Saturday, March 30, 2013

2/5ths of Oregon Seniors to Feel Obamacare Pain

Oregon has one of the highest percentage of seniors on Medicare Advantage (42%) of any state, and the Obama administration wants to cut those benefits. From the Wall Street Journal:
However, the ObamaCare true believers who run the Health and Human Services Department don't answer to voters, and they have written draft regulations that cut Medicare Advantage even more deeply than Congress mandated in the Affordable Care Act. Those cuts will bite hardest in states like Oregon (where 42% of Medicare beneficiaries use Advantage), or Florida (37%), New York (33%), California (37%) and Arizona (38%).

The extra cuts stem from HHS's discretion and were dropped from the sky with no warning in February. More than a few Democrats seem to have caught the anvil. Some 139 Members of Congress have formally objected in 16 letters to HHS so far, and the signers include 26 Democrats in the House and 13 in the Senate.
Senators Wyden and Merkley have objected in letters to HHS. It looks like they had to pass the bill to see what was in it--or at least what HHS thought was in it.

Did I miss the Oregonian coverage of this?  Or does one have to read Wall Street Journal to find out significant news about Oregon and its U.S. senators?

H/T Byron York

Palin: Loaded for Bear

Saturday, March 23, 2013

14 Heroes Who Died January 20 to March 16, 2013

January 20 - Sgt. Mark H. Schoonhoven, 38, of Plainwell, Mich., died at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas from wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device on Dec. 15, 2012 in Kabul, Afghanistan. 

February 22 - Staff Sgt. Jonathan D. Davis, 34, of Kayenta, Ariz., died while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

March 7 - Spc. Cody D. Suggs, 22, of West Alexandria, Ohio, died at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, as a result of a non-combat incident that remains under investigation.

- Tech. Sgt. Larry D. Bunn, 43, of Bossier City, La., died as a result of a non-combat incident at an undisclosed base in Southwest Asia.

March 11 - They died in Jalrez District, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when they were attacked by small arms fire.  Killed were:
- Capt. Andrew M. Pedersen-Keel, 28, of South Miami, Fla.
- Staff Sgt. Rex L. Schad, 26, of Edmond, Okla.
They died in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  The incident is under investigation. Killed were:
- Staff Sgt. Steven P. Blass, 27, of Estherville, Iowa.
- Chief Warrant Officer Bryan J. Henderson, 27, of Franklin, La.
- Capt. Sara M. Knutson, 27, of Eldersburg, Md.
- Staff Sgt. Marc A. Scialdo, 31, of Naples, Fla. 
- Spc. Zachary L. Shannon, 21, of Dunedin, Fla.

March 13 - Chief Petty Officer Christian Michael Pike, 31, of Peoria, Ariz., died in Landstuhl, Germany, as a result of combat-related injuries sustained on March 10 while conducting stability operations in Maiwand District, Afghanistan. 
- Spc. David T. Proctor, 26, of Greensboro, N.C., died at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., from injuries sustained during a non-combat incident on March 3, in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. 

March 16 - Chief Warrant Officer James E. Groves III, 37, of Kettering, Ohio, died in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  This incident is under investigation.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hands Down Palin Wins Most Interesting CPAC 2013 Speaker

Here are the top YouTube viewing numbers for CPAC 2013:

200,931 - Sarah Palin
91,457 - Rick Perry
83,801 - Ben Carson
66,036 - Rand Paul
42,658 - Marco Rubio
41,439 - Wayne LaPierre (NRA)

and a link to one of my favorite up-and-comers: Ted Cruz

H/T Stacy Drake, Conservatives4Palin

Silly Portland Tax Needs Emergency City Council Action

UPDATE: The City Club of Portland has removed their Arts Tax study from their site. Here's a link to find it.

You can't make this up, folks.

Mayor Charlie Hales is proposing an "emergency ordinance" to be passed by Portland's City Council on March 27. Portland's Arts Tax, passed by voters and supported by the City Club's majority report, has "Unintended Consequences".
"As written, any Portland resident with any income -- living in a household above the poverty line -- has to pay the $35 annual arts tax," a press release from Hales' office reads. "So in a household that is above the poverty line, a teenager who made $10 last year dog-sitting is expected to pay $25 of that $10 to the arts tax."

