Bad News for Obamacare: Aetna Pulls Back

Here's some bad news for Obamacare:

Aetna is dropping Obamacare insurance in 69% of the counties and 11 of 15 states where it currently offers plans....The insurer blamed heavy losses for the move. In doing so, the company suggested that too many sick people are buying plans, not enough healthy people are paying premiums to make up for it and the government isn't making policy changes to fix it.

Unlike the earlier pullback by United Healthcare, which wasn't that big a deal, this is. Aetna did a lot of business on the Obamacare exchanges, and until recently claimed that it was a good investment. Now they've suddenly changed their mind. Why? No one can say for sure, but the skeptical among us suspect it's payback. The Obama administration blocked their proposed merger with Humana, so now they're going to exit Obamacare. Nyah nyah nyah.

Maybe. It's unlikely we'll ever find out. After all, Aetna has been losing a lot of money on the exchanges, so it could have been nothing more than a simple business decision. So what does it mean?

In the short term, it means more people will find themselves with only one choice for health coverage. In the longer term, it means that premiums are going to rise. Insurers massively underpriced their Obamacare coverage when the exchanges opened up in 2013, in an online version of the price wars we used to see between gas stations on opposite corners of the street. Eventually, as in any competitive market, this is unsustainable. Either prices go up, or inefficient producers drop out, or both. In this case, the answer is almost certainly both. Some insurers are dropping out, and Charles Gaba estimates that premiums are going to see a big upward bump next year, maybe in the range of 15-20 percent.

I've mentioned before that Obamacare premiums are still way under the original CBO estimates. The difference in 2016 was about $1,000. If I had to guess, I'd say insurers need to make up about half of that before the market stabilizes. An increase of 20-25 percent would just about do it, and I figure that's likely to take a couple of years. At that point we might see some insurers get back into the market.

This is messy, but it's the way markets work. A public option might have helped to smooth out this process—or it might have wiped out the private insurers completely. There's no way of knowing, since the devil is in the implementation details. In the meantime, we probably have a couple of years of health care rate hikes ahead of us. This won't affect low-income families too much, since subsidies will make up the difference, but it will definitely have an effect on middle-class families who have to pay market rates with little or no subsidy. Stay tuned.

Since we're speaking of sexist bullshit, here's some real sexist bullshit:

Roger Ailes, the former Fox News chairman ousted last month over charges of sexual harassment, is advising Donald J. Trump as he begins to prepare for the all-important presidential debates this fall.

Mr. Ailes is aiding Mr. Trump’s team as it turns its attention to the first debate with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, on Sept. 26 on Long Island, according to three people briefed on the move, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Two of them said that Mr. Ailes’s role could extend beyond the debates, which Mr. Trump’s advisers see as crucial to vaulting him back into strong contention for the presidency after a series of self-inflicted wounds that have eroded his standing in public opinion polls.

I know, I know, it's Donald Trump. His dedication to sleaze is off the charts. But seriously, Roger Ailes? After reading about the stuff he did at Fox News for 20 full years, he ought to be shunned from polite society for the rest of his miserable life. Instead, Trump is hiring him as his media coach. Jesus.

For some reason, there's been a remarkable online effort to paint the Rio Olympics as a bottomless pit of sexist drivel. The evidence in favor of this is thin to the point of nonexistence, and today it reached comical proportions. Here is Emily Crockett at Vox:

It’s no wonder that this unfortunate Olympics headline, from the Colorado paper the Greeley Tribune, caught fire on social media this week. It seemed to be the perfect encapsulation of exactly how the coverage of this year’s games is going when it comes to women — and the way women are treated in society more generally:

Seriously? Our latest outrage is a headline at the Greeley Tribune, circulation 25,000? Given Phelps' fame and his quest for six gold medals—along with the fact that Ledecky was breaking her own world record (for the fourth time), making it barely even news that she won—you could argue that the Tribune made the right call. But even if it didn't, who cares? One small newspaper in one small town wrote one headline that was perhaps slightly misconceived. That's what's generating outrage today?

It's the internet that's made this kind of thing possible. If you dedicate yourself to trawling every bit of media in existence for arguably sexist coverage, you're going to find something every day. When you have literally millions of items to choose from, it's inevitable. But it's also essentially meaningless. What's actually remarkable is that the folks desperately looking for sexist coverage have found so little.

I've been watching the Olympics every night, and what I've seen is extensive and highly respectful coverage of women. Women are everywhere, they're getting at least as much attention as men, and the announcers have all been treating them as the tremendous athletes they are. But it's true that if you try hard enough, you'll find occasional brief bits of sexism here and there. And you can then turn these brief bits into yet another internet outrage campaign. And then, a few months later, you'll wonder why most people don't take charges of sexism as seriously as they should. It's a mystery, all right.

