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Health Care Premiums Have Gone Down Under Obamacare

Mother Jones

Someone asked me on Twitter if health care premiums had spiked after Obamacare went into effect. That turns out to be a surprisingly hard question to answer. There’s loads of data on premiums in the employer market, where premium growth has slowed down slightly post-Obamacare, but not much in the individual market, which is where Obamacare has its biggest impact. However, a pair of researchers at the Brookings Institution rounded up the best evidence for pre-Obamacare premiums and compared it to premiums in 2014-17, when Obamacare was in effect. Here it is:

Premiums dropped in 2014, and are still lower than the trendline from 2009-13. So no, premiums didn’t spike under Obamacare.

Now, there are lots of caveats here. The pre-Obamacare estimates are tricky to get a firm handle on. What’s more, the Obamacare premiums are for the baseline coverage (second-lowest silver plan), while average pre-Obamacare policies might have been more generous in some ways (for example, deductibles and copays).

However, most of the pre/post differences suggest that Obamacare policies are better than the old ones. The old plans had an actuarial value of only 60 percent, while Obamacare silver plans have an actuarial value of 70 percent. The old plans were also limited to very healthy individuals. Obamacare plans are open to everyone. Finally, Obamacare plans mandate a set of essential benefits and place limits on out-of-pocket costs. These and other things suggest that premiums should have gone up under Obamacare.

But even with all these improvements, premiums still went down, and they haven’t caught up yet. Bottom line: Average premiums in the individual market went down after Obamacare took effect, and they’re still lower than they would have been without Obamacare.

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Health Care Premiums Have Gone Down Under Obamacare

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How Bad Was Hillary Clinton’s Campaign?

Mother Jones

A couple of hours ago I tweeted this:

Shattered tells us in loving detail about every mistake the Clinton campaign made, but every losing campaign gets that treatment. Her campaign also did a lot of things right. My horseback guess is that when you put it all together, she was about average as a candidate and her campaign was about average as a campaign.

But that got me curious: how do Clinton and her campaign compare to past elections? There’s no way to measure this directly, but you can get an idea by comparing actual election outcomes to the predictions of a good fundamental model. So I hauled out Alan Abramowitz’s model, which has a good track record, and looked at how winning candidates performed compared to the baseline of what the model predicted for them. Here it is:

According to this, Hillary Clinton did way better than any winning candidate of the past three decades, outperforming her baseline by 2.4 percent. Without the Comey effect, she would have outperformed her baseline by a truly epic amount.

Now, was this because she ran a good campaign, or because she had an unusually bad opponent? There’s no way to tell, of course. Donald Trump was certainly a bad candidate, but then again, no one thinks that Dole or Gore or Kerry or McCain were terrific candidates either.

Bottom line: we don’t have any way of knowing for sure, and this is an inherently subjective question. But the evidence of the Abramowitz model certainly doesn’t suggest that Hillary Clinton ran an unusually poor campaign or that she was an unusually poor candidate. Maybe she was, but aside from cherry-picked anecdotes and free-floating Hillary animus, there’s not really a lot to support this view.

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How Bad Was Hillary Clinton’s Campaign?

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Urban vs. Rural Recovery From the Great Recession: Another Look

Mother Jones

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Thomas Edsall writes that as we recovered from the Great Recession, big cities did pretty well but rural areas didn’t. “The fact that people living outside big cities were battered so acutely by the recession goes a long way toward explaining President Trump’s victory in the last election,” he says, which he illustrates with this chart:

I don’t think there’s much question that Edsall is right in general, but this particular chart seemed off somehow. It combines both population growth and employment rate in a confusing way, and it covers the whole country, so it doesn’t account for the way different states responded to the recession. I pondered for a while what I’d rather see, and decided to examine the unemployment rate in California counties. California has a good mix of big cities and rural counties, including a lot of farming counties that voted heavily for Trump, and every county benefited from identical state policies since they’re all in the same state. Here’s the chart, which compares unemployment at the peak of the last expansion to today:

There are four points I can make about this:

If you draw an overall trend line (light gray line), it turns out that that unemployment declined a bit more in smaller counties than in larger counties.
The big cities (purple) all fall into a very small cluster, showing declines between about -1 percent and 0. The smaller counties (orange) are scattered all over the place, from -3 percent all the way up to +4 percent.
The average drop in unemployment is roughly the same in both big cities and the rest of the state. Big cities (-0.39 percent) did marginally better than everyone else (-0.25 percent).
The main farming counties have done poorly. Their unemployment rate has increased by +1.0 percent.

This is just one state, and I’m not trying to pretend that this data offers anything conclusive. What’s more, Edsall has some other facts and figures to back up his point. Still, I’ll toss out two guesses:

Big cities may have recovered better than rural areas, but only modestly. The difference isn’t huge, and by itself doesn’t really explain why Trump won.
The large effect Edsall sees may be due to differing state responses to the recession. I suspect that rural red states shot themselves in the foot by adopting conservative policies (cut taxes, slash spending) that hurt their recovery. This may have been an especially big factor in the 2008-09 recession, since the federal government did less than usual to cushion the blow.

