2015 health premiums mostly up

The new healthcare premium data is out, and Blue Cross Blue Shield is raising rates on North Dakotans by 12-15% [based on Grand Forks County premiums].  Sanford is up by about 7%. Medica’s plans are holding much steadier with 3% and -0.6% changes.

2015premiums

Most people using the healthcare exchanges receive subsidies. For the median North Dakotan, age 36, the subsidy level is determined by the second-cheapest Silver plan offered for 2015, about $296.17 monthly. If that’s more than 8% of your monthly income, Uncle Sam will chip in to bring it down to a fair rate. If you haven’t got insurance yet, or want to switch your plans, HealthCare.gov is the place to go.

Flu shot season

This week had another story worth telling, about the newfound efficacy and efficiency of the US healthcare system.

I got a flu shot.

It was the first time since being cast to the winds of fate, that I have been able to get such basic healthcare.  And it is thanks to important reforms that were passed that allowed me to buy the insurance I need to cover such things.

My flu shot took exactly 22 minutes.  I left my house, went to the hospital, and had my shot, within 22 minutes.  And my out-of-pocket costs at the time of service?  $0.

That is an amazing outcome for public health in the United States, where we have previously allowed preventable diseases to roam freely amidst the gap between a patchwork of hopelessly underfunded and reachless free clinics on one side, and the ever-dwindling pool of half-decent employer-provided health insurance.

The new healthcare law is working for me, and millions of other Americans.  Supposedly it’s in for a major rewrite now that both houses are under Republican control.  Two things I’ve heard about, that are actually feasible, are changes to the employer mandate and medical device tax.

A repeal on the medical device excise tax is rather troublesome.  Part of the reason why health costs are spiralling out of control is an uncontained willingness to buy various expensive inventions.  Most of these devices are simply thrown away after use.  Isn’t that wasteful enough to be worthy of a sin tax?

What would have positive effect would be a solution to the employer healthcare mandate that makes the marginal cost of labour favour full-time employment again.

My concept is a refundable payroll tax on all employers tied to the cost of the second-cheapest silver plan for an employee’s state of residence.  That cost, say $260 a month, is divided by 130 hours — the same as an average of 30 hours per week, working out to perhaps $2 an hour. That tax, plus any curve tweak designed to re-incentivise full time employment, is charged to the employer for every hour an employee works.  The tax is then refunded if the employer provides qualifying insurance that the employee is enrolled in, otherwise, it subsidizes the employee or the employee’s exchange plan.  Excess tax collections (from the large number of employees with multiple part-time jobs) would then be used to cover individuals who need exchange subsidies or work for non-profits.

Grand Forks League gathers for Election Night

IMG_20141104_210524Snacks, cash bar, and chit chat over laptops and phones refreshing election results were the order of the evening, as fairly well all of the ballot measures seem destined for defeat.

Victories like Erin Oban defeating Margaret Sitte in Bismarck District 35 got the crowd warmed up. We’ll see how the rest of the night fares.

Update:  The Grand Forks Dems were disappointed with the results, particularly in District 43, where well-liked local candidates merely treaded water in what had seemed like a close race.  But local Leaguer Matt Leiphon said it best, “The sun still comes up tomorrow, we live to fight another day.”

Major shakeup in Manitoba cabinet

CBC reports Premier Greg Selinger replaced five members of his cabinet as part of a major reshuffle, as the NDP government faces its most serious challenge since Gary Doer was appointed ambassador to the US.

This also comes in the wake of visible NDP figure Judy Wasylycia-Leis losing narrowly in the race for mayor of Winnipeg.  Provincially, the NDP has been polling poorly lately and would likely lose a snap election.  Naturally that’s why the opposition parties are clamouring for just that.

UND students may only have 5 hours left to vote

If you are a UND student relying on a Student Residency Certificate from the University of North Dakota for your voter ID, you may only have 5 hours left to vote or find better ID.

