Monday, February 28, 2011

Where is the American Bar Association, Part II

Here is a commentary by John Fund of the Wall St. Journal's Daily Political Diary.  It highlights the campaign against Justice Thomas that threatens our independent judiciary.  The ABA is still silent at this assault on the third branch of government: 
"Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has decided he's had enough of liberal adversaries claiming he should recuse himself from future decisions because of his wife's involvement in the tea party.
On Saturday night, he used his speech to a Federalist Society conference at the University of Virginia to say that his critics "seem bent on undermining" the legitimacy of the Supreme Court as an institution. He said such fiercely ideological attacks could erode the ability of Americans to protect their freedoms.
"You all are going to be, unfortunately, the recipients of the fallout from that -- that there's going to be a day when you need these institutions to be credible and to be fully functioning to protect your liberties," he said, according to a recording of the speech provided to "That could be either a short or a long time, but you're younger, and it's still going to be a necessity to protect the liberties that you enjoy now in this country."
Justice Thomas's critics claim that his attendance at a 2008 meeting of conservative donors in California should have required him to recuse himself from the court's 5-4 decision last year in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which held that limits on independent campaign expenditures by corporations or unions violate the First Amendment.
In addition, 74 House Democrats have signed a letter asking Justice Thomas to recuse himself from hearing any cases on the constitutionality of ObamaCare. They claim that his failure to list income that his wife, Ginny, received from employment at the Heritage Foundation, an opponent of ObamaCare, blurs "the line between your impartiality and you and your wife's financial stake in the overturn of health care reform." What they failed to mention is that Ginny Thomas ended her work at the Heritage Foundation in early 2009, before ObamaCare was a major issue on Capitol Hill. She then went to work for Tea Party Patriots until ending her work there early this year.
Even liberal law professors have expressed skepticism at such efforts to undermine the integrity of Justice Thomas. Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California Irvine who sharply criticized the Citizen United decision, says a letter from the liberal group Common Cause asking the Justice Department to examine Justice Thomas's actions represent "an unwarranted attack on the ethics of the Justices."
It's impossible to figure out all of the motivations behind the attacks on Justice Thomas, but it's a safe bet that several liberal groups have decided that the constitutionality of ObamaCare is under serious assault. They want to lay down some markers for declaring that any adverse decision by the Supreme Court is morally -- and legally -- illegitimate.."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Washington Electric 23.8% Rate Increase by Charlie Bucknam

At the end of last year, Washington Electric Coop announced a rate increase of 23.8%.  This extraordinarily large increase went into effect on January 1 of this year and is already burdening households and businesses.  From the letter ratepayers received in December, the primary reason for the increase relates to WEC's investment in "renewable" energy at its Coventry landfill plant.  One of the promised sources of revenue when the plant was constructed was the proceeds of sale of Renewable Energy Certificates (REC's).  REC's may be issued for each MW of renewable electricity produced.  They are then sold on the open market to organizations and individuals who want to demonstrate their commitment to green energy.  WEC's management and board of trustees were convinced that there was a market for REC's.  Whatever national market there may have been has dried up as people opt for low cost electricity (whatever its source) in order to survive in this recession.  WEC now needs to make up for the shortfall in revenue and its rate-payers will pay the price.  The Public Service Board has opened an investigation to look into WEC's rate increase.  There is a public hearing scheduled for March 15 at 7:00 p.m. at the Old Brick Church in East Montpelier.    Washington Electric chose not to buy any power from Vermont Yankee, Vermont's cheapest form of reliable energy, and instead chose to invest in a landfill.  Now the ratepayers are paying the piper.  Washington Electric ratepayers should be asking the Board whether it fulfilled its fiduciary duty to its coop members (the ratepayers) by making such a risky investment.    

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Cruel Hoax on Vermonters By Deb Bucknam

Author's note:  I wrote this op ed piece last September.  I was reminded of the article this morning when I heard more startling statistics from Sen. Vince Illuzzi who had spoken with IBM officials about Vermont Yankee's closing.  They told him that not only would their electricity costs go up seven million a year with the closing of Vermont Yankee, but that IBM depends on reliable energy such as supplied by Vermont Yankee.  Why? because while a brown out causes our lights to flicker, a 45 second brown out at IBM cost them 1.3 million because they had to throw out all the chips they were making at the time, and repair the equipment in some way.   Illuzzi also said that Vermont Yankee pays 6.5 million a year to the state for renewable energy projects.  A bill in the General Assembly is proposing to make up for that lost revenue with a "grid parity" tax  on electricity that will cost residential consumers .55 a month, but industrial consumers $430.00 a month. 

All Vermonters need electric energy.  It has become essential to all of us, not only powering lights, televisions and computers in our homes, but powering our water pumps, our furnaces, and medically vital appliances for the elderly and disabled.   The poor pay a disproportionately higher percentage of their income than their more affluent neighbors for this necessity of life.  And of course our economy would come to a standstill if electricity was shut off.

Vermont has in recent years, thanks mostly to Vermont Yankee, paid the lowest electric rates in New England.  Not only is Vermont Yankee’s four cents a kilowatt hour rate the lowest of any power source, it is the cleanest, greenest source of energy Vermonters have.   The Democrats in Vermont, led by Peter Shumlin, however, have perpetuated a cruel hoax on Vermonters to convince them that Vermont Yankee is not safe.  In nearly every news cycle there is a report about some flaw at Vermont Yankee, no matter how minor.  In contrast, the media never reports on the hundreds of oil and gasoline spills and leaks every year in Vermont.  The state news media ignores the death and destruction from wood stove and oil burner fires and gas explosions, and the death toll from pollution caused by wood, coal and oil.  So Vermonters have a skewed view of Vermont Yankee’s safety record.  It is in fact far safer than any other source of energy, including solar and wind.  The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group formed by the world’s democracies,  has recently published a 48 page study on the safety record of nuclear energy versus other sources of energy from 1969-2000.  The statistics are startling:  The number of accidents causing immediate death from all energy sources in the OECD countries from 1969-2000 was 8934; the number of deaths from nuclear power accidents during that same time in OECD countries was zero.  In non-OECD countries, the statistics are similarly startling.  From 1969-2000 there were 31 immediate deaths from a nuclear power accident—at Chernobyl--and  72,324 during that same time from accidents from other power sources.  Deaths caused by pollution from oil and coal in OECD countries are in the hundreds of thousands, while there are zero deaths attributed to radiation pollution from nuclear power plants in OECD countries. 

Finally, Vermont Yankee is a local source of power, employing over 650 Vermonters, and a local source of tax revenue, paying millions to Vermont in taxes.

