RH Lee

Richard Henry Lee raised a troop of Virginia militia, was elected their leader, and marched the troop to join the colonial forces in the French & Indian War. He later served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, the First Continental Congress, and was elected the first State Senator from Virginia following the adoption of the Constitution of the United States. He was an avid supporter of states rights and individual freedom.

Clueless In Washington

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It seems like every time something scandalous happens that surprises Americans, President Obama claims to be just as surprised as the rest of us. How can that be?  The President of the United States is supposed to be the “most powerful man in the world.”  How can he be so completely clueless?


Benghazi

Every American remembers the 11th anniversary of 9/11 last year when terrorists attacked the US compound in Benghazi, Libya, killing four Americans including US Ambassador Chris Stevens.   If we are to believe the official Obama administration statements, no one in the administration, including Barack Obama, knew what was happening as it happened, or even to this day can tell us what happened, who did it, or why.  Sounds kind of like Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the New World.  Before the trip he had no idea where he was going, on the trip he had no idea where he was, and after the trip he had no idea where he had been.

We all know the litany of misstatements and finger pointing that followed the murders so there’s no need to repeat that trail of obfuscations here. It is worth pointing out a key point which was made by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney about President Obama in a statement to CNS news on February 29, 2013.  “He was in regular communication with his national security team directly, through them, and spoke with the Secretary of State at approximately 10 p.m. He called her to get an update on the situation,” said Carney.

Considering that the attack began at approximately 5 pm, one has to wonder how and why it took the President five hours to call Secretary of State Clinton to ask what was going on.  In this 21st century of technological omnipresence, with drones, observation satellites, cell and satellite phones, laptops and tablets that connect to everyone, everywhere, why didn’t someone tell him?  How could it possibly have taken five interminable hours for someone – maybe the Secretary of State – to have called or even dropped by 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to say, “Hey, Barry – have you heard what’s happening in Benghazi?”

Is the problem (1) that the President is so disconnected with his team that they don’t feel like they should keep him up to date, (2) that he hasn’t made it clear to them that if and when American lives are endangered they’re supposed to tell him about it, or (3) that neither Mr. Obama nor his advisors want the rest of America to know what they knew or why they did nothing to save those who lost their lives in Benghazi?  Any of those three answers is completely unacceptable.


Fast & Furious

Beginning in 2009, the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) instituted a sting program called “Fast and Furious” which sold assault weapons in the US to buyers suspected of selling them across the border into Mexico.  The ATF hoped to track the firearms to Mexican drug cartels, but somehow lost track of many of the weapons once they entered Mexico.  At least two of those “missing” weapons were used in a Dec. 14, 2012 firefight that left Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry dead.

The Los Angeles Times presents an in depth compilation of 46 stories published from February 2, 2011 to October 15, 2012 recounting the incredible ineptitude and horrible consequences of this ill-conceived operation by the ATF.  The Times coverage culminated in a six part presentation of the emails, documents and other paper trail revealing the entire SNAFU.

President Obama claims he never knew anything about the scandalous outcome of this failed sting operation.  Incredibly, the nation’s top law enforcement officer, US Attorney General Eric Holder joins the President in a denial of any knowledge whatsoever about the 15 month long operation.

These reprehensible denials by both Mr. Obama and Mr. Holder only magnify the tragic death of Agent Perry and at least one more US law enforcement officer, ICE agent Jaime Zapata. Americans have a right to question President Obama’s claims that he never knew anything about it.

Mr. Obama is the President. Mr. Holder is the head of the US Department of Justice.  How can either of them not know what their people are doing, and if they don’t, how can they be trusted in those positions of leadership?  If the CEO of a major corporation doesn’t know what his key people are doing, and they screw up – the CEO is going to be scanning the “Help Wanted” ads.


NSA Phone Tapping – Here and Abroad

On October 23, 2013, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that Obama had assured German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the United States “is not monitoring and will not monitor” the communications of the chancellor. Carney made his comment in response to information contained in an NSA document provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The document, cited by the Guardian, which claims to be the world’s third most widely read online offering, further indicated that the NSA monitored the phone calls of at least 35 world leaders.

When Ms. Merkel called Mr. Obama last week to ask him about the Guardian’s reports, he assured her that he wasn’t aware of the phone surveillance regarding her, and that if he had known about it, he would have ordered that it be stopped.

There is the disconcerting comment of an NSA official who dissented, stating that not only did Mr. Obama know about NSA surveillance of Chancellor Merkel, he encouraged it.  Still, who would choose to take the word of an anonymous NSA source over the statement of the President of the United States?

Once again, President Obama’s common response:  “I didn’t know.”  Sounds like a familiar line.


Obamacare Launch
FUBAR

As detailed by this writer two weeks ago, the Obamacare launch was not exactly the picture of perfection.  In the two weeks since, things have moved from bad to worse.  I willingly grant that the massive launch failure is not in and of itself comparable to Benghazi, Fast & Furious, or the unsettling accusation of a faux pas by the NSA in eavesdropping on Chancellor Merkel’s phone calls.  There is, however, one component of the media circus which most definitely is similar to Mr. Obama’s statements about the three other episodes mentioned above.

In answer to obvious questions about how this could have happened such as:

  • Why the nation that started the computer revolution in Silicon Valley hired a Canadian company to design the website,
  • How 3 ½ years of lead time didn’t give them sufficient advance notice to test things properly,
  • Why HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wasn’t on top of the entire project,

Ms. Sebelius said in an October 25 interview on CNN that “President Barack Obama didn’t hear that there [might] be problems with the sign-up portal for his signature health care law until it went live.”

Mr. Obama apparently – once again! – knew nothing.  He had no idea there might be problems lurking around the corner, right up until the very day of the launch!

Clueless, or…?

Surprise, surprise.  It seems like every time he faces a potential scandal, even when it’s one of his direct subordinates (Secretary of State, Attorney General, Secretary of HHS) who drops the ball, and the American people ask him why, Mr. Obama’s response is “I never knew anything about it.”

Or…he could be lying to us.


Speak Out
for America!

This last part of this article is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART!

On this site, the message brought to you by The Austin Heller Project in late August about Obamacare concluded with a brilliant, incredibly insightful plea for your help, your awakening, your voice to join with your friends and neighbors to speak out for America.  (No, I did not write it!) Now, more than ever, it is a message that must be heard, must be spread, must be shouted from American to American if we ever hope to bring to a halt the rampant insanity that spreads across our nation from those who seek to destroy it. Here is that message:

“It has always been a cliché to call or write to one’s representatives, but with social media, we can do much more than send letters and emails. Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee all have Facebook and Twitter accounts: Reach out to them!

Here is a handy list of House Republicans who support freedom and liberty.

Here is a list of like-minded Senators.

“Millions of people have social media accounts. It is our duty, to ourselves and to our children to spread the message via social media, both by posting about the dangers we face and by sharing the message of those who are actually representing our interests.

“With today’s technology we can do more than just reach out to our elected representatives. We can spread awareness to our friends and relatives, to urge them to join their voices with ours.

“If it becomes clear that we the public want a return to the ideas and beliefs that made America great, how can our Senators and Congressmen fear what some in the media claim will be a negative public response to standing up and fighting?

“Even if our calls go unheeded, we must make a stand and demonstrate our opposition to massive government expansion and in favor of the guarantees of Liberty that our Constitution enshrines.  We must speak out against irresponsible and unaccountable leaders, and work to elect those who are both responsible and accountable.

Please send this plea for action to your friends, your neighbors – to anyone and everyone who you believe wants to Speak Out for America. Send tweets. Post on Facebook. Talk about Freedom.  Make yourself heard!

