Free Markets, Free People

unfunded mandates

Missouri says "no" to ObamaCare

In the most telling poll of all – a vote – the citizens of Missouri overwhelmingly voted not to participate in ObamaCare. 71% voted for Proposition C which prohibits Missouri from compelling people to pay a penalty or fine if they fail to carry health coverage.

Of course that obviously doesn’t mean that percentage isn’t going to or doesn’t carry health coverage. Instead it is a grassroots rejection of the premise that the federal government has either the power or authority to make them. And they’ve just prohibited their state from enforcing such a law.

 However:

The Missouri vote is likely to have little immediate practical effect because the mandate doesn’t take effect until 2014. If federal courts uphold the federal law as constitutional, it would take precedence over any state law that contradicts it.

And, of course, I loved this:

Opponents included the Missouri Hospital Association, which said that if the mandate isn’t enforced some who can afford insurance will get a free ride and pass the costs on to those who are insured.

Really? You mean like what is done now under Medicare and Medicaid?

But I think this Missouri state senator may have the best point:

“This really wasn’t an effort to poke the president in the eye,” said State Senator Jim Lembke, a Republican. “First and foremost, this was about defining the role of state government and the role of federal government. Whether it’s here in Missouri with health care or in Arizona with illegal immigration, the states are going to get together on this now.”

States have been getting the short end of the mandate stick for decades.  Yet many of them work under two constraints the federal government doesn’t.  One, most of them are required by law to have a balanced budget.  Unfunded mandates of the sort imposed by ObamaCare take a wrecking ball to that sort of requirement.  Secondly, the states can’t print money at their whim.  Therefore they must borrow any money to fulfill the mandates.

This and the Arizona law may be the first shots in a long war that sees the states again asserting their rights.  It will mostly be fought out in the courts and its outcome is going to be critical to the America we are a part of in the future. 

If the courts side with the Obama administration, then there’s just about nothing the federal government can’t do or  which it can’t involve itself.   And as we’ve seen in the last 18 months, it doesn’t take long, if the circumstances are right, for it to intrude to levels never before seen.

But regardless of the outcome in court, the Missouri vote is important.  The “Show Me” state is a rather purple state, so I think most expected the vote to be somewhat close with those rejecting ObamaCare winning out.  Instead, we see a huge margin rejecting the premise.

It should send a signal to both parties, and it should certainly have Democrats quaking in their boots about November.

Whether or not the parties will heed the message remains to be seen, but the voters of Missouri have pretty much voiced what I think the majority of this country feels – “thanks, but no thanks”.  Back off, downsize and cut spending.  And stay out of our lives and our health care.

~McQ

[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!

[tweetmeme only_single=”false”]

The BFD – its first week

So, how is ObamaCare being greeted by the real world since it was signed into law Tuesday?  Well, pretty much as expected by those who were paying attention (and that wouldn’t include the unicorns and moon pony crowd).  For instance, employees at Verizon were greeted with a statement by the company explaining its interpretation of the law and what that would mean in terms of future coverage:

In an email titled “President Obama Signs Health Care Legislation” sent to all employees Tuesday night, the telecom giant warned that “we expect that Verizon’s costs will increase in the short term.” While executive vice president for human resources Marc Reed wrote that “it is difficult at this point to gauge the precise impact of this legislation,” and that ObamaCare does reflect some of the company’s policy priorities, the message to workers was clear: Expect changes for the worse to your health benefits as the direct result of this bill, and maybe as soon as this year.

You may recall that Caterpillar said that the bill would cost them $100 million more in health care coverage in the first year alone. That ought to make them highly competitive.

Verizon is also being punished for offering retirees health benefits:

Mr. Reed specifically cited a change in the tax treatment of retiree health benefits. When Congress created the Medicare prescription drug benefit in 2003, it included a modest tax subsidy to encourage employers to keep drug plans for retirees, rather than dumping them on the government. The Employee Benefit Research Institute says this exclusion—equal to 28% of the cost of a drug plan—will run taxpayers $665 per person next year, while the same Medicare coverage would cost $1,209.

In a $5.4 billion revenue grab, Democrats decided that this $665 fillip should be subject to the ordinary corporate income tax of 35%. Most consulting firms and independent analysts say the higher costs will induce some companies to drop drug coverage, which could affect about five million retirees and 3,500 businesses. Verizon and other large corporations warned about this outcome.