Those relying on Residency Certificates may as well throw them out if they do not show a Grand Forks address, and are not dated more than 30 days ago. The only way you will be allowed to vote in Grand Forks County without another ID is with a second person attesting your residency — and only if you get to the County Office building on South 4th Street before 4:30pm this afternoon. There is no attesting process on Election Day.

Grand Forks County Auditor Debbie Nelson spoke to j5mc in response to allegations aired about an hour ago on KFGO’s News and Views, that UND students were being turned away based on the date of their Student IDs.

That is not accurate, insofar as the Auditor has any records at all of the incident (more on that in a second), the Auditor’s position is that the student had a certificate [the Student ID itself does not show any address and is not acceptable as proof of residence] showing another North Dakota address and was resident at that address. The student in question can’t go to Twamley today and get a corrected version because a certificate must be at least 30 days old in order to prove sufficient time of residency.

Students who go to UND would obviously have been living in Grand Forks since the start of classes in August, but Nelson stated that directives from the Secretary of State make the 30 day requirement, based on documentation, rigid.

She also stated that there is no system for tallying, counting, or otherwise tracking the numbers or reasons people might be turned away from the polls, and that no such system is planned to be implemented by tomorrow at 6am.

North Dakota is 125 today

125thDepending on how you reckon, it may be a few days off from the adoption of the original state constitution, or years off considering that North Dakota took the Dakota Territory capital and seal for itself.

The date we remember is 2 November 1889, the day that President Harrison went into a locked room and didn’t say which Dakota came first, the culmination of a decade of geographical enmity between the Yankton and Bismarck power centres, as well as the finishing stroke of the Republican plan to pack the US Senate with more members of its own party.

The Face of Opacity

State agencies detest Open Records requests, perhaps in large part due to the simple fact that they generally require a staff member to pour through the raw data that a reporter, lawyer, or statistician really, really wants to see, whilst the staff member mainly cares about all the other work they would rather be doing, and there’s a lot of things to copy, sharpie out, and send out to lawyers for final review.

The whole matter could be settled by, for example, a policy where information is born free – where the use of sensitive information like payment or identity numbers are easily severable where used in forms, and a general notion that wherever a private version of a document is sitting, there is already a public version of it sitting next to it in the folder or on the server, and an irreproachable reason why that secret is being kept.

But that would make too much sense or take too much time for everything in the face of the low odds that anyone will ever inquire about any particular thing the state is doing. So to threaten the continued health of what’s left of Open Records, all it really takes is a bad moment, say a ballot measure’s advertising agency picking up B-roll that just happens to include the former manager of the Devils Lake Chamber of Commerce, and next thing you know, transparency is off the rails.

Despite the red herring about faces and waivers, what’s ultimately happening here is the state bureaucracy is proposing changes to laws that will limit public discourse and hoard state-funded and state-collected data and media for internal use only. And it has featured state employees making statements that sound like a political attack run during the middle of an election.

Now, this completely sets aside the fact that you can’t claim copyright against a public policy advertisement. Which could really be a whole post in itself.

Maybe the expectation is that with no Michael Geist or Lawrence Lessig to say a second word, the state government will write a Christmas card to itself that neuters what’s left of Open Records.  Well, if any such bill appears in the North Dakota Legislature, I will physically be there to harp upon its folly.

Voting starts in Grand Forks

I voted, 2014The ads may still be airing nonstop, but for voters like me, the results are already in; early voting at the Alerus Centre began today. 

I’m fairly happy to have made up my mind on the state races and measures. I can only hope that I have more to be happy about next week. A couple wins on the offices side would be huge for the League.

New dining hall opens at State Capitol

Remodel complete

Remodel complete

The North Dakota State Capitol dining centre recently completed its million-dollar remodel, opening to state employees and the general public today. Reporters were on hand for this historic event, but j5mc is saddened to be first to inform you that Pepsi has been removed from the pop selection.

As all proud North Dakotans should be aware, our state is the only region in the United States that prefers Pepsi to Coke in overall sales. The new Capitol Cafe’s choice of beverage providers can only be an inside deal struck against the sensibilities of the average Ole.