What If Obamacare Sold Homeowner’s Insurance?

If homeowner’s insurance worked like Obamacare, in no time at all homelessness would be a viable option for residents trying to lower their insurance cost.

Under Obamahome, construction contractors would talk endlessly about how compassionate their employees are. Edgy companies would assert that dealing with an English–speaking crew makes rebuilding your home a breeze. But no company would be talking prices or making binding estimates.

Instead homeowners would hire the company that was closest or had the most caring spokesperson. Really shrewd homeowners might check a Yelp review, but that would be the extent of the research. When it came time to sign the contract the homeowner would pay his deductible and the bill for the covered procedure would go direct to the insurance company.

The homeowner would remain blissfully unaware of what his newly repaired roof, siding, basement or deck cost to fix.

Under Obamahome, renters are also covered, but renters wouldn’t be required to pay a premium. And homeowners who had a loss, but weren’t covered by insurance — because they opted to make the final payment on their Sistine Chapel tattoo — can both buy a policy and file a claim during the same transaction.

At premium–setting time, homeowners would discover Obamahome rates had to be set high enough cover their house and their prorated portion of the renter’s and the pre–existing damage claims.

Soon they’re confronted with Obama’s Choice: To get an affordable premium, homeowners must choose between a much higher deductible for the same coverage or the same deductible for much less coverage.

The result is a $12,000 deductible that covers everything up to and including Hurricane Stormy or a $1,000 deductible that covers tornados and fire, but excludes hail, wind, lightening and floods.

Fortunately, homeowner’s insurance doesn’t malfunction like Obamacare, and with any luck the Texas Supreme Court may force hospitals to adopt pricing reform.

The Dallas Morning News reports Crystal Roberts was rushed to an emergency room after a car crash. The good news is she was home three hours later. The bad news is accompanying her was a bill for $11,037.35 for X–rays, CT scan, lab tests and ‘other’ services. Crystal was charged the ‘This Is Gonna Hurt’ rate because she lacked insurance.

But she didn’t lack a lawyer, so Crystal sued. The Texas Supremes ruled that if the hospital intended to prove Roberts’ bill “reasonable” it must “share … details about the discounted rates it had with health insurers, data that’s generally seen as proprietary and confidential.”

I’ll say it’s “confidential.” You’d have better luck finding Trump’s tax returns. The only price information a patient gets on a visit to the hospital is what it costs to park.

One wouldn’t know that from the story, though. Economics illiteracy among journalists continues unchecked, “While few dispute costs are out of control and transparency would help, the ruling is seen as unprecedented by some, who worry it could deal a big blow to free market competition in health care.”

The statement couldn’t be more wrong. It’s like saying if we banned Consumer Reports Car Buying Service and prohibited window stickers on new cars it would increase competition and lower prices.

The ability to compare prices encourages competition, while concealing prices encourages price–fixing.

The decision is a tentative step toward my simple, Constitutional, solution for increasing healthcare competition. First, require any hospital taking federal money to post turnkey prices for the 25 most common hospitalized surgical procedures; the 25 most common out–patient procedures and the 25 most common tests. All charges must match the best price offered insurance companies – the information the Texas hospital doesn’t want to share.

Second, allow insurance companies to compete across state lines, creating a national market. Any national policy won’t be subject to state-level regulations. This means state politicians with itchy legislative fingers can’t force companies to cover pap smears, prostate exams, birth control, or any medical fad do-gooders want to force on consumers. Individual buyers will be able to pay for the coverage they want and not be forced to pay for coverage a major campaign contributor wants them to have.

Policies must be offered in all states to escape individual state regulation. Any company selling a policy within a state must conform to that state’s financial stability rules.

Third, no exclusions for pre-existing conditions if the patient can prove continuous coverage for the prior six months. Otherwise, a six-month waiting period. Patients who don’t want to buy private insurance can participate in a federal high–risk pool.

Depending on judges to reform healthcare is spotty and imprecise.  We need Congress. The only negative impact my reform might have is on hospitals and the Medical Industrial Complex. That’s why it won’t happen. Those insiders make large campaign contributions and the likes of Crystal Roberts don’t.

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Free Market Term Limits Breakthrough

Serial entrepreneur Norbert Richter claims no relation to the inventor of the Richter Scale, but if his breakthrough idea is successful, he’ll be causing political tremors for decades. Richter has used his failed congressional primary challenge as inspiration for a free market workaround that has the potential to be voter–imposed term limits.

