Terror in Spain

On Thursday evening in Barcelona, a van plowed through a crowd, killing 13 people and injuring more than 100. The use of a vehicle as a deadly weapon has become an uncomfortably common scene, from France to Germany to Charlottesville, VA. The driver of the vehicle is still on the run, and while the motives of the suspect are not certain, the Spanish Prime Minister unequivocally stated that this was an act of “jihadi terrorism.” ISIS applauded the attack but did not overtly take credit.

An attempted second terror attack was foiled in the early morning hours on Friday in the coastal city of Cambrils. Details are still unclear, but Spanish authorities have confirmed that five suspected terrorists were killed after they attempted to perform a similar attack with a vehicle. Seven people were injured before the suspects were killed.

Photo courtesy  Oriol Duran / AP

Deadly Day in Charlottesville, VA

A Saturday rally for white supremacists in response to the removal of a Confederate monument was met with counter-protesters. , including Antifa members. As the two sides clashed, things turned bloody – and deadly. Police began dispersing the crowd and the Governor declared a state of emergency. Shortly afterwards, a driver ran into a group of counter-protesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 others. The driver has since been arrested and is being held on suspicion of second-degree murder. Officials say at least 15 others were injured in the scuffles where blood was drawn, pepper spray was fired, and urine was thrown. Two  Virginia State Troopers died in a helicopter crash as they were providing aerial support in response to the Governor’s declared state of emergency.


Healthcare in America – Where Do We Go From Here?

The Affordable Care Act isn’t working, and that’s not just partisan rhetoric, but a cold hard fact. According to one Washington Examiner article, 40% of counties throughout the country are down to only one provider on the exchange, and almost 50 counties will have zero providers by the end of this year. So much for providing insurance to all.  In addition, millions that did obtain coverage were then unable to find a doctor or network willing to take their government-subsidized healthcare plan. Insurance is only good if it covers care you are actually receiving. Furthermore, it also placed previously-affordable healthcare out of the reach of millions of middle-class families as premiums skyrocketed.

As the latest pathetic attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare was killed in the Senate last night, it seems apropos to consider what the alternative healthcare options would be at this point. Few people besides Sen. Rand Paul seem to even consider the free market as a viable choice for providing Americans with healthcare. This is currently one of the most economically feasible options, but simultaneously the least likely. Much like competition in the marketplace of car insurance, competition on the health insurance market would translate to more choices and more affordable options for Americans, while still meeting certain requirements set by the government. Government insurance could still then be provided to those that might otherwise be denied due to pre-existing conditions, and of course Medicare and Medicaid would continue as they have been, but at a much lower cost to the taxpayer.

However, it seems as though the signing of the Affordable Care Act in 2009 was an irreversible first step towards socialized medicine in the United States. Despite, and because of, the many problems with ACA, many Americans are now demanding that healthcare shift to a single-payer, Medicare-type system for all.

Let’s take a look at one state that is as close to single-payer as it can currently get. The taxpayers in California pay for 70% of healthcare costs throughout the state, mainly because of the AHA Medicaid expansion (Medi-Cal in California). However, this $260 billion dollars still manages to underpay providers and undercut resources (such as home-health aides, medications, etc.), which translates to a limited access to care. One simple example would be the Medi-Cal reimbursement rate for physicians, which is about 1/3 of what private insurers pay, often times even less. To stay financially viable, physicians and hospitals must limit their acceptance of Medi-Cal patients, thus creating a situation where Medi-Cal patients have insurance, but have no doctor willing to see them. That sounds like a good system.

If the Bernie Sanders-supported “Medicare for all” program is enacted, how many doctors will leave the profession because they simply cannot afford to pay off their loans and live a comfortable life making 1/3 of what they used to be making? Not to mention, how many resources, from prescriptions to specialty providers to home-health aides, will be severely restricted or eliminated entirely due to lack of funding and not enough resources? Are Americans okay paying twice as much, if not more, in taxes to pay for such a system? These are serious questions that Americans needs to come to terms with before begging for a single-payer system.

