Uncommon Sense

politics and society are, unfortunately, much the same thing

Permit required to exercise constitutional rights

In all the voter ID objections I’ve heard the most prominent is the idea that no permit or ID should be required to exercise our constitutional right to vote – because it’s a constitutional right.

Keep in mind, our right to keep and bear arms is blatantly spelled out in the constitution but for some reason requiring permits for that meets little objection from the voter ID opponents. If being a constitutional right is in and of itself reason enough to oppose the requirement of a permit shouldn’t that apply to the second amendment as well as the right to vote? Most voter ID opponents have weak reasons for their objection but I actually like the argument that constitutional rights ought not require permits. Of course, when abuse occurs an intervention seems almost inevitable.

There are certainly reasonable limits to all our rights. For example, felons do not have the right to keep or bear firearms nor do they have the right to vote. The right to vote has an age limit, where one must be at least 18 years old before it becomes one’s right. But free speech is an entirely different matter. There seems to be two different standards on speech.

If you ever wondered what the next step would be after limiting the constitutional right of free speech to “speech zones” Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, MI has the answer: free speech permits. Yes, in the name of diversity and inclusion, institutions of higher education are pushing the oppressive absurdities even further without recognizing the irony of their own actions. Not only are college students often limited as to where they can express their opinions but apparently they must also have obtained official approval from the institution. KCC is not the only one.

So the next time someone complains about voter ID laws (supposedly an example of right wing extremism), ask them about gun rights and free speech rights, both of which are highly regulated and limited by left wing extremism.

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Billion$ spent to fix failing schools; fail

original article: Obama administration spent billions to fix failing schools, and it didn’t work
January 19, 2017 by Emma Brown

One of the Obama administration’s signature efforts in education, which pumped billions of federal dollars into overhauling the nation’s worst schools, failed to produce meaningful results, according to a federal analysis.

Test scores, graduation rates and college enrollment were no different in schools that received money through the School Improvement Grants program — the largest federal investment ever targeted to failing schools — than in schools that did not.

The Education Department published the findings on the website of its research division on Wednesday, hours before President Obama’s political appointees walked out the door.

“We’re talking about millions of kids who are assigned to these failing schools, and we just spent several billion dollars promising them things were going to get better,” said Andy Smarick, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has long been skeptical that the Obama administration’s strategy would work. “Think of what all that money could have been spent on instead.”

The School Improvement Grants program has been around since the administration of President George W. Bush, but it received an enormous boost under Obama. The administration funneled $7 billion into the program between 2010 and 2015 — far exceeding the $4 billion it spent on Race to the Top grants.

The money went to states to distribute to their poorest-performing schools — those with exceedingly low graduation rates, or poor math and reading test scores, or both. Individual schools could receive up to $2 million per year for three years, on the condition that they adopt one of the Obama administration’s four preferred measures: replacing the principal and at least half the teachers, converting into a charter school, closing altogether, or undergoing a “transformation,” including hiring a new principal and adopting new instructional strategies, new teacher evaluations and a longer school day.

The Education Department did not track how the money was spent, other than to note which of the four strategies schools chose.

Arne Duncan, Obama’s education secretary from 2009 to 2016, said his aim was to turn around 1,000 schools every year for five years. “We could really move the needle, lift the bottom and change the lives of tens of millions of underserved children,” Duncan said in 2009.

Duncan often said that the administration’s school-improvement efforts did not get the attention they deserved, overshadowed by more-controversial efforts to encourage states to adopt new standards and teacher evaluations tied to tests.

The school turnaround effort, he told The Washington Post days before he left office in 2016, was arguably the administration’s “biggest bet.”

He and other administration officials sought to highlight individual schools that made dramatic improvements after receiving the money. But the new study released this week shows that, as a large-scale effort, School Improvement Grants failed.

Just a tiny fraction of schools chose the most dramatic measures, according to the new study. Three percent became charter schools, and 1 percent closed. Half the schools chose transformation, arguably the least intrusive option available to them.

“This outcome reminds us that turning around our lowest-performing schools is some of the hardest, most complex work in education and that we don’t yet have solid evidence on effective, replicable, comprehensive school improvement strategies,” said Dorie Nolt, an Education Department spokeswoman.

Nolt emphasized that the study focused on schools that received School Improvement Grants money between 2010 and 2013. The administration awarded a total of $3.5 billion to those schools, most of it stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. “Since then,” she said, “the program has evolved toward greater flexibility in the selection of school improvement models and the use of evidence-based interventions.”

