In a departure from most medical privacy cases, Anthem Blue Cross said it accidentally posted online Social Security or tax identification numbers for about 24,500 California doctors.
[Updated 1:03 p.m. PST Nov. 25: An Anthem spokesman said Monday that 24,500 doctors were affected, up from the previous 5,900 figure issued by the company.]
Anthem, a unit of insurance giant WellPoint Inc., said the private information was mistakenly included with its online provider directory for about 24 hours late last month.
The state’s largest for-profit health insurer said once it identified the error, it removed the information from its website. Anthem said this breach didn’t involve any patient data.
This came across my desk today and thought I’d share it here, for its somewhat unorthodox take on the current ACA website/implementation debates as well as its implications for the larger world of social insurance policy. The writer is Michael Lind, one-time conservative and author of several books including Up From Conservatism. Lind is commenting on another article by Mike Konczal who writes from Next New Deal:
The smartest thing yet written about the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s federal exchange program is a post by Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute at his “Rortybomb” blog at Next New Deal. Konczal makes two points, each of which deserves careful pondering.
The first point is that to some degree the problems with the website have been caused by the overly complicated design of Obamacare itself. Instead of being a simple, universal program like Social Security or Medicare, the Affordable Care Act system is designed as if to illustrate Steven Teles’ notion of “kludgeocracy” or needless, counterproductive complexity in public policy. By using means-testing to vary subsidies among individuals and by trying to match individuals with private insurance companies, the ACA requires far more information about people who try to sign up than do simpler public programs like Social Security and Medicare. If Congress had passed Medicare for All, the left’s preferred simple, universal alternative to the kludgeocratic ACA mess, signing up would have been a lot easier and the potential for website snafus correspondingly less.
Konczal’s second point is even more important — the worst features of Obamacare are the very features that conservatives want to impose on all federal social policy: means-testing, a major role for the states, and subsidies to private providers instead of direct public provision of health or retirement benefits. This is not surprising, because Obamacare’s models are right-wing models — the Heritage Foundation’s healthcare plan in the 1990s and Mitt Romney’s “Romneycare” in Massachusetts.
This point is worth dwelling on. Conservatives want all social insurance to look like Obamacare. The radical right would like to replace Social Security with an Obamacare-like system, in which mandates or incentives pressure Americans to steer money into tax-favored savings accounts like 401(k)s and to purchase annuities at retirement, with means-tested subsidies to help the poor make their private purchases. And most conservative and libertarian plans for healthcare for the elderly involve replacing Medicare with a totally new system designed along the lines of Obamacare, with similar mandates or incentives to compel the elderly to buy private health insurance from for-profit corporations.
After their government shutdown and debt ceiling stand-off ended in disappointment, some Tea Party groups are turning their sights on avenging their perceived betrayal in next year’s Republican primaries. Here’s one to watch: in Southwest Pennsylvania, right-wing Coast Guard retiree and real estate developer Art Halvorson is out to oust incumbent Bill Shuster, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and inherited the seat from his father in 2001. Shuster voted for the Boehner-backed deal that ended the shutdown; Halvorson is endorsed by RedState’s Erick Erickson and the Madison Project PAC, which last summer was already running ads slamming Shuster for voting “eight times” to raise the debt ceiling.
If Tea Party challengers like Halvorson pull off upsets next year, what kind of candidates - or congressmen - will they be? In a wide-ranging Monday interview, Halvorson told Salon that “nothing would have changed ” if the debt ceiling wasn’t raised, advocated weaning Americans off of “dependence” on Medicare and Social Security, and bemoaned the end of the gold standard. He also had harsh words for Barack Obama (“easily intimidated” and prone to “anger”), John Boehner (not “man enough”), and even Paul Ryan. A condensed version of our conversation follows.
How are you saying they did that?
They did it by creating stories, creating incidences where people were personally affected, where pain was felt. Shutting down the national parks and arresting people and kicking people out of their homes, because they happened to be located within the boundaries of the national parks…
Who was kicked out of their homes?
