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Pandora’s Seed – Spencer Wells

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Pandora’s Seed

The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization

Spencer Wells

Genre: Life Sciences

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: June 8, 2010

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC


Ten thousand years ago, our species made a radical shift in its way of life: We became farmers rather than hunter-gatherers. Although this decision propelled us into the modern world, renowned geneticist and anthropologist Spencer Wells demonstrates that such a dramatic change in lifestyle had a downside that we’re only now beginning to recognize. Growing grain crops ultimately made humans more sedentary and unhealthy and made the planet more crowded. The expanding population and the need to apportion limited resources created hierarchies and inequalities. Freedom of movement was replaced by a pressure to work that is the forebear of the anxiety millions feel today. Spencer Wells offers a hopeful prescription for altering a life to which we were always ill-suited.  Pandora’s Seed  is an eye-opening book for anyone fascinated by the past and concerned about the future.

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Pandora’s Seed – Spencer Wells

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In Which I Waste a Lot of Time on Climate Change Yahooism

Mother Jones

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Boy did I waste some time yesterday. It started with this post from David French:

The Environmentalist Left Has to Grapple with Its Failed, Alarmist Predictions

I’m pasting below one of my favorite videos, from a Good Morning America report in 2008….Truly, it’s a stunning piece of work, depicting the deadly dystopia that awaited Americans in . . . 2015. Manhattan is disappearing under rising seas, milk is almost $13 per “carton,” and gas prices skyrocketed to more than $9 per gallon. But if you’re familiar at all with environmentalist predictions, there’s nothing all that unusual about the GMA’s report (except for its vivid visuals).

….As I wrote in early 2016 — after the world allegedly passed Al Gore’s “point of no return” — environmentalist predictions are a target-rich environment. There’s a veritable online cottage industry cataloguing hysterical, failed predictions of environmentalist catastrophe. Over at the American Enterprise Institute, Mark Perry keeps his list of “18 spectacularly wrong apocalyptic predictions” made around the original Earth Day in 1970. Robert Tracinski at The Federalist has a nice list of “Seven big failed environmentalist predictions.” The Daily Caller’s “25 years of predicting the global warming ‘tipping point’” makes for amusing reading, including one declaration that we had mere “hours to act” to “avert a slow-motion tsunami.”

….Is the environmental movement interested in explaining rather than hectoring? Then explain why you’ve been wrong before. Own your mistakes.

I would be a lot more impressed with complaints like this if conservatives had spent the past decade loudly insisting that although climate change was important and needed to be addressed, we shouldn’t panic over it. That would be defensible. Needless to say, that’s not what they’ve done. Instead, for purely partisan reasons, we’ve gone from lots of Republicans supporting cap-and-trade to a nearly unanimous rejection in 2010 of what they now fatuously call cap-and-tax, followed in 2016 by the election of a man who’s called climate change a hoax.

Still, alarmism from activists is nothing new, so I was ready to believe plenty of them had gone overboard. At the same time, I was suspicious because the GMA video was rather oddly cropped. It was a hyperactive promo for a forgettable ABC program called Earth 2100 that aired eight years ago, so I wasted some time watching it. Here it is, so you can watch it too if you want to make sure I describe it accurately:

The program is very clear at the beginning that it’s dramatizing a worst-case dystopia of climate change if we do nothing. That said, the show’s actual depiction of 2015 includes these vignettes: an oil shortage spikes gasoline prices to $5 per gallon; higher oil prices make suburbs less desirable places to live; eating meat uses a lot more oil than eating grain; Congress approves 40 new coal-fired power plants; a huge storm hits Miami; a huge cyclone hits Bangladesh; a drought in China causes wheat shortages; and world leaders fail to reach agreement on greenhouse gas reductions.

That’s…not at all what French describes. And it’s not especially alarmist, either. The big drought was (is) in South Sudan, not China, and the most intense cyclone ever was in the eastern Pacific, not Bangladesh or Miami. It was the Lima conference that produced no climate agreement (that would have to wait for Paris at the tail end of 2015), and for pretty much the reasons described in the program. Extreme weather events have increased and wildfire damage in the western US has intensified. But the show did get a couple of things wrong: there was no oil shortage and no new coal-fired plants.