“Here in Massachusetts, it actually took several years to see real improvement in some areas,” Duncan said at the time. “Scores were flat or even down in some subjects and grades for a while. Many people questioned whether the state should hit the brakes on change. But you had the courage to stick with it, and the results are clear to all.”

Smarick said he had never seen such a huge investment produce zero results.

That could end up being a gift, he said, from Duncan to Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary and is a prominent proponent of taxpayer-supported vouchers for private and religious schools.

Results from the School Improvement Grants have shored up previous research showing that pouring money into dysfunctional schools and systems does not work, Smarick said: “I can imagine Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump saying this is exactly why kids need school choice.”

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Democrats demand the status quo in education

original article: Public School Is Often The Most Destructive Institution In American Life
January 18, 2017 by David Harsanyi

There’s something perverse about an ideology that views the disposing of a child in the third trimester of pregnancy as an indisputable right but the desire of parents to choose a school for their kids as “zealotry.”  Watching Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, answer an array of frivolous questions was just another reminder of this warped worldview.

Many liberals, for instance, tell us that racism is one of the most pressing problems in America. And yet few things have hurt African Americans more over the past 40 years than the inner-city public school system. If President Obama is correct, and educational attainment is the key to breaking out of a lower economic strata, then no institution is driving inequality quite as effectively as public schools.

Actually, teachers unions are the only organizations in America that openly support segregated schools. In districts across the country — even ones in cities with some form of limited movement for kids — poor parents, most typically black or Hispanic, are forced to enroll their kids in underperforming schools when there are good ones nearby, sometimes just blocks away.

The National Education Association spent $23 million last cycle alone working to elect politicians to keep low-income Americans right where they are. Public service unions use tax dollars to fund politicians who then turn around and vote for more funding. The worse the schools perform, the more money they demand. In the real world we call this racketeering.

Yet according to Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, it is people like DeVos who are “a grave threat” to the public schools “that made America great.”

Well, for starters, studies consistently show that minority groups in America’s largest cities are lagging in proficiency in reading and math. Most of them are at the bottom 5 percent of schools in their own state. There is only so much an education secretary can accomplish, but being accused of being a “grave threat” to this system is a magnificent endorsement.

And what were Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee most concerned with? Preserving the status quo. Sen. Elizabeth Warren forced DeVos to admit that she has never led an organization quite like the Education Department (with its nearly $70 billion budget, who has?). For some reason, Warren also made DeVos, a billionaire, admit that she’d never filled out financial aid forms. The Daily Caller News Foundation found that six of the 10 Democrats on the committee had attended private or parochial schools, or have children and grandchildren who do. So what?

Sen. Patty Murray, who has absolutely no understanding or regard for the constitutional limitation on the education department, pushed DeVos to promise that she would not personally defund public schools. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a tireless adversary of the first five amendments of the Constitution (at least), asked DeVos if she thought firearms had any place in or around schools. “I think that’s best left to locales and states to decide,” she replied, before offering a specific concern of a local rural district that Sen. Mike Enzi had moments ago mentioned. Cue: mocking left punditry.

In case you were unaware, Democrats on the committee stressed that DeVos was a Republican appointed by a Republican president who had given money to Republican organizations. They further pointed out that DeVos was a Christian who had given money to Christian organizations (often referred to as “antigay groups”) that didn’t meet with their moral approval.

Mostly though, the liberals on the committee attacked DeVos because she has a history of contributing her own money to help private and Christian schools expand their reach. She also supported school vouchers proponents and public charter schools that open doors to poor kids. Those dollars have likely done more to help minority students than all the committee members’ efforts combined.

As many Americans surely know, rich and middle-class Americans already have school choice. In most places, the whiter the neighborhood the better the school system, and the better the school system the higher the prices of homes, making it impossible for those who aren’t wealthy to escape substandard schools (rural school also often suffer.) This is the status quo Warren, Murphy, and Murray hope to preserve.

Yes, school reform is complicated and challenges vary from place to place. Many have shown improvement. But teachers unions and their allies opposed magnets, charters, home schooling, religious schooling, and virtual schools long before data about the effectiveness of these choices was in, and now long after quality research is indicating their improvement on the union-preferred system.

