Monday, January 5, 2015

Shooting Fish in a Barrel

No one in his right mind could enjoy "shooting fish in a barrel" -- and that is the point of the metaphor: it is too easy.

That said, I must acknowledge that my own alma mater is coming in for some (well-deserved, IMHO) ridicule for its faculty's belated discovery of the costs added by the coverage mandates of Obamacare. To wit (H/T: the New York Times, of all conceivable sources; my emphasis added):
For years, Harvard’s experts on health economics and policy have advised presidents and Congress on how to provide health benefits to the nation at a reasonable cost. But those remedies will now be applied to the Harvard faculty, and the professors are in an uproar.

Members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the heart of the 378-year-old university, voted overwhelmingly in November to oppose changes that would require them and thousands of other Harvard employees to pay more for health care. The university says the increases are in part a result of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, which many Harvard professors championed.
Oh, champion it they did, indeed. But somehow, what Harvard's faculty expressed was "good" for America's uninsured, they never understood could cost them anything out of their own pockets:
In Harvard’s health care enrollment guide for 2015, the university said it “must respond to the national trend of rising health care costs, including some driven by health care reform,” in the form of the Affordable Care Act. The guide said that Harvard faced “added costs” because of provisions in the health care law that extend coverage for children up to age 26, offer free preventive services like mammograms and colonoscopies and, starting in 2018, add a tax on high-cost insurance, known as the Cadillac tax.
As I said at the outset, reminding Harvard's distinguished faculty that there is no such thing as a free lunch is all to akin to shooting fish in a barrel. But what can one do, when they offer the Times such ready targets? Take this professor's quote, for example -- and how appropriate that a professor of the classics should deliver such a classic quote:
Richard F. Thomas, a Harvard professor of classics and one of the world’s leading authorities on Virgil, called the changes “deplorable, deeply regressive, a sign of the corporatization of the university.”
The "corporatization [one shudders at the adoption of such a 20th-century neologism by a Harvard classics professor] of the university"?? Excuse me?

How about: basic mathematics? Such as: 1 (your own insurance) + 1 (the insurance you agreed to mandate be provided for others, who cannot pay for it) = 2 (the total cost you now have to bear)?

Sigh. Sic transit gloria harvardiensis.

We continue this sad parade with this quote from a Harvard professor who thinks what has happened must be considered "a pay cut":
Mary D. Lewis, a professor who specializes in the history of modern France and has led opposition to the benefit changes, said they were tantamount to a pay cut. “Moreover,” she said, “this pay cut will be timed to come at precisely the moment when you are sick, stressed or facing the challenges of being a new parent.”
Well, yes -- it is a sort of "pay cut" -- because Obamacare charges those able to pay more in order to subsidize the previously uninsured so they can have coverage, including all of those mandated extras, remember? But then: if you didn't want to suffer a pay cut, why did you support Obamacare???

And it is not as though Harvard is being stingy: to the contrary, it is one of the most generous of employers affected by Obamacare:
Harvard’s new plan is far more generous than plans sold on public insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. Harvard says its plan pays 91 percent of the cost of services for the covered population, while the most popular plans on the exchanges, known as silver plans, pay 70 percent, on average, reflecting their "actuarial value.”
Did you get that? Whose employer, out of all those who may happen to read this blog, ever pays as much as 91 percent of the employee's costs? Yet, listen to those disgruntled Harvard professors again:
In response [to the announced increase in costs], Harvard professors, including mathematicians and microeconomists, have dissected the university’s data and question whether its health costs have been growing as fast as the university says. Some created spreadsheets and contended that the university’s arguments about the growth of employee health costs were misleading. In recent years, national health spending has been growing at an exceptionally slow rate.
Problem is, one of Harvard's own (today) was in the forefront of recommending the features of Obamacare that now are driving up the immediate costs of insurance -- and he still claims that the increases are  a good thing (over the long run, of course):
In 2009, while Congress was considering the health care legislation, Dr. Alan M. Garber — then a Stanford professor and now the provost of Harvard — led a group of economists who sent an open letter to Mr. Obama endorsing cost-control features of the bill. They praised the Cadillac tax as a way to rein in health costs and premiums.

Dr. Garber, a physician and health economist, has been at the center of the current Harvard debate. He approved the changes in benefits, which were recommended by a committee that included university administrators and experts on health policy.

In an interview, Dr. Garber acknowledged that Harvard employees would face greater cost-sharing, but he defended the changes. “Cost-sharing, if done appropriately, can slow the growth of health spending,” he said. “We need to be prepared for the very real possibility that health expenditure growth will take off again.”
But you can't convince that most enlightened of faculties that they, of all people, should have to share in the cost of covering those who had no coverage before (such as those, for example, who were denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition). No, they think that Harvard is pulling a fast one on them -- even though they want it all, and think that Obamacare -- for others -- is just fine:
“Harvard employees want access to everything,” said Dr. Barbara J. McNeil, the head of the health care policy department at Harvard Medical School and a member of the benefits committee. “They don’t want to be restricted in what institutions they can get care from.”