After I finished my vintage TV watching, I trudged through each of French’s catalogs of ridiculous environmental predictions. First up was Mark Perry’s list of bad prediction from the first Earth Day. I’m not sure why I’m supposed to care about a random assortment of stuff from 50 years ago, but whatever. Perry has a list of 18 items, and of them, (a) six were from Paul Ehrlich, (b) two were vague warnings about humans destroying the planet, which we were certainly doing in 1970, and (c) four were dire predictions of things that might happen if we did nothing. But of course, we didn’t do nothing. That leaves six: two predictions of famine, two predictions of resource shortages, one prediction of mass extinction, and one prediction of an impending ice age. I can’t find any backup for the mass extinction thing, but the guy who allegedly predicted it got a Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan, so how bad could he be? Nor could I find any backup for the supposed prediction of a coming ice age, and the data it’s based on makes it seem unlikely.

So if we agree that Paul Ehrlich was just way off base, we’re left with four guys who got some stuff wrong. If this is the best we can find from the entire maelstrom of the environmental movement of 1970, it doesn’t sound like those guys did so badly after all.

Next up was the Federalist list, but it was pretty much the same stuff.

Finally there’s the Daily Caller’s list of bad predictions about a global “tipping point.” I had to trudge through each one and click through to see what it really said, and it turns out the first five cases were all routine statements about how much time we had left until the next climate conference, where we really had to get something done. The sixth was from Prince Charles, so who cares? The seventh was a claim that we needed to do something by 2012 in order to keep climate change from getting out of control. The eighth was a piece about the unsustainability of eating lots of meat. And the ninth was a 1989 prediction that we needed to get moving on climate change by 2000 to avoid catastrophe.

So we have a grand total of two people saying that we need to act fast or else it will be impossible to keep future climate change under 2°C. This is a pretty mainstream view since there’s a lot of inertia built into climate change, so I’m not sure why this list is supposed to be so scandalous in the first place. We do need to act quickly if we want global warming to peak at 2°C or less. What’s wrong with saying that at every opportunity?

When you get done with all this, there’s virtually nothing of substance left. Sure, some people got some stuff wrong. That’s always the case. The whole point of science is not to get everything right, but to have a mechanism for correcting its errors. And if you look at consensus views, instead of cherry picking individuals, I think environmental scientists have as good a track record as anyone. Aside from creating listicles that get passed around forever on the internet by ignorant yahoos, what’s the point of pretending that they’ve been epically wrong for decades and need to offer up abject apologies before we ever listen to them again?

There’s no need to answer that. I think we all know exactly what the point is.

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In Which I Waste a Lot of Time on Climate Change Yahooism

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Trump Just Signed Another Executive Order. It’s an Attack on Women.

Mother Jones

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President Trump marked the National Day of Prayer Thursday by signing what’s being billed as an executive order on “religious liberty.” The much-anticipated order will not include explicit, sweeping provisions allowing individuals and organizations to discriminate against people who are LGBT or having sex outside of marriage, as many had feared after a draft of the order leaked in February. Instead, it gives protections to groups that want to limit access to contraception and sets the stage for more political dark money to pour in from religious groups previously prohibited from political speech.

Many religious conservatives argue the right to freely practice their religion enshrined in the constitution permits them to legally discriminate or be exempt from certain laws on the basis of their faith. The executive order codifies this philosophy by strengthening employers’ ability to limit women’s access to contraceptive and other preventative healthcare services promised in the Affordable Care Act from private health plans. The order asks three agencies to consider issuing amended rules to make this process easier for employers if they have a religious objection.

The order was met with a mixed response from some conservative groups. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian nonprofit that advocates on various political issues, said it did not go far enough. “Though we appreciate the spirit of today’s gesture, vague instructions to federal agencies simply leaves them wiggle room to ignore that gesture, regardless of the spirit in which it was intended,” said General Counsel Michael Farris in a statement. “We strongly encourage the president…to ensure that all Americans…enjoy the freedom to peacefully live and work consistent with their convictions without fear of government punishment.”