You can visit heavily Hispanic areas in Denver and watch mothers cry when their kids’ numbers don’t come up in a charter-school lottery. Or you can listen to technocrats in editorial board meetings, whose kids live in prosperous districts or attend private schools, telling you why too many of those parents have a choice.

By the parameters we often judge these sort of things, public schools are racist institutions — even if that’s unintentional. They have an even more destructive effect on communities than all the dumb words and racist (real and imagined) comments that upset the public on a regular basis. It’s not surprising that poll after poll shows minority parents support educational choice. Unfortunately, partisanship allows Democrats to take voters for granted and ignore the issue.

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My 96-percent increase in premiums is a useful, unvarnished look at Obamacare’s effects

original article: My Defective Obamacare Health Insurance Product Just Blew Up
October 27, 2016 by Mary Katharine Ham

Like many other Americans, I got a letter last week. This letter is becoming an annual tradition, arriving on my doorstep in October to inform me of my Obamacare insurance premium hike.

Last year, the letter said my Bronze plan, purchased on the marketplace formed by the, ahem, Affordable Care Act, would increase by almost 60 percent.

This year, my premium is going up 96 percent. Ninety-six percent. My monthly payment, which was the amount of a decent car payment, is now the size of a moderate mortgage. The president refers to these for thousands of citizens as “a few bugs” when to us it feels like a flameout.

For this astronomical payment, I get a plan with an astronomical deductible that my healthy family of three will likely never hit except in the most catastrophic of circumstances.

Let’s rewind to my pre-Obamacare health care situation. Throughout my life and career, I have had both employer-based coverage and significant periods during which I bought private insurance with high deductibles and low premiums. During the run-up to Obamacare, President Obama referred to these plans as “junk” plans, but my family and I received perfectly good care and service through them. We were responsible, healthy citizens consuming a small amount of health care, paying out of pocket for most of it, and making sure we weren’t deadbeats should something catastrophic come to pass. Our health insurance was a rational and responsible purchase.

The President’s Huge, Broken Promises

When President Obama sold Obamacare to the American people, he promised three things. 1) That we could keep our plans if we liked them. 2) That the new system would offer competition between great options through an Obamacare marketplace, and 3) That our premiums would go down. Not “go up slower” or “go up but eventually go down,” but go down— $2,500 was the figure.

The letter I got last week is a betrayal of every one of those promises. I did not get to keep the plan I liked. The new system does not offer competition between great options through an Obamacare marketplace. And my premiums have gone up more than 150 percent in two years.

This was all predictable and predicted, by many (including me!).

Hillary Clinton conceded this reality at the second debate in response to an audience question about the Affordable Care Act. She said, in effect, “It’s not affordable, but it does other stuff.”

“Well, I think Donald was about to say he’s going to solve it by repealing it and getting rid of the Affordable Care Act. And I’m going to fix it, because I agree with you. Premiums have gotten too high. Copays, deductibles, prescription drug costs, and I’ve laid out a series of actions that we can take to try to get those costs down.”

As most apologists for the law do, she listed the handful of things people like the sound of— more people insured, no pre-existing conditions, lifetime limits on out-of-pocket costs, stay on your parents’ insurance until you’re 26!

But those benefits came with added costs, mandates, and overhead, and we’re now seeing the fruits of the whole law in a 25-percent average rate increase. When congressional Democrats were constructing the worst legislative Jenga tower of all time, they called critics’ predictions “lies.”

But here we are with lower-than-expected participation in exchanges, extremely low numbers of healthy young people in the risk pools, and insurance companies jacking up rates or exiting the exchange entirely in an attempt to remain solvent under the weight of increasing benefits for increasingly older, sicker customers.

This in turn leads to less competition on the exchanges, which leads to fewer young and healthy people buying into these terrible and terribly expensive products. The Department of Health and Human Services determined one of every five people shopping on Obamacare’s exchange has only one insurer to choose. This is what the death spiral you may vaguely recall the president dismissing in 2009 looks like.

Buying Really Expensive Junk

I have many blessings, two of which are the means to pay for health insurance and the good fortune not to need much of it. As a result, in the post-Obamacare world, I am a prime gouging target. I’m seeing a 96 percent increase because I am healthy, unsubsidized, and getting fewer and fewer choices. My health care companyabandoned the lowest-tier Bronze option entirely in its attempt to stay solvent, funneling me into a Silver plan with higher levels of care I don’t need at a higher price I don’t want.

