Friday, November 17, 2017

Great deals on Obamacare for 2018

Are you shopping for Obamacare? There are some incredible deals this time and you could very likely be paying less than you were last year. 

Important disclaimer: Actual policies vary by location so no promises, but MANY people are getting more coverage and/or paying less than last year, so it pays to shop carefully.

This year is pretty weird because of Trump’s cancellation of the Cost Sharing Reduction payments to insurance companies. His goal was to sabotage Obamacare in hopes that it would implode or something but as usual, he didn’t think it through and it’s pretty much backfired. Enrollments are up 79%.

Here’s what I’ve learned and how it works:

If you make between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level and buy an insurance plan on the Affordable Care Act marketplace, the amount you pay each month as a premium is a percentage of your income, not the amount the insurance company has set as the premium for that policy.

For example, if your income last year was $35,000 and you are a single mom with 2 kids, you will pay 5.02% of your income as a health insurance premium. That comes to $146 per month. The rest of the premium is paid for as a premium subsidy by the federal government. (Actually, it’s a tax credit paid in advance to the insurance company on your behalf, but whatever. Call it a subsidy, it’s easier.)

Bottom line, if the insurance company set the premium for the policy you chose last year at $500 per month, you sent them $146 every month and the subsidy paid the $354 difference.

Suppose you're now shopping for 2018. Your income hasn’t changed – it’s still $35,000. But your insurance company is raising the premium to $900/mo. Holy cow! What do I do now? Answer: Send them $146/mo, same as last year. It’s still 5.02% of your income. What’s changed is that your subsidy is now $754 instead of $354. Thing is, you never saw that subsidy anyway, so from your point of view, nothing’s changed.

So if you are in the income range that qualifies for a premium subsidy and you hear that your premiums are going way up this year, tune it out. Your premium is a percentage of your income, period. It doesn’t affect you. It affects the federal government which has to come up with more subsidy to cover the rest of your premium, but you pay the same as you did before.

What makes this year weird is the change in the Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR). What is that? Well, if you make between 100% and 250% of poverty level, AND YOU SIGN UP FOR A SILVER PLAN, (that part is key – hence the caps) you get some extra help to lower your deductible and co-pays. Your total out of pocket costs for the year are capped. For example, if you are that single mom with two kids making $35,000/yr, your out of pocket costs for the year cannot exceed $2450, even though someone not eligible for CSR may be paying a much higher deductible and co-pays.  The insurance company has to pay the difference between your cap and what someone who makes more money and who has to pay the full amount of deductible and co-pays would pay.

Note, this is paid for by the insurance company, not the federal government, and they are required by the ACA law to provide it, so they can’t weasel out of doing no matter what.

Since it’s a financial hit to the insurance companies to have to cover this for lower income enrollees, in the past the feds have reimbursed the insurance companies in the form of CSR payments to the insurance companies. But the law is unclear about whether the federal government is required to reimburse the insurance companies or not, and the matter is hung up in court at the moment. Under Obama, the decision was made to keep making the payments until the matter is decided.

Trump, however, decided that one of the ways he was going to sabotage Obamacare (along with cutting the sign-up time, firing most of the people that help with signing up (navigators), almost eliminating advertising to remind people when the sign up period is and how to sign up etc.) was the stop paying the CSR payment to the insurance companies.

But as usual, he didn’t think it through and it’s backfired.

Since the Cost Sharing Reduction is only available to people who sign up for a silver plan, the insurance companies responded by dramatically raising the premiums on their silver plans to cover the costs that they will now no longer be reimbursed for.

But the amount of PREMIUM subsidy you get is also tied to the cost of a silver plan. So remember, if the premium goes up, you pay the same but your subsidy increases. You can use that subsidy to buy any plan. So this year you may get a real windfall by switching to a bronze or gold plan, depending on whether you’re young and healthy and don’t expect to need much health care, or if you’re older and/or have other reasons to need a lot of doctor visits and prescription drugs. Maybe even a hospitalization.

