Tuesday, December 28, 2010

That's why I pay taxes

Inspired even while on "vacation," the idea of Christian charity came to the fore this morning. The ultimate civics lesson centers on the individual's role and interaction with the citizenry to meet personal and corporate needs. The debate today,is over Christians rely so much on others to do what Christ taught were individual responsibilities.

Dr. Humphrey, my dear Masters' mentor, wrote to me yesterday about the woeful lack of Christian societal engagement in meeting the medical needs of American war veterans. Humphrey's personal charity toward veterans extends to helping them find the necessary medical care they need. His corporate vision is that the American Christian Church would step forward and bring that relief, rather than rely on a government bureaucracy to do so.

I posed Dr. Humprhey's question privately to Dr. Paul Speros, my personal optometrist (does that sound like an elitist statement?), and dear friend. He reminded me that were it not for the 16th Amendment, by which Americans sacrificed their financial privacy in return for paying others to do their charity, perhaps Christians would do more for their fellow man than they do today.

Speros and Humphrey are onto something here: the relationship between control of one's own property (of which income is key) and willingness to give. Americans have ceded much of their personal charitable compulsion to a discompassionate government bureaucracy, thereby believing Christ's charge to be compassionate has been fulfilled - corporately, through Washington, DC and state capitals. It does not work, it is wasteful, and most certainly does nothing to advance the Christian imperative to serve others.

When citizens send 25-35-45 percent or more of their money to government, and government provides "human services" programs, it gives the individual a sense that they have fulfilled their commitment to others. But Jesus taught that individuals serve Him when they serve others. Jesus never suggested a follower should send a thirsty man to the State Charitable Water Board for a drink of cold water.

"When you give a cup of cold water in My Name, you are serving Me," Jesus taught. The act of handing over a cup of water is a personal, close up, and perhaps tactile experience. Give a cup of water to someone and your hands might even touch, your eyes will meet, your smile and look of kindness will warm the spirit of the receiver and the giver. This is charity, and charity is love.

On the other hand, when government extracts taxes to pay for a Human Water Resource Board to deliver the cup, it will have cost us a great deal. Never mind the extremely expensive method of collecting the money, accounting for it, overseeing it, signing water contracts, establishing water distribution kiosks, checking the rights to public board usage, and hefty retirement packages for the water distributors - the greatest cost is the loss of personal engagement, the touching of hands, connecting of hearts, and expressions of personal love and respect.

Expecting government - paying government - to do what we are called to do is a horrible waste of money and an immeasurable waste of love and Christian service.

The modern measure of compassion is "the rich should pay their fair share" so I can enjoy mine.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Another proof that the ACA of 2010 is phony

Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, actually said this today: “Year after year, insurance company profits soar, while Americans pay more for less health care coverage,” said Secretary Sebelius.

Profits soar. Another useful myth to sell government-run lives, er, I mean, government-run health care. Yes, there are for-profit insurance companies and by definition, they need to make a profit. But the plethora of “non-profit” insurance plans lays bare the administration’s ongoing obfuscation on the issue of insurance premiums.

Minnesota, like most states, relies on a handful of huge non-profit insurance companies. And many states already regulate insurance premiums. The imposition of the federal will on local insurance commissioners only makes the process more complicated and expensive, ergo, premiums will increase as a result.

But here is the greatest lie, and why the new federal law will utterly fail, at least to hold down health care prices:  “The Affordable Care Act is bringing unprecedented transparency and oversight to insurance premiums to help reign in the kind of excessive and unreasonable rate increases that have made insurance unaffordable for so many families.” What baloney.

Think about it. Health insurance companies collect premiums to do what? Premiums pay insurance claims. Insurance claims drive premiums. Claims come from whom? People that use medical services and purchase medicines and medical products.

Insurance companies aggregate funds from premiums to pay claims and yes, to pay their overhead expenses (which, by the way, are a fraction of government overhead expenses – but more on that elsewhere).

The best solution to reduce health insurance premiums is for individuals to use fewer services. Really. And it does not take a fortune invested in wellness or preventive care to do so. This is why consumer-directed health care is the key to reducing insurance cost. But not for this Administration or the outgoing, defeated Congress. No no. Their solution is imposed cost control.

This idea that the federal DHHS can force health insurance companies to restrain themselves is a little like setting a federal cap on the price of a gallon of gasoline. Never mind that Americans keep no buying gas, because to the government-planners, demand makes no difference. Rather, to reduce the cost of gas, “the Affordable Gasoline Act will bring unprecedented transparency and oversight to gasoline prices by reigning in the excessive oil company profits.” Oh, and never mind that finding a functioning gas station will become more elusive. The best way to hold down gasoline prices is to use less.