My individual deductible is more than two times the high deductible on my old “junk” plan. My family’s deductible is ten times what the IRS defines as a high deductible. I now pay a high premium for a high-deductible plan, while also paying co-pays and out-of-pocket costs, meaning my plan is both junkier and more expensive.

Two points follow from this, neither of which has anything to do with feeling bad for me. But my 96-percent increase in premiums is a useful, unvarnished look at Obamacare’s effects. One, if this is a hardship for me—if I’m sitting around thinking about all the lost opportunity and savings in that giant monthly sum— so are many others who have far less than I do. Even with subsidized premiums, many are finding they can’t afford their deductibles, making their “affordable” health insurance useless.

Mr. Fanning, the North Texan, said he and his wife had a policy with a monthly premium of about $500 and an annual deductible of about $10,000 after taking account of financial assistance. Their income is about $32,000 a year.

The Fannings dropped the policy in July after he had a one-night hospital stay and she had tests for kidney problems, and the bills started to roll in.

Josie Gibb of Albuquerque pays about $400 a month in premiums, after subsidies, for a silver-level insurance plan with a deductible of $6,000. ‘The deductible,’ she said, ‘is so high that I have to pay for everything all year — visits with a gynecologist, a dermatologist, all blood work, all tests. It’s really just a catastrophic policy.’

Further, the system simply funnels customers into far more expensive plans every year unless they go to the semi-functional exchange during November and December to look around for something else. How many miss the letter and open enrollment thanks to living their lives between Thanksgiving and Christmas and end up with a New Year’s present in the form of a new bill they can’t afford?

Punished For Rejecting Expensive Junk

Two, is it any wonder exchange enrollment isn’t what the Obama administration hoped and needed it to be? Putting aside the embarrassing launch debacle (also predictable and predicted by me!), the law has created products that aren’t worth buying. I’m a responsible citizen and single parent of two young children. Let’s think about the incentives this system presents.

It would make far more economic sense to pay the tax penalty for not having insurance, save the monthly payment, and squirrel it away for a catastrophic event that may never occur. Should a catastrophic event occur, work out a payment plan with doctors and hospitals, for which you’d use the squirreled away premiums until the next open enrollment period, at which point you just jump right back into a plan again because they can’t keep you out for preexisting conditions. Should a catastrophic event never occur, you’ve got no small part of a college education put away. My health insurance used to be a rational and responsible purchase. It’s beginning to feel like neither.

There are plenty of young, healthy people the system needs who are finding the same.As the New York Times reported last year at this time:

Alexis C. Phillips, 29, of Houston, is the kind of consumer federal officials would like to enroll this fall. But after reviewing the available plans, she said, she concluded: ‘The deductibles are ridiculously high. I will never be able to go over the deductible unless something catastrophic happened to me. I’m better off not purchasing that insurance and saving the money in case something bad happens.’

Those who support the law during its meltdown suggest jacking up the cost of rejecting this terrible product to make it more painful than the cost of the terrible product. To them, we are but Westley in the Pit of Despair and they are the technocratic torturer at the switch puzzling just how much pain they can inflict without going full Humperdinck and killing the strapping, young patient.

That’s how the Affordable Care Act became neither affordable nor care. It’s almost as if you could have predicted it. Inconceivable!

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Does school choice work? It depends on whether you ask parents or education bureaucrats

original article: Even When School Choice Works, Critics Call It a Failure
July 11, 2016 by Vicki Alger

Thomas Paine recommended vouchers to help parents afford private schools for their children more than 200 years ago. While most college students today use vouchers to attend public or private colleges and universities, the concept remains needlessly controversial when it comes to parents using them for their school-age children.

For example, in a recent Washington Post article Emma Brown recently claimed school choice hasn’t worked based on evidence from New York City, where students are no longer assigned to public high schools based on their zip codes.

For starters, the Big Apple is hardly, as Brown calls it, “a real-life laboratory for questions of school choice” just because in 2004 the city deigned to allow parents of eighth-graders to choose up to 12 public high schools to attend out of a possible 400.

Currently, more than half of all states have parental choice programs that include private schools – not just public schools. New York isn’t one of them.

But Brown’s own evidence shows that empowering parents over their children’s education works. According to Brown, as of 2015 NYC’s overall public high school graduation rate has improved steadily and now exceeds 70 percent. Even neighborhood-based racial graduation rate gaps have diminished. Yet because they exist, school choice must be a failure. Brown seems to be implying (although she doesn’t say so explicitly) that returning to the old way of assigning students to schools would level the playing field.