The release then quotes Hales: "No one crafting this tax intended this to be the rule. This is just silly. And we need to move right now to address the Law of Unintended Consequences."
The measure was so poorly crafted that no one is saying this is the only change that needs to be made.
Dana Haynes, Hales' spokesman, said further changes might be considered down the road, but this would be the only change made for the current billing period.

For her part, Jarratt Miller [executive director of the organization that helped pass the tax] said she is open to further tweaks. After the first collection period, she said the city will know more about who is paying and how certain aspects could be reworked.
Given that the tax is due in 3-1/2 weeks, it will be pretty hard to do other tweaks "for the current billing period". Even with this fix, how stupid is making someone who made only $1,000 last year (1/12th of the federal poverty level) pay $35 in taxes?

Apparently the "we have to pass the bill to see what's in it" mode of government has trickled down to local government. In Portland this is being coupled with the "emergency ordinance" method of governing.

H/T MaxRedline

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sarah Palin's Light Touch

Sarah Palin wowed at CPAC again this year. In part she did it through her patented light touch using humor to say volumes. In part she did it through striking, pithy comparisons.

The humorous gesture that is getting the headlines is her taking a sip of a Big Gulp in the middle of one of the applause breaks that peppered her speech. Gov. Palin made the clear link to Mayor Bloomberg's attempt to ban big drinks by merely mentioning his name. She didn't have to say anything about government overreach, she just sipped, and the audience went wild. There was also the echo of poking fun at the ridiculous media meltdown over Marco Rubio's sip of water during his State of the Union response this year.

Like Ronald Reagan, she's the master of the light, humorous touch. In humorous asides she brings major issues into play without droning on and on about them. Remember Reagan's: "Recession is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his." Or "Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other."

Along with the humor, Palin's ability to sum up a major problem in a sentence or two is noteworthy. Some memorable lines were about the GOP's current problem with focusing on:
  • . . . the process of politics rather than the purpose of politics which is to lead and to serve.
  • They talk about rebuilding the party. How about rebuilding the middle class?

  • They talk about rebranding the GOP instead of restoring the trust of the American people.

  • We're not here to rebrand a party. We're here to rebuild a country.
  • We're not here to abandon our principles in a contest of government giveaways. That's a game we will never, ever win. We're here to restore America . . . .
She knows conservatives will never win media approval. But, there is a good chance to win back the swath of Americans who were or could be "Reagan Democrats". Democrats who are disgusted with where the country is going--deeper and deeper in debt with a bigger and bigger government and a less and less viable defense force.

The coming train wreck of Obamacare fees, fines, taxes and higher premiums (not to mention a glutted health care system), should be an effective wake up call to both voters and previous non-voters that something needs to change. Palin is just the person to sound the call and draw their attention to what needs to be done to fix the problems.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Kaiser's Sunny Obamacare Preview Omits Key Facts

From a recent Kaiser Permanente e-mail touting the benefits of the Affordable Care Act:
  • Expanded no-cost preventive care, including immunizations, diabetes and cancer screenings, counseling for smoking and alcohol abuse, and more.
  • No annual or lifetime limits on essential health benefits. [emphasis added]
No-cost!?! To who? Kaiser isn't going to keep their rates the same and ask their doctors, nurses, techs, and other employees and managers to work extra hours expanding treatment for nothing.

It is only "no-cost" in the sense that the patient under current parameters will not have to pay at the moment of presenting himself or herself for treatment. But, patients will be paying higher monthly premiums to cover the "no-cost" care and "no annual or lifetime limits" on benefits.

By contrast, in a Forbes op/ed, Sally Pipes notes that AETNA's CEO recently predicted that "unsubsidized" premiums may go up 20%-50%. Not quite "no-cost". Blue Shield is also a little skeptical about the "no-cost" features of the bill.
In California, Blue Shield has asked regulators to approve premium increases of up to 20 percent. Obamacare’s new regulations were a factor in the request. A spokesperson for the company said the new law “will bring a lot of volatility” into the market.
However, you may get help with your higher premiums. According to Kaiser lots of people may qualify for health care subsidies.
  • If you’re single, the range of income qualifying for assistance could be between $15,282 and $45,960. In Hawaii, it could be between $17,596 and $52,920.
  • For couples, the range of combined income qualifying for assistance could be between $20,628 and $62,040. In Hawaii, it could be between $23,741 and $71,400.
  • For a family of four, the range of combined income qualifying for assistance could be between $31,322 and $94,200. In Hawaii, it could be between $36,030 and $108,360.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2011 median household income was $50,502. This means that 60% of American households may qualify for a subsidy. A subsidy that undoubtedly will not cover a 20%-50% premium increase. Not to mention, that with sequester and a House of Representatives still in Republican control, massive new dollars for Obamacare subsidies will probably not be forthcoming.

