Another Unforced Error On Selling Obamacare

The Obama administration has done an excellent job policy-wise with the Affordable Care Act, but politically has made a few major mistakes along the way. The most recent was discovered today when Bloomberg reported that the administration had made mistakes in reporting the number of people who obtained health coverage through the exchanges in its first year. The error came from adding sales of dental plans available under the Affordable Care Act to the total number who actually purchased plans.

HHS Secretary  Secretary Sylvia Burwell responded on Twitter that, “The mistake we made is unacceptable. I will be communicating that clearly throughout the dept.”

From a practical point of view, the mistake does not really change anything. The important factor is the benefits provided, not the number of people who signed up the first year, especially when the number was depressed by a dishonest right wing smear campaign. Nearly seven million did obtain coverage on the exchanges in the first year, with about seventy percent happy with their coverage–a number comparable to those receiving employer-paid coverage and Medicare.

Unfortunately an error such as this plays into the false right wing narrative that the Obama administration was not transparent in promoting the Affordable Care Act. They ignore the degree to which every aspect was publicly debated for months, and every version of the law was posted on line. Of course many conservatives were probably unaware of the discussion which was occurring as the right wing media was too busy spreading lies than to actually report on what was being openly discussed.

Man on the right are cherry picking and distorting the words of Jonathan Gruber, as I recently discussed here and here. They falsely claim that Gruber was the “architect” of the Affordable Care Act and falsely attribute his views to the Obama administration. Gruber was an outside academic consultant who had worked on Mitt Romney’s health care plan. He was paid to make economic projections based upon this to predict the economic effects of Obamacare. He had no role in the legislative strategy to pass Obamacare, and does not speak for the Obama administration in making statements which Obama disagrees with.

Being an academic outside of Washington, it is very likely that the somewhat convoluted legislative actions used by both parties to achieve the best scores from the Congressional Budget Office might seem to lack transparency. This does not mean that those promoting Obamacare were in any way dishonest. They honestly presented the facts about the law. In contrast, when George Bush pushed through his Medicare drug plan, he not only lied about the cost, but threatened to fire the chief Medicare actuary if he testified before Congress about the true cost.

Gruber’s claims of a lack of transparency would be more meaningful if he actually demonstrated any areas in which the proponents of the ACA were not open about the plans. He spoke about the mandate, but this penalty for not purchasing insurance was widely discussed before passage. He also concentrated on how the ACA is a transfer of wealth, but this was both openly discussed, and a common feature of all insurance. All insurance plans transfer wealth from those who pay premiums and do not wind up needing the coverage to those who receive benefits. While conservatives are quoting Gruber because his statements seem to reinforce their biases, once you look at the details there is no evidence of dishonesty present.

On the other hand. , the real dishonesty came from Republicans who lied about death panels, the number not paying their premiums, the effects of the ACA on jobs and the economy, the cost of coverage, and falsely claiming that Obamacare is a government take over of health care.  Even the corrected numbers show that far more people purchased coverage than many Republicans have claimed. Republican politicians continue to repeat the same lies even when disproven.

Prior Political Errors

Unfortunately the error in reporting the number who purchased coverage is not the first unnecessary error which wound up hurting politically. The most prominent error was in failing to properly test the computer programs behind the exchange before they went live in 2013. The problems were quickly fixed and the exchanges opened successfully this week, but the Obama administration never fully recovered from the poor first impression.

The second error was in over simplifying the issues when making statements that people can keep their own plans and/or their own doctors. Obama was being honest in the context in which he was speaking, but in over simplifying the matter in this way he was incorrect. Obama was responding to far more inaccurate right wing claim that the Affordable Care Act amounts to a government take over of health care. They spread horror stories of people being forced to lose their current health plans (and doctor) and instead being placed on some imaginary government-run Obamacare plan. I had patients call me in horror, asking if they would be lose me as a doctor because of having to change to Obamacare.

Obama was right in answering that people would not be forced into a new government plan and would not arbitrarily be forced to change doctors.

He was incorrect  in how he worded it because other factors were involved. Insurance companies elected to cancel plans, often when they could be grandfathered in. Doctors go in and out of health plans every year, regardless of Obamacare, but Obamacare does not assign people to new doctors. With or without Obamacare, some people would have to change health plans and doctors every year.

Most people had the option to get insurance, from the same company as before if they desired, with better coverage at a lower cost. It is also a bit ambiguous as to what keeping the same plan means considering that in the individual market it has been common for insurance companies to substitute similar but different plans quite frequently. Most people would feel like they had the same plan as it was from the same company with only minor differences (or with better coverage).

