Posts Tagged ‘damagnificent seven’

Musings on Medicare

Posted: March 21, 2023 by chrisharper in Uncategorized
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By Christopher Harper

As the debate over the future of Medicare hits its stride during the upcoming presidential campaign, policymakers should look at the cost of Medicare Advantage plans as one way to save money.

Advantage plans are those run by private insurers rather than the government providing government payments for hospital care and physician costs. My plan also includes drugs, dental, and eye care.

Private plans have been an option in Medicare since the 1970s, but enrollment in private plans remained relatively low through the 1990s. Aside from changing the name of Medicare private plans from Medicare+Choice to Medicare Advantage (also referred to as Medicare Part C), the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 made significant changes that propelled enrollment growth. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 also made many changes that enhanced plan enrollment. As a result, about half of all seniors have a Medicare Advantage plan, or 30 million people, up from 11.5 million in 2010.

Unlike the government plan for Medicare, which costs me $170 a month, whether in the program or an Advantage plan, the private insurer puts money in my pocket to join.

The coverage costs me nothing other than the fee for Medicare. But there’s a lot more. My Advantage plan gives me a $25 monthly reduction in my Medicare payment or $300 yearly. The plan pays my YMCA membership of $43.10 monthly or about $500 annually. The program gives me a $500 debit card to use mainly for dental work and eyeglasses, and I get a credit of $25 a month, or $300 a year, for over-the-counter drugs and items like throat lozenges. All told, that’s $1,600 a year for just signing up.

I’m not exactly willing to give up these perks, but it seems the government has been awfully generous to the private insurers if they can entice me with all these goodies.

The government pays private insurers about $12,000 a year for people who sign up for Advantage plans—a number that has risen significantly in recent years. That allowance is where I think the government should reassess whether that’s too much money.

Although I realize my health is better than many seniors, I cost my insurer about $1,200 last year. I’ll bet there are more people like me in my county, which is the geographical area upon which the government payouts are based.

According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, Lycoming County, where I live in central Pennsylvania, has seen better health since the 1980s. However, lung cancer and diabetes have increased somewhat.

I think various changes must be made to save Medicare, but I think a good hard look at Advantage programs and how they operate may be a good start without causing significant hardships to seniors.

The bailout hustle

Posted: March 14, 2023 by chrisharper in Uncategorized
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By Christopher Harper

Silicon Valley and New York City bankers got a good deal: a bailout worth billions of dollars in exchange for millions in campaign funds for Democrats.

But the cozy relationship between bankers and Democrats is a fairly recent development.

My father was a banker in the Midwest and a diehard Republican. He condemned FDR’s spending policies, loved Ronald Reagan, and wanted the government to balance the budget and stay away from his paycheck.

In fact, I thought for years that you had to join the Republican Party to become a banker. As a boomer, I thought my father was a bit off his rocker in his politics, and I wish I had told him just how right he was.

Today’s bankers remind me of the commodities traders I reported on in the 1970s. They’ll bet on almost anything.

Silicon Valley Bank bet on almost every tech idea that came through the doors.

But Andy Kessler of The Wall Street Journal goes beyond the gambling. “Management screwed up interest rates, underestimated customer withdrawals, hired the wrong people, and failed to sell equity. You’re really only allowed one mistake; more proved fatal. Was management hubristic, delusional, or incompetent? Sometimes there’s no difference,” he wrote.

Signature Bank of New York added political wokeness to the combination. The bank refused to do business with Donald Trump, scolding him for the events of January 6, 2021.

Despite all this nonsense, Biden & Co. will bail out the banks even though the White House says it’s not a bailout, providing funds to depositors who recklessly kept more than $250,000 in the banks. Federal bank insurance would not have covered that money until Biden waived the limit.

But the math doesn’t work. Silicon Valley Bank had $173 billion in total deposits, including $152 billion not covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Also, the FDIC did not cover $79 billion of the $88 billion in deposits at Signature Bank.

That’s nearly double the amount at the FDIC to cover all the depositors over $250,000.

Treasury officials said any losses to the DIF would be repaid in full by raising fees on the system’s banks. If the FDIC charges banks higher fees to cover the extra money, those costs will probably be passed onto the consumer through higher costs, such as increased ATM charges and overdraft fees.

So we will end up paying much of the bill for the bailout!

At least there’s a silver lining to all these shenanigans: no one will ever take Jim Cramer seriously, who told people to buy Silicon Valley Bank stock.

