Dr. Marc Lamont on O’Reilly Factor

I just watched an O’Reilly Factor from this past week with professor Marc Lamont of Columbia University.  I have not been able to find a link to this video yet, but I am hopeful that one will soon come available because I can find some older appearances by Dr.  Lamont on the Factor.

I found this one bothersome because of the assertions Dr. Lamont made without being asked for proof.  Commenting on the State of the Union address, he said that he liked it when Obama got around to coming down hard on the Republicans.

He said Republicans were being obstructionist because of their block voting against legislation.

O’Reilly made a couple of great points.

  • Democrats shouldn’t need the Republican votes since the Democrats have the majority in Congress.
  • Maybe the legislation has been so far leftist that Republicans can’t go for it and the reason the Democrats have trouble getting the Democrat vote is because it’s even too far left for conservative Democrats.

Then O’Reilly said that if you believe Republicans were being obstructionist, then they were either doing so because they don’t believe in the legislation or they’re doing so to hurt the country.   Lamont encouraged O’Reilly to complete that thought and say “Republicans are intentionally trying to hurt the country”

Lamont’s argument is weak and could have been toppled or strengthened had O’Reilly gone one step further.  O’Reilly should have asked Lamont to give an example of legislation that received a Republican block no-vote that’s not leftist.

Believing that Republican’s sole intentions are to hurt the country, may do a lot for the psyche of someone like Dr. Lamont, but it simply isn’t the truth.

Has Dr. Lamont ever read a book by a conservative?  Does he know what conservative principles are?  Conservative principles aren’t about bashing the opposing party for the sake of it.  It’s not like a Sunday afternoon football game where both teams are trying to simply outscore the other team.

Conservative principles, believe it or not, are about allowing people to live their lives freely with protections against the illegitimate use of power from others.  We think that gives everyone the best chance for achieving their goals in life.

If you apply that filter to the Republican no-votes, you may gain a better understanding of the reasoning behind the voting.  It’s not something as wispy as “they want to the Democrats” or “Obama” to fail.

The easiest test would be for Obama or Democrats to try something that does align with conservative principles and see how quickly Republicans rush to support it.

If Lamont has a problem with conservative principles, I encourage him to voice those problems and let’s discuss the merits of those principles.  Falsely accusing Republicans is another example of how one side talks past the other side and valuable TV air time was wasted talking about nothing of substance, rather than talking about the real issue.

Garrison Keillor II

In this week’s column, Mr. Keillor offers more examples of how he attempts to a straw man off as a legitimate argument.  A straw man is where someone paints an untrue representation of their opposition in order to not have to address their actual positions.   Here’s an example:

…one-sixth of our population is without health insurance, and Republicans have decided that defeating Mr. Obama is more important than the welfare of 50 million Americans: Let them die and decrease the surplus population and be quick about it. That’s the long and the short of it.

I would like to use Nancy Pelosi’s response tactic.  When asked a legitimate question by a reporter if the health care legislation was constitutional (which is isn’t), she simply responded, “Are you serious?  Are you serious?”  As the reporter, I would have loved to respond, “Yes, yes I am.  You are the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States of America.  I’m asking you Madam Speaker to demonstrate your knowledge of the U.S. Constitution and please point out the specific language in the Constitution where Congress has the power to pass this legislation.”

But, I digress.  Back to Mr. Keillor.  Mr. Keillor, Are you serious?

First, he starts off by creating a false choice: defeating Obama hurts the welfare of 50 million Amercians.  Then, he tries to pass off his next sentence as the actual stance of Republicans: “Let them die…and be quick about it.”  Right.

Mr. Keillor just doesn’t seem to want to understand or consider that Republicans want what’s best for the citizens of the United States and peaceful people in general.  We want them to live their lives with minimal coercive edicts from folks like Mr. Keillor and we want them to have affordable access to any number of things that help make our lives better.

If Mr. Keillor could use his “open-mind” to consider this, maybe we could get past the name calling stage and get to the point where we are actually discussing the relative merits of different ways of achieving the same goal.

Furthermore, if Mr. Keillor was nearly as concerned for these 50 million people as he wants you to believe, it would seem that he would be more open to considering alternatives that might actually produce better results toward achieving his goals.

Thinking back to my long transition from liberal to conservative thinking, it was the likes of the Mr. Keillors – the people who seemed to promote their way no matter whether it worked or not – that turned me off to the liberal thinking.  Over that transition period, my intentions didn’t change.  What did change was how I thought those intentions could be best accomplished.