The Washington Post practically runs out of room this morning fact-checking Donald Trump's big foreign policy speech on Monday. I didn't listen to the speech, but it sounds like there was barely any room between the lies for him to have said anything that was true.

What's remarkable about Trump's Middle East position is that he doesn't just exaggerate or cherry-pick; he flatly turns things 180 degrees. He supported the Iraq War in 2002-03. He favored a quick withdrawal in 2007. He supported the Libya war. He opposed getting involved in Syria. These are all the things he says have contributed to the rise of ISIS and the destabilization of the Middle East.

In other words, by his own admission, everything he would have done as president would have been a disaster. Except that he doesn't admit it. He just lies about what his positions were. It's an amazing performance.

I asked earlier for data about the racial attitudes of the white working class. There's no foolproof way of determining this, but Phil Klinkner passes along the "racial resentment" scores of white working-class men from the American National Election Studies. This is on a scale of 0-16:

There are a few obvious things to take away from this:

  • Racial resentment scores haven't changed at all over the past 30 years.
  • White men with only a high school education score exactly the same as white men overall.
  • But white men with low incomes score a little higher.

If I were to draw any conclusions from this, I'd choose these two:

  • Donald Trump is probably not drawing on anything new in the racial resentment department. He's being louder and more obvious about it, but the pool of white racial resentment he's working with just hasn't changed much.1
  • It's low-income whites who score higher than whites overall, not those with low education. This suggests that economic status plays a (small) role in exacerbating racial resentment and that economic anxiety probably does play a (small) part in Donald Trump's appeal to blue-collar whites.

This is just one bit of data, and I wouldn't take too much from it. If I come across anything else that tells a different or more detailed story, I'll pass it along.

1Sure, maybe it's changed in just the past four years. I wouldn't put a lot of money on that, though.

Back during convention season I warned that election polls wouldn't really mean much until the middle of August. Well, the middle of August is here! So what are the polls showing us? Here you go:

Hillary Clinton is ahead by a steady 8 points. State polls show that she's ahead in pretty much every battleground state. If this holds up, it would be an epic blowout.

Of course it might not hold up. Then again, it might get even worse for Trump. He could turn out to be worst natural politician since—who? I'm not sure. We've never seen anything like this in an election against a party that's already served two terms and is running on a mediocre economy. Previous blowouts—FDR in 1936, LBJ in 1964, Nixon in 1972, Reagan in 1984—have all been by one-term incumbents running for reelection during years of strong economic growth.

Trump is a man of extremes: the biggest, the richest, the boldest, the most beautiful. Now he's heading for another title: worst presidential candidate of all time. That's quite an achievement.

Quick question: do we have any good longitudinal data on the racial attitudes of white, working-class men? Maybe something from the GSS?

Obviously this is related to Donald Trump. The question is this: if we assume that Trump is trying to appeal to racial animus among the white working class—a pretty reasonable assumption—this obviously runs the danger of putting off members of other demographic groups. But what about the white working class itself? Is this strategy likely to work even among them? Or is he appealing to a sentiment that's slowly but steadily fading away?

Can anyone help with this?

In my post earlier this morning I made the case that economic anxiety really did play a role in blue-collar support for Donald Trump. However, many of you cleverly noted that I slid in a postscript at the end that basically made a hash of my argument—and everyone else's. It's simple: Trump isn't actually doing unusually well among white, working-class men. And if Trump isn't doing better among blue collar men in the first place, then there's really nothing to explain. Not racism, not nationalism, not economic anxiety, not anything. Apropos of that, here's a Pew table from a few weeks ago:

Compared to Mitt Romney—a garden variety Republican if there ever was one—Trump is:

  • Doing worse among men
  • Doing worse among whites
  • Doing worse among the elderly
  • Doing worse among those with only a high school education
  • Doing worse among those with low incomes

This is not absolutely definitive. The problem is that Trump's base is typically described as white, working-class men, and most polls just don't break down support that finely. Still, if Trump is doing worse among whites, worse among men, and worse among the working class, it's a pretty good bet that, at the very least, he's not doing any better than Romney among white, working-class men. And if he is, I'll bet it's by a minuscule amount.

So here's the real story: Trump is basically just a Republican candidate for president, appealing to all the usual groups that Republicans appeal to—and this has been true during the entire campaign. Nationally, support for Trump has changed only modestly over the past six months. In fact, if there's any difference at all, it's the fact that whites and men and the working class are turned off by his overt appeals to racism and nationalism. The fact that Trump has a small base of very loud white supporters doesn't change this.

It's hard to draw firm conclusions from any of this. Maybe white, working-class men do like Trump's racial appeals, but are turned off for other reasons. (For example, he's a lunatic.) We'll never know for sure. But what evidence we have really doesn't support the idea that the white working class loves Trump in the first place. Given that, any effort to explain it is bound to be wrong.