When Obama realized his statement was technically wrong, he not only apologized but acted to make it right by making it even easier to grandfather in old plans. Many of the old plans which were discontinued provided extremely limited coverage for the price, and people were better off replacing them with a better plan. I have often seen patients with plans purchased on the individual market in the past who were shocked to find that their plan paid nothing or only a tiny fraction of their bills. The Affordable Care Act guarantees both that health plans will provide reasonable coverage and that nobody can be dropped because of developing health problems, as frequently happened in the past.

By guaranteeing that people cannot be dropped from their health plan, by making insurance more affordable,  and by providing a greater choice of health plans, it is far less likely that people will have to change their health plan or doctor against their will as happened in the past. For the most part, Obama was right, but he worded this in a poor way as there were exceptions. Needless to say, Republicans concentrate on the rare cases where Obama was wrong, even though their health plans would ultimately lead to far more people being unable to keep their insurance or their doctor. By making these political mistakes, the Democrats have made it easier for Republicans to mislead.

Now yet another mistake has been uncovered which means little but which Republicans will be able to use to mislead the public.

Republican Minority Blocks Bill To Curtail NSA; Democrats To Take Over Role Of Blocking What They Oppose

Not very long ago it was common for bipartisan coalitions to accomplish things in Congress. That was largely before the current realignment in which Democratic southern conservatives have either joined the Republicans or been voted out of office, and Republican moderates and liberals have been driven away. Theoretically even a totally conservative Republican Party might have members finding common ground with some Democrats at times.  Traditionally there have been some conservative Republicans who have been strong advocates of civil liberties.

Curtailing NSA surveillance would seem to be an area where liberal Democrats and some conservative Republicans might work together. In our bizarre system where a majority does not rule and sixty votes are needed in the Senate,Patrick Leahy’s bill to end the NSA’s bulk data collection died due to only receiving a 58 to 42 majority. This died due to solid Republican opposition, led by Mitch McConnell who felt the bill went to far, and Rand Paul who rationalized voting with the rest of the Republicans by saying the bill did not go far enough.

Libertarians at Reason’s Hit & Run blog were disappointed in Paul, writing that, “Paul and the rest of his fellow citizens may well come to rue the day that he allowed the perfect to get in the way of the merely better.” Regardless of his justifications, Rand Paul has shown that he cannot be counted upon in promoting civil liberties issues. I fear that as Rand Paul tries to position himself as a serious contender for the presidential nomination, he will increasingly align himself with McConnell and become indistinguishable from other Republicans from the authoritarian right. I have often pointed out how his father, Ron Paul, was also hardly the defender of liberty which his fans made him out to be.

There is some small consolation that the Republican minority which has concentrated on blocking Democratic legislation will now replaced by a Democratic minority which can also act to block the disastrous Republican agenda. In describing the Democrats who blocked the Keystone XL pipeline, Politco reported on what they are calling the “hell no” caucus:

..red-state Democrats like Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska are on their way out, and liberals like Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders and Sheldon Whitehouse — with Elizabeth Warren leading the way on messaging — may cause as many headaches for Senate Republicans as tea partyers caused Democrats in the past four years…

Asked if he could ever envision himself performing a Rand Paul-style talking filibuster in the Republican Senate, Whitehouse of Rhode Island replied: “Oh, of course. We will have more tools in the minority than we had in the majority.”

Progressives are girding for battle with Republicans over campaign finance law, consumer protections and women’s health care. But the early battle lines appear increasingly drawn around environmental policy, where Democratic centrists may defect from leadership in next year’s Senate and help Republicans pass legislation strongly opposed by liberal senators…

Even as they vow to fight Republicans at every turn on issues that fundamentally divide liberals and conservatives, left-leaning Democrats insist that they will not do so seeking retaliation against a Republican minority that stymied their economic, environmental and social priorities for so long with filibusters and delay. Those days, they insist, are gone — leaving liberals to somehow find a balance between fighting for their convictions and not drawing the same charges of obstruction that have dominated Democratic messaging for years.

“The best news about a Republican majority in the Senate is that the Republican minority is now gone,” Whitehouse said. “They were just a god-awful minority.”

Maybe this will free up liberal Democrats to more strongly articulate their views on the issues, while allowing more people to see what the Republican agenda really is.

Republicans Used Jed Bartlet’s Former Campaign Manager To Skirt Election Laws

Twitter Polling Data

CNN reported this week that the Republicans used coded messages in Twitter accounts to get around campaign finance laws which prohibit coordination between campaigns and outside groups such as Super-PAC’s. Information in fake Twitter accounts allegedly contained internal polling data.

