Obamacare’s Steady Progression

Washington Post: “Obamacare’s opponents have heralded reports from various parts of the country warning of double-digit percentage increases in insurance premiums proposed over the past couple of months. (These are premiums for individuals buying insurance on ACA marketplaces; employer-sponsored plans, which most Americans have, are not the primary focus of the law.) For example: Even after regulator review, Oregon’s largest ACA marketplace insurance plan will hike its 2016 premiums by 25 percent, and its second largest by 33 percent.”

“Big increases in the price of one insurance product, however, don’t necessarily represent overall trends. The Kaiser Family Foundation has produced a comprehensive study of 2016 premium increases and found that benchmark plans in 10 states and the District are rising an average of only 4.4 percent. Some insurers are decreasing their premiums by double digit percentages next year; others are increasing them by double digit percentages; many others are seeing relatively modest changes. The Department of Health and Human Services found in June that ‘most people will be enrolled in plans with proposed rate increases of less than 10 percent.'”

“True, average numbers won’t be comfortable to those facing double-digit premium increases in an insurance plan they like. Yet these customers aren’t locked into that plan. An HHS study released Thursday found that market competition increased markedly in 2015, and Obama administration officials predict it will again in 2016. People, in other words, have options.”

What a $15 Minimum Wage Would Mean in Every State

Washington Post: “The map above shows the real purchasing power of $15 in every state. In Honolulu, the priciest urban area in the United States, a $15 minimum wage is only worth about $12.24; in rural West Virginia, meanwhile, where prices are lower than anywhere else in the country, $15 is worth closer to $20. The only place where $15 is actually worth $15 is Allentown, Pennsylvania, according to Pew.”

Why Spending More on Health Care Is Actually a Good Thing

Megan McArdle: “In recent years, health care cost growth has slowed down. This is great news for the federal budget, and for those of us who, you know, get health care occasionally. Unfortunately, researchers from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services project that the good news may be over. With the population aging, the economy recovering, and Obamacare expanding coverage, they expect health care cost growth to average almost 6 percent over the next decade.”

“That’s not all bad news. The population is aging because people are living longer. And economic recovery will give us more income to pay our higher health care costs. The newly insured are presumably pretty happy about it too. So there’s no reason to go into paroxysms of mourning over this news. However, it does cast light on a debate that has been going on for some time: why growth in health expenditures has gone down.”

Coal Has Already Been In Decline

Washington Post: Notice that coal’s drop doesn’t correlate to growth in wind power or solar. It’s natural gas that’s eating into coal’s market, a function of improvements in hydraulic fracturing (better known as “fracking”). Only a few weeks ago, natural gas passed coal as a source of electricity. When burned, coal produces far, far more carbon dioxide than natural gas. But natural gas itself, which is mostly methane, often leaks from drilling sites — and methane is a far more effective heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide, meaning that it’s worse for global warming on a ton-per-ton basis.”

Government Shutdown Now More Likely Than Not

“The chance of a federal government shutdown increased dramatically and precipitously last week from 40 percent to 60 percent. It’s now more likely than not that a shutdown will result from the craziness going on in Washington,” Stan Collender writes.

“With the House already in recess until after Labor Day and the Senate about to leave town this week, all of the components that had led to my previous 40 percent estimate got worse. There’s now even less time – Congress will be in session only a handful of days before the fiscal year begins on October 1 – for the House and Senate to devote to appropriations.”

“The leadership has already admitted that nothing has been decided about how to deal with this situation. In other words, this will be the kind of last minute, ad hoc decision that in the past has repeatedly failed and led to unwanted consequences…like a shutdown. In budget technical terms, the House and Senate leadership will be flying by the seat of its pants.”

Some Good News for the 99 Percent?

James Pethokoukis, in The Week, argues that the economy isn’t as bad as it seems.

“What if things are actually a lot better than we think — or at least better than GDP figures suggest? Think about it: Month after month, the economy is generating about a quarter million net new jobs. The unemployment rate is close to 5 percent. Corporate profit margins are at record highs, with stock values not far behind. And Silicon Valley is on fire.”