I don’t know if anyone with real econometric chops has tested my second guess. If I find anything, I’ll follow up.

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Urban vs. Rural Recovery From the Great Recession: Another Look

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Friday Cat Blogging – 14 April 2017

Mother Jones

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This is Hilbert taking a look at the outside world as Marian and I returned from a walk. He was so thrilled to see us that we couldn’t stop him from jumping down and following us. This is bad, bad, bad, and in the end Marian had to pick him up and carry him the rest of the way home, just to make sure he didn’t start getting any ideas. Backyards good. Outside world bad.

The problem with the outside world is that it’s sort of like heroin: once you get a taste you want more and more, and you end up like this cat. “Terrific stuff by the cat!” says the announcer in the video, and it surely is. Nonetheless, the cat spent the rest of the night cowering behind the center field wall, trying to figure out how to escape. Let this be a lesson to all housecats: There’s no place like home.

Originally posted here – 

Friday Cat Blogging – 14 April 2017

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Trump Wants to Decimate Superfund. Here’s Why That Is Such a Terrible Idea.

Mother Jones

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When the White House unveiled its proposed budget for the upcoming year, environmentalists were outraged by the numbers. The Environmental Protection Agency is facing a steep 31 percent budget cut, and included in this were massive cuts to Superfund, a 37-year-old EPA program that cleans up and restores heavily polluted areas across the country. The proposal calls for reducing funding for the Superfund program from over $1 billion to just $762 million.

Superfund was created through the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act in 1980 on the heels of the Love Canal disaster, when a massive landfill that was used as a municipal and chemical dumping ground caused countless environmental and health problems for an entire upstate New York community, including homes and a school. More than 1,700 sites have been added to the list since 1980, but as of 2013, only 370 had been cleaned up and removed from the list. The overwhelming majority continue to be in different stages of cleanup. One example is East Chicago, Indiana, which EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt plans to visit on April 19. The town, which is mostly low-income, Latino, and black, is home to a USS Lead Superfund site—the old lead facility has contaminated soil with lead and arsenic.

But the Trump budget proposal could impede this progress and leave millions of Americans living near dangerous pollutants. “These sites pose devastating threats to the health of millions of people, including children, who live nearby,” Nancy Loeb, the director of the Environmental Advocacy Center, wrote in an op-ed for The Hill.

The proposed cuts might not halt the cleanups entirely but would substantially slow them down. Superfund sites tend to be located near lower-income neighborhoods and minority communities. According to the EPA, approximately 53 million people live within three miles of a Superfund site and 46 percent of them belong to a minority race—15 percent are below the poverty level.

It’s not just funds for cleanup that are in danger; so are the Superfund enforcement funds, the resources the EPA uses to hold companies and entities accountable. The proposal calls for a cut of nearly $29 million. According to a National Association of Clean Air Agencies report, “Without EPA’s enforcement, companies could avoid reporting, or minimize the reported amount of toxic materials released to the environment.” Under the Superfund law, in 2005 the EPA was able to hold General Electric accountable for dumping PCBs, a toxic chemical used in the manufacturing of electrical devices, into the Hudson River in New York for 30 years.

There are Superfund sites in every single state, the District of Columbia, and US territories, with more than 100 designated areas in New Jersey alone. This state is home to the most sites in anywhere in the country, and local officials are bracing for the impact of Trump cuts.

Consider Camden County, where from the mid-1800s until 1977, the company that would later become Sherwin-Williams dumped chemicals into Hilliards creek and constructed improper storage facilities that also leaked contaminants. The creek flows for more than a mile into Kirkwood Lake, which has also become contaminated; the soil in residential neighborhoods has been polluted too. What was once an idyllic backdrop for homes is now a shallow, dirty, mosquito haven. There have not been any reported health issues associated with the site, but there is a fish advisory because the lake is polluted with lead and arsenic.

The Superfund site was added to the National Priorities List in 2008, after contamination was found at the former site of the plant, but movement on the cleanup has moved at a glacial pace. “Thanks to an uprising in the community, the EPA and Sherwin-Williams began some of the residential cleanup,” Jeff Nash a Camden County elected representative, tells Mother Jones. For years, community members called on the EPA to begin the cleanup at the site. In 2014, the EPA, Sherwin-Williams, and Camden County held talks about taking steps to begin the process. But by April 2015, no concrete action had been taken, and property owners living near Kirkwood Lake protested the delays outside of a Sherwin-Williams paint store. Six months later, the EPA announced it had finalized a plan to begin removing contaminated soil near dozens of residential properties. There is no plan for cleaning the lake yet.

“It’s also a property tax nightmare—you can’t sell your house because it’s on a Superfund site,” Nash continued. The property values of known contaminated areas tend to fall drastically. “There has finally been some movement” on cleaning up the site in the last couple of years, he says, but there are fears that the Trump budget could upend all the progress. “From a county perspective, we’re very worried about it.”

Despite the Trump budget numbers, EPA chief Scott Pruitt has voiced his support of the Superfund program. Last month, he told the U.S. Conference of Mayors, “Superfund is an area that is absolutely essential.”

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Trump Wants to Decimate Superfund. Here’s Why That Is Such a Terrible Idea.

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