Friday, June 29, 2012

And the Health Care War Continues

The immediate reaction of the Republicans to the upholding of the Affordable Health Care Act by the Supreme Court was a vow to repeal it.

Romney makes vague references to replacing it but doesn’t say with what but most Republicans simply talk about repeal.

The “victory” in the Supreme Court may well turn out to be pyrrhic in nature. The “victory” in the Supreme Court could well cost the Democrats the Senate. Almost two-thirds of Americans, including a large number of people that would significantly benefit from the act, oppose the law.


It has been my experience, communicating with people on the Internet, that most simply do not understand what the law does. The right wing propaganda machine has been very effective in painting the law to be something it’s not.

It’s actually a pretty good law.

- It allows children to stay on their parents health care until age 26
- It allows people with pre-existing conditions to get health care
- It subsidizes the cost of health care for those that can’t afford it
- It establishes “insurance exchanges” where people can shop for insurance

When the Republicans tell you it will increase federal spending, they neglect to tell you that spending is offset by new revenue through excise taxes upon the so-called Cadillac health plans that many corporate executives have access to and by expanding the number of people supporting the health care system through the individual mandate.

The CBO estimated that repealing the plan would have added $119 billion to the federal budget deficit through 2019 while keeping the law is expected to slightly reduce the deficit. You don’t hear the Republicans telling you that do you? What I don’t understand is why the Democrats aren’t telling you that.

Could it be better? Absolutely it could be better and some of the criticism is certainly justified. But rather than get into that, I’d like to go back to a basic question.

Do we, as a nation, believe that universal health care is a good thing?

How can anyone answer no to that question? If you do answer no, then there’s nothing else to talk about and we can agree to disagree.

If you answer yes, then all that’s left is to figure out a way to accomplish universal health care without breaking the bank.

The Democrats actually used a Republican model for the health care law. It was based upon a coverage plan endorsed by Richard Nixon in the 1970s and touted by Republicans in the 1990s.

But that’s all sort of irrelevant if you don’t believe universal health care is a good thing.

Look, I get the point of not wanting to fund someone else’s health care with the dollars you worked for. You’d much rather spend them on a spiffy new iPAD. So would I, but I also understand a thing called “for the common good.”

Law firms have Pro Bono programs; doctors and nurses donate time to clinics; millions volunteer their time for charity work and everyone else, hopefully, contributes what they can when they can. So most of us understand the concept of “for the common good.”

So what’s the problem?

The problem is the difference between voluntarily supporting the “common good” and having government force you to support the “common good.” A lot of people just don’t like being told what to do with what they rightfully consider their own money.

I can understand that position.

However, I also know that the story being pitched to you by the right wing demagogues is more than a tad inaccurate.

The picture of the hard working middle class supporting shiftless lazy welfare recipients is, well, to put it bluntly, total horseshit. Are there people abusing the system? Absolutely. My mother-in-law used to work for the Welfare Department in New York City and she would tell the story of the mother bringing in her daughter, who had just turned 18, to open her own welfare account. And they arrived in a taxi cab no less.

This story, and there are many others, will get anyone all bent out of shape and abuses like this need to be addressed. But the overwhelming majority of people receiving assistance aren’t cheating.

Most are working their asses off, sometimes even at multiple jobs, but just can’t make ends meet in a society where the real annual wage for 80% of the population has been essentially stagnant for the past 30 years.

While the real income (in other words adjusted for inflation) of the bottom 80% of American wage earners has increased by 19% over the past 30 years, the real income of the top 20% has increased by 88%, the top 5% by 245% and the top 1% by a whopping 345%.

Please explain to me how this is right, fair or even rational?

In contrast, in the 30 years prior to that, the real income for the lowest income quintile rose by 99.5%, the 2nd quintile by 95.4%, the 3rd quintile by 107.9% and the 4th quintile by 109.9%. At the tippy top of the income scale, the minimum income to be in the top 5% rose by 103.4%.

In other words, everyone did pretty well. No wonder so many people remember those as the good old days of economic prosperity. It wasn’t so much that there was more prosperity, the prosperity was simply shared more evenly.

It is this vast divergence in wealth distribution, this concentration of wealth into the hands of a few that is causing economic hardships for a lot of people. A lot of hard working people. Now don’t give me any crap about Capitalism vs. Socialism, there wasn’t a more Capitalist place in the world than the United States in the 1950s through the 1970s yet the increased wealth was distributed across all income classes pretty much evenly at least by percentage.

Here’s something to think about. In 1958, the maximum federal income tax rate, for married filing jointly, was 91% for income over $400,000. That would be the equivalent of $3.2 million in 2012 dollars. The maximum tax rate in 2012 is 35% for income over $388,000.

The simple fact is that the low marginal tax rate makes unbridled greed worth the effort.

So where are you? If your household income is less than $20,000, you’re in the bottom quintile. If it’s less than $38,043 you’re in the 2nd quintile. If it’s less than $61,735 you’re in the 3rd quintile and if it’s less than $100,065 you’re in the 2nd quintile. So you need to have a household income of over $100,000 to be benefiting from the income disparity. To be in the top 5%, who are really doing well, your household income would have to exceed $180,810.

Now for the fun part. I think that most people would agree that the South is the most conservative region, followed by the Midwest, then the West and the Northeast would be the most liberal region.

So obviously the South must have the highest income and the Northeast the lowest right? The South would be protecting it’s hard earned dollars from those lazy shiftless Northeast liberals right?

The mean income in the South is $63,311 and the median income is $45,492. The mean income in the Midwest is $64,056 and the median income is $48,445. The mean income in the West is $72,367 and the median income is $53,142. The mean income in the Northeast is $74,569 and the median income is $53,383.

Democracy ceases to be a viable system when the electorate is incapable of understanding what is in its own best interest.

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