(Un)intended Consequences?

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The last vacation I took: Bethany Beach, Delaware, July 2011

In a day or two, I will relate my own ongoing struggle with Obamacare (it’s not positive, believe it or not).  But for now, I want to talk about something I saw yesterday on Corrente regarding the Clinton papers and what Hillary Clinton had to say about the individual mandate.

But first, let me tell you about Jobs4NJ.  When I was laid off back in 2011 from the job I loved, I signed up for the NJ job matching service.  You upload your CV to their database, spend 2 hours correcting all the formatting mistakes, and wait.  By the way, we were told at the NJDOL that we could also apply for state jobs but that each job application would require a $25 fee.  That fee was non-refundable whether you got a job or not.  Imagine asking a bunch of unemployed people to cough up $25 for each job opening they saw on the state employment site.  I’m wondering if that was a Christie innovation.  The DOL employees were extremely kind, helpful and treated us with dignity and respect and even they thought the fee was outrageous.

Anyway, getting back to Jobs4NJ.  They sent me some job listings.  The good positions were gone, gone, gone from NJ.  The postings I got had descriptions that seemed a bit vague, as if the companies themselves weren’t really sure what they wanted.  Most positions in “science” were really business positions.  Apparently, R&D has an unmet demand for marketing and finance specialists.  Labrats?  Ehhhh, not so much.

I applied to some of the few low level lab positions that were available, and, as is the custom these days with companies, never heard back from any of them that they even received my CV and cover letter or what exactly the mismatch was.  This was not the example of malignant narcissism run amok that I alluded to a couple of days ago though.  I would be grossly exaggerating if I characterized this all too typical insensitivity towards jobseekers as evil.  I’m saving the story of true senseless malice for a book.

I still get email from Jobs4NJ, though you’d have to drag me kicking and screaming to go back to that state.  But I noticed something the other day about the new positions.  Quite a few of them have the word “CONTRACT” in the post.  Hmmm, that’s a new one, thought I.  And then, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.

Over a year ago, I predicted that the ACA would lead to a greater number of contract positions.  And why is that?  There are a couple of reasons.  One, it allows many corporations to go “weightless”.  They don’t have to offer their workers benefits if they get a third party vendor to handle their human resources needs.  That third party vendor becomes a middle man, matching up contractors with the company.  The middle man becomes the tax collector who processes the paperwork and handles the  untidy business of interacting with the people who, you know, get their hands dirty in the labs.  (Sidenote: It always amused me when I compared the executive cafeteria with the R&D cafeteria.  The business workers had bespoke prepared foods, plenty of healthy and delicious options and an on-call nutritionist who would consult with you on your dietary needs.  I witnessed this personally one day.  The R&D cafeteria served the kind of high fat, high calorie limited entrees that would be perfect for coal miners, not a bunch of bespectacled, skinny geeks.  But since the executives rarely interacted with us, we may perhaps excuse them for thinking we were grimy blue collar lumberjacks who needed 5000 calories per serving of bland, greasy food.)

The other reason why the ACA is leading to a greater number of non-full time, contract positions is that because the employer mandate keeps getting put off, indefinitely, it seems, the employee is now responsible for carrying the weight of the health care premiums, which, by the way, are still astronomical when the deductibles and OOP expenses are factored in.  An increase in precariousness shouldn’t be surprising.  Why should an employer invest money in training and retaining an employee when they don’t have to?  It’s a kind of moral hazard, is it not?

So, it came as no surprise to me that Hillary Clinton saw a flaw in the individual mandate back in the 90s.  Let’s be clear, that’s not the same as a universal mandate, which seems to be a cornerstone of successful national health care systems around the world.  It’s important that all stakeholders, employees and employers, buy in to the system or it doesn’t work.  But to put all of the burden on individuals and letting employers get away with no responsibility?  According to the papers, Hillary Clinton said that was a problem:

“That is politically and substantively a much harder sell than the one we’ve got — a much harder sell,” Clinton said. “Because not only will you be saying that the individual bears the full responsibility; you will be sending shock waves through the currently insured population that if there is no requirement that employers continue to insure, then they, too, may bear the individual responsibility.”

Yes, this is exactly what is happening.  EVERYONE is potentially affected.  Even worse, there may be a two tier system of employees.  I can just imagine the better connected, legacy ivy league graduates becoming fully vested in the employee benefit system while the state school graduates scramble from job to job trying to find a foot hold.  It’s already happening in the pharmaceutical industry where what the MBAs consider the cream of the crop get the few coveted positions in Cambridge and San Francisco and the rest of us run from contract position to contract position, or stuck in an endless series of low paying post doc positions.  (Sidenote: you politicians are crazy if you think we former scientists are going to let you get away with the “there aren’t enough STEM workers” schtick.  We are already all over the comments sections and posting loud and clear that there is no shortage.  We’re not going to let our children languish in the labs for decades while they make less money than a first grade teacher for all the education they have.)

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!!

What else do contract workers not have besides health care benefits?

Well, I will tell you because I have been there.  They don’t have pensions, 401K plans, sick days, holidays or vacation days. They don’t get tuition discounts or reimbursements.  They don’t get to ride the buses for free nor can they get a spot in the employee parking lots.  And if you are a temp or contract worker, you don’t really have ANY labor protections.  You may have trouble getting paid due to the way companies pay their invoices.  In some cases, you have no protection against discrimination.  Think of how gay contractors fare with even the federal government.  YOU’RE a CONTRACTOR.  Your boss could call you in at any time of the day or night and make unreasonable demands on your time.  He may decide to arbitrarily cut your hours in half one week and let YOU worry about how you’re going to pay the rent or health insurance premium while your kid is in the hospital. As a temp worker “you do not have a salary”, as I was so brusquely  and dismissively reminded one day.