Shining light on Penn State’s foibles

Posted: December 13, 2022 by chrisharper in education
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By Christopher Harper

It’s difficult to find a journalistic enterprise that is worth supporting.

I just found one: PA Spotlight’s bureau in State College, the home of Penn State University.

After nearly 20 years at a public university, I saw many examples of waste, mismanagement, and potential fraud.

It’s rare to see the emphasis of a journalistic organization on a public university like Penn State, even though colleges employ thousands of people and allegedly educate thousands more in the ways of the world. For example, Penn State has a massive $7 billion annual budget.

Here are some of PA Spotlight’s most recent headlines about Penn State:

–Penn State’s Board of Trustees spent nearly $318,000 on its past six in-person meetings, covering travel, lodging, food, and other expenses of attendees, according to newly released records.

–Unlike nearly all of its Big Ten counterparts, Penn State does not have to publicly disclose the salaries of its employees, which include $7 million to head football coach James Franklin. Penn State’s special status as a state-related university makes it largely exempt from Pennsylvania’s open records law.

–Given the university’s budget shortfall, hiring freeze, and recent tuition increase, Spotlight PA tracked the use of its jet, discovering that it flew 44 times in one month. The university declined the provide the cost of maintaining and using the plane.

The Spotlight PA team also provided one of the most extensive profiles of Neeli Bendapudi, the new president who took over last year. See

The profile included a subtle analysis of a woman born in India, educated in Kansas, a one-time banker, and a Republican who faced significant issues at her former post at the University of Louisville. She currently faces similar matters from the left-leaning faculty at Penn State.

The State College bureau is the first regional outpost outside Harrisburg, the state capital, and covers issues of interest to north-central Pennsylvania, where I live. The bureau includes four reports and a budget of $500,000 a year.

The reports are available through a free weekly newsletter and regional news organizations. See

I applaud the team’s effort so far and hope the organization will be around for some time to come!

Democrat angst in Pennsylvania

Posted: July 12, 2022 by chrisharper in politics
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By Christopher Harper

The media pundits who predicted a Democrat walkover in the gubernatorial race in Pennsylvania are getting nervous. 

Although the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the liberal media in leftist towns, have portrayed State Senator Doug Mastriano as a wingnut, the people between the two coasts are leaning heavily toward the Republican. 

While I don’t place a lot of stock in polls, Democrats have to be worried about the last one, which was about a month ago from USA Today

Mastriano pulled to within three points—49-46—of Democrat Attorney General Josh Shapiro—a number within the margin of error. 

But there’s more troubling news for Democrats in the poll. Almost 85 percent of respondents said the country is heading on the wrong track, and more than 75 percent said the state is going in the wrong direction. 

Only 30 percent said they felt the economy was working for them, pointing to inflation as their most critical issue. 

The big-city media fail to understand how my fellow residents of central Pennsylvania—part of what is known as “the red T” that votes about 70 percent GOP—hate polls and Joe Biden.

Philadelphia political adviser Kurt Knaus wrote after the 2020 election that Democrats got creamed in almost everything but the presidential vote.

“Where federal races produced a bit of blue mixed with neutral tones, state results were decidedly red – blood red, in fact, solidifying Pennsylvania voters’ reputation for splitting their tickets on Election Day,” he wrote.

 “Before November 3, Democrats boasted about their chances to potentially wrest control of the state House and chip away at Republicans’ majority in the Senate. Neither happened. Instead, Republicans knocked out the House Democratic leader and enlarged their majorities in both chambers. 

 Will Bunch, the leftist columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, is apoplectic about the current gubernatorial race. 

“If the staunchly anti-abortion Mastriano—currently polling within the margin of error against Democratic opponent Josh Shapiro—rides a predicted GOP midterm wave of voter anger over inflation and President Joe Biden’s unpopularity, and if his victory also were to extend the right-wing dominance in the legislature, the long-term consequences would likely reach far beyond women’s health,” Bunch wrote recently.

“An extreme abortion ban in Pennsylvania will turn the Keystone State into a pariah for many of the nation’s best and brightest young people when they are deciding where to attend college, and not only stunt but probably reverse the growth of high-tech and professional jobs that have fueled the 21st century revival of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and their suburbs.” 

[Note:, a computer program I use, insisted that both of the above paragraphs be rewritten for clarity].

It’s difficult to glean any logic from the argument. Does Bunch really believe that the choice of a college depends on a pro-choice state government? Does he really think businesses determine economic viability based on fetus viability?

Whatever the case, his screed underlines just how worried he and other leftists must be.