Jefferson_flag_capital 518

All Americans are Immigrants

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Associated Press, October 23, 2013:
“Man discovered in attic; lived hidden for five years eating food, wearing clothing belonging to homeowners.  US District Court rules homeowners must allow him to stay and must adopt him into their family!”

Did you raise your eyebrows at that?  I hope so, though it’s not a real news report.  Yet isn’t this what America is really doing with illegal immigrants?

They have come to our country against our laws, are further violating those laws every day that they are here, yet the courts insist that we provide them free medical care (as cited here  and here), food stamps, in many states drivers licenses (California, Colorado, Illinois, and Connecticut among others), and in other states college tuition assistance.


What is the Cost to Taxpayers?

Obviously, since no one knows for sure how many illegal immigrants there are in the US, it’s impossible to pin down precisely the true cost, but it is generally accepted that there are approximately 11.5 million people here in the US without proper legal status.

The Heritage Foundation issued a report earlier this year which estimated that the US currently provides nearly $25,000 a year in assistance to the average illegal immigrant but gets less than $11,000 in tax revenue in return. Heritage further estimates that if we grant citizenship to all of those 11.5 million, the annual expense will leap to an average of $43,900 in giveaways while tax income from those same folks will increase to only $16,000 per person.  So we increase our income by a mere 45%, while our costs go up a whopping 76% to $504 billion per year. Not exactly a recipe for financial success.


Good or Bad for the Economy?

There is much discussion about whether illegal immigrants help or harm the US economy. The New York Times makes the point that since illegal immigrants are often willing to work for lower wages, they create more competition for lower paid jobs, and hence result in lower wages for those American citizens in that sector of the workplace.

The same Times article goes on to suggest that the presence of more lower paid, non-specialized workers actually benefits more highly skilled workers since employers then hire those skilled workers for highly skilled positions which pay more.  It’s a two-sided coin, with many proponents arguing each point of view.

On one site alone, ProCon.org, there are twelve different articles posted, six from each side, while a Google search for “economic impact of illegal immigrants in the United States” returned 735,000 hits. Clearly, with that much debate and such a plethora of data it is not within the scope of this article to arrive at an inarguable conclusion to the question.


The Key Word is “Illegal.”  

As most of us know, illegal means “not sanctioned by or according to the law.” In a nation of law, which the US is supposed to be, things that are illegal are not supposed to be allowed. I would suggest that to intentionally condone illegal activities because of the belief that such activities might be good for the economy of the nation is, on the very face of it, a bad thing to do, and can set a very negative precedent.

Some might argue that this an unfair comparison, but would anyone suggest that it is appropriate to teach a child that doing something that’s against the law is okay because it brings financial benefits to the child’s family?  I would hope not.

The law is the law, and we should either obey or change it. Yes, there are laws that are unjust, and when we feel that they are, we must change them through the proper legislative procedures of our nation.  But before we go about changing the existing law we must first take powerful steps to prevent the massive abuse of whatever changes are implemented.

Illegal immigration costs taxpayers billions. Granting citizenship to the 11.5 million who are here in the US now will increase the cost to taxpayers by billions more. When a person comes to the US and lives here without following the proper legal procedures that person is breaking the law.


What Can We Do?

The first step – before we even begin to start thinking about changing America’s immigration policy – is to stop future illegal immigration.  Before we even begin to address the problem of how to deal with the 11.5 million who are already here illegally (which is really the point of the current Immigration Reform Bill put forth by the so-called Gang of Eight) we have to make absolutely, positively, unerringly certain that we have secured our borders for all time to come. We cannot allow that number to continue to grow, now or ever.

On October 17, President Obama said that he wants to pass an immigration bill by the end of the year.  That’s two months, nine days from now. Two months, nine days. That is not a lot of time to calmly, carefully analyze a massive and immensely complex issue that has perplexed our nation for decades.

We’ve been down that path before!  During the Reagan years we first “fixed” illegal immigration with “amnesty” and a promise to secure our borders, than six more times in the ensuing years followed it with other similar legislation.

The Seven Amnesties Passed by Congress

1. Immigration and Reform Control Act (IRCA), 1986: A blanket amnesty for some 2.7 million illegal aliens
2. Section 245(i) Amnesty, 1994: A temporary rolling amnesty for 578,000 illegal aliens
3. Section 245(i) Extension Amnesty, 1997: An extension of the rolling amnesty created in 1994
4. Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) Amnesty, 1997: An amnesty for close to one million illegal aliens from Central America
5. Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act Amnesty (HRIFA), 1998: An amnesty for 125,000 illegal aliens from Haiti
6. Late Amnesty, 2000An amnesty for some illegal aliens who claim they should have been amnestied under the 1986 IRCA amnesty, an estimated 400,000 illegal aliens
7. LIFE Act Amnesty, 2000A reinstatement of the rolling Section 245(i) amnesty, an estimated 900,000 illegal aliens

 

Sadly, the promise to secure our borders failed to come true, and now we find ourselves once again facing the same massive and incredibly challenging problem all over again.

We need to make sure that when we finally wrestle this highly emotionally charged and controversial issue to the ground and gain control over it, we don’t find it reemerging like some horrific phoenix from its own ashes, five, ten, or twenty years hence.

Let me repeat:  Secure the borders, then make whatever changes we, as a people, deem appropriate. Secure, then explore change; not make changes, then secure. And it would then follow as the day the night that whatever changes we may deem proper will be implemented looking forward, not back into the past.  The past is immutable, unchangeable, and we should only move forward, not fall backwards.


Americans are All Immigrants

Let me pause to emphatically stress that I am not at all even remotely opposed to immigration. If America didn’t welcome immigrants to her shores, I’d be living somewhere in Germany or Ireland right now.

In the 1850s my maternal great-great grandparents came from Germany.  In the 1890s, two other sets of great-grandparents came, one pair from Germany and one from Ireland.  None of them were welcomed with open arms by all of their new neighbors. The Germans were often called “Dutch,” the Irish usually “Paddy,” neither of which was a term of endearment.  But they all were immigrants, and they all eventually settled in and became part of the “Melting Pot” that is America today.

In actuality, all Americans are descended from immigrants. Some are from families that came to our shores as long as 25,000 years ago from the other side of the Bering Land Bridge in northeast Asia.  Others came in the last decade or two and will add their children to the wonderful panorama of American life, but all are either born of immigrants or are immigrants themselves. No other nation on Earth boasts such a widely varied, such a magnificently diversified heritage. America today welcomes immigrants from every nation on the face of our planet: we always have, we always will.

But we must never forget that America is a land of laws, and in order to remain true to our heritage, we must adhere to our laws, not ignore them when some find them inconvenient. That’s the American Way.


What is the Big Hurry?

In late August of this year  the Obama Administration expressed the urgent, immediate need to launch a missile strike by US naval forces “within the next two to three days” against Syria.  The problem that was so time critical was to punish the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, for his egregious use of chemical weapons in an attack upon the rebel forces vying against his government.

In an article on August 28, this author asked the question, “What is the Big Hurry?”, counseling patience and the hope for unity with our allies in spite of the urgency to move ahead on our own cited by Mr. Obama and his advisers.

Now, nearly two months later, no strike has been launched. Great Britain decided there was no big hurry.  France said they’d prefer to wait for the UN analysis. As the international consensus that Mr. Obama and his team had thought existed for his “immediate strike” evaporated, his “Big Hurry” did so too.  Perhaps Mr. Obama read our work and was inspired to a more rational and reasoned approach than his rampant calls for warlike action.