With that record, one would think that Democrats, who are supposed to have compassion for the poor and working class, and who tout their support for green energy, would be staunch supporters of Vermont Yankee.  To the contrary, Democrat candidate for governor, Peter Shumlin, and his Democrat party, including Senators Kitchel and Choate, have voted not to renew Vermont Yankee’s license after 2012.

It gets worse.  The power that the Democrats want to substitute for Vermont Yankee is wind and solar power.    The Democrats in the Vermont General Assembly have guaranteed subsidies of 20 cents a kilowatt hour for wind power, and 30 cents a kilowatt hour for solar power, and those rates are locked into long term contracts of ten to twenty five years. 

Of course, these rates will borne by all of us, but most particularly on the poor and middle class in Vermont.  Manufacturing jobs in Vermont will also be adversely affected.    Manufacturing plants are heavy users of electricity, and they can and will go elsewhere if their electric costs become prohibitive.

Why do Democrats go against all their traditional bases of support on this issue?  There are two answers.  First, Peter Shumlin and his fellow Democrats are devout zealots when it comes to opposing nuclear power.  The fact that over the past forty years nuclear power has enjoyed a matchless safety record has never gotten in the way of Democrats’ fixed beliefs that nuclear power is malevolent.

Second, Peter Shumlin and his fellow Democrats have profited from the wind and solar energy lobby. David Bittersdorf, President and CEO of All Earth Renewables, a Vermont producer of  wind and solar power devices, and his wife Jan have given nearly $100,000.00 to the Vermont Democratic Party. 

Vermonters and Vermont businesses cannot afford this huge new regressive “tax” that will result from shutting down Vermont Yankee.   Senators Matt Choate and Jane Kitchel failed to represent their Northeast Kingdom constituents when they voted in lockstep with Democratic leadership last session.  During the next legislative session, it is imperative that our elected representatives re-visit this issue and renew Vermont Yankee’s license, especially for those Vermonters who are struggling in this tough economy to pay their household bills. 

Hsiao and the Chocolate Factory--The Sequel

Recently,  I posted an analysis of the first part of William Hsiao's $300,000.00 report to the Vermont   General Assembly.  Here is the sequel.  Two bills have were introduced in House (H. 202) and Senate (S. 57) on February 8 with the purpose of imposing single payer health care on Vermonters in line with William Hsiao’s recommended Option 3 in a report submitted to the legislature on January 21.  The legislature has embarked upon this plan of completely overhauling our health care system with little or no critique of the Hsiao report. In fact, Hsiao submitted his “final” report on February 17.  Even though the legislature has already placed bills in motion, I will continue my analysis of the Hsiao report and show how it relates to H. 202.     

Hsiao devotes 65 pages of his 184 page report to the legislature outlining three options for government run health care.  Those options, much like the conclusions and background outlined elsewhere in the report, are based on unsubstantiated assumptions, cherry picked data, and formulas that do not hold up under close scrutiny.   Hsiao describes how each option will work, and uses modeling to show savings in health care expenditures as well as the impact of each option on the State’s economy over a 10 year period. The Gruber Microsimulation Model, a model described in my earlier article as so encumbered by unsupported input data, its conclusions cannot be relied upon.  But Hsiao used it anyway to show cost savings presumed to be realized with his single payer system.  He used The Regional Economic Model (REMI), a model generated by Thomson Reuters, a large multinational corporation in the business of selling health care management products to federal and state governments, to show the macro-economic impact of his plan far into the future, even though this model has apparently not been used for health care applications. The REMI model is plagued with the same input/output problems outlined Gruber model above.  Hsiao apparently has little confidence in his own conclusions as he applies a margin of error of + or – 15% to his projections. (This amounts to a margin of error range of $1.5 billion using Hsiao’s assumption that Vermonters spend $5 billion in health care services annually.)  The margin of error far exceeds the amount of savings projected by Hsiao.

I will focus on Hsiao’s third option since that is the one he concludes is most suitable for Vermont.  It is a single payer option.  It is also the option that appears to be incorporated in H. 202. which is, of course, no surprise because the legislature made it clear in Act 128 passed last year that it wanted a single payer system. Act 128 did not allow for the development of an option fostering better quality and access to health care through reforms that do not involve more government control. 

According to the Hsiao option, an independent board is to be appointed by the governor. H. 202 says that it shall be a 5 member board to be known as the Health Care Reform Board.  Its responsibilities are substantial and include the following:

  • To represent all major players including employers, state government, consumers, and all recipients of benefits and payments.
  • To set payment rates for providers (physicians, hospitals, other providers) 
  • Negotiate updates/changes and scope of benefit packages (including co-payment levels).
  • Negotiate contracts for claims administration.  (This is the one area where Hsiao acknowledges that competition through competitive bidding will work to reduce costs.)
  • Establish global budget annually for Green Mountain Care, subject to legislative approval.

Given this set of responsibilities, this board is going to have enormous power to control the funding for our health care system, and to control the types and levels of care available to Vermonters.   

The following are some of the questions we consumers of health care should be asking.

How will Green Mountain Care be funded? Hsiao recommends that it be funded with a payroll tax at the level of 3.6% for employees up to $106,000 in income and 10.9% for employers. Hsiao recommends that employees earning less than 200% of the federal poverty level (FPL) be exempted from the payroll tax.  H. 202 does not specify how it is to be funded, but simply suggests that funding will have to come from some form of new tax on Vermonters. In addition, both Hsiao and H. 202 assume higher levels of payment reimbursements from the federal government for Medicaid, certainly not a foregone conclusion.  Co-payments by health care consumers will also contribute to funding.  Hsiao recommends a 13% co-payment while H. 202 is not specific.

What will my benefit package include under Green Mountain Care?  Hsiao recommends that a benefit package design should be equivalent to the average of plans currently available in Vermont.  Both Hsiao and H. 202 indicate that the 5 member Health Care Reform Board will have authority to design and alter the package with legislative approval. .  Of course, the benefit package will depend on how much funding is available, and how “sustainable” that funding is.  Look for reduced benefit packages in the near future when the legislature finds out its cost estimates did not reflect reality. 

Will my health care be free?  No.  In addition to the payroll tax, you will be subject co-payments, the level of which will also be determined by the Health Care Reform Board.  Also, Vermonters will need to purchase additional insurance depending upon the scope of the state’s “basic benefits” package.  There is no estimate in Hsiao’s report as to the cost of this insurance.    