As we stand on the precipice of this slippery slope, we may as well look at some of the government-run healthcare systems that do work and will not bankrupt the nation (which, by the way, already runs into the red just shy of $20 trillion). Take for example Singapore. The state-run healthcare system works similar to a nationwide Health Savings Account except that each individual must put a certain amount of money into this account for healthcare costs; this money is used first, with a government-run insurance (similar to Medicare) providing coverage for high-dollar healthcare needs. In this system, only 25% of the country’s healthcare costs are paid by taxpayer dollars (used to subsidize the accounts of low-income individuals, etc.) whereas some estimates put that number around 60% for the U.S.

Switzerland provides another example of government-run healthcare that may be feasible. The current system in Switzerland likely reflects what president Obama had envisioned for AHA: a government mandate requires that everyone has insurance, but the difference is that there are over 100 health insurance companies competing on the market. The healthcare system is private, unlike the U.K. or Canada where it’s a public, government-run system similar to the VA here. The key point here is that the competition allows for individuals to find a plan that is right for their coverage needs and their budgets. Only about 9% of Switzerland’s GDP is made up of healthcare costs, whereas that figure is at 18% for the United States.

These two examples are very different from the Canadian and United Kingdom versions of government healthcare. Both of these systems, particularly that in the U.K., are well-known for their long wait times, lack of prescription coverage, and negative impact on medical research. There is a reason why Canadians and Britons continue to come to the United States for elective surgeries and cancer treatment.

The bottom line is that our current healthcare system is a mess and it is inaccessible to many, despite what ACA-supporters believe. It is only a matter of time before Obamacare implodes, and we better all hope that our elected officials are brave enough to do something about it before then.

“Repeal and Replace” is Dead

After complaining about Obamacare for the past seven years, Republicans have yet again failed to do anything about it. Although they have majorities in both houses of Congress, and a Republican Executive Branch (in case you hadn’t noticed), the Senate on Thursday night voted down even the skinniest version of a “Repeal and Replace” bill. Three Republicans and all Democrats voted no on the most recent version of the healthcare bill proposed by Republicans. This most recent vote came after weeks of lackluster debate and half-assed bills to offer a legitimate replacement of the Affordable Healthcare Act.

For a full-length look at the current state of healthcare, and some of the options left for healthcare reform, check out the article “Healthcare in America – Where Do We Go From Here?

Trump and Russia – What’s Really Going On?

That’s the million dollar question of the year. Since November 9, 2016,  suspicions of a connection between Russian meddling and the Trump campaign/administration have abounded (because there’s simply no other explanation for Trump winning the election). On Tuesday, Donald Trump, Jr. revealed an interesting email chain that described a meeting between himself, Paul Manafort (then –campaign manager), and Jared Kushner (son-in-law and current advisor to the President) with Natalia Veselnitskaya. Veselnitiskaya is a lawyer with unsubstantiated links to the Kremlin, and it is believed that she was sharing, or at least offering to share, “incriminating” evidence about Hillary Clinton. The reality is that even if this meeting did occur, the meeting in it of itself is not incriminating, since Veselnitiskaya has insisted that she was not working on the Russian goverment’s behalf and has no ties to the Kremlin. This is hardly the first meeting to ever take place between “frenemies” looking to take down the same political opponent.

However, Trump opponents are insisting that Federal Election Law was violated since information about a political opponent has an inherent “monetary” value, although no money actually changed hands. This meeting will be investigated by the Department of Justice Special Counsel tasked with investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.

It is clear by now that Russia meddled in the election, although the extent of its involvement is currently unknown, and there is much doubt that any of the meddling was done at the behest of Trump’s campaign team. This foreign involvement is something that should be acknowledged and addressed regardless of which side of the aisle you sit on; it should not only be used as a club with which to attack the president. It’s time to quiet the noise of impeachment talks and take a serious look at how Russia violated the integrity of our election, and what we’re going to do about it.

For more background on Donald Jr.’s emails and a great opinion piece, check out this Washington Examiner article.

Military Aircraft Crashes, Killing Sixteen

15 Marines and 1 Navy corpsman were killed in a military training accident Tuesday afternoon. The serviceman were aboard a KC-130 when the plane crashed over the Mississippi Delta, killing all aboard. The aircraft belonged to Stewart Air National Guard Base in New York, but was flying from South Carolina to Arizona for a training mission. Officials are not sure what caused the crash.

