Mandates and Penalties

Oops – wrong mandate.

In the mid-1970s an electric power utility sent a couple representatives to my college campus as part of a campaign to explain the company’s plans to build a plant on the shores of Lake Erie upwind of the town where the campus resided. More accurately, I believe the pair of company flaks, knowing they would meet stiff resistance from long-haired hippy freaks, made the brief appearance merely to check off a box that they had made the effort to reach out. I recall the middle-aged men in lumpy suits seemed indifferent to the ecological concerns of students who were witnessing the slow death of Lake Erie and the infamous fires on Cleveland’s Cayuhoga River.

At one point, after pressing the men to respond to how the utility might handle a major fouling of the air and water that would adversely affect those downstream, one of the toads replied quite arrogantly that the utility would just pay the EPA’s fine. The clear message: paying the fine was way cheaper than the costs of dealing with prevention and damage clean-up (which would almost certainly fall on the government/taxpayer if suitably extensive.) Needless to say the crowd of tree-huggers erupted and the men abruptly packed their little display packs and rushed out the door past a poster portraying Reddy Kilowatt as a demon (which doesn’t require much modification).
I was reminded of the episode after reading a recent story dissecting the failings of Obamacare. In short, the article postulated that too many people – especially the young and healthy – were opting out of buying insurance and paying the penalty instead. Given that premiums can cost more than $10,000 a year in some cases, it’s understandable why people would pay the $700 penalty and take their chances. Way cheaper to pay the fine than cover the costs of proper protection. From the get-go, one of my biggest complaints about Obamacare was that the mandate to buy insurance wasn’t backed by a big enough disincentive to step around it. Like the electric power utility (and countless oil companies, banks, mining companies, and auto makers), for whom penalties for bad behavior are disproportionately tiny compared to the costs of complying with regulations, too many people are declining to participate in the health insurance pools to balance the insurance companies’ risks.

Of the several Obamacare fixes bandied about, raising the penalties for opt-out must be front and center.

Of course, there are those who opt-out on the principle that the mandate itself is somehow illegal or unfair. To them I say, make a similar pledge to call for the repeal of the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA) which mandates hospitals provide “public access to emergency services regardless of ability to pay.” After all, if it’s not fair to make a person buy health insurance coverage, it certainly isn’t fair to make a hospital ER eat the costs of treating that person if they can’t cover the bills.

So, if you pay the penalty to opt-opt, and you reach under a running lawnmower, be sure to bring cash to the ER (with your good hand).

The Big Short

Big Short

A good indicator of a company’s financial health and its future prospects is the degree to which insiders invest in the company’s stock. After all, if top officers of a publicly traded company are reticent to put their bloated salaries into the stock – or worse, are caught dumping large holdings – how can outsiders feel confident that the future looks bright. And if people in the know are shorting the stock, be very afraid.

That’s why I feel one of the more telling clues of the state of Trump’s campaign is the utter lack of enthusiasm on the part of big Republican donors, Trump’s children and Trump himself on dumping money into the campaign’s final days. FEC filings indicate such outwardly rabid supporters of Trump as Chris Christie, Newt the Skinflute Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani and Ben Carson have behind the scenes donated nary a cent to the campaign of their fearless leader.

Trump has boasted often of his ability to self-fund the whole campaign from his multiple billions, but at this late stage when an infusion of cash might help in closely contested states, he’s sitting on the sidelines. I find it quite amusing also that the heirs to the Trump fortune (whatever that may ultimately be) have given nothing, unless you count the $376.20 meal expense that Eric Trump picked up. (Sidebar: that sum was later reimbursed to Eric, so in fact none of the kids have risked a dime on the old man’s race.)

That’s not to say Trump can’t win, because after all, America is a fucked up country; but the financial analysis of the Trump campaign speaks volumes about what the insiders really think about HMS Trump-tanic.

End Note: The Gift of Weiner

After multiple scandals that showcased the utter lunacy of Anthony Weiner, why on Earth would Hillary Clinton keep his wife Huma Abedin – however competent and loyal – anywhere near her? While chasing down a legit investigation of the perverted Weiner, the FBI has now plotted a course through Abedin back to Clinton’s fucking email server.

For that gift, Trump should kiss Weiner on the weiner.

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