It likely would…but not in a positive way since assigned schooling minimizes the likelihood students will be able to attend schools that are the best for for them. And, by removing competition for students schools have little (if any) incentive to customize instruction to individual students’ needs.

The reality is, parental choice programs are helping participating students (overwhelmingly those from disadvantaged backgrounds) as well as non-participating students who benefit from the effects of their schools having to compete for students and associated funding.

A new research synthesis helps shed light on the growing body of research proving that parental choice works.

Currently, there are 50 private school scholarship programs in 26 states and Washington, DC. What’s more, over half of them were implemented in the past five years. But do such programs work?

Experts from the University of Arkansas conducted a global review of “gold standard” studies, and using scientifically exacting methods concluded that private school choice results in statistically significant improvements in reading and math performance, 0.27 standard deviations and 0.15 standard deviations, respectively.

To put those results into perspective, 25 percent of a standard deviation represents approximately one year of academic growth on most measures of student achievement. These results are all the more remarkable because most private school choice programs limit eligibility to students from low-income families, and these students typically struggle academically.

Such results should come as welcome news for addressing chronic achievement gaps and high college remediation rates – but they likely won’t.

Parental choice in education, private-school parental choice in particular, remains a political hot button. Teachers and administrators unions, among others, fiercely oppose supporting parents’ right to choose non-public schools for their children.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has done everything in its power to shut down the successful DC Opportunity Scholarship Program – (although it was recently reauthorized) in spite of evidence from the US Department of Education “What Works” division that the program is effective, efficient, and popular. It’s also accomplishes more for a whole lot less.

Thankfully, parents and policymakers in the states are moving ahead with an ever-growing array of parental choice programs, including vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and education savings accounts (ESAs). Such progress will be difficult if not impossible to stop, no matter how loudly critics complain.

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Should brownies be banned from public schools now?

original article: Why police were called to a South Jersey third-grade class party
June 29, 2016 by Emma Platoff

On June 16, police were called to an unlikely scene: an end-of-the-year class party at the William P. Tatem Elementary School in Collingswood.

A third grader had made a comment about the brownies being served to the class. After another student exclaimed that the remark was “racist,” the school called the Collingswood Police Department, according to the mother of the boy who made the comment.

The police officer spoke to the student, who is 9, said the boy’s mother, Stacy dos Santos, and local authorities.

Dos Santos said that the school overreacted and that her son made a comment about snacks, not skin color.

“He said they were talking about brownies. . . . Who exactly did he offend?” dos Santos said.

The boy’s father was contacted by Collingswood police later in the day. Police said the incident had been referred to the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency. The student stayed home for his last day of third grade.

Dos Santos said that her son was “traumatized,” and that she hopes to send him to a different Collingswood public school in the fall.

And she wants an apology. She said she graduated from Collingswood High School and has two other children, a 21-year-old who also went through Collingswood schools, and a 3-year-old. Her husband, the third grader’s father, is Brazilian, dos Santos said.

“I’m not comfortable with the administration [at Tatem]. I don’t trust them and neither does my child,” she said. “He was intimidated, obviously. There was a police officer with a gun in the holster talking to my son, saying, ‘Tell me what you said.’ He didn’t have anybody on his side.”

The incident, which has sparked outrage among some parents, was one of several in the last month when Collingswood police have been called to look into school incidents that parents think hardly merit criminal investigation.

Superintendent Scott Oswald estimated that on some occasions over the last month, officers may have been called to as many as five incidents per day in the district of 1,875 students.

This has created concern among parents in the 14,000-resident borough, who have phoned their elected officials, met with Mayor James Maley, blasted social-media message boards, and even launched a petition calling on the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office to “stop mandated criminal investigation of elementary school students.”

The increased police involvement follows a May 25 meeting among the Collingswood Police Department, school officials, and representatives from the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, where school officials and police both said they were told to report to police any incidents that could be considered criminal, including what Police Chief Kevin Carey called anything “as minor as a simple name-calling incident that the school would typically handle internally.”

The police and schools were also advised that they should report “just about every incident” to the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency, Carey said.

