Tag Archives: politics

Why Planned Parenthood funding is more important than you think

1 in 5 women has visited Planned Parenthood at least once in her life.

1 in 5 women has visited Planned Parenthood at least once in her life.

Donations to Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas tripled after Election Day. Many donors fear that a Trump presidency will strip Planned Parenthood of funding and limit the provision of reproductive health services to women. People are quick to equate Planned Parenthood with abortion, but the conversation should be much broader. Family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood provide affordable services for women that improve a wide-range of maternal health outcomes.

Maternal mortality – defined as the death of a women while pregnant or within 42 days of the end of pregnancy – is an important indicator of women’s health outcomes in a country. The US is one of the few countries worldwide that experienced an increase in maternal mortality between 2000 and 2015. Because family planning clinics provide prenatal services to women that reduce the risks of pregnancy, they are important combatants of these negative trends. Continue reading

Health Insurance Exchanges Are Coming. Will They Work?

By: Andrew Olson


With the 2012 presidential election decided, even House Speaker John Boehner concedes that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the “law of the land.” But many states are unprepared to meet one of the reform bill’s major provisions—the establishment of health insurance exchanges. States have a deadline of December 14th to decide whether they will construct and operate their own exchanges or have the federal government do it for them. While a few states are building exchanges, some have refused and others are still undecided.

Health insurance exchanges are meant to serve as the marketplace through which individuals and businesses can purchase coverage. Like any market, the success of the exchanges will rely on the participation of many buyers and sellers in a competitive environment. The exchanges are designed to have insurers compete on the basis of quality and service and offer consumers affordable plans that meet their needs. One big question that could undermine their success is whether insurers and consumers will actually participate.
The ACA is designed to increase access to health insurance and care. By prohibiting any denial of coverage (such as for pre-existing conditions), and offering subsidies to offset premium costs, the ACA attempts to ensure that every American has access to affordable care. The bill couples affordable access with an individual mandate to compel anyone who is currently uninsured to purchase coverage. The mandate is enforced by levying a tax penalty on any individual refusing to purchase coverage.
The problem is that in 2014, the first year the mandate goes into effect, the tax penalty is set at only $95. Consumers will have a choice to make—either purchase insurance or forgo coverage and pay the tax penalty. For individuals with high healthcare costs, the choice to purchase should be simple. For those without high costs it’s likely that, with or without subsidies, it will be less expensive to pay the tax than pay the premiums offered in exchange plans. It is impossible to say exactly what those premium prices will be since they are based on the risk pool of individuals and families purchasing coverage.

As long as plans offered in the exchange can attract people with average health, premiums should be held to reasonable levels. But if people in good health who don’t anticipate high costs of care decide to refuse coverage and instead pay the penalty, then exchange plans could experience an adverse selection problem. If the exchanges are flooded with people whose high health costs have prohibited them from purchasing coverage in the private markets, it could set off a “death spiral,” increasing premiums and making people in better health even less likely to join.

While there is a mandate for individuals, there is no such requirement that insurers participate in the exchanges, and if they think the plans they offer are at risk of a death spiral they may choose not to enter the exchange market. The tax penalty is phased in and does increase in subsequent years to $395 in 2015 and $695 or 2.5% of income in 2016, but even these amounts could be considerably lower than premiums of plans offered in the exchanges.

Is the tax penalty high enough to compel enough healthy people to enter the risk pools of plans offered in the exchanges? Only time will tell. But if the penalty is too low, legislators will have scuttled the exchanges before they got afloat.

Obama’s Two Year Deferral Policy and Immigration Reform

By: Rachel Leven


Starting this week, illegal immigrants who came to the US before the age of 16 are allowed to apply for a two-year deferred action, a reprieve from the watchful eyes of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office.  Like all things immigration, Obama’s executive order was met with immediate and heavy opposition. Both sides were looking warily at the office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as the order took full effect on Wednesday.

House Republican Lamar Smith, among others, charges that the program will raise expenses for USCIS and create a backlog for all other immigration applications. However, the overall budget for U.S. Citizenship activities is largely self-funded, through fees paid by immigrants. Deferral applicants will be asked to pay standard processing fees–$380, the same amount charged for an employment authorization application, and $85 for the biometric check. It remains to be seen whether the program will in fact cost more than the standard immigration application. The estimated costs change according to what is counted and who is asked; but last month the federal government estimated the total to be between $467 million and $585 million. With additional losses of up to $121 million depending on the number of applicants granted a fee waiver. So, there is a chance that the program will cost extra, but that is far from certain. Even if the government puts forward money for fee waivers, those exceptions appear to remain below 20% of the total cost, and would be a far cry from creating a standstill for other immigrants.