Will I be denied access to costly health care treatment?  Yes.  The purpose of the Hsiao and legislative proposals is to reduce cost. Imaging technology, organ transplants, cancer treatments are all expensive. Expect to see those services limited for certain classes of people based upon yet to be determined criteria that will likely include age and/or the degree to which a disease has advanced.  Also, under “global budgeting”, accountable care organizations will have a fixed budget to be allocated among all patients within that organization, a built in incentive for providers to avoid costly treatment.   

Will I be permitted to take advantage of out-of-state health care providers?   The Hsiao report suggests that there should be negative incentives built into the State’s accountable care organizations to discourage going outside of Vermont’s borders.  H. 202 simply says that cross border issues will need to be addressed without offering any specifics. The legislature has essentially kicked the can down the road to avoid the controversy that will be generated when Vermonters realize they will not be able to afford treatment at Dartmouth Hitchcock, for example, under the new health care regime.

Will I be able to choose my primary care physician?   H.202 suggests that you may not be able to do so because you will be “attributed” to a particular accountable care organization. .  The Health Care Reform Board will decide which accountable care organization you will belong to.

Will I need to purchase additional health insurance?  H. 202 implies that many people will want to purchase a wrap around policy to cover care not included in the Green Mountain Care benefit package.   The Hsiao Report strongly indicates the need for wrap around policies to be provided by private insurers.

Will Catamount Health continue to be an option?  No.  The Hsiao Report identifies this program as one of those state-run programs that is unsustainable.  H. 202 proposes to eliminate Catamount Health and fold it into the Medicaid-funded Vermont Health Access Plan (VHAP). Physicians are compensated at a lower rate under VHAP and may opt not to accept patients previously enrolled in the Catamount plan.
Will long term care be provided under Green Mountain Care?  No.  Hsiao recommends that it not be included and H. 202 does not address it.

The Vermont General Assembly is proposing to ram through a bill that would turn one sixth of our economy over to government control, put a government panel in charge of our health care decisions, limit our freedom of choice and substantially raise taxes, all based on a badly flawed report with a pre determined conclusion.   We as health care consumers, taxpayers and citizens should be asking our legislature these and other questions.  

In the next article I will outline the alternatives to government controlled single payer health care.

Saturday Morning in Walden...The Good Life...

                                                       From our Kitchen window..
From our livingroom window

Friday, February 25, 2011

We want your comments!

We have learned that some people have not been able to post comments on the blog. Here is a link to help regarding comments. I hope this works. If not, let me know by emailing me at We want to hear from you, pro or con. We are flattered that you read us, even if you disagree!

How do I leave comments on a blog?

Emma Varley's Pay to Throw letter

Emma Varley,  Charlie and Deb's 12 year old granddaughter,  has started her writing career early by writing letters to the Concord Monitor.  This is the third letter from Emma they have printed.  And as you can tell from her political views of the Nanny state, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree!  Here is the letter.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dismal Prospects for Green Mountain Care

The Vermont legislature is risking the quality of our health care and putting our state budget at risk as it moves ever closer to replacing our current health care system with a a single payer system to be called Green Mountain Care (House Bill 202).  The legislature is relying on the hopelessly flawed Hsiao Report (see earlier blog) to justify this action.  Hsiao's claim to fame was is involvement in introducing a single payer system for Taiwan in 1997.  Our legislature has apparently not taken the time to investigate the current status of Taiwan's plan.   Taiwan is experiencing an acute shortage of physicians.  The average patient visit is now less than 4 minutes.  The Taiwan system is no longer sustainable.  The Taiwan government has had to raise taxes and co-payments steadily since the imposition of the plan, and now it is having to borrow money to keep it funded.  Patient and physician satisfaction rates have continued to decline and patients are being denied expensive treatment for budget reasons.  If we allow our state government to take over more of our health care, we can expect the state budget to take priority over patient care.      

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Vermont Democrats throw Vermonters under the bus

Vermont Democrats have just voted to reduce Vermont's clout in Presidential elections.    The Electoral College gives Vermont 3 electors--a far larger proportion than Vermont's popular vote in proportion to the U.S. population.    Vermont's vote is .06% of the Electoral College vote count.  That is definitely small, but with the popular vote, Vermont proportion of the vote is 1/3 of its Electoral College percentage--or .02% of the popular vote.  As True North notes, the Electoral College was set up to benefit rural states like Vermont. Why are Vermont's Democrats  throwing away Vermont's rural state advantage in the Electoral College?Because national Democrats complain that the system gives more clout to rural states, which, on balance, tend to vote Republican.

So, Vermont Democrats are more loyal to the national Democratic ideology than to their own constituents.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The First Amendment only for some Part II

A Columbia University student was booed and jeered when he tried to speak in favor of reinstating ROTC at Columbia.  Never mind he was an Iraq War veteran in a wheel chair because of 11 wounds he received fighting for his country and the liberation of 25 million Iraqis.  The story is here.   I will buy anyone dinner who can prove to me this story was broadcast on NPR, or on the Newshour on Public television.  The dozens of stories about "incivility" after the Tucson shooting will never be matched by any stories like this one  about "incivility" on the left. 

Why social conservatives are not winning the Gay marriage debate

I agree with social conservatives that our nation needs to focus on traditional family values.   Stable long term marriages are the best medicine for children, adults and our society.  Societal ills such as poverty, crime, mental illness are reduced when children grow up in stable, loving families.

Over a half century ago, state legislatures began liberalizing divorce by allowing no fault divorces.  Courts sped up the process of liberalization by ruling that divorces awarded in no fault states had to be honored in other states under the Constitution’s full faith and credit clause.  By the beinning of the 1970's no fault divorce was allowed in virtually the entire country.  At the same time, the taboo against unmarried couples living together was breaking down. 

Four decades later,  stable long term marriages are the exception, not the norm.  Many couples never marry, and children  often live with several different fathers over the course of their childhood.  

With a few exceptions, social conservatives have been largely silent about these trends.

Social conservatives, however, have been in the forefront of the anti gay marriage movement.  The result was the “Defense of Marriage Act” passed in the 1990’s and signed by President Bill Clinton; and state initiatives banning gay marriage.

Many conservatives blame liberal judges for the legalization of gay marriage, and judges have certainly played a part, like the judges in the 1960’s on the no fault divorce issue.

Here is my analysis of why conservatives are losing the gay marriage fight:  Conservatives have not spent any political or personal capital on the much more difficult problem of the breakdown of heterosexual marriage.  Reversing the trend of low marriage rates and high divorce rates will take enormous political capital, and social conservatives do not appear to have the will.  Indeed, the issue is rarely even brought up in social conservative circles. 