The order also makes good Trump’s campaign promise to his religious base to “get rid of and totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt charitable organizations, including churches, from engaging in political activity. Only religious organizations and churches will be exempted from the law, meaning other nonprofits will still be prohibited from political speech. “This executive order directs the IRS, not to unfairly target churches or religious organizations for political speech,” Trump said. “No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors.”

A number of advocacy organizations point out that exempting powerful religious organizations from prohibitions on political speech will bring a lot more dark money into politics. “This policy would create a massive loophole for dark money, allowing unlimited sums of money to flow to religious nonprofit organizations for expressions of political views,” said Noah Bookbinder, the head of the left-leaning watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, in a statement.

Bookbinder has called charitable groups the “next frontier” in undisclosed political spending because without the Johnson amendment in the way, it’ll be easy to start spending lots of money right away. “You have these ready-made, very large organizations that could do a lot of political spending,” he told me back in February after Trump reaffirmed his commitment to dismantle the law at the National Prayer Breakfast. “You wouldn’t have the challenges of having to set up a new organization and raise a lot of money for it.” Plus, Bookbinder says, those contributions are tax deductible, meaning people will likely give more.

Trump’s executive order may not have the anti-LGBT provisions the leaked draft does, but it gives Jeff Sessions plenty of leeway to develop rules, if he so chooses.

“In order to guide all agencies in complying with relevant federal law, the Attorney General shall, as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law,” the order reads.

Responding to the order, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality Mara Keisling said, “President Trump has simply asked others in his administration to do much of his dirty work.”

In anticipation of the executive order, many civil rights groups began preparing lawsuits, and at least one group still intends to file. “President Trump’s efforts to promote religious freedom are thinly-veiled efforts to unleash his conservative religious base into the political arena while also using religion to discriminate,” ACLU director Anthony Romero said in a statement. “It’s a dual dose of pandering to a base and denying reproductive care. We will see Trump in court, again.”

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Trump Just Signed Another Executive Order. It’s an Attack on Women.

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Alex Kotlowitz’s Resistance Reading

Mother Jones

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We asked a range of authors, artists, and poets to name books that bring solace or understanding in this age of rancor. Two dozen or so responded. Here are picks from award-winning long-form journalist and best-selling author Alex Kotlowitz.

Latest book: Never a City So Real
Also known for: There Are No Children Here
Reading recommendations: I’ve been consuming far too much news lately, and so am getting far too agitated with far too much regularity. I need shoring up. I need reassurance that we’ll get through. And so on my night table sit my reinforcements. I’m in the midst of Dutch writer Tommy Wieringa’s These Are the Names, a haunting tale about migration, about faith, and about new beginnings. Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad: Whitehead is a writer of such unflinching honesty and empathy, both of which are in short supply these days. And from someone who knows how deeply the present is informed by the past, Joseph Ellis’ Founding Brothers.

For all the obvious reasons (yes, Mr. Trump, history matters), I’m revisiting former Sen. Paul Simon’s Freedom’s Champion: Elijah Lovejoy. As if we need reminding what happens when good and decent people don’t stand up against the onerous assault on a free press.

And Hanya Yanagihara’s The People in the Trees. Just because.
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So far in this series: Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, Jeff Chang, T Cooper, Dave Eggers, Reza Farazmand, Piper Kerman, Phil Klay, Alex Kotlowitz, Bill McKibben, Rabbi Jack Moline, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Peggy Orenstein, Wendy C. Ortiz, Karen Russell, Tracy K. Smith, Gene Luen Yang. (New posts daily.)

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Alex Kotlowitz’s Resistance Reading

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Kwame Alexander’s Resistance Reading

Mother Jones

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Courtesy of Kwame Alexander

We asked a range of authors, artists, and poets to suggest the books that bring them solace or understanding in this age of political rancor. Two dozen or so responded. Here are the thoughts of Kwame Alexander, whose novel-in-verse The Crossover won the 2015 Newbery Medal, the highest honor in young people’s literature.