Voters already not too keen on Obamacare will undoubtedly become less keen about the "no-cost" aspects of the bill when the new rates kick in. Then, watch for not so sunny Kaiser explanations.

Monday, March 11, 2013

PEBB Debates Whether Policy Should Be Authoritarian or Cost-Based

Oregon's Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB) has a real dilemma. After switching from fining people who don't participate in their wellness program ($17.50/mo for individuals and $35/mo for couples) to rewarding people who participate the same amount, they now have to decide what to do about activities of young adults 18-26 still on the parents' health plan.

Last May PEBB was forced to change from fines to incentives because of an uproar from public employees and more importantly their union representatives (four of the nine board members of PEBB are union representatives).

This February PEBB decided to keep the current structure of paying those who play along, but another disturbing item has arisen. Currently those who smoke have to pay a $25/mo surcharge.  Board Member Joan Kapowich wants to see that fee applied to all 18-26 year old children who are on the plan as well. Hannah Hoffman of the Statesman Journal explains:
The board heard a proposal from Kapowich to extend the monthly tobacco-use surcharges for dependents ages 18-26. Right now, only employees and their spouses are charged $25 each if they smoke or chew tobacco.

Under federal health care reforms, young adults can now stay on health insurance plans until they turn 26. That leaves PEBB trying to figure out if they should be subject to the same fees and rules.

Some members said Tuesday that it didn’t seem fair because young people wouldn’t have many health problems, even if they do smoke. Others said it may be good public health policy to encourage quitting tobacco use early. [emphasis added]
The debate is over whether people should be punished merely for not doing what PEBB encourages rather than for any actual costs that will be incurred. The authoritarian bent of some PEBB board members is clear. Their position is that the state should be able to punish you just because it doesn't like what you do irrespective of the fact that you are not hurting others or likely to do so.

Oregonian Scolds Clackamas County for Following Oregonian's PERS Policy

For the Oregonian all public promises are equal but some are more equal than others.

In an editorial yesterday, the Oregonian urged Clackamas County Commissioners to carry through on $20 million to fund plans already made with TriMet for light rail lines even though voters clearly said (60% to 40%) last September that they wanted no funding to go to rail projects without voter approval.

The Oregonian editors explain:
The public debate immediately centered on whether Measure 3-401 applied retroactively to, say, a MAX line heading into Milwaukie. It flared further when John Ludlow and Tootie Smith in November won positions on the county commission having waged anti-rail campaigns.
But, the editors think the voters' decision to spend no more money without specific voter approval should apply not to future money spent, but to future plans made because the $20 million is "a done deal".
Measure 3-401, in our view, can only apply to projects going forward, and even then it may prove problematic on federal lines that could cross Clackamas County, such as high-speed rail between Seattle and Eugene. For now, however, Clackamas County taxpayers should not have to bear the frivolous legal costs of their commissioners duking it out with TriMet over a done deal.
Compare this to the Oregonian editors ongoing pleas for the Oregon State legislature to "reform" promises made to PERS recipients. For some reason PERS promises and plans are not "a done deal" so they can be reformed. But Clackamas County plans with TriMet are set in cement and therefore cannot be reformed.

In the most recent of a series of editorials urging changes in PERS funding the editors suggest "thorough" reforms even though they will certainly meet stiff legal challenges.
Devlin and Buckley use the play-it-safe argument to justify their watered-down reform effort, and they may be right. The reforms they seek may, indeed, have a better chance of surviving the inevitable court challenge than some elements of the OSBA package. At this point, however, it's all guess work. Nobody knows what the Supreme Court will condone and what it will nix. So why not be thorough
Compare that to Oregonian handwringing over "frivolous legal costs" to taxpayers if Clackamas County doesn't pony up the $20 million to TriMet.

