Tuesday, March 28, 2017

We Need a Referee

The argument that more government regulation hurts business is simply false.

If you need proof, just compare the unemployment rates and job numbers between Bush’s last day in office and Obama’s. When Bush left office (after deregulating the marketplace), the unemployment rose to 7.8% and we lost 9 million jobs. When Obama left office (after placing smart regulations), the unemployment fell to 4.9% and we gained 15 million new jobs. Furthermore, incomes rose and poverty fell across every race and age group. And the private sector flourished.

In other words, smart regulations and investments from our government actually serve to benefit everyone – private sector and public sector alike.

Businesses and individuals need to operate on some basic level of an equal playing field in order to succeed. Just as a referee is needed to strengthen the integrity of a game, government regulations are needed to strengthen the integrity of capitalism. These regulations create organized marketplace competition and adherence to the fair and equitable application of the rules set in place. This, in turn, allows for creativity and entrepreneurship to develop and flourish.

As such, we need to ensure that helping the private sector does not come at the expense of the public sector, and vice-versa. These two sectors are not mutually exclusive.

Today, however, President Trump signed a new executive order demolishing a key set of Obama-era regulations on climate change, which imposed limits on business's carbon emissions. But these “job-killing regulations” did not, as we have seen, destroy our economy. Instead, these rules were slowly able to reduce the devastating effects of climate change and carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants.

These regulations are still needed today to keep our air breathable and our water drinkable. But I guess deregulation is more important than clean air and water.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

TrumpCare Isn't Care

I am thrilled that the GOP finally (after 6 years) revealed their ACA (i.e. Obamacare) replacement. Unfortunately, it’s a huge step in the wrong direction for four reasons:

1) One of the main ways that the ACA increased insurance coverage was by expanding the Medicaid program to cover millions more of low-income Americans.
  • The ACA opened the program up to anyone below 138 percent of the poverty line (about $15,000 for an individual) in the 31 states that opted to participate.
  • But the new Republican bill will phase out this expansion by 2020, forcing millions to lose healthcare. 
2) One of the main ways that the ACA reduced the burden placed on taxpayers to pay for someone else’s healthcare was by imposing an individual mandate (requiring everyone to buy healthcare or pay a fee).
  • This mandate is essential to healthcare reform because it balances out the risk pool for insurance companies. It puts the young, old, sick and healthy into the same risk pool. After all, you need both healthy and sick people to sign-up for healthcare to balance the insurance market and lower costs in the long-term. 
  • This new bill, however, does not require those who free-ride the system to pay a fee. Instead, it requires those who don’t maintain “continuous coverage” to pay a hefty fine when they want to reenter the insurance market.
  • This places a significant disadvantage to those who need healthcare the most. In fact, people with chronic conditions and disabilities are more likely to have breaks in employment and gaps in coverage as a result of their conditions. With this new bill, these people are at a much greater risk of having insurers increase their premiums. 
  • At the same time, the removal of the mandate could discourage healthy people from getting healthcare until they’re sick. This, in turn, will increase costs for the rest of us. 
3) The ACA currently restricts how much insurers can charge their elder enrollees.
  • Under the ACA, insurers can only charge their older customers three times as much as their youngest. 
  • This new bill removes this important regulation, thus allowing insurers to increase premiums for their older customers. 
4) Under the ACA, tax credits are provided to those who need healthcare but may be unable to afford the current premium prices.
  • These tax credits are based on income, with those who earn less getting more help. In fact, thanks to these tax credits, nearly 80% of those who either sign up for the first time in the marketplace or change plans in the marketplace will only end up paying between $50-$100 a month for insurance. 
  • This new bill, however, would offer tax credits based mostly on age. As such, a significant disadvantage is placed on younger, healthier Americans who are needed in the insurers risk pool. It will also not cover the new high premiums that older Americans will now be charged (see point 3). And it will unfairly benefit the wealthiest among us, while shifting costs to those who are sicker and lower-income.
Please call your member of Congress and ask them to vote against this new bill. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many, One

President Trump claims his Administration is running like a great business. But this is not how businesses are run.

In fact, most businesses understand the importance of investing in their human capital. They understand that, by doing so, they will have less costly employee turnover and increased employee retention, satisfaction, productivity, creativity and loyalty.
  • That’s why companies like Starbucks pays for its employees to attend college.
  • That’s why companies like McDonalds, Target, Ikea, Costco and JP Morgan Chase have agreed to start increasing their minimum wages.
  • That’s why companies like Google, Amazon and Netflix have increased the number of weeks in their paid paternity leave programs.
By investing in its employees, a business is not just being altruistic. These strategic investments will also help make a business more financially sustainable and profitable in the long-term.

