Things are looking up, America!

To listen to some media outlets, you’d think the United States is on the verge of collapse and our society doomed to hell. Here are 6 charts that I think demonstrate why that narrative is wrong (click for larger view):

A note on each, briefly, in order:

  1. Americans are signing up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, despite a disastrous roll-out. We now have a system in place to deliver affordable health insurance to the vast majority of Americans. The system will only get better as we work to correct flaws instead of an all-out war to eliminate it.
  2. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is hitting all-time highs. On March 6, 2009, the stock market closed at 6443.27. It is currently well over 16,000 and rising.
  3. The unemployment rate has dropped to 6.3%. This is the lowest level since 2008.
  4. The percentage of uninsured is now at 13.4%, according to Gallup. This is the lowest rate Gallup has recorded since they began asking this question in 2008.
  5. High school graduation rates are hitting new milestones. Researchers predict a 90% graduation rate by 2020. African American and Hispanic students have seen tremendous gains.
  6. Teen pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates are at all-time lows.

The Bad News

Things are not all roses, however. Here are the two charts I think might mean the naysayers are right, in the long-term:

We have a real problem with wealth inequality in this country, and it’s getting worse. Our founding fathers knew that to concentrate power in the hands of a few was a recipe for disaster. Now more than ever, wealth and money is power. Those with power continue to lobby for favorable laws that give them even more, increase their lobbying, and add more power/wealth/influence. Rinse, repeat.

The system is being manipulated to reward those who hoard their wealth, allowing it to continue growing exponentially. In the meantime, there is little incentive for companies to create jobs, raise wages of the average worker, or put long-term advantages over short-term gains.

A rising tide is supposed to lift all boats. For too long, our rising tide has only lifted the luxury yachts. That being said, the sky is nowhere near falling. Remember that the next time someone complains about ‘kids these days’ or the current state of society. We’re actually doing alright!

It’s getting even harder to justify not expanding Medicaid via The Incidental Economist

It’s getting even harder to justify not expanding Medicaid | The Incidental Economist notes the following:

[T]he projected state share of the Medicaid expansion is even lower than previously thought.

The Incidental Economist has become one of my favorite blogs (h/t to Nathan Flynn for alerting me to it). The authors at TIE have consistently provided rational, thoughtful analysis of the Affordable Care Act without resorting to demagoguery or misrepresenting arguments. Their analysis is based on careful observation of empirical data and using that data to speculate on future outcomes.

Their series of posts on Medicaid expansion is well worth reading. It provides compelling arguments for states to expand Medicaid. It is clearer than ever that the states choosing not to do so are largely doing so out of spite and hurting their citizens in the process.

I hope that Gov. Pence will look at how Indiana’s decision not to expand Medicaid is hurting some of our most vulnerable citizens. Let’s put politics aside and help our fellow Hoosiers.

‘No Drama Obama’ Wins Again

President Obama is often criticized for his leadership style. Andrew Sullivan wrote about the criticism from the left and the right in his piece from January 2012 entitled “How Obama’s Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics.” That article is still well worth a read today, particularly in light of this commentary about the Affordable Care Act’s disastrous roll out and Obama’s response:

Why Obama Fired No One Over Botched Roll Out

Having survived a bungled launch of the Obamacare website last year, President Obama’s Rose Garden victory lap yesterday “ended a telling chapter in Obama’s approach to presidential leadership,” National Journal reports.

“During the darkest days of the website meltdown, Obama made it clear to those who asked that it was crucial for him not to fire any high-ranking administration officials. Sebelius and McDonough both reasonably feared they would be shown the door.”

“Holding a maligned, self-doubting team together in moments of peril is too often oversimplified by the phrase ‘No Drama Obama.’ It’s more complex than that. Obama has convinced himself that scaring people with a ceremonial firing deepens fear, turns allies against one another, makes them risk-averse, and saps productivity. At no time was this distillation of presidential power put to more strenuous administration-wide test.

via Why Obama Fired No One Over Botched Roll Out.

As others have pointed out, there was another factor in keeping Sebelius and McDonough in place: the current political climate means it would have been impossible for their replacements to be confirmed. This would have left these critical departments leaderless while in crisis. In a strange way, the Republican philosophy of obstructionism actually assisted Obama’s long game. He didn’t want to fire Sebelius and McDonough and knowing they could not be replaced made it easier to keep them.

On the contrary, if the Republicans could have successfully pushed them out, they would have vastly reduced the capacity of the administration to respond to these challenges. The whole confirmation process for Sebelius’ replacement would have been a circus while HHS waited for a new secretary. Once confirmed, they would have lost valuable time getting that person up to speed. This, combined with the implementation challenges of the ACA, might actually have been disruptive enough to force democrats to abandon ship.

Instead, Obama never even acknowledged the calls for Sebelius to resign. He helped her find the resources needed to fix Healthcare.gov and they ultimately accomplished their original goal, despite losing 2+ months due to the launch meltdown.

TL;DR: Add the ACA as another achievement to Obama’s long game strategy. ‘No Drama Obama’ wins again.

JAMA: Physicians and Medicare

JAMA: Physicians and Medicare

The Incidental Economist highlights the following information from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA):

  • Less than 1% of physicians have formally opted out of Medicare
  • 88% of Medicare beneficiaries could usually or always get an appointment for routine care as soon as they needed
  • 92% of Medicare beneficiaries could usually or always get an appointment with a specialist as soon as they needed
  • Of the 14% of Medicare beneficiaries who sought a new specialist, twelve of them had no problem doing so
  • Half as many Medicare beneficiaries reported not getting care or delaying care than privately insured individuals 50-64.

When talking with friends and family opposed to the Affordable Care Act, one concern I frequently hear is that doctors may opt out of the system or quit their practice altogether. This data seems to dispel that notion pretty thoroughly.

Just think of the narrative if Healthcare.gov had worked properly from Day 1!  Even with the disastrous roll-out and the website being virtually unusable until November 30, enrollment should reach over 6 million exchange signups.

Considering the disaster that the Affordable Care Act is supposed to be, you would think that there would be a greater number of (legitimate) horror stories. Instead, it seems whenever you look under the surface, there’s very little of substance to complain about. Of course, there must be people who are actually worse off now than they were before. Why is it so hard to find them?

These elements are all pulling together to tell me that the Affordable Care Act is working for most people. Even after a disastrous roll-out, years of misinformation and stonewalling by Congress, the ACA is making a positive difference in American lives. The ACA is here to stay.