Apparently legal costs are only frivolous if the editors decide they are. Light rail legal costs are bad. PERS legal costs are good. So Clackamas commissioners should try to avoid legal costs and state legislators should not worry at all about legal costs. Go figure.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Arts Head Tax Cometh

UPDATE: The City Club of Portland has removed their Arts Tax study from their site. Here's a link to find it.

This should be called the "voter education tax". It is one of the few taxes that everyone except the poorest have to pay. Rich, middle income and just making it income have to pay the exact same amount per person: $35. Which is why it's a head tax. (I covered some of the problems the tax raises in a previous post.)

It kind of gets one's attention--especially the attention of those not used to paying taxes as well as those who don't pay much attention to elections. Elections have consequences, and this consequence is one that a lot of Portland residents had no idea was coming. The Oregonian is railing against it. But, the City Club was in favor even knowing that it would impact people who make almost nothing:
" . . . even a non-working adult is likely to be an income earner, since any amount of income qualifies, thus a minimal amount from casual employment, gifts, or interest on a joint savings account, would qualify an adult resident as “income earning” for purposes of the tax."
See, it's not about how much you make, but how much your family makes. So if Johnny and Susie haven't been able to find work and are still living with mom and dad, tough luck. Kind of the reverse of allowing them to stay on their parents' medical coverage through age 26.

It will be interesting to see how tough the City will find collecting the tax and the expense incurred in doing so. Then there's the legal challenge to it as a head tax prohibited by the Oregon state constitution. (Article IX, Section 1a)

Get out the popcorn. This just might be worth the $35 ticket. And the shop, home ec, foreign language and poetry people can't be far behind. Maybe head taxes are going to be Portland's new way of financing public education. Whoop-whoop!

Friday, March 08, 2013

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Squirrel Wins

I've just been reading in G. K. Chesterton's Charles Dickens the Last of the Great Men. One of the points Chesterton makes is about the equality of men in dignity and humor.
“There are two things in which all men are manifestly unmistakably equal. They are not equally clever or equally muscular or equally fat, as the sages of the modern reaction (with piercing insight) perceive. But this is a spiritual certainty, that all men are tragic. And this, again, is an equally sublime spiritual certainty, that all men are comic. No special and private sorrow can be so dreadful as the fact of having to die. And no freak or deformity can be so funny as the mere fact of having two legs. Every man is important if he loses his life; and every man is funny if he loses his hat, and has to run after it.” (p. 175)
I was reminded of the truth of this in the past week. Friday afternoon I pulled into the post office mailbox drop off lane, and a car was ahead of me. They space the boxes so that you have to either drive very close to the box or have very long arms. The poor man in front of me got only one of his three letters in the slot. The other two fell to the ground. He had to unbuckle his seat belt and squeeze out to pick up the two letters that had dropped. In the process one of them slid down off the curb under the car. Fortunately not so far as to be unreachable. But still, another effort to stoop, pick it up particularly and deposit it in the slot. I was in the car behind groaning with him and chuckling all the while. Been there, done that. Part of the humor of being human

The other bit of humor comes in an ongoing battle I have had this week with a squirrel who is eating the bird suet while the birds wait for him to finish. He could reach it by leaning out from the tree trunk and grabbing it. (see photo 1) So, I, with my highly trained master's degree brain, moved it over on the branch.

First he tried to reach it as before. (see photo 2) But, seeing that would not work, he, with his highly trained squirrel brain, climbed out on the branch, down the hanging hook (photo 3) and flipped it to the ground. Then he ate from it, though that was not so easy because it was already about 3/4ths eaten, and when he would tip it up to get at it, gravity would make it fall to the inaccessible bottom. But, he finally got a reasonable sized piece. (photo 4)

I then tried more secure hanging mechanisms. He was more determined and took the effort to get around them. I had to laugh at how ridiculous the contest was. I certainly felt as funny looking as any man chasing his hat even though no one was looking on and chuckling--except God. In the end I moved it back to its original position so it would be easier for him to eat, and I wouldn't have to be constantly going out and picking it up off the grass.

Squirrel 1 as T. D. pleads no contest.