Mainstream news outlets downplay steep Obamacare cost increases

Pete Kasperowicz of the Washington Examiner explores mainstream media outlets’ response to the latest news surrounding Affordable Care Act rate increases.

Mainstream media outlets were slow to cover the Obama administration’s Monday announcement of a 25 percent average increase in federal Obamacare premiums for 2017, and for some, the news wasn’t worth covering at all.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday at 5 p.m. that in addition to the price increase, there would be 36 percent fewer plans to choose from. When data was used for the three state-run exchanges for which data was available, the average price increase dropped just a little, to 22 percent.

HHS released the news at 5 p.m., but even hours later, no trace of the story could be found on the websites of NBC News or MSNBC.

Other mainstream news outlets that did decide to cover it did so only a few hours after the HHS embargo ended at 5 p.m.

The Washington Post, for example, initially didn’t put the story anywhere on its front page. Only by searching the Post’s website could readers discover that the paper put up the AP story on the announcement, headlined: “Obama administration confirms double-digit premium hikes.”

Then, just before 7 p.m., the Post put up its own version of the story with the headline: “Average premiums for popular Affordable Care Act plans rising 25 percent for 2017.” The story appeared under a story about Cleveland’s recent “sports prosperity,” a reference to the Indians making the World Series, and the Cavaliers’ recent NBA championship.

The New York Times took the same approach. The story was absent from its front page for a few hours, but a search revealed it also went with the AP story.

Just before 8 p.m., the Times had its’ own story that appeared in the top left-hand column of its website: “Some Health Plan Costs Will Rise Sharply, U.S. Says.” A subheadline said the increases “all but ensure that the next president will need to make significant adjustments to the health law.”

Walter Williams emphasizes the freedom to work

Walter Williams‘ latest column at Human Events focuses on government rules that restrict people’s ability to earn a livelihood.

If a person wants to go into business as a taxicab owner, what requirements should be imposed to protect the public? The prospective taxicab owner should show that he is honest and can operate a vehicle safely. His vehicle should pass a safety inspection, and he should have a liability insurance policy. Some cities require the purchase of an existing license, sometimes called a medallion. A medallion has cost as much as over $1 million, as in the case of New York City, and the cost has reached $700,000 in Boston and $360,000 in Chicago. There is no public protection interest served by forcing a person to go into debt to purchase a taxi medallion, but doing so does serve an interest.

Before we talk about that, let’s look at some good news for prospective taxi owners. The Arlington, Virginia-based Institute for Justice is a nonprofit libertarian public interest law firm that has been on the forefront in the fight for economic liberty for 2 1/2 decades. During that time period, it has piled up numerous victories. The most recent is its Oct. 7 win in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued two groundbreaking decisions that will help cities to sweep aside protectionist transportation regulations in order to make way for new entrepreneurs.

The first case originated in Milwaukee, where Joe Sanfelippo Cabs, the city’s largest taxicab operator in the city, filed suit claiming that the city had violated both the U.S. Constitution and Wisconsin state law when it lifted a long-standing cap on the number of taxicabs it would allow to operate. Of course, Joe Sanfelippo Cabs wanted to keep the number of taxis limited so as to maintain monopoly power and gain monopoly wealth. The second case originated in Chicago, where incumbent taxicab operators sued the city for permitting ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft to operate. The plaintiffs charged that because city officials did not go out and arrest Uber and Lyft drivers, taxicab owners’ rights under federal and state law were violated.

Writing for the court in the case that challenged Milwaukee’s removal of a cap on the number of taxicab medallions, Judge Richard Posner wrote: “The plaintiffs’ contention that the increased number of permits has taken property away from the plaintiffs without compensation, in violation of the constitutional protection of property, borders on the absurd. Property can take a variety of forms, some of them intangible, such as patents. But a taxi permit confers only a right to operate a taxicab (a right which, in Milwaukee, may be sold). It does not create a right to be an oligopolist, and thus confers no right to exclude others from operating taxis.”