Previously, the school district, following the state’s Memorandum of Agreement Between Education and Law Enforcement Officials, had only reported incidents it deemed serious, like those involving weapons, drugs, or sexual misconduct. Both Carey and School Board President David Routzahn described the protocol set forth after that May meeting as a significant change in procedure.

“It was a pretty clear directive that we questioned vehemently,” Oswald said.

But a month after the meeting, and after police investigations that parents consider fruitless had begun to gain attention, Maley wrote in a public letter that the May 25 meeting was intended to “reinforce the applicability” of the MOA, “not to expand its terms.” Prosecutor Mary Eva Colalillo, in an accompanying statement, said she hoped Maley’s message “clarifies” the responsibilities of school officials.

Maley said in an interview Tuesday that there had been a “misunderstanding” during the May 25 meeting. But Oswald said the Prosecutor’s Office was shying away from its own instructions.

“At some point, it seems, they’ve realized that the intent of the MOA that they’re leaning heavily upon is not what they directed us to do,” Oswald said. “It went way above what that MOA says.”

Another point of contention between the Prosecutor’s Office and school officials is what prompted Maley’s meeting in the first place.

In a public letter issued to parents Monday, Routzahn said he was “not aware of any single event” in the district that might have prompted the Prosecutor’s Office to ask for a higher reporting standard.

But Maley said the Prosecutor’s Office had been concerned about a “delay” in reporting an incident at Collingswood High School this spring. He would not comment further, noting that the incident was under investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office.

Oswald said the high school incident had not been raised during the meeting May 25.

“I welcome discussion on that as well,” he said.

Several parents said they consider the recent police involvement not only ridiculous but harmful.

Megan Irwin, who has two daughters who have attended Collingswood public schools and who teaches first grade in Pennsauken, said the police had been called to deal with behavior the schools could easily have handled.

“Some of it is just typical little-kid behavior,” Irwin said. “Never in my years of teaching have I ever felt uncomfortable handling a situation or felt like I didn’t know how to handle a situation.”

And Pam Gessert, a Collingswood resident who works as a school counselor in Burlington County, said that because teachers have the best relationships with students, they are most qualified to determine what happened in a particular incident.

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Obamacare Premium Hikes Expected in 2017

original article: Get Ready for Huge Obamacare Premium Hikes in 2017
April 21, 2016 by Eric Painin

Amid rising drug and health care costs and roiling market dynamics, the spokesperson for the nation’s health insurers is predicting substantial increases next year in Obamacare premiums and related costs.

Without venturing a specific percentage increase, Marilyn Tavenner, the president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), said in an interview with Morning Consult that the culmination of market shifts and rising health care costs will force stark increases in health insurance rates in the coming year.

“I’ve been asked, what are the premiums going to look like?” she said. “I don’t know because it also varies by state, market, even within markets. But I think the overall trend is going to be higher than we saw previous years. That’s my big prediction.”

If Tavenner is right, Obamacare will jump dramatically—last year’s premium for the popular silver-level plan surged 11 percent on average. Although Tavenner didn’t mention deductibles, in 2016, some states saw jumps of 76 percent, while the average for a 27-year-old male on a silver plan was 8 percent.

The warning to consumers from Tavenner, the former administration official who headed the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and oversaw the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov, the Obamacare website, comes at a time of growing uncertainty about the evolving makeup of the Obamacare health insurance market. With many insurers struggling to find profitability in the program, the collapse of nearly half of the 23 Obamacare insurance co-ops and this week’s announcement that giant UnitedHealth Group intends to pull out of most Obamacare markets across the country, anticipating future premiums and copayments is largely risky guesswork.

Premiums for the current 2016 season rose on average by 8 percent over the previous year, with 12.7 million Americans enrolling for coverage and government subsidies, according to CMS. Federal officials stress that the average rate doesn’t tell the whole story, and that in many cases after consumers shop around for the best price and government subsidies are applied, the actual premium increase is lower.

The Department of Health and Human Services did a study looking at what consumers were estimated to pay based on initial filings compared to what they actually paid. The study found that last year, the average cost of Obamacare marketplace coverage for people receiving tax credits went from $102 a month to $106 per month, a 4 percent change — despite warning from some of double-digit hikes.

Tavenner’s prediction may well be an opening gambit in the negotiations between the industry and insurance regulators about the 2017 premiums. As Morning Consult noted, many insurers have begun submitting opening bids on raising their premium rates and copayments, which will then be reviewed by the government and finalized this fall.

