What Health-Care “Market” ?

A public option, Shelby added, would “destroy the marketplace for health care.”

But the notion that most American consumers enjoy anything like a competitive marketplace for health care is flatly false. And a study issued last month by a pro-reform group makes that strikingly clear.

The report, released by Health Care for America Now (HCAN), uses data compiled by the American Medical Association to show that 94 percent of the country's insurance markets are defined as “highly concentrated,” according to Justice Department guidelines. Predictably, that's led to skyrocketing costs for patients, and monster profits for the big health insurers. Premiums have gone up over the past six years by more than 87 percent, on average, while profits at ten of the largest publicly traded health insurance companies rose 428 percent from 2000 to 2007.

Far from healthy market competition, HCAN describes the situation as “a market failure where a small number of large companies use their concentrated power to control premium levels, benefit packages, and provider payments in the markets they dominate.”

So extreme is the level of consolidation, in fact, that one former top Federal Trade Commission official working with HCAN has sent a letter to the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, asking for an investigation into the health insurance marketplace.

via Health-Care Market Characterized By Consolidation, Not Competition | TPMMuckraker.

Rationing Health Care Is Our Choice

Here is a handy-dandy way to determine whether the failure to order some exam or treatment constitutes rationing: If the patient were the president, would he get it? If he'd get it and you wouldn't, it's rationing.

It may seem absurd to worry about whether wealthy or well-insured people get every last test and exotic or speculative treatment when millions of Americans have no health insurance and millions more have gaping holes in their coverage. But the well-insured happen to include virtually all the people making the key decisions about health-care reform — members of Congress and their staffs, the White House staff, Washington journalists, and so on.

via Michael Kinsley – Rationing Health Care Is Our Choice – washingtonpost.com.

The Obama Pattern

In championing health care reform, the President stresses the unsustainability of our current system, while insisting that nothing will change (you can keep your insurance, keep your doctor, etc.).

The pattern that I see is one of following the path of least political resistance, even if it means failing to make any significant contribution to solving the actual public policy problem. I cannot say that I am completely shocked by this. It is sort of Public Choice 101. But there are a lot of bright, highly-educated people in the Obama Administration who, if they were to step back and evaluate what is happening, would see the pattern for what it is. They believe that they inherited such bad policies that they could not possibly do worse. That belief is starting to look shaky.

via The Obama Pattern – The Atlantic Business Channel.

Health-care reform’s dirty little secret

The unspoken truth about Mr Obama's … effort to reach universal coverage is that you may not be able to keep your existing health plan—at least, not at the same price. That is because paying for expanding coverage must involve capping or eliminating the tax exclusion currently favouring employer-based health cover. That single distortion of the tax code costs some $250 billion a year—the biggest kitty of money lying around in Washington. But tapping some of that inevitably means some Americans will see de facto tax increases.

via Health-care reform’s dirty little secret | Democracy in America | Economist.com.

The jobless recovery

The weekly [initial unemployment] claims number can't seem to fall below 600,000. …

This is bad news for many reasons, not least of which is what is suggests about the structural problems in the economy that are likely to persist for years. But the real danger is the threat joblessness poses to an economy that, at least according to most macroeconomic variables, is stabilising. As unemployed individuals exhaust their available savings they'll find themselves curtailing spending and defaulting on obligations, both of which contribute negatively to economic output. Sustained high unemployment also places a strain on state budgets. Faced with growing demands on unemployment assistance, states are forced to cut spending elsewhere. But this is procyclical behaviour, which may act to increase unemployment further, forcing additional budget cuts, and so on.

via The jobless recovery | Free exchange | Economist.com.

Buzz Aldrin’s Plan for NASA

I’m in no mood to keep my mouth shut any longer when I see NASA heading down the wrong path. And that’s exactly what I see today. The ­agency’s current Vision for Space Exploration will waste decades and hundreds of billions of dollars trying to reach the moon by 2020—a glorified rehash of what we did 40 years ago. Instead of a steppingstone to Mars, NASA’s current lunar plan is a detour. It will derail our Mars effort, siphoning off money and engineering talent for the next two decades. If we aspire to a long-term human presence on Mars—and I believe that should be our overarching goal for the foreseeable future—we must drastically change our focus.

Here’s my plan, which I call the Unified Space Vision. It’s a blueprint that will maintain U.S. leadership in human spaceflight, avoid a counterproductive space race with China to be second back to the moon, and lead to a permanent American-led presence on Mars by 2035 at the latest. That date happens to be 66 years after Neil Armstrong and I first landed on the moon—just as our landing was 66 years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight.

via Buzz Aldrin’s Plan for NASA – Scrap Ares I, Fast-Track Orion and Colonize Mars – Popular Mechanics.

No More TV For A While

After months of having 100+ channels with nothing to watch most of the time*, I realized my main use of TV was to have something in the background as I settled down for bed. At the same time, it was a big time-sink, because I would turn it on, flip through 100+ channels to find nothing, and then flip through 100+ channels again to see if anything new had appeared (usually not), and then again, etc.

So, to save $60/month and recover about 2 hours/day, I suspended my DirecTV service and bought a digital antenna for emergency viewing. (By “emergency” I mean weather emergencies.) I can still watch series episodes by web or DVD, but that has a well-defined beginning and endpoint (as opposed to turning on the TV and just surfing around looking for something).

I’ve been off TV for about 2 weeks now; we’ll see how much longer it lasts. 😉

(* Notable exceptions: AMC and TCM movie marathons like James Bond, Dirty Harry, old sci-fi, etc. I’m a notorious C-SPAN devotee but I can get that over the web.)

The Illusion of Government Competence

What do these stories all have in common? They all demonstrate that government organizations do not systematically make better decisions in the same circumstance than do private organizations.

Leftists like to argue that, by some magical mechanism, real-world politicians make better decisions, especially better economic decisions, than do private actors in the free market. They usually make this argument after either the free market corrects itself naturally or the government interferes. They then simply assert, without any possibility of empirical verification, that the magic government unicorns could have prevented the problem if only they had been given enough power to do as they wished.

Such arguments are clearly ex post facto. Leftists cannot predict market correction any better than anyone else, so clearly they don’t have a predictive model of the relationship between any particular regulation and any particular market correction. More importantly, when they do have the power, they often do nothing to address the causes of the correction. Last year’s financial collapse demonstrates this clearly.

via Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » The Illusion of Government Competence.