NJ Politics

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Arrogance knows no limits.

We have a shutdown of state government for the July 4th weekend in NJ, courtesy of Governor Krispie (Christie) Cream.  Highlights include the closing of state parks and beaches for the weekend for everyone EXCEPT the governor, who is enjoying the holiday in the closed-to-the-public Island Beach State Park.

Why the closing?

The governor eliminated a surtax on high income individuals at the beginning of his first term in office, creating a budget crisis. He failed to find revenue to cover the gap created by the cancelled tax.

His current proposal calls for a special tax on the state Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance provider to cover that gap. The insurer will of course pass that tax on to policy holders — basically a back door tax increase.

In the absence of a budget resolution agreeing to his plan, Christie shut the state government.

My hypothesis about his thinking: since health insurance rates are going to climb due to Trump, consumers might not notice a modest additional increase due to Christie. He could bury his increase in Trump’s, and blame someone else.

He wants to blame the shutdown on the Democrats for not going along with his plan. In fact, most people are correctly blaming him. As one blogger wrote, Christie might end his term in November with a popularity rating of less than 10%. His Lieutenant Governor is running to replace Christie this fall; he’s killing her chances of winning.

Gov. Christie Cream — what a piece of work.


Sources:

  1. Tom Davis, “N.J. Government Shutdown Continues As Christie Faces Backlash,” Toms River Patch, 2 July 2017. https://patch.com/new-jersey/princeton/s/g636l/n-j-government-shutdown-continues-as-christie-faces-backlash-video?utm_source=alert-breakingnews&utm_medium=email&utm_term=weather&utm_campaign=alert

 

Food stamp cuts

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Per capita annual spending on food in the US was $4,575 in 2014, the latest year for which figures are readily available. (1)

If you’re one of the unfortunate 10% of Americans with an income of less than $10,000 per year, food becomes a huge part of your budget. The Food Stamp program makes a difference for these people. With an average monthly amount per person of $126, it can offset perhaps 25% of what a careful shopper spends on food, and for the very poor, make a difference between eating and not eating.

The amount allotted to food stamps by the Federal Government has been cut each year starting with 2013. The Trump administration is now proposing a further 31% reduction in this benefit. Meanwhile, food prices are rising by between 1 and 2 percent per year.

The benefit cut is going to hurt the poor. However, it’s also going to bite some Trump supporters. The four largest grocery chains (Wal-Mart, Target, Kroger and Aldi) can all expect to see revenue reductions of over $1 billion from these cuts.

Wal-Mart itself receives 18% of the money allocated to food stamps, and so will be the biggest loser from these cuts.(2)

These cuts will impact profits, stock prices and shareholders.

If you still have Wal-Mart stock after all the negative news in retail, it’s time to reconsider.


Sources:

  1. USDA, “FoodExpenditures_table1.xls” https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-expenditures.aspx
  2. Courtney Reagan, “Retail stands to lose $70 billion over 10 years if food stamp benefits are slashed, and here’s who gets hit the most,” CNBC, 29 June 2017. http://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/29/retailers-that-take-the-hardest-hit-if-food-stamp-benefits-are-cut.html
  3. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “A Quick Guide to SNAP Eligibility and Benefits,” 30 September 2016. http://www.cbpp.org/research/a-quick-guide-to-snap-eligibility-and-benefits
  4. Trading Economics, “United States Food Inflation, 1914 to 2017,” undated. https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/food-inflation

ACA Repeal: Update

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I’ve been quiet about the recent AHCA legislation. Frankly, the House bill isn’t good for ben_franklinmost Americans, but the assumption is that the Senate will heavily revise the bill before it has a chance for passage. So it’s hard to say what the final legislation will be at this point.

Then it goes to conference committee and the result will return to each chamber for a vote.  So this is a long way from being done.

There are a number of articles enumerating the problems in the House bill. The major issues are

  • Loss of health insurance for millions of Americans
  • Impact on the solvency of hospitals and clinics serving rural areas — where most of the poor live
  • Reductions in Medicaid coverage, especially for children
  • Allowing states to reduce coverage standards in insurance (depart from the ACA’s Minimum Essential standards) — reducing what the insurance buyer gets for their money
  • Raising costs drastically for consumers between the ages of 50 and 64 (1)

With all of these issues, we are still expecting the repeal bill to result in sharply higher premiums for health insurance.

