Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

It seems as though not even Thanksgiving is immune from politicization this year. The right has taken this opportunity to make a "statement" on personal freedoms surrounding TSA agents, the left is trying to rewrite history by claiming that the first Pilgrims were Communists (I thought Commies didn't believe in God) and that the Pilgrims' first thanksgiving feast was a "secular" occurance (There is a particularly odious [and willfully inaccurate] article along those lines in today's Huffington Post).

Just a few points to put Thanksgiving in perspective. While there is considerable dispute as to whether the Pilgrims were the first to host a thanksgiving feast in the New World they have become synonymous with the holiday and for good reason. Their story of perseverance, survival and cooperation is nothing short of astounding. I'll even give you that they (initially) had some pretty socialistic tendencies (if you showed up in a largely unexplored and at times openly hostile foreign land with little more than a few tools and the clothes on your back, you'd probably want to work as a team too). The wholly unexpected alliance they formed with Massasoit and his Pokanoket tribe and first, bountiful harvest following a devastating winter that killed 46 of the original 102 settlers was, in actuality, a week-long celebration in 1621 attended by the 46 pilgrims and 90 Indians. While neither of the brief, two surviving original sources detailing this occasion directly mention God its patently foolish to assume the settlers did not offer thanks to Him for their Indian allies and overwhelmingly successful first harvest.

Many of the articles you read will probably give Abraham Lincoln credit for establishing the United States' first Thanksgiving holiday, and while it is true that Lincoln did establish the modern iteration (in 1863 proclaiming, "...the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.") it was our first President, George Washington (at the behest of Congress) who established the United States' first Thanksgiving celebration.

Washington's proclamation makes no reference to Pilgrims, Indians or a bountiful harvest. His words, written in 1789, call upon the American people to acknowledge, "...the many signal favors of Almighty God," chief among them in Washington's estimation, the opportunity to establish a form of government to provide for the people's "safety and happiness."

This year I hope that we, as Americans, will unite in celebrating the one factor uniting each of these distinct visions of Thanksgiving. An abiding faith in, devotion and thanks to God for all the many blessings He has bestowed upon us.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


It's hard to understate just how dramatic a change took place on Tuesday, November 2, 2010. A few things to consider...
  • While the networks focused (rightfully so) on federal races, Republicans' biggest wins of the day came at the state level. Republicans picked up an outright majority of the nation's legislative seats, amassing the party's largest plurality since 1928.
    Twenty years ago Democrats controlled every state legislature in the South. Last night, Republicans won back a majority of the region's chambers for the first time since the '60s... the 1860s.
    Nationally, the Republican party now controls both chambers of the state legislature in 25 states. In Texas, the legislative gains were so big that Republicans no longer need a single Democratic vote to pass state constitutional amendments.
  • With five governors' races still too close to call, Democrats have taken governorships from Republicans in two states (CA & HI). Republicans have taken control from Democrat administrations in eleven, including Pennsylvania and Ohio, two states that have proven crucial in recent Presidential elections. Additionally, Republicans have kept control of the Governor's mansion in the integral swing state of Florida.
    By themselves, these are impressive numbers, but consider this: Republicans now control the governor's mansion and state legislatures in (among others) Alabama, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Tennessee, Maine (yes, that Maine), Texas and Pennsylvania.
  • The Republican party gained more seats in the House of Representatives at any one time since 1948. So far, they've picked up 61 seats. Let's put that in perspective: in the 2006 Democratic "landslide," the left picked up 30 seats. In the 2008 Democratic "landslide," they tacked on an additional 24. Republicans completely erased those gains (and then some) in one day.
That's just the overview of yesterday's historic election. Next time, we'll take a closer look at some of the remarkable individual candidates who won elections yesterday...

Sunday, April 4, 2010

In the year 2013...

Before we move forward I'm afraid we must first take a step back. It seems as though there are a number of provisions in the healthcare bill that did not receive, well, any press coverage prior to the bill's passage. One such provision is Section 2572 which outlines the new federal mandate that all restaurants with more than twenty locations and all vending machines must post nutritional information on their food.

This section must go into effect no less than one year after the passage of the healthcare bill. Much of the implementation is yet to be determined (the bill gives power to the Secretary of Health & Human Services to determine the standards governing large portions of this section) but it has restaurateurs scrambling to figure out what this will mean for their businesses.