See where this is going?  Sorry, people, this is where we already are.  It’s not the future of employment.  It is the now.  Check out the Freelancer’s Union to see what employment is turning into.  A rational person would become debt free as quickly as possible and build a tiny house with solar panels and no plumbing and grow their own food.  We can let Krugman wax rhapsodic about what would happen to the economy if everyone cut back and accrued as little debt as possible.  Talk about lack of demand.  But that’s where we’re headed.  Those of us who were lucky enough to have some savings when the masters of the universe decided to pull up stakes and grab the pie for themselves have decided to stop spending money.  It’s self preservation but it’s not healthy for the country.  No more Royal Caribbean cruises, no more vacation rentals at the shore.  We question whether we really need that bentwood coffee table and agonize over hair cuts.  We save up for the days we have to call in sick.  We put off replacing our broken phones.

I think it’s time we stopped making excuses for our politicians that let this happen.  In fact, I’m not blaming Republicans for the recent, drastic, horrible negative turn of events that working people are experiencing right now.  They were like snakes and we knew what they were.  Their poison was already well understood by the educated working class.  We have no one to blame but ourselves for allowing the stealthy predators into our midst in the last 6 years.  Some of us were so bedazzled by being called “creative” that we failed to look closely at who our new friends were.

But whether the war on the working class by the financiers was intentional or not, we can no longer deny, or should I say, we deny at our peril, that our nation’s top politicians have provided a moral hazard for finance and businesses both large and small, to continue to shed benefits and worker protections via the contracting route.  In the pharmaceutical area, this was accomplished easily by laying off hundred of thousands of R&D professionals in the wake of the Great Recession and now hiring us back as contractors.  Indeed, the high unemployment rate of the last several years coupled with the delay in the employer mandate for the ACA has created a perfect storm where the stripping of compensation is going to pick up even faster and reach deeper into the American workforce just as Hillary predicted decades ago.

It’s happening so fast that many of us don’t even realize the predators are on us until we’re being forced down the gullet.  Will this become a harder sell politically in November 2014?  We will see.

Democrats are screwed next year if they can’t figure this out

Another short one and I’m gone.

I’ve noticed that a lot of partisan Democratic blogs have kinda sorta stepped away from the relentless cheerleading of the ACA.  Now, the message is, “Well, the GOP plan is nothing so Obamacare *HAS* to work”.

I’m guessing that a lot of researchers have been there.  You spend months, years on a project and the sucker just refuses to go anywhere.  There are no breakthroughs.  Generally, it’s the biologists’ fault but what are you going to do?  You don’t want to abandon the project so you keep propping it up.  Unless you have a really talented project leader who can reassess and has the courage to take a new approach, the project is doomed to being terminated the next time it comes up for review.

That would be 2014.

Look, guys.  I’m talking to YOU, Democrats.  I don’t know what your project manager has been telling you but if you don’t get your shit together and offer a radical and effective alternative to the ACA, you’re all going to be laid off in the next round of restructuring.  You may get laid off anyway because that’s just the way things go these days.  There’s always some political asshole gunning for your job and trying to steal credit.  But as long as you are employed, you might as well do your f&*(ing jobs.

There should be THREE health care reform plans: the non-existent GOP plan, the Obamacare “let’s give the insurance companies everything they want and guarantee a hefty profit for them for eternity!” plan and YOUR plan.

Your project manager is incompetent.  He got promoted too soon before he even ran a single project on his own.  If you don’t want him to take you down with him, you’d better figure out a way of digging yourself out of this hole. And let me make this perfectly clear to you, because you don’t seem to be getting it: protecting your project manager with phrases like “it’s not his fault, it’s the policy” is not helping you.  Of course it’s his fault because it is his policy but he and his friends are going to point the finger at anyone but himself.

And may I remind you that every other country in the developed world has figured out how to do this without impoverishing the citizens who through no fault of their own have been forced to seek insurance on the independent market. And here’s an update for you: back in 2009 this might have been a tiny segment.  It is tiny no longer. More and more people are unemployed or underemployed and don’t get health benefits.  Stop calling us a tiny fraction.  We are legion these days.  That’s why there has been so much outrage over this stupid, ill-conceived policy and it’s disastrous implementation.

There is no excuse for failure here.  There are a lot of templates to choose from.  Pick one and get on with it.

You have a year.

Well, Duh. (in which RD and Lambert apologize for being prematurely correct)

It’s been almost two weeks since the ACA exchange sign up system has been up and running and we have an initial evaluation courtesy of the NY Times, From the Start, Signs of Trouble at Health Portal:

WASHINGTON — In March, Henry Chao, the chief digital architect for the Obama administration’s new online insurance marketplace, told industry executives that he was deeply worried about the Web site’s debut. “Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience,” he told them.

“So much testing of the new system was so far behind schedule, I was not confident it would work well.”
—RICHARD S. FOSTER, who retired as chief actuary of the Medicare program in January

Two weeks after the rollout, few would say his hopes were realized.

For the past 12 days, a system costing more than $400 million and billed as a one-stop click-and-go hub for citizens seeking health insurance has thwarted the efforts of millions to simply log in. The growing national outcry has deeply embarrassed the White House, which has refused to say how many people have enrolled through the federal exchange.

Even some supporters of the Affordable Care Act worry that the flaws in the system, if not quickly fixed, could threaten the fiscal health of the insurance initiative, which depends on throngs of customers to spread the risk and keep prices low.

