This and That for Wednesday
~~~ Some of the states that most enthusiastically embraced President Obama’s health care law are now encountering some of the biggest glitches and organizational failures as the health insurance exchanges roll out.
Glitches that hindered HealthCare.gov, shorthand for the federal exchange system that serves 36 states, have grabbed the biggest headlines since the exchanges went live in October and were supposed to let consumers shop for private health plans and apply for government subsidies.
But as the Obama administration patches up its balky website and states like California, New York and Kentucky win praise for their in-house efforts, a handful of states that embraced the president’s reforms from the start may be faring the worst of all.
Cover Oregon started off with a bang — a fancy website, ads with customized folk songs -- but at last count it had failed to enroll anyone through the Internet. In Hawaii, its director apologized for implementation delays in October before stepping down this month. And in Maryland, state lawmakers and officials are starting to point fingers over a health exchange that one insurance co-op executive termed “inexcusable.”
“Honestly, we are more than frustrated,” Peter Beilenson, president and CEO of the Evergreen Health Co-op that is offering plans on the Maryland exchange alongside much larger insurers.
Beilenson said he has seen a spectrum of online errors in trying to help Web applicants, from the site freezing up to the exchange offering “negative subsidies,” which isn’t possible.
Adding to states’ problems, a Minnesota affiliate of ABC News reported Monday that its state exchange and other exchanges are vulnerable to a type of Wi-Fi attack that could expose usernames and passwords.
The affiliate said 58 percent of state-run exchanges failed a simulated hacking attempt, although the Minnesota exchange, MNSure, disputed the report.
Combined with the much more notorious difficulties with the main Obamacare website, HealthCare.gov, these woes are making it tougher for Americans to sign up for health insurance they must have under law. They also counter Obama administration claims that problems with its health care law are the result of foot-dragging by politicians who oppose the law.
Obamacare’s framers expected many of the states to manage their own marketplaces, but about two-thirds of the states chose to let the federal government take on the task and any of its political fallout.
Mixed outcomes among state-run exchanges are both supporting and undercutting the notion that state officials relying on HealthCare.gov would have done their constituents a favor by building their own markets.
“On balance, the states that took the responsibility on have had a bit more success, but it’s certainly not uniform,” said Matt Eyles, executive vice president at Avalere Health, a Washington-based consultancy.
The administration will shed light on each state’s progress by the middle of the month, when it releases a second round of enrollment data.
Its first report, released Nov. 13, said state-run exchanges had outperformed the federal website during the first month of open enrollment, which began Oct. 1 and lasts until March 31. The 15 state-run exchanges accounted for 75 percent of roughly 106,000 enrollees.
Early adopters of Obamacare such as Washington and Connecticut tallied 7,091 and 4,418 enrollees, respectively. But data for Hawaii was not available at the time -- it reported 579 enrollments as of Dec. 2 -- and Maryland came in at just 1,284.
Frustration with the Maryland Health Connection has boiled over in recent days. Its director resigned Friday amid criticism she had been unreachable during a weeklong vacation to the Cayman Islands at a critical time for the exchange website’s rehabilitation, according to a report in the Baltimore Sun.
Hoping to reverse its fortunes, the exchange is preaching patience and encouraging consumers who have problems with the website to contact its consumers support center.
“Our IT team is working around the clock to resolve the remaining technological issues affecting the website so that Marylanders will be able to enroll in qualified health plans by Dec. 23 in order to receive coverage beginning on Jan. 1,” exchange spokeswoman Dori Henry said Monday. “While we have made significant progress, we know that challenges remain.”
Beilenson’s co-op is much smaller than other insurers on the Maryland exchange, such as CareFirst or Kaiser Permanente, with only 33 full-time employees.
“We were completely ready,” he said, bemoaning the erratic exchange portal. “It’s just inexcusable.”
Oregon’s exchange reported 3,470 enrollments in its Dec. 2 enrollment report. All of them were by paper applications, instead of through its website, according to a spokeswoman.