“So why then do the all-important GDP numbers — the broadest measures of economic activity — show a perpetual funk? It’s a puzzle for which Goldman Sachs has a simple answer: We are measuring productivity wrong, and therefore we are measuring GDP wrong.”

“U.S. inflation is lower than we think due to sharply falling, ‘quality adjusted’ IT hardware and software prices — and thus real economic growth and productivity are higher. GDP growth might actually be close to 3 percent right now, which would be more in sync with what’s happening in labor markets and the tech sector. Oh, and it also means real incomes are growing faster than we think, which is why the economists are ‘skeptical of confident pronouncements’ that American living standards aren’t improving as fast as they used to. By the way, new analysis by the Peterson Institute suggests worker incomes have pretty much been keeping up with productivity gains. So perhaps more good news for the 99 percent.”

‘Trumpcare’ Looks a Lot Like Obamacare

Sahil Kapur in Bloomberg: “Donald Trump says Obamacare is ‘very bad’ and needs to go. ‘Repeal and replace with something terrific,’ he told CNN on Wednesday.”

“What would the terrific replacement be? The Republican presidential front-runner was vague, but health experts say that a number of the broad replacement ideas he outlined sound similar” to Obamacare.

“Trump proposed: competing private plans (which Obamacare exchanges provide for); protecting hospitals from catastrophic events (which Obamacare deals with by requiring people to get insurance so they don’t pass on their emergency care costs), and government plans for low-income people who get sick and lack options (which Obamacare does by expanding Medicaid).”

“‘He should take a closer look at the ACA, he might like it,’ said Timothy Jost, a leading expert on Obamacare who supports the law. ‘What he is proposing does look a lot like the ACA.'”

“As Obama does in promoting his plan, Trump emphasized the value of universal coverage. That includes people ‘at the lower end’ of the income spectrum, he said, who won’t get ‘the finest plan’ but deserve to be covered. He was unapologetic about his goal to help provide health care for low-income people, even if it costs him the Republican nomination.”

Obamacare Led to Increased Competition

USA Today: “Competition among insurers offering plans on the federal health care exchange rose between last year and this year, tamping down growth in premiums, says a federal report released Thursday.”

“The report says 86% of people eligible for qualified health plans on HealthCare.gov had access to at least three insurers this year, up from 70% in 2014. Nearly 60% of U.S. counties saw a net gain of at least one insurer, 8% saw a loss, and 33% saw their numbers unchanged, the report says.”

“Competition affected how much people paid for their plans, the report says, with premium growth between 2014 and 2015 for benchmark (second-lowest cost) silver plans 8.4 percentage points lower in counties that gained insurers than in other counties. In fact, a net gain of one insurer was associated with a 2.8 percentage point drop in the rate of benchmark premium growth.”

“The average growth rate in the benchmark premium was 2%, the report says.”

The Rent is Too Damn High

Wall Street Journal: “The cost of renting a home is rising faster than wages across wide swaths of the country, a problem that has become especially acute in the past year, putting a big squeeze on many household budgets.”

“The situation is particularly noticeable in long-pricey areas across the West and in big cities like New York, where the average household pays more than 40% of its gross income for rent, according to online real-estate database Zillow. But rising prices also have spilled over into cities like Denver, Atlanta and Nashville.”

“The homeownership rate hit a 48-year low, according to estimates published Tuesday by the Commerce Department, declining to 63.4% in the second quarter from 64.7% in the year-earlier period.”

California’s Obamacare Success: A Model for the Nation?

Kaiser Health News: “A statewide survey has found that newly insured Californians no longer rank health care costs as their top financial concern. It has dropped below other essentials such as housing, utilities and gasoline.”

“About two-thirds of Californians who were uninsured in 2013 now have health insurance, according to the survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which was released Thursday.”

“The Kaiser Family Foundation survey found the recently insured are largely satisfied with their coverage, including 83 percent of Medi-Cal enrollees and 63 percent of Californians who purchased private plans on the Covered California exchange. One positive, according to the survey respondents, was that they are having an easier time getting medical attention.”