“These are not glitches,” said an insurance executive who has participated in many conference calls on the federal exchange. Like many people interviewed for this article, the executive spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying he did not wish to alienate the federal officials with whom he works. “The extent of the problems is pretty enormous. At the end of our calls, people say, ‘It’s awful, just awful.’ ”

Interviews with two dozen contractors, current and former government officials, insurance executives and consumer advocates, as well as an examination of confidential administration documents, point to a series of missteps — financial, technical and managerial — that led to the troubles.

Politics made things worse. To avoid giving ammunition to Republicans opposed to the project, the administration put off issuing several major rules until after last November’s elections. The Republican-controlled House blocked funds. More than 30 states refused to set up their own exchanges, requiring the federal government to vastly expand its project in unexpected ways.

The stakes rose even higher when Congressional opponents forced a government shutdown in the latest fight over the health care law, which will require most Americans to have health insurance. Administration officials dug in their heels, repeatedly insisting that the project was on track despite evidence to the contrary.

Dr. Donald M. Berwick, the administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2010 and 2011, said the time and budgetary pressures were a constant worry. “The staff was heroic and dedicated, but we did not have enough money, and we all knew that,” he said in an interview on Friday.

Um, money is not the problem.  After all, the social security system, IRS and Medicare don’t have these problems.  Those of us who have seen modern IT initiatives at work in these modern times have a completely different take on this.  It’s a tale about private companies seeking big contracts, using a lot of money to wine and dine the purchasing managers, executives with big bonuses and lots and lots of subcontractors here and in India that have to do the grunt work.  As I wrote earlier this year when the first signs of unreadiness were posted:

The official line is that employers and their reporting systems are not ready yet.  Also not surprised.  The idiots in charge hired Accenture to run their technology.  The hiring managers should have come to former Pharma people for a performance evaluation of Accenture first but you know, workers are never asked to critique decisions like whether hiring Accenture to design information systems was a good idea.

Here’s how it works.  Accenture breezes into a company with their sharp suits and flashy presentations and completely bamboozles the management with promises of slick vaporware. Then they subcontract out to a couple of companies, who subcontract to India.  The Indian subcontractors do the best they can with limited information and the template code into which every business model must fit.  That gets passed back to the poor guy stateside who has to debug and rewrite everything.  The final result is, well, never final.  I’ve never known an Accenture job that actually completed on time, under budget and with all the bells and whistles that were initially promised.  The Pharma landscape is littered with systems that don’t work very well but have pushed aside the in-house programs they outbid to replace.  Meanwhile, the Accenture guys just move to another company.  Commence the parties and golf outings!

And why should we be surprised?  This health care policy was all about campaigning and the worst kind of politics.  It was not about well crafted public policy. It was about letting the private sector make a profit off of healthcare for the uninsured and those of us already paying astronomical rates for individual policies.  In fact, almost from the start, the Obama administration made it perfectly clear that the dirty f^&*ing hippies could be safely ignored and no one had to pay attention to public options or single payer.  They were not invited to the meetings where “everything is on the table” because the Obama crew and their law and biz school pedigrees already knew what was best for Obama.  Best for us?  What did that matter? Highjacking those Democratic activists who thought so highly of their intellectual capabilities was incredibly easy and after that, they didn’t need to answer to anyone.

I keep saying it all goes back to the primaries of 2008 but does anyone listen?  {{sigh}}

Don’t expect anyone to accept responsibility.  In fact, every subcontractor involved is busily pointing fingers at each other in that NYT article.  Maybe it would have been better to let ONE government agency handle it and NOT insist that every private IT industry partner with their hands out participate.  I expect that the Obama administration and its armchair cheerleaders will say something like, “Well, it’s too late to do anything about it now and the money’s already spent so, you know, suck it up.”.  Then the Republicans will point at it as just another example of government failure when we’ve already had so many instances of government success that could have been better examples.  A better response might be “Medicare for All” where everyone is covered and the government (that would be US, oh best beloved) has the size and power to force cost control measures on the medical industry. It’s only one possible solution from many possible solutions of national health care policies from around the world. Something like single payer or public option would set Republicans’ hair on fire and guarantee Democratic majorities for generations.

I’m not sure what the Obama fan boys (white male graduate student types) thought they were getting when they forced Obama on the rest of us but what they actually got was a guy who is ideologically opposed to New Deal type initiatives and loves modern finance solutions (and how has that worked for us in the past 5 years?) and Accenture was right up his alley.  And note that we haven’t even discussed whether the exchanges offer a good, affordable product that isn’t inferior to the one you might get if you were covered by your employer.  Those of us in the individual market who used to have company plans know the difference.  Our number is legion these days and we’re a lot harder to bamboozle.

As Jon Stewart pointed out last week, the administration has had 4 years to get this right.  That’s a lot of time.  There really shouldn’t be any acceptable excuses.  On the other hand, this *IS* how the private sector works when it comes to big, expensive interfaces.

You get what you vote for.  Oh, you didn’t vote for this?

For more continuing coverage and critique, check out Lambert’s ObamaCare ClusterF^&* series at Corrente where Lambert was prematurely correct on the technology rollout. This post from May seems especially relevant.

One more thing:

I haven’t been paying attention to this site as much as I used to due to real life stuff but oddly enough, a few months ago I was going through the spam filter in my hip waders when I ran across a slew of comments about the upcoming implementation of the ACA.  These comments were all unreservedly enthusiastic about the ACA, which I thought was really weird.  It’s weird because we haven’t set up any trigger words in our settings file that would automatically filter out these kinds of comments.  You can gush all you want about the magic beans in Obamacare and your comment should get through without any interruption.

