Monthly Archive: March 2017

The Golden Age of Video Streaming

I’ll admit it… I’m a fan of Netflix. It’s not just their original programming that I like, it’s the shake-up of the entire video content industry. When they first made the switch from mailing DVDs to streaming video, few in the entertainment industry took them seriously. Now, a few years later, they are spending around 5 BILLION dollars a year making original content, more than industry stalwarts like Time Warner, Fox, Viacom, or even Disney. There subscriber base has surpassed HBO. While the old guard previously fought the entire idea of streaming video as a threat to their established model, now they all must participate or get their lunch eaten.

This is great news for viewers. Streaming has a lot of advantages over the old cable and broadcast model. First, you get to watch the content you want when you want to. Sure, a DVR helps in that regard… but its an imperfect solution. Also, the idea of waiting a week between episodes now seems archaic in this day and age. Netfix’s model of releasing an entire season at once lets you watch at the pace you prefer. Most of all, however, streaming removes the limit that channel based delivery puts on the quantity of content. As long as there is space on the servers, there is always room for another show. This opens the door for niche programs that might not find space on limited cable or broadcast channels.

And as the speed and availability of high speed Internet improves, so does the prospects of streaming vs traditional cable video. Kirsten and I spend a large part of the year traveling the country in our RV. Previously, this would limit our video viewing to DVDs or whatever we could pick up on an antenna (satellite was just more hassle than we wanted to deal with). But recent improvement in cellular mobile Internet have changed that. We now regularly get 10 to 20 Mbps via the mobile hot-spot on our phone, more than enough to stream Netflix, Amazon Video, etc (indeed, it’s often better than we get on our land line Internet). For a while, mobile data caps would make video streaming unthinkable, but recent competition has all the major mobile phone companies offering unlimited data plans or data cap exceptions for video streaming.

I wouldn’t call it the Golden Age of Video Steaming, but it’s getting there.

The Republicans now own Obamacare…

… it’s on them if it fails.

Let me explain. When the Democrats passed the ACA (Obamacare) seven years ago, they were able to do it only because they held the Presidency and majorities in both houses of Congress. Shortly after that, Republicans regained the majority in the House and later the Senate, allowing them to obstruct further legislation by the Democrats. And additional legislation was definitely needed. The ACA was never intended to be the end of the story on health care. Complicated legislation often needs amending after it rolls out, and that was expected in this case. Obama himself even likened the law to a “starter home”… something we could build on.

And renovation is definitely needed. While millions of people have been helped by the law, many others still suffer from rising premiums and lack of choice among insurers. Even before gaining the White House, Republicans have had the opportunity to pass bipartisan legislation, but for the past seven years they’ve preferred to obstruct any effort to fix the law, instead favoring a goal of repealing it. Indeed, not only have they refused to fix the law, they’ve actively worked against it. Premium increases in 2017 are in large part because of Republican sabotage. The GOP succeeded in stripping funding from the ‘risk corridor’ reinsurance program that was meant to stabilize prices while new insurance pools were created. This caused many of the new insurance companies, including most of the non-profit insurance co-ops, to go out of business, reducing competition and choice on the health care exchanges and driving up rates among the remaining companies.

And now that they also have the Presidency, Republicans have even more power to sabotage the ACA. They’ve wasted no time in doing just that. One of Trump’s first actions after taking office was to pull the advertisements reminding people to sign up for insurance before the end of the 2017 enrollment period. Having as many people as possible sign up is important because larger risk pools makes for lower premiums. This is especially true with those last minute sign-ups because healthy people are more likely to procrastinate, and getting them on board will definitely improve the risk ratio, creating lower rates for everyone.  We know this from examining sign-up patterns from previous years.  But trump canceled the last week of advertising despite the fact that it was already paid for with no way of recouping the funds. The only reason to do it was to hurt enrollment (which it did).
And they’ve signaled that the sabotage will continue. The current health care bill being debated in Congress takes a wrecking ball to Obamacare, but even if they fail to pass that, they can do a lot of damage. Trump himself has said that, should the bill not pass, they would just ‘let Obamacare die’. But will it die a natural death, or will this be an assisted suicide? The GOP now controls Health and Human Services, the department that administers Obamacare. They have the power to do things like eliminate cost sharing subsidies that help make insurance affordable for lower income people. That will drive poor but healthy people from the insurance pool, further driving up rates for everyone else. Even the hint that they might do this could drive up rates as cautious insurance companies price the possibility into their future rates… and Republican leadership is already talking about doing it.
For seven years, the GOP has campaigned on repealing Obamacare. They now have the power to do it. They have the power to replace it with their own legislation or nothing at all. They can fix Obamacare or undermine it. It is all on them. They cannot just stand back and ‘let Obamacare die’ and hope the Democrats get all the blame. Democrats have no power to pass legislation right now. Republicans do. Whatever happens is on them. If they can’t get it together enough to actually deliver on their promises, then they need to get out of the way and let someone else do it (like maybe the party that passed Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, etc.. the party actually committed to helping people get health care).
It is now almost 19 months until the 2018 midterms. Republicans still have a window to deliver on their promises, but it won’t stay open forever.
The voters are watching.