Republican officials deny knowing abut this. Considering the wide range of things which Republican officials know nothing about, including science, math, economics, ethics, the workings of a democratic nation, and most human knowledge acquired since the enlightenment, Republican claims of not knowing something are very difficult to dispute.

The screen grab from one Twitter account used, which has since been deleted, was under the name of Bruno Gianelli. Bruno Ginnelli worked as Jed Bartlet’s campaign manager in 2002. It shouldn’t be too surprising that Gianelli is now working with the Republicans as he did work as a consult to Arnold Vinick’s GOP presidential campaign in 2006. Some might find it surprising that Republicans did watch The West Wing. I’m sure they draw the line at watching MSNBC.

People Not Directly Affected By Obamacare Are Unhappy With It

With the exchanges opening for its second year, Gallup has found that support for the Affordable Care Act remains low at 37 percent. I have to wonder about how those answering are coming to this opinion. After all, there is tremendous evidence as to the success of the Affordable Care Act, and Gallup also found recently that about 70 percent who are actually obtaining coverage through the exchanges are satisfied. This number is comparable with the number who are happy with other forms of coverage such as Medicare and employer-paid health care.

It appears that those who are unhappy with Obamacare aren’t the ones who are most directly affected. Most likely this polling result comes from all the dishonest information being spread by the right wing, with many people who are not directly affected at present expressing dissatisfaction with a law they do not understand.

The Affordable Care Act also receives less support than it might because many of those who stand to benefit in the future don’t realize it. Besides providing affordable coverage for millions who could not obtain coverage in the past, the ACA protects those with coverage from their employer, guaranteeing that they won’t be unable to obtain coverage should they become seriously ill or lose their job. This had been a common cause of bankruptcy in the past, but many people are not going to appreciate this benefit if they are not undergoing such problems.

Another problem for the Affordable Care Act is that it makes it easier for Republicans to blame anything wrong with health care on Obama, even if the Affordable Care Act is not involved. For example, although the ACA provides additional benefits for Medicare beneficiaries, many who receive these benefits do not realize this. On the other hand, they are blaming Obama when their pharmacy plan increases their copays, even though this has nothing to do with Obamacare.

This does not mean that the Affordable Care Act is perfect. It is built on top of a faulty health care system, correcting several of its problems. However the bulk of the old system, with all its problems and inefficiencies, have continued. With Obamacare so unpopular, I am surprised that there is not more effort by supporters of a single payer plan to promote this as the solution to the problems of Obamacare, as opposed to Republican proposals which would resume all the problems we had in the past.

SciFi Weekend: Arrow; The Flash; Doctor Who; The Fall; More Genre Novels Receiving TV Adapatations; Ascension; Community; Mrs. Wolowitz Dies; Porn Stars Explain Net Neutrality; Bill Cosby Rape Allegations

Arrow Black Canary Katie Cassidy

By now  most fans must have figured out that Katie Cassidy’s character is training to replace her sister Sara as the Black Canary, so there is no point in keeping this a secret. Publicity pictures have been released of Cassidy as the Black Canary. Marc Guggenheim has answered questions about when we will find out who killed Sara and has shot down another fan theory in a recent interview. The mystery over Sara’s killer won’t be dragged out over the entire season, but he is not telling exactly when we will find out.

The CW Network has released the synopsis of the cross over episodes of The Flash and Arrow, which will air on December 2 and 3.

Part 1: “Flash vs. Arrow”

“Barry is thrilled when Oliver, Felicity and Diggle come to Central City to investigate a case involving a deadly boomerang. Excited about teaming up with his friend, Barry asks Oliver if he’d like to help him stop Ray Bivolo (guest star Patrick Sabongui), the meta-human Barry is currently tracking. Bivolo causes people to lose control of their emotions and has been using that skill to rob banks. Unfortunately, the superhero partnership doesn’t go as smoothly as Barry expected. When Oliver tells Barry he still has a lot to learn, Barry sets out to prove him wrong by attempting to stop Bivolo alone. However, when Bivolo infects Barry and sets him on a rage rampage, everyone is in danger, and the only one who can stop him is the Arrow. Meanwhile, Iris is furious when Eddie tries to get a task force to stop The Flash, Joe and Dr. Wells agree the Arrow is a bad influence on Barry, and Caitlin and Cisco deal with a new team in S.T.A.R. Labs.”

