Thursday, March 27, 2014

Oregon Really Good at Making Life Hard for Low-Income Workers

Veronique de Rugy reports that states require big license fees and lots of education/experience for workers to perform low-income jobs like:
preschool teacher
athletic trainer
school bus driver
truck driver
Not that a good barber or manicurist is not a wonder to behold, but why these rules for people who make little money and can do little real harm?

Oregon public officials think this is a big problem. Oregon rates third among the worst states for making life hard for low-income workers by imposing hoops to jump through before you can earn any money at it. Of course there are no licensing fees or educational requirements for being a legislator or elected official--both of whom can do (and have done) tons of damage. Go figure.

Institute for Justice: License to Work (

Pew Research: On Newspaper Audience, Economics, News Investment, Ownership

A Pew Research paper on the media and news includes an overview on newspapers in its 2014 report.

A 3% circulation increase was due to "liberalized reporting rules" by the Association for Audited Media (AAM) which counted "both paying visitors to digital platforms and distribution of Sunday insert packages to nonsubscribers." In other words, nobody has a clue about how newspapers are doing in terms of circulation compared to 2013 and before. As if to underline the point when a search of state papers is done on the AAM total circulation page the answer for every state is "Results Found: 0"*.

Print accounts for 71.2% of daily circulation. Of the 15 largest newspapers only 54.9% of their circulation is print.

Newspaper revenue has declined 52% from 2003 to 2012. In 2012 revenue was $22 billion. Though digital advertising grew 300%, the latest total is only $3.4 billion. That revenues continue to decline is shown by Gannett's 6% decline in 2013.

Circulation revenue was up 5% in 2012 and is expected to stay the same or increase by less than 5% in 2013. Paywalls mostly gain in the first year "with revenues flattening in following years."

News Investment
In 2012 full-time professional newsroom employment dropped 6.4% (2,600 jobs). That makes a 33.2% (38,000 jobs) drop from the 1989 high of 56,000 jobs. More job losses are likely to be noted in the 2013 American Society of News Editors annual census. Some individual newspaper losses:
"Gannett is estimated to have cut about 400 newspaper jobs while the Tribune Co. announced about 700 cuts, not all of them in the newsroom. Media reports put newsroom layoffs at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland at about 50 and at The Oregonian in Portland at about 35 in 2013."
Multi-millionaires are buying newspapers:

Red Sox owner John Henry - The Boston Globe
Amazon's Jeff Bezos - The Washington Post
Warren Buffett - varous
*Why AAM still has the page up is anyone's guess.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Hispanics Turning Against Obamacare

From Pew Research Center:

"Hispanics are evenly divided: 47% approve of the law, while 47% disapprove. Over most of the past four years, Hispanics have offered more support than opposition for the health care law. As recently as September, 2013, 61% of Hispanics approved of the law. Support for the ACA among Hispanics fell sharply in October of 2013 (to 47%) and has yet to recover."
But the young are warming to it:
"People younger than 30 do not view the law as negatively as do older Americans. About as many young people approve (50%) as disapprove (47%) of the health care law. Among older age groups, majorities disapprove. That marks a change from December, when younger people had about the same view of the health care law as older adults. "
However, one doubts that this means there will be a sudden uptick in the young buying health care policies. It's easier to say yes to a poll than to sign up for a $150-$250/mo policy. Their priorities are not health care over cell phone service.

H/T Byron York

Friday, March 21, 2014

Ezekiel Emanuel: By 2025 Less Than 25% of Employers Will Cover Employee Health Care

UPDATE: Though I still think individuals paying for their own healthcare (rather than employers) will improve healthcare service/costs, I'm going to walk back my assertion that it can result in significant cost savings. If health insurance companies were not able to do this, and it is in their interest to cut costs and save the difference between the premium charged and the services paid for, it will be hard for individuals who are not clued in to do that. Auto insurance is a case in point. There's still a lot of "fat" in repairs even though individuals pay for their own coverage. Since the payment goes through the insurance company (and is usually a lot bigger than the deductible), individuals don't often question costs.

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, architect of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), says ACA will eventually end a majority of employer health care plans.

The "cadillac tax", which taxes high end health care plans, along with subsidies available to individual buyers will mean that an individual can get the same care for less money than the employer offers.

One can see a strong push for employers dropping coverage in Oregon approved rates. The exact same plan costs more for an employer to buy than an individual--and that's before a subsidy the individual is eligible for but the employer is not.

A single 60 year old will pay $352/mo for the Moda bronze plan. By contrast a small business will pay $487/mo for that same individual for the Moda bronze plan. The math is pretty clear. The business pays $135 more per month ($1,620 more per year) for the same care for the same individual. The individual can get it a lot cheaper and may be eligible for a government subsidy to boot.