Get ready for a spate of public fights over rate request denials, and soon after, the shuttering of hundreds of health insurance companies. Then be prepared for the federal Health Payment System Bureau that will eventually oversee the five national insurance utilities that will survive ( and will own Congress).

Friday, December 17, 2010

Taking the best action takes courage Do We the People have any?

Every time I reason out what the best solutions are to our health care “crisis” (dilemma is a far more apt term), I return to this: Without individuals taking responsibility for their families and themselves, we cannot solve our dilemma.

One of the favorite PowerPoint slides I developed is the circle of healthy traits that makes up a healthy life. I’ve included these: weight, exercise, diet, no tobacco, sleep, reduced stress, family, and the spiritual element. There are more, of course, but when these eight factors form a basis of life, we can expect that, barring genetic illness or accidental injury, we will live relatively healthy lives.

“Which of these can the government influence,” I ask each time I show the circle of healthy traits slide. After a moment of silence, I hear, “Stress. They can reduce taxes and we’d have less stress.”

Reducing health care spending will result from consuming fewer health care services. Consuming fewer health care services is a natural result of better health.

Each time I show the healthy traits slide, I follow it with another stark object lesson -- an obese man, lying on the couch with a TV remote at the ready on his bulbous belly. He symbolizes how most Americans view health care. We allow ourselves to become fat, lazy, and unhealthy, then we place an enormous burden on the health care delivery system to fix us when (not if) we fall ill.

Government responds to all this by “giving” us “free” preventive health care services. Government fails, because the only preventive service that works is beyond governments’ control – individual choice.

Now we face the health care dilemma. Collectively, without coercion, we the people have decided someone else is responsible for our health. Collectively, with subtle seduction, we have made the [im]moral decision to require others to pay for our own lack of courage.

Lack of courage? It takes courage and discipline to care for oneself. This is true with family, finances, faith, and especially personal health.

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” President John Adams – Second President of the United States.

When Adams spoke this truism, he lived among a courageous people that rested their actions on a foundation of faith. Lacking the trappings of trillion dollar governments, the brutal injustice of bureaucratic oversight, and focused on families as the centerpiece of governance, Adams and his peers saw government not as a provider, but a protector. Provision arose out of a moral imperative to do the righteous thing, and that took courage.

At the root of our health care dilemma, then, lies this question: Is there a strong remnant of moral, courageous behavior among our people? If not, we have but one ultimate solution to our health care dilemma – a single payer, government-run system with regulatory rationing of care.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Please: Come on. We are in charge here.

Now that “our side” won the 2010 election, we all want them to do the right thing. But, do we know what doing the right thing actually means?

“Let’s show them our ideas, and then ask them what they want to support.” Is this how we get them to do the right thing? Implicit in this is our support to help them get their new ideas passed into law.

Helping elected officials get good ideas passed into law is good, but it is an incomplete understanding of our role – and I think it can be dangerous over time.

After all, what is the driver behind successful legislation? Or better yet, who is the driver?

Government serves people within the confines of the rules under which it must operate (constitution). We the people wrote those rules. But we get it backwards. We keep on believing the lie that the constitution lays out our rights. Wrong!

The constitution tells the government what it can and cannot do. This is called enumerated rights.

American government is not about lawmakers choosing what they want to do, but about people choosing what the people want lawmakers to do.

We bring ideas to legislators and tell them this is what we want. To be successful at this, we try to find other people who agree with us, so a bunch of us can tell the lawmaker what we want him/her to do. It is our responsibility to convince them, and once convinced, support them as they move our issues ahead.

One concrete example:

Ten states (not including my home state of Minnesota) have decided to pass or attempt to pass legislation that would make Obamacare illegal in their states. Should we support this in our state? Here are two ways to approach the question:

1.      Does our new legislative majority want to take this on? If so, we can help them.
2.      Do we want our new legislative majority to take this on, and if so, how far will we go to make sure they do it? And when they do it, how far will we go to support them to make sure it passes?

In our form of government, the second option is the correct answer. If we are to continue to be self-governing people, then we must set the agenda. We choose. We lead, not follow.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Why do we tell them how much we earn?

President Obama appointed a deficit reduction commission. Without surprise, it recommends sort of cutting back a few programs (mostly defense), keeping non-defense federal payrolls flat for three years, and pushing Social Security retirement age out a few months (but not for decades).

Furthermore, there is a call for reducing income tax rates, but not without doing away with several coveted tax deductions (i.e., mortgage interest, employer-provided health insurance).

The idea is to flatten out spending (not eliminate programs) and increase tax revenue.