In the Chicago case, Judge Posner, who is very knowledgeable about economics, applied the great economist Joseph Schumpeter’s notion of “creative destruction.” He explained that Uber, Lyft and other companies that are wreaking destruction on the old taxi cartel are examples of companies engaging in a natural part of free market behavior. Posner wrote: “When new technologies, or new business methods, appear, a common result is the decline or even disappearance of the old. Were the old deemed to have a constitutional right to preclude the entry of the new into the markets of the old, economic progress might grind to a halt. Instead of taxis we might have horse and buggies; instead of the telephone, the telegraph; instead of computers, slide rules. Obsolescence would equal entitlement.”

Google and YouTube versus conservative views

Dennis Prager devotes a National Review Online column to the popular websites’ efforts to limit distribution of conservative ideas.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal wrote the following editorial about YouTube restricting access to 16 videos — down from 21 — created and posted online by my non-profit educational organization, Prager University: “YouTube thinks Dennis Prager’s videos may be dangerous.”

Tech giants like Google and Facebook always deny that their platforms favor some viewpoints over others, but then they don’t do much to avoid looking censorious. . . .

Dennis Prager’s “PragerU” puts out free short videos on subjects “important to understanding American values” — ranging from the high cost of higher education to the motivations of Islamic State. The channel has more than 130 million views. . . . As you might guess, the mini-seminars do not include violence or sexual content.

But more than 15 videos are “restricted” on YouTube. . . . This means the clips don’t show up for those who have turned on filtering — say, a parent shielding their children from explicit videos. A YouTube spokesperson told us that the setting is optional and “based on algorithms that look at a number of factors, including community flagging on videos.” . . .

… It is a good sign that Google/YouTube’s censorship of respectful, utterly non-violent and non-sexual videos made it to the Wall Street Journal editorial page. It is very bad sign that it had to.

And it is a very bad sign that it made the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, but not the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, or any other mainstream newspaper that still purports to support the classic liberal value of free speech. …

… Obviously, then, the explanation is not algorithms that catch violence and sex. Rather, Google/YouTube doesn’t want effective (each video has at least 1 million views) conservative videos. Does that mean that it has left-wing censors looking for every widely viewed conservative video? They don’t have to. Left-wing viewers simply “flag” our and others’ videos as inappropriate, and YouTube does the rest.

Probing Trump’s largest vulnerability

Rich Lowry of National Review Online labels the Republican presidential nominee a “genuinely self-destructive candidate.”

Hillary Clinton may be the first candidate in American history to win a contest of personalities without having one.

She has been content to make the election all about Donald Trump’s character, and Trump has obliged because, really, what else would he consider as fascinating and important as himself?

In a more normal year, Obamacare would be a byword for the failures of liberal technocrat rule. Insurers have been exiting the exchanges, and many of those that are staying are hiking premiums by 20 percent or more. Even a Democratic governor, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, has said that Obamacare is “no longer affordable to increasing numbers of people.”

In a more conventional election, President Barack Obama’s foreign policy would be under relentless assault. The Russian reset is in flames. Syria is Obama’s Rwanda. Iran, with its nuclear program intact, is making a bid for regional hegemony. ISIS established its caliphate in the space created by Obama’s passivity.

In any other campaign, the economy would be front and center, and the slowest recovery in the post–World War II period a constant flashpoint.

Instead, none of these issues have had the resonance of Donald Trump’s early-hours Twitter war with a former Miss Universe, or even his aside in the third debate that Hillary Clinton is a “nasty woman.” And these have been third-tier controversies, compared with the ones that have truly rocked the campaign, such as Trump’s post-convention fight with the Khan family and the airing of the Access Hollywood tape.

It’s not as though Trump doesn’t talk about the issues. But nothing besides his core of immigration and trade has the force to escape the extreme gravitational pull of his persona, which is outsized, compelling, and — in a presidential campaign — ripe for deconstruction.

New Carolina Journal Online features

Leslee Kulba profiles the N.C. House District 112 election for Carolina Journal Online.

John Hood’s Daily Journal reminds N.C. voters about positive gains the state has made in national rankings of taxes, spending, transportation, welfare reform, and freedom in recent years.

When is schoolyard bullying ok?

According to this PSA, when the parents of the kid being bullied didn’t vote.