With a major presidential and congressional election looming this fall, the administration is doing all that it can to tamp down fears of major hikes next year in Obamacare insurance premiums and related out-of-pocket costs. Benjamin Wakana, a Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson, said on Thursday that changes in health care insurance rates are “not a reliable indicator” of what typical consumers on average will pay. “Marketplace consumers would do well to put little stock in those initial numbers,” he said in an email.

But Tavenner outlined several factors that she could put considerable pressure on premium prices next year. Those include:

  • A general rise in the nation’s health care tab. Overall, U.S. health care spending grew by 5.3 percent in 2014 – reaching an historic level of $3 trillion, after years of relative cost stability. Medical costs rise from year to year and will certainly affect the next round of premium hikes.
  • Soaring prescription drug prices. Insurers as well as government health care programs have been struggling to keep pace with rising drug prices, especially newer specialty drugs to treat the Hepatitis-C virus and cancer. Pfizer Inc., Amgen Inc., Allergan PLC and other companies have raised U.S. prices for scores of branded drugs since late December, with many of the increases between 9 percent and 10 percent, according to the Wall Street Journal .
  • The combination of market forces and limitations imposed by the Affordable Care Act will put enormous pressure on insurers to up their premiums. Under the law, there is a cap on insurers’ profits, companies are obliged to insure anyone regardless of their general health or pre-existing conditions, and the insurance plans must be structured in a certain way that often lead to losses.
  • Finally, two of three federal “risk mitigation” programs created under Obamacare are due to expire in 2017. Those programs were set up to protect insurers from huge, unexpected losses from providing health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges. UnitedHealth and other major insurers have found it difficult to accurately anticipate their costs in providing coverage to sicker or older Americans, and set premiums that were inadequate to cover their risks. Without those programs to fall back on, many companies likely will seek to jack up their premiums.

“It’s kind of a myriad of factors,” Tavenner said in predicting rising premium costs. “It’s not one factor.”

Clare Krusing, director of communications for AHIP, said in an interview on Thursday that health insurance companies “are working through” these factors right now in setting rates for the coming year and deciding whether to participate.

“Plans are just beginning to file their rates, and it’s a long process with state and federal regulators, until those are approved,” she added. “Certainly plans are going to evaluate market conditions and regulatory approvals, and that will all impact their participation overall” in Obamacare.

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Maybe you can’t keep your health care plan after all

original article: ObamaCare may force employers to pull the plug on millions of health plans, CBO report finds
March 28, 2016 by FoxNews

In the latest report to undercut President Obama’s “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” promise, the Congressional Budget Office projects millions of workers will leave employer-sponsored health plans over the next decade because of ObamaCare.

Some will opt to go on Medicaid, but others will be kicked off their company plans by employers who decide not to offer coverage anymore, according to a new CBO report titled,  “Federal Subsidies for Health Insurance Coverage for People Under Age 65: 2016 to 2026.”

“As a result of the ACA, between 4 million and 9 million fewer people are projected to have employment-based coverage each year from 2017 through 2026 than would have had such coverage if the ACA had never been enacted,” the report, released Thursday, said.

Employers now cover some 155 million people, about 57 percent of those under 65. That’s expected to decline to 152 million people in 2019. Ten years from now, employers will be covering about 54 percent of those under 65.

CBO said part of the shrinkage is attributable to the health care law: some workers may qualify for Medicaid, which is virtually free to them, and certain employers may decide not to offer coverage because a government-subsidized alternative is available.

Larger employers would face fines if they take that route.

But the agency also noted that employer coverage had been declining due to rising medical costs well before the health care law was passed, and that the trend continues.

The CBO also found that more people will enroll in Medicaid than previously predicted, though fewer will be covered through the public insurance marketplaces mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

The analysis underscores the view that the health care law is driving the nation’s gains in insurance coverage, which raises political risks for Republicans who would repeal it.

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Republican lawmakers slam ‘diversion’ of ObamaCare funds from Treasury

original article: Republican lawmakers slam ‘diversion’ of ObamaCare funds from Treasury
March 11, 2016 by FoxNews

Republican critics say an ObamaCare program is breaking the law by shorting the U.S. Treasury — and therefore U.S. taxpayers– billions of dollars collected from the insurance industry.

Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., chairman of the health subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, called it “an illegal wealth transfer from hard-working taxpayers to (insurers).”