So, why were these comments automatically tagged as spam?  My theory is that these comments came from a company that was originally hired by either the DNC or the Obama campaign in 2008.  At one point in time back then (about may-June 2008), we got sick of the comments that accused us of being racists or stupid or stupid racists or old women or failing to jump on this historic bandwagon of “yes we can”dom so we started throwing certain usernames and IP addresses of the most persistent and annoying of these commenters into the spam filter.  The policy of this site was to not allow our readers to be subjected to a lot of spamesque peer pressure.  A lot of other sites allowed comments like that through and they quickly became unrecognizable campaign mouthpieces.  We didn’t want that to happen here so we spammed them.

Now, I rescued those comments from the spam filter and put them in the moderation queue for further research but haven’t done the actual work yet because cross referencing them against the settings file entries seems tedious but if anyone else wants to take this on, let me know and I’ll forward them and you can knock yourself out.  But the reason I bring this up is that I’ve been to the NYTimes comments section on the article listed above and it seems like there are an awful lot of “I logged into the exchange the first day and got a great deal on an insurance policy so quicherbitchin” type comments there.  They may be genuine, if so they are among the tiny few that got on the exchanges and purchased successfully (I think the number is something like 51,000 successful logins and fewer successful purchases).

But if they’re not, I’d like to know who or what is paying for the online astroturf.

PPACA FAQ: Verifying Eligibility, The Honor System

In previous segments (Part 1, Part 2) we’ve talked about the health insurance options of a four person family with wife (employee) husband and two children. In the scenario we discussed, the employee was offered affordable coverage through her employer but, coverage that included her children was well over what this family could afford and there was no option at all for her husband.

In a way, the situation for this family is still the same — the law hasn’t changed. But with the announcement this week (see this and this) that due to the complexities in reporting, the penalties for large companies (those with 50+ employees) will not be collected until 2015, how will this family’s eligibility be verified?

For now it seems, we are all on The Honor System:

Delay in Obamacare requirement puts onus on the honor system

In addition, without the reporting requirements of the employer mandate in 2014, “the exchanges and the IRS will not be able to verify whether someone’s coverage is unaffordable” and thus whether the person is eligible for subsidies, said law professor Timothy Jost of Washington and Lee School of Law in Lexington, Virginia.

That leaves it up to individual consumers to be honest about what they do, or do not, qualify for.

A ‘BOATLOAD’ OF ILLEGITIMATE TAX CREDITS

“The shift of employees to the exchanges could cost (the government) a boatload,” said Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan. “Some people who are ineligible for subsidies, because their employer offers affordable insurance, may attempt to get subsidies on the exchanges. The IRS will have a hard time policing that sort of conduct.”

States running their own Obamacare exchanges are scrambling to figure out how to deal with the delay in the employer-reporting requirement.

I can see how they think that would work. But, let’s look at our family again.

Mom’s insurance costs 9.5% of family income but the employer-offered plan that covers the children is much more than that. Will the family understand that the mom’s affordable insurance means that the children are not eligible for insurance through the exchanges? And what if Mom’s employer does offer a plan for dad? My understanding of the PPACA is that dad isn’t eligible for subsidies and the new Exchanges either.

Is that really true? It seems very unfair to me.

How can an Honor System work for such a deeply unfair policy?

I am going to ask my Senators, Pat Roberts & Jerry Moran and my Congressman, Kevin Yoder what they think about it.

The ACA: A Dick Waving Exercise

Update: Contrary to what Mitch McConnell may be implying, the ACA is such a mess because it is a private industry initiative and not public. If anything, the ACA makes an even stronger case for Medicare for All or at least greater cost control measures on the health care industry.  In the ACA, we took all of the best practices of the best national healthcare policies in the world and totally ignored all of them.

I was listening recently to a book by Tami Hoag, Romance novelist turned mystery writer, where one of her characters described a tense courtroom hearing between two male attorneys as a “dick waving exercise”.  He observes that most people would be surprised to know how much of the interactions of everyday public business are conducted in an atmosphere of men waving their penises at each other and for little other purpose.

I’m not surprised.

In case you missed it, the Obama administration has waved the employer mandate until 2015.  How conveeeeeenient.  I suspect it’s because there were employers who were planning to cut back on hours in 2014 to make sure their employees didn’t qualify for “affordable” insurance.  That would have been a fricking monumental disaster at the polls for Democrats during midterm elections.  It may still be since the universal mandate is still in place so workers are still responsible for covering themselves but employers will now have no obligation to foot part of the bill.

The official line is that employers and their reporting systems are not ready yet.  Also not surprised.  The idiots in charge hired Accenture to run their technology.  The hiring managers should have come to former Pharma people for a performance evaluation of Accenture first but you know, workers are never asked to critique decisions like whether hiring Accenture to design information systems was a good idea.

Here’s how it works.  Accenture breezes into a company with their sharp suits and flashy presentations and completely bamboozles the management with promises of slick vaporware. Then they subcontract out to a couple of companies, who subcontract to India.  The Indian subcontractors do the best they can with limited information and the template code into which every business model must fit.  That gets passed back to the poor guy stateside who has to debug and rewrite everything.  The final result is, well, never final.  I’ve never known an Accenture job that actually completed on time, under budget and with all the bells and whistles that were initially promised.  The Pharma landscape is littered with systems that don’t work very well but have pushed aside the in-house programs they outbid to replace.  Meanwhile, the Accenture guys just move to another company.  Commence the parties and golf outings!

