What’s Their Deal With Health Insurance Anyway?

It feels odd to write about anything else now that a senseless, malevolent being has taken control of the White House, but here goes anyway:

Four years ago, Dr. Ben Carson, who is expected to be the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the new administration, compared the Affordable Care Act to slavery:

“You know, Obamacare is really I think the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery,” Carson … said … in remarks at the Values Voter Summit in Washington. “And it is in a way, it is slavery in a way, because it is making all of us subservient to the government, and it was never about health care. It was about control…”

“And why did [the Obama administration] want to pass it so badly? Well, as I said the other night on television, Vladimir Lenin … said that socialized medicine is the keystone to the establishment of a socialist state.”

As we might expect, there is no evidence that Lenin said any such thing. The “socialized medicine” quote attributed to him by Carson and others was fabricated for a 1949 brochure issued by the American Medical Association. That’s back when the AMA was fighting President Truman’s proposal for national health insurance (and years before they opposed Medicare). But Carson telling that tall tale helps explain why the Republican Party is so opposed to the Affordable Care Act.

The ACA requires individuals to have health insurance (or pay more income tax) and employers of a certain size to offer health insurance to their employees (or pay more income tax). It also requires that health insurance plans meet specific requirements in order to qualify as health insurance for purposes of the law. So that’s one reason Republicans want to repeal the ACA. The law requires that we do something for our own benefit or for the benefit of others. It limits our freedom to do whatever the hell we want. That makes it a prime example of government overreach, or what the right-wing calls the “Nanny State”.

But since Republicans are forced to buy insurance for their houses and cars without making a fuss (let alone bringing up slavery or Nazi Germany), being forced to buy insurance for their bodies (or their employees’ bodies) can’t be the only reason they’re against the ACA.

A second reason is simply political. After decades of trying, a Democratic President finally got a bill passed that takes us closer to universal health insurance. But whatever Obama was for, the Republicans were against. They immediately labeled the ACA as “Obamacare” to help convince right-wingers to oppose the law, even if they didn’t know what the law did (and even if the law would improve their own lives). 

That’s despite the fact that the ACA adopted the conservative approach to universal healthcare that Republicans had been advocating since the 1970s. It’s pretty amazing. A letter to the editor in The Chicago Tribune tells the disheartening story:

Obamacare is virtually the same privatized mandate plan [the Republican Party] pushed since President Richard Nixon first proposed the National Health Strategy in 1971, then again in 1974. Then the GOP revived its privatized mandate plan again in 1993 with … the [HEART] act … an alternative to the [Clinton] single-payer plan… 

Obama — as a compromise to have basic health reform passed — used this same GOP blueprint with one significant change: adding a public option alongside the GOP’s privatized mandate plan … 

Eventually the public option was stripped out of the 2010 ACA bill as a further compromise to attract bipartisan support for the bill, leaving in its place the very plan that the GOP wanted and pushed for decades. Unfortunately, the ACA did not receive a single vote from the Republican Party that created the plan’s primary concepts as an alternative to a single-payer — “Medicare for all” — type of system.

No wonder the Republicans have had so much trouble coming up with a replacement for “Obamacare”. The law they’re so against is the law they used to be for.

A third reason the Republicans oppose the ACA is that it’s the kind of Robin Hood economic redistribution Republicans hate. It takes from the rich and gives to the poor. Paul Krugman explains in a blog post called “Health Care Fundamentals”:

Providing health care to those previously denied it is, necessarily, a matter of redistributing from the lucky to the unlucky. And, of course, reversing a policy that expanded health care is redistribution in reverse. You can’t make this reality go away.

Left to its own devices, a market economy won’t care for the sick unless they can pay for it; insurance can help up to a point, but insurance companies have no interest in covering people they suspect will get sick. So unfettered markets mean that health care goes only to those who are wealthy and/or healthy enough that they won’t need it often, and hence can get insurance….

