Sunday, November 03, 2013

My Obamacare Story: I Can't Keep My Plan Either

A few weeks ago, I, like hundreds of thousands others, received notice that I couldn't keep my health insurance plan.  Highmark is cancelling my plan at the end of 2014 - so at least I have a year to figure out what to do.

On top of that, the letter told me my premium will go up on December 1.  I had to call to find out that increase would be 10%.  That's after a 39% increase since 2011.

But its going to get a lot worse for me.  After weeks of trying to log onto the Obamacare exchange website, I finally did get into the site, and jumped through all the hoops allowing me to browse plans.

Turns out, the least expensive "bronze" plan that is HSA eligible (as I'd like to keep using my HSA) represents an 82% increase over what I'm paying now.  In total my premiums will have increased by a whopping 152% since 2011.

You would think that I'd get better coverage for skyrocketing premiums, but in fact, I'm going to have higher higher co-pays with the Obamacare plan.

It gets even worse.  If I participate in the exchange, I'll have to pay taxes on those insurance premiums. Turns out, Obamacare prohibits using pre-tax funds from cafeteria plans on the exchange.  Since my employer doesn't have its own insurance plan, we use a cafeteria plan, deducting funds from my paycheck ever two weeks to pay for insurance.

Now I can't do that, and my insurance premiums will be taxable income  That means I'll be paying 215% more for inferior health coverage than 2011.

Except I won't.  Obamacare is designed to hit young, healthy people like me with higher premiums. But even with the individual mandate/tax, it's a bad deal. I haven't decided yet whether to go without insurance (since I rarely visit a doctor, and Obamacare allows me to wait until I get sick to sign up and get the same price) or enroll in Samaritan Ministries - but I'm going to opt out. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

David and Goliath Revisited

I've been pondering the story and lessons of David and Goliath recently.  Mostly commonly, people take from David vs. Goliath the lesson that we can accomplish anything--slaying the "giant" in our own lives--if we have faith in God.  Often, this leads to disappointment when we don't reach our goals and don't get what we want in our lives or careers.  But there is more to the story of David and Goliath.

David was tall.

Contrary to perception, David wasn't a small child when he faced Goliath.
Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else. - 1 Samuel 9:2
Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. "I cannot go in these," he said to Saul, "because I am not used to them." 1 Samuel 17:38-39
The tallest man in Israel wouldn't put his armor on a little boy.  And David didn't say "this armor is huge on me", but that he wasn't accustomed to fighting in armor. David was, at the least, physically ready to go to battle.

David had done battle before.

Not only was David physically prepared to go to battle Goliath, he had some experience that would come in handy as a shepherd--including fighting lions and bears.

But David said to Saul, "Your servant has been keeping his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.  Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God - 1 Samuel 17:34-36
David went on to become a great warrior.
David was young and inexperienced when he slew Goliath,  he would go on to prove himself to get a great soldier and leader on the battlefield.  The Bible describes many battles David would successfully lead after slaying Goliath.

Whatever mission Saul sent him on, David was so successful that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. This pleased all the troops, and Saul's officers as well..."Saul has slain his thousands,  and David his tens of thousands."  - 1 Samuel 17:5, 7

David ran to the battle, hit Goliath with a rock, then cut off his head.
God could have had Goliath slip on a banana peel, that would have made it easier for David.  But he didn't, David actually slew Goliath in a real battle.
As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.  David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine's sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword. - 1 Samuel 17:48-51
The story of David and Goliath is meant to give all of us hope--God will be on our side, and with Him, we can conquer any challenge.  We each face our own Goliath in our lives, and we should have the confidence David had that God will help us slay our Goliath.

But too often we expect God to do things for us without any action on our part.  God didn't slay Goliath for David, but was with David when he acted.  David ran to fight Goliath.

When you face Goliath in your life, and pray to God for help, we should ask ourselves these questions:

  • Am I prepared to fight Goliath?  David was.  He wasn't just a small boy thinking he could kill a giant.  He had already fought bears and lions.  Goliath would be a great challenge, but David knew that with God on his side he could prevail, and had prepared himself for that battle.

  • Have I actually prepared myself to deal with the challenges in my life?  Have I rehearsed and practiced?  Have I trained?  Do I have the experience I need?  Have I asked others to help?  Simply asking God to take care of your problems isn't enough.  God will help you when you ask, and with God you can do things you could never do alone, but God  won't do for you what you can do for yourself.

  • Am I capable of handling the challenge of Goliath?  David was on his way to becoming a great warrior when he faced Goliath.  Facing Goliath was a great trial for any man--one all the other Israelite soldiers were too terrified to face--but David was someone ready to become a giant-slayer.  Sometimes God doesn't give us what we ask for, because we aren't ready for those challenges.  Maybe you want to get a big promotion, or fall in love and get married, or start your own business.  But are you truly ready? Because God won't give us more than we can handle.

  • Am I willing to run to face Goliath?

God will be with us as we face the Goliaths in our lives, but we have to be ready to fight those battles.  It won't always be easy, or pretty, or convenient.  Praying for God's help doesn't mean he will slay Goliath for us, but should give us the confidence to face Goliath with God on our side.

Monday, November 05, 2012

How Romney, Smith can win Pennsylvania

While losing the election in 2004, John Kerry won Pennsylvania by 140,000. In 2008, Obama carried the Keystone state by a wide margin of 600,000 votes.  But in 2010, Republicans won the top races, with Pat Toomey going to the Senate and Tom Corbett winning the Governor's office.  If Mitt Romney and Tom Smith are to win Pennsylvania this time round, they'll need to follow the Toomey path to victory.

