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'Skinny' health insurance isn't really insurance at all

Would you like to have a "skinny" health insurance policy? Probably not. But if you're employed by a large company, you may get one, thanks to Obamacare.
That's the conclusion of Wall Street Journal reporters Christopher Weaver and Anna Wilde Mathews. They report that insurance brokers are pitching and selling "low-benefit" policies across the country.
You might be wondering what a "skinny" or "low-benefit" insurance plan is. The terms may vary, but the basic idea is that policies would cover preventive care, a limited number of doctor visits and perhaps generic drugs.
They wouldn't cover things such as surgery, hospital stays or prenatal care. That sounds similar to an auto insurance policy that reimburses you when you change the oil but not when your car gets totaled.
You might ask how Obamacare could encourage the proliferation of such policies. It was sold as a way to provide more coverage for more people, after all. And people were told they could keep the health insurance they had.
As Weaver and Mathews explain, Obamacare's requirement that insurance policies include "essential" benefits such as mental health services apply only to small businesses with fewer than 50 employees.
But larger employers, they write, "need only cover preventive service, without a lifetime or annual dollar-value limit, in order to avoid the across-the-workforce penalty." Low-benefit plans may cost an employer only $40 to $100 a month per employee. That's less than the $2,000-per-employee penalty for providing no insurance.
"We wouldn't have anticipated that there'd be demand for these type of Band-Aid plans in 2014," the Journal quotes former White House health adviser Robert Kocher. "Our expectation was that employers would offer high-quality insurance."
Oops. It turns out that Friedrich Hayek may have been right when he wrote that central planners would never have enough information to micromanage the economy.
It's probably true that businesses trying to attract and retain high-skill employees for long-term positions have an economic incentive to offer generous and attractive health insurance. Otherwise they'd lose good people to competitors.But the kind of businesses mentioned in the Journal story — restaurants, retailers, assisted-living chains — tend to employ lower-skill workers who typically work there only temporarily.
In a high-unemployment economy they may not need to offer gold-plated health insurance to get the workforce they need.
Such employers would have to pay a $3,000 penalty for each employee who buys insurance on Obamacare's health insurance exchanges. But it seems likely that many workers, especially young ones, would opt not to pay the hefty premiums for that.
The problem here is that Obamacare's architects seem to misunderstand the concept of insurance.
People buy insurance to pay for low-probability, high-cost and undesirable events. It doesn't make sense to hold onto enough cash to replace your house if it burns when you can buy an insurance policy that will cover that unlikely disaster.
But Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has a different idea of what insurance is.
In response to an American Society of Actuaries report that health insurance premiums would rise 32 percent under Obamacare, she said, "Some of these folks have very high catastrophic plans that don't pay for anything unless you get hit by a bus." Her idea apparently is that insurance should pay for just about every health care procedure.
In her defense, the World War II decision to make the cost of health insurance deductible for employers and nontaxable for employees has moved things in that direction. Many people have come to expect that. But as the Daily Beast's Megan McArdle commented, "Coverage of routine, predictable services is not insurance at all; it's a spectacularly inefficient prepayment plan."
Some Obamacare architects, including its namesake, want to move toward a single-payer system in which government would pay all health care costs.
Many Obamacare opponents want a bigger role for markets, allowing consumers to choose insurance that covers catastrophes and paying for routine costs with tax-free (and in some cases subsidized) dollars.
But if large numbers of employees are enrolled in "skinny" health insurance plans, as the Wall Street Journal article suggests, Obamacare will have produced an unanticipated outcome no one wants. People stuck with these policies will have insurance that pays for the equivalent of oil changes (up to six a year!) but not for the equivalent of wrecked car. Just the opposite of real insurance.
(Syndicated columnist Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Henry Limpman - An open letter to our Belknap County House Delegation

