Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stop lying about Obamacare

When then Vice President George H.W. Bush defeated Sen. Bob Dole in the 1988 New Hampshire primary, Dole famously admonished Bush to “stop lying about my record.”

It has often been stated here that Obamacare opponents should stick to the facts. It could just as easily be said that foes are flat-out lying about the Affordable Care Act.

The latest example is health insurance premiums, which Republicans have long claimed would “skyrocket” due to Obamacare. But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has just declared that “lower-than-expected health insurance premiums under Obamacare will help cut the long-term cost of the program 7 percent over the next decade,” as the Los Angeles Times put it.

These estimates show “the law costing less than in previous estimates in part because of the broad and persistent slowdown in the growth of health care costs,” according to The New York Times.

Bear in mind that these are new trends and one has to begin to suspect a cause-and-effect relationship between Obamacare and health-care costs.

Meanwhile, the CBO has increased its estimates on how many people will sign up for Obamacare, even while new reports indicate that insurance purchases outside the ACA exchanges are actually more significant than those within the exchange. People who don’t qualify for ACA subsidies are dealing directly with insurance companies to get their coverage.

"I think it's probably the case that there are more people insured in the individual market off the exchange than on the exchange right now,”  said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

It all adds up to new coverage for possibly close to 19 million people since the new law took effect, when you add in those who have gained coverage through Medicaid.

So think about what  the Repeal Obamacare crowd is saying. Is it saying that these 19 million Americans should lose this coverage?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ad unfairly attacks Peters over Obamacare

If you live in Michigan you’ve probably seen the outrageous ad attacking U.S. Rep Gary Peters for his support of Obamacare.

The ad is funded by a big business-funded group called Americans for Prosperity.  It features a mother of five by the name of Shannon Wendt.

Wendt says her insurance company cancelled her health policy because it didn’t comply with the Affordable Care Act.

She says her family’s “new plan is not affordable at all” and that the law is “destroying the middle class.”

The ad is compelling drama. There is only one problem: It isn’t true.

“In fact, her case is an example of how middle-class families can benefit from the law — if they choose to do so,” according to, which studied the ad’s claims.

Someone viewing the ad could not help but be moved by the plight described in the ad. It is a shame that such misleading claims can sway something as important as a U.S. Senate race. Peters is the Democratic candidate to replace retiring Carl Levin., the bronze or silver plans would provide better benefits at less cost than the plan Shannon Wendt currently has. Her family would qualify for subsidies under the law and her children could be covered by the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a joint federal-state health care program that provides insurance at little or no cost for children of moderate-income families who are not eligible for Medicaid.

While the Republican National Committee did not pay for this ad, “they certainly push a similar message,” notes Chuck Austin, founder of Senior News and Advocacy. “With 7 million people buying ACA policies, it is hard to believe many people have been priced out of the market.”

Lots is at stake in this year’s Senate election in Michigan. Citizens are going to have to pay close attention if they want to avoid getting hoodwinked.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

AARP facing more challenges from conservative groups

It is all well and good for Fran Tarkenton to say AARP’s support of Obamacare was the last straw for him. What does a multimillionaire like him have to worry about when it comes to affording health insurance.

Tarkenton criticizes AARP as too liberal in a radio ad touting the benefits of considering membership in the Association of Mature Americans — AMAC — as a conservative alternative.

"We made an offer to anyone who cut their AARP card in half that we'd give them a year's free membership,"  Randy Lewin, spokesman for the American Seniors Association told the financial newsletter Sound Mind Investing. "We had to stop (the promotion) early. I had too many 55-gallon trash bags full of AARP cards cut in half."

SMI recently listed seven alternatives to AARP. They are:

Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC). Web:

Generation America. Cost to join: $24/year (lower rates available for longer terms), spouse is free. Web:

American Seniors Association (ASA).
Cost to join: $15/year, spouse is free. Web:

Christian Association of PrimeTimers (CAP).
Cost to join: $19.95/yr. Web:

Christian Seniors Association (CSA). Cost to join: $12.95/year. Web:

60 Plus Association. Membership free. Web:

The Seniors Coalition (TSC) Cost to join: $13.50/year. Web:

None of this, of course, changes the dominance of AARP. For that, senior citizens ought to be grateful.

Frederick Lynch, an associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California and the author of “One Nation Under AARP: The Fight Over Medicare, Social Security, and America's Future,” calls the organization the “900-pound invisible gorilla in the room” when it comes to pertinent legislation in Congress.

“They have a lot of clout but they love to stay out of the spotlight,” Lynch recently told Al Jazeera America. “All they have to do is whisper because they have a grassroots organization that can be activated at a moment’s notice.”

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Michigan students falling behind nationally; what can be done?

Michigan is falling behind other states in terms of student achievement in public schools and needs to take a number of steps to improve, according to a new study.

 “Compared to the rest of the country, Michigan’s relative
rank on the national assessment has fallen since 2003 in
fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading, and our state
is below the national average in all subjects, for almost all
subgroups,” says the study conducted by the Royal Oak-based Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan policy and advocacy group.