He recently joined Republican colleagues in grilling Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell about the shortfall of money  supposed to be flowing into Treasury coffers – as mandated in the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

They followed up that hearing by sending a letter this week seeking clarification from the administration, according to The Hill.

Under the law, money is collected each year from insurers for the ACA’s reinsurance program, which helps plans taking on higher costs associated with sicker enrollees.

While $10 billion was supposed to go back to the market to pay those costs in 2014, the first year, an additional $2 billion was supposed to go to the U.S. Treasury under the law. It never arrived.

That was because not enough money was brought in to cover both, so the administration prioritized. Then HHS published a new rule saying payments would be made to insurers first in the event of a shortfall.

The rule, set in 2014, was published publicly for comment and received no reaction at the time, Burwell told a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing when the matter was raised again by lawmakers last week.

According to health care law expert Tim Jost, a professor at Washington & Lee University School of Law, the reinsurance program is not permanent and was instituted as a way to shoulder some of the burden for the new costs connected with new, at-risk enrollees who weren’t able to get adequate coverage before ObamaCare.

The reinsurance program was to collect $10 billion from insurance companies in 2014, $6 billion in 2015, and $4 billion in 2016. The Treasury would get $2 billion in 2014 and 2015 and $1 billion in 2016.

In 2014, according to reports, only $9.7 billion was collected from the industry , and 2015 totals were expected to be short, as well.

Critics say the law is clear: the Treasury gets the money and it cannot be transferred elsewhere, even if that “elsewhere” is to the insurance companies for the reinsurance program.

According to The Hill, presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., teamed up with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R- Utah, to write a letter decrying the administration’s moves.

“The statute in question is unambiguous, and the HHS regulation and recent practice violates its clear directive,” the letter read.

Jost is not so sure. He says it all depends on how the mandate is interpreted. “(The administration’s) reading of the statute is, that the reason for adopting this program was to establish a reinsurance program, and therefore if there was a shortfall the money collected should first go to reinsurance,” and if more is collected, “only then would it go to the Treasury,” Jost told Foxnews.com. “(Republicans) say that reading is wrong.”

“It’s a disagreement on how to read the statute,” he added, “but I don’t think there is anything illegal, unconstitutional or immoral in respect to what the administration is doing.”

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Chelsea Clinton laments ‘crushing’ health care costs despite ObamaCare

original article: Chelsea Clinton laments ‘crushing’ health care costs despite ObamaCare
March 25, 2016 by FoxNews

Chelsea Clinton, in an implicit swipe at the impact of President Obama’s health care law, recently told voters that many Americans still are facing “crushing costs” from health insurance even under the Affordable Care Act.

The comments were captured in a video posted this week. In her remarks, Clinton said her mother — presidential candidate Hillary Clinton — could use executive action to curb those costs.

“We can either do that directly or through tax credits. And, kind of figuring out whether she could do that through executive action, or she would need to do that through tax credits working with Congress. She thinks either of those will help solve the challenge of kind of the crushing costs that still exist for too many people who even are part of the Affordable Care Act,” she said in the video, initially flagged by The Weekly Standard.

The video appears to be from a Hillary Clinton town hall event this past Tuesday at the Advanced Technology Center at Bates Technical College in Tacoma, Wash.

It’s just the latest controversial comment from a member of the Clinton family; former President Bill Clinton lamented the “awful legacy of the last eight years” earlier this week while stumping for his wife, though a spokesman later said he was referring to Republicans during the Obama administration.

On health care, Hillary Clinton herself has staunchly defended the Affordable Care Act, while saying she would take any steps necessary to fix problems in the system.

In a January debate, she said, “As president, I’ll defend the Affordable Care Act, build on its successes, and go even further to reduce costs. My plan will crack down on drug companies charging excessive prices, slow the growth of out-of-pocket costs, and provide a new credit to those facing high health expenses.”

In December, Hillary Clinton was asked by a questioner at a town hall event why companies are favoring part-time employment over full-time employment. Clinton responded by saying, “the Affordable Care Act. You know, we got to change that because we have built in some unfortunate incentives that discourage full-time employment.”

A report from Freedom Partners released earlier this month states that the cost of health care premiums have outgrown both wages and normal inflation, resulting in an average rise of 28 percent from 2009 to 2014.

“With health care costs still rising faster than inflation six years after passage of the Affordable Care Act, it is clear that the law is not helping lower the burden of health care expenses for American families,” the report states.

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