“We are starting to see enrollments and are gaining momentum. I am confident we are on the right track to get people the health coverage they need,” Cover Oregon Executive Director Rocky King, who is taking a three-month leave of absence because of a medical condition, said at the time of the update.
Acting Executive Director Bruce Goldberg is scheduled to host a teleconference Tuesday to provide update enrollment figures and a progress report on Cover Oregon.
Analysts say that in retrospect, multiple things could have been done differently to make sure certain states and the federal system did not struggle so mightily.
Timothy Jost, a health policy scholar at Washington and Lee University School of Law, said a House version of Obamacare legislation, which called for a blanket federal exchange for all the states, might have been the better option. The Obama administration did not know the extent of its task until after the 2012 election, when states declared whether they wanted to run their exchange, resulting in a compressed time frame for preparation and testing, he said.
Website testing prior to launch -- or the lack thereof -- appeared to play a key role in success or failure among the state and federal exchanges, and some states may have put style ahead of functionality on their websites, analysts said.
“Complexity” with aesthetic appearances, Eyles said, “was definitely the enemy of efforts” to sign people up.
Kentucky’s exchange, kynect, tested its no-frills website for three months before launch, according to spokeswoman Gwenda Bond.
“We worked hard to make sure the content was at a sixth grade or lower reading level throughout, and to make it easy for people to check their potential eligibility and browse anonymously or to get started on the application process,” she said. “Simplicity is smart Web design.”
~~~ Scott Rasmussen reports more than 20 House Democrats last week urged President Obama to halt the deportation of illegal immigrants until Congress passes a comprehensive immigration reform plan, but voters by a two-to-one margin oppose that idea. Most already think the federal government is not vigilant enough in deporting those who are in this country illegally.
Only 29% of Likely U.S. Voters think the government should stop deporting illegal immigrants until Congress passes an immigration reform plan. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 57% oppose a halt to deportations. Fourteen percent (14%) are undecided.
The tide is turning in favor of secure borders before the gates to the palace are opened again.
~~~ The top 40 percent of households by before-tax income actually paid 106.2 percent of the nation’s net income taxes in 2010, according to a new study by the Congressional Budget Office.
At the same time, households in the bottom 40 percent took in an average of $18,950 in what the CBO called “government transfers” in 2010.
Taxpayers in the top 40 percent of households were able to pay more than 100 percent of net federal income taxes in 2010 because Americans in the bottom 40 percent actually paid negative income taxes, according to the CBO study entitled, “The Distribution of Household Income and Federal Taxes, 2010.”
“When refundable tax credits, such as the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit, exceed the other federal tax liabilities of the households in an income group, those households are said to have a negative average tax rate,” said the CBO study.
“In its analysis, CBO measured individual income taxes net of refundable credits,” it said.
In 2010, the CBO determined, American households in the bottom 40 percent paid negative amounts in income-tax dollars and a negative average income-tax rate.
“Much of the progressivity of the federal tax system derives from the individual income tax,” said the report. “In 2010, the lowest quintile’s average rate for the individual income tax was -9.2 percent and the second income quintile’s rate was -2.3 percent.”
“A group can have a negative income tax rate if its refundable tax credits exceed the income tax otherwise owed,” said the CBO report.
The households in the top 20 percent by income paid 92.9 percent of net income tax revenues taken in by the federal government in 2010, said CBO. The households in the fourth quintile paid another 13.3 percent of net income tax revenues. Together, the top 40 percent of households paid 106.2 percent of the federal government’s net income tax revenue.
The third quintile paid another 2.9 percent—bringing the total share of net federal income tax revenues paid by the top 60 percent to 109.1 percent.
That was evened out by the net negative income tax paid by the bottom 40 percent.
Those in the second quintile paid -2.9 percent of net federal income tax revenues, and those in the bottom quintile paid -6.2 percent of federal income tax revenues.
When the the negative 9.1 percent in federal income taxes paid by those in the bottom 40 percent is subtracted from the 109.1 percent paid by those in the top 60 percent, federal tax revenues net out to an even 100 percent.
The CBO’s calculation of before-tax income included both the money a household earned and the money it got from the government.