Although out-of-pocket costs over all for a typical Harvard employee are to increase in 2015, administrators said premiums would decline slightly. They noted that the university, which has an endowment valued at more than $36 billion, had an unusual program to provide protection against high out-of-pocket costs for employees earning $95,000 a year or less. Still, professors said the protections did not offset the new financial burdens that would fall on junior faculty and lower-paid staff members.

“It seems that Harvard is trying to save money by shifting costs to sick people,” said Mary C. Waters, a professor of sociology. “I don’t understand why a university with Harvard’s incredible resources would do this. What is the crisis?”
Indeed: "What is the crisis?" As long as the Harvard faculty can benefit from an endowment that enables the University to pay 91% of the employee's true cost of coverage (and even more for those it pays less than $95,000 per year), why should they, of all people, have to dip into their own pockets to pay for their well-intentioned beliefs?

It's really not like shooting fish in a barrel. Instead, it's just a matter of reminding everyone about the deep truths of Orwell's Animal Farm.

Harvard's motto is Veritas -- "truth."

Well, Harvard, enjoy the veritas that you can't support free lunch for the masses while remaining isolated in your academic towers. That which you support in lofty principle for others has a way of becoming painful reality for everybody.

Monday, December 29, 2014

What Episcopalians Have Lost

Episcopalians (referring only to those in the Episcopal Church [USA], and not those in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina) could have heard a Christmas sermon like this:
From Mabel's Christmas Letter:

Now when I remem­ber Christ­mas I think of the trees and lights and dec­o­ra­tions and I recall all the busy shop­ping for presents. But most of all I remem­ber my friends, most of whom have died or are as fee­ble as I. And I remem­ber my fam­ily, my father and mother and sis­ters and brother, and my dear dar­ling hus­band, Hank, and of course my chil­dren, grand­chil­dren and great grand chil­dren spread out over this great coun­try of ours. And I remem­ber singing car­ols at the church. Oh how I used to love that Can­dle­light ser­vice. But mostly now I think of my Lord.

I don’t know what peo­ple do who cel­e­brate Christ­mas with­out the Lord Jesus. They must feel ter­ri­bly empty when they wake up the next day with presents unwrapped, the food eaten and life back to nor­mal. No won­der the doc­tors say so many folk get depressed dur­ing the hol­i­days. I think peo­ple have for­got­ten that Love came down at Christ­mas. God’s Love! God’s Son—our Sav­ior! He did not grow up out of this ancient world of ours as if he was the best we had to offer. No, dear friends, He came down from heaven—God looked down and saw our need and so He sent His Son. That is why we call him, Immanuel, “God with us”. It is odd how you learn new things about that. Twelve years ago when my hus­band died it was my first Christ­mas in 54 years with­out my dar­ling Hank. I was all alone in my liv­ing room and I said, “Lord, I don’t think I can go on. I’m so alone.” Then the room seemed to grow unusu­ally quiet and the Lord seemed to say to me, “Mabel—you are not alone—always there will be two of us. Oth­ers may leave but I will stay.” That’s what Christ­mas means to me. God is with us—God is with me.

So go ahead. Dec­o­rate your trees and houses. I sup­pose it puts us all in a more cheer­ful mood. Give the chil­dren their gifts. Fill your stom­achs with all the deli­cious foods. But lis­ten to an old lady, if only for a moment. Sooner or later a per­son has to real­ize he is not going to live for­ever. No mat­ter how hard we try to live upstand­ing lives there is a lot we do in this life for which we need to be for­given. When we stand before God’s judg­ment every­one needs a Sav­ior....

But instead, the Christmas sermon Episcopalians heard was this one:
The altar hanging at an English Advent service was made of midnight blue, with these words across its top: “We thank you that darkness reminds us of light.” Facing all who gathered there to give thanks were images of night creatures – a large moth, an owl, a badger, and a bat – cryptic and somewhat mysterious creatures that can only be encountered in the darkness.

As light ebbs from the days and the skies of fall, many in the Northern Hemisphere associate dark with the spooks and skeletons of secular Hallowe’en celebrations. That English church has reclaimed the connection between creator, creation, and the potential holiness of all that is. It is a fitting reorientation toward the coming of One who has altered those relationships toward new possibilities for healing and redemption.

Advent leads us into darkness and decreasing light. Our bodies slow imperceptibly with shorter days and longer nights, and the merriness and frantic activity around us are often merely signs of eager hunger for light and healing and wholeness.

The Incarnation, the coming of God among us in human flesh, happened in such a quiet and out of the way place that few noticed at first. Yet the impact on human existence has been like a bolt of lightning that continues to grow and generate new life and fire in all who share that hunger.

Jesus is among us like a flitting moth – will we notice his presence in the street-sleeper? He pierces the dark like a silent, streaking owl seeking food for hungry and defenseless nestlings. He will overturn this world’s unjust foundations like badgers undermining a crooked wall. Like the bat’s sonar, his call comes to each one uniquely – have we heard his urgent “come and follow”? ...

O, foolish Episcopalians! How you have squandered your treasures!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Beethoven Benedictus

(Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Conductor; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Chorus)