Memoirs of the Addams Administration 11.

This is out of sequence for reasons beyond my control.  I apologize to both my readers.

Wanting a swift and emphatic break with President Barack Obama’s administration, the Republicans introduced the American Health Care Act.[1]  One much noticed difference between the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its proposed replacement (AHCA) came in the financial assistance offered by the government.  The ACA offered open-ended subsidies of premiums linked to income.  The AHCA offered tax-credits of $2,000-$4,000 a year linked to age.  The income ceiling for people to receive the tax credits would be $75,000 for an individual and $150,000 for couples.  The AHCA also would substantially reduce Medicaid spending after 2020.  The ACA barred insurance companies from charging older, sicker clients more than three times as much as they charged younger, healthier clients.  The AHCA would have allowed insurance companies to raise deductibles.  The ACA paid for the new entitlement for poor people by heavily taxing people who make more than $250,000 a year.[2]  To the tune of $600 billion.

Are there flaws in the ACA that would have been changed by the AHCA?  Well, premiums began to rise sharply in the last year of the Obama administration, while some major insurance companies fled the markets.  Rising premiums would mean rising subsidies to freight the budget.  Shifting from subsidies to fixed sums could help contain this problem.  Then, the AHCA allowed insurance companies to charge older, sicker clients up to five times as much as they charged younger, healthier clients.  This more closely resembles the real cost to insurance companies.

Is the cure worse than the disease?  The media were full of adverse results.  Millions could be tossed off Medicaid; diluting or removing some of the services deemed “essential” by the ACA could harm a lot of vulnerable people; and the out-of-pocket costs could go through the roof, leaving millions no choice but to do without insurance at all.

You don’t have to take the Mainstream Media’s (MSM) word for it.[3]  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that by 2026, premiums would fall by 10 percent.  The budget deficit would be reduced by $337 billion over a decade.  Ending the mandate would allow 14 million unwillingly-insured people to escape the clutches of the ACA.  After the limits on Medicaid spending cut in during 2020, another ten million would eventually drift—or be pushed–off the system.  Allowing insurance companies to charge older, sicker clients more would lead to those clients paying “substantially more” for health care.

The AHCA brought Republican factionalism into high relief.  The 20 members of the conservative House “Freedom Caucus” opposed the bill because it didn’t go far enough in liquidating the ACA.  A bunch of moderate Republican Senators opposed the bill because it went too far in liquidating the ACA.  Their differences appeared unlikely to be composed.  Then, Donald Trump won the nomination as spokesman for many discontented lower income voters.  These are just the people projected as the losers from the AHCA.  His support for the bill puzzled.

[1] “Ryancare: Who wins, who loses,” The Week, 24 March 2017, p. 16.

[2] This reality makes a mockery of the Democratic argument that the mandate is necessary because younger, healthier people have to be included in the “insurance market” so that their premiums can off-set the high costs of older, sicker Americans.  That is the same as arguing that low income, little property people have to subsidize higher income, more property people.  The reality looks like a few rich people have to subsidize many low income people.  The “$660 billion tax-cut” for the wealthy which the NYT decried is the flip side of a $600 billion tax increase imposed by the ACA.  That’s fine as social policy, but it should surprise no one that rich people fought back.

[3] “CBO report roils Ryancare debate,” The Week, 24 March 2017, p. 4.

Sell Order.

The American public schools are in trouble by several measures. (See: “Edjumication.”) One measure is public confidence in the public schools. Only 37 percent of Americans say that public school students get a “good or excellent education.” In contrast, 60 percent say that children who are home-schooled get a “good or excellent education”; 69 percent say that children who attend a parochial school get a “good or excellent education”; and 78 percent say that children who attend a private school get a “good or excellent education.”[1] On Wall Street this would be called a “sell order” for public schools.

How can we interpret these figures?[2] Well, curriculum for all schools are pretty much the same because they are mandated by state Departments of Education. So, that isn’t the key. Public school teachers and parochial school teachers are drawn from pretty much the same pool of job candidates. So the “quality” of the teachers isn’t the key. So, why do 37 percent of people believe that students get a “good or excellent education” while 69 percent believe that students in parochial schools get such an education?   I conjecture that there are two factors/beliefs that play a role. On the one hand, public schools have to take anyone who comes along, then try to get them through. It’s difficult in the present environment to permanently expel or fail a troublesome or weak student. They just disrupt or slow-down the progress of whatever classroom they happen to inhabit. In contrast, the parochial schools can either reject or shed problematic students. What constitutes “problematic” is up to the schools themselves.

On the other hand, parochial school really means “Catholic school” in almost every instance. In 2014, 48 percent of Americans believed that government should “promote more traditional values,” while 48 percent thought that government should not “favor any values,” and 4 percent didn’t know. In 2015, 43 percent thought that government should “promote more traditional values,” while 51 percent think that government should not “favor any values,” and 6 percent didn’t know.[3] “Spotlight” aside, the Catholic church stands for “traditional values,” while—in the mind of many people—the public schools stand for no values or corrosive values.[4]

What explains the high regard for home-schooling? I conjecture that it is motivation. Home-schoolers may be deranged or fanatical, but they’re also committed to doing the best they can for their students because they are also their children. This may reflect a judgement by home-schooling parents that public school teachers are under-motivated and under-prepared, but also that the environment in both the public schools and the Catholic schools are toxic. On the one hand, many home-schooling parents are evangelical Christians to whom a secular or Catholic environment is obnoxious. On the other hand, many are secularists who think the current obsession with testing and preparation for being a “productive member of society,” rather than an independent thinker, is obnoxious.

Finally, what explains the very high regard for private schools? That’s simple. They are the most selective institutions other than home-schooling. They are rigorously academically-oriented. The teachers usually are not products of mud-sill teacher preparation programs. Rather they are people with real BAs in academic subjects from real places. They get paid a lot less than do public school teachers, but have much heavier demands on their time. The trouble is that they are few in number, really picky about who they let in, and they cost an arm and a leg.

So, there are several possible lessons here. One is that the public schools are the victims, rather than the perpetrators, of larger social forces. A second is that picking on public school teachers isn’t going to solve the problems. A third is that the public schools bleed public support for the schools in parallel with their loss of students. A fourth is that trying to coerce students back into the public schools isn’t going to work unless and until the schools address the issues that caused so many people to despise the public schools.

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 14 September 2012, p. 19.

[2] My own perspective is shaped by the following factors. I went through the Seattle public schools from K through 12. I teach at a little Catholic college, where I serve on the Teacher Education Committee. As a result, I meet a lot of Education students. Some of the students in the program go on to teach at public schools and some go on to teach at parochial schools. I don’t see a dime’s worth of difference between the two sets of teachers. One of our sons went through the public schools from K through 12; the other spent his last four years at an “elite” private school. Public school teachers today don’t seem to me to be much worse than when I was in school.

[3] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 16 October 2015, p. 17.

[4] There’s this Gahan Wilson cartoon from a ways back that shows some balding guy in a tweed jacket and horn-rimmed glasses getting sworn in as a witness. The clerk holds out the Bible and says “Do you swear to tell the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth—and not in some sneaky, relativistic way?”