As an example, the ETM study says Michigan fourth-graders rank in the bottom five states for improvement in both math and reading over the last
decade. Michigan is one of only six states in the nation that
saw a decline in average scale score in fourth-grade reading
between 2003 and 2013, the study says.

 “Our most vulnerable low-income students are not being
served by Michigan’s schools. The steady gains low-income
Michigan students saw in the past decade fell flat in 2013,
and our achievement gaps remain wide.”

But it’s not just low-income students who are struggling, the ETM study says.  Higher-income students have also fallen in relative rank
since 2003, according to new national assessment data.

”Ten years ago, Michigan’s higher-income students
ranked above the national public average in fourth-grade
reading and math and eighth-grade reading. Now they
rank 38th in fourth-grade reading, 32nd in fourth-grade
math, and 31st in eighth-grade reading compared to their counterparts in other states.”

Sarah Lenhoff,  director of policy and research for ETM, said there are  a number of things Michigan can do to reverse the trends and that a broad consensus is emerging among school officials, advocacy groups and policy makers interested in taking the necessary steps.

The principal focuses need to be on aligning student tests to new standards the state has adopted and training educators to teach the new standards, Lenhoff says.

Unlike many other advocacy groups,  ETM is not calling for massive new state government spending to improve schools.

“Targeted, strategic investment is what we recommend,” Lenhoff says.

She notes that Gov. Rick Snyder has recommended $28 million to be spent on a new teacher training and evaluation system, and he also has included $7.5 million for technology to implement new Common Core academic standards. The legislature needs to approve this spending, Lenhoff says.

The ETM study points to Massachusetts and Tennessee as states that Michigan ought to emulate in terms of improving its education. Massachusetts  probably has thee best schools in the nation, while Tennessee is showing the fastest rate of improvement, Lenhoff says.

“Once lower-achieving than Michigan, Tennessee is now
outperforming our state on the national assessment,” the ETM study says.

 “In 2003, Tennessee’s average score in fourth-grade math was eight
points lower than Michigan’s, and the state ranked 43rd in the
country — well below Michigan’s ranking of 27th. Ten years
later, Tennessee had gained 12 points compared to Michigan’s
one-point gain, and the state ranked 37th compared to
Michigan’s 42nd on the 2013 national assessment.”

The study said methods Tennessee has used to improve include better teacher training, a data dashboard to help educators evaluate test results and identify targets for improvement, and an early-warning  system  enabling educators to see real-time indicators of at-risk student progress.

Among other things, the study notes Massachusetts’ successful use of charter schools to augment achievement.

“Massachusetts is the  gold standard for chartering,” Lenhoff says. But the state has high standards for such schools, require previous experience for those seeking to operate schools in low-performing districts.

In 2011 in Michigan, by contrast,  “lawmakers lifted the cap on
charter expansion without requiring that new charter schools
meet performance standards – or demonstrate success before
replicating failed schools. Attempts to establish quality
standards have been foiled in Lansing. The state should hold all
charter schools, operators, and authorizers accountable for the
performance of their student,” the ETM study says.

Lenhoff says many of Michigan’ intermediate school districts are implementing successful teacher training programs, but a survey of principals done by ETM for the study that while they felt the state Department of Education could be helpful, it lacks the capacity.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The truth about Obamacare redux

Rush Limbaugh may be correct not to trust the mainstream media. But when he says he and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, are just interested in the truth that’s really stretching it.

“There no news in the media,” Limbaugh said in response to the latest report of 7 million people signing up for Obamacare.  “It's just propaganda.  It's the Democrat Party and the Regime talking points disguised as the news.” He continued:

“Ted Cruz, ladies and gentlemen, has just been firing both barrels on this, since he's been talking about it at all.  And this morning on Fox & Friends he was asked by Steve Doocy, ‘Okay, Sen. The White House is claiming victory out there.  They hit their seven million number.  What do you think?’

“The bulk of the people who are signing up had health insurance to begin with — and, you know what?” Cruz responded.  “They probably had their insurance canceled because of Obamacare 'cause we know that over six million people had their health insurance canceled because of Obamacare. 

“It is abundantly clear this thing isn't working.  It has caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs, to be forced into part-time work, to lose their health insurance, or to see their premiums skyrocket.  It is the essence of pragmatism to recognize this thing isn't working. Let's start over. Let's repeal every word of it.”

Some observations:

• Note that Cruz does not use precise figures. Here are some exact figures, reported by The Washington Post, from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office: “The large media focus in the first Obamacare enrollment period has been on whether the administration would hit CBO targets for exchange enrollment. The CBO has said it expects 6 million people to enroll through exchanges in 2014 - more than 6 million have signed up, so that target looks in reach if enough people pay their premiums. But about one-third of those exchange signups were previously uninsured people, according to the report findings. It also found about 4.5 million adults had newly enrolled in Medicaid; 9 million people, most who were previously insured, have signed up for individual plans off the exchanges; and fewer than 1 million people who had their coverage cancelled remain uninsured.”