Biggest scam in IT.

But that’s besides the point.  I mean, that $330 million dollars is gone now.  There’s nothing you can do to get it back.  Of course, it does continue to reinforce my original theory that the Obama administration is comprised of a bunch of corporate shmoozer types who think they know what’s going on because they have the right academic pedigrees but who are really just scratching each others’ backs on their vicious climb to the top.  Screw the people who actually have to use those crappy interfaces.

I think it was Alexa over at Corrente who is getting to the core of the ACA:

With even some major authors of this piece of legislative “crap” predicting doom (Max Baucus comes to mind), Dems have decided not to chance allowing this boondoggle to go into effect until AFTER the midterm elections.

But the “cat’s out of the bag,” now. So any and all disruptions, implosions and fiascos (in general) can be easily laid at the door of the Democratic Party.

I have long held that this bill was passed for two reasons:

1) To relieve governments (local–city and county hospitals, state and federal) of “the burden” of providing healthcare to “the poor,”

and

2) To “spread the risks,” and therefore lower the cost of health insurance for the entrepreneurial class (specifically the wealthiest couple of percent) by raising the premiums significantly on the “regular Joe’s” who are mostly insured through their work group health plans, or various unions and/or trade associations.

It’s intent was never to help lower income Americans, IMO.

It was simply to make lower income Americans financially responsible for their medical bills.

Not surprising.  Wasn’t the ACA merely the old Heritage Foundation health plan dusted off for a new generation of suckers?

But if that’s true, then why was there a push to get it done so quickly in Obama’s first term? If it was good for Republicans, did we need to rush the sucker through?

Or was it because Obama was still in campaign mode, waving his dick at the other side?  No, not at John McCain.  He was waving his dick at Hillary.

Oh, sure, think about it.  Here was this new president breaking the color barrier, being fellated by the press every time he made an appearance.  And who was it who nominated him for a Nobel Prize?  I’m guessing the Norwegians are feeling pretty stupid about that these days but who put them up to it?  Was the media mojo that strong that it could persuade the Nobel committee thousands of miles away?  He had to be nominated by someone- over all of the more worthy candidates.  I’ve always thought that the Nobel was another smack at Hillary, the supposed “war hawk”, to make sure she knew she would never get any credit for anything she may have accomplished at State, even though we know now that Obama himself was micromanaging the diplomatic relations in Afghanistan and Iraq.  And how has that turned out?

So, maybe, the Heritage Foundation based ACA, with a heavy dose of personal lobbying for the hospitals by none other than Michelle Obama herself, was intended to be Obama’s signature “accomplishment” as a means to one up Hillary as well.  HE got it done.  {{waving dick in the air}}

I didn’t matter if the whole policy was unworkable and farmed off to some IT confidence men.  Some accomplishment.  We all lost.

********************************************

Busy today, peeps.  I have an interview.  Wish me luck.

PPACA FAQ: How much are penalties for non-compliance with the ACA’s mandate, and how do they work?

[Authored (and cross posted) by Lambert at Corrente]

Let us begin our wonderful journey of discovery to find out how the PPACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care act, commonly known as ObamaCare) is going to work out for you and me and people like us.*

 

* * *Q: How much are penalties for non-compliance with the ACA’s mandate, and how do they work?

A: You pay whichever is less: (1) The national average of the Bronze plan, or (2) a penalty.

For the penalty, you pay whichever is greater: (a) A dollar amount or (b) a percentage of income, pro-rated by the number of months you were not covered. (So, if the dollar amount were $95 — as itsometimes will be — and you were not covered for three months, the penalty would be $95 / 3 = $31.)

The dollar amount and the percentage of income are both phased in, starting with the Federal taxes you pay for 2014, in 2015. (The dollar amount, at least next year, is almost certainly less than the Bronze plan, even if we don’t have a Bronze plan to look at.) After phase-in, the dollar amount is adjusted for COLA. You pay the penalty at tax time. However, the IRS can’t put a lien or levy on you if you don’t pay the penalty.

This a little more complicated than the story you read in the press, and may cost you more money than you think. Spoiler alert: You could end up paying more than $95, which is the figure everybody quotes. I’m going to focus mostly on what happens next year, before the complete structure of penalties for non-compliance phases in.

 

* * *

Continue reading

PPACA FAQ: Call for questions

This post introduces and explains a new series, “PPACA FAQ” which is a joint venture between The Confluence and Corrente.  lambert, the proprietor of Corrente, is the author and “I” in the post below:


KatieBird and I, with assists from Hipparchia and Rainbow Girl, are starting a new series, whose title is as you see:

PPACA is, of course, the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” which, being none of those things (except a big Act), is informally known as ObamaCare.

FAQ stands for Frequently Asked Questions (origin on USENETexample from the IRS).

So, our concept is to pose and then answer questions about the PPACA (ObamaCare), for two reasons:

  • People need help, and AFAIK only conservatives are offering it.
  • People should also understand that ObamaCare’s complexity just doesn’t have to be, and that single payer is a real and better alternative.

So this is the plan: Continue reading

Well, Duh

What motivates Republicans?  Winning.  That’s all they care about.  They play to win.

You can never turn your back on them.

The 2012 election may have illustrated where their high water mark is.  They may never be able to capture the popular vote again in their lifetime.  But they managed to gerrymander the House so it makes little difference anyway.