Because social conservatives have failed to defend marriage over the last several decades, their position on gay marriage does not carry much weight with the public.  Despite the name of the 1990’s legislation,  there has been virtually no credible defense of marriage for decades.  That is why gay marriage will likely become the law of the land despite protests from social conservatives. 


Friday, February 18, 2011

The First Amendment only for some

Last month Peter Welch lamented on the "toxic" political talk in the wake of the Giffords shooting in Tucson.  He said "It creates a sense of anger and you had some politicians talking about bullets not ballots. I mean things like that are obviously provocative and hurtful - they're harmful to maintaining civility in a democratic society."

Bernie Sanders also weighed in.  He said in a fundraising letter to his supporters:
"right wing reactionaries through threats and acts of violence Intimidate people with different points of view from expressing their political positions."

Finally, President said last month:   It's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we're talking with each other in a way that that heals, not in a way that wounds."

Vermont Public Radio covered the Tucson shooting with stories and commentary about being civil here,  here,  here,  here   here   and here. 

In Wisconsin,  teacher union members mobbed the state capitol with signs like these.  The protestors also surrounded the homes of their opponents, bringing intimidation tactics to a new level.

Did Peter Welch and Bernie Sanders decry such tactics? No.

Did President Obama?  No.  He called out the elected Governor of Wisconsin's attempt to balance his budget as an "assault on unions" 

Has VPR commented on the "vitriol"  in Wisconsin?  No.

We live in an era where big issues divide us.  It  should not be surprising that people speak passionately, even rudely.  People exercising their first amendment rights should not be decried or derided.  

Liberals and their media allies try to silence their opponents by calling opposition to their policies "vitriolic" and "uncivil"; but when the left does and says worse things, the left is silent, or like Nancy Pelosi, supportive.

The First Amendment is apparently only for some people.  

An "Assault" on Unions? What About the "Assault" on Taxpayers?

Yesterday, President Obama, exhibiting the new era of civility, said that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's proposals to require public employees to contribute to their own pensions and health insurance premiums and limit collective bargaining rights to salary alone amounts to an "assault" on unions. I won't delve into the "assault" on the democratic process by Democratic legislators hopping on a bus to go out of state to prevent a vote on the issue, or the "assault" on the academic development of students who are missing yet another day of school. Instead, let's look at why Governor Walker has made such a proposal.Wisconsin was listed by the Pew Center in a report published in 2010 as one of the top 10 states in fiscal peril. They have an estimated state budget deficit of $3,000,000,000. That's a deficit not their overall debt. A significant part of the deficit is the spending on public employee pensions and health insurance. The governor has proposed that public employees contribute some of their own money to their pensions - a whopping 5.8% and that they contribute 12.6% of their salary to their health insurance premiums.

My first reaction when I read this was, "Welcome to the world the rest of us live in!" We have no pension and the retirement we have is there becaue we make our own contributions to it with a small matching percentage thrown in by the company. Thanks to the higher costs of Obamacare, this year we are paying 25% of our health insurance premium.

Wisconsin isn't the only state with this type of problem. There was a story in Massachusetts the other day where the head of Massport, Thomas Kinton, announced he was retiring in June so he could collect his $195,000 per year pension and over $455,000 in unused sick time - and he is not the only one benefitting from this boon.

Again, here in the real world, we can carry maybe a week of personal days over to the next year - but any more than that you lose it.

And, no, public employees are not making up for poor salaries with extravagant benefits. Study after study has shown that public sector employees are making more than comparable jobs in the private sector. Although the private economy continues to shed jobs, the stimulus money that was meant to keep unemployment below 8% has paid for the continued growth of government jobs - no doubt with higher salaries and better benefits than the rest of us.

Lest we forget:
The people in the private sector who work for less pay, pay those in the public sector higher pay.
The people in the private sector who are used to contributing 15-25% or more of their pay for health benefits are paying the entire health premiums for many in the public sector.
The people in the private sector who can't carry over more than a week of personal time are paying for the head of Massport to collect $455,000 in unused sicktime.

The private sector is shrinking, the public sector is growing.

There are many words to describe this madness, but the most important word is "unsustainable". Something has to change and I applaud Governor Walker for his courage. I can only hope others have the same courage.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A question for Vermont Public Radio

I am listening to VPR's pledge drive.  After praising themselves as wonderful broadcasters--apparently none better--and then urging support so that listeners feel "pride of ownership",   why does VPR urge us to call our congressional delegation to keep federal funding for VPR?  If the product is so superior,  it should not need federal subsidies. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Health care for those over age 65 in Britain

Here is a Telegraph article    from Britain that should give Vermonters pause over Vermont's proposed single pay health care.  As Charlie has indicated in his blog post, "Hsiao and the Chocolate Factory",  the focus of Vermont's  plan is cost containment, not quality care.  What better way to contain costs than to treat the elderly like throwaways?  The money quote from the Telegraph: 

"A study of pensioners who suffered appalling treatment at the hands of doctors and nurses says that half were not given enough to eat or drink. One family member said the maltreatment amounted to “euthanasia”.
Some were left unwashed or in soiled clothes, while others were forgotten after being sent home or given the wrong medication." .

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pravda By Deb Bucknam Sept 2010

 Author's note:  I wrote this last fall.  With VPR fundraising in full swing, I thought it would be a good time to reprint this.  VPR is so predictable that a long time listener like me can tell when the "news" story begins how the story will be told. 

Recently I read a story about a young American who stayed with a family in Leningrad during the Soviet era.  The family would gather around the TV set every night to watch the news.  The young man reported that the news was unvarying:   great news from the Soviet Union, good news from Eastern Europe, and bad news from the West. 

Vermont Public Radio follows the Soviet era model.  A review of its morning and evening news broadcasts over the last several months reveals that VPR reports great news about Democrats and particularly our Democratic congressional delegation, good news from the Progressive party, and in the rare instances it reports on Republican candidates, bad news. 

Now that the campaign season is in full swing, VPR has ramped up its congressional happy talk.  VPR broadcasts stories directly from Sen. Leahy, Sanders and Rep. Welch’s press offices, with quotes from our congressional leaders, including almost daily “news” about federal funds coming into Vermont, complete with a member of our Congressional delegation praising the worthiness of the funded programs.   Other stories showcase Leahy, Sanders and Welch as fighters against greedy capitalists and gargantuan oil polluters.     There were several “news” stories about Sen. Leahy in the “spotlight” as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and two glowing articles about Leahy’s nearly 15 year unsuccessful “fight” for a landmine treaty.   Another favorite VPR technique is to approvingly broadcast “news” about a member of our congressional delegation introducing bills in Congress.   Never mind that introducing a bill is a non-event and the bill may never get past a subcommittee.   