Great businesses are made by great employees who feel invested in. After all, the biggest asset to a business is its employees. In the same way, the biggest asset to our country is its citizens. And just like a business needs to invest its employees, our government needs to invest in its citizens and ensure equality of opportunity.

That is what President Trump fails to understand.
  • He failed to understand this with his Muslim immigration ban.
  • He failed to understand this with his “Repeal Obamacare” slogan.
  • He failed to understand this with his choice of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, who could privatize our education system, remove the national standards set in place, and reverse sexual violence punishment guidelines.
  • He failed to understand this with his choice of Scott Pruitt as EPA Secretary, who denies climate change and could fail to enforce critical environmental protection laws.
  • He failed to understand this with his choice of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, who once called groups like the NAACP and the ACLU “Communist-inspired” and “un-American”.
  • He failed to understand this with his choice of Alexander Acosta as Labor Secretary who, as a U.S. attorney, did not believe in pressing federal charges against a billionaire who solicited prostitution from a 14-year-old in 2008.
Regardless of what political party you belong to, both liberals and conservatives benefit from an invested government. If you have ever attended a public school; ever needed a tax break; ever used a bank loan; ever needed to buy health insurance; or ever started a business, you have needed an invested and reliable partner in government.

Additionally, government is able to offer something that capitalism cannot: the guarantee of certain freedoms – the freedoms to be healthy, drink clean water, breath clean air, obtain a great education, succeed in a free market economy and have capital when you need it.

Capitalism may be a zero-sum game. But that’s not how government should or can operate. And the sooner President Trump realizes this, the sooner we can move away from a “I win, you lose” mentality and get our country back on track.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Our Role As Citizens

As President Obama transitions to his role as citizen, and as President Trump transitions to his role as leader of the free world, I urge everyone to not lose hope.

We are, after all, the same country that showed up in record numbers to elect President Obama. Twice.

We are the same country that not only elected an African-American to the highest office in the country, but also gave him a majority in Congress when he took office. That congress, in turn, allowed us to pass Obamacare, Wall Street Reform, Student Loan Reform, and save our economy from another Great Depression.

Time and time again, we have seen the power of our voices. We have seen how much change we can enact when we make our voices heard and engage in our political process.

Yes, this past election sucked. And yes, we had 3 million more Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump. But I believe a primary reason we lost the Presidency is because we did not get engaged and involved in the political process early enough.  
And in doing so, we also gave the President-Elect a majority in Congress. That congress, in turn, will confirm his radical and unqualified cabinet-members. That congress, in turn, will repeal Obamacare; deregulate our markets and revert back to the failed economic policies of the Bush Administration. That congress, in turn, will not fight for climate change. That congress, in turn, will weaken the progressive issues that President Obama has championed.

But it is with this challenge that – WE the people – must organize and engage ourselves. It is up to us to fight against the injustices and intolerance from our new President and his Administration.

WE the people must vote in elections – not just for our Presidents, but also for our council members, our mayors, our congress members, and our governors.

WE the people must volunteer for political campaigns and social causes.

WE the people must not normalize racism and bigotry and, instead, speak up and speak out.

WE the people must hold our elected representatives accountable, and call out members so they never forget who they are working for.

We have seen how successful this strategy can be. Just recently – when Republicans tried to dismantle the Office of Congressional Ethics – we saw people organize, make calls to their representatives, speak up and speak out. Within 24 hours, Republicans reversed their proposal.

It is always easy to sit idly by on the sidelines, and complain that our leaders are not doing enough. It is always easy to take the path of least resistance, hoping that justice will fall gently on your lap.

But justice, equality, and fairness never come easy. As President Obama said in his farewell address:

Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted. All of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions…All of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power happens to be swinging.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Obamacare: Progress Worth Fighting For

You might have heard on the news recently that Obamacare “isn’t working”.

Put simply: that’s not true.

For the first time, more than 90% of Americans have healthcare.
For the first time, 20 million who didn’t have insurance before now have it.
For the first time, those with preexisting conditions can shop for affordable insurance.

And although premiums in 2017 are scheduled to increase, this is a normal – however unfortunate and inconvenient – part of market dynamics. It is also important to note that what premiums are doing is different from what people are actually paying.

While premiums might be going up in the short term, so are the tax credits available to consumers. In fact, thanks to these tax credits, nearly 80% of those who either sign up for the first time in the marketplace or change plans in the marketplace will only end up paying between $50-100 a month for insurance.

