New fake rights distract from real rights being taken away

Finland has become the first nation in the world to declare that broadband internet access is a human right. The world should stand up and applaud! After all, we are living in an information society, and knowledge equals power, right? Finland’s Minister of Communications, Ms Suvi Lindén, says, “From now on a reasonably priced broadband connection will be everyone’s basic right in Finland. This is absolutely one of the Government’s most significant achievements in regional policy and I am proud of it.”
Now that a high speed internet connection is a basic human right (according to Finland), where does that right rank in relation to, say, the right to speak your mind? How about in relation to the right to privacy? Is it a “lesser” right; are they equal?
A few months ago I read that the EU was claiming there is a basic human right to a European vacation. They drew up detailed plans on how to subsidize holidays, saying there was a “right to be tourists.”
Antonio Tajani, EU Commissioner of Enterprise and Industry, continued, “Traveling for tourism today is a right. The way we spend our holidays is a formidable indicator of our quality of life”. [Emphasis mine.]
This sounds somewhat like our government claiming there is a human right to health insurance, though it is more accurately an economic good. The point is, all of these “fake rights” are distracting from the very real rights we are losing every day. We should take note that our new “right”to health insurance comes with the unprecedented mandate that Americans must buy insurance or face a stiff penalty.
Your rights as a human being aren’t something that can be invented, like the internet, and they aren’t something that can be bought or sold, like health insurance and vacation packages. Human rights are intangible. The highest ideals of liberty and decency. The right to speak one’s mind without fear of persecution from the government; the right to take the fruit of one’s own labor to his family uninterrupted; the right to be secure of your privacy in your papers and effects, within your home and business. These are the things we are losing while the world is granted the right to internet access.
It is my recommendation that we be wary of politicians suddenly discovering there are new rights that we had somehow missed until now. Instead, we should focus our attention on making sure our government does it’s most basic and important duty – to protect the freedoms of every American, and uphold the Bill of Rights.

we see politicians suddenly realizing we have,

The health insurance mandate problem

From the Political Calculations blog, “Cavalcade of Risk 102“:

The new law mandates all individuals in the United States to buy health insurance. To enforce that mandate, the law also imposes a penalty tax for non-compliance, which will be enforced by the IRS. However, since the law also requires health insurers to provide immediate coverage even if an individual has a pre-existing condition, an individual could reasonably choose to drop their insurance coverage, pay the much less expensive tax penalty instead, and pocket the difference as savings until they actually might need coverage, with the insurers compelled by law to provide it on demand.

You can go on and use his calculator to figure out how much money you could save, based on your income, your hospitalization risk, and the amount of money you pay for insurance or to the IRS if you lack insurance.
For a typical U.S. family of 3.2 people (the average household family size), making $50,233 (the median household income), paying $13,375 for insurance (the national family average for 2009), the annual tax penalty for not having insurance is $2,085. So here’s the plan:

  • Drop your insurance, saving $13,375 per year.
  • Pay the tax penalty, spending $2,085 per year.
  • Save the $11,290 for a rainy day.

Sure, you’ll be paying routine, out-of-pocket medical expenses. And, odds are a large portion of your health insurance bill is subsidized by your employer (though you may be able to convince him to give you a nice raise in lieu of insurance). But in the end, since you can not be denied coverage for preexisting conditions, you pocket the thousands of dollars saved each year and start paying for insurance only when your medical costs balloon.
Of course, if people did this, it would hurt the health insurance market, which relies on healthy people (who consume less than they pay) subsidizing unhealthy people (who consume more than they pay). Take the healthy people out of the pool, and you’re stuck with rising insurance rates.
Either way, it’s good to know that the new health insurance law will empower you to save more money. Take the good with the bad, I guess.

