Topic: General

SC in SC

South Carolinians go the polls today to vote in primaries and for several state office holders, and the future of school choice in the state could be substantially affected by the results. The position of state superintendent is up for grabs, with both pro- and anti-market candidates. There are also several legislative primary races in which incumbent foes of parental choice are being challenged by pro-choice candidates.

Stay tuned for an update tomorrow.

An Actual Anti-Communist Movie

At a time when most of Hollywood still sees Fidel Castro as a hero, it is interesting that a new movie portrays him as anything but.  The Lost City, starring Andy Garcia, Ines Sastre, and Bill Murray (Dustin Hoffman also has a terrific walk on) is a chilling story of the communist rise to power in Cuba.  The love story is bit sappy, but the movie is worth it just for the scene in which the communists ban saxophones as “an imperialist instrument.” And the soundtrack is a treat.   If you’re looking for a change from Al Gore, check it out.


The AMA: Protectionist to the Core

Radley Balko catalogues some of the wackier things going on at the American Medical Association annual meeting this week.  However, those who were worried that the AMA may have abandoned its old tricks should have no fear.

Among the topics the AMA will consider this week is a call for increased regulation of “convenience clinics” that offer an alternative to the physician’s office (and thus threaten physicians’ incomes).  Such clinics are mushrooming in locations like retail stores.  They provide quick access to basic care by trained nurse practitioners, who refer patients to physicians when necessary.  According to a Chicago Tribune report:

“We see lots of minor illnesses like colds, sore throats, and write a lot of prescriptions, typically for viruses,” said Maxwell, who views her clinic as a complement to a physician’s care. “It’s a place they can go when the doctor’s office is closed.”

…As at most other retail clinics, the operators say their offices are open seven days a week, with evening hours, and no appointment is necessary. A doctor comes by to review charts and other decisions made by the nurse practitioners but typically does not see patients.

Such clinics advertise that they will treat patients with routine maladies in 15 minutes or less, the amount of time you might spend in a waiting room at a doctor’s office as physicians pack more patients into a day.

There’s a very simple solution that the AMA could recommend to physicians who feel threatened by the competition:

  1. Expand your office hours;
  2. Shorten your waiting times;
  3. Lower your prices.

But that’s wishful thinking.  The AMA has a long history of using state power to restrict consumer freedom when that freedom might threaten its members’ incomes.  That unsavory tradition is alive and well.

Local Musician Tired of Being Hassled by the Man

A recent article on the new Massachusetts health insurance law quotes an aspiring young musician who is skeptical of both the individual mandate and the subsidies designed to help low-income individuals satisfy the mandate:

“I’m aware that I lead a lifestyle where you have to live really cheaply. So something I think about is what if I tried to do something to make a little more money?” said Crosby. “What if I get a job and I start having to pay several hundreds of dollars for health insurance just because I come out of making a low income? Sometimes I think the state does things that encourage people to stay poor.”

Rock on, Ryan Crosby.  Rock on.

Health Care Policy Interview

I am interviewed by Max Borders here.

There are various views on the right. Mine is probably a bit unusual. But the right is often put in the position of trying to defend our existing so-called private insurance system. I prefer to think of our insurance system as not being very private and being sort of more corporatist in the sense of designed by government and implemented by private firms.

There’s lots more. And even more in Crisis of Abundance.

Charity Doesn’t Begin in This Home

Andrew Cuomo – former secretary of HUD, former candidate for governor of New York, current candidate for attorney general of New York, and best known as the son of former Democratic dream candidate Mario Cuomo – released his tax returns earlier this month. In 2004 and 2005 Cuomo had more than $1.5 million in adjusted gross income. And he gave a total of $2,000 to charity. He made no charitable contributions in 2003, when his income was a bit less than $300,000. It’s no wonder that Cuomo believes passionately in taxing Americans to support all manner of welfare and transfer programs. Looking within himself, he quite understandably fears that in the absence of coerced transfer programs there would be no support for the poor. Yet in fact Americans gave about $250 billion to charity in 2004, or an average of about 2 percent of income.

In a related story, leftwing bloggers two months ago denounced Vice President Cheney for the “shady charitable contributions” reported on his 2005 tax return and called him “a major beneficiary of the Hurricane Katrina tax relief act.” What was so shady? It seems that on an income of almost $9 million (mostly deferred compensation from his years at Halliburton), Cheney gave 77 percent of it, or $6.8 million, to charity. Some beneficiary! To the lefty bloggers, and especially to their commenters, this was shady because normally you can only take a deduction of up to 50 percent of your income, but that cap was lifted to encourage contributions in the year of Katrina. So Congress passed a law to encourage charitable contributions, and Cheney gave more to charity, and leftists called him “shady.” A clear case of Bush Derangement Syndrome.

Faith-Based Health Insurance Reform

I had the opportunity yesterday to meet with Tim Murphy, Massachusetts secretary of health and human services, to discuss Governor Romney’s Massachusetts health care reform.  Secretary Murphy, who is smart, knowledgeable and personable, clarified a great many questions about the plan.  Unfortunately clarity was not reassuring.

Secretary Murphy essentially confirmed that the concerns I raised in my recent Briefing Paper were correct.  But he said we shouldn’t worry about them.  For example, there were questions about whether the Massachusetts Health Connector, the new government agency that operates as a clearinghouse for the individual and small group health insurance markets, would have the power to limit the insurance plans it would offer.  The Heritage Foundation had insisted it had no such authority.  However, Secretary Murphy confirmed that it did.  He believed, however, that this would not be a problem for two reasons: 1) he had faith that the board would not abuse its power and would offer a wide range of plans, and 2) if a future board did attempt to limit the type of available plans, people could choose to buy plans outside the connector.  He was confident that the Connector would not squeeze out an independent market in small group and individual insurance, although he admitted that the Connector would not be competing on an even playing field.

He also said that we shouldn’t worry about new mandated benefits driving up the cost of the mandatory insurance policy, because voters would object to rising costs and resist any new mandates.  He said that if the program’s cost rises too much voters will demand that the program be cut back.  And he admitted that the plan was a form of managed competition, but believed that they had devised the right incentives and penalties to make it all work.

In essence, this is a faith-based health insurance program.  Governor Romney has set up a program that depends on future insurance providers, legislators, governors, and voters all behaving in exactly the way he expects.  For example, legislators will never respond to special interests by adding new mandates and regulations.  Voters will react to rising costs not by asking for increased subsidies but by cutting back on the program.  (Can anyone recall the last time voters did that?).  Businesses won’t drop health insurance coverage and let taxpayers pick up the tab.

Maybe Governor Romney and Secretary Murphy are right, though I wouldn’t hold my breath.  But shouldn’t we wait and see what happens before other states or the federal government rush to copy it?  The Heritage Foundation has announced a major effort to convince other states to adopt Massachusetts-like reform.  California, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia are reportedly considering it.  Lawmakers in those states should think twice about going down this road toward more government control of the health care system.