OK, I’m Serious about Fixing the Debt, How Will It Happen?

 

I am a candidate in the May 15 Nebraska Republican Primary for the U.S. Senate against the incumbent Deb Fischer because she is ignoring our enormous and out-of-control national debt.  In my last post I laid out the reasons why you should believe me when I say I will make fixing the debt my top priority.


So let’s assume that I replace Deb Fischer in the Senate.  Then what will happen?  Lots of things:

  • First of all, it will show that Nebraska voters understand how serious our debt problem is and are willing to support a candidate who can argue convincingly that we must fix it. Such an outcome in just one state will attract national attention and therefore greatly increase national awareness of the debt problem.
  • From day one in January 2019, I would start agitating with Democratic and Republican senators alike for action on the debt issue. Keep in mind that I am a non-ideological fiscal conservative. I am confident that many other senators understand the inherent magnitude of the debt problem and would respond in a positive manner to a bipartisan attempt to find a workable solution.
  • Any effective solution must involve entitlement reform which is a highly charged issue. In particular, it is the high cost of both public and private healthcare which is the main problem.  Basically we need to move away from defined benefit healthcare towards defined contribution healthcare which would likely take the form of high deductible catastrophic care plus health savings accounts. Any widely acceptable plan would have to be universal (i.e. include everyone) and provide adequate subsidies so that everyone can afford it. Here is one possible way to do it.

Conclusion. Our debt problem is solvable but it will take a lot of dedicated effort by national leaders to actually get this done. The sooner we get started the easier it will be to move forward.

Addressing the High Cost of American Healthcare

 

I am a candidate in the May 15 Nebraska Republican Primary for the U.S. Senate because the incumbent, Deb Fischer, is ignoring our enormous and out-of-control national debt.  Of course, there are many other important issues addressed by Congress and my last two posts, here, and here, discuss the need for more gun control to reduce the number of mass shootings in the U.S.
Now it’s back to (fiscal) basics.


The Kaiser Foundation has discovered that by far the top issue of concern for voters this year is the high cost of healthcare. Here are some of the many reasons why this should be a very top priority for deliberation in Congress:

  • The cost of healthcare is the fundamental driver of our debt problem.

  • Three major corporations: Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase are banding together to lower healthcare costs for their own employees.  All companies have similar concerns.
  • A major reason for the high cost of American healthcare is the employer mandate  of the ACA which requires companies with 50 or more employees to provide health insurance for all employees.
  • Huge savings for employees, employers and government could be had by modifying the employer mandate to give employees the option to migrate to personal healthcare insurance, see here and here.

Conclusion. “The federal government’s most urgent domestic challenge is the exploding debt and deficit.”  Getting healthcare costs under control is the key to solving our debt problem and reducing a major expense for millions of American families.

The Key to Solving our Healthcare Cost Problem II. Make the Employer Mandate More Flexible

 

I am a candidate in the May 15 Nebraska Republican Primary for U.S. Senate.  I have entered this contest because the incumbent, Deb Fischer, has done nothing to reduce our enormous and out-of-control national debt and, in fact, voted recently (with the new tax law) to increase our debt by $1 trillion over the next decade.  And this is after new economic growth, stimulated by the tax changes, is taken into account.


One way to get the debt under control is with a more sensible budgeting process, but this is not enough by itself.


We also need a major effort to reduce the cost of healthcare.  One problem here is that employer provided health insurance is very inefficient, especially because it insulates employees from the full price of their healthcare. The way to fix this is to make the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act more flexible in the following ways:

  • Replace income based tax credits in the ACA with aged-based tax credits (which then apply to everyone). See here for details.
  • Allow individual employees to migrate away from the employer plan to individually underwritten personal insurance. This will often save money for the individual employee (and family), the employer (who has fewer employees to cover) and the government (which has a smaller tax exemption). The employees also gain more flexibility for future employment.
  • Such a system, when fully implemented, will save $400 billion per year in government revenue, both state and federal.

Conclusion. I have outlined one way of moving from the defined benefit healthcare system we have now to a defined contribution system which will save hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars every year by putting more responsibility on the individual health consumer.

Fixing Our Broken Healthcare System

 

As I get organized to enter the 2018 Nebraska Republican Primary for U.S. Senate, I want to make it clear why I would challenge the apparently popular incumbent Senator Deb Fischer who is running for reelection. The reason is very simple and clear cut.  The new tax law which she voted for will raise our national debt by $1 trillion over the next ten years and likely overheat our already vigorously growing economy in the process.  In other words:

  • Our national debt, already sitting at 77% of GDP (for the public part on which we pay interest), is the highest it has been since right after WWII and already slated to get worse, even before the new tax law supported by Senator Fischer. When interest rates inevitably rise in the near future, interest payments on the debt will become a huge burden on our economy.

  • Controlling the cost of healthcare, which already eats up 18% of our GDP (and is growing much faster than GDP), is the key to shrinking our annual deficits and therefore being able to shrink our debt as well.