There were - well, you’re familiar with all the various stories of private property. I don’t want to get into those details. I’m just citing some open source examples. I hope that’s not where this interview is going…
How many Republicans do you think will lose their seats in primaries because of the way this deal went down?
I have no way of knowing…I think the tide is shifting though… There’s a poll that came out last week I saw that 60 percent of people said that they wanted to clean house - including their own representative…
Where was that poll from?
I believe I saw it on Drudge Report. But I don’t know who did the poll.
If their pensions are cut, thousands of city of Detroit retirees won’t have anything to fall back on other than their own savings, the support of their families or charity. That’s because the city’s firefighters and police aren’t eligible to receive Social Security benefits.
When Social Security was first instituted, the plan didn’t cover any worker with a public pension. States can opt in, and Michigan has, but each city, county, township, school board or other local government entity also has to join. Existing public pension funds can continue to operate out from under Social Security, and with generous government pensions, many workers felt they were getting a better deal from their own pension fund than they’d ever get from Uncle Sam. Instead, the contributions the employer and worker would have made to Social Security benefits went to their pension funds.
As cities, counties and states have phased out pensions that pay a guaranteed benefit in favor of plans where workers and the employer contribute to a defined contribution plan similar to a workplace 401(k) account, most government workers not covered by a public pension or a special exemption have been required to contribute to Social Security. Since Detroit’s firefighters and police officers still had a public pension plan, they continued to avoid Social Security payments.
Of the nearly 21,000 city retirees now collecting pensions, 9,017 retired police officers, firefighters or their surviving spouses don’t get Social Security, or about 44 percent of all city pensioners.
Workers who spend part of their careers working in the private sector and part under a public pension also take a hit to their Social Security payments when they retire. The amount of their public pension offsets their part of their Social Security benefits, reducing their monthly payments.
From The Detroit News: detroitnews.com
Paper is becoming less important in some respects, but its strengths — prestige, utility, permanence, and security — are more essential than ever.
s paper obsolete? A Canadian who had a stash of new-style polymer $100 bills probably would disagree. He kept them in a coffee can near a radiator and they melted. Others have complained that Canada’s new individual notes stick together and resist folding. Canadian authorities insist problems are exaggerated and that the new plastic money is much harder to counterfeit than traditional rag-content paper. Still, it’s only a matter of time before counterfeiters imitate the technology, as they have with other safety features from watermarks to holograms, at least well enough to fool time-pressed cashiers.
Could the solution be to eliminate all currency in favor of digital transactions? Barron’s ran a cover story asking if we’ve reached “The End of Cash?” The author called the disappearance of cash “slow but inexorable.” Yet he had to acknowledge at the outset that the federal government printed a record 8.4 billion notes in 2011. While the piece asserted that “upscale merchants are doing away with cash registers,” the only one it mentioned was Apple stores. And even they do accept cash, despite urban legends otherwise.
Paper is definitely becoming less important for financial transactions. The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland’s website makes this point graphically. Cash accounts for only 0.2 percent of the value of funds transferred; the volume is overwhelmingly electronic. But that doesn’t mean paper money has been withering. Nearly half of all transactions — 49.4 percent, according to the Fed — are still in cash. Somebody has failed to inform tens of millions of consumers about the “post-cash, post–credit card economy.” Most futurist gurus and journalists who extol it, whatever their politics, have little contact with the 25 percent or more of the population who, according to the Fed, are “unbanked or underbanked” and rely almost entirely on cash payments, with the exception of the debit cards now encouraged by Social Security and other government agencies.
And paper remains invaluable even for the millions of people with ample credit. Globally, the increase in Chinese consumption of paper over the last five years has more than offset the decline in U.S. production, according to the Environmental Paper Network, a nonprofit promoting conservation and recycling. And according to the Economist, global paper use per capita is up by 50 percent since the dawn of the personal computing age in 1980. (Thanks to the prodigious paperwork of the expanding European Union, Brussels’s multilingual bureaucrats have brought Belgium to the number one world per-capita rank in paper use.) Paper may be less vital for conveying breaking news than it once was — according to the Times Literary Supplement, Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 solo transatlantic flight alone increased newsprint consumption by 25,000 tons — but it can offer four advantages: prestige, utility, permanence, and security.