Part 2: “The Brave and The Bold”

“Oliver, Arsenal and Diggle track down the location of a boomerang-wielding killer named Digger Harkness (guest star Nick Tarabay) but are surprised when they come face to face with an A.R.G.U.S. team. Diggle asks Lyla why A.R.G.U.S. is involved but she defers until Harkness attacks the building, killing several agents and targeting Lyla. The Arrow joins the fight and gets help from an old friend – The Flash. Harkness manages to get away and Oliver teams up with Barry again to find him before he can get to Lyla. When Harkness plants five bombs in the city that are timed to explode at the same time, both teams must come together to save the city.”

The above clip from this year’s upcoming Doctor Who Christmas special was played at Friday’s Children in Need special. Jenna Coleman is shown appearing again as Clara, and we do not know if this means whether Clara is continuing with the show next season or exiting the series as previously rumored.

Steven Moffat has discussed the past season of Doctor Who. With it uncertain as to whether there will be a new companion coming, there has been a lot of attention paid to his discussion of “changing it up with the companion.”

We actually have changed it up quite a lot, look how different those girls have been. Wait and see.

What we have is probably the most enduring form of the show and I think will always tend back to it for whatever reason, but there’s no reason you couldn’t tend away from it and there’s no diktat or special rule book left by Verity Lambert or something.

We absolutely could vary it. The times they’ve varied it, it makes them work hard – you can see them struggling with Leela. She was a great character but they had to civilize her fast because it was getting hard to fit her into stories – but it’s not a hard and fast rule at all.

Some of the bloggers at The Mary Sue disagree that they have changed it up all that much. Comments included, ” I know! Amy’s hair was red, and Clara’s was dark brown! So different“followed by, “And they were played by different women and it wasn’t the same actress in a wig so, right there.” Other comments included, ““And one wasn’t in love with the Doctor” followed by “Yes. One of them only flirted with the doctor. The others flirted and had feelings!” Maybe we’ll see “something really, really different” such as “curly hair.” On the other hand, the current formula works, so why be concerned about changing anything up?

The past season has received mixed reviews from fans, with more criticism of the plot holes in Moffat stories. What Culture has compiled a list of their top “face palm” moments in Doctor Who. While some fans are swearing that Moffat is destroying the show, to be fair to Moffat there were plenty of plot holes in stories before he took over. Examples can be found here, here, and here. Similarly, plot holes can be found during any typical evening of watching television. The nature of the show increases the risk of some plot holes on a show such as Doctor Who, but I also think the number is increased because Moffat often throws far too many clever ideas into some episodes, as he did in Death in Heaven. I feel he did a better job on episodes such as Blink in which he devoted the episode to just one clever idea and fully developed the story around it.

Michelle Gomez is hinting she will return to Doctor Who next season. She did too good a job as Missy to not consider using her again.

The Fall has started its second season, receiving excellent reviews, and Gillian Anderson hints there might be a third season. Netflix, which has the first season of this British series, will release all six episodes of the second season on January 16. The trailer is above.

There seems to be quite a few genre novels being turned into television series. Jonathan Nolan, creator of Person if Interest, is doing an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series for HBO. I could see this working as either adaptations of the books or as stories set in the universe Asimov created. Amazon has announced their planned pilots for 2015 and the list includes a series based upon The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. The alternative history creates a world twenty years after World War II in which the allies have lost. This could be another example of a series which might work by either adapting the novel or writing original stories in the universe created by the novel.

Ascension, a three night mini-series starting on Syfy on December 15 sounds like it could be awesome. Trailer above. From what I’ve read at various sources, the premise is that during the Kennedy years there were fears that humanity would not survive so an interstellar life boat was sent into space with a wide variety of people. The series takes place in the present, but the culture has not changed from the 1960’s, sort of giving us Mad Men in space. The mini-series reportedly deals with problems ranging from a murder to reaching the point of no return and having to decide whether to go on or to return to earth. Cast includes Tricia Helfer of Battlestar Galactica as the scheming wife of the Captain.

Paget Brewster

Community finally starts production next week and will be adding two new cast members following the loss of some regulars over the years. The new members of the cast will be Paget Brewster (above) and Keith David.

Carol Ann Susi, who provided the voice of Mrs. Wolowitz on The Big Bang Theory, died last Tuesday. No word yet as to how this will be handled on the show.

Glen A. Larson, creator of the original Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,  Magnum P.I., and multiple other shows has died.

Karen Gillan’s new series Selfie has apparently not received enough “likes” and has been canceled by ABC. CBS has canceled The Millers, which means that Margo Martindale might now have more time to reprise her role as Claudia on The Americans.

If you heard the rumors last week about Spider-Man’s Aunt May getting her own movie, they aren’t true. The biggest problem with the rumored concept was that the movie was going to take place when she was younger. If the concept had any chance of succeeding, they’d be better sticking with Sally Field, who just  might be able to pull it off.


