Bernie Sanders’ Health-Care Plan and Its Magic Asterisk

Megan McArdle in Bloomberg asks how Sanders proposes to pay for his health-care plan.

“National Health Expenditure data … says we spent about $3 trillion on health care in 2014 from all sources … Now the government already spends $1.3 trillion, or thereabouts, so … that leaves us with about $1.7 trillion to go. Yet Sanders claims that his plan, despite providing vastly more generous health benefits than basically any plan in existence, will cost only $1.35 trillion a year. That’s a pretty big gap. How does he get there? ‘Reforming our health-care system, simplifying our payment structure and incentivizing new ways to make sure patients are actually getting better health care will generate massive savings.’”

Sanders “has proposed a Magic Asterisk worth a third of a trillion dollars a year … But of course, it would be DOA anyway … Sanders won’t easily persuade congressional Democrats to embark upon another such bruising, vote-losing political battle.”

“The very fact that Sanders relies on the Magic Asterisk shows us just how impossible single payer is in this country. Even Sanders — its fondest supporter, who never met a high-income tax he didn’t like — knows he can’t be upfront about the cost and raise taxes accordingly. If Sanders won’t do it, then no one else will either.”

“Single payer’s off the table, for now and for the foreseeable future. The only place you’re going to see it is on Bernie Sanders’s website.”

Will 2016 Surpass 2015 as the Hottest Year on Record?

Ecowatch: There is unlikely to be any respite from the increase in global temperatures—”scientists expect 2016 to be even warmer than 2015.”

“In a joint summary with former head of NASA GISS, Dr. James Hansen, Schmidt says 2015 global temperature ‘smashed the prior record’ and ‘should practically terminate’ discussion of any slowdown in the pace of global warming.”

“Yesterday’s news that 2015 was the hottest year on record comes as no great surprise. Perhaps what’s most remarkable is how much hotter it has been.”

How the Met Office’s annual forecasts (grey shading) compare to actual observed temperatures (red) since 2000. The prediction for 2016 is another year of record-breaking warmth, with global temperature expected to fall within 0.72-0.96C above the 1961-1990 average. Photo credit: Met Office

“Given the strength of the current El Niño, we expect 2016 to be even warmer globally than 2015. The lagged effects of El Niño are already starting to appear in the monthly temperature observations which are registering more than 0.8 degrees above norm in recent months. This is consistent with our forecast for unprecedented warmth in the coming year. Overall, we expect El Niño to contribute around 25 percent to what will most likely be a new record global temperature in 2016. Much of the rest is down to climate change.”

Has Obamacare Increased Abortion Restrictions in the U.S.?

The Kaiser Family Foundation 1/21/16 newsletter reports that “on the eve of the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, a new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds 25 states either bar abortion coverage in Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace plans or limit it to cases of rape or incest or when the woman’s life is endangered. In an additional six states, no 2016 ACA plans offer abortion coverage despite the absence of state legislative restrictions (Delaware, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, West Virginia and Wyoming). In three states without bans, plans that include abortion coverage are unavailable in at least one county (Colorado, Illinois and Texas).”

Availability of Abortion Coverage through Marketplace Plans, 2016

“Although the number women gaining access to health insurance coverage is rising, an increasing share of women are facing limitations in the scope of that coverage when it comes to abortion services.  The impact of the abortion coverage restrictions disproportionately affects poor and low-income women who have limited ability to pay for abortion services with out-of-pocket funds … While millions of women have gained health insurance coverage as a result of the ACA insurance expansions, many are enrolled in plans that restrict the circumstances in which abortion services will be covered.”

The Emptiness of America, Mapped

Christopher Ingraham: “The counties shaded blue are the 462 least densely populated counties of the nation. None of them have a population density greater than 7.4 people per square mile. In 65 of these counties, the density is less than one person per square mile.”

“The least-populated place in the United States is Alaska’s Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area. At over 145,000 square miles, it’s larger than New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia — combined. But it’s home to only 5,547 people, for a population density of fewer than 4 people every 100 miles.”

