Kevin Drum - 2013

Here's an Interesting Wrinkle in the Rate Shock Debate

| Sat Nov. 16, 2013 10:33 AM EST

Here's an email from a reader in California with an interesting wrinkle on the rate shock debate:

I’m self employed, with individual health insurance coverage, and my family is one of those whose current health insurance policy is being canceled and whose premium will rise once we purchase insurance on the CA exchange. But it’s not as simple as that. We signed up for our current policy in November 2011 (therefore no grandfathering) and the premium was substantially lower than the policy we had prior to that. In hindsight, I’m guessing that the premium for that newly introduced plan was so low because the insurance company knew it would have to be canceled in 2014. So, they weren’t going to incur a lot of losses or have to make provisions for a long claims tail.

The premium for our new insurance, purchased from the exchange, is going to be about what our original (pre-2011) policy premiums would have been now, allowing for the usual annual premium increases. So, yes, we’re having to move from cheaper to more expensive insurance. On the other hand, it’s very likely that the cheaper policy would never have been available in the first place without the ACA’s 2014 deadline for such plans. Of course, the insurance company didn’t clarify back in 2011 that this policy had a limited lifespan and would have to be replaced in 2014 with a new one.

I wonder if this is at all common?

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Friday Cat Blogging - 15 November 2013

| Fri Nov. 15, 2013 2:46 PM EST

In a bit of bad planning, it turns out that most of the final quilts in our 2013 quiltblogging extravaganza are Irish chain quilts. This one is a single chain made out of fabrics purchased in Sedona, which is why it's cleverly named Sedona Chain. It's a crib size quilt that's machine pieced and hand quilted. I mistakenly thought it was lap sized, which is why I asked Marian to model it on her lap. But this nonetheless turned out to be a popular decision, and as soon as I put her down, Domino promptly curled up and took a nap.

In other cat news, meet Inspector Picklejuice, the newest member of the MoJo cat family. Inspector P belongs to Ivylise Simones, our new creative director. Welcome aboard to both.

Sorry, But the 2012 Campaign Just Wasn't That Interesting

| Fri Nov. 15, 2013 2:01 PM EST

God knows, Walter Shapiro has earned the right to be cynical about his fellow ink-stained wretches. Today, he takes on Double Down, the 2012 campaign sequel to Game Change from authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Shapiro thinks that it basically represents the final triumph of the "win the morning" approach to politics:

Double Down is all about shiny objects. It is as if the authors, in a desperate effort to justify their reported $5-million advance, opted for sleight-of-hand to divert readers from the predictable story of the actual 2012 campaign. So after luxuriating over Donald Trump’s ludicrous presidential pretensions early in the book, Halperin and Heilemann devote yet another page to this loathsome self-promoter in their final chapter. The only narrative justification (beyond having another Trump anecdote to peddle on TV) is that Obama’s research team discovered that in ads “voters always noticed and remembered Romney juxtaposed with a private jet branded TRUMP.

....Double Down, in truth, peddles bite-sized dramatic nuggets rather than a nerd’s-eye view of how contemporary politics really works. The authors’ guiding philosophy seems evident: If it can’t be hawked on a talk show then it doesn’t belong in the book.

....Halperin and Heilemann show little interest in unraveling one of the enduring mysteries of Campaign 2012: Why did the supposedly data-driven Romney lose touch with reality and believe to the end his overly optimistic internal polls and the eager Republican faces at campaign rallies? For all of its in-the-moment hype, Double Down exudes a slightly musty aroma, as if the authors are uncomfortable with how politics has changed with the advent of social media. In fact, Double Down may be remembered as a historical curiosity—the last campaign retrospective that fails to mention Facebook.

I almost feel sorry for Halperin and Heilemann. The truth is that the 2012 campaign just wasn't very interesting. Republicans put on an amusing clown show during the primaries and then ended up nominating the most boring person in the world—who, in turn, refused to spice things up with a Sarah Palin-esque choice of running mate. Obama, for his part, ran a Spock-like campaign that only Nate Silver could love. What's more, there were no novel issues in the campaign, just an endless relitigation of the same themes that had been occupying us for the past three years. There were some gaffes here and there, and Obama's Denver debate meltdown provided a tiny spark of uncertainty about the election's final outcome, but even that wasn't much. Honestly, the result was entirely predictable for at least the final month, and it took heroic spin efforts from the media to pretend otherwise.