Funny or Die used porn stars to explain net neutrality in the video above. Consumerist summarizes:

…three adult actresses — Alex Chance, Mercedes Carrera, and Nadia Styles — explain what it would mean if the FCC passes compromised neutrality rules.

“Without net neutrality, Internet service providers could create special fast lanes for content providers willing to pay more,” says Carrera.

Adds Chance, “That means slow streaming, slow social networking, and yes, slow porn.”

Ms. Styles slam neutrality critic, Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas, saying he “doesn’t want me to get naked for you.”

She also points out that the anti-neutrality drive is being led by wealthy older men and says that doesn’t make any sense since, “Old rich guys watch the weirdest porn.”

Ms. Chance compares the current, neutral state of the Internet to “a giant sex party where everyone gets to have sex with anyone they want,” but Ms. Carrera contends that, “Without net neutrality, that sex party is only for rich people.”

 Bill Cosby’s attorney has issued a statement regarding the recent rape allegations:

Over the last several weeks, decade-old, discredited allegations against Mr. Cosby have resurfaced. The fact that they are being repeated does not make them true. Mr. Cosby does not intend to dignify these allegations with any comment. He would like to thank all his fans for the outpouring of support and assure them that, at age 77, he is doing his best work. There will be no further statement from Mr. Cosby or any of his representatives.

Response from The Washington Monthly:

As I’ve previously noted, I certainly hope the allegations—some of which date back years—against Cosby turn out to be false; if true, every bigot who thinks African-American men, regardless of accomplishments, are sex fiends at heart will say, “See! I told you so!” However, as Boston Globe columnist Renee Graham notes, Cosby’s credibility appears to be compromised:

“Cosby settled a lawsuit in 2006 filed by a woman who claimed the comedian drugged and raped her in 2004, and he has never been charged with any crime connected to the allegations. Yet from comedian Hannibal Buress, who straight up called him “a rapist,” to countless slings and arrows on Twitter, there’s a sense that Cosby won’t emerge from this mess unscathed…

“Howard Bragman, a longtime celebrity public relations consultant, insisted on CNN that Cosby has “got to be willing to go on the air and go on the record, and say ‘These charges are not true, this is nothing I would do.’ ” So far, Cosby has done no such thing, perhaps already realizing his reputation is a lost cause.”

Cosby’s attorney says his client’s lips will remain sealed. We’ll see about that. Meanwhile, I don’t quite get why Rush Limbaugh is leaping to Cosby’s defense; does he think Cosby is a Republican? (By the way, remember when the right went after Cosby’s wife Camille in 1998 after she claimed that American racism played a role in the 1997 murder of their son Ennis?)

Again, I hope these allegations against Cosby turn out not to be true. However, if these allegations are meritorious, I think the lesson to be learned is: stop making celebrities out to be heroes.

The Big Losers From Grubergate

Conservatives love to repeat quotes which reinforce their biases, even if the facts don’t really support them. We continue to hear conservative opponents of Obamacare quote Jonathan Gruber and search for even more videos of him saying the same thing. I’ve already pointed out how these quoted mean little here and here, but conservatives never let facts get in their way. The fact that most people who purchased plans through the exchanges are happy with their plans also will not keep opponents from finding irrelevant objections.

We can safely assume that we will continue to hear quotes from Jonathan Gruber. It is doubtful this will affect actual support for the Affordable Care Act. Those who are repeating his quotes are those who were already opposed. There are two actual losers now that his quotes have received such publicity.

The first big loser is Mitt Romney, who appears to be flirting with the idea of running yet again. Romney already had trouble with the fact that he had established his health plan in Massachusetts. Should Romney attempt to run again in the Republican primaries he will face endless clips of Gruber comparing Obamacare and Romneycare and saying “Basically, they’re the same f—ing bill.” Ironically some conservatives who falsely claim that Gruber was the “architect of Obamacare” and all his currently discovered quotes about Obamacare should be taken as gospel, are also twisting the facts to say that Gruber was wrong on this point. Some conservatives will have no problem believing that Gruber was right on things which reinforce their biases but incorrect when he spoke about Romneycare, but others will not fall for such fallacious attempts to make these distinctions.

The other big loser is Jonathan Gruber. Consulting is a great way to make money when you can get it. Gruber made $400,000 for the economic projections he made during the development of the Affordable Care Act. (That is what he worked on–not the legislative strategy to pass the law). It is hard to see Democrats hiring him again, and any others thinking of hiring him will also think twice about what he might say. His name is toxic to Republicans, who will always think of him as someone who passed off lies to sell Obamacare (even if he revealed no actual lies and everything in his quotes was openly discussed during the debate over passage).