The thing is, however, that guaranteeing health care comes with a cost. You can tell insurance companies that they can’t discriminate based on medical history, but that means higher premiums for the healthy — and you also create an incentive to stay uninsured until … you get sick, which pushes premiums even higher. So you have to regulate individuals as well as insurers, requiring that everyone sign up — the mandate. And since some people won’t be able to obey such a mandate, you need subsidies, which must be paid for out of taxes…

What [the Republicans] are left with is … voodoo: they’ll invoke the magic of the market to somehow provide insurance so cheap that everyone will be able to afford it whatever their income and medical status. This is obvious nonsense [but] it’s all they’ve got.

The redistribution is related to a fourth reason they’re against the ACA and it might be their biggest reason of all. Not only did the ACA impose fines in the form of tax increases on taxpayers who wouldn’t buy health insurance, it included a separate, relatively large tax increase on the richest Americans. As everyone knows, that‘s anathema to Republican politicians. Repealing the ACA, therefore, would mean a big tax cut for the Republicans’ favorite people. From Slate:

One of the core, very simple things [the ACA] did was raise taxes on the wealthy in order to fund subsidized health care for more Americans. Couples earning more than $250,000 saw a 0.9 percent increase in their top Medicare tax rate, as well as a new, 3.8 percent Medicare surtax on investment income.

If Republicans have their way and successfully repeal the Affordable Care Act, those two taxes will be toast—which will mean a substantial break for some of the country’s wealthiest families. The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that millionaires would see 80 percent of the benefits from those tax reductions. Based on the most recent IRS data, the think tank roughly projects that the 400 highest income households—which earned an average of more than $300 million each in 2014—would see a $2.8 billion annual tax cut, worth about $7 million on average per filer.

So that’s at least four reasons why Republicans want to scrap the Affordable Care Act:

1) It’s what they call the “Nanny State” in action. 

2) It was an important Obama accomplishment.

3) It’s the kind of redistribution Robin Hood was for and the bad guys were against.

4) It raised taxes, especially for the rich.

In conclusion, Republicans don’t necessarily want millions of Americans suffering and dying without medical treatment. Being concerned about that kind of thing is simply low on their list of priorities.

Love and Mercy Will Be Available June 5th

In the United States anyway. Love and Mercy is the new movie about Brian Wilson (not the baseball pitcher with the silly beard).

It’s also the name of a song from his first solo album. The performance below, by members of Libera and the Boys Choir of Harlem at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2007, gets me every time.

The Riot, the Police and Some Music

I spend a lot of time on a web forum devoted to a certain great musician. Because some of the site’s visitors have ties to Baltimore, the riots and the effect they’re having on the city are being discussed — in a thread supposedly devoted to something else. Emotions obviously run high in such situations, which partly explains why one person who says he lives in Baltimore called for “the police and National Guard to show no mercy”.

I didn’t want to get into this topic on a musician’s website, but it eventually seemed necessary to add another point of view:

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Since what’s been happening in Baltimore keeps being discussed, here’s something from The Atlantic:

Justice demands that participants in the riots are identified, arrested, and charged with whatever crimes they committed. Their unjustifiable violence endangered innocents, destroyed businesses, and harmed the economic future of largely black neighborhoods; they earned the frustrated contempt of Baltimore’s mayor and members of its clergy and strengthened the hand of the public-safety unions that are the biggest obstacles to vital policing reforms.

But a subset of Baltimore police officers has spent years engaged in lawbreaking every bit as flagrant as any teen jumping up and down on a squad car, however invisible it is to CNN. And their unpunished crimes have done more damage to Baltimore than Monday’s riots. Justice also requires that those cops be identified and charged, but few are demanding as much because their brutality mostly goes un-televised. Powerless folks are typically the only witnesses to their thuggery. For too long, the police have gotten away with assaults and even worse. The benefit of the doubt conferred by their uniforms is no longer defensible.

