Obamacare Contingency Plans Are Few and Far Between

L.A. Times: “Millions of Americans could soon lose health insurance when the Supreme Court decides the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act this month, but states have made few concrete plans to deal with the potential fallout, and they may get little help from Washington, President Obama warned Monday.”

“Just two states whose residents are in jeopardy — Pennsylvania and Delaware — have outlined strategies for preserving subsidies, however.”


Obamacare in the crosshairs

“Oregon, Nevada and New Mexico have officially established their own marketplace, but use the federal HealthCare.gov website to allow consumers to purchase health plans. That approach could shield their residents, depending on how a court ruling is written.”

“But replicating that arrangement may require states to collect fees from insurance companies and to pay the federal government for using HealthCare.gov. Those steps will probably require approval from GOP-controlled legislatures in most states, a huge political barrier. The process would also take time.”

Health Spending Growth Rate Expected to Slow for 2016

The Hill: “The growth in private sector U.S. healthcare spending is expected to slow next year, but continues to rise at a rate above the rest of the economy, according to a new report.”

“The report from PricewaterhouseCoopers projects that private sector healthcare spending will grow by 6.5 percent in 2016. That is a slight reduction from the 6.8 percent growth that was projected for this year, and down from around 10 percent in 2008.”

“Still, healthcare costs continue to grow faster than the rest of the economy, raising concerns about the future. Health spending is currently at 17.4 percent of the economy. ”


Secret Conservative Groups Donated Millions to Promote Climate Skepticism

The Guardian: “The secretive funders behind America’s conservative movement directed around $125m over three years to groups spreading disinformation about climate science and committed to wrecking Barack Obama’s climate change plan, according to an analysis of tax records.”

“The amount is close to half of the anonymous funding disbursed to rightwing groups, underlining the importance of the climate issue to US conservatives.”

“The anonymous cash flow came from two secretive organizations – the Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund – that have been called the ‘Dark Money ATM‘ of the conservative movement.”

“The funds, which when channeled through the two organizations cannot be traced to individual donors, helped build a network of thinktanks and activist groups. These worked to defeat climate bills in Congress and are mobilizing against Environmental Protection Agency rules to reduce carbon pollution from power plants which are due to be finalized this summer. In many cases, the anonymous cash makes up the vast majority of funding received by beneficiaries – more than comes openly from the fossil fuel industry.”

“Organizations funded through the secretive donors operations are also working to roll back measures promoting wind and solar power and block planning for future sea-level rise in state capitals.”

Republicans Face a Growing Predicament on Obamacare

Jonathan Chait argues that if the King v. Burwell lawsuit succeeds, “the Republicans in Congress will find themselves in the same position as when they shut down the government. They will be demanding policy concessions in return for doing something they agree has to happen. Holding out for concessions in those circumstances is very hard. The pressure inevitably grows for the House leadership to bring a Democratic bill to the floor and let it pass with a handful of Republican votes.”

“Alternatively, Congress could remain gridlocked, and leave it to each state to fix the problem by establishing its own exchange, assuming such a course is technically possible. But that would simply replicate at the state level the same dilemma Republicans can’t navigate at the national level: How can Republican elected officials navigate between a public that does not want to throw innocent people off the life-saving care they get through Obamacare, and an activist base demanding they do exactly that?”

Is Fracking Boom Grinding to a Halt?

Bloomberg: “The shale oil boom that turned the U.S. into the world’s largest fuel exporter and brought $3 gasoline back to America’s pumps is grinding to a halt.”

“Crude output from the prolific tight-rock formations such as North Dakota’s Bakken and Texas’s Eagle Ford shale will shrink 1.3 percent to 5.58 million barrels a day this month, based on Energy Information Administration estimates. It’ll drop further in July to 5.49 million, the lowest level since January, the agency said Monday.”

America's Shale Oil Output is Shrinking

“With the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries maintaining its own oil production, U.S. shale is coming under pressure to rebalance a global supply glut. EOG Resources Inc., the country’s biggest shale-oil producer, hedge fund manager Andrew J. Hall and banks including Standard Chartered Plc have forecast declines in U.S. output following last year’s plunge in crude prices. The nation was still pumping the most in four decades in March.”

“The EIA expects production from the shale plays to fall in July by 93,000 barrels a day, the largest drop since the boom began. The steepening decline provides some validation to OPEC members who decided to preserve their market share and let falling prices force others to cut back, said Bill O’Grady, chief market strategist at Confluence Investment Management in St. Louis, which oversees $3.4 billion.”