This leaves some questions. How long until this is becomes called the Grubergate Scandal?

When does Gruber become a verb? There are actually more than one possible meanings. To Gruber might mean someone with expertise in one area (in this case economics) making bold but incorrect public statements in an area outside of his area of expertise (in this case passing legislation). To Gurber might come mean to betray those who hired you by making incorrect statements, or even to accuse others of being dishonest when you are the one who is saying things which are misleading.

Update: Obama states he did not mislead on health care

Obamacare A Huge Success Despite Easily Debunked Conservative Claims

The exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act open tomorrow. While there were initially problems when the exchanges opened last year, these were quickly fixed, allowing millions to obtain health care coverage, including those who previously could not obtain coverage due to preexisting conditions or cost. A Gallup poll found that most people who obtained coverage through the exchanges last year were satisfied:

Over seven in 10 Americans who bought new health insurance policies through the government exchanges earlier this year rate the quality of their healthcare and their healthcare coverage as “excellent” or “good.” These positive evaluations are generally similar to the reviews that all insured Americans give to their health insurance.

These findings are consistent with previous polls showing how people benefited from Obamacare.

Insurance coverage has been made more affordable by the exchanges, with eighty-three percent of enrollees qualifying for subsidies last year. Those who qualified payed an average of $82 per month in premiums. Those obtaining Silver plans paid an average of $69 per month.

Three was some sticker shock on the part of many who did not realize that they qualify for subsidies along with those of us who do not qualify for subsidies. While we pay the full premiums, the coverage is far better than was available on the individual market in the past, including guarantees that we cannot lose our coverage if we get sick and caps on maximum annual out of pocket expenses. Some people, especially those who were not familiar with the individual insurance market were expecting lower premiums. Despite conservative claims that Obamacare is a right wing take over of health care, the insurance is sold through private companies and their rates have always been high, and frequently increased by double digit amounts annually.

Conservatives also complain about the deductibles, especially on the plans with lower premiums. These plans have higher deductibles and a lower premium, with Medical Savings Accounts available to help with these out of pocket expenses. Plans on the individual market have typically had higher deductibles than employer plans. The attacks from conservatives regarding this are also rather hypocritical as conservatives have long been advocating high deductible plans paired with MSA’s as a way to reduce costs. Now that they have what they advocated, they are suddenly complaining. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised as many other components of Obamacare have long been advocated by conservatives, including the individual mandate and selling insurance through exchanges.

While there may be higher deductibles, there are also total caps on out of pocket costs which we did not have before. The Affordable Care Act has eliminated the old maximums on coverage. Republicans never mention this, but these factors could result in lower out of pocket costs for many, along with eliminating the risk of bankruptcy for those with expensive diseases who outspend their coverage. All plans cover preventative services with no deductible. Some plans now being sold will provide some other forms of coverage before the deductible is met, including office calls and prescriptions.

While premiums in 2014 were consistent with previous premiums, instead of seeing double digit increases in 2015 most people are seeing comparable rates due to the increased number of insurance companies offering coverage and the larger risk pool as more people have coverage. Many people will even see lower insurance rates:

In preliminary but encouraging news for consumers and taxpayers, insurance filings show that average premiums will decline slightly next year in 16 major cities for a benchmark Obamacare plan.

Prices for a benchmark “silver” or mid-priced plan sold through the health law’s online marketplaces aren’t all moving in the same direction, however, a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) shows. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.) In Nashville, the premium will rise 8.7 percent, the largest increase in the study, while in Denver it will fall 15.6 percent, the largest decrease.

But overall the results, based on available filings, don’t show the double-digit percentage increases that some have anticipated for the second year of marketplace operation. On average, rates will drop 0.8 percent in the areas studied.

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act have spread a wide variety of lies about the plan. Although these lies have repeatedly been debunked, Republicans continue to repeat them.

The latest attack from dishonest opponents of the plan has been to repeat irrelevant quotes from Jonathan Gruber, an economist who worked on Mitt Romney’s plan and also made economic projections on the impact of the Affordable Care Act. He is not a part of the Obama administration, and is not the “architect” of the plan as conservatives claim. Nor did he have a role in the writing or the promotion of the legislation. His comments that the American people were stupid do not reflect the views of anyone other than himself. His claims of a lack of transparency are incorrect, with the law having been written in open hearings and with the various versions having been posted on line.  The two items he brought up, the penalties for not obtaining coverage, and the transfer of wealth from the healthy to the sick, were both openly discussed prior to the passage of the law. Besides, all insurance has always represented a transfer of wealth from those who purchase insurance and do not require the benefits to those who do require insurance benefits. Apparently many conservatives fail to understand how insurance works.