One thing they are certain of is that this provision will cost - every menu must be reprinted, not to mention signage. A big question restaurant owners do not have the answer to is how the nutritional content must be determined - is it good enough for restaurateurs to simply add the nutritional information of the ingredients used in preparation or must they conduct lab testing on each of their menu items. Again, these questions have yet to be answered, but with restaurant owners already nervous about other portions of the bill there can be little doubt that this portion will, at best, lead to a slower expansion of the restaurant industry and at worst, cost people their jobs.


In the year 2012... not much happens. Why? Well, it's a presidential election year and President Obama will be up for re-election. He certainly wouldn't want any new, inconvenient provisions popping up when he is up for re-election now would he?


Health plans must implement uniform standards for electronic exchange of health information to reduce paperwork and administrative costs. It's a bit Big Brother for my tastes but I'm not going to rally against this one. In the end this may help to control costs and provide better services through privacy concerns weigh heavily on this portion of the legislation - can the government ensure that electronic records are safe and will be used only for the intended purposes?

A 2.9% excise tax will be imposed on medical devices. I read a great article on this one highlighting the case of Zoll Medical Corporation, a business just outside Boston that is the nation's leading manufacturer of heart defibrillators. Zoll employs about 1,600 people in the United States and last year posted a profit of $9.5 million. Richard Packer, Zoll's Chairman and CEO, estimates that the new tax will cost them, "...between $5 and $10 million."

The media has been reporting a "mixed" reaction on the tax from medical device manufacturers... that's generous. The most positive reaction I've heard is from those folks who thought it could be worse. Bill Hawkins, CEO of Medtronic, told the WSJ that his company could cut 1,000 jobs to absorb the cost of the tax increase.

Tom Sommer, president of the Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council summed the industry's feelings up nicely when he said, "You're certainly going to see an impact on growth and expansion by medical device companies in this country that are going to be faced by a higher tax bill. In addition to job cuts and rollbacks on expansion plans, you're going to see a reduction in R&D spending. Innovation in this industry is definitely in jeopardy."

As all taxes on business are, this tax increase will be passed on to the consumer, in the end raising the cost of healthcare, which I thought was the exact thing this bill was trying to contain...

Monday, March 29, 2010

In the year 2011...

This is Part II...

Let's take a look at the provisions of Obama-care that take effect in 2011...

Medicare will provide free annual wellness visits and personalized prevention plans. New plans will be required to cover preventive services with no co-pay. In the simplest of economic times this provision will drive up demand on physician services. Economics 101 tells you that if you increase demand while keeping supply static you will increase cost. In 2006, the United States Department of Health and Human Services published a study projecting physician supply and demand through the year 2020. Their findings? "The growth and aging of the United States population will cause a surge in demand for physician services..." while supply will remain relatively static. Proponents of this provision say that these preventative measures will yield a long-term decrease in other, move involved, more expensive forms of care. I would be inclined to beleive them (to a point) were it not for the the litigious nature of healthcare. One of the provisions Republicans pressed hardest for was tort reform to address these ballooning costs which, according to one University of Connecticut study costs $1.4 billion per year... in Massachusetts.

This bill increases the Medicare payroll tax on individuals earning more than $200,000 and married couples earning more than $250,000. Two years later this segment of the population gets hit with an increase in the hospital insurance tax that accounts for a total tax hike of 3.8%. Soak the rich... except that most small business owners file through individual tax returns, so they will get hit with this even though that $250,000 return they filed may be getting pumped right back into the business they are trying to get off the ground or represent the first profitable year a business has had in several. Make no mistake - this is a job killer that will have a disproportionately negative impact on small business owners.

New taxes on Healthcare Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) take effect. This one gets a bit complicated so stick with me.

HSAs are a relatively new form of Health Insurance featuring very high deductibles (over $1,500 per person). The benefit is that it works on a fee for service basis. You can put money, as much as you want, into a tax-free account and withdraw those funds, again tax free, to pay for medical services and medications, including over the counter (OTC) medications. If you spend the money on unqualified expenses they are subject to a 10% tax... until 2011, when that tax goes up to 20% and the OTC benefit goes away. These provisions are expected to bring in at least $5 billion in revenue.