If you qualify for CSR and high deductible or copays would be a financial disaster for you, stick with silver. You’ll pay the same as you always have no matter how high the insurance company sets their rates and you’ll have help with the deductible and copays.

But if you are young and healthy and your main goal is to pay as little as possible to have some kind of coverage in case random disaster strikes – or to avoid the penalty – you can sign up for a bronze plan for next to nothing because the subsidies are now so high. Or actually nothing – about half of enrollees can now get bronze coverage of $0 premium cost. That’s right, your premium would be $0. Our hypothetical single mom with 2 kids (who are on CHIP btw) who makes $35,000/yr can get a bronze plan for $22/mo.

On the other hand, consider the opposite situation. You’re older or have a chronic condition whose costs add up fast. You’ve had a silver plan in the past because that was what you could afford, but you really wished you could get a gold plan because it covers more.

If you don’t need the CSR because you have savings that can cover deductibles etc. or if you make between 250%-400% of poverty level and don’t qualify for CSR anyway, you may now be able to find a gold plan that you will pay a lower premium for next year than you paid for your silver plan this year. Why? Because, in the background, the higher premium for silver means a higher subsidy and you can apply that to any level plan, including gold.

Looks like quite a few people are going for the gold in 2018 The Gold Rush  (btw David Anderson writes – in the wonkiest way possible – about health insurance more or less daily. If you want to know more check out

More reading: 

And of course, the mothership
(Note: If you'd like to shop around before signing up or signing in, click on "$ See plans and prices - Preview Now"

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Austin March for Science - Earth Day 2017

Future scientist carefully examines dead bird. . . .

. . . pokes it with a stick.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

What we could have had, what we got

When I was growing up, going to school in the 50's and 60's, there were never any kids with disabilities in my classes. No kids in wheelchairs, no deaf kids, no blind kids. It never even occurred to us that this was not okay. Sad, but it's sad that a kid that had had polio couldn't walk, or that a deaf kid couldn't hear, or a blind kid couldn't see.

Of course none of these kids could go to school. How would the kid in the wheelchair get up the stairs to their class room? How would a deaf kid hear the teacher, or a blind kid read the textbook?

When Hillary graduated from law school she could have gone to work for a law firm and made lots of money writing contracts for corporations and setting up trust funds for the children of the wealthy and filing lawsuits for squabbling relatives fighting over who gets Daddy's millions.

But she went to work for the Children's Defense Fund. She went door to door to find the children that were listed on the census, but not in school, to find out why they weren't in school. As the CDF suspected, these were the children with disabilities. They simply sat at home while all the other children in their neighborhood got on the schoolbus or their bicycles and headed off for school with their friends each morning.

Armed with the data, the Children's Defense Fund filed legal challenges and lobbied Congress. In the end, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed.

Years later, after the insurance industry spent tens of millions of dollars on misleading and intentionally frightening "Harry and Louise" ads to defeat Bill and Hillary Clinton's attempt to provide health care to the uninsured, Hillary worked with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) to pass the Children's Health Insurance Program. Today, over 8 million children are covered by health insurance thanks to CHIP.

All of this that I've written so far is "political policy." Which we are told is boring and irrelevant to average folks. Those of us who do care about such things are accused of being elitists who don't understand ordinary Americans. I remember one young woman explaining to me that she wasn't interested in politics in the same way that she would have explained that she wasn't really interested in Pokemon or French cooking.

But political policy, is in the end, about the lives of average folks and ordinary Americans. It affects us all.

Sara's and Martha's lives would have been very different if Hillary hadn't gone door to door looking for kids like Sara who weren't in school. If she hadn't fought for CHIP. Before the election, I was filled with hope that we'd see more like this.

Instead . . .