None of these “stories” are newsworthy.  They are merely congressional news releases dutifully re-broadcast by VPR.

Stories about Republican campaigns are usually either negative or non-existent.  For example, recently, after broadcasting stories about government stimulus funds coming to Vermont, thanks to Sanders and Welch, VPR broadcast a story that the largest campaign war chest in Vermont was funded by donors who were not aware that it was operated by a Republican Governor’s committee.  The only comment VPR broadcast about the matter was from VPIRG, a far left advocacy organization (although VPR never names it as such) complaining that the fund should be “transparent”.    VPR also recently broadcast a Democrat’s criticism of Republican Auditor of Account’s campaign finance filing; negative remarks between Republican Secretary of State candidates, and two mistakes on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page when she endorsed a New Hampshire Republican candidate.   Negative stories about Republicans are never too insignificant for the VPR news team.

VPR has instituted a virtual news blackout of the U.S. Senate and House races here in Vermont.  Thanks to VPR’s news embargo, for example, many Vermonters have not heard of the sole Republican Senate Candidate Len Britton, an attractive young Vermont businessman whose political views more closely mirror Vermonters’ opinions than do those of the antediluvian Sen. Leahy.  Britton’s clever Youtube videos about our burgeoning national debt have caught national attention, including CBS news, but VPR has refused to broadcast any stories about this phenomenon   

With Sen. Leahy’s campaign war chest at almost $3.5 million, the chances of Len Britton being heard above the Leahy din in the paid media are small.    Similarly, Rep. Welch’s campaign war chest is also substantial, unlike his opponents.  Because of Leahy’s and Welch’s rich store of campaign funds coupled with the their nearly daily free broadcasts from VPR, and VPR’s  news blackout of Leahy’s and Welch’s opponents, Vermonters, like Soviet era citizens, have practically no opportunity to hear dissenting voices or to meaningfully participate in Vermont’s U.S. Congressional races.

VPR has become a well-behaved appendage of the Vermont Democratic political establishment instead of a vigorous First Amendment practitioner.  Our Vermont democratic process suffers as a result.

Where is the American Bar Association?

Several years ago, when national Republicans were in power, the American Bar Association fulminated about the decline in judicial independence; blaming Republicans for making comments and taking actions that threatened judicial independence.  There were many discussions, articles, academic symposiums across the country about judicial independence, and much wringing of hands about its decline. Indeed, there is a Standing Committee on Judicial Independence at the ABA.  Now Common Cause, the New York Times and other liberal organizations have started a campaign against Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia.  At a Common Cause rally two weeks ago, protestors called for Justice Thomas, the only black justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, and his wife, Ginni Thomas to be lynched.  And the the New York Times and Common Cause are spreading a false story about Justice Scalia attending a legislative meeting.  They say that Scalia met "behind closed doors" with  Tea party legislators--when that was patently false.  There are calls from Common Cause   for the Justice Department to investigate Justices Scalia and Thomas for "possible" conflicts of interest because they spoke at a conference--like all the Justices from time to time do, and because Justice Thomas' wife Ginni has the temerity to be CEO of a political  organization called Liberty Central.    As every lawyer knows, ethical or legal accusations against a lawyer or a judge, no matter how frivolous or politically motivated, are intimidating because the accused will have to spend enormous amounts of money, and time away from work, defending himself.  Yet the ABA which loudly lamented about the decline in judicial independence a few years ago,  are silent at this politically motivated campaign against two sitting justices of the Supreme Court.  Indeed, the ABA's only comment on Justice Thomas is an article  noting that it has been five years since Justice Thomas asked a question at oral argument.  Where is the outrage from the ABA?  Talking about lynching an African American Supreme Court Justice should  garner at least a comment from our national professional organization. This is an example of supposedly professional organizations which have become politicized.  They use their professional status to censure their political opponents while failing to condemn similar or worse conduct by political allies.   In an era where there is little trust in our institutions, the fact that "professional" organizations like the ABA are no longer professional just adds to the public's cynicism.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Want Jobs? Stop Obamanomics December 2009

Author's Note:  I wrote this article in December, 2009.  The points made then are still relevent today. 

The Obama administration continues to act surprised that its policies are not achieving job growth for our economy.  Instead of stopping the rise in the unemployment rate at 8.00% as promised by Obama as part of his justification for the $787 billion in stimulus spending, the unemployment rate jumped to 10.2% in October.  And, there is no sign that the unemployment rate is going to come down appreciably for the foreseeable future.  Instead of paying lip service to the problem with “jobs summits” like the one hosted by Obama a few weeks ago, he and his administration should acknowledge that his policies and initiatives are inhibiting our economic recovery and the job growth that would follow. 
The prospect of new taxes for individuals and businesses to fund drastic changes in health care is creating uncertainty in the business community and a disincentive to hire new people.
Obama’s push for a Cap and Trade system of energy allocation promises to be an enormous burden for our economy if it is ever enacted, because it will lead to higher costs for the energy that drives our economy.  With the prospect of higher energy costs, businesses are delaying new projects and the related job creation.
The Obama administration and Congress are openly seeking new estate taxes, increasing capital gains taxes, high taxes and fines to support a health care overhaul, as well as a huge tax increase that will result when the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire next year. The prospect of adding so much to an already heavy tax burden draws the vitality out of the economy and stifles job creation.
The “stimulus” spending has not stimulated the economy.  Most of the funds are being misspent.  Much of the spending has gone to states to temporarily fill shortfalls in budgets that should have been trimmed years ago.  Instead of getting the pain behind them, states have used stimulus money to put off the day of reckoning. Spending billions in subsidies for so-called “green” initiatives…wind energy…electric cars, etc. will likely turn into an enormous waste of our tax money.  When the technology becomes economically viable, it will be developed without government help.  Government’s effort to force us to buy “green” products will waste resources and slow the pace of economic recovery. 
The stimulus bill also included thousands of pet projects for various members of Congress to take home to their states.  They are essentially political payoffs and should never have been allowed by this president who came into office pledging “no more pork”.
If Obama wishes to reduce unemployment and support economic growth, he needs to acknowledge the failure of his policies to date.  Then, he should do the following:
End the push to establish a Cap and Trade system.  Acknowledge that the global warming issue has been hyped for years and that there is no urgency to impose global controls on carbon dioxide emissions.
Promote energy self sufficiency by developing domestic oil reserves, building new refineries, building new nuclear power plants, and upgrading our power grid. Advances in technology are allowing us to burn fossil fuels cleanly and efficiently.  Nuclear power is dependable, safe, and has zero carbon dioxide emissions. 
Scrap Congress's current bills calling for massive government involvement in our health care to be funded by higher taxes.  The public is against it and it is far too costly, especially for an already weakened economy.  Instead, recognize that we already have the best health care system in the world, and focus on making the kind of incremental changes that will make it even better, including uniform regulation of insurance companies across state lines, tort reform, fully funding Medicaid and Medicare, elimination of employer-based health insurance, and subsidies and/or tax incentives for those who cannot afford health insurance premiums. 
Do not re-deploy the TARP funds as they are repaid (with interest) by the financial institutions.  The purpose of TARP was to temporarily shore up the financial institutions in a time of severe stress. We should celebrate the fact that the TARP program appears to have been successful, but the funds repaid should be used to reduce our staggering debt as originally planned. 
Declare that there will be no new taxes and no tax increases for 5 years. This will provide the incentive and financial certainty to allow businesses to invest and expand leading to new job opportunities.
Temporarily reduce payroll taxes for employers.
These initiatives would accelerate economic activity and spur growth in the job market. 
Our economy has suffered a great deal in the past year, not only from the excesses in the financial arena, but even more so from the wrong-headed policies and initiatives promoted by the Obama administration. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sanders and Bush memoirs