I didn’t realize until today that putting handcuffed suspects in the back of police vans without strapping them in and then driving with sudden stops and starts and making sharp turns so that the suspects get bounced around is common enough in cities like Baltimore and Philadelphia to have been given names like “rough ride” and “nickel ride”.

People have been paralyzed and otherwise injured in both cities and won millions of dollars in damages. The investigation isn’t over, but it’s reasonable to assume that this is how Freddie Grey had his spine and larynx destroyed while he was driven around the city in the back of a police van, before he fell into a coma and died.

The Atlantic article concludes:

I believe it is as necessary now as it was in 1968 [when Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about such things] to simultaneously insist upon the following: that riots are to be condemned; that they are inextricably bound up with injustices perpetrated by the state; and that it is a moral imperative for us to condemn both sorts of violence.

The whole article [by Conor Friedensdorf], which isn’t very long, is here.

The Soul Stirrers with Sam Cooke, “Stand By Me Father”, the early 60s
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weYZt3FAqi4

Ben E. King, “Stand By Me”, 1961
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwZNL7QVJjE

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Well, it’s a music site so it seemed best to stay somewhat on topic.

O brave new world, That has such people in’t!

While struggling a bit with the second law of thermodynamics and “A Guide to Reality, Part 6”, I stumbled upon the video below. It’s reminiscent of the performance by Susan Boyle, the unknown Scottish woman who so surprised the vast majority of us when we heard her sing for the first time. To say that this performance by Amira Willighagen, a 9-year old Dutch girl, is more surprising than Susan Boyle’s is an understatement. 

She tells the judges that she learned to sing by listening to videos on YouTube. Amazing.

PS – It would be a terrible shame if this turned out to be a hoax. The world should have such people in it.

Peter and Gordon Go To Pieces

I’ve been puttering around with a YouTube playlist for a few months, adding songs that I especially enjoy hearing. Most of them aren’t the biggest hits — they’re songs I want to hear more of. So I haven’t included wonderful songs like “Good Vibrations” and “In the Still of the Night”. I’ve got “Let Him Run Wild” and “Ramble Tamble” instead.

Many of the songs are singles I heard on the radio when I was a kid — songs that I’ve never owned but can now hear whenever I want. It’s amazing, and somehow seems improper, that all of this music is available for free. 

YouTube apparently allows a playlist to have a maximum of 200 entries. Right now, I’ve got 199 songs or some 10 hours of music (plus unwanted commercials).

Certain artists aren’t well-represented on YouTube. For example, some law firm or corporation apparently makes sure that there are very few Bob Dylan album tracks available; otherwise I’d have included “Highway 61 Revisited” for sure. On the other hand, you can find just about every song ever recorded by many well-known artists. But songs come and go fairly frequently, so it’s never certain that a particular song will be on the list the next time around.

One of the surprises I got while compiling my list is how much I enjoy a particular song by the British Invasion duo Peter and Gordon. I was never a big fan of theirs and would never have thought of “I Go To Pieces” as a personal favorite, but I love it every time I hear it. Released in 1964 (not 1965), the single got up to number 7 in the U.S. It wasn’t a hit in the U.K., failing to make the top 50.

So, without further ado, thanks to our friends (or Masters of the Universe) at YouTube, here is “I Go To Pieces”, written by Del Shannon (“Runaway”), and performed by Peter Asher (the one who looks like Austin Powers) and the late Gordon Waller: 

And here’s a link to my rather large YouTube playlist (“I Go To Pieces” is currently number 70 out of 199 entries):

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL1vCWCmzw3snpXOZ5eXUFEkEcCYm2eKkx

P.S. 6/25/13 — Looks like I’ll be moving to Spotify. I’ll pay $5 per month to avoid commercials, plus they’ve got “Highway 61 Revisited”.

P.P.S. 6/26/13 — Spotify is pretty amazing. It’s like being in the 21st century. Except it doesn’t seem right that all this music, including new albums, is so cheaply available, the price being either exposure to advertising or a small monthly fee, plus being observed by whatever tracking software they use.