KFF CA tracking 600

“The survey also found a striking reduction in the percentage of recently insured Californians who struggled to pay medical bills: 23 percent said they faced difficulties, down from 45 percent in 2013.”

Trump’s Upward Momentum Slows

Gallup: “The controversy Donald Trump created when he questioned the heroism of Vietnam veteran John McCain on July 18 may have reversed the upward momentum the Republican presidential candidate enjoyed in mid-July, although his ratings have mostly reverted to where they were earlier in the month. Last week, 51% of Republicans viewed him favorably, down from 59% the week prior but similar to 53% in the second week of July.”

Donald Trump Favorable Ratings -- Recent Seven-Day Averages

“Meanwhile, Trump’s image among all national adults continues to tilt negative, with 31% viewing him favorably and 57% unfavorably, essentially unchanged this month.”

“The most recent three-day average through July 28 shows Trump with a 49% favorable score, identical to where he started in July. The fact that Trump not only survived the firestorm that erupted in June over his immigration comments, but initially thrived on it, suggests that he has staying power in the GOP race. But it will soon become clear if his image is now suffering either from a delayed reaction to the McCain controversy, or from more recent issues. Either way, these figures will serve as valuable reference points for evaluating the impact of the first Republican candidate debate coming up next week.”

Who Appeals to the Very Conservative?

Frank Newport at Gallup: “A relatively small group of Republicans, 15%, say that they are very conservative. It is this hard-core group of very right-leaning Republicans that I will focus on in this analysis.”

“One way to look at the data is the straight rank order of the candidates based on the percent of very conservative Republicans who have a favorable opinion of each. The average favorable rating of the 16 candidates among this group is 54%, with ratings ranging from 74% for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at the top, to 17% for former New York Gov. George Pataki at the bottom.”

Favorable Opinions of GOP Candidates Among Very Conservative Republicans

“Seven candidates have favorable ratings of about two-thirds or more among conservative Republicans, including Rubio, Cruz, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, Scott Walker and Ben Carson. At the other end of the spectrum, the losers among conservative Republicans are Pataki, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich, Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina, each with a favorable rating of less than 50%.”

Who Are Trump’s Supporters? Uneducated Whites.

Washington Post: “Trump’s support is strongest with Republicans in the Midwest, conservatives across the country who do not have a college degree and (perhaps not surprisingly) those who report the most negative views of immigration and Mexican immigrants in particular, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released last week.”

Source: July Washington Post- ABC News poll

“Economic worries as well as anxiety about a shifting cultural landscape have long been hard to separate from this. American immigration policy has even been directly shaped by these forces. And people who face the most direct competition with immigrants for jobs or see large numbers of immigrant workers entering or working in their fields have repeatedly fueled or responded to political movements in the United States that center around concern, fear and or loathing of immigrants.”

“Immigrant workers are clustered in manual labor jobs, service industry work and some factory and retail positions. These are, of course, jobs largely held by American-born people of color and whites with limited education … In regions such as the Midwest and South, where globalization and American trade deals have arguably ravaged industries that once provided family-sustaining wages for some of these same sets of workers, the competition for even these often low-wage jobs is intense.”

Don’t Panic About Health Spending Projections

Drew Altman: “Rather like a broken record, I have been warning for years that historically low rates of increase in health-care spending would not last. Now it’s time for a different warning: The higher rates of growth now expected are moderate and should be seen in context. Media outlets–especially headline writers–should take care not to dramatize them.”

“The chart above shows why. Whatever the wishful thinking, the slowed rates of 2008 to 2013 did not represent a watershed period when we had some secret formula for controlling growth in health spending; they were an aberration … But the projected 2014-24 growth rate is moderate by historical standards, and a bounce back to the higher growth rates of the past is unlikely given the many changes in the marketplace and in public programs aimed at restraining costs and producing greater value per health-care dollar. The increases in premiums that employers and most Americans pay for group coverage are likely to remain moderate for the immediate future.”