I am finishing reading Pres. Bush’s memoir, “Decision Points.”  At the same time I was reading the President’s book,  I read Bernie Sanders’ book, “Outsider in the House.”  The contrast was startling: the Bush memoir revealed a man who is gracious, modest and knowledgeable.  The Sanders memoir revealed a man who is hateful, arrogant and ignorant.  For example, whle Bush never demeans his opponents, and always assumes they act in good faith,  Sanders always assumes his opponents are acting in bad faith.  He calls Republicans every name in the book, and never has one good word to say about Republicans.  Not one.  Sanders also knows nothing about economics, and appears to be proud of that fact.

One thing I will say about the book, though:  where Sanders is clear and cogent is when he talks about the mechanics of campaigning.  The book should be read by Vermont politicians as campaign "how to" book.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dueling letters to the editor on Bernie Sander's article

Deb's note:  here is a letter to the editor in the Caledonian by Barbara Grim about my article on Bernie Sanders, and my answer

Casting stones
To the Editor:
Regarding the January 27, 2011 In My Opinion column in The Caledonian-Record:
Let the verbal games begin, Ms. Bucknam. As a counselor-in-law here in St. Johnsbury it should be a busy day everyday to shorten such a seriously negative and lengthy opinion about a United States Senator. For all the good Sen. Sanders has done in the past and continues to do the opinion, "A Senator From Antipathy" delivers a negative, nit-picking dumpster of detailed verbiage in my opinion.
Just wondering who researched all the detail about Sen. Sanders in this opinion anyway? Could it have been those people who are employed by your St. Johnsbury law firm? Stated in the opinion are verbs such as vilifies (his opponents) slanders (American capitalism) and demeans (American people) referring to Sen. Sanders. Who says that Vermonters are a certain type of people anyway?
The Caledonian-Record shares in the police blotter current public record of those Vermonters who have broken laws and includes often disturbing behavior of Vermonters' information on the front page and throughout the paper regularly. This raises the question of not-so-wonderful Vermonters with not such simple lives; are Vermonters really, as you have stated, collectively generous, educated and tolerant? When listening or viewing media (television and radio) are Vermonters portrayed in the best sense of that word, liberal?

Negative projections on a United States Senator and your personal opinion are interesting to this reader, however we are all hurting from the Tucson tragedy and casting stones as done in your opinionated printing reflects your own malevolent and obdurate nature.
Barbara Grim, USN, Ret.
St. Johnsbury, Vt.

Response to Ms. Grim
To the editor:

Ms.  Barbara Grim wrote a letter to the editor criticizing my article about Bernie Sanders.  First, she claimed the piece was negative.  She was right, because most of the article directly quoted Sen. Sanders.

Then Ms. Grim asked:  “Just wondering who researched all the detail about Sen. Sanders in this opinion anyway? Could it have been those people employed by your St. Johnsbury law firm?”  

I do all of my own research and my own commentaries.  The lawyers, paralegals and administrative staff members in this firm are the ultimate professionals, have diverse political views, and would not perform such tasks even if I asked them to.   We have no litmus test in this office—that would be boring---and I am proud to have a professional staff with diverse backgrounds and views.

If Ms. Grim disagrees with my opinion of Sen. Sanders, that is fine with me—who would want to live in a country where everyone had the same view?     But launching personal attacks on the professionalism of my staff—none of whom she knows--is the kind of  negative discourse that Ms. Grim claims she is opposed to.  

I invite Ms. Grim to meet the fantastic people in my office.  We will even treat her to a cup of coffee and a tour of the premises.   I guarantee she will be agreeably surprised; and she will certainly find no potted plants--except the leafy green ones.

Deborah T. Bucknam  

Health Care is a Human Right—And Must be Preserved By Deborah T. Bucknam 9.12.09

Author's note: Last night,  I went to an open house at the St. Johnsbury Coop where they featured free samples of Vermont Mead wine and Vermont Chocolate, along with some beautiful singing by someone whose name I unfortunately did not learn.  They also had the "Health Care is a Human Right" from the Vermont Workers Center there trying to have us sign their petition.  I told the HCIAHR person that I was "180 degrees opposed."  She laughed, and said "I know, but I thought I would try."  It appears my reputation had preceded me.  I thought I would post this  Sept 2009, article, to explain why I am "180 degrees opposed" to their position on health care.  

On August 23rd,  I attended a Sen. Bernie Sanders  town hall meeting at Peacham Congregational Church.  I arrived early, but not early enough.   Already there were Bernie Sander’s supporters with red pre-printed T-shirts, signs,  and paid staff from the Vermont Workers’ Center.   The pre-printed shirts and signs declared “Health Care is a Human Right”.  The Vermont Workers’ Center has been campaigning for government controlled universal health care with the slogan “Health Care is a Human Right” for the last several years. Bernie Sanders is an enthusiastic supporter.

I asked one sign carrier where in the Constitution was the right to health care.  She thought a moment, and replied:   “ The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  The sign carrier’s answer was wrong. The rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are rights affirmed in our Declaration of Independence, not specifically delineated in our Constitution.

