clinton, or whoever ends up being the Democratic nominee in 2016, would be to ask the candidate whether she supports all these Obamacare delays.  If she says no, then she is sharply at odds with Obama, which is politically risky.  But if she says yes, then she must be asked: How can all of these delays be good for the country, if there are tens of millions of people desperately in need of health insurance right now?  And how can a delay strategy be helpful if there are so many people with inferior insurance who are one illness away from going bankrupt?  Does Clinton want her constituents to die or go bankrupt?

Well actually, yes—many Democratic politicians wouldn’t mind, or at least would benefit politically, from more economic hardship among the electorate.  That would enable them to step in as saviors of the ever-growing downtrodden class and snare us into spending even more money on programs to support the general welfare.  Americans going bankrupt from expensive medical care would be all the more justification for Democrats to heavily regulate health insurance companies, doctors, hospitals, and medical device manufacturers.  Democrats are experts at frightening voters with nightmare scenarios about how bad things will get if Republicans deregulate the free market, and health insurance is an especially sensitive area of that market.

Speaking of scare tactics, Salon.com recently published an astonishing essay arguing that the wealthiest 1% of Americans are “sociopathic,” in that they don’t care about other human beings and enjoy attaining positions of power at companies so they can lay off workers.  This is yet another example of the left exaggerating the extent to which Republicans prefer people to fend for themselves: liberals imply that conservatives want everyone to live on an island, carry out every municipal function on his own, and refuse to work together in a community or divvy up responsibilities.  This argument, in addition to being ridiculous, is belied by the fact that conservatives voluntarily give more to charity than liberals.

Which party is really made up of sociopaths?  I say it’s the one that tells us that millions of Americans are going to die over the next few years if they don’t have adequate health insurance—and then promotes that outcome anyway for purely political reasons.

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Deconstructing Harry Reid

March 05, 2014 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Health Care

HarryReidThis could be a hunch, but I suspect vulnerable Congressional Democrats are going to regret Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid having kicked off the 2014 midterm season by declaring his party’s campaign slogan to be “All Obamacare Victims Are Liars.”

Last week, after regaling his colleagues with the glories of Obamacare, Reid warned, “Despite all that good news, there’s plenty of horror stories being told.  All of them are untrue, but they’re being told all over America.  Those tales turned out to be just that—tales, stories made up from whole cloth.”

Reid is far from the only liberal claiming Obamacare victims are an urban myth.  Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times reporter Michael Hiltzik mused, “Maybe there are no genuine Obamacare horror stories.”  Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum demanded, “Has anyone in America actually been harmed by Obamacare?”  The ever-certifiable Paul Krugman decried “Health Care Horror Hooey.”

Yet according to a recent Rasmussen survey, one third of Americans report that they personally have been hurt by Obamacare.  Projecting to the entire U.S. population, that’s an awful lot of liars.

Can we reflect for a moment on the insanity of Reid’s claim?  Supporting Obamacare because you believe it will help the needy, even if the middle class and well-off will suffer, is one thing.  And downplaying the cost of redistributing wealth through government subsidies is Democratic boilerplate.  But claiming that there is literally no downside to a law this big and complicated, that not one single person will be adversely affected by it, is borderline demented.

Consider the circles of hell Obamacare victims have wandered through in the past six months:

  • Millions have lost their health care plans
  • Many haven’t been able to find equivalent coverage due to higher premiums or deductibles
  • Some with life-threatening illnesses have lost their doctors or hospitals and watched their conditions worsen due to discontinuity of care
  • Millions have had to waste hours, days, or weeks scouring poky online exchanges to replace something they already had
  • Many are being forced to buy coverage for things they don’t need
  • Many who didn’t lose coverage are watching their premiums increase
  • Employees are having their hours cut or losing their jobs
  • The eventual enforcement of the delayed employer mandate will yield millions more policy cancellations

Yet liberals’ argument against these complaints is: “No one has been hurt by Obamacare, or if they have, it was completely unnecessary.  If only they’d spent hours researching dozens of plans and generating spreadsheets comparing premiums, coinsurance, and deductibles, they’d find a plan we think is better for them.  And if their costs are going up, it’s because greedy insurance companies raised their rates—which totally coincidentally happened right as Obamacare began.”

The left is ecstatic that they’ve been able to poke holes in the stories of a few cancer victims whose coverage was dropped and supposedly could have gotten comparable Obamacare plans.  Liberals believe that, because trained investigative reporters who consult insurance executives and interview Consumer Reports writers are able to sleuth around for hours comparing the costs of various bronze, silver, gold, and platinum plans, little old ladies who are scared of computers should be ashamed at themselves for not doing the same.

So what if a few of the horror stories aren’t as egregious as their confused victims believe?  The fact that these victims are confused by what Obamacare is doing to them while they’re trying to fight life-threatening diseases should be horrifying enough to anyone with a conscience.

