Against Equity and Good Conscience, Indeed

Medicare watchers know that the federal government recently – and improperly – sent checks to 230,000 seniors. The checks were supposed to reimburse certain seniors for premiums paid under the new Medicare prescription drug benefit (Part D). But seniors who were not supposed to receive any money at all instead got checks worth an average of $215 – for a total of almost $50 million in erroneous payments.

The feds tried to get seniors to return the money – that is, until the Center for Medicare Advocacy, Inc. filed suit to stop them. In fact, the Center even argued that even though seniors were not entitled to the money, they should get to keep it:

In certain circumstances a beneficiary may be entitled to a waiver of the overpaid refund. Waiver of the overpayment may be available to a beneficiary who was without fault in causing the overpayment and where repayment would be against equity and good conscience.

(Bold and italics in original.)

So not only may seniors pressure Congress to grant them windfalls that they don’t really deserve (e.g., Part D), but according to the Center for Medicare Advocacy, a senior should also get to keep even unlegislated transfers from younger Americans if the senior feels that returning the windfall “would be against equity and good conscience.”

But this is par for the course with Medicare. For more examples of Medicare madness, attend or watch online this Thursday’s book forum for Medicare Meets Mephistopheles, a new book by Cato adjunct scholar David Hyman.

The Sun Also Rises

The latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters, one of the top peer-reviewed science journals publishing research on climate change, features a fairly arresting paper by physicists Nicola Scafetta and Bruce West on what’s driving atmospheric warming.  Their conclusion?  About 50 percent of the warming over the past century might well be due to … the sun.  From the executive summary:

We study the solar impact on 400 years of a global surface temperature record since 1600. This period includes the pre-industrial era (roughly 1600–1800 or 1600–1900), when negligible amount of anthropogenic-added climate forcing was present and the sun realistically was the only climate force affecting climate on a secular scale, and the industrial era (roughly since 1800–1900), when anthropogenic-added climate forcing has been present in some degree. We use a recent secular Northern Hemisphere temperature reconstruction (Moberg et al., 2005), three alternative total solar irradiance (TSI) proxy reconstructions (Lean et al., 1995; Lean, 2000; Wang et al., 2005) and a scale-by-scale transfer climate sensitivity model to solar changes (Scafetta and West, 2005, 2006). The phenomenological approach we propose is an alternative to the more traditional computer-based climate model approach, and yields results proven to be almost independent on the secular TSI proxy reconstruction used. We find good correspondence between global temperature and solar induced temperature curves during the pre-industrial period such as the cooling periods occurring during the Maunder Minimum (1645–1715) and the Dalton Minimum (1795–1825). The sun might have contributed approximately 50% of the observed global warming since 1900 (Scafetta and West, 2006). We briefly discuss the global cooling that occurred from the medieval maximum (1000–1100 AD) to the 17th century minimum.

Newsworthy?  Apparently not.  A Nexis search this morning finds not one single story in the print media referring to the paper.  Why?

A paper published this week in Nature comes to the opposite conclusion, and that paper hit the LA Times.  I don’t know which paper makes the stronger argument, but I do know that the print reporters are in no real position to judge.  Yet one gets some press and the other doesn’t.    

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Beggar Thy Neighbor

This item is a month old, but worth taking the time to read – especially if you work on health policy in the states. Paul Gessing is the president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. That state’s governor, Bill Richardson, is planning a run for the presidency and recently proposed expanding New Mexico’s Medicaid program. In an article for National Review Online, Gessing does a superb job of explaining why that is the wrong approach. Other state think tanks should take note.

Medicare, Only More Fun

On Thursday, Cato will host a book forum for Medicare Meets Mephistopheles, a new book by Cato adjunct scholar David Hyman. Medicare Meets Mephistopheles takes a satirical look at the crown jewel of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.

Hyman is a rising star in the field of health law and policy. A lawyer and a doctor, he is professor of law and medicine at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. In 2004, he was the lead author of Improving Health Care: A Dose of Competition, the first joint report by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice. This year, he guest-edited an issue of the Journal of Health Policy, Politics and Law devoted to that report. Prof. Hyman also has a habit of quoting Austin Powers in his law review articles.

Ted Marmor, one of Medicare’s leading advocates, will comment, as will Robin Wilson, a visiting professor of law at Washington & Lee University.

The forum will be held at noon this Thursday at the Cato Institute, and will be followed by a luncheon. Other details, including how to preregister, are available here.

Nanny vs. Nanny

It’s time for a war on thinness!

On the eve of London Fashion Week the growing trend for “size-zero” models in the fashion industry is causing grave concern.

Experts say legislation is now needed to protect the health of the models and of the teenage girls and young women who are influenced by them.

They are urging London to follow the lead taken by Madrid — and likely to be adopted by Milan — of banning models below a certain size from the catwalks.