Despite the sign carrier’s mistake, the slogan is correct: according to the U.S. Supreme Court, health care is a human right, guaranteed by our Constitution, even though the  rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not specifically found in that document.  The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly held that those rights are a part of the fundamental rights we enjoy under the U.S. Constitution.  The most famous of those Supreme Court decisions affirming these non-enumerated rights is Roe v. Wade.  In that case, the Court outlined the history of its decisions regarding rights not enumerated in the Constitution, including the right to privacy.  The Supreme Court concluded that the right to privacy is a “fundamental right” guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment to our Constitution, and cannot be abridged by the government without a showing of a “compelling state interest”.

The Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade determined that Texas law outlawing abortions violated a woman’s constitutional right to privacy— the right to make her own decision concerning the medical procedure of abortion. 

While there are those who disagree with the Roe v. Wade decision because they believe that our fundamental rights should be extended to the unborn, and thus a woman’s rights must be weighed against those of her unborn child, few disagree that we have certain fundamental human rights, and that the right to make our own decisions about the most intimate aspects of our lives and the lives of our families is part of those fundamental human rights we enjoy.  Decisions we make about our own health,  as the Roe v. Wade court recognized, are as intimate and private as any we make.  Therefore,  the government must not be involved in our  private health care decisions, absent a “compelling state interest”. 

The Vermont Workers’ Center’s meaning of human rights is diametrically opposed to the authentic meaning of human rights under our Constitution, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court.   To the Vermont Workers’ Center members, their slogan means that health care is a benefit that government must bestow on its citizens.  That is the opposite of what human rights means in the U.S. Constitution.  Fundamental human rights are, as the Declaration of Independence proclaims, “endowed by our Creator”, not by our government.  Moreover, our Declaration affirms those rights are “inalienable”: in other words, they cannot ever be taken away from us by any person or government. 

Because Americans understand that the God-given right for each of us to control our own health care is a part of the fundamental rights that cannot be taken from us by any entity, no matter how powerful, many Americans recoil at the proposals for government controlled health care.  Americans instinctively appreciate that this type of government benefit is inexorably linked with government control, and government control of such intimate and personal decisions violates one of our most sacred and fundamental rights.

 The sign carrier at the Peacham Congregational Church was also mistaken about her slogan when she said “Health Care is a Human Right” was a slogan referring to American rights and privileges. The Vermont Workers’ Center refers on its website, not to our Declaration of Independence or Constitution,  but to Article 25 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the basis for its “Health care is a human right” campaign.  The reliance by the supporters of universal government controlled health care on the United Nations Declaration is misplaced. While many of the human rights outlined in the U.N. Declaration are similar to those in our Constitution, there are others that would violate our U.S. constitutional rights if fully implemented.  Article 25 of the U.N. Declaration is one such section.    Article 25 states in part:  “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care…”
The proponents of universal government controlled health care read too much into Article 25 of the U.N. Declaration.  If Article 25 decrees that government is required to provide each of us with food, clothing, housing and health care, and not just a safety net for those most vulnerable, then the foundation of our constitutional democracy would be shattered.   If government provides for everyone’s basic needs, then government controls the distribution of those needs, and can ration those basic needs as it sees fit.  No longer is our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness God-given and inalienable, but government-given and uncertain.  Our Founders pledged their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” to fight against such a government, for they understood that government control of the necessities of life was ultimately tyrannical, no matter how benign its stated purposes.
Health care is a human right, a right to be free of government control over our most intimate cares and concerns.  Government controlled universal health care, advocated by the Vermont Workers’ Center and Bernie Sanders, would violate that basic human right.

A Modest Proposal: Universal Grocery Care by Deb Bucknam 3.23.05

(Author's Note:  I wrote this in 2005, but the proposal is timely given the imminent passage of Shumlincare.) 
House Bill 30, introduced by House Democrats, proposes that Vermont institute a plan for universal health care for all Vermonters.  Interest groups and activists have for many years promoted universal health care, and this year they are confident, with a Democratic  legislature, Vermont universal health care will pass.  

I have a more modest proposal. According to national statistics, Americans spend a median 20%  of their household income on health care, and only an average 6.4% of their household income on groceries.   Therefore there would be huge cost savings if the government funded universal grocery care instead of universal health care. After all,  food is the staff of life.  It is basic to our health and wellbeing.   Providing universal grocery care would go a long way to keeping Vermont healthy, at the same time saving the state an enormous amount of money, because household food costs are much less than health care costs.
With the government enjoying a surplus because it pays for groceries rather than health care, the government could fully fund universal grocery care.   Vermonters would be able to benefit from the cornucopia of  food that we now enjoy without having to pay for it.
The grocery stores would love the idea. They would have customers who are taking food for free, and the State would be footing the bill.  There would be a run on caviar and lobster.  Customers would not have to comparison shop or worry about spoilage because the food is free.

Of course, the idea has problems.  With all of us just picking up the groceries we want, there will be no incentive to choose wisely, and food costs would grow faster than the rate of inflation.  The State’s coffers would soon be depleted.  The State would first pass off the shortfall onto the grocers, mandating that they continue to distribute food to all, but only reimbursing grocers a certain percentage of the cost of  the food provided to consumers.    Politicians would pass other mandates to the grocery providers:  limiting  packaging and advertising to save costs,  requiring stocking only generic brands, compelling providers to obtain a certificate of need before building or expanding a grocery store.  

The system would continue to deteriorate, despite the mandates and regulations,  because consumers would still be getting “free” food, with no inducement to be cost conscious.  So, rationing would be next.   The state would issue regulations limiting the type and amount of food the people could get. By this time a huge bureaucracy will have grown up to regulating issues like ensuring only bona fide Vermont residents got free food,  drawing up formulas for funding the program,  mandating the type and amount of subsidies the grocers must pay, and whether and how a store can expand; and regulations and record keeping on food distribution, packaging, and advertising.  
Sound crazy?  This is the system already in place for health care for many Vermonters, , and Vermont Democrats are proposing to expand this program to all Vermonters.   The government already requires health providers subsidize health care—by as much as 70% of the cost.  In addition, the government has a multitude of regulations covering the type of care allowed, the price that can be paid for the care, and certificates of need for institutions providing care.  Next is rationing—already suggested by Democrat Rep. John Tracy, the chair of House Committee on Health Care--as the future for health care, because of the already enormous shortfall in Medicaid funding.   Yet the Democrats’ solution to this health care morass is more of the same.