Won't the employer mandate penalties at $2,000 per employee be a major hedge against companies dropping health care? No. Because employers pay on average $5,884 for individual coverage and $16,351 for family coverage. A business could save $3,884 per single employee and $14,351 per employee with a family even paying the $2,000 penalty. An employer could then give the difference directly to the employee as Walgreens is doing.
Walgreens will stop offering health insurance directly to its workers in 2014, instead shifting them to policies in a private insurance exchange, the company announced Wednesday.

Walgreens will subsidize the cost of the policies, and more than 160,000 workers will be affected
. . .
Walgreens will contribute the same total share to health care benefits next year as is did this year, though it is not disclosing the size of the subsidy.
. . .
The company's tab for health care costs for next year remained essentially flat, allowing it to keep its contribution to workers level, he said. In future years, the company's intention is to continue picking up the same share of the cost as it does today, [Walgreens spokesman Michael] Polzin said.
Dr. Emanuel sees a win for employer and employee as employers "pay the penalty, give workers a raise and shed the burden of providing coverage by sending workers to the public exchanges."

There's are other positive aspects of employers dropping and individuals assuming health care coverage.

First, losing your employment would not automatically mean a loss of health care coverage (or an eventual loss of coverage after COBRA benefits end).

Second, there is a better chance of holding health care costs down when the individual is involved in paying for actual benefits received.

Health care costs have been growing at an alarming rate. That is due in part because the buyers are not the same as the users. The employer pays, and the employee never sees the money and does not usually know how much is spent on his behalf for the health care coverage.

On the other end, when the employee goes to the doctor, dentist or hospital, he almost never sees the itemized bill.  So, most people have no idea when they are being overcharged for care*. There's no challenge to huge mark ups for even simple items like tylenol and kleenex.

This will change as the patient becomes the payer and sees what he is actually asked to spend (especially with higher deductibles in the new plans). Even though ACA has not lowered premiums by the promised $2,500/year, the patient as buyer could actually impact that in the future.

As noted in a previous post, employer costs are rising at a precipitous rate. Family care rates have almost tripled since 1999 (a rise of 280%), and individual rates have multiplied over 250%. The inflation rate for the same period was about 40%.

I'm betting that most employees have no idea of extreme rise in costs. But, they will have a better idea when they buy their own insurance.

Third, American businesses were being pushed into an untenable situation. What started as a $42 and $111 per week health care benefit is now a $113 to $314 a week benefit for each employee for coverage the employee can get cheaper on his own.

These changes to individual health care coverage were bound to come anyway. The ACA has increased the speed of the process by forcing individuals and businesses to consider alternatives to the current way of buying health care coverage.
*Do you know how much hospice care actually charges for their help? I just visited friends yesterday who are in an assisted living/care center. The husband is on hospice as well as receiving the constant care given at the center. Earlier this week hospice came and clipped his toe nails. Then yesterday they came and shaved him. That was it. According to the home visit costs linked above, those two services would have cost in the neighborhood of $146.63 each in 2010. How much more in 2014?

H/T Byron York

Average Family Health Insurance Cost: $16,351; Obamacare $2,085 Penalty Weak/Unenforceable

Greg Scandlen at the Federalist has an eye opening analysis of the enforcement problems with the individual mandate.

First the penalty even at maximum is a small percentage of the actual cost of healthcare. So, if a young person does not think paying inflated healthcare premiums is a good investment or a family has other places to spend $16,000, the penalty is not a major deterrent.

The penalties are:
2014 - $95 per person or 1% of household income
2015 - $325 per person or 2% of household income
2016 - $695 per person or 2.5% of house hold income
with the maximum family penalty capped at $2,085 (or 300% of the minimum penalty - 300% x $695)

The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) study found that in 2013 employer insurance policies averaged $16,351 for families and $5,884 for singles.

The difference between maximum penalty of $2,085 and average family insurance costs of $16,351 is a hefty $14,266. That's a chunk of change, but of course, just making sure you don't have an income tax refund will mean you won't even pay the $2,085.

Scandlen then points out the really big problem with the individual mandate: it is impossible to enforce.
"It isn’t just in health insurance. Auto insurance is mandated in almost every state, but the rate of non-compliance is about 14 percent nationally and in many states the rate of non-insurance for auto (which is mandated) is even higher than for health (which is not). Similarly, with other mandates — child support, helmet laws, seat belt laws, even taxes. Non-compliance is always about 15 percent, even when there are severe penalties such as jail time for violation."
Veronique de Rugy details the political problem with other than the current almost voluntary (via tax refund) penalty. It was specifically designed that way because politicians couldn't stomach the political outrage that would ensue if liens were put on people's property or wages garnished or the non-insured were carted off to jail. If people don't like Obamacare now, imagine the response if they saw their kinfolk, friends or neighbors facing big fines or jail.