Despite Solyndra, Energy Loan Program Now Making A Profit

Before Republicans became obsessed with Benghazi, and now putting far more significance on Jonathan Gruber’s comments on the Affordable Care Act than, as I explained earlier in the week,  there actually is, they loved to scream about Solyndra. Solyndra was granted loan guarantees under a program which was started under George Bush and expanded in Obama’s stimulus program. Never mind that the entire stimulus package was highly successful.  All they cared about was that Solyndra went under. The decision to invest in risky  energy companies which could advance clean energy in the United States is now paying off.  NPR’s Morning Edition reports that the energy loan program is now making a profit.

In 2011, solar panel company Solyndra defaulted on a $535 million loan guaranteed by the Department of Energy. The agency had a few other high-profile bankruptcies, too — electric car company Fisker and solar company Abound among them. But now that loan program has started turning a profit.

Overall, the agency has loaned $34.2 billion to a variety of businesses, under a program designed to speed up development of clean-energy technology. Companies have defaulted on $780 million of that — a loss rate of 2.28 percent. The agency also has collected $810 million in interest payments, putting the program $30 million in the black.

When Congress created the loan program under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, it was never designed to be a moneymaker. In fact, Congress imagined there would be losses and set aside $10 billion to cover them…

Conservatives who saw a scandal in the Solyndra loan guarantees appear not to understand how the economy works. Some companies are going to succeed and some are going to fail. The loan program did not stay away from risky investments, and this has sometimes paid off:

The Energy Department actively monitors all the companies in its portfolio for potential default risks, “and when there are warning flags, then the disbursements are suspended — possibly ended,” Moniz says.

But he says the Energy Department doesn’t want to go too far in the direction of only lending to safe investments. “We have to be careful that we don’t walk away from risk, because otherwise we’re not really going to advance the marketplace,” he says.

Moniz points to a small company called Beacon Power as an example. It got an Energy Department loan, went bankrupt and defaulted on about $14 million in debt. Today the company is back in business, providing a valuable service to electricity grids and repaying the rest of its loan.

The United States has now accepted new challenges in light of the major breakthrough on climate change reached this week with China:

The deal jointly announced in Beijing by President Obama and China’s president, Xi Jinping, to limit greenhouse gases well beyond their earlier pledges is both a major diplomatic breakthrough and — assuming both sides can carry out their promises — an enormously positive step in the uncertain battle against climate change.

It will be interesting to see if any of the companies which received loan guarantees through the Department of Energy are instrumental in enabling the United States to carry out these promises.

Why The Republicans Won Despite Being Wrong On The Issues, Revisited

Paul Krugman discussed how the Republicans won in the midterm elections despite being wrong about pretty much everything. Kurt Eichenwald has more in Vanity Fair looking at many of the things conservatives were wrong about over  the past thirty years. Although the list is far from complete, I’d suggest checking out the full article for the specifics. Topics covered include:

  • Tax cuts pay for themselves
  • Deregulating the Thrift Industry Will Save It
  • Iraq I: The Tilt
  • Giving Iranian Moderates Weapons Will Help America
  • Raising Taxes Will Cause a Recession
  • Abolishing Some Bank Regulations Will Help the Economy
  • The U.S.–led Bombing of Yugoslavia Would Be a Disaster
  • Bin Laden Was a Front for Iraq
  • Iraq 2: W.M.D.s and a Short, Inexpensive War
  • Obamacare

Many people have given different ideas regarding the other part of the question as to how the Republicans won. Fivethirtyeight.com looked at one issue  from polling data in Iowa. They found that, “White voters in Iowa without a college degree have shifted away from the Democratic Party.”

Loss of white working class votes has been a problem for Democrats for several election cycles, and was most pronounced in the 2012 elections. It will be interesting to see if there is any reduction in this trend when Barack Obama is no longer on the ticket. This is certainly not exclusively an issue based upon a black president. The Republicans have depended upon the southern strategy since the 1960’s, using this in the south along with provoking racial fears to gain the votes of less educated white voters in the north.

Conservatives Are Excited About Nothing In Statement About Obamacare

Once again we see that conservatives will quickly latch onto a headline which reinforces their biases, and then get so excited that they don’t bother to see if there is any substance. Some conservatives also seem to spend a lot of time looking for that big “gotcha” moment, again not caring whether it really means anything.