So is it any surprise that the book is fairly uninteresting except for the occasional shiny object? Not really. I read Jon Alter’s The Center Holds a while back, and I'm a fan of Alter's writing. But it was a dull book for anyone who followed the campaign even loosely. Campaign coverage is now so dense and omnipresent that there just isn't very much we don't know by the time all the wrap-up books come out. So Halperin and Heilemann can make hay with the odd shouting match that wasn't reported in real time, but aside from that there just isn't very much to say. 2012 will go down in history as a pretty routine fight.

Hell, you can't even say it was the beginning of the nerd era, or the blog era, or the data mining era, or the social media era. That stuff all got started in 2004 and 2008. It got stronger in 2012, and will get stronger still in 2016, and it's a fascinating story. It's also the only story worth taking a deep dive into if you want to understand the mechanics of presidential elections in the 21st century. But it's not for the Morning Joe crowd.

Republicans Want to Torpedo the Insurance You Like Far More Than Obamacare Ever Will

| Fri Nov. 15, 2013 12:44 PM EST

Jon Chait notes today that to the extent conservatives have any kind of plan to replace Obamacare, their plans are generally far more disruptive to far more people. It wouldn't just be one or two million people who have their plans canceled or suffer from rate shock, it would be tens of millions who would be forced to give up coverage they like. What's more, contrary to a general preference for comprehensive coverage, Republicans almost universally prefer plans that dump huge amounts of risk on individuals:

The right’s dilemma grows more acute when you move from the general to the particular. Their argument is that Obama forces healthy people to pay higher premiums to pay for a bunch of crap they don’t want or need. Karl Rove argues in his Wall Street Journal column that Obamacare forces people to pay for “expensive and often unnecessary provisions.” And what provisions are these? Where is the medical equivalent of Bridge to Nowhere or scientific research on animals that Republicans love to mock? The problem turns out to be a requirement that “every policy offer a wide range of benefits including mental health and addiction treatment, and maternity care (even for single men or women past childbearing age), and cover 100% of the cost of an array of preventive services.”

This is a morally bizarre conception of what health insurance means. Most of us don’t need mental-health or addiction treatment. Some of us do. Some of us who don’t currently need mental-health treatment might potentially need it one day. You could have a system in which only people who need mental-health treatment pay for mental-health insurance, but then it wouldn’t be insurance anymore. It would be a system in which you pay for a doctor out of pocket.

I've identified the new "welfare mothers." Are you ready? Mothers.

The whole point of insurance is to pool risk because you don't know what kind of problems you might have in the future. Would it be better to allow people to choose from a menu of things they want individually, rather than simply covering everyone for everything and then spreading the cost around? That's surely a matter of opinion, but most Americans don't like the idea. They don't like it substantively because it obviously promotes free riding, and they don't like it emotionally because it just doesn't smell right. When we sign up for employer coverage—by far the most popular kind of health coverage outside of Medicare—we all understand that we're joining a risk pool. I'm paying for someone else's maternity coverage. They're paying for my blood pressure meds. We're all paying for the possibility of some kind of catastrophic bout of cancer that we all dearly hope will be someone else's problem. What's more, we all understand that the benefits of employer health care are immensely unequal. A 50-year-old head of household receives benefits that are probably worth about $20,000 or so. A healthy 25-year-old single worker receives benefits worth about $4,000. Is that unfair? I wouldn't say so, and Americans have voted with their feet for years in favor of this kind of system.

In any case, as Chait says, the most bizarre part of the current Republican screamfest is their objection to men being forced to pay for maternity coverage. Seriously? They think that the societal cost of carrying on the species should be borne solely by women aged 18-40? Young women should pay the full freight and the rest of us should give them a vote of thanks but otherwise tell them they're on their own? That's morally contemptuous, and I'm pretty sure that most of us understand that.

Leaked Treaty Puts US Hard Line on Patents and Copyrights on Public Display

| Fri Nov. 15, 2013 12:00 PM EST

A couple of days ago, WikiLeaks leaked a copy of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. This is interesting in its own right, of course, but it's especially interesting because the draft copy specifies exactly which provisions the United States is fighting for and what positions other countries are taking. This means that if the US wins agreement for its demands, it will be a very public cave-in by most of the other negotiators. Needless to say, that makes caving in harder.

That said, what's actually in the draft? Today, Henry Farrell talks to George Washington University professor Susan Sell about the chapter dealing with intellectual property (trademarks, copyrights, patents, etc.). Here's an excerpt:

After Thursday’s leak of the intellectual property chapter it is obvious why the USTR and the Obama administration have insisted on secrecy. From this text it appears that the U.S. administration is negotiating for intellectual property provisions that it knows it could not achieve through an open democratic process. For example, it includes provisions similar to those of the failed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) that the European Parliament ultimately rejected....