Under any ban, super-thin models such as Lily Cole would be barred. London Fashion Week, which begins next week, has so far refused to follow suit.

[…]

Steve Bloomfield, spokesman for the Eating Disorders Association, said today: “We do think legislation is needed.

“This is about protecting the young women and men who work in the fashion industry, as well as those who are at risk of an eating disorder and can be influenced by the pictures that they see.

Given that skinny women are hopelessly manipulated by the fashion industry, and that obese women are hopelessly manipulated by the food industry, I propose the following magic-bullet legislation:

The government should buy every obese person subscriptions to the top fashion magazines; meanwhile every skinny person should be forced to sit through a dozen McDonalds, sugary cereal, and Hostess cupcake commercials.

In six months, we’ll all wear the same size, and everyone will finally be equal.

It’s worth noting that despite all of this talk about childhood obesity, the average adolescent today is between 200 and 1,000 times more likely to have an eating disorder than Type II Diabetes (eating disorder ranges from the National Institute of Mental Health and diabetes statistics from the CDC). The state of Arkansas recently won wide praise from the public health community for a new policy of weighing all the state’s public shool kids, then sending a kind of obesity “report card” home to parents. Given the above numbers, there’s probably a pretty good chance that policy’s doing more harm than good, no?

Indeed, Britain and Australia have both seen a recent uptick in eating disorders in young girls as a result of both countries’ hysterical anti-obesity hype:

Girls as young as five are unhappy with their bodies and want to be thinner, according to a study which blames peer pressure in a child’s early years at school. Most girls thought that being slim would make them more popular, claimed the research in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology. They would also have no hesitation in dieting if they gained weight. The study was conducted among five- to eight-year-olds in South Australia, but experts said last night that British children felt “paranoid” about their weight - partly because of the Government’s anti-obesity message.

Dr Andrew Hill, of Leeds University Medical School, said research among more than 200 eight-year-olds showed a high awareness of the campaign against obesity. “Children have absorbed anti-fat messages loud and clear”, he said. “To get people to listen about a condition, you talk it up, and we have got obesity on the health agenda.

Just another example of the unintended consequences resulting from paternalistic government.

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The Blunt End of Paternalism

Kudos to both the Washington Times and North Dakota state GOP Rep. Jim Kaspar for opposing the Republican Congress’s wrongheaded attempt to ban Internet gambling. There are at least a few folks on the right who still understand that there’s more to “limited government” than revoking the estate tax.

Sen. Frist is justifying his misguided, pre-election move on the grounds that it’s the government’s responsibility to protect us from bad behavior. Said Frist on the floor of the Senate, “Internet gambling threatens our families by bringing addictive behavior right into our living rooms.”

At risk of delving into libertarian cliches, even if you buy the dubious notion that protecting us from “addictive behavior” is a legitimate function of government, even the most well-intentioned of paternalistic legislation is, ultimately, enforced at the point of a gun. The people who break these laws are arrested. The people who resist arrest risk getting shot. The end of result of legislation like Frist’s is, absurdly, that government will eventually use violence against American citizens to “protect” them from violating Sen. Bill Frist’s morals.

Here’s a real-world example: At last week’s forum for my Overkill paper, I met Salvatore and Anita Culosi, parents of Sal Culosi, the Fairfax, Virginia optometrist shot and killed by a SWAT team earlier this year. The SWAT team came to Culosi’s home to enforce Virginia’s prohibition on gambling, ostensibly designed to “protect” Virginians like Sal Culosi from wagering their own money on games of chance. Culosi, an accomplished, single man who had the means to back up his wagers, had been placing bets on football games with friends. He’s dead because there are people in Virginia’s government who fail to see the absurdity of sending a military unit to arrest a man guilty of nothing more than spending his own money in ways some people find unseemly. That’s it.

Culosi’s family is still understandably devastated. Mrs. Culosi still can’t talk about her son without fighting back tears. I choked up several times just listening to her. I can’t imagine the rage that would come with losing an adult son to such a stupid and hypocritical policy. Horrible.

The Culosi outrage has been compounded by the insensitive and unaccountable behavior of many in Fairfax County government since the incident (are you reading, Justice Scalia?). It’s been seven months now, and the Fairfax County police department still refuses to cooperate with Culosi’s family.

Frist’s legislation is aimed primarily at financial institutions. But like all prohibitions on consensual crimes, it will fail. And so over the next several years we will inevitably see attempts by Congress to expand and strengthen the gambling prohibition, to the point where, as is now the law in Washington state, the prohibition will be aimed squarely at gamblers themselves, not just the companies that profit from gambling.

Perhaps Senators Frist and Kyl, and Reps. Leach and Goodlatte should sit down for a few minutes with Salvatore and Anita Culosi. It would at least help them understand the inevitable consequences of using the blunt instrument of government to impose their own values and morals on the rest of the country.