As a community, we Granite Staters can do better when it comes to balancing our state budget and improving the communities we live in. Typically, efforts tend to get stifled by ideological positions in our Legislature that discount the reality of New Hampshire's condition and how public policy affects it. The needs of our communities that can be addressed by additional state revenue must be balanced with the concerns raised by a casino. It is understandable why the House has concerns with the Senate version of the casino bill, but rather than nix it, the House should fix it. I am calling for the Belknap County Delegation to move beyond their current positions and face the reality of where we are as a state; it is time to govern!
It is no secret that for some people, casinos carry a stigma. Furthermore, it is understandable that some could feel that gambling will tarnish the image of New Hampshire tourism. However, we have many problems afflicting our communities that truly tarnish our state's image. Homelessness is on the rise in many communities, signifying our failure to care for those in need, especially the mentally ill. This shortcoming is of further concern when it involves children, which has increasingly become the case. We simply do not have the resources to adequately care for these people who need and deserve our help, and revenues from a casino could contribute to improving our capacity to do so. It would also help the county government avoid the costs of a broken mental health system which end up being down-shifted into our local property taxes.
Another objection to casinos is derived from their capability of possibly inflicting social damage via gambling addiction. This is worth considering, but it is also worth considering where else the state already generates its revenue. Tobacco and alcohol, as well as the lottery, have high potentials to be abused. Yet, we rely on those vice-based commodities to generate a large amount of the state's revenue. I would argue that profiting off of a casino is in a similar vein.
An additional concern is that the Senate version of the casino bill predisposes a specific casino license. Although a single license poses a legitimate concern for the Belknap County Delegation, there is much more at stake, such as the mental health crisis and the capacity to absorb more state budget down-shift. Revenue from a casino could help address these issues as well as the state's reliance on the Medicaid Enhancement Tax which contributes to health insurance inflation and the undermining of health care access.
Lastly, there is the perspective that businesses that rely on tourism and entertainment as part of their business model will be hurt. This is a rather pessimistic stance that implies a certain level of scarcity in the consumer market. Another view is that a high-end destination casino will bring more people to our state, much like the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
In the end, the question really becomes whether it is a bigger "gamble" to govern and get something done to help people in need and deal with the budget down-shifts, or do nothing once again to solve our problems, allowing them to fester.
(Henry Lipman represents Ward 3 on the Laconia City Council. He is senior vice president for Financial Strategies and External Relations at LRGHealthcare of Laconia.)

Last Updated on Friday, 17 May 2013 11:55

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Roy Sanborn - Home thefts increase in Lakes Region

There were 77 residential homes sold in the twelve Lakes Region of N.H. communities covered in this report in April of 2013. The average sales price came in at $299,681 with a median price point of $192,500. Last April we had only 61 sales but the average sales price was a bit higher at $324,580. With 56 percent of the sales below the $200,000 mark last month it is bound to have an effect on the average sales price.
Just like last year, there were a number of home thefts in April in the Lakes Region. I am not sure if the local authorities are going to be able to do much about it. Just like last year these thefts occurred in broad daylight and the perpetrators seemed to have inside help on most of them. Some of these heists required some patience though and they had to be carefully planned and executed to be successful while other used the art of surprise to pull this caper off.
Take for example the case at 351 Horne Road in Belmont. This three bedroom, two and a half, 1,400-square-foot, split level (disguised as a raised ranch) with a D.O.B. of 1989 was whisked away sometime after 9:00 a.m. on April 26th for the criminally low price of $135,000. Where's the crime? Well, this was a short sale in progress, or a "211" Sergeant Joe Friday said. It took only a total of 71 days for this swindle to come down and the thief got away with this property for 58 percent of the tax assessment of $235,500. Now this old girl needed some TLC and was stolen "as is," but the super location, the two car garage, the heated workshop, a 1.46-acre level lot, and an in-ground pool make this a home with a lot of upside. I just hope the new owner doesn't launder money in the pool.
A few weeks earlier at 49 Pinecrest in Gilford another seller got shorted so that the buyer could literally walk away with a whole bag full of equity. This crime scene is a 1967 1,393-square-foot, three bedroom, two bath contemporary home that is in good shape, is situated in a great neighborhood, and has a really nice half acre lot. This crime took a little longer to unfold in this case with the subject property being on the market 426 days and under contract for 161. It took a while for the underworld lawyers to work out the details and how much their cut was going to be. But with a sales price of just $145,000 and a tax assessed value of $218,900, this culprit's patient really paid off.
Another property theft occurred at 171 Sarah Circle in Laconia. This area is known as a very nice part of town and people there just aren't use to this type of criminal activity. Sure enough though, no area is safe. This four bedroom, two and a half bath, 2,261-square-foot cape is a quality built home constructed in 2005 on a .37 acre lot with beach rights to Winnisquam. An agent known as the "undertaker" was involved in this short sale transaction. He enabled some lucky chump to walk away with this fine property for only $197,000 which was way under the current $293,200 assessed value. Six feet under, to be exact. It took him a total of 343 days to mastermind this operation, but the "undertaker" is always willing to wait. It's part of his training.
A bank owned property at 201 Red Hill Road in Moultonborough also got lifted. This contemporary home built in 1994 has 3,468-square-feet of living space, a dedicated second floor master suite, two guest bedrooms, three baths, a beautiful great room with gas fireplace, great deck with mountain views, and guest quarters in the walkout lower level. This home sits on a nice 2.4 acre lot with mountain views in a quiet location that would be perfect for a family meeting if you get my drift. Now this had to be an inside job. Most bank jobs are. I actual sold this property back in 2004 for $496,000 and now even though it is assessed at $350,500 someone managed to steal it for $266,000. There had to be people on the inside on this one.
I am not sure that local law enforcement agencies are equipped or trained to stop this. There were at least 21 sales in April that sold for three quarters or less than their assessed values! Some sold even as low as 26 percnet! When will this crime spree end?
Please feel free to visit www.lakesregionhome.com to learn more about the Lakes Region real estate market and comment on this article and others. . Roy Sanborn is a REALTOR® at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-455-0335.