Even Hiltzik admits that there are “numerous cases of individuals or families who are paying more for coverage this year than last, and possibly for less coverage than they had before.”  He concedes that provider networks are smaller than those subscribers previously had, and acknowledges that many major insurance carriers did a poor job explaining options to customers after dropping coverage.

But in Hiltzik’s mind, stories of frustration and hardship don’t rise to the level of “horror” unless patients’ Obamacare doctors are sporting hockey masks and chainsaws.

There are numerous other reliable stories out there—see the cases of Stephen Blackwood, Jeff and Victoria Haidet, Linda Deright, Tom Gialanella, and Julie Stovall—that the left hasn’t been able to deconstruct.  But liberals aren’t interested in learning whether there are any genuine Obamacare horror stories; they’re interested in snookering the public into accepting their sneers about how all such stories are false.

If Democrats don’t start acknowledging the people hurt by the fatally flawed Affordable Care Act and supporting its delay or repeal, they may be the ones with Obamacare horror stories come November.

Previously published in modified form at Red Alert Politics

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For Liberal Politicians, Lane Closure Is a Way of Life

January 22, 2014 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Miscellaneous

dmvImagine the governor of a large state closing down two lanes of the busiest bridge in the country, holding up hundreds of thousands of drivers for four days, causing delays, confusion, and lost productivity.

Now imagine the President of the United States holding up millions of online shoppers for three months, causing frustration, chaos, and anger, not to mention lost health insurance coverage and continuity of care.  Which do you think liberals would be livid about and demand federal investigations into?  Which do you think they would brush off as trivia hardly worth mentioning?

Despite the lane closings on the George Washington Bridge last September as part of the BridgeGate scandal, traffic flowed faster into Manhattan than customers were able to navigate the troubled HealthCare.gov site in its first few months of operation.  The website’s time-wasting woes included: taking whole minutes to load pages and upload input; repeatedly crashing, often after visitors had spent time entering detailed personal information; freezing up; calculating incorrect subsidies for applicants; and creating multiple accounts for the same person, thus sowing confusion over which applications were being sent to insurance companies.

But make no mistake: Democrats are still in denial about the extent of the problems that remain with HealthCare.gov.  And both the federal and state exchange sites continue to reveal comical new mishaps on a weekly basis.  The latest thigh-slapper (for those unaffected by it) is that Maryland’s health care site has been directing hundreds of callers to a pottery supply store in Seattle.  Demonstrating the rapid-fire, can-do attitude of government workers everywhere, Maryland officials didn’t just rewrite the incorrect line of code and change the number.  According to the Baltimore Sun, “A state spokeswoman said Saturday that she had no update on efforts to fix the problem.”  A problem, you’ll note, that Maryland discovered on Friday, but that has been present SINCE OCTOBER 1.  No, of course we haven’t fixed the problem yet.  First we need to form a committee to investigate how such a thing could have happened, and then we need to launch a study into the most efficient way to make the change, and then we need to draft a contingency plan for other proprietors in case this happens again…

Don’t forget the hundreds of hours of time that will be wasted after hackers inevitably penetrate the tissue-thin HealthCare.gov security protocols and start accessing hundreds of thousands of Obamacare subscribers’ personal information.  Enrollees will have to waste time tracking down the illegal charges made on their accounts, apply for new cards, and change their passwords.  A traffic jam will seem like paradise in comparison.

Or the time insurance companies and subscribers will waste sorting out the tens of thousands of erroneous transmissions resulting from the site’s pathetically high error rate, including resolving such basic details as applicants’ gender.

Or the time consumers have already wasted navigating the hundreds of fake websites mirroring the federal and state exchanges, a result of the government’s failure to take the standard precaution of purchasing similar domain names so it can redirect misguided visitors to the correct site.

Or the hundreds of hours we’ve had to waste chronicling this embarrassing rollout.

Yes, BridgeGate was perpetrated deliberately and maliciously, whereas HealthCare.gov-Gate resulted from incompetence.  But does that distinction matter to consumers who had to waste hours or days trying to sign up for a plan, who trembled in limbo for weeks or months unsure whether they had coverage, who outright lost their plans or doctors and have to hunt for new ones they can afford?

Anyway, incompetence starts to bleed into maliciousness when you look at the bigger picture.  As they say, when you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  The Obama administration had to know that by waiting until well after the 2012 election to build the site, it was setting the country up for major problems on October 1.  Those in charge of developing the site, for example, waited until the day before it launched to conduct crucial stress tests, at which point they discovered that the site froze with a mere 1,100 simultaneous users.  If allowing yourself to display that level of boneheaded ineptitude isn’t malicious, I don’t know what is.