Night before last was the first night I haven't waked up at 4am with these two videos running side by side in my head. What we could have had. What we got instead.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Best description of why I hate that term

I avoid the vaguely Stalinist 'politically correct', used now as a blunt object to bash people who try to treat others respectfully.

-a comment on this video

Sunday, April 21, 2013

No shit

I hate to give Ron Paul (whom I find despicable) or Chris Christie any credit for anything at all but they certainly are right about this:

The War on Drugs is a Failure

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

People who watch Fox News are . . . old

Fox News is losing younger viewers with amazing speed.

Latest ratings compared to one year ago:

• Overall, lost 22% of viewers 25-54

• In primetime, lost 17% of viewers 25-54

• The O'Reilly Factor lost 25% of viewers 25-54

• Hannity lost 19% of viewers 25-54

• On the Record lost 38% of viewers 25-54

• Fox and Friends lost 17% of viewers 25-54

84% of Fox News's audience are over 55. Only 16% are under 55.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ardent fans of the U.S. military

[Texas Senator Ted] Cruz notes that the Senate has "two pending nominations, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel." Describing the nominees, Cruz added, "Both of whom are very prominently...less than ardent fans of the U.S. military."

John Kerry is a decorated war hero who was awarded combat medals including the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. Chuck Hagel is a decorated war hero who was awarded combat medals including the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, two Purple Hearts, Army Commendation Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

Cruz has never served in the military.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

You don't own me

I always loved this song - knew all the words and belted it out along with Leslie every time I heard it on the radio. I was . . . 14? 15? at the time. The maker of this video writes:
Personally, I'm struck by the fact that we are teetering dangerously close to a situation where my daughter won't have the same rights I've enjoyed my entire life and that scares the heck out of me. Women constituted 60% of last elections voters. We can win this thing. We just have to agitate, motivate, and get out the darn vote!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The War on Women

So Republicans get the vapors over Democrats saying that the R's have declared a "war on women." To recap:
In Republican-controlled legislatures in statehouses across the country, more than 1,100 anti-abortion provisions were introduced in 2011.

Seven states either fully defunded or made moves toward defunding Planned Parenthood, which provides basic health care, contraception and cancer screenings to millions of women each year.

There’s the invasive trans-vaginal ultrasound mandates, personhood amendments, redefining rape, countless anti-contraception measures, attempts to end Title X and proposals to let hospitals allow a woman to die rather than perform an abortion necessary to save her life.

Then there’s the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. The landmark measure had broad bipartisan support when it was created in 1994, and when it was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. But in February, every Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to oppose it.
When you kill people to further your ideological agenda - that's war. That's what war is, basically, (either that or a grab for more territory).

Botched illegal abortions kill women. Not having access to cancer screenings kills women. Not having access to birth control kills women when women whose health can't handle a pregnancy get pregnant or become suicidal due to pregnancy. And, well, refusing to do an abortion to save a woman's life pretty obviously kills women.

I don't even want to look up how many women die each year due to domestic violence. What kind of sociopath votes against The Violence Against Women Act?

Yes, Republicans are waging a war on women.

Will the people who vote for them finally understand this when it's their sister, wife, daughter who dies?

Thursday, October 18, 2012


There was no crowing about the delicately coordinated bombing campaign (and the covert actions on the ground which helped it succeed) that brought down a tyrant. No "Mission Accomplished" banners, no bold predictions about the future of a remade Middle East thanks to our military efforts. But Obama got results. For less than a thousandth of the cost of Iraq, and with no lives lost until September 11th, Obama gave us a democratically elected Arab ally, an ally whose people -- not their leaders, their people -- are so grateful for what America did and how we did it, that after the death of our Ambassador they poured into the streets in outrage, and attacked the Islamic militias responsible.
Republicans seem to think that this is some kind of huge gotcha moment.... But I suspect they're caught up in their own echo chamber, the same one that insists Obama wants to take your guns away and has spent the past four years apologizing for America. But the more they dive into the conspiratorial weeds on this, the worse they look to ordinary Americans who don't really mind that President Obama waited a few days to sift through the evidence instead of going off half cocked within a few hours.