North Carolina Approved For 24 Percent Average Health Insurance Premium Hikes

Last week, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina received final approval to increase the underlying cost of 2017 health insurance premiums by an average of 24 percent. The state’s largest insurer initially sought approval for an 18 percent increase, but needed to re-file its rate request to account for an additional 200,000 enrollees who once purchased health insurance through Aetna. Aetna, along with UnitedHealth Group, have departed from the state’s health  Exchange earlier this year. Blue Cross and Cigna are the only two carriers offering federally qualified health plans to people who don’t have job-based insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s individual market Exchange platform.

PBS reports that the White House continues to stress that these underlying premium increases don’t include subsidies which help offset total out-of-pocket costs enrollees pay towards their monthly premiums and deductibles (these sliding scale subsidies are distributed based on one’s household income).

Even with subsidies, these plans aren’t affordable for all., the platform where patients can shop for a 2017 health insurance plan starting November 1, now allows you to preview available plans and their associated costs:

  • A 40 year old female in Wake County earning $50,000 a year doesn’t qualify for a subsidy. The lowest cost HMO Bronze plan through Cigna is $383 a month in addition to a $6,400 deductible. A Blue Cross and Blue Shield bronze plan will cost her over $400 a month with a $7,150 deductible.

40 year old female Cigna

40 year old

  • Meanwhile, let’s say that a 26 year old male living in Wake County doesn’t have health insurance through his job. He’s pulling in $30,000 a year. Even with a $185/mo subsidy, his net premium payment amounts to $122 a month for the lowest cost Cigna plan. Add that to $6,400 in out-of-pocket expenses before the insurance company covers the bill.

Cigna 26

Now, there is nothing wrong with high deductible health plans, however they would be way more appealing – especially for low users of the health care system, if premiums were lower. This doesn’t mean that there should be more subsidies. It means that the federal health law’s Exchange infrastructure needs to let insurance companies have more flexibility with their plan designs and risk- pricing. Of course, there’s a lot of other things that need to be reworked in order for health care to be more accessible and affordable for the masses.

What a mess.

Sometimes we need research that states the obvious: a realization

I have been an unrepentant mocker of that subset of academic research, usually funded with public monies, that purports to “find” the obvious.

Some of those include such game-changers as men want hot women, women appreciate jokes more when they’re funny, distractions impede learning, and a person who hates Israel is more likely to be anti-Semitic. Research has even proven that hugs are good and not disproven, even after three years of study, that drinking water helps prevent dehydration.

Nevertheless, I am very glad Johnson & Wales associate economics professor Adam C. Smith has proven the obvious. Because obviously, his proof was made necessary.

Last year, President Barack Obama issued an executive order requiring federal regulatory agencies to use behavioral economics and psychology in designing their policies. The idea is to address the fact that people often make the “wrong choices” — a “behavioral market failure.” It is to rectify flaws in the “private choice architecture.”

As Smith explains it, “policymakers are increasingly operating under the assumption that people consistently fail to make rational choices.”

What should be glaringly obvious at this point is that, to accept that premise, one must realize that policymakers are people, too.

A syllogism (which otherwise needs not to be stated) would then emerge:

Major premise: People consistently fail to make rational choices
Minor premise: Policymakers are people
Conclusion: Policymakers consistently fail to make rational choices

Smith’s paper argues the need for accounting for public-choice economics alongside behavioral economics or else the endeavor is not likely to succeed. Massaging policies to produce the proper private choice architecture also require the proper public choice architecture. He concludes,

The more general lesson is that without the proper public choice architecture in place, there is little hope for improving private choices in practice. … Without proper understanding of context and the institutional constraints regulators will inevitably face, it is unlikely that behavioral ideas will lead to better private choice architecture. While these efforts are encouraging for attempting to improve the choices people face, this paper exposes the importance getting the institutions right. Those who truly wish to improve private choice architecture should take greater care in understanding the public choice architecture in which their theories are applied.

Addendum: I acknowledge there are those who see certain policymakers as higher beings — i.e., not people — but I consider such a belief the ne plus ultra of folly.