For those who get coverage through their employers (like most Americans), they will now be getting better quality of care, as insurance companies can no longer deny coverage, must include maternity care and preventative care at no additional costs, cannot place lifetime caps on your coverage, and must spend 80% of your premiums on actual care. That’s more bang for their buck.

Plus, in the long-term, once the market balances out and healthier people get enrolled – economies of scale will kick in. Costs will lower for everyone because people will get healthier, make less ER visits (that taxpayers pay for), and have more free-market competition between insurance companies.

Market dynamics take time. That is exactly why we cannot talk about “repealing Obamacare”. Instead, we need to talk about “improving Obamacare” by:

1. Ensuring that healthier, younger people get enrolled in the Marketplace to balance the risk pool.
  • If you have not already, I would recommend that, at the least, you take a look at Healthcare.gov. It's very consumer-centered and user-friendly. You can shop around multiple issuers and multiple plans to see if there's a viable option for you. Most people can also find up to 30 different plans and use tax credits to reduce any potential financial burdens. Open Enrollment goes from Nov.1-Jan.31.
2. Ensuring that we expand Medicaid to ensure premiums decrease for consumers.
  • Specifically, there are 19 Republican Governors that have refused to expand Medicaid in their states, thus denying affordable healthcare to an estimated 4 million Americans. This is partisanship we cannot afford, as marketplace premiums in those states are about 7% higher than in states that have expanded Medicaid.
3. Making Medicare more sustainable.  
  • Medicare spending comes at a great cost to taxpayers. So shouldn’t we make sure that our taxpaying dollars are being spent wisely? Shouldn’t we ensure that we are not paying twice to fix the same medical conditions?
  • That means making sure that each dollar is spent on improving quality of care, not quantity.
  • If you have ever visited the hospital for a medical procedure, you will notice that – often times – there can be significant overlap in services. You might have to see several different clinicians, who might order duplicate x-rays or blood tests. This drives up healthcare costs, results in fragmented care, and creates minimal coordination between clinicians. Obamacare begins to fix this problem.
  • Also thanks to Obamacare, less of our taxpaying dollars will go to those hospitals that have a high remittance rate (i.e. patients who return within 30 days of discharge for the same condition). This free-market approach ensures that clinicians get paid for what they provide and reach certain health requirements to get reimbursed. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), this will save taxpayers $7 billion over 10 years. It will also lead to greater collaboration among healthcare professionals, thus better quality of healthcare.

Obamacare might not be a perfect law, but it is a significant improvement from the system we had before.

That is progress worth fighting for.
That is progress worth voting for.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

My Letter to the RNC

To: The RNC and all those who suddenly now support Mr. Trump
From: A Concerned Citizen

This past week, I got the sense that you’re a little frustrated. Things definitely do not seem to be going your way. But why is there a notion that America is not already “Great Again”?

Why do you feel that liberal talk of "love is love", or "decreased unemployment rates", or "decreased uninsured rates", or "reduced deficits", or "reduced veteran homelessness", or "diplomacy before war" would be this country's downfall?

Why do you hate the Department of Health and Human Services until you get sick; hate Department of Labor until you lose your job; hate Department of Housing and Urban Development until you lose your home; hate Department of Justice until you feel discriminated against; hate Department of Transportation until you hit a pothole; hate Department of Commerce until you're denied a loan; hate Department of Agriculture until you get food poisoning; and hate Department of Homeland Security until you feel threatened?

Why do you want smaller government until you’re asking for stimulus money in your state; asking for relief after a natural disaster; or asking to ban gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose?

Why do you focus so much on using the words “Islamic Extremists”, instead of focusing on how to defeat them? (By the way, in case you’re wondering – the best way to defeat "Islamic Extremists" is to do the thing they hate most about us - LOVE all those who are different. Part of that is understanding that an "Islamic Extremist" is to Islam what the KKK is to Christianity. Bad people do not define any religion, and we should not support leaders who do.)

Why do you think that appreciating the unique struggles of people of color (i.e. "Black Lives Matter") somehow insults or diminishes the value and unique privilege of non-minorities? Of course "All Lives Matter". But so do the lives of unarmed and peaceful black citizens, Syrian refugees, children of undocumented immigrants (i.e. “Dreamers”), women who earn less than their male counterparts for doing the same work, and the LGBTQ couple that wants to make their love official.

Democrats have a significant advantage this fall – they have a great record to run on and an even better candidate to carry that record forward.

Maybe you should revisit the “Growth and Opportunity Project” you started after Governor Romney lost the 2012 election. You remember? The one that stressed the importance of inclusion to Americans who might not have been on board with all your party’s policies.