“Before-tax income is the sum of market income and government transfers,” said CBO. “Market income is composed of labor income, business income, capital gains, capital income (excluding capital gains), income received in retirement for past services, and other sources of income. Government transfers are cash payments and in-kind benefits from social insurance and other government assistance programs."
The households in the bottom 40 percent of income—which on average paid negative federal income taxes—were on average receiving many thousands of dollars in what the report calls “government transfers.” These transfers included, among other things, benefits from unemployment insurance, Medicare and Social Security, as well as from means-tested programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), and Medicaid.
“Government transfers increase income in all groups, but those increases, both in dollars and as a percentage of market income, are larger for groups with lower market income,” says the report.
According to the CBO, households in the bottom quintile received an average of $22,700 in government transfers in 2010 (including $14,300 in payments from Medicare and Social Security and $8,500 in payments from other government programs); and households in the second quintile received an average of $15,200 in government transfers (including $10,300 in payments from Medicare and Social Security and $4,900 from other government programs).
Thus, households in the bottom 40 percent received a combined average of $18,950 in government transfers in 2010.
Households in the middle quintile got an average of $10,800 in transfers (including $7,900 from Medicare and Social Security and $2,900 from other programs). Households in the fourth quintile got an average of $7,400 in transfer (including $5,500 from Medicare and Social Security and $1,900 from other programs). And households in the top quintile got an average of $6,500 (including $5,500 from Medicare and Social Security and $1,300 from other programs).
Although they paid negative federal income taxes on average in 2010, Americans in the bottom 40 percent of households did end up paying some taxes to the federal government that year, according to the CBO.
Households in the lowest quintile paid 5.6 percent of the social insurance taxes (for Medicare, Social Security, etc.), and 13.4 percent of the excise taxes. The CBO also allotted them a 1.7 percent share of corporate income taxes.
But when these taxes that those in the bottom quintile actually paid are balanced against the refundable tax credits they received, households in this quintile ended up paying only 0.4 percent of federal taxes in 2010.
By contrast, those in the top quintile, according to CBO paid 68.8 percent of all federal tax revenues in 2010. That means those in the top quintile paid 172 times as much in taxes as those in the bottom quintile.
(The average after-tax income for American households in the bottom quintile in 2010 was $23,700, according to CBO. It then rose to $41,00 for households in the second quintile; $57,900 for households in the middle quintile; $80,600 for households in the fourth quintile; and $181,800 for households in the top quintile.)
~~~ Bismarck, Fargo and Grand Forks -- all in North Dakota -- were the three metropolitan areas with the lowest unemployment rates in the nation in October, according to data released last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The metropolitan areas of Burlington, Vt., and Mankato, Minn., were also among the top ten metro areas for lowest unemployment in October. That means that 5 of nation's top ten metro areas for low unemployment were in states bordering on Canada. (The two metro areas with the highest unemployment rates in October were both along the U.S.-Mexico border. See the following story.)
The national unemployment rate, which stood at 7.3 percent in October, was more than four times higher than the 1.8 percent rate in Bismarck.
The top ten metropolitan areas for low unemployment in October were: 1) Bismarck, N.D., 1.7 percent, 2) Fargo, N.D., 2.3 percent, 3) Grand Forks, N.D., 2.5 percent; 4) Sioux Falls, S.D., 2.9 percent, 5) Iowa City, Iowa, 3 percent; 6) Ames, Iowa, 3 percent; 7) Lincoln, Neb., 3.1 percent; 8) Midland, Texas, 3.1 percent; 9) Burlington, Vt., 3.2 percent; and 10) Mankato, Minn., 3.3 percent.
One reason for low unemployment in North Dakota is the booming oil and gas industry there, according to the North Dakota Petroleum Council.
“The oil and gas industry continues to be an important driver of North Dakota’s economy and job growth,” said Tessa Sandstrom, communications manager for the North Dakota Petroleum Council.
“According to our most recent economic study, the oil and gas industry supported nearly 60,000 direct and indirect jobs in 2011,” said Sandstrom. “While the industry’s direct impacts are significant for western North Dakota, including in Williston, where unemployment is below 1%, those impacts do have a ripple-effect that has helped create many new value-added and business opportunities throughout the state, leading to even larger secondary impacts across many of our state’s economic sectors.