The only positives in this bill are tax reductions for the wealthy.

My major concern is with health screening and checkups. The ACA recognized that the main way to reduce health care expenditures is through early detection and treatment of disease. Removing access to doctors means later detection and much higher costs.

Example: breast cancer, cost of treatment by tumor stage

Stage

0                                         $71,909

I/II                                      $97,066

III                                      $159,442

IV                                      $182,655 (2)

Reduction is access to health care is a commitment to higher medical spending or to reduction of life expectancy.


Sources:

  1. Harris Meyer, “15 quick facts from CBO report on Obamacare repeal bill,” Modern Healthcare, 24 May 2017. http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20170524/NEWS/170529946?utm_source=modernhealthcare&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20170524-NEWS-170529946&utm_campaign=mh-alert
  2. Helen Blumen, Kathryn Fitch, Vincent Polkus, “Comparison of Treatment Costs for Breast Cancer, by Tumor Stage and Type of Service,” Am Health Drug Benefits. 2016 Feb; 9(1): 23–32.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4822976/

Your Health: The Right to Life?

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The US was founded on the promise of “the Right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of ben_franklinHappiness” in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.

From the start, the relationship between the country and this promise has been at best inconsistent and sometimes ironic. After all, the principal writer of the Declaration, Jefferson, was a slave-owner.  So for whom was this promise made? Everyone? Or the wealthy, the planters, the slave-owners and the merchants? (Remember, there were no factories — that was before the industrial revolution.)

The inconsistency continues to this day.

We have groups concerned with whether babies or born, but not with what happens to them after they are born. How long do they live? What’s their quality of life? As Ed Cara notes, in some areas of the US, children will now have shorter lives than their parents. (2)

A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association talks about discrepancies in life expectancy. I’ve blogged about this before, but it’s nice to see authoritative sources recognizing the issue.

The new statistical analysis shows that there is a difference in life expectancy of up to 20 years based on the county in which you live. In this analysis, the issues affecting life expectancy are

  • Income and poverty
    • The wealthy live longer
  • Race/ethnicity
    • Both Native Americans and African Americans have a shorter life expectancy
  • Regular exercise
    • Those who do live longer
  • Obesity, Diabetes and Hypertension
    • Shorten life expectancy
  • Education
    • Each level completed adds to life expectancy
  • Quality of health care
    • Higher quality is associated with living longer
  • Having health insurance
    • Having health insurance promotes longer life
  • Access to physicians
    • Having more physicians in an area helps

These factors translate into differences in life expectancy in the US based on where one lives:

  • Residents of central Colorado, coastal California and the New York Metro area live longer
  • Residents of eastern Kentucky and much of the Old South, especially along the lower Mississippi River, have a shorter life expectancy
    • The Old South in this case includes Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia (outside of Atlanta), Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee (outside of Nashville)
    • The two metro areas, Nashville and Atlanta, offer much better life expectancy than the rest of their states

The states with the lowest life expectancy are those with the lowest spending on public health and health education.

One limitation of this study is that the analysis is at a county level, and there is only selected data available at that level regarding health. In particular, suicide is now one of the top 10 causes of death in the US. Suicide isn’t reported accurately or consistently, and there is limited data available on the causes of suicide.

A second limitation is the inter-relationships between some of the factors measured. For example, wealth is associated with having health insurance, with less use of cigarettes, and with living in an area with better access to medical professionals. By breaking the analysis into this much detail, does the report understate the role of wealth in life expectancy?