Last Updated on Friday, 17 May 2013 10:14

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Pat Buchanan - Obama got only 39% of white vote & it mattered not

Has the bell begun to toll for the GOP?
The question arises while reading an analysis of Census Bureau statistics on the 2012 election by Dan Balz and Ted Mellnik. One sentence in their Washington Post story fairly leaps out: "The total number of white voters actually decreased between 2008 and 2012, the first such drop by any group within the population since the bureau started to issue such statistics."
America's white majority, which accounts for nine in 10 of all Republican votes in presidential elections, is not only shrinking as a share of the electorate, but it is declining in numbers, as well.
The Balz-Mellnik piece was primarily about the black vote. Sixty-six percent of the black electorate turned out, to 64 percent of the white electorate. Black turnout in 2012 was higher by 1.7 million than in 2008. Hispanic turnout rose by 1.4 million votes.
But from 2008 to 2012, the white vote fell by 2 million.
This is the crisis of the Grand Old Party: Minorities, peoples of color — Hispanic, black, Asian — gave 80 percent of their votes to Obama. And while the minorities' share of the electorate was 26 percent in 2012, minorities constitute 36.3 percent of the population. And their share of both the electorate and the population is inexorably rising.
Obama won only 39 percent of White America, lowest ever of any victorious presidential candidate. But he did not need any more white votes, when he was carrying people of color 4 to 1.
Any good news in the Census Bureau report for the GOP? Only this: The tremendous turnout of black Americans in 2012 was surely due to Obama's being under ferocious attack and in peril of being repudiated. Black folks turned out in record numbers to rescue the first black president. That situation will not recur in 2016.
Yet the bad news for the Republican Party does not cease. While the total Hispanic vote rose by 1.4 million between 2008 and 2012, some 12 million eligible Hispanics did not bother to vote. And when one considers that Romney lost Hispanics 71-27, any Democratic effort to get out the Hispanic vote is going to be problematic for the GOP.
Only 48 percent of eligible Asians voted. But when they did, they went 70 percent Democratic. Asians' numbers, too, are growing, and as more go to the polls, the GOP crisis deepens.
The Republican response to this gathering disaster?
Led by Senators Marco Rubio, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Republicans are pushing for amnesty and "a path to citizenship" for the 11 to 12 million illegal aliens in the country today.
Who are these folks? Perhaps half are Hispanic, but 90 percent are people of color who, once registered, vote 4-to-1 Democratic. One would not be surprised to hear that the Senate Democratic Caucus had broken out into chants of "Go, Marco, Go!"
Setting aside the illegals invasion Bush 41 and Bush 43 refused to halt, each year a million new immigrants enter and move onto a fast track to citizenship. Between 80 and 90 percent now come from the Third World, and once naturalized, they vote 80 percent Democratic.
This brings us back around to the Electoral College. After Richard Nixon cobbled together his New Majority, the GOP carried 49 states in 1972 and in 1984, 44 states in 1980 and 40 in 1988. In four elections — 1972, 1984, 1988 and 2004 — the Republican Party swept all 11 states of FDR's "Solid South."
Such were the fruits of that evil Southern Strategy.
But when conservatives urged Bush 1 to declare a moratorium on legal immigration in 1992 and build a security fence, the politically correct Republican establishment fought tooth and nail to keep the idea out of the platform. So, where are we?
Eighteen states, including four of the seven mega-states — California, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania — have gone Democratic in six straight elections. Two others, Florida and Ohio, have gone Democratic twice in a row. And white folks are now a minority in the last mega-state, Texas.
In Ohio, which produced seven Republican presidents, more than any other state, Republicans are dropping out, and may be dying out. "Eight years ago, blacks and whites voted at about the same rate (in Ohio)," write Balz and Mellnik. In 2008, "the participation rate for whites dropped to 65 percent, while the rate for blacks rose to 70 percent. Last November, the turnout rate among whites fell to 62 percent, while the rate for blacks ticked up to 72 percent."
From these Census figures, white folks are losing interest in politics and voting. Yet, whites still constitute three-fourths of the electorate and nine in 10 Republican votes.
Query: Is the way to increase the enthusiasm and turnout among this three-fourths of the electorate for the GOP to embrace amnesty and a path to citizenship for 12 million illegal foreign aliens? Or is it to demand the sealing of America's borders against any and all intruders?
Just asking.
(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Froma Harrop - Obama & Clinton won't be destroyed by talking points