More Evidence Obamacare is Working

U.S. News & World Report: Sorry to break it to you, but President Barack Obama’s health care law seems to be working.

“Some efficiency measures … appear to be working. In the June 2015 issue of Health Affairs, researchers looked at the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program. The program allowed the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to penalize hospitals with high rates for patients being readmitted within 30 days of treatment of certain conditions. Historically, there hasn’t been much financial motivation for U.S. hospitals to decrease readmission rates … A lack of data transparency on readmission rates and patient outcomes also meant hospitals could largely keep these numbers to themselves.”

A graphic showing the decline in the 30-day readmission rates for Medicare patients in New York.

“Not anymore. Under the program, CMS will eventually be able to charge a penalty of 3 percent of the hospital’s total Medicare reimbursement. The program started at 1 percent in October 2012.  The researchers looked at the readmission rates for patients at New York hospitals in 2008, before the law went into effect, and in 2012. They found a reduction in readmission rates and some evidence that the benefits were spilling over for non-Medicare patients as well.”

There’s a Lot of Derp Out There

Paul Krugman observes that “we live in an age of derp and cheap cynicism.”

“‘Derp’ is … a useful shorthand for an all-too-obvious feature of the modern intellectual landscape: people who keep saying the same thing no matter how much evidence accumulates that it’s completely wrong.”

“But making the same wrong prediction year after year, never acknowledging past errors or considering the possibility that you have the wrong model of how the economy works — well, that’s derp.”

“And there’s a lot of derp out there. Inflation derp, in particular, has become more or less a required position among Republicans. Even economists with solid reputations, whose professional work should have made them skeptical of inflation hysteria, have spent years echoing the paranoia of the goldbugs. And that tells you why derp abides: it’s basically political.”

“(Obamacare derp runs almost as deep as inflation derp).”

“The fact is that there’s less derp on America’s left than there is on the right — but you nonetheless need to fight the temptation to let political convenience dictate your beliefs.”

May Was the Wettest Year on Record in the U.S.

Think Progress: “This May was the United States’ wettest month in all 121 years of record-keeping, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).”

“A total of 4.36 inches fell across the lower 48 states last month — 1.45 inches more than average, NOAA said Monday. Fifteen states saw precipitation that was ‘much above average’ in May, and Oklahoma and Texas experienced their wettest month on record, with precipitation levels ‘more than twice the long-term average,’ according to NOAA.”

“Along with this increased chance of heavy rainfall, scientists also say that some regions will see longer, more intense periods of drought — periods that then could be followed by heavy, intense rainfall. Warmer air can hold more moisture, which means that moisture can collect in the atmosphere for longer than usual and then fall all at once on a region. This ‘weather whiplash’ exacerbates the risk of flooding, as the heavy rain can simply run off the surface of the dry, hard earth, rather than being absorbed by it.”

States Look for Alternative Obamacare Rescue Plans

The Hill: “It may be easier than expected for states to save their ObamaCare subsidies, if the Supreme Court rules against the law this month.”

“Two states — Pennsylvania and Delaware — said this week they would launch their own exchanges, if needed, to keep millions of healthcare dollars flowing after the decision. Both want to use existing pieces of the federal health insurance exchange, like its website and call center — a path that would be far less costly than the way most other states have created their exchanges.”

“If those plans win approval, many of the other 36 states that stand to lose their subsidies could then pursue a similarly simple strategy.”

“But that would spell trouble for Republicans who view the King v. Burwell case as their best chance yet to dismantle President Obama’s healthcare law. GOP members of Congress have repeatedly said they must create a backup plan for states so that they are forced to make ObamaCare ‘fixes.’”

“While a state-based exchange is not defined in the Affordable Care Act, experts say the commonly understood definition has been blurred since the rollout of the law, as more states share technology.”

More Jobs Doesn’t Mean More Job Security

Associated Press:  “The U.S. economy is churning out a lot of jobs these days but not a lot of financial security for many of the people who hold them.”

“Pay growth, though improving, remains tepid. Many workers have few opportunities to advance. Others have taken temporary, part-time or freelance jobs, with little chance of landing full-time permanent work with benefits.”

“As a result, many jobs don’t deliver as much economic punch as they used to. Part of the reason is that U.S. workers have grown less efficient in recent months. When they produce less per hour of work, their earnings power shrinks. So the economy doesn’t fully benefit from the fuel that healthy job growth normally provides.”

“Nearly half of Americans say they couldn’t afford an emergency expense of $400 without borrowing or selling something they own, according to a survey released by the Federal Reserve. A striking 60 percent of those surveyed said they expect to go without a pay raise over the next 12 months.”

