Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Reflections On the Shutdown

I'm trying to stay detached while watching the political drama between House republicans and Senate democrats, though I'll forewarn you that my innate liberal bent often makes this difficult. But having spent my life in the media business, the PR drama is something to which I can bring a little more objectivity, I think. Among my observations:

• Initially, I thought it was quite brilliant of the right wing, a couple years ago, to label The Affordable Care Act "Obamacare."  It is much easier for the public to oppose a social program with a alien-sounding name than it is the feel-good phrase "affordable care."  When I researched this, I found that the term was cropping up in editorials way back in 2007, during the presidential election race. In any case, these journalists deserve a medal from the tea party group, since the phrase has made it much easier to galvanize opposition today.

However, this could come to haunt republicans, too, because recently even democrats have been using the phrase, and I now have the sense that if the program shows any early success at all, "Obamacare" could become similar to "Social Security" in the hearts and minds of citizens. 20 years from now, the phrase could offer echos of "New Deal" and be part of a fond legacy for Obama.... or could taint him like "teapot dome scandal" did for Warren Harding.   Just too early to tell.

• It was, I thought, similarly shrewd of republicans over the last few days to repeat in speeches "if Obama can negotiate with Iran and Syria, why can't he negotiate with us?"  Leaving aside for a moment the fact that what's proposed is really NOT a true negotiation, it was a shrewd PR move to enlist everyone who is conservative regarding foreign policy onto the anti-obamacare team.

If I were the democrat, though, I'd seize the opportunity and coin this phrase:  "American doesn't negotiate with terrorists, not even ones in Congress."

• In the media, I think the tide is moving in the direction of the democrats. This morning as the government shutdown dawned, I could find few newspaper editorials that didn't chastise the republicans in some way. USA Today (granted, not the newspaper of the highly educated, but normally maddeningly unwilling to take a strong stand) found in their survey that 69% of readers strongly blamed the republican house for the current mess. Other notably liberal newspapers predictably blamed republicans, but not even the Wall Street Journal could must muster much fierce anti-Obama sentiment on this one, publishing only a Peggy Noonan editorial that said it would be in Obama's interest to negotiate.

....some observations on how the health care exchanges looks to me.

Minnesota has been on the forefront of establishing a state-based health insurance exchange, and when I logged onto their web site this morning, the first day of enrollment, I found it far more developed than I had been led to believe—easy to navigate and quite easy to understand and use. Using my current work-sponsored health insurance program as a standard, I found that if I were to buy insurance on the exchange for myself, my wife, and daughter (age 24), the annual costs would be around $7,000 to 8,000 a year. (Plus, in likelihood, possibly another $2,000 or so in out of pocket). That's for "platinum" coverage, a fairly comprehensive coverage similar to what I enjoy at work. Considering that I have friends of a similar age who privately insure for costs up to $20,000 per year (premiums plus out-of-pocket max), from a purely selfish point of view, the new exchange program doesn't look too bad.

It doesn't even look bad compared to our work-sponsored insurance, since my own contribution to this (one-third of total) is about $5,000 per year.

The health insurance exchange, then, wouldn't make any sense for me in a situation where my employer pays two-thirds of my current cost. But considering that I might be able to buy pretty decent annual insurance coverage for less than $10,000 per year, it does mean that retiring at 60 or 62 is a distinct possibility, rather than slaving away until 65, as I might have to do without the program.  And this seems to me to be in the country's best interests: getting older workers out of the workforce to clear the way for employing youngsters.

Now, I'm not naive enough to not understand that there might be plenty of hidden costs here, not the least of which is the real concern that the program could add to the national debt, unless carefully managed and controlled.  That's the argument made by intelligent conservatives, and they can make it fairly persuasively, whenever they are not drowned out by tea party shrillness.

But on a basic PR level, my suspicion is that as many ordinary people see that the current program seems to offer more affordable health insurance, they'll seize upon the selfish benefit and not worry too much about the broader implications. How many consumers, for example, worry about larger ethical issues when buying cheap clothing at Walmart manufactured by slave children in Bangladesh?  We're a culture of "what's good for me," and gradually, I think, Obamacare will leave that impression for many people.

I'm not equating Obamacare with Walmart manufacturing ethics, by any means. There's just not enough evidence to know what the final outcome will be. But for once, anyway, I'm actually firmly behind the editorial I read this morning, which said "Fix Obamacare, don't eliminate it."

That's a debate we can and should be having.  Not the silliness currently underway.