His new organization, FireYourCongressman.com, bypasses the roadblock that has stopped every federal term limits proposal: Incumbent professional politicians who intend to die in office. Curator of the Senate Mitch McConnell’s clichéd response to voter’s desire for term limits is always a dismissive ‘that’s what elections are for.’ Knowing the chances of being beaten in a primary are miniscule. In 2016 only six incumbents lost to primary challengers.

And in a delicious bit of irony, Richter intends to shake the incumbent’s world by harnessing the power of money, a resource incumbents always thought was their advantage.

This week he’s launching FYC, a political action committee for the rest of us that’s designed to jump–start challenges to incumbent Members of Congress from both parties.

As the site explains, “Most congressional districts are so gerrymandered that there is no real contest in the general election…This is why it is so important to have good choices in the primaries.” As Richter discovered both parties actively discourage challengers.

FireYourCongressman.com is for voters disenfranchised by political insiders like McConnell. If you’re ready to fight back, Richter is ready to help. He does it by attacking the problem head on. Challengers need money to successfully challenge an incumbent, but it’s almost impossible to raise money for a challenge.

This limits primary challenges to the foolhardy or the personally wealthy.

FYC lets voters fed up with their incumbent contribute in advance to a potential challenger. FYC pools this money and will make it available, in the form of a direct contribution and independent expenditures, when a qualified candidate arises. Instead of lack of money discouraging challengers, now a waiting war chest may attract challengers.

Any donation under $200 is completely anonymous, which is good for the faint of heart. Donations over that amount are reported, but the money is simply listed as going to the PAC, not the campaign where it is spent.

That way donors are insulated from vindictive incumbents bent on revenge.

Richter is aware that he has to establish credibility, since he has zero track record in politics. He states at the beginning he will “have to convince donors” of his organization’s legitimacy and he plans to do it by “being very transparent.” He wants to make sure “a $20 donation becomes a $20 candidate contribution.”

He’s off to a good start. To date he’s paid all FYC expenses out of his own pocket. Richter knows eventually he’ll need to add a professional staff. His goal is to keep overhead expenses to a minimum so more money can be spent on campaigns.

And speaking of campaigns, what if your congressman is a member of the House Freedom Caucus or the Socialism Caucus and has only been in office six years? You’re happy, but there’s this nagging feeling you could do more.

Richter has a fund for you, too. It’s called the Priority Algorithm. This a general fund that’s only spent to defeat really worthless incumbents selected by the Fickle Finger of Algorithm. The algorithm analyzes a number of factors including how long in office (the longer the more negative), attendance record and involvement in scandals. He also includes an overlooked but important factor that brings tears to the eyes of government reformers: The increase in personal wealth since the member has been in office. Like the aforementioned time in office, more is not good.

On the negative side, the algorithm equates bills sponsored or co–sponsored as a positive factor. That’s the Widget Theory of governing. More widgets mean a better member. When the fact is more bills mean bigger government, which is a negative for conservatives. As far as I’m concerned repealing laws is better than passing laws.

But on the plus side, Richter is open to including nepotism and dynasty–building as negative factors in the algorithm.

Once the records are crunched the top ten will be targeted for defeat. Richter guarantees the split will be half Democrat and half Republican for at least the top 20.

If FireYourCongressman.com gets off the ground it will be a genuine, non–partisan, free market, grassroots effort to put accountability back into US politics. If you’re unhappy with our current bloated, complacent, sanctimonious and unaccountable Congress, then Richter is giving you an opportunity to put your money where your disgruntlement is.

Visit the site today and either contribute to fire your specific member of Congress, contribute to the Priority Algorithm to fire the worst of the worst or become a Great American by contributing to both funds.

Constituent Service Gone Wild

Toll Road pay up

Football fans everywhere are indebted to Virginia Delegate Joe May (R–Leesburg) whose invention of the electronic first down marker added much needed precision to watching the game on TV. Unfortunately, May’s understanding of the free market is much less precise and is in danger of throwing taxpayers for a significant loss.

According to Liz Essley in a series of stories from Washington Examiner, May wants the state to buy the privately–owned, 14–mile–long Greenway toll road located west of Washington Dulles Airport. He is joined by Randy Minchew (R–Leesburg) and David Ramadan (R–Prince William), who also confuse the role of constituent service in conservative governing philosophy. It’s a troika of Republicans who should know better.

May wants the Commonwealth to issue hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bonds to buy the Greenway from the Macquarie Group. Joe contends this would be good news for commuters because he believes the state will be reluctant to raise the tolls, which is not been the case with private ownership where peak period tolls can run as high as $5.80.

