Friday, August 30, 2013

Interesting rhetorical victory

Opposition to Obamacare in some circles is very, very harsh, and there certainly is a lot to criticize, but a lot of it is unfair. However, there are some bits of rhetorical flair that I do find very effective.
  • Exempt from Obamacare - This is the best example. It is a rhetorical shorthand that I see popping up in many places, but when examined, it suddenly becomes transparently innocuous. What this really means is, "exempt from having to purchase health insurance through the mandate". What makes you exempt? Having health insurance or something close enough to it, essentially. Or being Amish. I see a lot of bluster about government employees being exempt from Obamacare, but, sure, they already have health insurance through FEP. Should they? The government is a large employer, so they are mandated to provide health insurance or pay a penalty, and I do not see a reason the feds should be exempt from that requirement.

    The only place this really holds water is if you're talking about genuine exemptions. But, unless you're talking about the Amish, this is not what you're talking about. It's not just any random religious group that has an objection to having insurance. It is a handful of specifically enumerated groups.

    This even extends outside of this kind of rhetoric: I recently saw some group selling an insurance-like product that they said would make you "exempt from Obamacare". This is a fantastic way of playing into the rhetorical fears of a certain demographic: yes, it will make you exempt from the individual mandate by providing you with a service that is enough like insurance to fulfill the mandate. You are not really "exempt", you are fulfilling the mandate. At a price that may or may not be better than subsidized prices on the exchange.

  • They will be better off paying the penalty. Well, the penalty will be cheaper than insurance for almost everybody who is buying insurance on the individual market, yes, even after subsidy. This is because the penalty this year is $95 or 1% of salary above $10,000. But what do they get in exchange for their money? Health insurance. This has some value to the customer. Perhaps it is in excess of the price they pay for it, but for many of the people mentioned in this context, the utility of spending the additional money is perhaps greater than the utility of having money less the penalty and less the insurance plan.

    Here is what I mean: one study indicated that 3.4 million people would be less than $500 better off if they paid the penalty. If you play with the calculator for this, you get the impression that the way to do this is generally to have insurance costing less than $1000/yr after the subsidy, typically much less. In one cited example, some article indicated a single man making $18,100/yr would save $117 by paying the penalty. Wait - at that income level, the penalty is $95. For less than $20/month, he could have had health insurance. I realize that the income is very small and even $20/month could hurt. But I find it hard to accept that paying $95/yr with no health insurance is seen as a "better" outcome than paying $222/yr and having health insurance, even if does not end up being needed. I think this is fairly true for every combination of incomes and penalties that could fall into the "less than $500 difference", as, from fiddling around, it seems that for individuals that is pretty much less than $1000/yr for health insurance - I didn't do the math, I'm just fiddling around with the calculator. While $1000/yr for health insurance might make somebody on a tight budget nervous, that's compared to $500 for nothing at all.

    Still, if you don't do the math or think too hard, it's an impressive bit of rhetoric.

I am sure I will think of more rhetoric about this. There may be a part two.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A fun story about Sam Houston.

I was reading a discussion about whether slaves ever fled to Mexico (answer: they did) and somebody said this about Sam Houston:
When two of Senator Sam Houston's "best slaves" fled to Mexico, he said that they would "civilize and refine" the Mexicans, since they were "remarkably good" companions.
Note, of course, Mexico had abolished slavery and yet they were considered less civilized and refined.

In case you cannot tell, I've been on a Civil War/Slavery kick recently because of the apparent rise of "Lost Cause" apologists and neo-Confederates in popular discourse, especially among Libertarians.