Or, instead of discouraging employers from dumping retirees on the government, the new plan encourages it and essentially punishes those who don’t. In fact, you could say that the entire bill encourages companies to dump employee coverage. If they’re of a certain size and don’t offer coverage, they are fined $750 per employee. Compare that to the thousands of dollars in cost for coverage plus the expense of administering an employee health insurance program. If you’re running a company in an economy mired in recession, what is one of the primary things you try to do? Cut costs. You have 50 employees and you’re spending $5,000 each on health insurance or $250,000 plus the cost of administration of the program. You can dump it all and pay a fine of $37,500. What would you do?

Oh, and there’s this little goodie to encourage companies to act quickly:

U.S. accounting laws also require businesses to immediately restate their earnings in light of the higher tax burden on their long-term retiree health liabilities. This will have a big effect on their 2010 earnings.

Of course it will. And that will have a significant impact on the economy and first quarter earnings.

Some companies, however, have an alternate plan:

Consumers Energy, a Michigan gas and electric company with 2.9 million customers, said it will not take a big first-quarter charge because, like most utility companies, it can try to recover the added costs from its customers through rate hikes.

The increased costs are going to be paid by someone – customer, taxpayers – it’s all the same in the end.

And that’s pretty much where the states are right now as well. South Carolina just tallied up its new unfunded mandate:

The expansion represents a 4.4 percent increase in the $20.9 billion the state would have spent on Medicaid during that nine-year period, adding roughly $100 million a year to the state’s costs.

The state is looking at a 1 billion dollar shortfall next year – the unfunded mandate adds $914 million to the shortfall over the next 10 years. Any guess who will end up paying for that?

It should be clear, given the Verizon info that the intent is to move people off employer based insurance and on to something else. I’ve always been a proponent of individual health insurance purchased by families individually in a free and competitive insurance market like we do any other insurance product. It immediately solves the portability problem and it drives cost down. What we’re seeing here is a manipulation of tax code pointed at effectively ending employer insurance programs but with a different aim in mind – single-payer government run insurance.

The intent to again offer legislation to establish an public option, voiced by Harry Reid and House Democrats makes that point rather clearly. Democrats will try to pass that before November – bet on it. Should they succeed, then all the parts would be in place to move in that desired direction. Meanwhile, unsurprisingly the promise of “if you like your plan and if you like your doctor you can keep them” appears to be a hollow one. The law incentivizes drastic changes in plans to avoid costs and taxes and in many cases, it is clearly smarter for a business to dump health care coverage altogether.

As for 95% of us not seeing a dime in new taxes – that too was a load of nonsense as most of us knew. Unless you live in the 57th state where none of this has any impact, the new unfunded mandates promise increased taxes – states, unlike the federal government can’t print money and thus have to either cut spending or increase taxes. Since the increased spending is being mandated, it leaves them little choice, does it?

~McQ

[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!

State Governors Not Happy With Democratic Health Care Plan

At least not the Medicaid portion. The reason, of course, is states are on the hook to pay about 43% of Medicaid costs. Under the pending legislation, and depending on which plan you look at (House or Senate), Medicaid would expand 11% to 20%.

As you might imagine, that would impose a huge new mandate on the states already struggling with huge budget deficits and revenue shortfalls.

State governors, in Biloxi MS for the National Governors Association meeting, expressed bi-partisan disapproval of the plans.

“I think the governors would all agree that what we don’t want from the federal government is unfunded mandates,” said Gov. Jim Douglas of Vermont, a Republican, the group’s incoming chairman. “We can’t have the Congress impose requirements that we are forced to absorb beyond our capacity to do so.”

The House plan would pay for all of the costs of new enrollments and expand Medicaid the least (11%). The Senate version, however, would expand it the most (up to 20%) and would only pay full costs for 5 years. And the Senate’s answer to the states about how to fund the mandate?

Go into debt, of course:

One of the proposals being considered by the Finance Committee would encourage states to issue bonds to cover the costs of expanding Medicaid. Governors in both parties revolted, trumpeting their opposition in a conference call last week with Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who leads the committee.

The point is that not all costs are being surfaced when the total cost of this bill at the federal level is all that is cited. The House bill, for instance, would cost an estimated $438 billion over 10 years. I want to emphasize the word “estimated” and remind readers that there has never been an estimated cost I’m aware of that has come in on or under the projection.

Of course the Senate version, with expanded coverage, would cost more and shift the cost to states in 5 years. So you’ll not only be paying for this monstrosity at a federal level, but you can count on being tapped at a state level as well.

~McQ