Retail sales

See that grey line labeled "2009"? That's when Bush left and Obama was sworn in. Tell me again why we'd want to go back to having Republicans in charge.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Does Romney ever NOT lie?

From the debate transcript:
And I -- and I went to my staff, and I said. . ."Well, gosh, can't we -- can't we find some -- some women that are also qualified?"

And -- and so we -- we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet.

I went to a number of women's groups and said, "Can you help us find folks," and they brought us whole binders full of women.
According to someone who was there at the time:
Not a true story.

What actually happened was that in 2002 -- prior to the election, not even knowing yet whether it would be a Republican or Democratic administration -- a bipartisan group of women in Massachusetts formed MassGAP to address the problem of few women in senior leadership positions in state government. There were more than 40 organizations involved with the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus (also bipartisan) as the lead sponsor.

They did the research and put together the binder full of women qualified for all the different cabinet positions, agency heads, and authorities and commissions. They presented this binder to Governor Romney when he was elected.

I have written about this before, in various contexts; tonight I've checked with several people directly involved in the MassGAP effort who confirm that this history as I've just presented it is correct -- and that Romney's claim tonight, that he asked for such a study, is false.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sen. Jim Webb's response to Romney on veteran's benefits

(At the end, Sen. Webb is referring to this.)

Who doesn't pay income tax?

One thing that disturbs me about the 47% rhetoric - which Romney certainly didn't invent - is that it's based on dividing Americans into Us vs. Them.

In this narrative, there are makers vs. takers, producers vs. parasites. These are descriptions of who someone is, their essential nature. The makers and the producers work hard and always take care of themselves. The takers and the parasites are, by their nature, lazy moochers who will always have their hands out for their government checks.

In fact, getting a government check isn't something that's a permanent condition for the vast majority of Americans who get one. Most of us get a government check at some point in our lives. "Government checks" include student loans, veterans benefits, disability payments, social security benefits, disaster assistance, medicare.

The vast majority of Americans work and pay taxes for most of their adult lives to pay for those benefits. But from year to year, our circumstances change. The economy is good, the economy is bad. We find a job, we get laid off. We have a baby or get seriously ill. At some point we either die or get old.

Most of the children who get free lunches while they're in school grow up, get a job and pay taxes that in turn provide free lunches for another generation of poor children. Most people who collect unemployment benefits do so only until they find another job. The very old get Medicaid to help pay for their nursing home care after a lifetime of work and paying taxes.

So who doesn't pay federal income taxes?

The key point in looking at this graph is that it shows a snapshot of who's not paying federal income taxes at one point in time.

People who don't pay income taxes are:

On social security - 10.3% of Americans pay no federal income taxes because they are elderly, drawing a Social Security "government check," and most, if not all (depending on your total income) of Social Security benefits are non-taxable income. But of course, they worked and paid taxes before they retired.

Romney's view of retired Americans on social security: " All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims . . ."

Veterans - Disability pensions for combat-related injuries are not subject to federal income tax. Veteran's education benefits aren't either. I suspect that most of my students who are veterans don't pay income tax because those education benefits are the biggest part of their income. Most have families, are full-time students, working hard to get the education they need to do well in a new career now that they're out of the military. Many were wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Ordinary military pensions are taxable, but like many retired people on social security, between their retirement income being lower than what they were making when they were working and the extra deduction for being over 65, they don't owe any income tax.

Romney's view of veterans: " All right, there are 47 percent . . . who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them."

Deployed troops - pay received while serving in a combat zone is non-taxable. Romney's view of our troops serving in a war: " . . . my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility . . ."

