Issa calls for special prosecutor

I hope more Republicans come out in favor of this, though I doubt they will:

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, said on Friday that a special prosecutor needs to lead an investigation into the alleged ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s regime.








Saturday Morning Open Thread: Out of the Darkness

(Drew Sheneman via GoComics.com)
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What’s on the agenda for the new day?
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On The Road

Folks,

We’re trying a new feature here, so let’s see how it goes for the next week or so before it’s fully automated.

This post is for Balloon Juicers who are on the road, travelling, etc. and wish to share notes, links, pictures, stories, etc. from their escapades. As the US mainland begins the end of the Earth day as we measure it, many of us rise to read about our friends and their transient locales.

So, please, speak up and share some of your adventures, observations, and sights as you explore, no matter where you are.

Have at ’em, and have a safe day of travels!



Late Night Open Thread: In the Room Where It Happened








So I Had a Day

The lady friend (she’s actually ok with you all knowing her name as she has quite a web presence and has commented on one of the posts about her, but I just like saying the lady friend and pissing you all off when I get the chance) left this morning early, and I had two missions to complete. I had to pick up four antique chippendale chairs for her, and I had to get a corner cupboard for me. So I grabbed Gerald and we fired up the trusty Subaru, programmed google maps to get us to Cheswick, and off we went to the NE side of Pittsburgh.

Pro-tip: The tunnels at Pittsburgh suck around rush hour. Learning experience.

Right around then, the lady friend called from the road and informed me she could not find her wallet. She had had it this morning, and I knew she got gas first thing, so I asked her how she bought gas. Turns out she left her wallet on the top of the car at the gas station in Washington, PA. Four hours away from where she currently was. She told me she has only lost her wallet once in her entire life, and my first thought was “Ha- the tractor beam of comic error that is my life already has her in its grasp.”

So to figure out where she got gas (she had no idea because why would she know the name of a damned gas station in the middle of nowhere), I told her to go online and look at her debit card info, and then she looked it up and called the gas station. The person working did not speak English and she sounded really pissed and irritated, so I had her text me the number, I would call, and then after we picked up the chairs, I would drive the to Washington and see if they had it.

Called them up, and he REALLY did not speak English very well. AT ALL. He just kept saying “come tomorrow the girl who was working will be here,” which, for obvious reasons, was not satisfactory. I asked to speak to his boss, and he told me has no boss. It took me a while to realize he meant he had no manager, so I asked him “If someone were to rob you, who would you call.”

He replied… “police.”

This is a reminder that just because someone doesn’t speak English, it doesn’t mean they are a moron. I then asked him “ok, after the police, who would you call” and he gave me the number. I called him, he said “oh yeah, he doesn’t speak english, I can call him.”

Got there, loaded up the corner cupboard (a steal at 150 bucks), programmed google maps to get us to McKeesport, and off we went. The guy we were buying them from had a NYC cell phone number and a British accent, and when we got to the address, and it was not a nice area. At all. Although I do think I know where to buy some drugs now. At any rate, we called him, and he said he was waiting outside, but there was no one there. Again, this was a sketchy neighborhood, and this was craigslist, and the chairs were 300 bucks, so I said to Gerald “maybe this is a setup and we’re about to get jacked.” That is when the guy called back and told us that we must be at the north version of that address, he is at the south version of that address, on the other side of the library. I thought DC was the only place that had that kind of fuckery, but we drove off and got to a part of the neighborhood that was WORSE.

Outside is this sketchy looking dude, barefoot, looking like a 60 year old Jeff Spicoli. And he was living in and ABANDONED CHURCH. I told Gerald I would go in and pay and we would get the chairs, and he could stay with the car because Gerald for reasons I do not know is afraid of churches. Some things are best left unasked. The guy said “oh no, you don’t want to do that” and ushered us inside and deadbolted the door after we were in. At any rate, the church was completely gutted on the inside, the flooring was nothing but 1/2″ plywood, and he had fashioned a living room in the middle and a kitchen in the corner and the whole interior was under construction and there were antiques everywhere. Got the chairs, loaded them up, and at this point we had some serious Beverly Hillbillies shit going on.

For extra flavor, I was wearing overalls. Because that’s how I roll.

Drove an hour to Washington, got to the gas station, no wallet. In fact, I think the guy was proud of the fact that he had learned the word wallet, because he said “no wallet” three times and smiled. Loaded up, drove off and… hit a Philly sized pothole and the glass in the corner cupboard shattered.

