If Tiger Missed the Cut, Does Healthcare Reform Stand a Chance?

July 20th, 2009

More than most people, I’ve been following the health care debate very very closely.  Health care is not a new subject for me – in fact I should probably have a health care category.

The house is set to pass a health care bill fairly soon, but all eyes are on Max Baucus and the Senate Finance Committee. For months he has been working on a bipartisan bill that is budget neutral and can pass the Senate without the reconciliation tactic. He has even had some not-so-nice words for Obama in the past week.

Earlier in the week, the CBO issued a dagger of a statement to Congress, stating that current bills in the House will do more harm than good for the national health care deficit over the several decades. With medicare costs already threatening to bankrupt the nation, Congress must ensure that any bill that goes for a vote will convincingly budget neutral or better.

I am cautiously hopeful about health reform, especially since my employer-sponsored plan rose 25% this year! (It’s not even a Cadillac plan either, maybe a Honda.)

With that said, here are my biggest questions and concerns about health reform as I see it:

  1. Can Obama assure us that the U.S. will avoid long waiting lists and rationing that we see in other countries like Canada, France and the U.K.? By guaranteeing health coverage and providing subsidies for much of the population, health care demand will go up. On the other side of the fence, by enacting cost-controls for doctors and with the cuts already agreed to by hospitals, supply is sure to go down.  We’re already at a shortage for primary care physicians (only 2% of medical school graduates), and if millions more are added to the health care roles, what will the consequences be?
  2. Will U.S. tax dollars pay for millions to have access to abortion that is covered under the public option? The current version of the House reform bill includes this provision, which is even making some Democrats squirmy. Will the democrats fold under pressure to remove this provision? Last week, White House budget director Peter Orszag (already not a fan) was asked if “no taxpayer money will go to pay for abortions?” he replied, “I am not prepared to say explicitly that right now. It’s obviously a controversial issue, and it’s one of the questions that is playing out in this debate.”

    Currently, medicaid does not cover abortions, and most private insurance plans do not either. The White House is wanting the Secretary of Health & Human Services to be able to dictate an essential benefits package.

  3. Obama promised I could keep my current plan, but will I end up on the public plan eventually anyways?The biggest point of contention between Donkeys and Elephants right now is the so-called public option, or government health plan.  And no, it’s not what Congress and federal employees are already getting – they get a massive menu of private plan options from which to choose. Democrats believe the public plan is necessary in order to keep private insurers from ripping us off. Republicans think the private plan will have unfair advantages and suck millions of customers away from private insurance.

    To me, the public option will necessarily lead to single-payer health care down the road – I see no scenario where that isn’t the case. I’m not necessarily against single payer, though.  The other day I went into my CEO’s office and asked him straight up: “if there was a government health care option, would you continue to provide insurance to your employees, or just let us use the government plan and save the hassle?”  I would encourage you to ask similar questions to your employer.

  4. Is taxing the rich the best way to pay for health care reform?Current proposals by the House rely on a surtax on the richest Americans to pay for health care reform, but Baucus and many others are pushing to instead use a tax on health benefits that would affect far more citizens. There are two good arguments taxing benefits: First, it would generate much more income than the proposed surtax – likely 2-3 times as much. To this end, Congress would not have to rely on assumed savings which they are currently. Secondly, it brings money from the health care sector to pay for health care. This would encourage customers and unions to be more selective and consumer-like in the health care choices, and would tax those with very expensive health care plans.
  5. Are the savings figures just pie in the sky, or is it real money?Much has been made of the agreements and cost-cutting measures taken by the administration and different medical groups recently, and Democrats are counting on savings as much as income to pay for health care reform.  But can we trust that those savings will really appear down the road? What if they don’t? To me, this is similar to purchase a home with an ARM, anticipating interest rates to go down instead of up in the future.
  6. What are the unforeseen consequences that we should anticipate and plan for?Everything that Congress does has unintended consequences, and we need to look long and hard for those. Hope for the best, plan for the worst is a cliche that should be applied universally when drafting legislation.

    For example, last year congress enacted the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act it put millions of children and teenagers at risk.

