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.


  1. Sounds just like Congress. "We think this is a great program for OTHER people... but not for US."

    How many members of Congress went to Harvard??

  2. knwpsk, The behavior on which you remark is typical of progressives, especially those who assume that they are more intelligent than the average person. They are, to the contrary, simply ignorant or lazy, preferring to think they know more, but in actuality simply too intellectually lazy to think through the likely consequences of their proposals.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  3. sad that Hahvahd thinks itself to be above the peasants in Southie! Sad, sad, sad. We are all humans with mostly the same equipment that sometimes requires remediation from medical sources, no?

  4. This item also illustrates how political dilemmas can too-easily arise from two major political parties that now have relatively few numbers of office-holders within each party who have truly differing points-of-view on a significant number of issues. The result with these two parties when dealing with major issues: so much weight on the "scale" that getting a balance becomes a Herculean task given the unsurprising current lack of office-holders with Herculean abilities. Our country would likely benefit a great deal from a popular third-party movement that would serve to "shake-up" the system simply by adding a third player having some obvious significant popular support.

  5. How could Harvard professors unlearn "1+1=2”, which used to be taught in first grade?
    My single sister earns a little less than $25,000. Per year, with no benifits. Her subsidized health policy was about $135. per month in 2014. The same policy for 2015 is $320. Her new policy is $140. month, but has such a high deductible, one test (like an MRI or CAT scan) would wipe out her entire savings. Her job used to provide pretty good insurance. Just saying....

  6. Common Core Mathematical Rules require that the student learn that the following formula is correct. All other configurations or solutions to the problem will be incorrect unless an executive order is issued by pen or telephone by the new Lord Regent:

    +2,500 = -6229

    Welcome to the Alice in Wonderland Mental Health Centre. Brought to one and all through the agency of the Obama Socialised Medicine Initiative.

    As Christians we must work towards having absolutely no governmental involvement in the medical or charity fields. Such government involvement always....always....winds up costing more and accomplishing less, with lower quality. It is up to us to educate, care for, and provide for the poor and the people having calamities.
    Local charities, local control. No massive bureaucracy...and we could get rid of the IRS to boot. The National Council of Churches would not like it....but, life is tough sometimes.