But is it possible to control healthcare costs within the framework of a free market? I think it is and here is one way to do it:

  • For private healthcare, repeal the employer mandate and replace the ACA income based tax credits with age based tax credits (which then apply to everyone). This will allow healthy employees to migrate away from employer provided health insurance towards individually underwritten health insurance (including Health Savings Accounts) at much lower cost. This saves money for employers and rewards healthy life styles. High risk pools for unhealthy people would receive federal and state subsidies.
  • Medicaid recipients would also be able to migrate into this new private system.
  • Medicare Advantage (Medicare Part C) would be required to offer Medical Savings Accounts which were authorized in 1997 but have not been widely utilized. This will make Medicare Advantage highly attractive to healthy people and encourage migration from regular Medicare (Part B) to Medicare Advantage.

Conclusion. The point here is not to try to insist on one particular way of controlling the cost of healthcare but to demonstrate that it can be done within a relatively free market framework.

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Avoiding the Extremes on Either Side

 

Not only is Washington politics already hyper-partisan, but both parties are continuing to move to even greater extremes, see here and here.
Here are two examples of extreme positions now being espoused by major elements of one or the other of the two parties:

  • Single payer healthcare. The failure of the GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act this past summer means that (the goal of) universal healthcare is here to stay. The ACA expands access to healthcare but does nothing to control costs. Single payer, Medicare for All, would control costs but then we end up with socialized medicine. The only way to establish a cost efficient free market healthcare system is to remove, or at least limit, the tax exemption for employer provided care and to set up high deductible catastrophic care supplemented by health savings accounts to pay for routine expenses. This would compel everyone to pay close attention to the cost of their own healthcare.
  • Tax cuts instead of tax reform. Tax reform, i.e. lowering both corporate and individual tax rates, paid for by closing loopholes and shrinking deductions, is an excellent way to speed up economic growth and thereby create more and better paying jobs. But it is imperative to do this in a revenue neutral manner, i.e. without increasing our annual deficits. Our debt (the public part on which we pay interest) now stands at 77% of GDP, the highest it has been since the end of WWII, and is predicted by the Congressional Budget Office to keep getting larger without major changes in public policy.

Conclusion. The U.S. badly needs a more cost efficient healthcare system and a simpler and more efficient tax system. But there are right ways and wrong ways to do both of these things.  Single payer healthcare and (unpaid for) tax rate cuts are the wrong way to proceed.  In each case, no action at all is much better than getting it wrong.

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The GOP Congress Needs to Get Back to Fundamentals

 

Granted that it is hard to implement good policy with a populist President like Donald Trump who is most interested in stirring up his base, nevertheless the Republican Congress is making some serious policy mistakes:

  • Healthcare. The GOP should accept the fact that universal healthcare is a desirable societal goal and is here to stay. The Graham-Cassidy bill is bad policy because some states, such as debt-ridden Illinois, can’t possibly handle healthcare on their own. The fact that the ACA needs operational fixes gives the Republicans leverage for insisting on cost lowering changes in a bipartisan bill.
  • Tax Reform. The GOP should focus on the most serious problems in our tax system. The complexity of the tax code is partly responsible for the fact that taxes paid lag true tax liabilities by an estimated 16% or $406 billion per year.  As an example of waste, the IRS has paid out $132 billion in EITC benefits over the last decade to people who were ineligible.
    Our uncompetitive corporate tax rate of 35% encourages multinational companies to leave their profits overseas rather than bringing them back home for reinvestment.  Even so, corporate tax revenue as a share of GDP is less than in most other developed countries.
    Republicans claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility and should therefore be highly uncomfortable with any tax plan which reduces federal revenue and increases our already very large annual deficits.  With a low unemployment rate of 4.4%, any additional artificial (deficit financed) fiscal stimulus is likely to kick off a new round of inflation.

Conclusion. Republicans have a relatively short window of opportunity to enact policy changes beneficial for the country. They need to get serious about what is really important before time runs out.

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Time to Start Over on Healthcare Reform

 

The Affordable Care Act, established in 2010, greatly expanded access to healthcare in the U.S. However, in spite of its name, it has done nothing to control the rapidly increasing cost of healthcare which is the core of our debt problem.


The new Senate plan, struggling to gain enough support to pass, puts Medicaid on a budget but doesn’t even attempt to address wider aspects of the healthcare cost problem.
A wider approach is the best way to proceed and perhaps now it is the only way to succeed in getting something done. Mr. Peter Suderman, who writes for Reason magazine, proposes several principles for a new approach:

  • Work for broader coverage but not necessarily universal coverage. This allows focusing on other important features such as:
  • Unification, not fragmentation, is what should be emphasized. Medicare and Medicaid are paid for directly by the government. Employer provided coverage, subsidized through the tax code and costing $250 billion per year, is the biggest problem in the U.S. healthcare system. It incentivizes employers to provide ever more generous insurance while insulating individuals from the true cost of care. It discourages job switching and entrepreneurship. Medicare ends up paying out far more than individuals have paid in.
  • Health insurance coverage is not the same as healthcare. For non-catastrophic, non-emergency expenses, affordability should be emphasized, rather than subsidies. Health savings accounts are a good way to accomplish this.
  • Focus on government assistance for the poorest and sickest. This means upgrading Medicaid, and coverage for pre-existing conditions, at the same time as putting Medicaid, Medicare and employer provided care all on a fixed, but reasonable, budget.

Conclusion. The cost of American healthcare is a huge problem. Hopefully the Senate will begin to address this fundamental problem as it struggles to pass a healthcare reform bill.

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