Five minutes later, the check engine light went on, and the car started missing horribly. Fortunately, if there is one person in the world to be with when a car breaks down, it is Gerald, because the guy is a fucking genius who can do anything with cars. we turned and went back a couple miles to an Advanced Auto Parts, ran a diagnostic, and most of my spark plugs had gone tits up. Bought some spark plugs and just gambled we would make it home, and if not, he would have his cousin bring tools to wherever we broke down and he would MacGuyver some shit with the new plugs.

Got home. A four hour trip turned into eight, the glass in the cupboard is shattered, my car is in need of the ER, and someone shit in the living room while I was gone and I know it was fucking Rosie.

Here’s the corner cupboard and a stark reminder that my photography skills blow:

I need a shower.



Today in Domestic Terrorism and Stochastic Violence: Mosque Arson in Florida

The Islamic Society of New Tampa/Masjid Dar es Salaam, which is in Thonotasassa (a suburb/bedroom community of Tampa), was attacked early Friday morning (autoplay vid at the link). It was arson.

The positive news is that a neighboring church, the Cypress Point Community Church, allowed the members of the mosque to hold their Friday prayers there. The Hillsborough County Fire Department has the lead on the investigation, but the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms was also on site and is providing support. I haven’t seen any information on a possible suspect, but this is the second arson at a Florida mosque in six months.



Depraved Leprechaun Open Thread: AG Jefferson Beauregard Sessions Pines for the Days of Chain Gangs

AG Sessions, poison flower of Southern ‘manhood’, sees no reason why his cronies shouldn’t make a buck off those uppity… lawbreakers.

And there are even worse legislators at the state level…



Friday Evening Open Thread: Put Out More (Russian) Flags!

TPM explains:

Two young, progressive activists from DC, Jason Charter and Ryan Clayton with the group Americans Take Action, purchased tickets to the conference, and handed out nearly 1,000 flags to attendees as a prank. After they were thrown out of the conference, they told TPM they wanted to “shed light on an important issue”—namely, the drip of revelations of backchannel communications between the Russian government and the Trump campaign—and allow people to “get a laugh out of their day.”

Charter, 22, told TPM by phone that he and Clayton organized the prank in order to “honor Trump’s relationship with Putin.” He said almost no one at CPAC seemed to realize the flag he handed them bore the horizontal red, white, and blue stripes of the Russian Federation underneath Trump’s name…

Apart from cheering on the pranksters, what’s on the agenda as we prepare to start the weekend?

The President-Asterisk is on it!!!!



Maybe everything that dies some day comes back

Apropos of my desire for Phillip Seymour Hoffman to play Steve Bannon from beyond the grave, reader J writes:

Your blog post got me thinking – What if I could use CGI to cast a dead actor or actress for a role in a previously released film? Which dead actor or actress would I choose and which role would I select? If there’s a lull in the Trump feeding frenzy, would you consider a thread asking readers to offer up their suggestions?

His pick will be hard to top:

After some deliberation, this is what I dreamt up:

I’d create a new version of The Godfather Part II in which I’d cast Jimmy Stewart in the role of Senator Pat Geary.








Why we need to fight

First a story from Jacy:

I had a catastrophic plan the first year — which was the year I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer that July. Living in Louisiana, I fell into the “Jindal Hole,” where I made too much money for Medicaid but not enough money to qualify for a subsidy. It was a nightmare. Out-of-pocket cap was supposed to be $6,300 after a $4,200 deductible (which was a fortune that I couldn’t afford anyway…), but having a major diagnosis meant that I racked up bills so fast that they couldn’t even process the claims to figure out when the insurance would kick in. Fast forward to October, where I was standing at the reception desk of the oncologist’s office, crying, because I couldn’t pay the $5,000 copay to get the chemotherapy I was scheduled for that day. I was paying almost $500 a month for insurance, had spent borrowed and spent nearly $7,000 in copays and deposits to meet my deductible and and out-of-pocket cap, but none of that mattered. I had to postpone chemotherapy and spent the next several days on the phone trying to get someone to authorize treatment or find some way to come up with thousands of more dollars on the spot.

The next year, I made enough money to get a silver plan, and I was paying $128 a month in premiums, with a $200 deductible, after which everything was totally covered. I would not have survived another year on the catastrophic plan.