    Health reform will be the same way. State governors are already balking at the idea that the states will be required to pick up the tab for the proposed expansion of medicaid (states pay 43% of the medicaid bill). It is conceivable that state income taxes across the nation would rise in order to pay for this reform, and would surely affect those under the magic income level of $250,000. This is just one example, but we need to expect there to be unintended consequences. So many times we draft legislation based on rosy assumptions (the current White House is notorious for this – look at their budget).

With all these questions, you might think I’m against reforming the health caresystem. No – I’m definitely for reform. The facts are undeniable – the U.S. spends way more for health care than other countries that are equally cared for, and millions who would like health care are without it. Further more, there are way too many unnecessary services being performed that just drive the cost up.

So, with the August recess quickly approaching for Congress, will the health care bill make the cut?  Post your thoughts below…

Tyson Politics

Is the President a Nerd, or a Jock?

June 22nd, 2009

Many of the readers of this blog are nerds, so you will appreciate this. John Hodgman (he’s a PC) at the White House Radio & Television Correspondents’ dinner last weekend.

Tyson News, Politics

My First Real Firefox Extension

April 18th, 2009

(This post may not make any sense to some of you…)

I’ve spent the last few weeks building a Firefox add-on to simplify the process of tagging links with Google Analytics tracking variables before sharing on Twitter. It’s called Snip-n-Tag, because…well…it shortens URLs and tags them. How creative am I, huh? See it at the Mozilla site here: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/11492

Anyways…in 3 days it’s been installed over 100 times, so I feel pretty good about that. It’s a simple extension, but I think it solves a real problem fairly eloquently. For you folks that use Twitter to drive traffic to your website, check it out and give me your feedback. You can leave comments on the snip-n-tag page of this site at http://www.tysonkirksey.com/snip-n-tag.

As I mentioned in the title, this was my first real firefox extension, starting from scratch and learning XUL and all that. I’ve built a couple of Greasemonkey scripts for Google Analytics which have been converted to extensions, but nothing like this yet.

Tyson Technology

Thoughts on Obama’s Budget

March 25th, 2009

I’ve maintained a strong interest in the long-term budget proposed by President Obama, and his press conference last night renewed some of my concerns.  Frankly, I’m conflicted about it. I understand and appreciate his attempt to fix some of the hard problems that are facing America, but I’m also concerned about the future and what the nation would be like if the budget back-fired.

Energy

We need an energy policy – yes.  We need a sustainable way to provide power for future generations.  I tend to agree with T. Boone Pickens, in that our reliance on foreign oil is more of a national security problem than a economic problem, but it’s most certainly both.  I’m curious why Obama didn’t use some stimulus money to build nuclear power plants or wind farms, instead helping cities like Dallas build fancy government-run hotels.

Health care

No question health care is a burden to many families. Hey, I just had a baby and my family’s healthcare costs are increasing 1,000%.  Trust me, when I learned that, you better believe I said “bring on socialism!”.  In all seriousness, health care is a real problem we need to confront, particularly medicare and medicaid.  Cutting-edge technology and treatment options aren’t getting cheaper, so the bottom line is the government will have to take more money. I don’t see any other way around that.

Education

We’re falling behind – no doubt. I’m not sure that it’s because we don’t invest enough, I think it may be more attributable to a culture that is becoming more lazy. Japanese, Indian, Chinese – they are all more driven than ever, while the American student is less driven and feels more of a sense of entitlement. I’m not sure that spending a ton of money on education will reverse that trend, unfortunately.

The budget and the future

If I’m reading Obama’s budget properly, he makes some pretty presumptuous assumptions and even with those the debt is staggering in 5 and 10 years.  I applaud him for including all spending, including military operational spending, in the budgets – definitely should have happened with GWB.  But this budget…it’s like he’s going “all-in” with the USA. If something unexpected happens (terrorist attack, natural disaster,  pandemic, etc.) in the next ten years, we have no emergency fund. Our emergency fund so far has been the Chinese, and their patience is waning.

The president enjoys lambasting the investors and speculators who took huge risks and helped cripple the economy, but I’m really struggling to see how this kind of government spending is not equally as risky.

Please…chime in with your thoughts below.

