linked list saturday: how to stop the trickle-down tax cut, parental leave, Facebook being creepy

– Sadly, the Republican trickle-down tax cut passed the Senate last night. The House and Senate versions are different, but this is a huge step towards a bill passing.

So what can you do? You should call your Congressperson and Senators every day and ask them to oppose the bill. If you can, donate to Swing Left to support Democrats running against Republicans in swing districts in 2018.

Which countries are most generous to new parents? – a surprisingly wide range here, and of course the US is at the bottom 😦

How out of date are Android devices? – the answer is: pretty out of date. (neat visualization though!)

How Facebook Figures Out Everyone You’ve Ever Met – do NOT share your contacts with Facebook or any other app! This is creepy stuff.

Facebook (Still) Letting Housing Advertisers Exclude Users by Race – speaking of Facebook being creepy…

How to Get Rich Playing Video Games Online – interesting look at what it’s like to make a living on Twitch.

America Is Now an Outlier on Driving Deaths – our fatality rate has gone down since 1990, but not nearly as much as the rate in comparable countries.

What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer – the answer appears to be: the number of guns we have. (The US makes up about 4.4% of the world’s population, but we have 42% of the world’s guns!)

Call your senators: oppose the tax cut for millionaires!

Yup, it’s that time again! There are many valid reasons to oppose the bill; since my Senators are conservative Republicans, here’s what I went with:

Hi, my name is , and I’m a constituent of Senator . I’m urging to oppose the tax bill in front of the House, as it would balloon the deficit by over a trillion dollars to provide tax cuts for millionaires.

Call today! It just takes a minute!

The tax bill is not particularly popular, so this is something we can beat, or at least convince them to make less terrible!

Here’s a helpful chart about the plan, and who wins and loses under it.

Senator Cornyn’s numbers are: (512)469-6034 (Austin office) and (202)224-2934 (DC office)
Senator Cruz’s numbers are: (512)916-5834 (Austin office) and (202)224-5922 (DC office)

Call your senators: might be a vote on health care this week!

If you want to read up on the Senate bill a bit more, here are some good stories about how it slashes Medicaid and will cause premiums to rise for many people to give a tax cut to the wealthy.

Please call today. You don’t have to get in to policy much, just say something like

Hi, my name is <your name>, and I’m a constituent of Senator <senator’s name>. I’m urging <him/her> to vote against any health care bill that would cause tens of millions of Americans to lose their insurance, like the one proposed in the Senate.

If your senator opposed the bill (here’s a handy whip count – note that Senator Cruz is currently opposed!), be sure to say something like “I urge the Senator to stand against the bill even if minor changes are made”, because this is exactly what happened with the House bill – they made some small changes and that gave cover for representatives to vote for it.

Senator Cornyn’s numbers are: (512)469-6034 (Austin office) and (202)224-2934 (DC office)
Senator Cruz’s numbers are: (512)916-5834 (Austin office) and (202)224-5922 (DC office)

Texans: call Senators Cornyn and Cruz to save healthcare!

A few weeks ago, the House passed the AHCA (aka TrumpCare, aka the American Health Care Act), which is terrible for reasons I’ve gone into before. (why it’s bad, why essential health benefits are good) The CBO scored the bill and estimated that 23 million people will lose their health care if the bill passes, and people with preexisting conditions may have to pay higher premiums (like, way higher). It is bad!

The Senate is now working on a health care bill – they say they’re going to “start from scratch”, so who knows what they’ll come up with. Also:

Senators Cornyn and Cruz are both involved in this effort (per item 2 here) – let them know what you think!

I had a hard time thinking about what to say since it’s not as straightforward as “vote/don’t vote for this bill”, but the suggested text from that item is good:

“Hello, my name is [NAME] from [TOWN]. I know the Senator is on the working group of the new healthcare bill. The House’s plan is a disaster. The ACA isn’t perfect, but it has expanded access to coverage to millions of Americans. Does the Senator pledge that the new bill will allow those millions to keep their insurance, and will contain no loopholes for insurers to charge more for pre-existing conditions?”

Senator Cornyn’s numbers are: (512)469-6034 (Austin office) and (202)224-2934 (DC office)
Senator Cruz’s numbers are: (512)916-5834 (Austin office) and (202)224-5922 (DC office)

The Senate is in recess this week so call today!

Why health care isn’t like cupholders (or, why essential health benefits make sense)

Apparently the Republican effort to drastically weaken the Affordable Care Act isn’t dead after all, maybe. So I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at one of the issues that came up last time – getting rid of essential health benefits.

Essential health benefits are a list of 10 things that every health care plan is required to cover. (this was a new requirement under the Affordable Care Act) They include things like:

  • hospitalization and emergency care
  • maternity/newborn care
  • prescription drugs

and more. The libertarian/small-government conservative view of this is presumably something like:

Why should the government mandate what you can offer in a health plan? Let the free-market figure it out – if people don’t like what’s in a plan, they won’t buy it and the company will change it to improve sales.

or something along those lines. (I’m trying to make a good-faith representation here – if an actual libertarian wants to correct me, feel free!)

Here’s what I don’t think that makes sense.