That’s what he should do now with regards to the immigration issue. Slow down, take the time to explore all options and all possible outcomes, not rush into it because he wants to get it done by December 31.  As previously mentioned, this is a problem that has existed in our nation for decades, and while we should most definitely address it, there is no “Big Hurry.”

Three and a half years ago, then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, referring the fledgling Affordable Care Act, told Americans “we must pass it in order to see what’s in it.”  That was another time when Mr. Obama’s administration proclaimed that we were in a “Big Hurry.”  Sadly, the ACA was passed, and we are day-by-day finding out that it contained much that Americans found to be…less than what they had promised.

“If you have a plan that you like, you can keep it.  Period.  No matter what.”  Barack Obama, July 16, 2009.

“My plan will save Americans $2,500 a year on health care.”  Barack Obama, July 20, 2009.

As pointed out last week in this space, neither of those promises has proven to be true.

Was the hurry to pass the bill really because that was the best way to find out what was in it?  That seems an unlikely methodology to really understand anything; adopt it, then figure out what it means.

I would suggest that the real reason for the “Big Hurry” to pass Obamacare was either or both of the following: (1) that there were provisions the administration didn’t want us to know about, or (2) because the 2010 mid-term elections were rapidly approaching and Mr. Obama was afraid that he was about to lose his majority in the House. If it were this latter point that scared him, he was right to be afraid. The Republicans did wrest control of the House from the Dems, and Obamacare would almost surely never have made it out of the newly reconstituted Congress in 2011.

Maybe this time we should look inside the Immigration Bill that he’s in such a hurry to pass and find out what it really says before we let it come to a vote.

With any luck, leaders like Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and others who stand for reason, logic, and the values defined in the US Constitution, values expressed by men like Thomas Jefferson 250 years ago, will fight for that well thought out approach.

All Americans are Immigrants

Obamacare – Reality Sets In

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President Barack Obama, July 16, 2009, in a speech to the American Medical Association, said:

“If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what.”

Sadly, the truth has turned out to be vastly different. Literally millions of Americans, by one report 22 million of us, have been told that they cannot keep their current health care plans, nearly 800,000 of them in New Jersey alone. The long awaited and much ballyhooed launch of the Health Care Exchanges across America came and went two weeks ago, and far too many people find themselves wondering what the heck is going on.

Where are we today with Obamacare, and what can we expect?

This article will examine that question in four ways:

1) We will present an overview of Obamacare news from across the nation as reported in the mass media.

2) We’ll explain something that almost no one has heard from any source, be it newspapers, internet articles, radio and television talk shows, or any of the politicians.  You’ll almost surely be stunned to discover that the way Obamacare charges families to cover their children will create massive premium increases, and the larger the family, the larger the premium increases will be.

3) We’ll analyze plan benefits and premiums by comparing 2013 plans with the new “post-Obamacare” plans that 2014 will bring, and see how that stacks up against Mr. Obama’s July 11, 2009 statement that his plan “would save everyone in America an average of $2,500 in Health Care costs each year.”  Here’s a hint: Don’t get your hopes up!

4) We’ll discuss the launch itself, the ease of access for consumers across America, and the leadership that has brought the President’s “signature law” to where it is today.

An Uproar Across America

San Jose: The San Jose (California) Mercury-News, the only major newspaper in the nation’s 10th largest city, ranks among the most liberal papers in the US, right up there with the NY Times, the LA Times, and the Washington Post.  But the first weekend after the Obamacare launch, even the Merc’s front page reported problems.  They featured Cindy Vinson and Tom Waschura, both of whom said they were big believers in the Affordable Care Act, and were proud that they had helped elect and re-elect President Barack Obama.

Sadly, like many other citizens across the US, they were shocked to discover that their in-force policies were being replaced with new Obamacare plans that will see their costs skyrocket.

Ms. Vinson, of San Jose, will pay $1,800 more a year for an individual policy, while Mr. Waschura, of Portola Valley, will be forced to pay almost $10,000 more to cover his family of four.

“I was laughing at Boehner – until the mail came today,” said Waschura, referring to House Speaker John Boehner, who is leading the Republican charge to defund Obamacare.

“Of course, I want people to have health care,” Ms. Vinson said. “I just didn’t realize I would be the one who was going to pay for it personally.”

Guess what, Cindy: “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch!”

New Jersey: Bad news arrived in mailboxes across the Garden State this past week, as people discovered that many of their existing health insurance plans had been wiped out by Obamacare because they didn’t meet the provisions of the new law.

How many folks in New Jersey were hit by these cancellations?  Oh, only about eight hundred thousand or so.

Maryann White, 74, of Toms River said she was frustrated by the news. She liked the plan she had and is worried that whatever new plan she buys will cost more. Though she is engaged in the process, she said, many seniors find it difficult to understand their options.

“This is really a shame,” said Ms. White. “I’m not criticizing. I’m just saying, ‘Give us a break.’”

Funny, sounds like criticism to me!

Alabama: Alabamans got slammed with a double whammy!  First came a letter to customers from Blue Cross Blue Shield that premiums would leap upwards by 300 percent, then Blue Cross followed up by announcing that they were canceling the vast majority of their plans because they weren’t in accord with new requirements imposed by Obamacare. New plans are expect to carry a much heftier price tag than the old ones.

WSFA-TV in Montgomery reported, “[we] talked with [a] customer on one individual plan today, he’s been paying $523 a month for his family of four, but starting in January his premium is going up to more than $1,100 a month.  One of the big problems is [the new law requires] rating family costs by the number of people, so large families have to pay more.”

Rating Changes = Extra Costs for Families

One of the big problems indeed. Americans are now discovering something that has been studiously ignored by almost everyone for the past 3 ½ years. Under the new rating methodology of Obamacare, the way children’s premiums is going to be calculated from now on has changed dramatically, and that change is going to smack a huge number of families right in their bank accounts.

The current rating system for small group plans in almost all states charges the same rates for children’s coverage regardless of the number of children in a family. For individual plans, some carriers currently adjust rates upward for those with more children, but not as much as they will come January.

A couple with one child pays the same to cover their kid as does a couple with two kids to cover both of theirs.  Three, four, five…the more the merrier; no matter how many kids you have, the price to cover them is the same.

And of course this deal got even sweeter when the ACA said “you can keep your kids on your medical plan up until their 26th birthday.” The insurers couldn’t even charge more for those extra children as dependents, because of the “cheaper by the dozen” rating system described above.

But that all comes to a screeching halt on January 1.  From then on, any children from 21 to 25 will cost their parents the same as any single adult of their age.  Children under age 21 will pay a child’s rate for each child up to a total of three (over three is free!).

As we said above, the rating system for children will also impact costs for individual coverage.

We’ll examine how this can impact a small family, then a large family, in both cases comparing real Anthem Blue Cross plans currently available with real Anthem Blue Cross plans currently available on the CoveredCalifornia Exchange website for effective dates of January 1, 2014 and after.

First let’s look at Wade and Suzan, both age 45, with a 23-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter. Bob is a programmer for an electronics firm making $90,000 a year; Suzan is a teacher earning $60,000 a year.

Let’s suppose they were to buy a plan today, October 14, 2013, from Anthem Blue Cross (the largest private health care provider in California).  The plan they select has a $1,500 deductible and a $30 copayment for office visits to a non-specialist, a $50 copayment for specialists.  They would pay $1,174 to cover the four of them, of which $380 is the cost for their kids.