People call it a Hollywood wish list — why?

Some provisions of the text resurrect pieces of SOPA and PIPA and ACTA that many found to be objectionable. The entertainment industries (movies and music) championed these agreements and sought stronger protections in the digital realm. These industries were stunned when SOPA and PIPA got killed. Only the United States and New Zealand oppose a provision that would require compensation for parties wrongfully accused of infringement (QQ.H.4). The United States is alone in proposing criminal procedures and penalties “even absent willful trademark, counterfeiting or copyright or related rights piracy”.

Only the United States and Australia oppose a provision limiting Internet Service Provider liability (QQ.I.1); U.S. copyright holders would like ISPs to be held liable for hosting infringing content. The United States also proposes extending copyright to life plus 95 years for corporate-owned copyrights. Hollywood consistently presses for longer copyright terms and it is doing so here.

Read the whole thing for more. It's no surprise that the United States is pushing the hardest line on IP protections, but it is a little surprising that its line is so hard and that it's apparently getting strong pushback from virtually every negotiating partner.

The Chattering Classes Are Now in Full Chicken Little Mode

| Fri Nov. 15, 2013 10:56 AM EST

We are in full feeding frenzy mode. Politico, by my count, has no fewer than 14 front page headlines today about the great Obamacare debacle. The Washington Post's four top news articles and its four top op-eds are all about Obamacare, and the top op-eds are uniformly panicky.

Is panic just built into political observers, or what? Ruth Marcus thinks Obama's entire presidency at risk. Ditto for Milbank. And if that's not bad enough for you, Krauthammer suggests that yesterday's events spell doom for the entire liberal project. It's almost a relief to get down to the unsigned editorial, which is merely troubled, not in full-scale meltdown (or, in Krauthammer's case, glee).

So what causes this? It's pretty obviously ridiculous, and I suspect that even the folks writing this stuff would agree about that if they took a breath. But they write it anyway. Are they truly that panic-stricken? Do they simply need something exciting to write? Or what?

Well, this isn't very exciting, but here's what really happened yesterday. Obama made a short speech and then took questions. It wasn't the high point of his presidency, but virtually no one outside the Beltway thought it was a disaster. It was just another forgettable presidential press conference. The Obamacare website is in deep trouble, but the evidence is pretty clear that it really is getting better, and will continue to get better. Lots of people are suffering from rate shock, but not as many people as Republicans and the press would have you believe. It's early days, and signups will continue to improve as we get closer to the deadline. Insurers are upset with Obama's new fix, but they'll calm down. Their denunciations yesterday were pretty pro forma.

This is a bleak moment for Obama, but it's not his Iraq or even his Katrina. Within a few months everything will settle down. Republicans have an obvious political motive for stoking panic, but the rest of us should be a little smarter about buying into it. Okay?

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There Will Be No Congressional Fix For Canceled Health Care Policies

| Fri Nov. 15, 2013 1:03 AM EST

This is just a quick note to anyone who's worried and/or hopeful that Congress will pass some kind of legislative fix for people whose health insurance has been canceled due to Obamacare. It won't happen. Republicans are interested only in Obamacare's failure and will refuse to support any Democratic bill that genuinely addresses the problem. Conversely, Democrats are interested only in improving Obamacare and relieving the political pressure they're feeling. They will refuse to support any Republican bill that contains an obvious poison pill. Unless I'm missing something, the intersection of these two positions is the null set. Thus, there is no bill that can pass Congress.

This is not a joke. No one should waste any time reporting or commenting on the various bills that are likely to pop up over the next few weeks. It's all just posturing. Obama's regulatory fix is the only one we're going to get.

Artificial ESP Comes to Twitter

| Fri Nov. 15, 2013 12:52 AM EST

Robert Waldmann is feeling creeped out:

An obvious twitter 'bot followed me with tweets consisting only of advertising for, among other things, wasabi flavored ice cream. Now, I think you will agree that wasabi flavored ice cream is rather a niche product. You may not know that it exists (in Rome to which all roads lead). I hope with some (but rapidly declining) confidence that you don't know that I really like wasabi flavored ice cream. HOW does a twitter 'bot know I like wasabi flavored ice cream ??? I feel we have skipped artificial intelligence and gotten straight to artificial ESP.

How indeed? I'll bet the answer is pretty interesting. I'm assuming, of course, that Waldmann hasn't simply blanked out and forgotten that he wrote a tweet a couple of weeks ago about wasabi ice cream.