The individual mandate is a lose-lose political proposition. It doesn't force compliance, and it irritates and incites defiance of government policies all at once.

The Obama administration delays on enforcing the employer mandate and sections of the individual mandate are creating another problem. With not too many young people signing up to pay a good deal more than their fair share in order to cover older, sicker people, premiums for everyone, as well as deductibles, are expected to take a significant jump.
A survey by found the deductibles on the exchange plans were 42 percent higher than employer based policies. But now, insurers say Obamacare consumers can expect to experience sticker shock from both premiums and deductibles.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Denise Biellmann Inducted into World Figure Skating Hall of Fame

Denise Biellmann has just been inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame.

Having just watched and enjoyed the figure skating competitions at the 2014 Olympics, I remembered some video our family taped many years ago of Denise Biellmann in a fun exhibition routine.

Biellmann introduced a figure skating position called simply "a Biellmann" now used by many figure skaters in a spin.

Biellmann is not only a great figure skater, but also a giving, caring person. She plays "an active role in helping underprivileged children as Ambassador for the Laureus Foundation and for World Vision."

Here's some old 1981 video footage of Biellmann in an exhibition performance skating to "These Boots Are Made for Walking". Even though the video quality wavers between medium and poor, I offer it because I have not been able to find it posted anywhere else.

Congratulations, Denise!

Are Kaiser and Providence Winners or Losers?

The Oregonian has reported that the big winner in getting Cover Oregon customer "sales" (which does not mean the first payment has been made) is Moda.

Carrier - Policies [sold] as of March 6
Atrio - 16
BridgeSpan - 11
Oregon's Health CO-OP - 212
Health Republic - 810
Kaiser - 3,205
LifeWise - 770
Moda - 22,403
Health Net  - 838
PacificSource  - 927
Providence - 1,633
Trillium - 3
Total - 30,828

The question is whether Cover Oregon buyers help or hurt a health care insurance business. My brother tells me that Kaiser management was sweating last summer about having a big influx of new clients and not enough doctors, staff and facilities to care for them.  It doesn't look like that will be a problem now.

So, given the fact that young people are not buying health care insurance in the numbers hoped for, are health insurers with modest gains like Kaiser and Providence in a better position than Moda/ODS with its 22,000 new clients.

Playing into the analysis is the need to expand medical facilities and personnel as well as not getting a lot of younger people to help underwrite the new clients who are older and sicker than originally planned for.

So, who is the bigger winner? Moda with big gains? Kaiser and Providence with very modest gains?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Only Half Who Complete Cover Oregon Applications Select Plans

Note: If the pdf links (first two and beyond) don't open in your browser, try using Internet Explorer. I'm having trouble opening them in Firefox. :-/

By March 1, Cover Oregon had 38,806 "Plan Selections".* But, that rate was barely 51% of 76,223 completed applications** received (not including Medicaid or CHIP eligible individuals).

Considering that an estimated 150,000 Oregonians have had their health care coverage cancelled because of Obamacare regulations, an enrollment rate of 39,000 is not a good sign that more Oregonians have health care coverage since Obamacare and Cover Oregon became active.

Even adding the 104,715 Oregonians deemed eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, we are significantly short of the 220,000 Oregon state Sen. Lee Beyer claimed as now insured out of the 500,000 Oregon is trying to get covered.

And it doesn't look like the Federal government will help by extending Oregon's enrollment period.

Cover Oregon is seeking an extension of the enrollment period beyond March 31, but the U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS) has said it does not have authority to grant such extensions. The Statesman Journal reports:
"Officials with the U.S. Health and Human Services Department said during a monthly update on health insurance exchanges that the department does not plan nor have the authority to extend the open enrollment period beyond March 31."
[emphasis added]
It isn't promising if HHS doesn't think it has the authority to extend open enrollment in light of all the changes that HHS has made in enrollment procedures and deadlines.**
*Cover Oregon spokesman Michael Cox says since the end of February Cover Oregon has enrolled 5,000 more. The terms "selections" and "enrolled" are used without clear data on whether the "first premium payment ha[s] been received directly by the Marketplace or the issuer."

**A complex 19(!) page document.

***The most recent being a delay of the individual mandate until 2016 for those who have lost their coverage due to Obamacare regulations.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Palin: Who Could Have Seen This Coming?

Sarah Palin making political points at CPAC today and showing her way with words and ability to use humor better than any other current American political figure.