And why do they want to win soooooo badly?  Why does anyone want to win?  It’s power and control.  When you win, no one can make you pay taxes.  That’s the gist of it.  It doesn’t really matter what happens to the rest of the country and all of the pitiful sob stories of downtrodden workers and students indentured for the rest of their lives.  They don’t need to care about that as long as they got what they spent all that money to achieve and that is control.  Control over their lives, completely unfettered from the responsibilities towards others.  That is worth a small fortune.

So, the NYTimes seems a little baffled as to why the Democrats waited so long before explicitly spelling out what the sequester was going to mean to state and local governments.  The NYTimes is surprised that the Democrats underestimated and misunderstood the Republicans- again:

The White House released warningsfor every state on Sunday in the hope that angry voters would besiege Republican lawmakers like Mr. McConnell and the House speaker, John Boehner, to stop the $85 billion in cuts, known as a sequester. President Obama wants to replace the sequester with a mix of tax increases on the rich and less damaging spending reductions. Republicans say they won’t consider any proposal that isn’t all cuts, so the sequester is all but certain to begin this week.

The White House strategy on the sequester was built around a familiar miscalculation about Republicans. It assumed that, in the end, they would be reasonable and negotiate a realistic alternative to indiscriminate cuts. Because the reductions hurt defense programs long held sacrosanct by Republicans, the White House thought it had leverage that would reduce the damage to the domestic programs favored by Democrats.

It turns out, though, that the defense hawks in the party are outnumbered. More Republicans seem to care about reducing spending at all costs, and the prospect of damaging vital government programs does not seem to bother them. “Fiscal questions trump defense in a way they never would have after 9/11,” Representative Tom Cole, a Republican of Oklahoma, told The Times. “But the war in Iraq is over. Troops are coming home from Afghanistan, and we want to secure the cuts.”

[...]

The White House should have released these kinds of details months ago, when there was more time to make a strong case to the public against these cuts. Instead, administration officials failed to discuss the consequences, fearing political blame while confidently predicting the Republicans would cave. The result of that miscalculation — and of the Republican disdain for the health of the economy and those who depend on government services — will become clearer in just a few days.

Ok, hold the phone for a sec.  Isn’t it the mainstream press that is always encouraging, cajoling, mocking, screaming, insisting that the Democrats “compromise” in some mysterious “bipartisan” fashion with the Republicans??  Why is the NYTimes surprised that the Republicans insist on nothing but cuts?  Why is that a shock at all to the paper of record?  Hasn’t it been reading its own news?  This is what Republicans do.

Republicans have made no secret about the fact that they want to cut their way out of any kind of shackles to the rest of the country.  It’s been staring us in the face for decades now.

So, now they are going to force the president to cut.  Duh.

And he’s going to do it.  Because he’s not as smart as all the 25 year old male Democratic activist assholes thought he was.  Oh, sure, he’s academic smart, sort of, but he’s not politically smart.  He’s no Bill Clinton.

Oh, THAT’S right.  We’re not supposed to like politically gifted people.  I mean, why would we need a politician as president? That’s so 20th century.

And sure the public is going to get all mad and stuff at the cuts.  But they’re not going to get mad at Republicans.  Noooo, they’re going to get mad at Democrats.  They’re going to get mad because there’s a Democratic president in the White House and the Senate is controlled by Democrats.  The Republicans only own the House.  Even the dullest Joey Bagodonuts out there can freaking count.

But Republicans are going to step it up even more.  Yeah, they’re not stupid.  They’re going to let go of their resistance to marriage equality.  Of course they are.  That’s a no-brainer.  Sure their base is foaming at the mouth, offensively homophobic.  But their base is dying.  They only used their base so they could engineer as much power as they could in the form of the gerrymander.  They don’t need them now.

How does that make you feel, you so-called Christians?  How does it make you feel that you’ve compromised every Christian virtue and become the intolerant, vicious, judgmental, mean spirited, ugly people that the Republicans goaded you to become only to be discarded when the Republicans realized that you were a drag on them?

And now that they’ve embraced marriage equality for gay couples, that’s just going to highlight the problems that the Democrats have with women.  And they DO have a problem.  It’s massive.  Why do you think Hillary Clinton is still popular in spite of all efforts by the party (and it’s her own party that’s doing it) to crush her?  It’s because women are desperate for some kind of rational human being with ovaries to stand up for them.  So, we can confidently predict that the next candidate for the Democrats is going to be female.  But unless she’s Hillary, who already resisted the siren song of the financier class only to be publicly humiliated by them in 2008, the female Democratic candidate is going to be compromised by them.  We’ll probably end up with some Kathleen Sebellius type who will continue to act like the presidency is some student council position where the status quo prevails and rocking the boat is not allowed.

I don’t even want to think about what is going to happen next year when the ACA kicks in and a whole new class of people are pissed off about what a mess healthcare reform is without cost controls.  Not only that but I believe the the McKinsey report about employers using it as an excuse to lay people off.  In fact, just signing the law was an excuse to lay people off far enough in advance so that there will be no obvious correlation when workers are hired back as contractors responsible for their own damn healthcare.  It’s a corporate shareholder’s wet dream to go “weightless”.  How conveeeeenient that it all happens during an election year and Fox News is not dead yet.

This is what you get when you put a bunch of 25 year old male activists in charge of the party and have them enthralled to the Machiavellian power brokers and Republican carpetbagging financier donors of that party.  You get a president who doesn’t have a clue about how to play even one dimensional chess against the Republicans during the worst economic crisis in 80 years.

Thanks for nothing, guys.

Compare and Contrast: A little consistency

Bayeaux Tapestry: Cleric slaps Aelfgyva. It’s just tradition.