Senate Healthcare Plan Has Few Surprises

Although Republicans have promised sweeping change that will culminate in their own rendition of a healthcare bill, the most recent legislation proposed by the Senate and revealed in its draft form on Thursday was nothing to get excited about. It looked oddly similar to the House version, passed in May, which in turn looked oddly similar to Obamacare, which just so happens to have been in a death-spiral since its inception. Below is a broad overview of the Senate AHCA (American Health Care Act)  proposal, as well as how costs and coverage might be affected.

What This Bill Does:

-Removes all but one of the taxes (the “Cadillac tax” on premium healthcare plans, which has yet to actually be enacted anyway) associated with the Affordable Care Act.

-Phases out the Medicaid expansion that 31 states took advantage of under Obamacare. This expansion made Medicaid benefits available to all of those earning up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level (increased from 100% of the FPL). The federal government paid 90% of the states’ costs for this expansion; AHCA will phase out this federal government subsidy for states, with a decrease in  funding beginning in 2021.

-Allows states to, if they choose, require Medicaid recipients to work or pursue career training.

-Will keep intact the current subsidies meant to help low-income individuals and families purchase insurance, but will lower the threshold from 400% of the FPL to 350%. This means a family of four with a net income of $84,000 would still qualify for federal subsidies to purchase healthcare.

-Completely eliminates the mandates for individuals and companies with 50 or more employees.

-Planned Parenthood will be defunded for one year.

-Insurers will still have to accept all patients, even those with pre-existing conditions, and charge the same rates, with some few exceptions

-Young adults can still stay on their parents’ insurance through the month of their 26th birthdays.

–Restricts coverage for abortions (don’t get too worked up, this impacts coverage minimally and will likely be removed anyway).

-States would be allowed to reduce some coverage options for pre-existing conditions, but would have to ask permission

Costs and Coverage

After 10 years it is expected that about 41 million individuals will be uninsured under this plan, in comparison to an estimated 28 million under Obamacare. Keep in mind that this number for the AHCA includes those willingly not choosing to have health insurance, since they will no longer have to. 10-year cost projects put this bill right around the House bill passed in May at about 1.63 trillion, with the 10-year forecast for Obamacare being 1.75 trillion. The most likely rise in healthcare costs will be felt by 59-64-year-olds, who may end up paying about 16% of their income for healthcare.

The CBO estimated a $119 billion reduction in the federal deficit for the House bill; this bill is expected to be similar, but CBO’s report will not be released until next week. From CBO’s report on the House bill, premiums would be expected to drop as much as 20% starting in 2020

Definitely a First Draft

This bill fails to address many of the major problems of Obamacare and actually exacerbates the issue in some regards. By eliminating all mandates for healthcare and any penalties for a lapse in coverage (as was seen in the House bill), this bill practically eliminates all sources of revenue. Granted, the federal government will still have a lower bill as it slowly rolls back the Medicaid expansion and its costs associated with that, but the pittance that was collected from the individual and employer mandates will no longer be available as a source of revenue.

Aside from the fact that this socialized medicine will have no immediate funding source, it also has no teeth to punish those that may game the system. In the House version of the bill, individuals were also not required to have insurance, but if their coverage lapsed, they would end up paying a higher rate when they did then enroll in health insurance. Makes sense. With the Senate bill, there are no repercussions for shirking health insurance coverage all of your life, and then quickly enrolling in a plan when you think you may have cancer, diabetes, a broken bone, etc. This will not be a viable option for health plans.

This Senate bill is not much of a repeal of Obamacare, but rather a slight amendment to the Affordable Care Act. Republicans will have a tough time selling this to the public, as well as to their peers. Numerous Republican Senators have already expressed serious doubts and concerns over the bill, including Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Although Republicans are hoping to get a  vote on the bill before July 4th, they have some serious heavy lifting to do before this bill has a chance of passing.

The attempts by both houses to propose a bill that repeals and replaces Obamacare have been disappointing for lovers of the free market, yet encouraging for those seeking socialized medicine. This bill is expected to be changed significantly in order to garner the needed votes. Nonetheless, the Republicans can stop with the empty rhetoric of wanting to “repeal and replace” Obamacare when they truly have all of the power to do just that, yet continue to fall short.

Click here for a highlight of the most informative articles on this subject, as well as a side-by-side comparison of the Senate and House bills vs. Obamacare.