2015 Was Earth’s Warmest Year on Record

Politico: “The Earth’s temperatures reached the warmest level in more than a century of records, breaking the previous high mark set in 2014, federal scientists said Wednesday.”

“The data is the latest to show the upward trend in the Earth’s temperature, which scientists say is caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere.”

“Overall, 2015 global temperatures rose by 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit over the 20th century average, reaching the highest level in 136 of record-keeping, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA said. Last year’s temperatures surpassed the 2014 record by a wide 0.29-degree margin.”

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Is Drug Addiction the Biggest Health Epidemic in the U.S.?

New York Times: “Deaths from drug overdoses have jumped in nearly every county across the United States, driven largely by an explosion in addiction to prescription painkillers and heroin. Some of the largest concentrations of overdose deaths were in Appalachia and the Southwest, according to new county-level estimates released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

“The death rate from drug overdoses is climbing at a much faster pace than other causes of death, jumping to an average of 15 per 100,000 in 2014 from nine per 100,000 in 2003.”

“The trend is now similar to that of the H.I.V. epidemic in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said Robert Anderson, the C.D.C.’s chief of mortality statistics.”

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“Drug overdoses cut across rural-urban boundaries. In fact, death rates from overdoses in rural areas now outpace the rate in large metropolitan areas, which historically had higher rates.”

The Best and Worst of a Trump Presidency

Gallup: “Asked to name the best or most positive thing about a possible Donald Trump presidency if he were to be elected in 2016, Americans most commonly volunteer his business background, policies on immigration and honesty — that he says what he feels. Other positives mentioned by at least 5% of Americans are his confidence — that he doesn’t back down — and that he would improve the economy. More than four in 10 cannot name anything positive about a potential Trump presidency.”

Suppose Donald Trump is elected president in 2016. In your view, what would be the best or most positive thing about a Donald Trump presidency? January 2016 results

“A clear majority of Republicans are able to come up with a negative aspect of Trump in the White House, also underscoring that by no means do all of those who identify with his party view him positively. Trump’s outsized personality is a dominant part of the way Americans are judging him and his campaign for the presidency. In particular, his personal style and way of expressing himself have become a major part of what Americans say would be the worst things about a possible Trump presidency. At the same time, some of Trump’s personality traits are viewed as positives, including his saying what he feels and not backing down from his controversial statements.”

Getting a Driver’s License is Losing Popularity in the US

Washington Post: “A new study from the University of Michigan’s Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle tracks data on the share of Americans of different ages who have driver’s licenses. Turns out that among the young, the share has plummeted over the last three decades.”

“It’s unclear what’s behind these longer-term downswings in driver’s licensing. Maybe they have to do with increased urbanization, changes in access to public transit, changes in licensing laws or other forces.”

Trump Seizes Opportunity for Rising Authoritarianism

Matthew MacWilliams, writing in Politico, argues that “Trump’s electoral strength—and his staying power—have been buoyed, above all, by Americans with authoritarian inclinations. And because of the prevalence of authoritarians in the American electorate, among Democrats as well as Republicans, it’s very possible that Trump’s fan base will continue to grow.”

“My finding is the result of a national poll I conducted … I found that education, income, gender, age, ideology and religiosity had no significant bearing on a Republican voter’s preferred candidate. Only two of the variables I looked at were statistically significant: authoritarianism, followed by fear of terrorism, though the former was far more significant than the latter.”

“So what does this mean for the election? It doesn’t just help us understand what motivates Trump’s backers—it suggests that his support isn’t capped. In a statistical analysis of the polling results, I found that Trump has already captured 43 percent of Republican primary voters who are strong authoritarians, and 37 percent of Republican authoritarians overall.”

“So, those who say a Trump presidency ‘can’t happen here’ should check their conventional wisdom at the door. The candidate has confounded conventional expectations this primary season because those expectations are based on an oversimplified caricature of the electorate in general and his supporters in particular. Conditions are ripe for an authoritarian leader to emerge. Trump is seizing the opportunity.”