Now FSAs allow you to deposit pre-tax dollars into an account. These funds may then be spent, tax free, throughout the year on qualified medical expenses; things like co-pays, prescription contacts & eyeglasses and certain over the counter drugs. Anything left in the account at the end of the year you lose and contributions are unlimited... until 2011. When this portion of the bill takes effect annual FSA contributions will be limited to $2,500 and over the counter (OTC) medications will no longer be considered as qualified expenses. This second part is important because if you overbudget your FSA at the end of the year you can always use the money for OTC medications to avoid losing the money. But no big deal right, people will just get smarter about how they manage their FSAs right? Well Congress hopes not - they are counting on these two provisions raising more than $11 billion in revenue... That seems like a really sleazy way to steal people's money.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"What does Obama-care mean for me?"

Like it or not, health insurance reform as envisioned by the Democrat party is the law of the land.

But the fact remains that this is a remarkably unpopular bill. Democrats hoping that it would gain in popularity after passage have seen few rays of light in otherwise cloudy forecast. There are a smattering of polls that show the bill gaining in popularity, but no credible poll I have seen shows a majority of the American people supporting this legislation. Even those that draw the numbers closer to equal show disturbing trends in their underlying metrics - Democrats overwhelmingly support the change, Republicans overwhelmingly hate it and the ever elusive yet incredibly important Independents trend much closer to Republicans than Democrats.

What we can expect to follow is a lengthening of the conversation. President Obama and his allies will try to sell what is now the law of the land Republicans will try to pin what they see as a terrible piece of legislation to the Democrats any way they can and make it stick until November.
But while the politicians continue to pay politics, you may find yourself saying, "What does Obama-care mean for me?" Well I'm glad you asked because in this space over the next few days we are going to take a look at the key provisions of this bill as they will take effect in the coming months and years... We'll start with what we can expect to take place immediately:

Beginning in March, 2010...

Adults will be able to stay on their parent's insurance plans until they are 27 years old. Great news for kids living in their parents' basements still trying to "find themselves," not the best thing for those of us who think they would be better served simply getting a job.

Insurers will no longer be able to deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. This is a good provision - you could argue against it but you would lose. There should be little argument that this part of the legislation should stand… that is if the Democrats can get it right. Turns out there is a loophole in the bill that means this provision doesn’t kick in until 2014. The President, as recently as last Friday in a speech at George Mason, said it would take effect immediately.

Insurers will not be able to rescind policies to avoid paying medical bills when a person gets sick. I have to check the language on this. It's my understanding that "rescission" mostly takes place if your insurance company finds out that you lied on your application to get insurance. For example, if you are getting treated for kidney failure and your insurance company learns that you "forgot" to tell them about your fifteen-year meth addiction - they can drop your coverage. If the bill prevents companies from dropping coverage in this case then I am against the provision. However, there have been cases where insurance companies have dropped sick patients using loopholes in policies they wrote to avoid paying for expensive treatments. If the bill protects consumers solely in this type of situation then I am all for it. Again, I have to read that section more closely.

Lifetime limits on coverage are now illegal. I think this is a dumb provision that will increase the cost of insurance. If I want to buy an insurance policy that limits the lifetime out-of-pocket expense of my insurer to, let's say, $100,000 in exchange for a dirt cheep policy I should be allowed to do so. If I get some catastrophic disease - well, that's my problem. I shouldn't have gone with the SafeAuto of health insurance. The government can and should only do so much to protect people from themselves.

New plans must provide coverage for preventive services without co-pays and all plans must be brought into compliance by 2018. Again, dumb. Co-Pays can bring down the cost of insurance considerably the same way that deductibles bring down home and auto-insurance. This will undoubtedly cause premiums to rise. The President says otherwise, but some of those in his own party, including Sen. Dick Durbin (D -IL), state that anyone who tells you insurance premiums will go down is not telling the truth.

A 10 percent tax will be imposed on amounts paid for indoor tanning services on or after July 1. Somewhere, the cast of Jersey Shore is taking a meeting with their financial planner to see how this will affect their bottom line. Does anyone want to argue against this one? I didn’t think so. I have no problem with a tax on tanning.

Businesses with fewer than 50 employees will get tax credits covering 35 percent of their health care premiums, increasing to 50 percent by 2014. This is a good thing. We should be encouraging businesses to provide insurance for their employees (note I said "encouraging" not "mandating"). We should also be working to get more people gainfully employed, that way they can get health insurance without the government's help. The best way to do both is by cutting taxes.

Next time, we'll deal with 2011...

