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.