Mandates, Taxes, & Fines, Oh My!

Like many Americans, I watched the President’s speech on health insurance reform. It really is amazing how Obama is able to tell people the truth–that he will fuck them over–and they love him for it. For all the pretty words and formulaic yet effective rhetoric, what stood out most to me in the speech was the hard reality of what is coming in the form of mandates, taxes, and fines.

I was most surprised by his automobile insurance analogy. Apparently people have forgotten. Auto insurance was a movement that swept the nation too, an effort led by the insurance lobbying industry. For some states, it was particularly problematic. In Kentucky, where I used to live, premiums for car insurance shot up over 200% in the years directly following the law that was passed that required people to have auto insurance or pay a hefty fine. They have continued to rise thanks to a compliant state legislature, and today Kentucky has some of the highest auto insurance premiums in the nation. This affected poor people, and it continues to affect poor people. It basically penalizes poverty. What else would you call it when you can’t put food on your table because you can’t get to work because you don’t have auto insurance and want to avoid the $500 fine for not having it, which, if you had it to pay, you would have bought car insurance with in the first place.

The mandate was the one thing I vehemently disagreed with Hillary Clinton on. It was what stopped me from volunteering for her campaign earlier in the process. I knew what had happened with auto insurance, and I was aware of the so-called “Massachusetts model.” I was acutely aware of how this model would affect poor people, and that it wasn’t a bargain at all. I have been a working poor person for most of my life. Though I make more money now than I ever have, I still live paycheck to paycheck and my net paycheck remains unchanged from when I was making far less money, in part because health insurance costs have risen so high so fast (the other part is that my tax bracket changed). Make sure you absorb that: Though I make $15,000 a year more than I did just three years ago, my net paycheck is the same.

I want to talk a little bit about the Massachusetts model in order to introduce an idea that I have been mulling over for some time. The Massachusetts model, like the plans before Congress now, is also based on a mandate that, unmet by the individual, results in fines. I hate to use Wiki as a source, but they have assembled an impressive volume of research on the model. In addition to mandates and fines, the state of Massachusetts brokers deals between people who have no access to insurance (because they work for companies that can’t or don’t provide it; or because they work for themselves) and the insurance industry. The Massachusetts model does not pay any health care costs directly outside of SCHIP and MassHealth, which were the partially federally-funded programs in place before reforms took place.

What the reform means is that the state steps in as the broker for those who do not have health insurance and, via fines, forces them to buy insurance from private providers. Insurance companies were only too happy to have the deal, and as with the auto insurance fiasco, premiums rose dramatically. Still, people have to have health insurance now, so how to make them do it? How do you force someone to spend $3-5,000 a year on a service that will cost them probably another $3-5,000 in deductibles, when they are currently only paying about $500 a year directly for services, and then only when they need them*? How do you accomplish that neat trick? Well, you can take money they count on, like their tax return.

*Obviously I am referring to reasonably healthy uninsured people here

Initially, the Massachusetts tax penalty might have seemed paltry. It was the loss of the personal exemption, apparently valued at just over $200 a year. In 2008, however, the tax fine jumped to half the cost of the lowest premium available, roughly $912, according to the Wiki article. The article doesn’t say, but I would bet that the fine is scheduled to rise, as it has every year since they passed reform in 2006. And this brings me to my conspiratorial musings on what might happen if the United States adopts the Massachusetts model.

Some people who read this blog may be unfamiliar with how working poverty works. The working poor do not generally make enough money to meet all the demands placed on them by the government and society in general. As a working poor person I can tell you that I felt terrible that I often had to drive without insurance, but I did have to do it because I had to work to pay rent, buy food, clothes, and school supplies for my daughter. I had to pay to “rent” her textbooks. I had to keep the piece of crap vehicle I could afford in working order which, because of the age, was costly and frequent. I had to pay increasingly outrageous utility bills. I had to have a phone in case we had an emergency. It should go without saying that our access to health care was spotty and expensive. This all adds up and can quickly overwhelm a person making $10 or less an hour. Add to that the $150 monthly premium for liability-only auto insurance and you can see how this life is constantly impossible, but somehow we make it. We working poor people juggle and balance, we strategize, and we take risks we don’t want to take, like going without car insurance, because we have to.
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Intellectual Consistency and the Left: School Speech Edition

I know some of my readers will already believe that people protesting Obama’s school speech are a) all conservative radio listeners, and b) stark raving mad. They will believe this partly because Obama and the media that supports him have succeeded in what the blogger at Acid Test warned us about last year:

Obama, on the other hand, does one thing, says another, and enough people are so desperate to believe in him that they lie to themselves so that they can keep doing it. Look at the reaction on the left when he started promoting faith-based government. Suddenly the left, the left, was trying to find reasons why it wasn’t such a bad idea after all. The ability to make people believe night was day was Reagan’s talent. He succeeded in making selfishness respectable, and then even admirable. He could make people forget which way was up. It’s very hard to climb out of a morass if you can’t even see that.