“While the oil and gas industry has been important to job growth, it is just one part of a growing and diversified state economy, and the industry remains committed to creating partnerships with all industries to continue growing our overall state economy,” said Sandstrom.
Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, who represents North Dakota in Congress, also attributes the low unemployment in the state to a tax and regulatory environment that favors job growth.
“Bismarck is the Capital city of one of the most business friendly states in the country,” said Cramer. Our legal, tax and regulatory climate reflects the attitude of citizens who understand pro-business means pro-jobs. It is a culture that needs to be duplicated across America.”
Midland, Texas, like North Dakota, is also benefiting from energy production, a fact noted by Rep. Mike Conaway, (R-TX) who represents the Midland, Texas area in Congress.
“Central and West Texas have a low unemployment rate thanks to smart business decisions made by companies, particularly energy companies, and the strong work ethic of the folks who live there,” said Rep. Conaway.
~~~ The Yuma, Ariz., metropolitan area, which sits on the U.S-Mexico border, had a 31.9 percent unemployment rate in October, the highest of any metropolitan area in the country, according to data released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The El Centro, Calif., metropolitan area, also on the U.S.-Mexico border, had a unemployment rate of 22.8 percent, the second highest in the country.
The national unemployment rate in October stood at 7.3 percent, meaning the unemployment rate in the Yuma, Ariz., metropolitan area was more than four times higher than the national rate.
Six of the top ten metropolitan areas with the highest unemployment in the country are in California. In addition to El Centro, which is just north of the U.S.-Mexico border, the other five areas are situated in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, in California’s agricultural district.
The ten metropolitan areas with the highest unemployment rates in the country in October were: 1) Yuma, Ariz., 31.9 percent; 2) El Centro, Calif., 22.8 percent; 3) Visalia-Porterville, Calif., 12.7 percent, 4) Yuba City, Calif., 12.4 percent; 5) Merced, Calif., 12.1 percent, 6) Fresno, Calif., 12 percent; 7) Hanford-Corcoran, Calif., 11.9 percent; 8) Decatur, Ill., 11.7 percent; 9) Atlantic City-Hammonton, N.J., 11.7 percent (despite all the casinos); and 10) Vineland-Millville-Bridgeton, N.J., 11.6 percent.
Yuma is represented in the U.S. Congress by Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat. CNSNews.com contacted his office on Monday to see if he would like to comment about the high unemployment rate there, but was told he was travelling today from Arizona to Washington and was unavailable.
Bob Dane, the communications director for the Federation for Immigration Reform, cautioned that without a detailed analysis of multiple factors in the Yuma area it is not possible to perfectly correlate the high unemployment rate there with illegal immigration. However, he says city officials ought to take a close look at the problem.
“While high levels of immigration create undue competition for jobs nationally, reduces wages, and increases unemployment, that impact is staggered geographically and by job sector, so you can’t generalize and say immigration is the cause of unemployment in every city,” said Dane. “Detroit for example has longstanding union, pension, city management and global competitive issues--not immigration problems--that have contributed to their decline and high unemployment.
“Likewise, Yuma, AZ and El Centro, CA may--or may not --have individual, historical and complex characteristics that account for their staggering unemployment rates,” he said.
“Yes, they have lots of unemployment and yes lots of immigrants--both legal and illegal (based on border apprehensions in that sector)--but without adjusting for other factors and doing a detailed analysis of those towns, it can’t be perfectly correlated,” Dane said. “But given the meltdowns in those towns and their respective proximity to the border, city officials are overdue for a close and honest look into whether high immigration and high unemployment in Yuma and El Centro is coincidence or causality.
“What we do know for certain,” he said, “is that there are massive flows of illegal aliens, drug smugglers and human traffickers in that part of California and Arizona.”
~~~ The American Civil Liberties Union is so upset that a Michigan baby died just after being born that the group is suing the Catholic Church for not deliberately killing the child earlier.