And then a story from the truly bad old days as written in the LA Times:

When Steve and Leslie Shaeffer’s daughter, Selah, was diagnosed at age 4 with a potentially fatal tumor in her jaw, they figured their health insurance would cover the bulk of her treatment costs.

Instead, almost two years later, the Murrieta, Calif., couple face more than $60,000 in medical bills and fear the loss of their dream home. They struggle to stave off creditors as they try to figure out how Selah can keep seeing the physician they credit with saving her life.

“We’re in big trouble,” Leslie said.

Shortly after Selah’s medical bills hit $20,000, Blue Cross stopped covering them and eventually canceled her coverage retroactively, refusing to pay for treatment, including surgery the insurer had authorized in advance.

The company accused the Shaeffers of failing to disclose in their coverage application an undiagnosed bump on Selah’s chin and physician visits for croup. Had that been disclosed, the company said in a letter, it would not have insured Selah.

(h/t Charles Gaba)

Let’s avoid the bad old days.



Brand new cadillac

This sounds like a real winner politically:

A draft House Republican repeal bill would dismantle Obamacare subsidies and scrap its Medicaid expansion, according to a copy of the proposal obtained by POLITICO.

The legislation would take down the foundation of Obamacare, including the unpopular individual mandate, subsidies based on people’s income, and all of the law’s taxes. It would significantly roll back Medicaid spending and give states money to create high-risk pools for some people with pre-existing conditions. Some elements would be effective right away; others not until 2020.

The replacement would be paid for by limiting tax breaks on generous health plans people get at work — an idea that is similar to the Obamacare “Cadillac tax” that Republicans have fought to repeal.








Age based subsidies and geographic disparities

I am reading through the leaked Republican Reconciliation bill at Politico.  

P.66 has the replacement subsidies that are determined solely by age and do not reflect either income or local cost of coverage:

  • 18 to 29 — $2,000 year
  • 30-39 — $2,500 year
  • 40-49 — $3,000 year (note mid-40s is when the cost curve which is incresing from a 3:1 band to a 5:1 band starts getting expensive)
  • 50-59 — $3,500 year
  • 60+ — $4,000 year

There are major distributional impacts that will kick the Republican base voters in the teeth.  Most notably the increase of the age premium band from 3:1 to 5:1 will make insurance much more expensive for older insured individuals.  The subsidy band is only 2:1.

In Pittsburgh under the 3:1 band, a 29 year old can buy a catastrophic policy today for less than their monthly subsidy. A Bronze plan would cost $20 out of pocket every month and a Silver plan $47 per month.  Under the same banding, a 64 year old with their $333 non-income adjusted subsidy will be able to buy a catastrophic policy for $89 per month, a Bronze plan for $152 per month and a Silver plan for $211 per month.  This is a favorable set of assumptions for the 64 year old as the age banding is 3:1 instead of 5:1.  Less favorable assumptions would make the Silver policy cost $600 or more after subsidy for a 64 year old.  The only person who will buy that policy is someone who is already getting extremely expensive treatment in the hospital.

That appeals to liberal moral interest and a bit of schradenfreude.  A more useful angle of attack is to look at what that 29 year old and 64 year old can buy after the subsidy in Alaska (zip code 99501).  There a 64 year old under 3:1 band would see a Bronze plan cost them $1,300 a month and a Silver plan cost them $1,700 a month after the flat age based subsidy is applied.  These numbers will get even larger once a 5:1 premium band is applied.  This will death spiral the individual market.

Apply the same analysis to Arizona which also has two Republican Senators that count on an older supporting voter base and there are stories to tell which will inflict significant political risk to Republican Senators.



Revisiting the three legged stool

Paul Krugman has used the three legged stool analogy to describe the ACA several times.  It is an analogy that is vivid in its description and useful in its implications:

Yes! The Court (minus the three stooges) understood that the ACA is designed to work via the “three-legged stool” of guaranteed issue and community rating, the individual mandate, and subsidies. All three elements are needed to make it work, which is why it was obvious to anyone who paid any attention that the lawsuit was nonsense.

There is a problem with this analogy.  It is too specific.

There are three legs of the stool.  Two can stand without modification.  Guarantee issue with community rating stands as a firm leg.  It means that anyone can get a policy at a standard rate.  In the ACA, that standard rate is based on the county or zip code of residence and age of the applicant.  Subsidies also are a firm leg.  They help people who can not afford the standard rate pay for the standard rate.