Here's what to watch for:
  • Philadelphia: Barack Obama carried Philadelphia by 480,000 votes in 2008.  This was a big gain from 2004; Kerry's margin was 410,000 votes.  Toomey lost Philadelphia by 290,000.  (Toomey's percentage in Philadelphia was lower than either Bush's or McCain's, but turnout was much lower).   

    Obama likely won't get that margin this time round, but should still top Kerry's numbers from '04.  Anything better than +430,000 is good news for Obama. Less than +400,000 gives Romney a great chance.

    Watch the undervote here too.  In 2004, there were 40,000 fewer votes cast in Philadelphia for U.S. Senate than for President.  In 2008, there was a 68,000 vote dropoff from President to Attorney General. A big undervote could help Tom Smith in the U.S. Senate race.

  • Suburban Philadelphia:  Kerry won the suburban counties (Berks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery) by 90,000.  Obama ran up a whopping 205,000 vote margin in these counties.  But Pat Toomey narrowed the gap to 23,000 votes in 2010.  If Romney can hold his own here - keeping the race close, he'll have a good shot to win.

    The suburban counties are not monolithic - Delaware Co. has been pretty strong for Democrats at the state and national level, while Chester remains a better bet for Republican - but the shift in voting patterns will be similar for all four.  Watch Bucks in particular to get a sense of how this trend is shaping up: Obama won Bucks by 29,000, but two years later, Toomey took the county by 14,000 (each winning about 53% of the vote).

  • Allegheny County:  Allegheny County includes the Democratic stronghold of Pittsburgh, but also more conservative suburbs.  Kerry won Allegheny by 100,000, and despite doing much better statewide, Obama didn't expand the margin out west.  Toomey lost Allegheny by 40,000 in 2010. 

    If Romney and Tom Smith (a native of nearby Armstrong County) hold their own in Allegheny County, it should also signify they do very well throughout Western Pennsylvania--a region Republicans have made gains the last few elections with blue-collar, conservative voters.

  • Rest of State:  The rest of Pennsylvania isn't quite what James Carville dubbed "Alabama in the middle", as it include smaller Democratic bases like Scranton, Erie, and Harrisburg.  But the "T" is much more conservative.  McCain won the "rest of state" by 185,000, while Bush won by a net 460,000 in 2004.  Toomey netted a 433,000 vote margin in the "rest of state" in winning in 2010. 

    Romney and Smith should both do very well in the other 61 Pennsylvania counties.  How well remains to be seen.  Keep an eye on Lancaster County, typically a Republican stronghold.  Bush carried Lancaster by 71,000 in 2004, Obama closed to within 27,000 in Lancaster four years later.  Toomey won Lancaster by 55,000 in 2010, with a higher percentage but lower turnout than Bush in 2004. 

    If Romney gets both high turnout and Toomey-like percentages in rural counties like Lancaster, he could overcome Obama's Philadelphia margin.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Why I am not a "libertarian"

Here are two examples of libertarian articles that help illustrate why I consider myself a “classical liberal” and have many problems with the self-identified libertarian movement.

In one article that many of my libertarian Facebook friends have shared, If Only Conservatives Were More Like Libertarians, the author attacks social conservatives with rhetoric like:
How is it that same government can be the ultimate authority on how we live our lives, whom we can marry, how we raise our children, where we worship, what we inhale and ingest, and what we do behind closed doors?
Later she repeats the charge:
Typically, conservatives line up in support of family values (what if the family is dysfunctional?), a strong military and national defense, the right to bear arms, the death penalty and school prayer. They oppose embryonic stem-cell research, abortion, divorce, gay marriage, gay adoption and euthanasia. It’s the conservative version of a cradle-to-grave model, all spelled out in great detail.
These are both over-the-top passages.  I know many social conservatives that advocate for strong military, against legalized abortion, and for family values.   But I’ve yet to meet anyone who thinks the “government is the ultimate authority” or supports laws dictate where we worship or how we raise our children.  I don’t think that by-and-large conservatives “oppose divorce”—unless “oppose” means they think it is bad to get divorced, rather than they want to make it illegal.  The conservative agenda was to oppose federal funding of new lines of embryonic stem-cell research—something every libertarian would agree with.  And yes, conservatives generally oppose giving government marriage licenses to same sex couples—but I’m not convinced that government licensing of same-sex marriage is a libertarian solution.

Clearly, this is a criticism of a straw-man conservative, not a real-life, intelligent social conservative who can articulate why strong families lead to smaller government. 

The second piece which raised my ire was even more mean-spirited in discussing the shooting at the Family Research Council:
The Family Research Council will no doubt appreciate how some guy with a gun and bag full of Chick-fil-A sandwiches will feed its narrative they are the actual victims of oppression, not the gays.
Not only does it imply horribly that conservatives are happy that a security guard got shot, but that their end game is oppression of gays.

If these were just two ill-conceived essays, that would be one thing.  But from my observations, happens far too often amongst many “libertarians”.  They use over-the-top demagoguery, seek to claim a “holier-than-though” moral position, and go out of their way to alienate potential allies.  Libertarians—including friends of mine at the Cato Institute and Reason Magazine—need to spend more time understanding conservatives,and finding ways for working with them on areas of common ground in the spirit of fusionism.

For a good discussion of the role of libertarians in the conservative movement and fusionsim, check out the first half of this Reason piece - a discussion between Matt Welch and Jonah Goldberg.