As routine communications have become largely electronic, paper’s role as a mark of status has only grown. Can an exclusively electronic diploma, passport, or military commission document even be imagined? Will the bride’s family announce a wedding with advertising-supported Evites, and will the photographer supply only digital files recording the event? The more important the gesture, the more imperative a handwritten note, in part precisely because people find handwriting more difficult now. Even a commercially produced card signals that the sender has taken the trouble to visit a shop, select the proper design, find a stamp, address it, and mail it. One recent European experiment showed that even for a high-technology job announcement, many more potential applicants replied to postcards than to email announcements. And America’s continued printing of one-dollar bills signals support for the U.S. note as a reserve currency. (At the other end of the range, the $3 billion in hundred-dollar bills printed last year are used mainly overseas.)
As recently as two months ago, the Republican Party has been declaring that Obama needs to show he’s “serious” about deficit reduction by embracing “entitlement reform.” When pressed for what sort of ideas they’d need to see Obama embrace, two items have continued to make repeated appearances: so-called “Chained-CPI” for Social Security and means-testing for Medicare. While Obama has resisted pushing such “reforms” outright, to the approval of progressive Democrats, they have been the subject of his negotiations with Speaker Boehner as far back as the debt ceiling talks in 2011.
Now, less than six months after winning reelection on a platform of protecting such programs while raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, Obama has actually put such proposals on paper as a real budget offer to Republicans. And I think we all knew what was going to come next…
Remember those warnings about how instead of welcoming President Obama’s adoption of Chained CPI, Republicans would continue to deny him a budget deal and attack him for proposing to cut Social Security?
Well Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) — who also happens to be chairman of the House GOP’s re-election committee — just showed how it’s done, saying Obama’s budget “lays out a shocking attack on seniors.”
“I’ll tell you when you’re going after seniors the way he’s already done on Obamacare, taken $700 billion out of Medicare to put into Obamacare and now coming back at seniors again, I think you’re crossing that line very quickly here in terms of denying access to seniors for health care in districts like mine certainly and around the country,” he said on CNN Wednesday afternoon.
Needless to say, if the NRCC chairman is fronting this line of attack, we’ll probably see it pop up contested districts around the country next year.
So that’s the sum total of this latest effort of “bipartisanship”: A budget that will go nowhere and do nothing but serve as a club that the GOP will relish in taking to the heads of Democrats in next year’s midterms, while only further disheartening progressive Democrats who believed this past election a vindication of their message to the American people. Nice job breaking it, hero.
How does the Social Security Administration calculate inflation now?
Government officials know that rising consumer prices can erode the buying power of Social Security checks. So each year, they consider whether to provide a cost-of-living adjustment to keep incomes in line with consumer prices.
Their annual decision is based on any changes in prices, as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, prepared by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. As this year began, the nearly 62 million Americans receiving Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits saw their checks go up by 1.7 percent to keep pace with the rise in the CPI.
Is the CPI a good measure of inflation?
Many economists say the CPI is not a good way to measure what people actually are spending at the store because it doesn’t take into account the common-sense decisions routinely made by shoppers.
For example, if the price of blueberries were to go up, you might not buy them. Instead, you’ll pick up the strawberries that are on sale. When the price of beef is high, you’ll get the pork roast. The thing that matters to your budget is the total cost you pay for all of your groceries when you get to the checkout register, not what any one item costs separately.
Chained CPI is on the table, the most likely scenario with this congress is that we get cuts to benefits and no revenue through taxes, and the GOP will balance the budget on the backs of seniors.
President Barack Obama is sending Congress a $3.77 trillion spending blueprint that seeks to achieve an elusive “grand bargain” to tame runaway deficits by raising taxes further on the wealthy and trimming popular benefit programs such as Social Security.
The president’s proposal being unveiled Wednesday includes an additional $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade, bringing total deficit savings to $4.3 trillion, based on the administration’s calculations.