I’m not saying reflexives such as Mr. Keillor don’t exist on the conservative side, but on the conservative side I do tend to see people who incorporate the results and are willing to admit when something they supported doesn’t seem to be working.  They seem more willing to think in terms of root causes and honestly evaluate the results of an action or policy.

Interesting Math

On the radio this morning, the host made an excellent point.

Obama says he’s going to freeze spending in some areas.  These areas had a 15% – 20% increase in spending last year.  So, he’s going to freeze at level that is still 20% higher than 2 years ago.

That’s a great example of spin.

Freezing spending sounds like a responsible thing to do.  Of course, not telling you that he’s freezing it after a year of large growth isn’t responsible.  It’s misleading.

State of the Union

I’ve never been big on these speeches.  I’ve never been much moved by political speech, even when it’s my candidate doing the talking.  I must say, I rarely even have much respect for my candidate.   I know they’re politicians, which means that there’s a good chance that they’re narcissist.  I usually cast my vote for the person who seems to be more likely to agree with me, but I don’t kid myself and think the guy is something he’s not.  I’m not disappointed when I find out he has human failings, makes bad decisions, is corrupt or dishonest.  It just reaffirms my belief.  But, unfortunately, it’s what the position attracts.

Most political speech is platitude, spin, entertainment, self-congratulation, telling you what you want to hear and spinning failures to make them look good.  It’s like watching the sneakiest snake at your daughter’s school come into your home and try to convince you and your spouse about how he’ll look after your daughter on their date tonight like she’s precious cargo The better he is at convincing you of his virtue, the more worried you should be.

Of Course

The local radio news this morning reported on  study of charter schools.  They want to take a closer look into charter schools that are producing superior results to see what they’re doing right and, they also noted that some charter schools show not significantly different results and others appear to be worse than public schools.

Competition in education is a good thing for students and parents and the country.  But, we get too hung up on categorical solutions.

Of course some charter schools will be about the same as public schools, some will be worse and some better.  That’s a natural distribution that occurs in everything.  Even within public schools there’s a distribution.  Some are better than others – even within the same district.  Some teachers are better than others – even within the same school.  Some students are better than others – even within the same class.

Some fried chicken joints are better than others, some hamburger places are better than others, some retailers are better than others, some jeans makers are better than others, some computers are better than others….of course they are.

Over time, the better ones attract customers – be they hamburger consumers, jeans buyers or students – and the worse ones either go out of business because they can’t attract enough people to pay the bills or the adopt some of the best practices of the better places and get better.

If you do a study on anything at any given point in time you will find this natural distribution of effectiveness.  That’s like discovering that water is wet.  The key question is how much better off is everyone since the competition began, but that’s a tough question to answer with statistics.

Selling Health Insurance Across State Lines

The  suggestion from conservatives to sell health insurance plans across state lines seems to be not well understood by conservatives and liberals alike.    Here’s an attempt to answer some of the questions that never seemed to get asked or answered?

Why can’t I already buy health insurance across state lines?

Insurance is regulated by the government in each state.  To sell policies in a state, a company must meet the requirements set by that state government through the legislative process.  These requirements specify things such as what type of treatments must be covered by a policy, who qualifies, how the insurance company can determine eligibility and so on. All of these requirements originate in the state legislature and are buried in the states’ statutes.

The requirements for insurance policies in Missouri can be found here.

The common misunderstanding about this issue is that there is a Federal restriction about selling policies across state lines.  To my knowledge (but could be wrong and would love to be corrected if I am), this is not true.  The restriction comes from individual states.

Simply put, Blue Cross Blue Shield can’t sell a policy that meets Idaho’s requirements in Missouri because that policy does not meet Missouri’s requirements.

What is a mandate?

A mandate is a type of expense or coverage (benefit, provider or covered person) that a state legislature, at some time, passed a law to specify that health insurance policies  in that state must cover.

For example, only two states mandate that insurance policies cover the costs of smoking cessation, while other states do not.  An individual in the other states may or may not find a policy the covers smoking cessation, but in those two states, everyone with insurance is covered for smoking cessation – even if they’re not smokers.

Here’s a really good reference that shows what each state mandates for insurance coverage as of 2008.  According to this list, Idaho has the fewest mandates with 15, while Minnesota has the most with 64.