Here Is My Clever Plan to Save the Olympics

Clay Dillow reports that hosting the Olympics is really expensive:

When Rio de Janeiro won its bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics back in 2009, the Brazilian government estimated that costs directly related to hosting the games would run just shy of $3 billion. But by the time Vanderlei de Lima lit the Olympic torch at last week’s opening ceremonies, the country had already spent some $4.6 billion on venues, administration, transportation and the like, putting the games roughly 50 percent over budget. By the time the games close on Aug. 21, the tally for the games will likely be higher still.

What can we do to cut down on the cost of staging the Olympics? My idea to host the summer games permanently in Los Angeles sank like a shot put, so here's another one: keep moving them from city to city, but break up the events.

Hear me out. This year, for example, maybe Rio would host track and field—which would be designated the lead venue, responsible for opening and closing ceremonies. Paris would host swimming. Denver would host gymnastics. Beijing would host wrestling, judo, and boxing. Perth would host all the sailing events. And so forth.

Basically, you could break up the summer games into a dozen components and let cities bid for each one. Ditto for the winter games. This would allow even small cities to bid on some of the smaller packages. And it would allow the IOC to gamble on letting developing countries play host without fearing that the entire games might be bollixed up.

Every couple of years, the entire world would be involved in the Olympics. Every continent would be represented. And no one would have to commit to spending billions and billions of dollars on a huge new Olympic venue. The television audience would barely see a difference, and the difference they did see might make the games even better. Some people would miss being able to visit the entire Olympics in person, but hell, that's an expensive proposition. There aren't many people who truly do this. And under my plan, it would be a lot easier and less crowded to visit just one venue that you're truly interested in.

So how about it? This is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking the stodgy old IOC needs. Let's blanket the world with the Olympic Games.

UPDATE: I am late to this idea. Megan Greenwell proposed the same thing in Wired. I can't read it thanks to my ad blocker, but I'll bet she makes the case better than me and in more detail.

Matt Yglesias says it's ridiculous to attribute Donald Trump's support to economic anxiety:

While plenty of people, including plenty of Trump fans, certainly have concerns about the economy, it’s racial resentment that drives who does and doesn’t support Trump....Adding an economic anxiety factor to your account doesn’t actually help to explain anything. Trump’s supporters, for example, are considerably whiter and considerably older than the American population at large. If the economic problems of the past decade had been unusually hard on the white and the old, then an economics-focused explanation could be valuable. In reality, things have been rougher on nonwhites and rougher on younger cohorts.

Generally speaking, I agree. There's been an endless amount of research, including endless splicing and dicing of poll internals, that tries to explain what's different about Trump supporters. And every time, the answer is pretty clear: racial resentment. This is so clear that it's become a joke on Twitter. Every time a Trump supporter (or Trump himself) does or says something racist, it will get linked with a snarky comment about the latest bit of "economic anxiety."

And yet, I do think that genuine economic anxiety has something to do with Trump's popularity. The chart on the right, which I posted a couple of weeks ago, tells the basic story. Over the past few decades, women's incomes have made great strides. Blacks have improved their economic position a bit. Hispanics too. The only group that's failed to make any progress at all is white men. Maybe it's not right to call this "anxiety," but it's certainly something that helps explain why white men are angrier than most people about their economic position.

Nor do I really buy this:

By contrast, the idea that Donald Trump is going to usher in a new era of broadly shared prosperity based on a revival of coal mining and labor-intensive methods of steel production is patently ridiculous. Under guise of being respectful of Trump voters’ concerns, pundits attributing his appeal to his economic “policies” are in effect attributing a remarkable degree of foolishness to his supporters. The more parsimonious and simple explanation is that there is a basic divide over values and cultural identity.

One of the remarkable things about presidential elections is the extent to which voters simply believe whatever candidates tell them. It doesn't matter if it's impossible. It doesn't matter if the candidate changed his mind about this the day before yesterday. It doesn't matter if there's no plausible policy behind the claim. If Trump says he's going to build a wall, then he's going to build a wall. If he says he's going to renegotiate all our trade treaties, then that's what he's going to do. This is not something specific to Trump fans. It's true of all voters.

Personally, I find it sort of remarkable. But then, I'm basically half-Vulcan. Most people aren't.

Presidential campaigns are mostly just an exercise in finding someone whose heart is in the right place. The fancy term is "mood affiliation." Most voters don't really care if either Trump or Hillary Clinton can do what they say. They just want to know what they consider important. Trump has very loudly signaled that he considers the plight of blue-collar workers important, both economically and culturally—and that's really all that matters.

Now, there's a metric buttload of racial and sexist angst wrapped up in that word "culturally." Yglesias is right about that. But there really is an economic component too.

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, this whole argument might be moot. There's considerable evidence that blue-collar whites don't actually support Trump any more strongly than they've supported any other Republican candidate for president. Some of them may be louder than usual this year, but Trump doesn't actually seem to have moved the needle much in terms of raw numbers.