Friday, January 29, 2010


In an article titled "Why do people often vote against their own interests?" the author (a Brit) opines, "There is nothing voters hate more than having things explained to them as though they were idiots." He then proceeds to explain to his readers why American voters are idiots for choosing not to listen to "liberal elitists" even though they clearly know what is best for the country. To clearly illustrate his point he quotes two liberal elitists...

This site was linked to this evening by the Huffington Post.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A National Embarrassment

So the speech has been over for less than 45-minutes and I'm already being called a hate-monger for not liking it. Listen people, I took my lumps for supporting W for eight long years from people a helluva' lot less informed than me and made it my pledge to never subject someone from the opposing viewpoint to the disgust with which Republicans were treated during the Bush administration. That is why my opinion is informed and measured, so if you're like me and abhorred tonight's speech, maybe these thoughts will help put into words your distaste.

My primary complaint with the speech was that it was woefully un-presidential. Now that requires quantification because there are plenty on the left who would call W's speeches "un-presidential" because he was not as eloquent or skilled in the use of a teleprompter as is Obama. So what then, do I mean by "un-presidential?" Well the best (or worst) example was this:

With all due deference to separation of powers, last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.

Apparently CNN has tape of Justice Alito shaking his head and mouthing, "No" as Obama said this and the Justice is right. The Court struck down 2 USC Section 441a. That is the section that prohibits corporate political spending. It left untouched 2 USC Section 441e, which prohibits foreign nationals and corporations from making contributions to political parties and campaigns.

In one sentence the President blatantly misled the American people while slapping the face of a co-equal branch of government; two remarkably un-presidential things to do in a State of the Union. (And to those who will say, "So did Bush!" your response should be, "Does that make it right?")

But that's one example and by all accounts it's inside political baseball. Here is one that's easier to explain:

From some on the right, I expect we'll hear a different argument, that if we just make fewer investments in our people, extend tax cuts, including those for the wealthier Americans, eliminate more regulations, maintain the status quo on health care, our deficits will go away.

The problem is, that's what we did for eight years.

He sets up a straw man then blows it over with a cheap, partisan line meant only to excite the base while at the same time claiming that it is his desire to bring the parties closer together... So let me get this straight... You hope to gain the Republican's cooperation by insulting them? That might work in Adam Sandler movies or fifth-grade lunch rooms but in the "real world" cooperation is a bit more complicated.

OK - to the issue, what do I mean by a "straw man?" Let's dissect his sentence.

First he claims the republicans want to, "make fewer investments in our people." That's a blatant lie that preys on peoples' ignorance of the differences between the two parties.

At their core, Democrats think that it is the government's job to take the money American citizens and businesses pay in taxes and use that money to fund governmental programs to make peoples' lives better. That's their political philosophy - their definition of an "investment" in the people.

Republicans believe that by keeping taxes low and not spending money on costly social programs, the money that people make by working (contributing to the economy goods and services that people need, want and desire) can be saved by the person who earned it and put to use as that person sees fit - by purchasing goods and services (thereby further stimulating the economy) or using that money for charitable purposes, to fund the kind of programs Democrats would fund through government.

It's a simple disagreement in philosophy - one that has existed for generations. The Republicans define an investment in the people as a tax cut the Democrats by a spending increase, either way they hope to achieve the same goal!

The President goes on to claim that Republicans want to "maintain the status quo on health care." If you believe that, you're not paying attention. Republicans want to reform health care as much as Democrats do - so why haven't you heard about an opposing Republican plan? The simple answer - the media! Why would they cover a story about the republicans talking about health care reform when the Democrats shut them out of the process from the beginning. It's a documented fact that Obama, Pelosi and Reid crafted this health care legislation without republican input. Their plan was simple - create a bill that they can pass with their super majority - whip all their own people into line (hence the Louisiana Purchase and the Cornhusker Kickback) and if a few Republicans want to jump on-board, great!

The truth is the Republicans have ideas on how to reform health care - the two leading calls for reform are addressing the Tort issue and opening up insurance for purchase across state lines, neither of which are even mentioned in the bill as it now exists.

In the end this was a campaign speech, delivered to pander to a flagging base. It was truly disappointing to hear this from a person who promised an "end to politics as we know it." It seems as though he's hell-bent on delivering more of the same. That is why YOUR voice is important - make it heard and don't let the opposition silence you simply because you disagree.