Latest book: Solo (with Mary Rand Hess; out August 1)
Also known for: The Crossover
Recommended reading: Literature is instant access to humanity. It’s the one art form that allows us to walk in someone else’s shoes for a while and experience lives we might not otherwise understand. It also allows us to find mirrors of ourselves, of our best selves, in times when we feel alone and unsure of the world. And right now the world feels a little crazy. Books are these worlds within a world—safe places to tramp in anxious times and return gently to our own living world, more aware, more fulfilled and hopefully more inspired and courageous. And that is why Mary Rand Hess and I set out to write books like Solo, taking readers on a character’s life-changing journey for the sake of the experience, for the sake of humanity. This is rock and roll and redemption, baby! These are the journeys that run deep, and the ships we take come early and often. We can take as many ships as we like, as often as we like. We only need to choose the right ones.

There are so many incredible books that speak to our times, stories that take place in the past, present, and future. Stories that connect us to our ancestors or people who lived like our ancestors, or to the people who paved the way for our world today—stories like The Underground Railroad, All The Light We Cannot See, Freedom Over Me, March. Stories for adults, teens, and children. Stories that grab hold of us and show us all the pain and beauty that races through and weaves between covers—books like Speak, Pax, Brown Girl Dreaming, Radiant Child, Bridge to Terabithia, As Brave as You, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Tale of Despereaux. Selected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni (and Langston Hughes and Pablo Neruda). The Crossover and The Playbook (you know I had to mention those, right?) and so many more. Books that will stick with us, comfort us, and strengthen us, long after we’ve read them. Books that will connect us to each other.

P.S. Read Rumi!
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So far in this series: Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, and T Cooper. (New posts daily.)

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Kwame Alexander’s Resistance Reading

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The White House Plans to Keep Visitor Logs Secret

Mother Jones

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The Trump administration will keep its list of visitors to the White House secret, the White House announced Friday. This move—a major retreat from transparency—breaks from the Obama policy, which regularly released a log of White House visitors, with some exceptions.

The Obama administration was the first to voluntarily disclose its visitor logs. Though the data was incomplete—the White House reserved the right to withhold names it deemed sensitive—this public data was important information regarding how the White House did business. The logs were a much-used resource for media outlets. These records may well be more significant in the Trump administration, which is already mired in conflicts of interest due to the vast financial entanglements of the president (and his daughter, son-in-law, and other key advisers).

White House Communications Director Michael Dubke defended the decision to Time, saying the reversal was due to “the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.” Administration officials also noted that the decision was necessary to allow the president to seek advice from whomever he wants. The logs will be kept secret for at least five years after Trump leaves office.

Earlier this week, a trio of open-government groups sued the Trump administration, arguing that its refusal so far to release the visitor logs violated the Freedom of Information Act. “Given the many issues we have already seen in this White House with conflicts of interest, outside influence, and potential ethics violations, transparency is more important than ever, so we had no choice but to sue,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, one of the groups that filed suit. Last month, eight Democratic senators urged the president to continue the Obama administration’s policy. “We see no reason why you would be unable to continue policies of your predecessor,” they asserted. “And we urge you to extend those policies to address your decision to regularly conduct official business at private properties that also provide access to certain members of the public.”

Trump’s decision to roll back transparency at the White House clashes with his previous criticism of Obama.

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The White House Plans to Keep Visitor Logs Secret

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The House Freedom Caucus Finally Comes Clean

Mother Jones

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Sarah Kliff reports on the latest from House conservatives:

The House Freedom Caucus laid out two demands on Thursday for a health care bill its members would support: ending Obamacare’s essential health benefits and its “community rating” provisions.