And why not? The government body that runs the Dulles Toll Road doesn’t even bother to bill 90 percent of the drivers who use their pavement but refuse to pay. Let them annex the Greenway and commuter’s troubles are over, as the taxpayer’s are just beginning.

Plus everyone knows overall operations for a government–run toll road will be so much more efficient than in the free market. Just look at the pioneering work done at Metro. During the past twenty years the Metro bureaucracy has discovered that escalators installed outdoors without protection from the elements have a tendency to break down and need replacement. Metro’s study of the effects of failing to conduct even routine maintenance on subway infrastructure led to the discovery that the system will become unreliable and subject to unpredictable shutdowns and track work that will consume most of the coming decade.

And don’t overlook the Smithsonian parking lot where attendants stole over $1 million in parking fees with management none the wiser.

And of course government involvement means low prices, which is why the IRS estimates the lowest priced insurance policy under Obamacare will cost a family of five $20,000 a year. If you want a policy that lets you see an actual doctor, as opposed to a Jiffy Lube professional, that will cost extra.

So what could go wrong with Virginia buying the Greenway? If it becomes too expensive to operate without raising the toll, they can just shut it down on Saturday, like the Post Office wants to do with mail delivery.

Del. Minchew echoes May, “I really want to protect our citizens from having tolls reach higher amounts than they should,” he explained.

And Ramadan wanted to try something called “distance–based tolling,” but says Macquarie was not interested.

And there it stands, constituents complain about the price they pay to speed their commute and they want government to “do something!” Followed to its logical conclusion, this type of activist, meddlesome thinking regarding the role of government lead us to the door of Nancy Pelosi’s office. Conservatives do not rush to meddle in a situation the market is uniquely qualified to handle.

The Greenway has been a troubled project from its inception with wildly inflated traffic estimates justifying too much spending. Fortunately, government wasn’t involved, so the first set of owners took a financial bath on the project and sold the tub, ring and all, to Macquarie.

The cost to taxpayers was zero.

Average daily trips on the Greenway peaked in 2005 with a bit over 61,000 with the average toll was just over $2.00. Proving the economic demand curve is alive and well and living in Virginia, as the price for tolls has gone up, traffic volume has gone down. Until in 2012 average daily trips are about 46,500 and the average toll is $3.93.

Yet with traffic down 24 percent, Greenway management was still able to increase average daily revenue by almost $61,000. So the toll is obviously not too high. Otherwise market forces would mean fewer drivers AND less money. Now the price is obviously too high for at least 14,500 drivers because they are now taking another road to work.

And that’s how the market operates; consumers balance cost and benefit and make their choice. Democrats and confused Republicans run to government and plead with them to intervene.

I wonder if any of the esteemed troika members has priced a rib roast at Wegmans lately? Driving on the Greenway is mere transportation, but eating is life itself.

I haven’t had a rib roast in the last year, because they are too expensive and the Philistines at my house can’t tell the difference from a pot roast anyway. But if the state buys the Greenway, I may start talking about the cattle cartel at the next town meeting.

And what makes those particular Greenway drivers so special? How about, God help them, Metro riders? Or Virginia Railway Express passengers? Everybody has a gripe about something.

Del. May is “optimistic we’re going to find a deal that works for both sides” and believes buying the Greenway could cost Virginia nearly $1 billion (which is $21,500 per current trip or 14 years worth of toll charges), making the road green in more ways than one. Hard–bargain Joe’s $1 billion is an interesting figure, because according to TollRoads News the owners carry the Greenway on their books as a net liability of $490 million dollars, meaning the road is worth almost half a billion dollars less than it cost.

As the reporter points out, Macquarie could PAY Virginia $450 million to take the road off its hands and have the books come out $40 million to the good.

It’s time to throw the challenge flag in front of Del. May. Having the Commonwealth buy the Greenway is a bad idea, bad economics and profoundly anti–conservative. In this case what’s private sector should stay private sector.

Please, Don’t Let Another Congressional Staffer Go to Bed Hungry

An underpaid Congressional staffer huddles for warmth during a cold Washington winter.

In some corners of elite opinion working on Capital Hill means one is laboring in the political equivalent of Wal–Mart. Hill workers have their pity while toiling in a crowded ideologyshop for chump change.

Yet, just like Wal–Mart, each time an election or retirement causes a new Congressional store to open the line of applicants typically extends around the corner.