But under the new system, their total cost for a $2000 deductible plan (there are no $1,500 deductible plans available from Anthem for 2014 and after) with a $45 copay for non-specialist office visits and a $65 copay for specialists will $1,478. Instead of costing $380 for their kids, it will cost them $435, $266 for their son and $169 for their daughter, because the new system charges for each child.  (Note that the per child rate will is lower than the current “one price for all” rate, so for those who have only one child, the cost to cover that child will go down.)

Nonetheless, here’s a quick summary of the costs and benefits – you tell me whether the new Obamacare plan is better and cheaper than what they could buy today.  Granted that these two plans are not identical, but they’re as close as we could come given the new requirements and guidelines of the Obamacare post-2014 plans:

2013

2014

Deductible

$1,500

$2,000

Office Visit copayment:

Non-specialist

$30

$45

Specialist

$50

$65

Maximum Out of Pocket per person

$4,500

$6,350

Premium

$1,174

$1,478

Everything is higher in 2014.  Their deductible is $500 higher, their office visit copayments are $15 higher per visit, their maximum out of pocket expense is $1,850 higher, and their premium is $304 higher per month, $3,648 per year; a 25% increase even with all the benefit reductions. Such a deal!

But Wade and Suzan are going to be the envy of their next door neighbors, Sean and Sonya, who have five kids – a son age 23, a daughter 22, a daughter 18, a daughter 15, and their youngest, a 12-year-old son.

Sean and Sonya, also both age 45, have income identical to their neighbors, Wade and Suzan. Their cost to cover their family is currently $1,343, slightly higher than Wade and Suzan because in the individual market they are charged more for additional children on their plan.  Their cost for the five kids is $549, $169 more than their neighbors.

But they now have to pay for all five of their kids, two times $266 for those over 21, and three times the per child rate of $169 for the ones under 21.  Imagine their “sticker shock” when they discover that their monthly medical insurance cost for their youngsters has just jumped from $549 to $1,039.

Their monthly premium change from Obamacare:  $738 higher every month, $8,856 per year, a 54% increase. My goodness!  And for their $8,800 more a year they get the same benefit decreases, higher deductible, higher office visit copayments, and a higher maximum out of pocket for the year.

What happened to that “my plan will save Americans $2,500 a year on their health care costs”?

The Truth About Plan Costs

Our original intent for this section of the article was to explore plan rates in several states:  California, Texas, New Jersey, and Louisiana.  One of those, California, has its own state-run Exchange, dubbed CoveredCA, while the other three, Texas, New Jersey, and Louisiana all have defaulted into federally-run Exchanges since the states themselves were uninterested in creating their own. We chose these four because of the 50 states mandated by Obamacare to have Exchanges up and running by 1/1/2014, 35 are federally run while 15 are operated by the states in which they will operate. A 3:1 ratio hence seemed reasonable for our analysis.

Interestingly, and perhaps coincidently, we were able to easily access the state operated Exchange in California and will present our findings herein.  Unfortunately, and perhaps purely by chance, the three states which are dependent on the Feds for their operation were all ultimately inaccessible via their websites.

For the Texas site, we three times got onto their login page after rather lengthy delays and submitted the information to create an account. After clicking “submit,” we eventually received the message, “Your account cannot be created at this time. Please try again later,” three separate times and eventually gave up.

For the New Jersey site, we successfully created an account, verified the account by clicking on a link sent to our email address, then returned to their site and attempted to log in.  The account was not recognized as active, and we were referred to an 800 number for service. Unsurprisingly, that number placed us on hold until we finally gave up.  We repeated the “create account, verify account, return to login” procedure twice more, only to suffer the same “account is not recognized” error both times and eventually gave up.

For the Louisiana account we thrice completed the account information and submitted it for processing, and all three times got the same message as we had on the Texas site, “Your account cannot be created at this time. Please try again later.” We surrendered to the vagaries of the Federal program signup efforts and gave up on Louisiana as well.

California’s site, in contrast, was easily accessible, easy to navigate, quick to respond and all-in-all a pleasure to work with.  We jumped back and forth between entering family data such as names, dates of birth, income, and zip code, making plan choices, examining plan benefit descriptions and plan costs with literally no lag, no delays, no time outs, and no problems. Might have had something to do with Silicon Valley being in California? Who knows…

The proverbial bottom line, however, wasn’t great news for those looking to CoveredCA for coverage. The following two spreadsheets break down rates for the same fairly standard PPO plan which we used in our analysis of increased children’s costs earlier in this article.  We looked at six different regional areas of California (there are 19 across the state) both for a single person, and then for a family of four.

The plans versions, 2013 vs. 2014 are as close as we could come to equivalent due to the new Obamacare plan categories, but are not identical.  As previously mentioned during our discussion of the children’s rates, the benefits provided by the new 2014 plan are significantly inferior to the 2013 plan, as the following chart illustrates:

2013

2014

Benefit Reduction

Deductible

$1,500

$2,000

33%

Office Visit copayment:  

Non-specialist

$30

$45

50%

Specialist

$50

$65

30%

Maximum Out of Pocket per person

$4,500

$6,350

41%

Premium

$241

$245

 

Given the 33% to 50% benefit reductions, one might anticipate at least a 33% to 50% cost reduction for the 2014 plans. Unfortunately, that is not the case.  Of the 12 plans analyzed, nine show cost increases in 2014, in spite of the benefit cuts. Three show cost reductions, one of 10%, two of 5%, but compared to the 33-50% benefit cuts, those slight cost drops seem pretty insignificant:

Anthem

CoveredCA

Rate

Anthem

CoveredCA

Rate

2013

2014

Change

2013

2014

Change

Male, 54, single – San Jose Family of 4 (both 54) – San Jose
Premium

$500

$568

14%

Premium

$1,174

$1,478

26%

Female, 28, single – San Jose Family of 4 (both 28) – San Jose
Premium

$227

$289

27%

Premium

$803

$926

15%

Male 43, single – Pasadena Family of 4 (both 43) – Pasadena
Premium

$264

$273

3%

Premium

$759

$794

5%

Female 48, single – San Francisco Family of 4 (both 48) – San Francisco
Premium

$381

$482

27%

Premium

$1,472

$1,404

-5%

Male 38, single – San Diego Family of 4 (both 43) – San Diego
Premium

$337

$303

-10%

Premium

$1,023

$970

-5%

Male 25, single – Eureka Family of 4 (both 25) – Eureka
Premium

$241

$245

2%

Premium

$789

$801

2%

 

Leadership, or the Lack Thereof

  • March 23, 2010 – President Barack Obama signs the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law.
  • October 1, 2013 – ACA Health Insurance Exchanges go live across America
  • Three years, six months, nine days – time to prepare
  • Grade Awarded – You be the judge!

Unless you’ve been in a time warp, or crossing the Atlantic by yourself in a rowboat, you’ve surely heard the complaints, stories, and glitches that have been widely reported, including here, here, here, here, and here, about the less-than-perfect October 1 launch of Obamacare.

One amazing experience came to me from a young woman who lives in New Jersey.  She went on her Exchange website, created an account, logged in and entered her personal information; date of birth, address, social security number and so forth.  Then – to her astonishment! – the system told her that she was ineligible because…she was dead.  Kind of leaves you wondering, doesn’t it? I mean, where do you go from there?