Tyson News, Politics

Hot Air from Obama’s Budget Director

March 8th, 2009

I think everyone had high hopes for Obama’s economic team, made up of so-called moderates.  But some of the recent statements from budget director Peter Orszag just don’t pass the smell test.

Earlier this week Orszag spoke before a congressional panel about the Obama budget, claiming it will save $2 trillion over the next ten years.  Wow – sign me up!  Luckily somebody asked him to explain those numbers in a little bit more detail, and here’s what he conceded: We will save $1.6 trillion in the next tens years by not sustaining the troop surge for the next decade.  Uh…OK, but who was going to do that!?  Had anybody even considered keeping surge troop levels in Iraq for ten more years?  Uh…no.  I just went and told my wife our family was going to save $1.5 million by not buying a private jet – she was equally confused.

A few days later on CNN, Orszag argued that the Obama administration had no power to change the omnibus spending bill which is loading with almost $8 billion in earmarks.  Come on…gimme a break.  I think it would be easy, try this line:

“Congress, this bill is filled with earmarks and I told you we were going to be different. Take out the earmarks and I will sign it.  The America people voted for change, and change is what they are going to get.”

See, that even sounds campaign-ish so I’m sure Obama could pull it off.

Tyson News, Politics

My Experience with Craigslist

February 3rd, 2009

Lately I’ve shared with a number of people my experience and satisfaction with buying and selling items on Craigslist.  Literally, it’s my favorite place to shop.  I’ve learned the value of buying pre-owned items, everything from appliances to gadgets to vehicles and baby gear.  I thought it would be fun to make a list of everything I can remember buying and selling on Craigslist. Here goes:

Items I have purchased:

  1. Ipod Nano
  2. Ipod Touch
  3. Children’s dresser / changing table
  4. Graco stroller & car seat
  5. Split oak firewood
  6. Nissan Maxima
  7. Computer memory
  8. Exercise equipment
  9. Golf balls
  10. Queen mattress
  11. Kitchen-aide range

Items I have sold:

  1. Old vintage chandeliers
  2. 80′s Jenn-aire cooktop
  3. Honda Accord
  4. SLR camera
  5. 20″ television
  6. Tile cutter
  7. Exercise equipment (hmm?)

Tyson General

The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

January 4th, 2009

Yesterday I was driving through East Texas and I saw for the first time a Cadillac Escalade Hybrid. Shwanky, I know. But I got to thinking – I wonder what the math on that guy is. So I looked it up…here we go:

The standard 2009 Escalade MSRP pricing starts at $60,985, while the hybrid version starts at $70,685, a difference of $9,700. This is the premium you pay for the hybrid engine. Now, I’ll ignore the slightly less powerful motor on the hybrid version, as I suspect with over 300 horsepower there is still sufficient strength to do whatever you need.

OK, so let’s figure out the break-even analysis on that $9,700 premium. GM claims the hybrid gets 50% better fuel economy in the city, and 20% better on the highway. For city driving, that brings the MPG up from 12 to 18. The average driver covers just over 1,000 miles per month, so I’ll use 1,200. That’s 67 gallons of fuel versus 100 gallons required for the standard gasoline engine, as savings of 33 gallons. At our current bargain-basement petroleum costs, that’s a savings of about $50 a month. If gasoline remains at this price (ha, I know), it’s going to take about 16 years to break even and start saving money with the hybrid.

Now let’s say oil prices begin to rebound as everyone expects they will, and they rise again to a $3 average. Of course that means it will only take 8 years to reach break-even point and start seeing green. Much more reasonable, don’t you think? Now obviously if you drive twice as much as the average driver and put 25,000 miles a year on your hybrid, you can look forward to break-even point just as that odometer rolls over the 100,000 mile mark.

Now let’s not forget the best-case scenario for hyrbrid owners. If gasoline skyrockets to a $5 average, it’s just going to take the average driver a little less than 5 years to reach fruitfulness. But keep in mind, this assumes 100% city driving, and no highway travel. So I consider this the ultimate best case scenario.

Maybe this kind of math is why GM is looking for a bailout about now, what do you think?

Tyson Politics, Technology