Flint Water Crisis Underscores the Need for Big Government

Katrina vanden Heuvel argues that “the water crisis in Flint represents more than a catastrophic political failure. It is also a direct consequence of decades of policies based on the premise that government spending is always a problem and never a solution. Long before Flint tried to reduce spending by moving to a cheaper water source, the pipes that ultimately poisoned the water were neglected. Across the country, crumbling infrastructure is a pervasive threat that is creating serious issues in other cities and could produce similar crises . As Michigan State University economist Eric Scorsone explained , ‘Flint is an extreme case, but nationally, there’s been a lack of investment in water infrastructure. This is a common problem nationally — infrastructure maintenance has not kept up.’”

“Frustration and distrust of government is understandable when politicians like [Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder] and their cronies are so blatantly unaccountable to the public. Indeed, when government is polluted by officials who put corporate interests above their constituents and cost-cutting above the common good, it too often fails to fulfill even its most basic functions, such as protecting access to safe drinking water. But instead of giving in to anger and austerity, in this election, we should be having a vigorous debate about how government can be truly accountable to the people it serves.”

A Different Way of Visualizing the U.S. Economy

Matthew Yglesias: “This cool diagram from HowMuch.net gives us a different way to visualize the entire US economy, depicting the whole thing as a big circle and then slicing it up by state, with each state’s area representing its share of total economic output:”

“Florida punches a bit below its weight in terms of population, in part because a large share of the state’s residents are retired. There are also disparities related to wealth. New Jersey has fewer people than North Carolina, Michigan, or Georgia, but it contributes more to the national economy since the productivity per worker in New Jersey is much higher.”

Acceptance of Gays in U.S. at a New High

Gallup: “A new high of 60% of Americans say they are satisfied with the acceptance of gays and lesbians in the U.S. — up from 53% in 2014 and 2015. As recently as 10 years ago, satisfaction was as low as 32%.”

Trend: Americans' Satisfaction With Acceptance of Gays and Lesbians in the U.S.

“But despite being in the minority, there are many Americans who are unhappy with the advancements made in gay rights, and there are judges, religious figures and GOP presidential candidates who seek to undo what gay rights supporters have achieved. Meanwhile, another faction of Americans are dissatisfied because they seek more acceptance for gays and lesbians — perhaps in response to continued efforts to walk back newly achieved gay rights, hate crimes against LGBT people and other acts of intolerance directed at the community.”

Cuomo Pledges to Phase Out Coal in New York by 2020

The Hill: “New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Wednesday he aims to phase out coal-fired power plants in the state by 2020.”

“‘We will help the few remaining coal plants transition but we must clean our air and protect our health and that must be our first priority,’ he said. New York only gets about 1.3 percent of its electricity from coal, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.”

“In his speech, Cuomo also reaffirmed his plans to cut carbon pollution in New York by 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. He has mandated that the state get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and pledged to add 150,000 solar panels and 300 wind turbines around the state. ”

“Cuomo’s energy pledges are among the most aggressive in the nation. Hawaii lawmakers lawmakers passed a law last year mandating 100-percent renewable energy by 2045. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has pushed to generate half its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.”

Renewables Finish Another Record-Breaking Year

Bloomberg: “Renewables just finished another record-breaking year, with more money invested ($329 billion) and more capacity added (121 gigawatts) than ever before, according to new data released Thursday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.”

“This wasn’t supposed to happen. Oil, coal and natural gas bottomed out over the last 18 months, with bargain prices not seen in a decade. That’s just one of a handful of reasons 2015 should have been a rough year for clean energy. But the opposite was true.”

Bloomberg: “The 4 percent increase in clean energy technology spending from 2014 reflected tumbling prices for photovoltaics and wind turbines as well as a few big financings for offshore wind farms on the drawing board for years, according to research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance released on Thursday.”

“Another ‘strong year’ is in store for renewables in 2016, said Angus McCrone, chief editor at BNEF, stopping short of saying another record will be reached. “