Let’s say the government wanted to pass a law (because everybody loves cupholders!) that requires every new car sold to have at least two cupholders. This seems unnecessary for the following reasons:

  1. People know whether they want cupholders in their car
  2. It is exceedingly obvious how many cupholders a car has
  3. There are many car companies, so if a car company refuses to make a car with cupholders other car companies will step in to make cars with cupholders, because they will make more money doing so

Now, back to health care.

  1. The problem with health care insurance is that it’s not a good. If you never have to use your insurance, you’re happy! But you don’t know what kind of health problems you’re going to have over the next year, so expecting people to predict what health care problems they’re going to have and buy the appropriate insurance is pretty unreasonable.
  2. There were many stories before the ACA about people who bought insurance and then were surprised when it didn’t cover something catastrophic. Now, you could certainly argue that it’s the person’s fault for not reading details about their coverage closely enough.

    Here’s another way to think about it. In some poorer countries the water they get is contaminated with various microbes, and aid groups distribute chlorination tablets to make the water drinkable. People in those countries have to remember to use the tablets every time, or they’ll probably get sick. This is a mental burden on them even if they never forget to treat their water. In the US we can afford to provide clean water to everyone, and everyone benefits from it. (I think this example is from Why Nations Fail but I’m not sure)

    Having insurance that doesn’t cover what you think it covers can literally send people into bankruptcy. Yes, this makes premiums more expensive, but that’s why the ACA includes subsidies to help lower-income people afford insurance.

  3. There aren’t a ton of insurance companies, but more problematic is the idea of a “death spiral”. Let’s say company Gold provides a generous insurance plan that covers all sorts of treatments, etc. with a higher premium, and company Bronze provides a very bare-bones insurance plan with a lower premium. If I think I’m a healthy person with a Gold plan, this will make me want to switch to a Bronze plan since the premiums are cheaper. That means that the average person on the Gold plan is now less healthy, which means company Gold will have to raise their premiums to compensate. That will in turn drive more healthy people to leave the Gold plan, and the spiral has begun.

Hopefully this gives you an idea why essential health benefits are a good idea!

Obamacare survives! Some mostly jubilant thoughts

Yay! Here’s one of many articles covering it.

– While part of the problem was the House Freedom Caucus thought the bill didn’t do enough, there were also a chunk of moderates that wouldn’t support it. I saw a number of quotes from people saying they were getting thousands of calls against it and single-digit number of calls for it. Calling your representative can work! See:

– The bill itself was very unpopular (this poll had it at 17% approve 56% disapprove, and that was before they got rid of the essential health services!), which I guess isn’t surprising for something that would have made 24 million people lose health insurance in the next 10 years. This is a good example of how passing Obamacare moved the Overton window – just repealing it wasn’t acceptable to even most Republicans since so many people would have lost insurance.

– Margins matter. The estimates of how many votes the Republicans were short is in the neighborhood of 15 or so when it was closest to passing. If the Republicans had 30 more seats in the House it easily could have passed. (although who knows what would have happened in the Senate…but again, the Republicans have a very slim majority there)

– We’re going to lose a lot. It was great (and important!) to win this battle, but the Republicans still control the House, Senate, and Presidency, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they pass some terrible tax bill or whatnot. So don’t lose hope when this happens, and don’t give up!

why you should oppose the Republican health care bill (aka the ACA “repeal and replace”)

If you want to read the bill itself, you can do so at the clever URL ReadTheBill.gop. I tried to get through it and gave up – it’s 120 pages and not the easiest thing to read. But I do appreciate having the bill easily available!

If you want to read articles by people smarter than me, here’s a pretty good summary, and here’s an article wondering why the bill exists because both conservative and moderate Republicans are unhappy about it for different reasons. And here’s a roundup of how people are responding to it.

Here are some weird/bad things about it:

If you don’t have insurance through your employer, poorer people will get less of a subsidy/tax credit, and richer people will get more – see here for a chart with some samples. The original bill would give a tax credit to everyone (without employer health insurance) based solely on age, so Mark Zuckerberg and I would get the same amount. Now they added some phasing out based on income, so Zuckerberg won’t get anything. But it’s still less progressive than the ACA, and people are worried that more low-income people won’t be able to afford insurance at all.

We don’t know how much it will cost or how many people will lose coverage because the Republicans are voting on it out of committee tomorrow – the plan was released yesterday and they want to vote on it tomorrow! They’re not waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to “score” it, which is awfully suspicious. An expert suspects 15 to 20 million people would lose coverage under the bill.

The individual mandate is gone, but if you stop coverage and later want it your premiums will go up 30% which is just weird. One big problem you have to worry about in healthcare is that people will not buy insurance until they get sick, then they’ll buy it to cover procedures, etc. This can lead to the feared “death spiral” where more healthy people drop their insurance, which makes premiums go up, which makes more healthy people drop their insurance, etc. Pre-ACA insurers dealt with this by either refusing to cover people with “preexisting conditions” or raising their premiums sky-high. The ACA attempted to solve this with the mandate, which says you have to have insurance or pay a penalty. But raising someone’s premium by 30% is probably not enough to dissuade people from doing this.

There’s a sweet tax break for insurance company executives that make more than $500K because it wouldn’t be a Republican bill without a tax break for the rich, I guess?

Six pages of the bill deal with keeping lottery winners off of Medicaid which really threw me for a loop when I started reading the bill! (more coverage here)