The third leg of the stool is a pool participation mechanism.  The individual mandate is a specific type of the third leg.  There are other mechanical techniques that can fundamentally perform the same needed function of getting people who think that they will be relatively healthy and low utilizers into the insured risk pool.  100% subsidy for the premium and auto-enrollment with an opt-out performs the same function as the mandate in getting healthy people in the pool.  It would force a lot more healthy people into the pool at a higher expenditure for a given level of actuarial value coverage.  Late enrollment penalties like those used in Medicare that are long lasting and significant are another approach to get healthy people in the current period into the pool.  Multi-year contracts that extend the zone of uncertainty and risk theoretically perform the same function.

All of these techniques are ways to minimize the cost gap between not being covered at all and being covered at a minimal level while participating in the pool.  They attack the same problem from a variety of angles but they are functionally similar to each other.

So the actual three legged stool of the ACA is community-rated guarantee issue, subsidies and pool participation mechanism.  Keep this in mind as we again talk health reform over the next year.








Something Nice

Here’s an urban animal rescuer in Germany removing a hook from a swan’s leg and releasing a rehabilitated fox:

Did you notice the little fuzzy cygnets paddling around the pair of adult swans before Stefan Bröckling so deftly captured the injured party? So cute!

My daughter and I rescued an injured seagull from a supermarket parking lot several years ago. It had been hit by a car (I think) and lost the use of a wing.

I called a local seabird rescue place to report it, and they said they couldn’t send anyone to capture it, but told me if we brought it to them, they’d give it medical attention.

The thing about seagulls? They’re FAST! It took us the better part of an hour to corral the critter, which we chased between parked cars, under shopping carts and over median strips. We finally cornered it in a flower bed, threw a towel over it and placed it gently in a cardboard box for the hour-plus trip to the seabird rescue.

My daughter sat in the backseat cradling the box, with the gull shrieking and raising hell inside. At one point, as we neared the top of a very tall bridge, it nearly escaped. I pictured it leaping over the seat and pecking at my eyes, causing me to lose control of the car and plummet over the guardrail into the bay 400-plus feet below.

But luckily, my daughter was able to contain it, and we delivered it to the rescue place without further incident.

Anyhoo, hope your Friday is going well.








An open letter to insurance commissioners regarding baseline maximization

To any Insurance Commissioner:

This is an open letter to insurance commissioners who believe it is their legal and moral duty to protect the citizens of their state in the face of increasing policy uncertainty.  I strongly urge that the following actuarial guidance be sent to all carriers that are considering submitting rates for the individual market for the 2018 rate year as this will provide significant protection for subsidized individuals in 2018 and potential long term insulation from several of the policy changes that are currently being debated in Washington.

“All carriers that wish to submit rates for qualified health plans for the 2018 shall use the assumption for all on-Exchange plans that the individual mandate will not be enforced.  An alternative secondary submission shall be prepared with the assumption that there is no material change in the enforcement of the individual mandate.”

Furthermore, states should seek to reduce the number of plans that are offered, approved and authorized for sale on Exchange, specifically on the Silver metal band.  Increasing the difference in price between the least expensive Silver plan on the Exchange and the second least expensive Silver plan will lead to far lower post-subsidy premiums and a healthier risk pool.  

These strategies will help protect residents and citizens of your state in 2018 within the current uncertain political and policy environment.  This protection emerges from two directions.  First it will give permission to carriers to realistically budget and plan for the next plan year which should increase the probability that carriers will offer plans in all markets even if there are significant rate increases needed to counteract any potential off-Exchange death spirals in the non-subsidized portion of the individual common risk pool.

Secondly, there are several bills that are being mooted about that seek to block grant future health insurance subsidies on a state by state basis where the baseline for the funding will be CBO projected subsidy spending under PPACA as it is currently written and implemented.  If the law is changed to reflect this, it is in the best interest of your state to have as high of a baseline as possible in order to guarantee the best coverage for as many of your citizens as possible.  If your department determines that the individual mandate enforcement is not certain and authorizes very large premium increases for on and off Exchange plans this summer, the baseline spending allocation will be significantly higher for your state than if you authorize very low rate increases which could lead to carriers withdrawing en masse which would be a human tragedy in 2018 with decades of repercussions.

Aggressively asking for actuarial sound scenarios will further your charge to protect your state’s insurance market and citizens.