Two simple ways to reduce health insurance premiums

A 2009 study by the AHIP Center for Policy and Research, entitled Individual Health Insurance 2009: A Comprehensive Survey of Premiums, Availability, and Benefits (PDF download), reveals a great deal of facts about health insurance premiums throughout the United States.
Going through this report, one can identify two simple but effective steps to reducing the cost of health insurance

Many people are burdened by the high cost of health insurance premiums. There are options to reducing these premiums without sacrificing quality of care, and without risking a failed overhaul of the health care industry.

A 2009 study by the AHIP Center for Policy and Research, entitled Individual Health Insurance 2009: A Comprehensive Survey of Premiums, Availability, and Benefits (PDF download), reveals a great deal of facts about health insurance premiums throughout the United States.
Going through this report, one can identify two simple but effective steps to reducing the cost of health insurance:

1. Allow people to buy insurance from out-of-state.

Consider three facts revealed in the study:

  • Residents of New York pay the highest annual health insurance premiums ($6,630 for individuals, $13,296 for families).
  • The national average is less than half of that ($2,985 for individuals, $6,328 for families).
  • Lucky residents of North Carolina (a not uncommon retirement place for former New Yorkers) pay even less ($2,613 for individuals, $5,120 for families).

Conclusion: Allowing New Yorkers to buy insurance out of state can save up to $6,000 per family per year.
What harm could be caused in this? Is insurance from North Carolina (or any other state, for that matter) so inferior to insurance in New York? Neighboring states like Connecticut have rates up to 40% lower — why can’t we take advantage of those? If someone insured in New York can get medical coverage while visiting relatives in California, why can’t they buy (cheaper) insurance from California?
The irony is that out-of-state insurance is prohibited for individuals but permitted for employers. My employer has offices in New York (where I work), San Francisco, Seattle, and Michigan. Some employees live in those states, and some live in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.. The health plan originates in Michigan, yet we all participate in it and get more than adequate health coverage. If an employer can do it, why can’t an individual? (I’ll tell you why: a bureaucrat said you can’t, so insurance providers don’t offer out-of-state options.)
(For more, read Rx: The Interstate Insurance Competition Cure.)

2. Expose the cost of employer-provided health premiums to employees, and give them options.

In the study, the average premium for a family plan with no annual deductible was $12,686. Increasing to a $1,000 annual deductible (whole family) reduces that by nearly $5,000. Why on earth would someone pay $12,000 for a plan with no deductible, when you can buy a plan with a $1,000 deductible for $4,000 less? No one would; but they would it someone else is paying, of course.
Consider if you were buying a car with someone else’s money. What incentive do you have to keep costs down? You can go for a $5,000 used car, but it isn’t your money, so you will try to get a $20,000 new car. Or maybe something more luxurious — maybe a $35,000 car with all sorts of navigation and entertainment systems. After all, it isn’t your money, so why be frugal?
When health insurance is provided through an employer, the only costs we know of are our co-payments and our contributions. In many cases, both of those are overshadowed by the overall cost of the plan, which is paid by the employer. The actual cost is hidden from the employee. As a result, employees — notably trade unions, who have more leverage than individuals — will wrestle the best possible health insurance plan from employers. The “gold-plated” plans you hear about aren’t just for the executives; it’s also for labor unions.
If your employer gave you the choice of a $1,000 deductible health insurance plan and a $5,000 raise, or a no deductible health insurance plan and no raise, what would you choose?

Small changes can yield big results

Health care reform is difficult because the health care industry is huge. Taking up greater than 16% of the entire GDP, and growing each year, health care takes up no less than $2 trillion of our economy. To think that 500 or so bureaucrats, together with their advisers, can redefine such a large part of the U.S. economy is foolish (even in 2,000 pages of legislation).
Instead of total reform, we need to make incremental changes; to review the effectiveness of those changes; to make continued, small adjustments along the way; to set and work towards achieving reasonable, long-term goals. In software development, this is known as the agile method (allowing solutions to evolve through small incremental changes). Similar principles can — and should — exist in public policy.