One wonders how the Obama White House, which during the 2012 Presidential Election Campaign was repeatedly lauded for its “tech savvy,” could have allowed this to happen.  One possible explanation (which is actually a compilation of four reasons) was advanced by Julien Eilperin of the Washington Post, but rings hollow in my mind.  In essence, Ms. Eilperin said that the problems were:

  • There was no Chief Technological Officer and they had a “hard launch date” of October 1, which didn’t give them enough time to get things right;
  • They couldn’t hire the same people who worked on the Obama campaign a year ago;
  • The “nuts and bolts” of the Exchange fall under the Department of Health and Human Services, not the White House, and;
  • Constructing a national Health Care Marketplace is more complex than orchestrating voter turnout.

Seriously? She has to be kidding, right?

“There’s no CTO.” Not anywhere in the US government? As of December 2012, the US government had over 21,900,000 employees. Yes, that’s right – almost twenty-two MILLION employees.  And we couldn’t find anyone who could be the CTO?  And the 3 ½ years between passage of the law and the launch date wasn’t enough time?  This woman should be on The Daily Show or Saturday Night Live – the liberals on those programs would love her humor.

“They couldn’t hire the same people who worked on the campaign.” Again, can she possibly be serious?  There are these tiny little companies called Google, Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, HP, IBM, Cisco, Amazon, Intel, and just a few others scattered about the landscape that operate in the United States. Are we really expected to believe that nowhere in any of those companies are there any people who are as qualified in website design and implementation as the people who worked on Obama’s 2012 campaign?  Initial estimates for the creation of the Federal Exchange website were just over $98 million but as we stand today, costs have surpassed $600 million. Surely for $600 million we could have recruited a few of those tech geeks to work for Obamacare.

“The ‘nuts and bolts’ are in HHS, not the White House.” So what? Obama is the President of the United States, not the President of the White House. He’s supposed to be in charge – of the entire United States!  And last time we checked, the entire United States includes the Department of Health and Human Services.  Maybe he should have kept his finger on the pulse of the development of the website and other launch mechanics to make sure that his “Signature Bill” didn’t do a belly flop on launch day.

“Constructing a national Health Care Marketplace is more complex than getting voter turnout.” Duh! Didn’t the administration know that?  Obama’s supposed to be in charge of HHS, of the entire government, and most particularly, he most certainly could have been expected to keep track of how Obamacare was proceeding towards the starting gate.  It seems he should have kept his eye on the ball a little more closely, instead of trusting Kathleen Sebilius to mind the store.  Or does “keep your eye on the ball” only apply on the golf course?

I doubt if many of those reading this article are big video game players, but this kind of problem – website overload – is not exactly unknown in that world where massive launches, and the avoidance of massive launch screw-ups is critical.  For those who think we’re still talking about financial peanuts here, let me take a quick moment to bring you up to speed.  In 2012 the video game industry generated $66 billion in revenue.  One game, Diablo 3, released by Blizzard Entertainment, sold over $150 million worth of product in its first four months on the shelves; 3.4 million copies at $50 apiece.

In the first 30 minutes after the game’s initial launch, over 200,000 people logged in from the UK alone.  200,000 in 30 minutes! Maybe Ms. Sebilius should have hired some gamers to set up her websites and run her servers.

What the game industry knows, and the White House should have known, is that when you spend months pumping up the public to go to your website, you need to be ready for the rush.  Early adopters make up a huge percentage of long-time clients.  When people like this try to register, try to join, and can’t, many of them give up and walk away forever.  What is worse, and this is something that the movie industry knows full well, word-of-mouth advertising is more impacting, more valuable to the success of a production than anything on TV, the internet, or anywhere else.

All those disillusioned, frustrated people who sighed and logged off, giving up on Obamacare in those first few days, maybe for a few days, maybe forever, are going to pass along their feelings to their friends and neighbors. Those friends and neighbors will listen to them, and many will delay or avoid going to the websites for their own exercise in futility.

The Only Thing Worse Than No Leader is A Leader You Can’t Believe

As mentioned at the start of this article, on July 16, 2009, Mr. Obama said:  “If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what.”

Two days later, in another speech in another city, he said: “My plan will save everyone in America an average of $2,500 in health care costs each year.”

I don’t know whether he was intentionally saying things that he knew to be untrue at the time that he made these two statements. Perhaps not.

Perhaps somehow, in some way, he lost control of events.  Perhaps as the law progressed it evolved into something beyond his ability to manage so that what he said to America, what he promised to Americans, eventually, against his initial intent, turned out to be lies.

I don’t really care. When the President says something that firmly, that unequivocally, he should stand by it, come hell or high water, and make sure it comes true.  It’s called ethics, integrity, commitment; those are the things that make a good leader.

The reality of Obamacare is upon us, and it is most emphatically not pretty.

health care emergency

Courageous Leadership?

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In time of crisis, do we want a leader who offers courageous leadership, or one who cautions “we should be worried?”

Early on, during the American Revolution, one of our greatest naval heroes, John Paul Jones, found himself and his ship, the Bon Homme Richard, in dire peril. Locked in battle with the much larger British ship, the HMS Serapis, Jones, his ship in flames and near sinking was taunted to surrender by the British captain. His reply:  “I have not yet begun to fight!”  He didn’t say, “Oh, I don’t know, maybe we should be worried.”

Constitutional Compromise

The United States Constitution says “all bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives”. What exactly does that mean?  It means that when it comes to raising and spending money, the House must begin the process.  Why? Because at the time of the framing of the Constitution, the founders deemed that it was the House that was closest to the people since it was directly elected by the people.

The Senate was elected by the respective state legislatures until the passage of the 17th Amendment in 1913 gave the power to elect senators directly to the people. The President then and to this day is not elected by the people directly, but rather by the members of the Electoral College.

And so the signers of the Constitution, believing that the one body elected directly by the people would be most understanding of, and responsive to, the will of the people gave the House control over the nation’s purse strings.

That has not changed. The House is still closest to the people as its members are elected every two years, not every six as are Senators.  It is the House, not the President, not the Senate, which is responsible for initiating all bills having with raising and spending money.

But is there not, you might ask, a provision in the Constitution that says, “If the President urgently believes that certain specific financial measures are necessary for the proper conduct of the Government, shouldn’t the House appropriate such funds as the President so desires?”

Of course not! The entire theme of the division of powers lies at the heart of the foundation of our country. When the Constitution was ratified one of the provisions that made America so unique is that the President cannot dictate to the House and the Senate what they should do.

They have to act together.  That is the essence of our system; checks & balances, compromise, working together for the common good.

Compromise was evident time and again throughout the four months of debate and discussion that preceded the adoption of our Constitution.  One of the first major differences of opinion, and one quintessentially recognized by any student of the history of the Constitution, was between the larger states and the smaller over how legislative representation should be allocated. As we all know, this was resolved by what is sometimes called the “Great Compromise” of the Convention. The constitution created a bicameral legislature, two bodies with different means of selecting their members.  In the House of Representatives population is the determiner, but in the Senate each state is represented equally with two members, regardless of its population.

We’ve been compromising for two and a half centuries.  That’s the way it works here in the US – we work together, and we compromise. Our leaders manage to find ways to solve our problems together.

At least they’re supposed to.  And they’re supposed to hold in their hearts, as what Americans have always believed to be of the utmost importance, the cherished commitment to do what is best for America, and Americans.

American Leaders

The United States has surely had its share of great leaders.  No, let me correct that.  I believe we’ve had far more than just “our share” of great leaders, we’ve had blessed with a plethora of great leaders, year after year, decade after decade, century upon century.  Our leaders have been men and women of courage, of heroism, often genius.

From our earliest times, America’s leaders throughout our history have counseled courage in time of fear, confidence in times of uncertainty, and both resolve and determination in the face of danger.