Obama, judging by the evidence so far, has the same talent. … What scares me is the large majority who, a year ago, finally understood that they don’t want that crap. But he can make them think they do.

The other part of this is that even liberal people in opposition to Obama have comfortably re-joined the ranks of their former group and have slowly been re-acclimated to the rhetorical tricks of the left. Now, even once-PUMA bloggers are calling people “teabaggers” and getting agitated with them, even though they share opposition to the government’s mess of a Health Care overhaul.

Liberals also agree with the school speech protesters, of whom I am one, though you’d have to turn to history to know it. Such liberalized citizens refuse to see what is happening, because they have now happily returned to their couches. It doesn’t help that their leaders are just as disingenuous as the other side. Now, people who should know better have slipped right back into rhetorical habits they had serious issues with just last year. They have not even investigated this particular issue for themselves or their children.
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Two for one, too. You’ve read what I think about Ted Kennedy, his history, and the exploitation of his life and death. I’m not a fan of Krugman either, and it drives me crazy when I see otherwise clear-headed liberals just fawn all over whatever he says. No I won’t name names, just like I didn’t with Kennedy, because these folks know who they are and the fact that they’ve been duped has nothing to do with whether or not they are bad people. It has to do with whether or not they are thinking people, and by and large, the left is as easily duped as the right. I do have some sympathy for why this is–constant questioning is exhausting, depressing work. But it must be done.

And Krugman is a case in point of intellectual laziness/inconsistency on the left: He is a multi-millionaire economist living in New York City–the financial capital of America–writing to influence economics. What more do you need to know to believe he is intrinsically untrustworthy, because what he does first is protect his status and wealth? Does that mean everything he says needs to be discounted? No. But it should be questioned every day.

Anyway, about my vindication. Somerby is, as usual, one of the few bloggers shaming the left for its poor moral choices and for its muddled thinking. Here’s what he had to say about Kennedy:

First statement: Ted Kennedy “will be remembered as one of the most effective legislators in the history of the Senate.” That statement appeared in the opening paragraph of John Broder’s top-of-page story.

Second statement: Ted Kennedy had long defined health reform as “the cause of my life.” This statement appeared above the fold in this profile by Mark Leibovich.

Only we liberals could fail to see the oddness in the conjunction of those two statements. Only we liberals could fail to see the way we get talked down to when we get handed such stories.

Our guy was the most effective ever! And health care reform was his lifetime passion! Only we liberals would fail to see the oddness of these conjoined statements, in a month when we’re getting our clocks cleaned again in the matter of health care reform! This isn’t a criticism of Senator Kennedy, of course, This is a criticism of us.

But then, that’s the shape of modern politics. The other side gets the big wins. Our side gets the pleasing stories, in which we’re allowed to define ourselves as being both moral and smart. That’s one of the ways the world’s ruling classes buy off numb-nuts like us.

Bolding mine. Now, here’s what Somerby has to say about a Krugman article wherein Krugman pulls out the old liberal standby that people on the right are crazy. To wit: Continue reading

Little Wheel

I guess we all have to start somewhere. We can’t all be big-time like Ted Kennedy and Michael Jackson. Anyway, as mentioned in my last post, here is a link to the article on me and 6 other women. I am the sixth one down. If you’ve ever wondered what I look like, here’s your chance. From the article:

Every person owns her own destiny and determines her own future. It sounds cliché, but if you need real-world proof, Anna Bell Pfau, 38, is happy to share her story. Born “dirt poor” in Texas, she ran away from home and hitchhiked across the country five times before landing herself a spot at Maryhurst in Louisville, where she spent the next two and a half years being rehabilitated, supported, and inspired. Fast forward to today. Anna Belle is an English professor at Brown Mackie College working on her master’s degree at UofL. She runs a popular political blog (, publishes a bi-weekly column about women’s history in The New Agenda, dedicates herself to her students, most of whom were not on the college track in high school, and is a wife and mother of daughter Clancy, 15.

You’ll have to visit the site to read the rest.

Also, the last What Every Woman Should Know article (on presidential candidates) was picked up by Feminists for Choice. It was also picked up by, but I can’t find the direct content. Overall, it’s been a good day. 🙂