Conservative critics’ second major concern, that the program is nothing more than “backdoor amnesty” leading to–that old cliché–more stolen American jobs, stands on even shakier grounds. First of all, submitting an application does not guarantee deferral. Moreover, the five-year waiting period makes it far from a sure bet and unlikely to be the main factor driving parents to bring their children here.

Ironically this outcry comes at a time when, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, migration flows between the US and Mexico are at a net 0. And with a president who has overseen record high deportation levels. Instead, the native-born Latino population is booming, which points to underlying race tensions more than leaking gateways.

The conservatives do get one thing right: this is more political ploy than actual immigration reform. The two-year deferral is a much-desired reprieve for a limited population, but it doesn’t change the fact that America’s walls (real and metaphorical) are in need of a gutting and some new architecture. Not only are we keeping out immigrants with the technical skills we can’t seem to teach to our children, but anti-immigration sentiment and tighter border controls actually encouraged migrants to stay put during the recession. According to Sanket Mohapatra and Dilip Ratha at the World Bank, fear of not being able to return during better years has kept migrants inside our ridged borders, despite scarcity of jobs.

To be fair, Congress has tried, in its schoolyard way, to pass bills of substance. The original Dream Act, the Start Up Act, and the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act are just of few of the fixes suggested. But, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a resolution to any of our immigration woes, at least not until January…. January 2025?

Injecting Economics Into The Immigration Debate

By: Mariel Beasley


On August 15th, approximately 1 million people, who were brought into the United States illegally as children, can apply to receive a two-year work permit. Although there are some similarities, this is not a federal DREAM act, as proposed in 2010, which provides a path to citizenship for youth born after June 15, 1981 and arrived the United States before their 16th birthday. In mainstream media, the Act and the Directive have been primarily framed as opportunities and an issue of morality; there has been little economic analysis of the Directive and the impact of legally including up to 1 million people in the workforce.

Unemployment still sits at 8.3% across the country; however, this may be a well-timed boost to the economy. A study by the North American Integration and Development Center out of UCLA estimates that beneficiaries of the federal DREAM Act would generate over $3 trillion over 40 years. The study doesn’t even take into account additional contributions to social security or tax revenue in their economic analysis and still finds a significant positive economic impact. It’s reasonable to assume that the Directive will mimic at least some of these benefits. Additionally, a study from the University of Alabama, published earlier this year, finds that the costs of Alabama’s stringent immigration law far outweigh the benefits. They found that the strict regulations have actually eliminated over 70,000 jobs in the local economy, decreased Alabama’s GDP by up to 6% and cost the treasury up to $260 million in tax revenue.

These two studies suggest that integration legislation, rather than punitive legislation, is more likely to reduce state deficits. If pro-DREAMers are able to add economics to the debate, using the President’s Directive as a test drive, they may be able to garner enough bi-partisan support to pass federal legislation.

The Federal Government should reevaluate wildfire policy in wake of deadly summer fires

By: Drew Monger

Recent wildfires illustrate the need for a review of U.S. wildfire policy. Since January, over 2 million acres burned as a result of more than 27,000 wildfires. Past forest fire policies, combined with climate change and real estate development on forest fringes creates potential for even greater losses in the future.

Until the early 2000s, forest fire policy focused primarily on suppressing all fires, ignoring the natural ecological process of forest rejuvenation that forest fires support. Suppressing fires allowed fuel to build up, making fighting forest fires extremely dangerous and costly today. This year, wildfires are estimated to cause $450 million in property damage in Colorado alone. The cost of fighting wildfires is $2.9 billion each year.

The drought condition that two-thirds of the U.S. is currently facing also increases the probability of wildfires. During droughts, wildfires spread rapidly by burning through dead vegetation.

Fortunately, changes in policy could mitigate damages caused by wildfires. A non-profit research firm, Headwaters Economics, suggests the federal government initiate a wildfire insurance program similar to the National Flood Insurance Program.This program would force homeowners who choose to live in fire-prone areas to pay the full cost of their decision. The federal government should also provide funds to states and localities to study the effects of land use planning on the number of homes that locate in fire-prone areas. The U.S. Forest Service should implement these and other policies to disincentivize homeowners from locating in fire-prone areas and decrease the Federal cost of fighting wildfires.

Citizens United, Influence, and the Media

By Zarak Khan, Staff Editor

Since the Supreme Court’s controversial “Citizen’s United” decision, the ruling’s importance has been characterized many ways in the news. Recently the New York Times focused on the expanded influence afforded to unions under the new ruling. At the same time The New Yorker profiled Art Pope, who, under the new ruling, has used his wealth to influence local elections around North Carolina.

What do such contrasting representations of influence tell us about the role of the media in interpreting legal decisions for mass consumption? Is this simply journalism at work, following the story of campaign influence where it leads? Or do these stories represent a bias toward false equivalencies that is more fundamental to the modern media environment?