For the last couple of days multiple conservative blogs have been been excited about a video of Jonathan Gruber, an economics professor at MIT who was involved in the writing of both Mitt Romney’s health care plan and the Affordable Care Act. The key portion they quote from a panel held last year is:

“You can’t do it political, you just literally cannot do it. Transparent financing and also transparent spending. I mean, this bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes the bill dies. Okay? So it’s written to do that,” Gruber said. “In terms of risk rated subsidies, if you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in, you made explicit healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed. Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really really critical to get for the thing to pass. Look, I wish Mark was right that we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not.”

Conservatives are excited by his words “lack of transparency” and “stupidity of the American voter”  but once you actually read his statement there isn’t anything there. Of course these words might sound totally different if we heard what was said before, but regardless this doesn’t mean what conservatives think it means.

First we see that the law was written to avoid calling the mandate a tax. No surprise considering the current political atmosphere where talking about taxes is toxic, even if for something beneficial. Politicians of both parties have gotten in the habit of finding ways to raise revenue without calling it a tax. Besides, the Supreme Court has already called this a tax, so if conservatives think they have something by finding evidence that this is secretly a tax, they are way behind. (Update: To be more precise, the Supreme Court did not call this a tax, but said that the penalties were constitutional because they were an exercise of Congress’s taxing authority.)

The other point in his statement  is that healthy people pay money in and sicker people benefit. That’s how insurance has always worked. This would be the case if there was no government involvement. A lot of people pay for insurance, not knowing if they will get sick in the future, and those who actually do get sick receive the benefits. The same is true for insurance against your house burning down. A lot of people whose house never burns down pay insurance, and a small number of people whose house actually burns down receive the benefits. Just like health insurance, it is a transfer from some people to other people.

Health insurance also would have worked this way under the health care plan proposed by the Heritage Foundation in the 1990’s in response to the Clinton plan. That plan had a lot in common with the Affordable Care Act, but conservatives didn’t object then. Health insurance worked this way before the Affordable Care Act–except then some people would pay in their premiums when healthy and get dumped from their insurance plan if they got sick and cost they cost the insurance company too much. That’s something far more serious to object to, and something fixed by the Affordable Care Act. It is a shame that conservatives are getting so excited about their objections to Obamacare and not about the real abuses which existed before this much needed reform.

Update:

The Hill reports that Gruber (who has a bad habit of calling the American people stupid) regrets his inappropriate choice of words:

“The comments in the video were made at an academic conference,” Gruber said on “Ronan Farrow Daily.” “I was speaking off the cuff. I basically spoke inappropriately. I regret having made those comments.”

The Hill also reports:

On Tuesday, Gruber said he only meant that much of ObamaCare’s financing was done through the tax code, calling that more “politically palatable” than other means.

“That was the only point I was making,” he said.

Gruber’s words would be far more meaningful if they came from Obama or someone high in his administration rather than from an academic consultant to both parties, or if he showed any actual deceit on the part of the Obama administration. Even if Gruber does think that Americans are too stupid to realize that a fine for not having insurance could be considered a tax, and that insurance is a transfer of money from some people to others, this has no bearing on the Obama administration and in no way diminishes the tremendous benefits we have received under the Affordable Care Act such as coverage at a lower cost for millions, including those who previously could not obtain coverage due to preexisting medical conditions or cost.

Besides, if you want to look at deceit, the real dishonesty came from Republicans who lied about death panels, the number of people obtaining coverage, the number not paying their premiums, the effects of the ACA on jobs and the economy, the cost of coverage, and falsely claimed that Obamacare is a government take over of health care.  Even when the lies are debunked, Republican politicians continue to repeat them. They are the ones who must think that Americans are stupid. When George Bush pushed through his Medicare drug plan, he not only lied about the cost, but threatened to fire the chief Medicare actuary if he testified before Congress about the true cost. Now that is lack of transparency.

Update II:

Talking  Points Memo relayed a response from a White House spokesperson (emphasis mine):

“Transparency is a key goal of the ACA: consumers now have more access to information about their health insurance than ever before,” White House spokesperson Jessica Santillo said in a statement to TPM. “The Affordable Care Act was publicly debated over the course of 14 months, with dozens of Congressional hearings, and countless town halls, speeches, and debates.

“The tax credits in the law that help millions of middle class Americans afford coverage were no secret, and in fact were central to the legislation,” she continued. “Not only do we disagree with those comments, they’re simply not true.”

An administration official also noted to TPM that — while Gruber is often described as an “architect” of Obamacare because he was a key consultant to the administration and was heavily involved in developing the Massachusetts health reform law that served as a starting point for the ACA — “he did not work in the White House or play the same role in developing the Affordable Care Act.”