Admiral David Farragut, leading US Naval forces at the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 6, 1864, was warned by his staff of deadly explosives lying between him and a possible victory over the enemy fleet.  He gave the immortal command:   “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” and his ships won the day.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, newly elected in the fall of 1932, facing the greatest economic depression in the history of America and speaking at his inauguration, called for bravery in the face of uncertainty, rallying our citizens to rebuild our country with a cry to courage:  “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself!”

In January of 1960, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a decorated veteran who fought to defend American in the Second World War energized America with the words:  “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country!”

We now find ourselves again in crisis. Though perhaps not quite so dire as those times cited above, still America is faced with a “government shutdown”, with the coming “debt crisis”, both of which are because  the Executive and Legislative branches of our national government cannot compromise and formulate a concerted and cohesive financial plan for the ongoing future of the United States of America.

Barack Obama – Leadership or Fear Mongering?

Facing the lack of funds necessary to continue to provide vast numbers of government services to our citizens, and the further uncertainly created as we approach the legal ceiling on our mounting national debt what does America’s leader, Barack Obama have to say? What words of courage, inspiration, and resolve does the President of the United States offer to the American people?

We are in trouble,” said Mr. Obama, speaking to CNBC’s John Harwood on the evening of October 3.

When Mr. Harwood made the point to Mr. Obama that Wall Street didn’t seem concerned about the ‘shutdown’ and asked whether that was the way they should be thinking, the response was:

No, I think they should be concerned”.

These words do not express confidence in America, do not exhibit the kind of resolve that Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy expressed in their comments cited above, nor do they reflect the courage and determination shown by the heroic words and deeds of John Paul Jones and David Farragut.

No plan for compromise has been offered by President Obama to end the budget stand-off. In fact, in his brief public statement on September 30 just hours before the government shutdown he neither offered to work to formulate a compromise nor suggested that he would even be willing to accept any kind of compromise.

Is Mr. Obama trying to scare investors and refuse any compromise that might alleviate this crisis?

Could our President, the elected leader of our nation, actually be hoping that the stock market crashes, taking the hopes and dreams, retirement plans and college education funds of millions of Americans down with it?

Because…it might give him a political advantage?  It appears as if a number of financial analysts fear that to be the case.

On October 3, “Squawk on the Street,” CNBC co-anchor Simon Hobbs and senior economics reporter Steve Liesman pointed out the administration’s strategy of trying to scare the markets in order to sway opinion against Republicans. “They’re not scaring the market which is clearly their aim,” and went on to cite a Treasury Department report that makes the extreme claim that a default would result in “the next Great Recession.”

The next day, October 4, Jerry Castellini, co-founder and president of CastleArk Management, said on CNBC, “the administration would love for the markets to be down quite a bit right now to try to amplify their point that this is an area we shouldn’t be playing in and a spot that the markets don’t want to see us in.”

Perhaps part of the reason that this “government shutdown” isn’t as scary as the Obama administration would have us believe is that, in fact, 83% of the government is plowing on full speed ahead with nothing changed. Even the mass media and the Obama administration say that it is not essential government workers who have been sent home, and one could well make the argument that if government workers are not essential, then why do we have them at all!

What is scary is that instead of words of encouragement, a pledge of resolve, and an expression of confidence in the courage of America and the American people to face down this crisis like so many others in our past history, this President of the United States is telling us that we’re in trouble.

There are only two conclusions to be drawn.

The first is that Mr. Obama is truly afraid, and has no solution in sight.

The second is that he’s hoping that if the stock market plummets, it will panic enough people so that he’ll be able to brow beat the House of Representatives into surrendering to his demands.

If Mr. Obama is running out of courage, that is not a harbinger of good things to come.  If he is actually hoping for the sacrifice of the financial holdings of millions of Americans to achieve his own political ends then that is most definitely far worse, and can only be described as despicable.

drafting-declaration Franklin Adams Jefferson

Silliness from South America

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Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa today said that American exceptionalism is reminiscent of Nazism “before and during World War II.”

Correa added that the United Nation’s headquarters should eventually be moved from New York City:  “The headquarters of the organization is in the US and they finance their activities. This is outrageous and an example of a relationship the US established with developing countries in the form of subordination.”

You’ve gotta love it, he actually complains that we’re giving the UN too much money!

I have to say, moving the UN out of the US can’t happen soon enough to please me.  And on the issue of our financing the UN, I’d be more than happy (as I’m quite certain millions of other Americans would be as well) to see us reduce the amount we send the UN every year even BEFORE we kick them out let them move out of New York.

I sincerely hope that if and when Sr. Correa moves the UN out of NY (or before…) he’ll also be willing to move the major sources of funding somewhere other than the US. Considering that there are 198 members at present, the US is clearly paying way over our fair share of 1/198th of the UN budget with an annual contribution of 22% of the total. I think all Americans would be pleased to see some of the other 197 members step up closer to the financial plate.

After the US in annual UN funding come Japan (12.53%), Germany (8.018%), the United Kingdom (6.604%), and France (6.112%). Conspicuously absent from the top of the list are Russia (1.6%) , Saudi Arabia (0.8%) and China (3%). Ecuador, by the way, comes in lumped together with 165 other countries who contribute a grand total of 7.2%. The full list is quite illuminating.

I was going to say, “Put your {insert name of Ecuadorian currency} where your mouth is”…but I can’t, because their national currency is – wait for it! – the US dollar! How funny is that! He says we’re like the Nazis, and complains that we give too much funding to the UN, but his country uses the US$ as their national currency!

Really, Rafael, if you don’t like us, that’s ok, but maybe you should invest in a graphic artist, buy a printing press or two, and get your own national currency up and running before you start spitting on ours!

GTY_100_dollar_bill_ml_130924_16x9_608

Obamacare – the View from California

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This article was first posted by American Thinker on September 29, 2013.

California, the so-called Golden State, has often been a national leader over the years.

Now, in the arena of national health care reform, California, with its Covered California (CoveredCA), the first state benefit exchange in the nation, claims to be leading the way in the creation of state health insurance exchanges or marketplaces.  These exchanges, created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, PPACA, the ACA, or Obamacare) will allow both individuals and small businesses with up to 50 employees to purchase qualified health care coverage.

The ACA requires that all states have operating exchanges by January 1, 2014 with plan launch dates three months earlier on October 1 to allow time for people to analyze, purchase and enroll in the program before the January 1 effective date.  Two alternative options are provided for the states to achieve this goal:  either create their own or default to a federally run exchange.

When the law was passed in March of 2010, estimates were that it was likely that of the 50 states, 40 or more would choose to create their own exchange, while the balance would default into federally run programs.  In fact, as of this date, the facts show precisely the opposite. Only 17 states have taken the path of doing it themselves, while 33 have decided to leave it up to the Feds.  (For a breakdown of which states have chosen which path, see page three here).

We are now only days away from the October 1 launch date on which CoveredCA has promised that plan rates and descriptions will be available for licensed and certified insurance agents to sell.

In the last three business days, I, as one who’s been involved in California’s health care industry for over 30 years, have spent nine hours in face-to-face seminars and two more hours in a CoveredCA sponsored webinar. I believe that a quick glimpse of some of the hard core realities of the Obamacare Health Insurance Exchanges would be of interest to my fellow Americans.

Sadly, as of now, there are zero plans with rates or benefits approved for sale by either of California’s two state insurance regulatory bureaucracies – the Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) or the Department of Insurance (DOI).  Even if there were plans available, there’s no one to sell them because there are zero licensed and certified agents contracted with CoveredCA.