McClatchy: CBS Undertaking a "Journalistic Review" of Flawed "60 Minutes" Benghazi Report

| Thu Nov. 14, 2013 5:55 PM EST

Until now, I've mostly avoided tackling some of the broader problems with Lara Logan's now-infamous report on Benghazi for 60 Minutes. It was, as I mentioned in my very first post the day after it aired, written as though the script had come from the Republican National Committee, full of unsourced allegations, questionable interpretations, and wink-wink-nudge-nudge suggestions of scandal. Nearly everything in the segment was old news that had been extensively litigated in the months before, but you'd never know that from watching it because opposing viewpoints were almost entirely absent. Logan's later assertion that "We killed ourselves not to allow politics into this report" is simply laughable.

But all of that paled compared to the revelation that Dylan Davies, the main source for the segment, had flatly lied about his role on the night of the attacks, and that's attracted most of the attention since then. Today, though, McClatchy's Nancy Youssef takes a deep dive through Logan's story and finds problems with nearly everything she reported. In particular, Logan's repeated insistence that the attack was a well-planned Al-Qaeda assault is questionable at best:

The report repeatedly referred to al Qaida as solely responsible for the attack on the compound and made no mention of Ansar al Shariah, the Islamic extremist group that controls and provides much of the security in restive Benghazi and that has long been suspected in the attack....It is an important distinction, experts on those groups said. Additionally, al Qaida’s role, if any, in the attack has not been determined, and Logan’s narration offered no source for her repeated assertion that it had been.

....Logan claimed that “it’s now well established that the Americans were attacked by al Qaida in a well-planned assault.” But al Qaida has never claimed responsibility for the attack, and the FBI, which is leading the U.S. investigation, has never named al Qaida as the sole perpetrator. Rather, it is believed a number of groups were part of the assault, including members and supporters of al Qaida and Ansar al Shariah, as well as attackers angered by a video made by an American that insulted Prophet Muhammad....Moreover, questions remain over how far in advance the attack on the U.S. compound had been planned. Rather than a long-planned attack, investigators have told McClatchy it was likely planned hours, rather than days, in advance.

....Another questionable assertion in the “60 Minutes” report was Logan’s unsourced reference to the Benghazi Medical Center as being “under the control of al Qaida terrorists”....The piece also named three known insurgent operators as top suspects in the attack but did not explain the source of that assertion....According to the piece, “When a member of our team went to the U.S. compound earlier this month, he found remnants of the Americans’ final frantic moments still scattered on the ground”.... McClatchy visited the site in June and saw a pile of debris sitting outside the compound walls, but no documents were discernible among the broken concrete, clothing, furniture and soot.

....Davies had claimed in the “60 Minutes” piece that he had gone to the diplomatic compound site during the attack, climbed a 12-foot-high wall and struck one of the attackers in the head with his rifle butt before discovering Stevens’ body at the hospital. All of the claims contradicted multiple reports that have emerged in the year since the attacks.

Read the whole piece for all the details. The bottom line is that Logan's report was plainly trying to make a case for a long-planned Al-Qaeda attack in a city largely controlled by Al-Qaeda operatives. The evidence for that is dubious at best, and no contrary evidence made it into the finished piece. What's more, there was plenty of reason to be skeptical of Davies' claims, but Logan simply accepted them at face value.

Youssef reports that CBS told her it is undertaking a "journalistic review" of Logan's Benghazi report, "the network’s first acknowledgement that concerns about the report may go deeper than just the discredited interview with security supervisor Dylan Davies." That's good to hear. There was a lot more wrong with that segment than just Davies' tall tales.

Rate Shock Probably Affects Less Than 1 Percent of the Country

| Thu Nov. 14, 2013 3:20 PM EST

How many people are subject to rate shock in the individual insurance market thanks to Obamacare? That's a surprisingly hard figure to get a handle on. But here's a rough cut:

  • There are about 15 million people who currently get individual coverage.
  • Of that, only about 5 million stay in the individual market for more than a year. The rest have individual coverage for only a few months and are minimally impacted by policy cancellations.
  • At a guess, maybe a third of these long-term buyers will end up with higher rates for comparable policies once they've shopped the exchange and applied their subsidies.

So that's a grand total of perhaps 1-2 million people. It's a lot. At the same time, it's less than 1 percent of the population of the country. I don't want to minimize the pain that higher rates are causing this 1 percent, but at the same time, we shouldn't be overreacting either. Given the kludgy nature of our current health care system and the realities of American politics, it would be hard to design any kind of large-scale health care reform that did much better.