The formula for universal health care, like the formula for universal grocery care,  will result in overburdening our state with taxes, regulations, and ultimately rationing.  The real costs of health care will continue to spiral out of control, because there is no incentive for the consumer of health care—just like the consumer of free groceries-- to control spending. The result:  more and more government taxation, regulation, and rationing to artificially control health care costs

There is a better way to control health care costs and give consumers the right to choose their own health care plan, free of government and bureaucratic intrusion.  Consumers would be in charge of paying for much of their health care through health savings accounts.

Here is how health savings accounts work:  the consumer deposits into his or her own health savings account tax exempt funds to cover the deductible on a catastrophic health insurance he or she also purchases.  The individual deductible on catastrophic insurance is $2500.00, so a consumer needs to save $2500.00 to take care of any uninsured health care costs.  Typically, people do not spend  $2500.00 a year for their health, so the limit is virtually never reached, and as the years go by,  the health savings account becomes larger and larger.  Funds withdrawn from the account for health care are not taxed.   Whatever funds are left in the account at retirement, when the retiree is eligible for Medicare,  are treated, for tax purposes,  like an Individual Retirement Account.   And health savings accounts can be used for any medical procedure—no rationing here—eye glasses, dental care, elective surgery.  The account funds can even be used to pay premiums on long term care insurance.   Moreover, there is no deductible or co-pay—ever, whether the funds are taken out of the health savings accounts, or paid for under the catastrophic health insurance policy.    So, instead of being taxed and receiving rationed health care,  Vermonters who own  health savings account can see their own money invested and grow if they use their health  dollars wisely and follow healthy habits.   

Groceries are cheap and plentiful today because of market competition.  Those same principles can be translated to consumption of health care services, with  the result of lowering  costs, increasing quality, and consumers’ ownership of their own health future.  

Universal health care, on the other hand, like universal grocery care, sounds like a fine idea, but the consequences  are unhealthy for our state, its taxpayers, its health consumers, and the economy. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hsiao and the Chocolate Factory By Charlie Bucknam 2.8.11

Last May, the legislature passed Act 128 which provided for the expenditure of $300,000 to engage a consultant to develop three options for State-run health care including a “single payer” system.  The Act’s stated primary focus was to reduce health care costs in Vermont.  It assumed that health care costs would be reduced with a government run health care program.  The Commission on Health Care Reform, also created by Act 128, hired William Hsiao, a Harvard economist, in June of last year to develop the three options.   

The long awaited Hsiao Report was delivered to the legislature on January 19, 2011.  Unfortunately, the report was never written to be read by the public.  Indeed, it was not even read by its three authors.  In its 124 pages there are more than 66 typos, several contradictory statements about facts, and footnotes to dubious and outdated sources.  It is replete with cherry picked data,   poorly documented claims, assumptions upon assumptions, and tedious modeling involving so many input variables that the conclusions are completely unreliable. More importantly, the report never analyzes how health care costs are actually reduced, but assumes—and then concludes—there will be  cost containment through government run health care.  If the proposed government run health care system is anything like the Hsiao report, it will be opaque, confusing, sloppy, ineffective and vastly overpriced.   
The report can be divided into two parts:  the first 74 pages of the report are devoted to restating the history of health care in Vermont, reviewing “constraints” on developing a completely new system, and outlining the methodology used to estimate “savings” in health care costs.  The last 50 pages are Hsiao’s three proposals, as mandated by Act 128, for government health care “reform”.  Here I focus on the first 74 pages.     
Hsiao’s history recounts how the legislature and regulators have worked for years to increase government involvement in health care for Vermonters through community rating, Catamount Health, and VHAP, among other programs.  Hsiao reports that these efforts have failed to slow the increase in health care costs in Vermont.   In fact, Hsiao admits that Vermont’s per capita health care costs grew an average of 38% more than the national average every year for the last 20 years, resulting in Vermont going from 42nd in per capita health care spending to 9th  in the nation.  Yet Hsiao never analyzes why our health care costs have increased so dramatically. If he had, he would have concluded that government regulation was the primary reason for increased costs.  His failure to analyze this vital fact of Vermont’s health care history demonstrates one of the major flaws in this report: inconvenient facts which do not support pre-ordained conclusions are ignored.
The report then lists what Hsiao calls the “constraints” on Vermont government run health care—and they are formidable even through Hsiao’s rose colored glasses.  Hsiao notes that not the least of the many constraints to the imposition of State-run government health care is the recently passed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) pushed through Congress last year.  Any plan that the legislature may adopt will require numerous waivers to avoid having to comply with the many provisions in PPACA.  Nowhere in this report is there an analysis of the administrative and legal costs associated with obtaining all the waivers necessary to implement the Hsiao recommendations.  In addition, no one knows the effects of PPACA.  Robin Lunge, attorney for Vermont’s Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration, recently told Vermont legislators that PPACA is “ridiculously complicated”.    These two facts by themselves, suggest that our legislature’s efforts at government run health care are premature at best.  

According to Hsiao, however, there are other daunting obstacles, including the federally mandated ERISA law and regulations, the requirement to obtain waivers under Medicare and Medicaid, the “fiscal” problems of paying for the increased costs; and resistance from “stakeholders” ---doctors who would be receiving lower payments, unions who would lose their gold plated plans, and hospitals who would lose to out-of-state competition.  Why would Vermont embark on costly legal and administrative challenges to PPACA, the crown jewel of the Obama administration’s first two years, without knowing the impact of PPACA?  And why would Vermont spend taxpayers’ funds on legal challenges to ERISA, administrative and legal costs for obtaining waivers from other federal programs, and legal and political challenges from “stakeholders”?   Reading about the “constraints”, one is astonished to find out that Hsiao decides to plow ahead anyway with proposals for government run health care.  Of course, he has no choice.  That was what he was paid $300,000 to do. With Vermont’s budget in substantial deficit, the effort, like the Hsiao report, is an unnecessary and costly waste of taxpayer’s money.
Finally, Hsiao employs “modeling” to determine the cost “savings” from government run health care.  Hsiao employs the Gruber Microsimulation Model (GMSIM), a fancy sounding model which upon further analysis is a mirage.  The model employs innumerable undisclosed “inputs” (data and assumptions), including  assumptions about people’s behavior which are never specified; combined with a formula, the details of which are not revealed, and comes to a---guess what?—conclusion that the author seeks.  It’s like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:  Hsiao controls the knobs for the data and assumptions and the magic formula to reach the result he wants.

These 74 pages are the prelude to the three options Hsiao presents.  Unfortunately, Hsiao’s options are set forth with the same sloppiness, inattention to detail, and lack of scientific or real world support that tarnishes the first part of the report.  The result is proposals that have no predictive value whatsoever.  I will address the three proposals in another article.