As an example, the above linked list that Missouri has an alcoholism mandate.  Here’s a link to that mandate in Missouri’s statutes, in case you wanted to see a specific, real world example.

What exactly is the suggestion?

The idea to “sell insurance across state lines” means using the Federal government’s authority to override (or undermine) the states’ insurance authority and give the residents more choice on what types of expenses they would like to have covered in their insurance policies.  Now, that’s minimum is decided by the state governments.

For example, if I lived in one of the two states that requires the coverage of smoking cessation, I might be able choose a plan from one of that other states that doesn’t cover smoking cessation since nobody in my family smokes and that might save me a few dollars on my policy.

How would buying policies across state lines, or more accurately, policies that meet the requirements set by a state other than your home state, help?

New Yorker, Andrew Hienze wrote this opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on November 13, 2009.  Here’s a key paragraph:

…unlike other states, New York already mandates two things that the current federal health-care reform will mandate. The first mandate prohibits insurers from denying coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition. The second mandate prohibits insurers from denying coverage, or determining prices, based on age. The result is that HMO plans in the state are now very expensive. The price of Empire’s basic, least expensive HMO plan is more than $13,000 a year for an individual, more than $26,000 a year for a married couple, and more than $39,000 a year for a family with children. Empire is a reputable firm and those prices are typical of what’s available to New York City residents.

Because of the high expense of the New York plans, Hienze currently buys a plan for $2,000 a year in New York that only covers hospital expenses.  He pays all of his other medical costs out of pocket because in most cases he can cover that with the $11,000 savings he incurs by not buying an individual insurance policy.

With the ability to “buy across state lines”, Andrew would be able to purchase a plan from a state with fewer costly mandates.  The $13,000 individual HMO plan in New York, a single person in my home state could buy something similar for $2,000-$3,000 dollars per year.

I will mention that as I was fact checking with eHealthInsurance.com, the Empire HMO plan that Andrew listed was one of the most expensive and currently quoting around $14,000/year.  That’s a $0 deductible, $0 copay plan.  For some deductible and co-pay, a single New Yorker can get a PPO plan for around $5,000/year.   However, a similar plan in my home state costs less than $700 per year.

New Yorkers already can’t afford insurance in New York.  Much like Andrew, they’re probably opting for cheaper plans that cost less like the Traditions Hospitalization plan.  Giving them a chance to get more coverage for less isn’t a bad thing.

What are the trade-offs?

I don’t think this is without risks.  Overriding state insurance authority by the Federal government is not ideal balance of power situation.  States should be allowed to make up their insurance rules and any justification to cut them off at the knees on this issue raises can be used for other things.  However, the precedent has already been set in other areas.

While the intention is good: give people more choice over their level of health care, I think this may also lead to more Federalization of health care and I believe Federal mandates would soon follow.  For example, “in order to be able to sell this policy in other states it must be meet the following minimum requirements.”

Which, gets us back to where we are today.  Part of the reason health insurance is expensive is because of the mandates.  This cannot be denied.  If an insurance must cover an expense that will be incurred by X% of people, then it must collect enough premiums to cover that.

Is this a good solution?

I’m not so sure.  I don’t think it’s bad to give people more choice.  But, I do fear that forcing that choice from the Federal government could lead to more Federal meddling and eventually make it worse for the people in the states that already have affordable health insurance.

This isn’t my #1 solution to the nation’s health care woes.   After giving this more thought while putting this blog entry together, I’m not sure it’s even my #3 or #4 solution.

If New Yorkers want to make their health care unaffordable by putting in expensive mandates, I don’t have much problem with that.  That’s their choice.  They can also reverse it by sending different people to their state legislature.

What are other solutions?

My #1 solution is to reduce the percentage of medical payments that are paid by third parties (i.e. not the people receiving the treatment).  Health Savings Accounts with high deductible/catastrophic insurance is one way to do that.  Changing the way government programs like Medicare work to be similar to the HSA model is another.

I can attest, when I went from a $0 deductible, low co-pay plan to a $5,400 deductible, HSA plan where I wrote the check for the first $5,400 of expenses my world changed.  I started asking questions that I didn’t ask before and I started keeping my eyes open for deals and ways to improve my health.

My #2 solution is to equalize the the tax treatment of individual and employer purchased plans so it would make financial sense for us not to get our insurance through our employers.

Both of these solutions would drive more accountability and innovation into the medical care health insurance industries as well as in giving.  More on that later.