Especially fun, and drawing huge applause, was her reference to back in 2008 having predicted the current Russian invasion of Ukraine because of Obama's indecive and "flexible" foreign policy stances. At the time she was lampooned for even thinking of such a scenario by "serious" students of foreign policy like Blake Hounshell, managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Oregon Judge Jamese Rhoades Sends 6 Year Old to Convicted Domestic Violence Father in Mexico

Judge Jamese Rhoades
Marion County Circuit Judge Jamese Rhoades does not learn from past cases. Rhoades has forgotten or doesn't think it important that 4 year old Adrianna Cram was killed after being sent by the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) to relatives in Mexico. Now the case is being repeated but this time a 6 year old girl is being sent to Mexico to a violent, alcoholic father actually convicted of domestic violence.

From the Statesman Journal*:
The case gained public attention last month after Susana’s story was published in the Statesman Journal. The girl’s grandmother shared records from DHS and police records after the court’s decision to send her granddaughter to live with her biological father, Alfonzo Pantoja, in Mexico.

Grandmother Kerrie Lechuga argued that Pantoja’s Salem police record and a domestic violence conviction made him unfit to parent her granddaughter in a foreign country. Lechuga’s own daughter, Gloria Segura, has an admitted methamphetamine problem, is on parole and does not have custody of “Susana.” The child has been living with a foster family in Salem.
Judge Rhoades believes an alcoholic father who becomes violent and at best only stopped drinking three weeks ago is a safe guardian for a 6 year old girl. And Judge Rhoades believes that the Mexican child welfare system which ignored repeated pleas for intervention in Adriana Cram's case is now up to monitoring the safety of 6 year old "Susana".

The father is supposed to:
". . . abstain from drinking alcohol; to continue his own counseling for anger management and impulse control; to continue to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and to get individual and family counseling for Susana."
But, Judge Rhoades admits she has no way to assure this will happen or to oversee the safety of the 6 year old girl.
“The difficult part is that I won’t be able to have eyes on this child as I would if she were to stay here. But is that sufficient grounds to deny reunification?” Rhoades said.
Of course, not only will Judge Rhoades not have "eyes" on the 6 year old, she will be able to do nothing if there is clear evidence the 6 year old is being abused.

Neither will the DHS therapist who wants the girl sent to Mexico "tomorrow".

Time to retire both the therapist and judge to their fat PERS pensions. Unfortunately, Marion County voters just re-elected Judge Rhoades to her circuit court position in 2012 so she has four more years to serve. Hopefully, those voters will be wiser in 2018--and the then 10 year old "Susana" will be unabused and still alive.

It's time for the Oregon legislature to require that DHS and Oregon judges not be allowed to send children to those known to be violent and actually convicted of domestic violence where the child's welfare cannot be monitored and secured by Oregon officials and law.
*Update: Linked article has been removed from the Statesman Journal's website, but an OPB article gives the details.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Son of God--the Movie

I took my parents to see the movie Son of God yesterday afternoon.

This won't be a review. Just some impressions.

First, I went in knowing the movie was about 2-1/4 hours long. I thought of the end of the Gospel of John:
"And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written." (John 21:25)
So, I knew a lot had to be left out. They did a good job with what was covered both in accuracy and weaving the important themes into the movie.

Making Jesus more open and friendly gave a different view of Him. Maybe stressed His humanity more. Though, the Jesus of the New Testament seems to startle and astound people more than make them feel welcome.

The judgment and crucifixion were very moving. More personally stirring for me than in The Passion of the Christ. I found myself confessing to Jesus how thankful I am that He loved me enough to suffer so greatly and die to save me from my sins.

The movie also was very good at making the other characters besides Jesus come alive--even in vignette like with the calling of Matthew. There was something in the presentation that made you want to know more about Pilate, his wife, even Caiaphas--not to mention Peter.

There were some flaws that might have been hard to work around on location. In the New Testament Jesus' tomb was in a "garden"--Mary Magdalene thought He was the gardener when she first saw Him. But, in the movie, the tomb was in a rocky, desolate area. Also, in the movie Mary comes to the tomb when the sun is well up instead of early in the morning while it was still dark. (John 20:1-18) But, this was probably due to conflating the two scenes of arriving at the empty tomb and later seeing Jesus at the tomb.

Other small problems seemed to be in trying to make the scene flow better. For example, in raising Lazarus Jesus goes into the tomb and kisses Lazarus (who is not wrapped in burial cloths but dressed in a white robe) rather than calling Lazarus forth and asking those around Lazarus to unbind him. (John 28:38-44)

I'm glad I went. I'm glad they made the movie. I think of Max McLean's call for those who will artistically engage modern man "with imaginative storytelling about Christian truth that delights, entertains and challenges them to think deeply about faith in Christ."

There is an imaginative part in us that is moved and inspired by great issues and great truths. We grow bigger than our physical capabilities and surroundings. Maybe that's a part of being made in the image of God. The Son of God has some of those inspiring elements in it.