By the way, I use the image of Ben Franklin on some of these posts for the following reasons:

  • His brilliance
  • His common sense
  • His skill at negotiation
  • And among the Founding Fathers of the US, he became a profound opponent to slavery

Sources:

  1. Laura Dywer-Lindgren, et. al., “Inequalities in Life Expectancy Among US Counties,1980 to 2014,” JAMA Intern Med. Published online May 8, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.0918. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2626194
  2. Ed Cara, “Kids Will Die Younger than Their Parents in Some Parts of the US,” Vocativ. 9 May 2017. https://www.aol.com/article/news/2017/05/09/kids-will-die-younger-than-their-parents-in-some-parts-of-us/22077174/

 

 

ACA Repeal — the Backdoor Method

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Apparently, the bill to keep the government operating excludes payments to insurance companies that subsidize healthcare for those buying insurance through the Marketplace. The tactic is to force insurers out of the market, thus closing the door on the Affordable Care Act.

In theory, that would cost anyone with a subsidy their healthcare.

We’ll see what happens next.

Equality of Education; Inequality of Teacher Pay

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In theory, the quality of teacher impacts the quality of education students receive. In the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision in 1954, the USSC rejected the argument that students in unequal schools could receive equal education. However, if teachers are important, then how do we reconcile the Court’s decision with these findings:

  • There’s a huge disparity in teacher pay between school systems. Affluent districts pay much higher salaries than others.
  • Charter schools, which are supposed to be the road to improve education, pay much lower salaries than most public school districts.

New Jersey treats teachers as public employees, and their salaries are public information. Without going into detail on all 650 public school districts and charter schools in the state (available at reference 1 below), here’s the outlines of the situation:

  • The median salary in 2016 for a school teacher in NJ was $66,117 per year.
  • Northern Valley Regional district in affluent Bergen County paid the most, with a median salary of $105,650.
  • Teachers in the Edison Township school district in Middlesex County had a median salary of $95,432.
  • At the other end, Milford Township in Hunterdon County had a median salary of $48,007.

New Jersey just isn’t that large geographically. The cost of living is relatively uniform across the state.

Many/most of the charter schools are worse: for example the Jersey City Global and Red Bank charter schools both have median salaries of $42,000. Of course, the charter schools haven’t been around as long. We could expect salaries to increase with teacher seniority. However, the need to generate profits at many of these schools may restrict what goes into the classroom.

If you were a capable teacher, where would you want to teach? Where would you expect the best teachers to go? How does this reconcile with equality of educational opportunity?

By comparison, NJ is one of the best-paying states for teachers in the US. The only states that pay as much or more are Alaska, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Massachusetts and New York. Maryland pay is lower than NJ, but close. (2) Conversely, South Dakota and Mississippi are at the low end of teacher pay, paying less than 65% of what New Jersey pays.

Again, where would the best go?


Sources:

  1. Tom Davis, “NJ Median Teacher Salaries, Highest To Lowest: How Much Does Your District Pay?” NJ Patch, 24 April 2017. https://patch.com/new-jersey/princeton/s/g3o6z/n-j-median-teacher-salaries-highest-to-lowest-how-much-does-your-district-pay?utm_source=alert-breakingnews&utm_medium=email&utm_term=weather&utm_campaign=alert
  2. National Center for Education Statistics, 2013. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_211.60.asp

No room for historical revisionism

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I’ve been a history buff for years. Growing up in Kentucky, I dealt with people intent on glossing over the evils of slavery. I was born less than 90 years after the Civil War ended, and there are people still intent on re-fighting that war today.

This bit from History.com leaves little room for gloss. Written about a skirmish in Arkansas in 1864,

The Rebels’ treatment of black troops was harsh. No black troops were captured, and those left wounded on the battlefield were brutally killed, scalped, and stripped. The Washington Telegraph, the major Confederate newspaper in Arkansas, justified the atrocity by declaring “We cannot treat Negroes taken in arms as prisoners of war without a destruction of social system for which we contend.”
http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/confederates-inflict-pain-at-battle-of-poison-spring

The men ultimately responsible for this atrocity were Confederate General John Marmaduke, later governor of Missouri, and Confederate General Samuel Maxey, who later represented Texas in the US Senate.

I rather suspect that in the current era, both would have been imprisoned or shot for war crimes. However, in Missouri and Texas, they get elected.

I was in Charleston a few years ago when a tour guide tried to claim that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. That’s a difficult case to make if you look at the newspaper and diary accounts from that time. We’re better off being honest with ourselves about our past and our future.