Yesterday I was invited to join in a webinar sponsored by one of the General Agencies (general agencies are essentially insurance plan distributors and are an integral part of the health care landscape) and CoveredCA itself.  During the presentation, Chris Patton, Vice President of the SHOP (Small Business Health Opportunities Program, the part of the exchange tasked with selling to small businesses) dodged a key question from the audience with the aplomb of an experienced politician.

Responding to the “elephant in the room” question of whether plan rates and benefits would be available for consumers to purchase and agents to sell as of the 10/1/2013 target launch date, Mr. Patton elaborated at some length that we should understand that with 13 carriers in the SHOP, each of whom was offering multiple plans, the regulators had a lot of work to do, and only a certain amount of time in which to complete it. He continued by saying that although he expected that plans and rates would be approved and announced by October 1, and that he had no reason at all to believe that they wouldn’t be, he hoped that everyone would remember the immense workload, understand that all parties were doing their best and trying very hard to achieve that goal.

Now I don’t know about you, but that sounds suspiciously like a “no” answer to me.

But let’s skip ahead to that time – whenever it comes – when CoveredCA starts selling plans.

The media is infested with glowing claims about how Obamacare will reduce medical plan costs, saving consumers thousands of dollars.  Just days ago on September 25, less than a week before the plans go on sale, the Department of Health and Human Services released a glowing report on premiums, pointing out how much lower costs will be than projected.

But, in the words of Forbes magazine, “the reality is starkly different.”

Assuming that the price and plan benefit structures of the plans which are eventually approved for sale by CoveredCA end up more or less as they were submitted to the regulators, a full and complete analysis of the 2014 plans vs. the 2013 plans will be very interesting.

Many analysts from all sectors are asking the same question: With the elimination of health underwriting (meaning that unhealthy buyers will pay the same premiums as healthy ones), the mandatory increase of benefits such as pediatric dental and vision care, as well as the mandatory inclusion of ten Essential Health Benefits in all plans, and finally the inclusion of a number of new fees and taxes, how can costs possibly go down?

It’s easy.

  • Find doctors who’ll work more cheaply
  • Restrict consumer choice so plan members can only go to those lower priced doctors
  • Degrade the benefits of those much ballyhooed “cheaper” plans.

To explore how insurance companies get doctors who’ll work more cheaply requires a brief explanation of provider networks, often called PPO (Preferred Provider Option) or HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) plans.

The way both of these types of networks operate is that the insurers get together with doctors and negotiate prices.  Those doctors who agree to give the insurer lower prices, or perhaps who capitulate to the insurer’s demands for lower prices, depending on one’s perspective, are the ones who get on the network.

Both PPOs and HMOs have become the standard in the medical plan world over the past 25 to 30 years.  Most insurance carriers have developed comprehensive, widespread networks that include many outstanding medical practitioners, including such famous medical centers as Stanford, Cedars-Sinai, UCLA, UCSF and many more.

But which hospitals and doctors do you think we’ll see on the new restricted, leaner, limited networks?  The famous ones who have six-week waiting lists to get seen?  Don’t bet on it.

The Los Angeles Times wrote in May, “People who want UCLA Medical Center and its doctors in their health plan network next year, for instance, may have only one choice in California’s exchange: Anthem Blue Cross. “  But less than a month later Anthem Blue Cross pulled out of the California SHOP.  Let’s see, one minus one equals zero, right?

In the same article Blue Shield admitted that its slimmed-down CoveredCA members would see only 37% of the doctors who make up Shield’s regular, long-established network.

Health Net, the only other state-wide carrier with a variable size network, a network that the insurer can enlarge or reduce at will by modifying the requirements for participating doctors, may have as few as 33% of their regular network providers available to CoveredCA members in many geographic areas.  Health Net explains that to the currently uninsured, price is a key factor, so it built a narrow and hence less expensive network to serve that target market.

That’s fine, shave your costs and restrict your networks to help push the prices down – but then don’t use those plans to tell us that Obamacare Exchanges are reducing costs.

Interestingly, Kaiser, which historically has been the lowest cost plan provider in California, will very likely lose that distinction in the Exchange. Why? Because Kaiser doesn’t have a variable size network; it has its own closed network, and the size of that network is fixed. If you’re on a Kaiser plan, you have to go to a Kaiser doctor in a Kaiser facility or you won’t be treated.  And Kaiser has no way to further shrink its own proprietary network. Kaiser is Kaiser, end of story.

As to my comment about degrading plan benefits, during the seminar which I attended today, one of a series of many nationwide events held by an industry leading insurer, there was a PowerPoint slide which compared one of their 2013 current plans with an “equivalent” 2014 plan (which they’re hoping the California bureaucracy will soon approve).

The slide showed a 2013 $500 deductible, $30 office visit copay plan with what was offered as an equivalent 2014 plan, a $1500 deductible, $20 office visit copay plan.  Remember, the deductible is that amount that must come out of your pocket before the insurance company starts paying the big bills, like surgery, hospitalization, MRIs, CT scans, lab tests, and so on.

Seriously?  Since when does a 2013 deductible of $500 become equivalent to a $1500 deductible plan in 2014?  That’s 300% inflation – not equivalent! If you’re comparing costs between those two plans, it’s not hard to see how you’d think the 2014 plan was cheaper, but only until you have a claim.

I will leave you with two critical questions to ponder:

1 – If California, the alleged national leader, is this far behind where they promised to be and where they should be to have a viable, functional product available by October 1, how far behind the deadline are all the rest of the states and the federal government?

2 – If CoveredCA is this far over their heads in getting ready to sell these brand new plans to millions of people all over California, how ready are they going to be to administer, service, and satisfy those millions of people as customers once they sign up for coverage?

I, for one, have no great interest in becoming one of the first guinea pigs in the beta testing of any of the Obamacare Medical Exchange upcoming product launches. Do you?

declaration_flag_pen

Challenging the New Aristocracy

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The following was first published by American Thinker on their website, September 19, 2013.

Do we, as Americans, want political office in the United States to be up for sale to the highest bidder?

A “yes” answer to this question may come to define our nation’s leadership if we don’t all unite to stand forth and give a resounding shout of “NO!” that resonates from sea to shining sea.

Thomas Jefferson has always been regarded as an honest, ethical leader, even by his opponents.  What would Thomas Jefferson do if he were asked this question? He gives us at least a partial answer in his draft of “A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge” (1779):

“For promoting the public happiness those persons whom nature has endowed with genius and virtue should be able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens, and they should be called to that charge without regard to wealth, birth or any other accidental condition or circumstance.”  (emphasis mine)

We all surely agree that given a choice, we would want our leadership to be endowed with both “genius and virtue.”  I ask you:  “Do those qualities strike you as defining the majority of our current and recent leaders?”

A specific person-by-person enumeration would accomplish little, but with almost no effort one can call to mind politicians who have resigned their office for sexual misadventures such as “sexting,” and for accepting bribes and illegal use of campaign contributions.

Even worse, presidential candidates commonly make campaign promises and statements, only to renege once they’ve changed their residence to the White House.

But now let us move on to the part of Mr. Jefferson’s statement that is easier to remedy, for neither genius nor virtue can be easily legislated.

“They should be called to that charge without regard to wealth,” he said in the above referenced bill. He later expanded upon the same theme in his Autobiography: “An aristocracy of wealth is of more harm and danger than benefit to society.”

A very interesting phrase – “An Aristocracy of Wealth.”

With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at the net worth of ten prominent 21st century American political figures:   (Sources are here and here.  Also note that married couples reflect their joint assets though both spouses are listed only if both are political figures.)