Good for them! I’m serious. The key starting point for any kind of comprehensive health care plan is a ban on turning down customers with pre-existing conditions. But once you do that, you have to control the price insurers can charge (aka “community rating”), or else they’ll simply jack up premiums for people with expensive conditions to a million dollars per year, which accomplishes the same thing as turning them down. But if insurers are required to cover anyone who applies, they also need plenty of healthy people to balance out their risk pool. So you end up with an individual mandate. But if you have a mandate, you have to have subsidies for poor people. You can hardly expect to legally require insurance for people who don’t have the money to buy it, after all.

At that point, you have the entire edifice of Obamacare. There’s no way around it. That’s why Paul Ryan’s plan looked an awful lot like Obamacare lite.

So if you’re a conservative who flatly doesn’t want an expensive, comprehensive, government-funded health care program, there’s only one way to get there: ditch the pre-existing conditions ban by calling for an end to community rating. This is hugely unpopular, so it takes some guts to tell the truth and propose getting rid of it.

It’s also cruel and meanspirited, but that goes with the ultraconservative territory. But at least they’re being honest. Compare this to Paul Ryan, who kept the pre-existing conditions ban (via his “continuous coverage” provision), which then forced him to accept all the bells and whistles of Obamacare. His solution was to wave his hands and then keep the funding so low that his program essentially did no good at all. He didn’t have the stones to simply admit that what he really wanted to do was repeal Obamacare and then do nothing at all to replace it.

Now, it so happens that Obamacare’s pre-existing conditions ban has no direct effect on the federal budget, and therefore can’t be repealed via reconciliation. It can only be repealed under regular order, which requires 60 votes in the Senate. So the Freedom Caucus folks are out of luck. But at least they’re displaying a bit of honesty.

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The House Freedom Caucus Finally Comes Clean

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Who Wins and Who Loses From TrumpamaCare?

Mother Jones

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Earlier this morning I sketched out a possible compromise between Obamacare and Trumpcare that might have a chance of getting through Congress if everyone agrees to a plan that would rely on both Republican and Democratic votes. I consider the odds of such a thing small, but nevertheless it’s worth looking at why nearly everyone should find this idea attractive:

Donald Trump gets a big win. Paul Ryan couldn’t get his plan through Congress, but then Trump steps in and pulls off a huge deal. His presidency is back on track.
Republicans in Congress get an albatross off their backs. Right now, health care is a loser for them, and the Freedom Caucus is riding high. But if they pass a bipartisan plan, it sticks a finger in the eye of the FC ultras. And if they’re worried about their base, they don’t have to be. Trump will sell the hell out of the plan, and his fans will buy it.
Democrats have to make some concessions, but in return they get stability and permanence—and the possibility of future enhancements—for a social welfare program they’ve been trying to get enacted for decades.
The health care industry gets some certainty about the future, along with a system that promises to be a moneymaker for them.

Who are the losers in this deal? Hardly anyone. The ultras lose, but everyone wants them to lose. Rich people lose a bit because they continue paying a modest tax, but frankly, I haven’t noticed that rich people are all that upset about it. They care more about capital gains taxes and top marginal rates. Talk radio shouters lose a reliable audience pot stirrer, but they’ll support Trump in the end. And they have plenty of other ways of keeping their listeners at a fever pitch of outrage anyway.

Oh, and I almost forgot: the American people would be big winners too. Already, Obamacare covers 20 million people. A new and improved TrumpamaCare would probably get to 30 million within a few years.

Given all this, it’s almost insane that this deal isn’t likely to happen.

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Who Wins and Who Loses From TrumpamaCare?

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Conservatives Demand End to Pre-Existing Conditions Ban

Mother Jones

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I guess I was wrong last night. The New York Times says President Trump has caved in to demands to repeal the minimum set of required benefits for health care insurance:

President Trump agreed to the demands of conservative House Republicans to remove federal requirements that health insurance plans provide a basic set of benefits like maternity care, emergency services, mental health and wellness visits as he struggles to round up enough votes to pass a broad health care overhaul.

But the Washington Post reports that this still wasn’t enough:

Conservative House Republicans rebuffed an offer by President Trump on Thursday to strip a key set of mandates from the nation’s current health-care law, raising doubts about whether House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has the votes to pass the bill.

….Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), asked whether the White House had made its final negotiating offer, said that if that’s the case, “They’re not going to pass the bill.”…As of mid-afternoon Thursday, 37 House Republicans — mainly Freedom Caucus members — had announced their opposition to the bill, known as the American Health Care Act.

So what do conservatives want? Here’s the Post again:

Conservative lawmakers have asked to eliminate much of Obamacare’s Title I, which….bars companies from setting insurance rates based on a person’s sex, medical condition, genetic condition or other factors.

In other words, insurers could charge you more if you have a pre-existing condition. That would effectively kill off the Obamacare provision that requires insurers to cover everyone who applies. They’d simply price policies out of reach for people with expensive pre-existing conditions and that would be that.

Would this pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian, who has to agree that repealing Title 1 “directly affects” the budget? I doubt it. Would Mike Pence go ahead and overrule her? Maybe. Is this whole thing a debacle beyond imagining? Oh yes.

POSTSCRIPT: It’s worth pointing out that if Republicans go down this road, they’ve essentially killed the filibuster completely. Basically, they would have set a precedent that anything can be added to a reconciliation bill—which can’t be filibustered—and the vice president will overrule the parliamentarian and declare that it’s OK. At that point, the Senate can include reconciliation instructions for just about anything in its annual budget resolution. As long as the president and vice president are from the same party, they can then pass anything they want with 51 votes.

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Conservatives Demand End to Pre-Existing Conditions Ban

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Republicans Now Considering How to Make a Bad Health Care Plan Into a Complete Wreck

Mother Jones

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Our acronym for the day is EHB, which stands for Essential Health Benefits. These are things which every health care plan is required to cover, and Obamacare spells out ten of them:

  1. Doctor visits
  2. Emergency room visits
  3. Hospital visits
  4. Prescription drugs
  5. Pediatric care
  6. Lab services
  7. Preventive care
  8. Maternity care
  9. Mental health care
  10. Rehabilitation services

The Republican health care bill is still having trouble getting enough votes to pass, so Paul Ryan is thinking about placating conservatives by repealing all of these EHBs. This means that a health insurer could literally sell you a policy that didn’t cover doctor visits, hospital visits, ER visits, your children’s health care, or prescription drugs—and still be perfectly legal. Here’s a rough estimate of how much we spend nationally on each of these categories of EHB:

There are many problems with repealing Obamacare’s minimum required benefits, but I’d like to list just three:

Oh come on. This is ridiculous.

Even if the current version of AHCA doesn’t cause a death spiral, it sure would if EHBs got repealed. Insurers would assume that anyone who asks for a policy that covers one of these (former) EHBs is pretty sure they’re going to need it. Naturally they’d price their policies accordingly: Worthless policies would get really cheap, but comprehensive policies would get astronomically expensive. Virtually no one would be able to afford them.

There’s a good chance that repealing the EHBs would not only produce crappier insurance policies, but would also cost the government more money. Think about it. Every year AHCA provides you a tax credit for health insurance. You might as well use it, right? So insurers would all compete to offer policies that cover almost nothing but cost exactly $2,000 or $3,000 or $4,000. Everybody would sign up for one, because it’s free so they might as well. So instead of, say, 10 million people using the tax credits, 30 million would. These policies wouldn’t do squat, but Uncle Sam has to pay for them anyway—and now he’s got to pay for three times as many of them.

This is all pretty straightforward stuff, and it’s hard to believe that Ryan would go down this catastrophic road. Enough’s enough. If I had to guess—and we might well know the answer before I wake up on Thursday—I’d say that Ryan tries to buy off the conservatives by taking maternity benefits off the EHB list and leaving everything else alone. After all, it’s maternity care that really seems to be a burr in the ass of the Freedom Caucus folks.

Why? Because they’re knuckle-draggers. It’s hard to put it any other way. They figure that being pregnant is solely a woman’s responsibility and there’s no reason men should have to help pay for it. Really. I’m not joking. What can you even say to people so terminally dimwitted?

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Republicans Now Considering How to Make a Bad Health Care Plan Into a Complete Wreck

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