• The millions who have signed up for Medicaid under Obamacare (and who are not counted among the 7 million) will now have their health care paid for by the federal government instead of we insurance premium payers. True, that means it is shifted to us taxpayers, but not in the form of higher taxes unless Congress fails to cut spending somewhere else, which we at least have a say in through elections. Besides, in choosing whether to trust insurance companies or the government, it’s like choosing between the devil you know and the devil you don’t know.

• Cruz’s suggestion that Obamacare — “every word of it” — can be repealed is either fiction or a downright lie. It would require a Republican in the White House and 60 votes in the Senate. By then, repeal would take away insurance from, as of today, roughly 11 million people.

• Cruz may or may not have a point about jobs, but again, he supplies no figures. And he fails to point out the savings Obamacare provides businesses either through lower premiums or not having to provide coverage at all, both of which leave more money for wages.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Michigan Democrats trump Republicans' pothole proposal

If you used poker terms you might say that the Democrats saw the Republicans’ offer to spend $100 million repairing  Michigan potholes and raised it  $115 million, for a total proposal of $215 million.

The Republicans have not been spared criticism in this quarter so it is only fair to point out that Democrats somehow always want to spend more when it comes to government.

They want more money for schools and higher education, big-ticket items in Michigan’s budget. Now more money for roads.

More spending will lead to more taxes, however — something they are not campaigning for in the current election cycle.

Oh sure, they accuse Gov Rick Snyder and the Republican-held legislature of cutting taxes for businesses and raising them on individuals. That’s accurate. The only assumption that can be made is Democrats want to go back to the policies of the Granholm era and that while they may reverse tax increases on senior citizens and others, they will raise them on businesses. What else are we to conclude?

Michigan voters have a clear choice in this November’s election. They can judge whether lower business taxes have generated economic activity — most importantly jobs — or whether the improved business climate has nothing to do with taxes.  That’s a plausible assumption, according to a recent study by the Michigan League for Public Policy.

In any case, voters’ decisions should be fairly simple, at least based on the issues.  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Study says Michigan can afford more renewable energy

 Moderate adjustment of  energy policies can help Michigan triple its portion of production from renewable sources by 2030 without sizeable rate hikes, according to a new report.

The Union of Concerned Scientists  said that continuing to ramp up renewables at the same growth rate as the current renewable energy standard —1.5 percent per year — could boost its in-state renewable energy portion to 32.5
percent of total energy production in 2030.

The state is expected to have no trouble meeting a 10 percent renewable energy standard by 2015. That’s the goal that the state legislature established in 2008. The RES expires at the end of next year so the legislature is expected to set new goals. The Senate Energy and Techology Committee held hearings this week and last and has another one scheduled for next Tuesday.

“The Michigan Municipal League advocates every day for policies that will help our communities provide better basic services and create vibrant communities, and that’s why we’re encouraged by the findings of this report,” said Samantha Harkins, the league's director of state affairs. “We’re looking forward to working with the legislature this year to increase our renewable energy standard.”

Increasing renewables would come at virtually no increase in electricity costs, with consumers projected to pay just 0.3 percent more over the next 15 years, the UCS report said.

Part of the reason is that the costs for renewable sources like wind and solar have declined.

“Michigan’s overreliance on coal has significant negative health impacts on our children, seniors and families,” said Rory Neuner of MI Air MI Health. “This report by the Union of Concerned Scientists should be a call to action for the Michigan Legislature. Transitioning from coal to clean energy will reduce asthma and lung disease complications and ultimately save lives.”

“Further diversifying Michigan’s electricity mix with renewable energy fits squarely with Governor (Rick) Snyder’s goals of an affordable, reliable and adaptable electricity system that also protects the environment,” said Sam Gomberg, a UCS energy analyst and the report’s author. “And we can do it while driving investments in Michigan communities.”

Advocates of a higher standard say would inject more than $9.5 billion in new capital investment into Michigan’s economy between 2016-2030. Such investment would also generate millions of dollars in new tax revenue, expenditures on facility operation and maintenance, and wind power land lease payments for local communities, they say.

The onus for meeting 2015 RES goal was placed on the incumbent utilities, which agreed to the renewable requirement in exchange for moving the state from a deregulated energy system to a hybrid system.

The 2008 legislation — Public Act 295 — established a 10-percent energy competition restriction because utility  leaders said they needed a stable customer base to meet the renewable goals and incur an expense they say has reached $4 billion to invest in wind and solar.

Now, electric deregulation advocates are saying rates would be lower in a deregulated environment. Historically, Michigan’s electric rates are usually at the national average or above it, according to the Michigan Public Service Commission.

These are among the issues to be settled by the legislature. A compromise with broad support among Democrats and Republicans was the result in 2008.  Hopefully something that benefits all ratepayers will emerge this time as well.