“Many of the jobs added since the Great Recession ended in 2009 have been part time in low-paying industries. Those jobs deliver less economic fuel. Nearly 6.7 million part-timers would prefer full-time work – a figure that’s fallen in recent years but remains far above the pre-recession level of 4.6 million.”

How to Fight Climate Change

Inside Climate News investigated 25 years of climate change-related shareholder proposals submitted to Exxon, Chevron and ConocoPhillips … Out of more than 400 resolutions examined by ICN, 113 involved climate change, carbon restrictions and the resulting market shifts that could undermine the companies’ profitability and stock value.”

“More than one-quarter of the climate-related proposals—30 of them—never got to a vote. They were either withdrawn by their sponsors or excluded from ballots because the companies convinced regulators that they had grounds to do so. The remaining 83 were put to a vote: 40 at Exxon, 22 at Chevron and 21 at ConocoPhillips. None got enough votes to pass.”

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 12.49.21 PM

Bill McKibben’s answer: Divestment.

“Divestment won’t move Exxon Mobil directly — that’s impossible; the company is dug in, and someone else will simply buy the stock when it’s sold. But divestment will undercut the industry’s political power, just as happened a generation ago when the issue was South Africa and hundreds of colleges, churches, and state and local governments took action. In the words of … Desmond Tutu, … ‘we were not only able to apply economic pressure on the unjust state but also serious moral pressure.’ Divestment is one tool to change the zeitgeist, so that the day arrives more quickly when the richest and most powerful can no longer mock renewable energy and play down climate change.”

Does Fracking Contaminate Drinking Water?

Josh Fox in Eco Watch says it does: “In a draft report five years in the making, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has confirmed that fracking does indeed contaminate drinking water, a fact the oil and gas industry has vehemently denied. But instead of dismantling the industry’s ‘not one single case of groundwater contamination caused by fracking’ refrain, the EPA decided to go with the misleading headline ‘there is no evidence fracking has led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.’”

“It’s a puzzling conclusion since their study was conspicuously narrow (they did no new case studies, dropped three marquee cases that proved water contamination and dropped all air quality studies from the report).”

“If the EPA is looking for proof of ‘widespread’ contamination before declaring fracking unsafe, they may not have to wait long. The industry’s own data shows that 5 percent of fracking wells leak upon drilling and that number only grows over time.”

“What the EPA presented to the public yesterday was PR, not science and proof of the widespread, systemic contamination of our regulatory bodies by the oil and gas industry.”

Inside Climate News: “EPA officials said the study is not meant to provide a comprehensive tally of water contamination incidents … As a result, the report stitches together a piecemeal picture of fracking-related incidents. It relies on several case studies involving a handful of major incidents … that state regulators investigated. It also uses state data for possible contamination events, such as spills of fracking fluid at well pads, which EPA acknowledges provides a limited scope of the problem.”

Public to SCOTUS: Don’t Demolish Obamacare

Washington Post: “The Affordable Care Act hangs in the balance in the Supreme Court for the second time in three years, but the public has rendered a judgment ahead of the court’s ruling. By a margin of 55 percent to 38 percent, more people say the court should not take action to block federal subsidies in states that didn’t set up their own exchanges, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

“Public opinion on providing subsidies splits in predictably partisan ways — but not overwhelmingly so. Nearly two-thirds of Democrats (65 percent) say the court should not take action to block health insurance subsidies. Fifty-five percent of Republicans say the court should rule against the subsidies. Independents side with keeping subsidies, 57 percent to 36 percent.”

“The disconnect in the new poll — that a majority opposes the law, while a nearly equal majority does not want the Supreme Court to rule against it — is driven by political independents as well as Republicans. Independents oppose the law 56 percent to 35 percent. But they also want a ruling in favor of subsidies by almost exactly the same margin.”

Both Parties Face Pressure to Raise Taxes

“Pressure to raise taxes, at least on the wealthy, is rising,” writes the New York Times.

“Several developments are fueling that pressure. The Tea Party push to slash spending has lost steam and generated a backlash. Defense hawks want more money for the Pentagon, while other Republicans seek additional cash for highway projects. The largest potential targets for further cuts, Social Security and Medicare for the elderly, are hardly politically inviting.”

“Moreover, both parties, at least rhetorically, have embraced the need for Washington to address stagnant middle­class wages and rising income inequality. Enacting significant remedies — whether through new middle­class tax benefits or spending programs — requires cash Washington doesn’t have.”