And it’s laughable that the left now complains about the time the poor citizenry of Fort Lee lost during the traffic snafu.  Liberals are the ones who make us waste an average of 22 hours a year preparing our taxes instead of letting us institute a flat tax; who cost business owners hundreds of hours a year complying with unnecessary regulations; who force us to wait in protracted lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Post Office instead of letting us privatize these services.  These are the same people who pat themselves on the back for delivering a government service that manages to be “not a third-world experience.”

Liberals don’t care about your precious time, your property, or your quality of life.  They care only about getting and maintaining power, so they can dispense with all of the above commodities as they see fit.

The left’s raison d’être is closing lanes in every area of our lives.  At least Christie’s aides stopped their shenanigans after four days.

Previously published in modified form at Red Alert Politics

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Who Should Decide Whether Multivitamins Are Useless?

December 18, 2013 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Health Care

748269-4b723010-6779-11e3-879d-630c394bcc3dSeveral Johns Hopkins medical doctors recently published an eye-opening editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine arguing that multivitamins and nutritional supplements are a complete waste of money.  (We’ve known that for a long time about, say, Head Start and a thousand other useless government programs.  Will we be defunding them anytime soon?)

The authors discuss research that they and their colleagues conducted for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, in which they found that Vitamin B, folic acid, numerous antioxidants, and virtually all daily multivitamins have no effect in preventing heart disease or prolonging longevity.  Multivitamins may have a minor impact—much less so than eating healthy and exercising—on preventing cancer, but only in older men.

Other research found that Vitamin D was ineffective in strengthening bones; fish oil was useless for treating atrial fibrillation; and nutritional supplements had no effect on preventing dementia.  (Watching MSNBC, on the other hand, accelerated dementia onset.)  In addition, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, and beta carotene had no detectable prophylactic effects, and might even be harmful to people at risk for lung cancer.

As compelling as the Annals findings are, there are dissenters, and these don’t just include CEOs of vitamin manufacturers.  Critics note that the researchers’ conclusions apply only to people with no nutritional deficiencies—which may not describe a very large set of Americans—and that pregnant women and those with nutrient absorption problems may benefit from some multivitamins.  Methodological flaws—noncompliance in the heart health study, the fact that participants in the dementia study were all male doctors over 50—make firm conclusions difficult.

And isn’t it suspicious when researchers in some poorly understood field declare their conclusions with utter certainty, as the doctors in the Annals do?  “We believe that the case is closed—supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with (most) mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful…  Enough is enough.”  And this: “The probability of a meaningful effect is so small that it’s not worth doing study after study and spending research dollars on these questions.”  Resistance is futile—the science is settled.  Sounds eerily familiar to the tone global warming advocates use to bully skeptics into silence.

Yet there may be something to the researchers’ findings, and I give them credit for daring to oppose the multibillion-dollar vitamin industry.  People are slow to change and sometimes need a kick in the pants to get them to stop engaging in pointless or unhealthy habits.  Remember how long it took for the USDA’s ridiculous food pyramid—with its hysterical warnings against eating too many servings of food groups that include things like fish, olive oil, and nuts, and its reckless injunction to eat up to 11 servings of starch, pasta, and bread a day—to be discredited?

In the end, decisions about multivitamins and other health issues should be made on an individual basis, by those who would take or eschew them, based on individual risk tolerance and health.

Preventive Services Task Force member Wanda Nicholson states it perfectly: “In the absence of clear evidence about the impact of most vitamins and multivitamins on cardiovascular disease and cancer, health care professionals should counsel their patients to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that is rich in nutrients.  They should also continue to consider the latest scientific research, their own experiences, and their patient’s health history and preferences when having conversations about nutritional supplements.”

As an example of such considerations, I was fascinated to discover that the Japanese have similar smoking rates as Americans, but lower lung cancer rates, presumably because they drink an average of five cups of antioxidant-rich green tea a day.  Informed and engaged people should be allowed to consider such tradeoffs.

And that, to bring the political angle into all this, is exactly the sort of behavior that Obamacare is designed to halt, with its one-size-fits-all regulations that trample on individual choice, blanket mandates that deny controversial treatment options, and end result forcing everyone to lobby the government for special treatment.  Everyday citizens who read headlines declaring multivitamins useless no doubt feel some cognitive dissonance over having engaged in behaviors that may be useless over the past several decades.  That discomfort is a good thing.  The research on vitamins isn’t even close to settled, and controversial findings should prompt people to seek additional information and demand further study.

But people like quick, easy answers, and government agencies are often too quick to supply them.  Some portion of the population appears to conclude with regularity, “If the government says so, doesn’t that mean it’s true?”

If we don’t rid ourselves of the pestilence known as Obamacare, then ten years down the road the decision to take multivitamins—and other, far more substantial health decisions—may be one people don’t even think of making themselves, but passively follow whatever their government-controlled doctors direct them to do.

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