How to explain it? Don’t these serfs know they’re being exploited?

You expect this reasoning in the WaPost, but surprisingly enough, this expose was in the Washington Times. The premise is Capitol Hill staffers are grossly underpaid and as a result the nation is being run by penniless Facebook addicts who are subject to an employment revolving door of tornadic force.

The pitiful few newbies that do manage to cling to their position are utterly at the mercy of rapacious lobbyists up to no good.

I am indebted to the author of the story, Luke Rosiak, for sharing his employee turnover numbers with me for comparison purposes. Frankly, if the situation had been reversed I don’t know that I would have been so gracious. Still, Rosiak’s generosity does not prevent me from disagreeing with his conclusions.

He begins by painting a picture of ignorant amateurs: “High turnover and lack of experience in congressional offices are leaving staffs increasingly without policy and institutional knowledge…leaving a vacuum that is usually filled by lobbyists.”

As a result: “When Americans wonder why Congress can’t seem to get anything done, this could be a clue.”

Once we get past the irony that after finally identifying jobs where federal salaries are equal to or less than the private sector the WT sees fit to complain; a comparison shows the analysis is flawed. First because salary numbers leave out the excellent health insurance that Hill staffers receive and secondly, because it ignores the nature of work in a Congressional office.

Although located in august structures and surrounded by the echoes of history, Congressional offices are basically 535 mom and pop operations with the elected official serving the role of mom or pop, as the case may be. None of these offices are governed by the rules and regulations that pamper civil service employees. Officeholders are political entrepreneurs building a brand on the taxpayer dime.

Some Congressional offices are well run organizations that rival an Apple Genius Bar for motivation and expertise. Others limp along like a poorly managed Dollar store where are all the toys are from China and contain extra lead.

But regardless of how the office is managed, the jobs are an example of an efficiently functioning employment marketplace. If the salary for Congressional office jobs was too low, there would not be enough qualified applicants to fill the positions. It would be necessary to follow in the footsteps of agribusiness and hire illegal aliens. Yet that’s not happening.

If the officeholder was dissatisfied with the quality and performance of the employee the salary was attracting, he is free to increase the amount paid for the position, but that’s not happening either. Instead we have market equilibrium: plenty of well–qualified applicants at the advertised salary.

Even at the existing salaries the WT disapproves of the turnover in these jobs is better than in comparable private sector positions. According to the figures developed by the WT, in 2006 there was 24 percent turnover on Capital Hill. The Bureau of Labor statistics for the same year finds the voluntary quit rate in “professional and business services” was 33.7 percent, a figure that is almost 10 percentage points higher.

Median experience levels for Congressional offices were also higher than in the private sector. For staff assistants — mostly equivalent to receptionists and entry–level office workers — the median was 2 years and for legislative assistants it was 4 years. In the private sector the BLS figures for workers ages 20 to 24 (entry–level jobs) the median experience was 1.5 years. For workers 25 to 34, closer to the legislative assistant level, the median was 3.1 years.

Besides, when one considers a great legislative mind like Nancy Pelosi just celebrated 25 years at the Congressional trough, experience past a certain point begins to look overrated.

Many of these jobs are viewed as stepping stones to a better position. Just as no one expects to be taking orders in a drive–through the rest of their life, few Hill receptionists expect to be tracking down errant Social Security checks until they retire.

Some are promoted inside the same office, some go to better jobs in other offices, some leave for the private sector and some run for office themselves. Some even leave to become lobbyists, although that’s seen as a bad thing in the context of the article: “It means that young workers have proximity to enormous power while surviving on a meager budget — dual forces that come together to push congressional staffers through the “revolving door” to highly paid K Street lobbyists.”

But again, statistics point to a much smaller “problem.” Between the years 2005 and 2011 a total of 161 staffers became registered lobbyists. That represents 5 percent of the total, which is more than the number of people who become murderers and less than the 7 percent who become alcoholics.

The ability to change jobs, in this case voluntarily, is a feature of the marketplace, not a bug.

Besides, increasing salaries for these jobs does not mean that substantive legislation will start whisking it’s way through the Capital. Taxpayers would just have an overpaid group of true believers. Elected officials aren’t looking for the next Steve Jobs, they are looking for Donald Segretti: someone who is loyal, takes orders without question and gets the job done.

Members of Congress are getting the employees they want courtesy of our tax dollars. The problem is conservatives aren’t getting the government we want because the officeholders we elect lack the courage. And salaries large enough to launch staffers into the 1 percent aren’t going to change that.