So, I read this the other day at Eschaton:

Obama Administration: Defense of Marriage Act is Unconstitutional

             BRIEF FOR THE UNITED STATES ON THE MERITS

Marriage is, of course, a vitally important institution, and one supported by the federal government through benefits and other programs that rely on marital status. An interest in preserving marriage as limited to heterosexual persons, however, does not justify Section 3. Tradition, no matter how long established, cannot by itself justify a discriminatory law under equal protection principles.

Then, I remembered that it was only about two weeks ago that the White House did THIS:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Friday proposed yet another compromise to address strenuous objections from religious organizations about a policy requiring health insurance plans to provide free contraceptives, but the change did not end the political furor or legal fight over the issue.

The proposal could expand the number of groups that do not need to pay directly for birth control coverage, encompassing not only churches and other religious organizations, but also some religiously affiliated hospitals, universities and social service agencies. Health insurance companies would pay for the coverage.

The latest proposed change is the third in the last 15 months, all announced on Fridays, as President Obama has struggled to balance women’s rights, health care and religious liberty. Legal experts said the fight could end up in the Supreme Court.

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said the proposal would guarantee free coverage of birth control “while respecting religious concerns.”

Now, I am delighted that the LGBT community’s argument that traditional marriage is just “traditional” is getting the recognition it deserves.  That tradition is usually based on religious principles that many of us don’t subscribe to and in actuality, those religious principles undermine marriage and family integrity.

But I can’t for the life of me figure out why women are so damn powerless with the Obama administration and why the argument “Tradition, no matter how long established, cannot by itself justify a discriminatory law under equal protection principles” gets no traction with the White House when applied to over half the Americans in this country .  Tradition is destiny for women in Obama’s America.

Where is NOW now that their Feminist in Chief is traditionalizing the religious role of women in American society?  And why are people like Culture of Truth mum on that subject?

Just askin’.

Seizures and Frolics

Wayyyy too close for comfort

The title was inspired by one of Katiebird’s text messages.  One of my neighbors smelled burning rubber and called the fire department.  It could have been just a fascinating but horrific thing to watch, except that all of our houses are connected.  A fire broke out in a row of townhouses in the next development over and took out eight units.  So not cool.

Anyway, I went out to take pictures to document the event and didn’t smell anything but apples and cinnamon from her unit.  She has elementary school aged kids and I’m assuming they eat a lot of Mott’s.  No fire.  No smoke.  She must be having a seizure.  I hear you can get funny smells just before one.

Doesn’t John Roberts suffer from seizures?  I think I remember reading that somewhere.  He was on vacation and had one.  Odd, I thought, but probably happens to everyone at least once in a lifetime.  This was not the case with Roberts, if I remember correctly.  He has had more than one.  Anyway, probably no big deal.  I’ve never heard of seizures turning a conservative into a liberal.  But maybe it made him a bit more sympathetic to the people with pre-existing conditions who can’t get insurance.  If Roberts didn’t have a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, he might very well be uninsurable due to his infrequent seizure history.

But then I started thinking about the pre-existing condition crowd and the Walker strategy in Wisconsin.  My mind went on one of its unchaperoned frolics again.  Wasn’t it Pelosi who said that the ACA was very carefully constructed?  One of the questions put before the court was whether the ACA was severable.  Could you strike down the individual mandate without affecting the young adult on parent’s insurance, anti-rescission and pre-existing conditions sections?  I’m guessing that you really can’t because without the individual mandate, there is no mechanism for paying for the other provisions.  So, striking down the mandate while leaving the other provisions intact, or striking the ACA down altogether, would have been pretty bad optics during the election year, especially for the Republicans.  So, maybe the Democrats, with the helpful advice of the health insurance industry, have crafted a sort of divide and conquer strategy.  In this case, the pre-existing condition crowd is coercing us to get onboard.  We’ve been divided into two groups and the fate of one hinges on the other.

I can’t say I blame the pre-existing, anti-rescission crowd for desperately wanting the ACA to stand. The problem is that they seem to be incredibly happy to force the rest of us into extremely high premium plans without cost controls or competition.  And because they are content and because their individual stories stir our sympathies, any attempt to change the ACA in the future may be very hard to do without a congressional hearing featuring an epileptic giving a gut wrenching story about how lowering the costs for millions of Americans would negatively impact their healthcare needs. It doesn’t even have to be true.  The health insurance industry will use it as a fear tactic to keep rates high for all of us.  Make one false move and the grand mal cases get it first.  That’s how propaganda and manipulation has worked for politicians in the past.  They’re good at this stuff.  But in this case, I think the Democrats who constructed this policy were in on it too.  They will use the vulnerable to force the rest of us into high cost private insurance.  There will not be an affordable alternative with cost controls and competition until this crop of Democrats are gone.

I’m glad that people who weren’t previously covered now have what they need.  But I fear that they took whatever they could get and what happened to the rest of us really didn’t matter.  That strategy has been successful so expect the same thing to happen to Social Security as well.

The fallout of this law won’t hit us for awhile but it’s coming.  There’s only so much blood you can extract from Americans before there is nothing left to tap.  We are losing our standard of living, some of us sharply, in the past decade.  Everything costs too much, not because of inflation so much but because we just don’t have money anymore.  Housing isn’t really getting any cheaper, gas prices stay stuck on “high”, home heating and cooling- ridiculous.  Fees for everything are skyrocketing.  Everytime you turn around, some private entity or public utility has their hands out for more. Student loans are burdensome. And now, everyone will be forced to buy private health insurance like we are forced to buy auto insurance.  We’ll be made to feel irresponsible if we don’t forgo every other responsibility in our lives to make our payments on time.  How much can we afford to cut back on food, clothing, education, etc, before it just isn’t sustainable anymore?  Did the Democrats give any thought to this while the industry lobbyists and professional orgs were lining their pockets and whispering sweet nothings in their ears?