In a lawsuit filed on Nov. 29 against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in U.S. District Court in Michigan, the ACLU contends that the church's medical directives reflecting a pro-life stance against abortion resulted in negligent care for a woman with a troubled pregnancy who eventually lost the child.
"It's not just about one woman," said Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan ACLU, in a Newsmax report quoted in The Washington Times. "It's about a nationwide policy created by nonmedical professionals putting patients in harm's way."
Translation: Either the Catholic Church directs Catholic hospitals to perform abortions or it will be bankrupted, courtesy of the ACLU, which fights for the "right" to abort even full-term, healthy babies.
For good measure, the ACLU named as defendants the current and past two directors of Catholic Health Ministries, the group that issues national ethical directives for Catholic health institutions.
In the case at hand, plaintiff Tamesha Means, was 18 weeks pregnant in December 2010 when her water broke and she went to Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon. The ACLU suit contends that during three emergency-room treatments, she was never told that "the safest treatment option was to induce labor and terminate the pregnancy." Catholic doctors are bound by their faith to try to save both mother and baby.
On her third trip to the emergency room, as she was being checked out to go home, Ms. Means began giving birth to a baby, which the doctors delivered but which died 2 hours later, according to the ACLU's complaint. Because the odds were against the baby's survival, and Ms. Means had a potentially life-threatening infection, the ACLU contends that doctors should have either aborted the baby or told Ms. Means where to have it done. Hard cases make bad law, and the ACLU is hoping that a jury will find for Ms. Means and dish out a crippling monetary award.
This is about far more than Ms. Means' tragic situation or one hospital's alleged negligence. It's about forcing Catholic doctors everywhere to violate their faith by facilitating abortions. It strikes at the very heart of religious freedom and freedom of conscience. It's a corollary to the Department of Health and Human Services' mandate under Obamacare that faith-based institutions or businesses run by devoutly religious owners provide contraceptives regarded as abortifacients or face ruinous fines.
Since only the Catholic Church bothered to build a hospital within 30 minutes of Ms. Means' home, the ACLU contends that the facility should operate without religious principles guiding it or simply switch to the ACLU's brand of moral relativism, where unborn children are merely options.
It's like building the only power plant and providing electricity where there was none and then getting sued for not electrocuting the people that the ACLU thinks are expendable.
"A pregnant woman who goes to the hospital seeking medical care has the right to expect that the hospital's first priority will be to provide her appropriate care," said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU, in an ACLU press release. "Medical decisions should not be hamstrung by religious directives."
Indeed, the lawsuit accuses the bishops' directives of preventing Catholic hospitals from "providing information about treatment options that are not considered morally legitimate." Well, duh.
It will take more research, but I doubt that you could uncover instances in which the ACLU has sued abortion clinics for not informing their clients of the option of keeping their babies and getting aid from, say, faith-based crisis-pregnancy centers.
The "pro-choice" movement is a one-way street, with the ACLU serving as traffic cop, ensuring that abortion clinics won't have to meet typical clinical medical standards and that women are not given accurate information about all their "choices." The "choice" they are given is whether to have the abortion or not.
In the ACLU's brave new world, "religious directives" must be subordinated to an all-powerful state. That's why the ACLU has no problem with Obamacare.
Without "religious directives," all sorts of procedures, up to and including euthanasia, can become requirements if a hospital wants to stay in business.
Once the government gets total control of our health care, we can dispense with those nettlesome matters of conscience that characterize a free country.
~~~ The death of Nelson Mandela has been the occasion for a great deal of self-righteous preening. Barack Obama cribbed from Edwin M. Stanton in his statement, declaring that Mandela “belongs to the ages,” but CNN helpfully recalled more original words from Obama about Mandela from 2010, in which he laid claim to the great man’s mantle:
Through his choices, Mandela made it clear that we did not have to accept the world as it is -- that we could do our part to seek the world as it should be….In the most modest of ways, I was one of those people who tried to answer his call.