Disabled people - Supplemental Security Income is not taxable, Social Security Disability Insurance is covered by the same rules as regular social security benefits, so most people on Social Security Disability Insurance won't have a high enough income to have to pay income tax. About 5% of Americans, receive SSDI or SSI, so they're most of the "Nonelderly, income under $20,000" in the chart above.

Romney's view of disabled Americans: "All right, there are 47 percent . . . who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them . . ."

Working but don't owe income tax - 28.3% of Americans pay no federal income taxes, but they do pay Social Security (FICA) and Medicare tax, so that tells us that they have a job or are self-employed. More than a quarter of all Americans are working and paying federal taxes, they're just not paying federal income taxes.

Why don't these working Americans - more than half of Mitt's 47% - pay federal income taxes? For most of them it's because the EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) and the Child Tax Credit zeroes out the federal income taxes they would otherwise owe.

For millions of American families, this is a common story: They have a baby, one parent - usually mom - quits her job and stays home with the baby for a year or two, then she goes back to work. While they're living on one income, the family doesn't owe that much in income tax and then the EITC and the Child Tax Credit wipes that out. And most Americans who claim the Earned Income Tax Credit only claim it for one or two years. Source

Romney's view of working class and middle class families with children: ". . . there are 47 percent . . . who pay no income tax... my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

And of course all of these Americans pay all kinds of state and local taxes - sales taxes, property taxes, gas taxes, etc.

So who are Romney's 47%? This is who they are:

The thing is Romney didn't come up with this 47% nonsense himself. Right wing bloggers and talk show hosts have been going on about "Half of Americans don't pay (income) taxes!" for at least the past year that I've been hearing it. We heard it at the Republican primary debates and on the campaign trail.

There were demands that all of these moochers should have to pay taxes so they would have "skin in the game."

Right. Apparently this is how Republicans see tax fairness:

Old people on social security? Tax 'em! Honor our troops injured in war? Tax 'em! Fighting in a combat zone? Tax 'em! Disabled people struggling to get by? Tax 'em! Stay home with your kids while they're small? You need more taxes! The maid who cleans your motel room for minimum wage, the single mom with two kids? Tax her!

Given his description of the 47% of Americans who don't pay income tax in a given year, you'd think he thinks that they're all on welfare. Well, as I said before, I guess that depends on your definition of "welfare." Unlike Mitt, I think most Americans don't think social security benefits, combat pay, veterans benefits, disability payments, etc. are "welfare." Or maybe he knows very well that that's not true and he's just lying and pandering to his wealthy donors.

But I think he really doesn't know. And not just because he's so rich that he's out of touch. (Though there is that - see the heart-warming story of how he and Ann struggled during their student days when they had to - gasp! -sell some stock that their parents gave them to get by.)

No, I think what ails him is a combination of narcissism and gullibility. He just believes whatever talking points the TV talking heads and radio talk show hosts are repeating at the moment. He really has no curiosity about the vast majority of Americans. He just doesn't care enough to give any thought to why 47% of Americans do not pay income taxes in a particular year. He thinks they're parasites. It's their nature. He has no idea that most of them paid income tax in the past and will again in the future. Not to mention all of the other taxes (payroll taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, etc.) they pay.

But can we afford a president who has no idea why 47% of Americans don't pay income taxes?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Nobody says it like Samuel L. Jackson

NSFW, of course. It's Samuel L. Jackson, for fuck's sake.

Manufacturing jobs

On the radio as I drove to work today, listening to Romney rant about how many manufacturing jobs have been lost and that this proves that "trends are going in the wrong direction under Obama." Looks like it's Bushes (both of 'em) that tend to make American manufacturing jobs disappear.

The BGOV Barometer shows U.S. factory positions have grown since early 2010, arresting a slide that began toward the end of the 1990s. It’s the best showing since the era of Bill Clinton … “This is the first sustained increase we’ve seen in a long time,” Macpherson said. … The progress so far also contrasts with the job losses seen during the recovery from the 2001 recession, when George W. Bush was president, he said.