Thursday, March 21, 2013

Premium increases coming from Obamacare are enough to make you sick

Don't expect any birthday cake and candles (because of the sequester, of course), but Saturday, March 23 marks the three-year anniversary for The Affordable Care Act (a/k/a "Obamacare") in the United States.

While the Obama Administration wants you to think this is cause for celebration, for many Americans, it is actually cause for alarm as it signals sharp increases in health insurance costs in coming years.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently commented that Obamacare is giving consumers “a better bang for their buck,” despite steep rate hikes in some states. Her logic is that, “We have seen far fewer double-digit increases in the last three years than in the previous decade…. And more insurance commissioners, like in California, are really reviewing those rates carefully, are rejecting the double-digit increases.” (Read more in Politico.)

But, looking backwards doesn't tell the whole story. Looking forward, as Obamacare continues to mature, costs are nearly universally projected to keep going up -- sharply. And, according to many experts, the real sticker shock looms not far away on the horizon, coming as early as 2014.

Officials at Aetna have warned that many health care consumers could soon see premium increases of fifty percent or more. That's a bitter pill for middle class families to swallow; as it is, health care costs account for a large portion of many families' monthly expenses. Experts are also warning that premium rate increases of almost one hundred percent could disproportionately hit individuals, small businesses and the young and healthy. (Read more in the Washington Post.)

In Massachusetts, experts warn that new federal rules will make it more difficult for small businesses to get discounts on health insurance purchases, despite efforts here in Massachusetts to help those businesses afford plans for employees. (Read more in the Boston Globe.)

It looks more and more as if Obamacare's carrots and incentives were all up-front and that the bitter consequences of the legislation are just now starting to kick in, all to the distinct disadvantage of health care consumers. Even more troubling, it looks like it's less and less likely that individual states will be able to remedy the situation in the face of strong federal mandates.

Many Americans won't even know that these sharp increases in health insurance expenses are coming until it hits them in the wallet. Recent surveys show that 40% of people from ages 18 to 34 are not even aware that there is a penalty for not having health insurance. (Read more in Fox News.) But, when these rate hikes hit, they are likely to hit hard, making access to quality health care more difficult for millions of Americans, and placing untold additional strain on household budgets nationwide.

The bottom line is that, now, three years after the passage of landmark health insurance reform here in the United States, the health care problems faced by most Americans continue to get more complicated, and more expensive, by the day. And, that is the tragic consequence of Obamacare, which was marketed to the American people as a health care solution, and which now is turning out to be more of a symptom of what ails us than a cure.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Rand Paul: Delivering the Drama

Apparently, if you ask the political gods for drama (see our previous post), ye shall receive...

I don't know about you, but we were glued to C-Span last night watching Rand Paul deliver what would end up being a 13-hour filibuster on the U.S. Senate floor. It was riveting. And judging by the conversation on Twitter throughout the afternoon and into the night, I know we were not the only ones.

THIS is how Washington is supposed to work. Paul used a time-tested legislative procedure to hold up the nomination of President Obama's CIA chief pick, John Brennan. Filibustering basically requires a lawmaker to maintain control of the floor by continuously speaking and standing for as long as they want to hold court. It's the legislative equivalent of an Ironman. (I guess we'd have to fact-check that with Scott Brown.)

What we liked about the way Paul delivered this drama, was that it wasn't just drama for drama's sake. If it was technically a legislative gimmick, it wasn't gimmicky. He drew attention to an issue that we bet many Americans had no idea even existed.

Instead of reading the phone book or a cookbook for hours on end, Paul actually spoke about an issue he cares about: the use of unmanned drones by the federal government on United States soil. Whether or not you agree with everything he said, he made clear, cogent arguments as the minutes and hours ticked by.

For the past few months, we've been hearing about "fiscal cliffs" and "sequestration," but the possibility of the United States government using unmanned drones to kill Americans on United States soil without due process? Not so much. The very idea sounds almost made-up, or at least far-fetched, but to paraphrase Rand Paul, why couldn't the White House just say so last night? That no, they would not use drones in that way?

Paul was able to inspire some of his fellow GOP senators to take part in the filibuster, although his support was thin early in the day. As the conversation on Twitter picked up (#standwithrand), more senators started showing up, some fresh from a dinner with Obama. Some GOP House members reportedly showed up for moral support. One Democrat even joined the filibuster, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon. It was clear he was there, not for the drama, but because he has serious, serious concerns about the use of drones.

We would have been just as impressed had a Democrat taken to the floor the same way Paul did last night to sincerely talk about their desire to raise taxes.

Can you imagine something like this happening in Massachusetts these days? The legislative rules are different here, of course, but can you imagine someone being ballsy enough to do anything even similar? And then there's Washington. While Rand Paul was snacking on some sort of candy to keep his strength up, GOP members of the House and Senate were dining with Obama. Some of them did show up to support Paul post-dinner, but many more did not.

We actually felt guilty turning off the TV last night while Paul was still speaking, so how could his actual colleagues feel comfortable leaving him out there on the floor?

And finally, can we talk about Paul's apparently super-human strength when it comes to “holding it?” The man went 13 hours without a bathroom break. Who will be the first reporter to break the story of Paul's secret method?

You know you want to know.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Mass political campaigns on re-runs

More than once this week, we've been involved in a conversation with someone who says they just can't get interested in the Massachusetts Senate special election.

These are political people, mind you, people who are as nutty about following races as we are, people who'd rather watch the umpteenth political debate in a series than the regular primetime line-up.

Yeah, it's possible that we here in Massachusetts are just weather-beaten by the seemingly continuous string of Massachusetts political campaigns beginning with Scott Brown putting his hat in the ring against Martha Coakley for the Senate special back in 2010. Even Scott admitted to being weary of the constant campaign when he took a pass this time around.

But is it possible that it's not the continuous campaign season that is causing ennui, and rather it's that all of the campaigns (both sides) that have launched, and won, and lost in the past few years are starting to feel utterly the same?

The same Web site. The same online petition to collect e-mail addresses. The same head shot of the candidate on their Web site header that looks more like they're going for sainthood rather than a political seat. The same TV ads. The same palm cards. Even the same slogans seem to be repeating themselves, even across party lines. The tech-savvy stuff of three years ago almost seems archaic now. "Text XYZPZ" for updates, anyone? Calling for ethics investigations into something your opponent did is another favorite.

It's possible there are only so many ways to skin a cat. But in a state where practically everyone considers themselves a political junkie, isn't it strange that there isn't more innovation in political campaigning? Haven't we kind of seen it all at this point?

Take Ted Yoho, for example. He's a freshman Congressman from Florida who ran the ad below. Why don't we see stuff like this in Massachusetts? Wouldn't voters here eat this up?

In 2010, now Rep. Shaunna O'Connell's race got interesting with a creative mailer that opened to an actual recording of her opponent during a floor speech saying some pretty nasty stuff about children testifying on court. It worked brilliantly, and Shaunna was able to oust a long-time incumbent from his seat. It was creative, and it also made a very good point about why it was time for new blood in that district.

Is it that Massachusetts, while almost completely liberal, is also still entirely traditional and candidates are afraid to shock the senses with out-of-the-box methods? Maybe it should come as no surprise that the new political thriller, "House of Cards," is so popular, and that Netflix is also featuring re-runs of "The West Wing." People like political drama, they just don't find it in actual politics these days.

Are we the only ones who feel this way? If you agree, what would you like to see in some of these races?