Thursday, June 28, 2012

Health Care and Supreme Court

So, the Supreme Court upheld what some refer to as "Obamacare."  It certainly will be Obama's biggest legacy in his first term.  Many people thought it went way too far, and many thought it didn't go far enough.  It takes the U.S. one step closer to being more like the rest of the first world.

Initially, the law was assumed to be constitutional.  The experts agreed on that point.  But over time, conservatives started attacking the individual mandate--the portion of the law that penalized people for not having health insurance.  A conservative Supreme Court, and recent decisions by that Supreme Court that seem overly partisan in nature (as well as recent political attacks coming from Justices like Scalia, who usually have the good sense to stay out of partisan politics) have cast doubt on the "constitutionality" of the law.  (For the record, the Supreme Court determines whether something is constitutional or not, regardless of what the Founders may or may not have intended).

As I expected, the four liberal Justices all favored the law, and Thomas and Scalia, the far-right-wing Justices, opposed it.  Kennedy is the moderate conservative, and is usually the deciding vote in cases like this (making him a contender for the most powerful man in the U.S.).  Alito (another conservative) and Kennedy both opposed the law.  I actually expected Kennedy to support it, but I wouldn't have been surprised either way.

What is surprising is that Roberts--who is firmly in the conservative camp--voted to uphold the law, including the individual mandate.  His rationale for upholding the law had to do with classifying the penalty as a tax--a rationale I agree with (even if it may not be popular to call it a tax).  Because Roberts saw it as a tax, he saw the law as being constitutional.

The Supreme Court has started to lose credibility in the past twelve years or so.  Many have started to see them as being purely political--ruling based on their political preferences rather on the constitution and previous case law.  Roberts' move here brings the court a bit more credibility, as it was clearly not politically partisan.

So what can we expect now?  As of January 1, 2014, all Americans will be required to have health insurance, or they will have to pay a (rather small) penalty.  The upside is that a family of four making under $88,000 a year will be able to receive some help on insurance payments (and on an intelligent sliding scale, meaning families making $40,000 will receive a lot more help than families making $80,000). 

It also means that families of four who make less than $30,000 will be placed on Medicaid (right now, many children in these families have Medicaid, but, at least in Idaho, their parents can't get it unless the parents are making basically nothing--I think the cutoff is $200/month, or something ridiculous like that, and there is no sliding pay scale).

Next step--how to reduce costs to match the rest of the first world (in other words, cut them in half).  End-of-life care equals 1/3 of all healthcare costs in the U.S., and often the people receiving the care didn't actually want it, but aren't in a mental position to say no when the time comes.  Hopefully Congress can now get started on fixing that without people like Palin crying out "DEATH PANELS" every chance they get.  We need to start cutting the costs, now.

Monday, June 04, 2012

My view of Government

My view of government:

1. Government should allow more freedoms.  Our prisons are overrun and enormously expensive when compared to other first-world countries, largely because we imprison people, sometimes for long periods of time, for things like possession of marijuana.  I'm not necessarily saying that marijuana should be made legal, but perhaps we should make the consequences involve community service and/or fines, instead of serious jail time.

2. The Constitution supports religious freedoms, but our current Supreme Court doesn't quite buy into it.  Religious practices, and not just religious beliefs, that don't harm 3rd parties need to be protected.  And the government needs to continue to keep its hands out of religion, and not provide special privileges or even subtle endorsements to its favorite religions.  All religions, no matter how small, should have an equal playing field with regards to the government.

3. People should continue to have plenty of freedoms of speech.  I don't believe corporations deserve quite so much protection, and I don't believe speech that functions merely to sell something deserves quite that high level of freedom of speech.

4. I believe in an adequate safety net.  The U.S. pays twice as much per person as other first-world countries for healthcare, and yet many in the U.S. are without health insurance.  Both those facts need to change, and they can with a single-payer system.  Employer-based health insurance may have worked when it was cheap and people stuck with the same job their whole lives.  It doesn't work any more.  If everyone had access to free or cheap healthcare, people would be more willing to take the risk of starting their own businesses, thus fueling creativity and innovation.  Major health issues could be resolved before a trip to the expensive E.R.  I also believe in an adequate safety net with concern to food and basic housing.

5. I believe that in times of low unemployment, the government should cut costs, raise taxes, and save up money, and that in times of high unemployment, the government should create low-income job opportunities.  My grandfather was forever grateful that FDR did this during the Great Depression.  Many of the projects that my grandfather and others like him worked on still stand today.  The U.S. decided to pay for a cheap labor force instead of letting that potential go to waste.  If only they had done the same this time around.

6. I believe it's ridiculous for the U.S. to have a military far, far, far greater than any other military currently existing.  Based on my father's brief time working as a civilian for an air force base, I also believe there is a tremendous amount of waste in the military.

7. I believe every child has a right to a good education.  Teachers should be well-compensated based on skill and field, and not just experience, and they should be easy to fire.  Classroom sizes should be small. 

8. Most tax loopholes and breaks should be eliminated, including the mortgage interest and health insurance loopholes.  Loopholes distort the market and, although they may help the middle class in some cases, the ones who profit the most from these are those who don't need them--the rich.

9. Health care for old people on the verge of death (Medicare) should not be significantly better than health care for children (Medicaid).

10. Everyone should pay the same percentage of their income to social security--rich people should not get major breaks on this like they do now.

11. The U.S. should work towards paying off its debt--but perhaps it should wait to do so until it's no longer in the greatest Recession since the Great Depression.