 

Michael Bloomberg (Governor) $19.5 billion
John Kerry (former Senator, 2004 Presidential nominee, current Secretary of State) $394 million
Arnold Schwarzenegger (former Governor) $300 million
Mitt Romney (former Governor, 2012 Presidential nominee) $250 million
Michael McCall (US Congressman) $290 million
Darrell Issa   (US Congressman) $140 million
Bill and Hillary Clinton (Bill – former President, former Governor; Hillary – former Senator, former Secretary of State) $101 million
Caroline Kennedy (US Ambassador to Japan) $100 million
Jay Rockefeller (US Senator) $ 81 million
Mark Warner (US Senator) $ 76 million

 

Obviously these figures fluctuate from year to year. For example, when John Kerry ran for President, his net worth was variously estimated at between $900 million and $3.2 billion.

The brief list above ignores such luminaries as George W. Bush, Diane Feinstein, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and many others. It’s nearly impossible to name all of those who fall into the lesser category of from $10 million to $50 million in net worth.

The resources provided by this much wealth are immense! How can anyone even begin to compete against a man like Mr. Bloomberg, with a net worth of nearly $20 billion, unless it might be Donald Trump, who proclaims his net worth as over $10 billion and has said he’ll spend what it takes if he decides to run for President.

Has America now reached the point where you must be rich to be a leader?  That’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves for years, but unfortunately it seems that the answer is becoming a more resounding “YES!” every year.

Isn’t it time to consider changing the mechanics of campaign funding following the spending explosion in 2012 when the two major candidates combined to spend in excess of $2 billion on their presidential campaign?

You may now be asking, “Hasn’t anyone ever thought about this before?”  The answer is, “Of course they have.”

In 1971 Congress passed the Federal Election Campaign Act and the Revenue Act, which established the Presidential Campaign Election Fund (PECF) and allowed taxpayers to designate $1 (later increased to $3) of their tax dollars to finance presidential elections.

Keep in mind, this campaign reform law only addressed presidential elections.  Neither US senatorial or congressional campaigns, nor any campaigns at the state or local level were included; just the race for the White House.  But we have to start somewhere, and the logical place to start is the Presidency, since it’s the highest office in the nation.

A key point here is that by checking the box, you don’t pay more in taxes, or reduce your tax refund.  You simply tell the government that they MUST take $3 of your taxes, and put those funds into the PCEF.

2012 Form 1040

In the beginning, right after the fund was established, it was very popular, but over the years, perhaps because of lack of understanding or lack of publicity, the contributions have declined significantly, as the following chart reveals:

% of US income tax returns directing the government to deposit tax income into the PECF

1976

1980

1984

1988

1992

1996

2000

2004

2008

2012

27.5%

28.7%

23.0%

20.1%

18.9%

12.6%

11.5%

9.2%

7.4%

5.1%

A very cynical person might suggest that the federal government would prefer that fewer Americans select this option because every dollar that goes into the PECF is one dollar less that the Feds have to spend in other areas.  This writer, of course, is not that cynical.

The catch to accepting federal funding is that it imposes a limit on how much each candidate could spend. So if there’s not enough money in the pot to reasonably fund a campaign, or if the candidate thinks he or she can raise more campaign funds on his or her own, there’s a compelling reason to decline the PECF support.

Nevertheless, the concept created in 1971 performed excellently in every presidential election campaign from 1976 through 2004, with every single qualifying candidate accepting the federal funds and adhering to the required maximum spending limit. Every single one!

Sadly, the system broke down in 2008, for the first time in history, when one of the two major party candidates declined to accept the federal funds, choosing to refuse the PECF support and hence escape the campaign spending limits created by the Federal Election Campaign Act reform 37 years earlier.  Four years later, in 2012, both major party candidates declined federal funds.

This doesn’t mean we need a radical revision of our entire campaign system.  What we’re suggesting is a small adjustment which will have significant positive ramifications in future elections.

The problem facing America today is that there is such an incredible amount of money out there – corporate funds, PAC funds, union funds, and what seems like “pocket money” from billionaires – that a pittance like the less than $100 million offered by the PECF in 2012 just doesn’t cut it.

But there is a fix.  If we publicize the PECF check off box on our tax returns we could almost certainly increase the funding for candidates so significantly that the system would once again function as intended.  It would give the lesser known people with “genius and virtue” a real chance to compete.

Let’s look at the numbers:

In the four-year period from 2009 to 2012, the average check off percentage was 6.5% for taxpayers, which created a total influx into the PECF of $188.5 million over the four years.

If we could get the contribution back to the approximately 20% level that it was during the first 20 years of the PECF, that $188.5 million could become $582 million!  At the 25% level that it averaged for the first 10 years after reform, the pot becomes over $742 million.

Of course, the solution isn’t quite that simple.  Part of the PECF goes to to primary participants, there’s a matching formula involved, and the current spending limit might need to be addressed.  But with three to four times the resources available to help the candidates out on the campaign trail, we’d definitely be taking a big step in the right direction.

It is probably unlikely that Americans would raise the PECF to where it would surpass the resources of the multiple PACs, unions, and media giants, and even if it did, this would not eliminate PAC spending. PAC spending is not legally a campaign contribution, but almost surely with increased publicity and a strong bipartisan effort we could push the PECF dollars up to where less financially endowed candidates would be able to enter the fray, make themselves heard, and have an excellent chance to reach the magical debate platform where the voters of the nation could examine their qualifications as serious candidates.

We need to change the current paradigm, and the revival of the PCEF is an excellent way – perhaps the only possible way – to continue to make political office accessible to Americans who aren’t extremely wealthy.

Clearly this is not a complete and total solution to the problems we face, but it would be a start, a way to begin to level the playing field.  We must wrest control of America from those of well-nigh unlimited wealth or it won’t be too long before we see political offices up for sale on eBay.

Thomas Jefferson, who distrusted the aristocracy of wealth, did believe in an aristocracy of a different kind, as described in his letter to John Adams, October 28, 1813:

“I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents. [This] natural aristocracy [is] the most precious gift of nature for the …government of society.”

Jefferson Memorial Statue 518

War on the Coast of the Mediterranean?

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On the night of February 16, 1804, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a small force of U.S. Marines on board a small captured Tripolitan vessel re-named the USS Intrepid close enough to the USS Philadelphia to board her. Under Decatur’s leadership, the Marines stormed the ship and overpowered the pirates to take control. With fire support from  American warships, the Marines then set fire to the Philadelphia, destroying her in order to prevent her future use by the enemy. British Admiral Horatio Nelson, one of the all time greatest heroes of the British navy, reportedly called this “the most bold and daring act of the age.”

Did the United States undertake this campaign on its own?  Did Congress approve of President Jefferson’s deployment of US naval forces?

Emphatically not!  While Congress never made a formal declaration of war, they did authorize President Jefferson to issue orders to the commanders of American ships-of-war to seize all vessels and goods of the Pasha of Tripoli as well as “to cause to be done all such other acts of precaution or hostility as the state of war will justify.”

As allies, the Americans squadron joined a Swedish flotilla under Rudolf Cederström in blockading Tripoli, the Swedes having been at war with the Tripolitans since 1800.  US forces were also aided by King Francis of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies who supplied the Americans with manpower, craftsmen, supplies, gunboats, mortar boats, and the ports of Messina, Syracuse and Palermo to launch the offensive against Tripoli.

In the painting shown here, the small boat in the near left corner is the Intrepid carrying the escaping Marine raiders away from the flaming Philadelphia.

 

Burning_of_the_USS_Philadelphia

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