On its face, the murder of Americans in Libya, including our ambassador, has absolutely nothing to do with the inappropriate relationship former President Bill Clinton had with a White House intern. But politically, that's another story.
The Republicans had a powerful weapon against President Clinton. But they couldn't stop themselves. It wasn't just wrong; it wasn't just bad or even egregious judgment. They turned it into an impeachable offense and ended up looking worse than the president. Washington overkill, fueled by the bloodthirsty quest for bodies, ultimately provoked the public's revulsion at such gamesmanship. The president ended up the victim.
In those terms, Benghazi is deja vu all over again.
No one doubts that something went terribly wrong in Libya. Mistakes were made. Security was, obviously, woefully inadequate. Those issues have been fully investigated — by no less distinguished a team than former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, who led an independent review board.
No, the issue in Washington is not what went wrong with Libya. The issue is who tampered with Susan Rice's talking points before she went on the Sunday talk shows. Who downplayed the "terrorism" part, and did they do so to make the White House look better? Was there politics going on in the editing of the talking points?
Do they gamble in Casablanca?
Yes, they do. And according to e-mails the president says were handed over months ago, e-mails the Republicans are claiming to be the "smoking gun" that will lead to the president's impeachment and Hillary Clinton's downfall, it appears that many hands took the pen to those talking points before Rice went on television.
So, do Republicans really plan to impeach the president and destroy Hillary Clinton over who tampered with the talking points? Apparently, they think they can. On Monday, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., formally asked (demanded) that Pickering and Mullen sit for interviews with investigators from his committee.
Pickering responded that he welcomes the opportunity to testify, but pointed out the obvious: He and Mullen had been charged with investigating security and safety at diplomatic posts (real issues), not with looking into who tampered with the talking points. The two matters are "not even connectable, as far as I can see."
That's because he can see straight. That's because he's not a politician or a talk-show host.
Both Republicans and Democrats urged humanitarian intervention in Libya. When it appeared that humanitarian intervention triggered terrorism against Americans, that policy should have been subject to careful scrutiny. There are, almost certainly, many lessons to be learned. Pickering and Mullen and Hillary Clinton herself have already testified as to these issues. If further investigation of them is warranted, so be it.
But it is an insult to those who died, and to all of those who are dealing with real problems in this country, to turn this into a Monica Lewinsky-like spectacle focused, this time, not on a blue dress but on the use of a figurative red pen. So Rice was put on television to "spin" the news. Isn't that what everyone does on those shows?
Is Congress really going to spend weeks investigating "spin"?
Maybe I'm angry because I have too many friends struggling through hard times economically, with their health or their kids or their work, too many friends worried about real stuff, hoping there is some way the government can make things better, to have the patience for games I once found amusing to watch. Maybe I'm angry because all that these games accomplish — and the polls bear this out — is dividing us into our usual camps, right down the line, meaning that absolutely nothing gets accomplished, and people hate politics even more than they did before.
But in the end, I'm sure of this much: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are not going to be destroyed by the talking points. As for Republicans who are willing to risk their credibility on blowing up this scandal, that's another thing. Bill Clinton is a whole lot more popular today than Newt Gingrich. You'd think people would learn. They don't.
(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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