The tributes to Mandela all sounded similar themes: he fought oppression and injustice and prevailed, transforming South Africa and the world. But Obama’s was by no means the only accolade to contain a self-congratulatory note. Numerous leftists and Islamic supremacists hurried to remind the world that Mandela was once branded a “terrorist,” implying that modern-day terrorists would one day be hailed as new additions to the pantheon of secular saints. Al Jazeera’s Wajahat Ali tweeted:
Let’s never forget #Mandela’s courage once made him despised & feared. The long road to icon-hood is paved w/ persecution & sacrifice.
Yet these modern-day mini-Mandelas, however they may style themselves as champions of the downtrodden and oppressed, laboring mightily against the contemporary incarnations of the architects of apartheid, have a curious blind spot. Mandela fought against an unjust system built upon racial prejudice. His struggle is easy enough to support from twenty-first century armchairs, when the oppressive system is long dead and no one in his right mind would support it or call for its revival. But oppression and injustice are by no means dead on the African continent -- they’re just coming from a different source.
Last Friday in the Central African Republic, according to the Associated Press, “thousands of Christian civilians sought refuge at an airport guarded by French soldiers.” They were hoping to be protected from Islamic jihadists armed with guns and machetes who were “slaughtering us like chickens,” in the words of Appolinaire Donoboy, one of the Christian refugees. Two weeks ago in Nigeria, a Muslim mob beat a Christian principle and several teachers so severely that they went into comas, for the crime of sending a Muslim girl home for wearing a hijab. And last month in Cameroon, Islamic jihadists murdered a Christian missionary and torched several churches.
The international media has paid little attention to such incidents. Muslim persecution of Christians in Africa doesn’t fit its politically correct paradigm nearly as neatly and cleanly as did Mandela’s struggle against apartheid. According to the mainstream media narrative, Muslims are always victims, and Christians, even African Christians, are affiliates of the rich, white, oppressive West, and so cannot possibly be oppressed themselves.
What’s more, dwelling too long on the persecution of Christians in Africa draws unwelcome attention to the Islamic doctrines of jihad and dhimmitude that lead to that persecution and are used to justify it. As mainstream media journalists never hesitate to remind us in all sorts of ways, to examine those doctrines too closely would be “Islamophobic,” and will lead to the victimization of innocent, noble, high-minded Muslims in the U.S. by the legions of redneck, beer-swilling yahoos that they imagine to populate the flyover states.
Consequently, the Christians of Africa and elsewhere around the world who are persecuted by Muslims have to be left to their fate at the hands of the jihadists. Like Nelson Mandela, Asia Bibi is imprisoned unjustly by an oppressive regime: she languishes in prison and awaits execution in Pakistan for the crime of blasphemy, one of the many Christians in that country who have been victimized on trumped-up charges. But she is not as eloquent as Nelson Mandela -- or if she is, we will never know it, for there are no hordes of reporters crowding around the prison where she is being held, harrying authorities with demands to interview her, questions about her treatment, and uncomfortable questions about the injustice of the system that imprisoned her in the first place. The only people who are concerned about Asia Bibi are “right-wing Islamophobes,” and who cares what they think?
Nonetheless, as long as Asia Bibi remains on death row, and as long as Christians in the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Cameroon and elsewhere in Africa are violently persecuted by Muslims, with no one speaking up for them, the Left’s self-congratulatory encomia for Mandela will ring hollow. Their moral outrage is selective. Their courage to stand up against injustice fails them when it is needed most. Applauding heroic stands against oppression in bygone days is easy. Standing up against oppression today, when it has the power of most of the world’s government and media establishment behind it, is hard.
But it must be done. As Barack Obama said, we do not have to “accept the world as it is,” but have a responsibility to “seek the world as it should be” -- one that guarantees the rights even of religious minorities in Muslim states. To take this stand is “Islamophobic” and “bigoted,” according to the Left’s self-appointed moral arbiters -- but as Wajahat Ali reminds us, to stand for justice can make one “despised & feared. The long road to icon-hood is paved w/ persecution & sacrifice.” To stand for justice against the likes of Barack Obama and Wajahat Ali will also make us despised and feared. But it will at the same time place us on the side of justice and truth.