Rather than parsing these paltry pickings, let’s get to the heart of the matter, because, when we start with the wrong premise, we will always get the wrong answer. And here is the premise, at least as seen by our founding fathers:

Our founding fathers passed along to us protections to our unalienable right to property. Furthermore, they specified in the fourth amendment a right to privacy in our papers and personal effects. So why is it that we Americans have so easily decided the federal government has a right to know how much we earn and how much we own?

Don’t think I am some anti-tax nut for bringing this up, because in the protection of privacy from government intrusion we find the roots of individual liberty. Let me state it bluntly: Except for the inexplicable fact that we do nothing about it, we should never be forced to reveal to a government how much we earn or own. It is because we allow governments to violate this most basic principle, that we can never find a solution to our tax dilemma.

We can find legitimate ways to provide necessary revenue for the federal government without forcing us all to financially undress every year. Despite the fact that unthinking liberal ideologues make fun of it, and politically correct moderates and conservatives are afraid of being labeled by liberals, the only tax that makes sense is the one the founding fathers endorsed – an excise tax.

Just for a moment, close your eyes and try to imagine a personal and corporate economy in which you were not required to tell the government how much you earn – an economy without an income tax. Because if you like the idea, and realize it is foundational to liberty, you can have it.

Here it is: Replace the income tax as soon as possible with an excise tax, with a national sales tax. From time to time, in future postings, I will expand on this and show its benefits. But for now, answer this question for me: Why do we tolerate telling the government how much we earn? And don’t you dare say, “It’s the law!” because this is a law that we must change.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

How the federal government has caught us in a vice

The fight over the new Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) rule provides a vivid insight into how the federal government is running roughshod over states, and private citizens. What you will read here happens every time Congress passes a law, but when it is something new, like the Affordable Care Act of 2010, the repercussions become more visible.

First, a quick and necessary definition of MLR. This new federal law requires insurance companies to pay out in medical claims 80 percent of the money it collects in insurance premiums. The government central planners, under this rule, will allow insurance companies to use up to 20 percent of the premium for their administrative, marketing, and other program costs. The new law required the federal Secretary of Health and Human Services to write rules to guide insurance companies - and the unknown thousands of others that rely on insurance payments for their existence - to write and publish the rule by June 23, 2010. Finally, just a few weeks ago, DHHS complied with the law. Now everyone is scrambling to try to comply.

The new MLR rules, just released, go into effect January 1, 2011. Everyone whose career has hung in the balance of this new rule, has been left with just a few weeks to figure out how it impacts them, and what to do with and about it.

This week I listened in to a tele-conference led by the Nevada Commissioner of Insurance (COI). The call included key stakeholders in the provision of and payment for Nevada health care, plus the chief state regulators and enforcers of the new law. Kudos to the all of these people, who are trying their darndest to figure out how to deal with it. But ask the most basic question: By what constitutional authority or by what common sense is the federal government doing regulating this state issue anyway?

The commissioner stated emphatically that Nevada would be filing for a waiver so that it does not have to comply with certain aspects of the MLR. This is critical to them, and to dozens of other states. But they only have a few weeks to get this done, because the federal DHHS failed to obey the law, leaving all these players hanging out to dry.

The COI stated casually and confidently, and I mean no malice by this, that there is no great hurry. He knows that once Nevada files its waiver request, the DHHS has 60 days to respond, and then there is another 30 day period before the rule actually becomes final. Then everything can be nicey nice again - set back to the sanity that existed on December 31, 2010. Except that...

Professional health insurance agents have learned that, in order to comply with this new, central-government edict, the insurance companies are cutting their commission rates - by 50 percent or more. This 50 percent pay cut is effective January 1, 2011. Get it? Not yet?

By miserably failing to comply with the new federal law when it missed the June 23 and subsequent deadlines, the federal DHHS has placed the entire health care industry in a whirlwind of activity. "Do we file? If we file, what do we need? Can we get it done in time? What about everyone that is stuck in limbo in the interim? How do we do any long term planning at all? Is anyone in the federal bureaucracy even sane?"

Yet, there is absolutely nothing anyone can do but make policy on the run, work overtime creating waiver requests for which no one has the time to evaluate outcomes, because unlike the federal government, everyone else faces a hard deadline!

We have not even begun to understand how disruptive the ACA is going to be to our economy, to needed services and commodities, to jobs, and to our personal lives. Meanwhile, the federal government continues on, steamrolling everyone else into compliance.

Oh, by the way, another ruling awaited from DHHS (among thousands) is a definition of what constitutes an "unreasonable rate increase." Now that sounds like a vital piece of enforcement language. DHHS hopes to define it by the fall of 2011. How nice of them.

About those health insurance agent pay cuts: Agents are caught in a vice, squeezed by income cuts out of their profession while DHHS and other government officials continue to draw fat taxpayer paychecks, missing deadlines, and creating havoc in the marketplace.