BTW, the silver lining in all of this is that the price of prescription drugs is probably going to fall quite a bit because new drugs aren’t getting approved, leaving us with more and more cheaper generics.  So, whatever you think of big pharma, they’re not going to make out all that well under the ACA unless they produce the generics themselves and keep the prices artificially higher than they might have otherwise been.

The whole scenario reminds me of an article I saw in Forbes or one of those financey type journals recently about how you know when a company is on its way out.  Unfortunately, I neglected to instapaper it.  But I do remember the general idea.  At some point, the irrational exuberance that went to the heads of the owners after they have a couple of lucky breaks starts to hit reality.  Scoring a big one and growing larger without thinking down the road about sustainability leads to desperate measures to shore up profits, eventually leading to the company eating its own and going under. By the time they realize their mistakes from two steps back, it’s generally too late to do anything to correct course. That’s what’s happening to Pfizer right now and the pharma industry in general.  But I could see it happening to the Democrats as well.  They thought they scored the big kahuna when they got Obama elected and they let it go to their head with the ACA.   But they haven’t put the work into fixing the underlying problems with healthcare in this country and there is only so much money that can be extracted from Americans before impoverishing us reaches its limits. There is a finite amount of money and we are hitting it. That puts us in an even tighter spot in the future when employers can no longer afford to offer benefits, more people get hired on as contractors, wages refuse to rise, more money gets siphoned off to big insurance companies, the rest of the economy struggles because no one can afford to buy anything but the bare necessities and the cycle continues to have an impact on business.

There’s going to be a reckoning for failing to tackle the big interests that stand in the way of lower cost health care for everyone.  You can’t delay the inevitable forever.  And some of us voters are getting sick of being invisible to the politicians who are not giving us their best efforts and taking the political risks that are necessary to make the system less exploitative. If you are a politician and you went into it to be a good public servant, part of that commitment means you may have to fall on your sword to do the right thing.  Do it or get out.

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Re: The Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs

Will the Republicans and Libertarians finally see the light in Colorado Springs? Will the prayer of thousands of religious conservatives prevent destruction followed by looting?  Probably not but maybe hiring more police and firemen might. Hey, where are all those brave vigilantes when you need them?

Back to you, Libertarians…

More on the unfolding disaster there:

The Gazette in Colorado Springs (H/T Atrios)

Charles Pierce on foolish consistencies

Background material from This American Life.  The residents should have seen this coming but cause and effect is not the religious conservative, libertarian’s strong suit.

Oh, well.  Maybe they can all retreat to their churches and ride it out.  But do these churches have an obligation to help everyone?  What about gay couples who are burned out and their families?  What about Muslims?  Do they have to put up with a sermon, bow their heads and pray before eating, agree to be saved?  Just curious.  Inquiring minds want to know.

Quoth one:

“In this community that has seen so much division through the years, there’s a strong sense of unity that ‘we’re all in this together,’” Ridings said in an e-mail newsletter to EPA members. “From what I’m hearing, Christians in town are doing a wonderful job of living out Matthew 5:16, letting their lights so shine that others would see their good works – gifts of money and food, homes and churches as shelters – and glorifying God.”

Oh, please, gag me with a spoon.  Is he saying that they wouldn’t be doing all of these things without God holding a stick over their heads?  What does glorifying god have to do with anything?  Presumably (wait for it), God will be credited for visiting his wrath on Colorado Springs for some offense after this is all over.  What kind of psychopath is this god anyway?

BTW, I just love the bumperstickers that say, “Focus on your own damn family”

When all of this is over and Coloradans petition FEMA for emergency relief, it would teach them a lesson if we gave them a really hard time about it and held up some bill they were hoping for in order to get it or made all of the parishioners at New Life Church pee in a cup. Or made them sit in their own filth for days waiting for the national guard in a convention center or prevented them from traveling to Denver to stay with relatives. But that would be wrong.  It would be wrong not because we are Christians but because we are AMERICANS and we are all in this together.

I doubt this lesson will sink into to the pious, self-righteous, hardass, stingy, snobs who live in Colorado Springs.  Fortunately for them, fellow Americans who are in distress are not subject to intelligence or character tests.

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My “frolic” for today is to finish up the zillion projects I have going at one time.  I will be busy.  I’ve promised myself a dip in the pool later if I’m good.  And then, I might take on this crazy idea: faking a Beni Ourain rug with a cheap wooly bully base layer from Lowes and some fabric dye.  I must be nuts but I really like the look and I can’t afford to buy one for $6000.  This solution is much more in my price range. This is what it will look like (Or something like it):

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One more thing: I rarely feature ads because they drive me crazy but this one has been popping up on my youtube subscriptions and I like it so much, I thought I’d share it.  If you’ve ever been a parent of a driven kid, not necessarily an athletic one but one who trains themselves to do something with such an intensity that they are completely oblivious to the mess they are making, you’ll love this ad.  Some of the kids in this commercial are amazing.  But the setting is so ordinary.  Just typical suburban living rooms, kitchens and hallways.  The message is that spilled milk (or tuna wiggle, fruit compote and duck fries) is ok when it comes to your kids chasing their dreams.  I agree.  Anyway, kudos to Bounty.  Great job.  Now, if only your papertowels were a little less expensive…

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