Trump is Destroying Reagan’s Legacy

Someone actually asked me how I could believe Trump is a Russian spy. I think I nearly blew coffee out my nose. No, I don’t think Trump is a Russian spy. I don’t even think he has any great loyalty to Russia. I think he is exactly what he has always portrayed himself to be… a business man with extensive international holdings and connections.

And therein lies the problem.

After Trump’s multiple bankruptcies, banks in the US would no longer loan to him, so he had to go overseas for credit. That includes some rather large deals with prominent Russian oligarchs and Kremlin connected banks. As far as Trump was concerned this was just good business, which was fine when he wasn’t President. But now that he is President, failing to divest himself of his business connections leaves him vulnerable to foreign influence. The fact that he still refuses to release his tax returns (something every modern President before him has done) raises a huge red flag. The Kremlin might be holding hundreds of millions of dollars of Trump’s debt, and they could use that as leverage against him. It need not even be conscious leverage. When Trump praises Putin and soft peddles the threat of Russian authoritarianism… it could just be a subconscious bias born from years of favorable business dealings. Either way, it’s a threat to our national security.

And Putin understands this. He has already responded by deploying nuclear cruise missiles in violation of earlier agreements and stepping up violence in the Ukraine… and Trump has done nothing. Putin is advancing his plan to undermine NATO and rebuild a Soviet style empire, and Trump doesn’t even see the threat. Worse, Trump seems poised to lift the sanctions that weaken Putin and may even hand control of the Crimean peninsula over to Russia.

In short, trump is destroying the legacy of Ronald Reagan, the President that ended the Cold War.

So no, I don’t think Trump is a Russian spy. I think he is something far worse… a dupe. A foreign policy neophyte who mistakes a favorable business deal as a show of character. Putin is rolling him and getting everything he wants.

God help us all.

Paul Ryan Doesn’t Understand What Insurance Is

Good God… Paul Ryan doesn’t understand what insurance is. I just watched his Powerpoint presentation explaining his healthcare bill, and at one point he describes the ‘fatal conceit’ of Obamacare as being this:

“Young and healthy people are going into the market and pay for the older sicker people. So, the young healthy person is going to be made to buy healthcare, and there going to pay for the person who gets breast cancer in her forties, or gets heart disease in his fifties.”

Yes, Paul, that’s called INSURANCE. That is exactly what it does. It is what it has ALWAYS done. It works that way with auto insurance and homeowners insurance, and yes, health insurance. The premiums from people not making claims collectively pay for the people who do make claims. Yes, my premiums will pay for the person who gets breast cancer or heart disease or cancer or whatever, and I’m fine with that… because someday that person MIGHT BE ME. People in the same group pay the same rate regardless of health condition. It’s called group rating, and its how health insurance has worked in the employer provided market for decades. It is the singular most important reform that Obamacare brought to the individual insurance market, and you want to get rid of it?

Saints preserve us… the Republican healthcare law was drafted by someone who has no clue how any of this stuff actually works.

Ryancare…. a one and a half leg stool

So Paul Ryan has finally made his Obamacare replacement public. It is not too far off from what I expected. It leaves a bit more of the ACA insurance regulations in place, but still carves out much of the existing law in ways that enables ‘adverse selection’, setting the stage for massive rate increases and lost insurance for millions of people. The big winners will be people making more than $250,000 per year… they get a tax cut. Losers will be anyone currently getting any sort of premium subsidy on the ACA exchange as well as those of us who lose insurance as companies exit the market. It also takes an ax to Medicaid, though it delays the pain a couple of years. It is not as bad a full repeal, but it will definitely make things worse than just leaving the ACA in place.

As with Obamacare, this mostly effects people who buy there insurance on the individual market instead of getting through their employer. If you are in the 50 to 64 age demographic, expect your premiums to go up sharply. The bill raises the cap on what insurers can charge that group, increasing it from a 3:1 to a 5:1 ratio. Also, if you currently receive a premium subsidy, that is going away. The Subsidy has been replaced with a flat tax credit that does not scale with income, so most people will receive much less, and they will receive it as a tax refund rather than direct premium support. In related news, the yearly penalty for failing to buy insurance has been replaced with a 30% surcharge on the first year of premiums when you buy insurance after going without. That makes things easier on people who decide to go without insurance, but like the lack of subsidies, it will skew the risk pool toward unhealthy people and cause rates to shoot up.

You can think of Obamacare as three leg stool: 1) Regulations forcing insurance companies to cover everyone who asks. 2) Subsidies to help people afford insurance… what I call ‘the carrot’. 3) Penalties to discourage people from going without insurance… ‘the stick’. Without all three, the insurance market collapses. The Ryan plan basically kicks out one of those legs and saws off part of another. If you are young, healthy, and have a high income, you MIGHT be no worse off under this plan… but even then your rates could go up because of the whole ‘adverse selection’ problem of healthy people failing to buy insurance and insurance companies exiting the market.

Needless to say, I’ll be calling my representatives (both in the House and Senate) to voice my opposition. I recommend everyone else do the same. President Trump has already voiced his support for this mess, so we need to stop it before it makes it out of Congress.
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