About that “Fuck the UAW” Tax

In honor of Steve Rattner’s revelation that Rahm Emanuel wandered around during the auto bailout saying “fuck the UAW,” I’ve renamed the “Cadillac tax” the “Fuck the UAW” tax.

Which is appropriate timing given that the Kaiser Family Foundation is out with a study today they should have done during the health care debate, showing that employers have been shifting health care costs onto employees.

The premiums that employees pay for employer-sponsored family coverage rose an average of 13.7 percent this year, while the amount that employers contribute fell by 0.9 percent, the survey found.

For family coverage, workers are paying an average of $3,997, up $482 from last year, while employers are paying an average of $9,773, down $87, according to the survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust.

The best part of the WaPo coverage, though, are the quotes from KFF President Drew Altman playing dumb.

“Many employers looked into their recession survival kit and seem to have concluded that one way to make it through the recession and hang on to as many employees as possible was to pass on their health premium increases to their employees this year,” Kaiser Family Foundation President Drew Altman said by e-mail.

How much, if at all, the federal health-care overhaul enacted in March will restrain cost increases over the long run remains to be seen. While experts debate its likely impact, the legislation is “the only thing we have coming on line as a country to control costs other than what now seems like the primary default strategy in the private sector – shifting costs to people,” Altman said.

You see, the trend of employers shifting costs onto employees was readily apparent last year, when Jonathan Gruber and the Administration and health care reform boosters were using MagicMath to claim that not only would the “Fuck the UAW” tax save money, but that workers would end up with higher wages.

In fact, this behavior has been going on for decades, and it is precisely what the Fuck the UAW tax is designed to incent: boosters—some funded by the KFF–routinely argued that if employers passed more costs onto employees, they would become more sensitive to cost, and use less care (the entire debate sidestepped the question of whether incenting less care was useful, particularly for those with chronic conditions), thereby lowering health care costs overall. And this hocus pocus logic is–aside from laudable changes to Medicare delivery–the biggest cost “savings” in the health care reform bill. But the KFF poll appears to undercut the assumptions that went into the bill (notably, that employees would benefit from this scam).

And KFF President Drew Altman has the audacity to say that the health insurance reform bill is “the only thing we have coming on line as a country to control costs other than what now seems like the primary default strategy in the private sector – shifting costs to people,” without admitting that one of the biggest cost control strategies in the health insurance reform bill is to shift costs to people!

Ah well. An Administration whose Chief of Staff wanders around saying “Fuck the UAW” probably doesn’t consider union members real people anyway.

Marcy Wheeler TeeVee – Jonathan Gruber and the Cadillac Plan

There has been a fair amount of misinformation and disinformation about what has been said by Marcy Wheeler on this blog about Jonathan Gruber, his modeling work on healthcare and relationship with the Obama Administration. One instance in this regard, quite unfortunately, was notably made by Paul Krugman. Mr. Krugman, who is a solid liberal voice and worthy of respect, nevertheless very unfairly tarred Marcy with complaints he had, or perceived, with others and he owes better.

First off, I would like to point out the matter of Gruber started primarily about the duty and obligation of disclosure, and there was, unequivocally, a failure in full disclosure by both Mr. Gruber and the White House, both relying on his work (inferring that it was independent), and simultaneously funding it, whether directly or indirectly. For Mr. Krugman to extrapolate that out to being “just like the right-wingers with their endless supply of fake scandals” was startling and beyond the pale. There was also no foundation for it from Marcy’s words and statements on this blog.

The foregoing is something that I, bmaz, felt compelled to say; if you disagree, then your beef is with me, not Marcy, not Firedoglake, nor anybody else. Now, with that said, I wish to present Marcy Wheeler and let her speak for herself about exactly what the Gruber matter is about, and what it means. The attached video clip is from a MSNBC interview of Marcy conducted by David Shuster Tuesday morning.

It should be noted that Marcy was covering the North American International Auto show in Detroit when MSNBC interviewed her, as David Shuster notes. What David didn’t catch was that, the whole time he was discussing the infamous “Cadillac tax” Mr. Gruber’s work is central to, Marcy was standing in front of the Cadillac display. Now that is product placement!

Interestingly enough, in discussing the Cadillac tax, Paul Krugman has flat out admitted the claims of insurance premium reductions leading to wage increases are “exaggerated” and that “Cadillac plans aren’t really luxurious — they reflect genuinely high costs.” Mr. Krugman might want to take a look at the most recent work by Larry Mishel, an economist Mr. Krugman has cited before; in fact the exact economist Paul cited as support for the fact that the wage growth claims were “exaggerated”. Mr. Mishel’s new article seems to undercut the entire Cadillac tax thesis as to wage movement.

UPDATE: Economist Larry Mishel, who was linked to in the main post and referred to with seeming approval by Paul Krugman as well (link to that also in main post) put the following in a comment to his FDL Seminal Post yesterday:

I do think Gruber’s claim about the wage impact of lower health care inflation in the 1990s (and the reverse trends in the 200s) was wrong: The simple tale seemed to support his policy desire to curtail health care costs via the excise tax but digging into the details shows that health care costs have not driven wage trends. This does not mean that lower health care costs might not lead to better wages, just that the scale of the impact won’t move wages appreciably.

I may differ with many of you on the site though in that I don’t impugn Gruber’s motives. I don’t think there’s much of a scandal regarding his contract with HHS. I think his error in the case I’m criticizing is that he’s a health care economist and doesn’t know the details about wage trends. I, on the other hand, have been studying wages for thirty years or more. Gruber clearly over-reached with the argument about health care driving wage trends and has acknowledged that to me privately (yesterday).

So, I think he’s wrong on this issue and I also disagree with him on the overall merits of the health excise tax. But I think he’s a pretty smart, reasonable and straightforward economist. I’ve had to debate some pretty scummy economists and he’s not one of them. (emphasis added)

I agree with Mr. Mishel about the absence of malice by Mr. Gruber. But malice was never ascribed by Marcy Wheeler, she merely pointed out that there was a simple failure to fully disclose potential conflict information, that others had an interest in knowing, and that the assumptions Mr. Gruber’s model was based on may not be correct. These points have been borne out by others, indeed effectively by Paul Krugman himself and other experts he relies on. The tarring that occurred from Paul should be retracted.

Jonathan Gruber Failed to Disclose His $392,600 Contracts with HHS (Updated)

MIT health economist Jonathan Gruber has been the go-to source that all the health care bill apologists point to to defend otherwise dubious arguments.  But he has consistently failed to disclose that he has had a sole-source contract with the Department of Health and Human Services since June 19, 2009 to consult on the “President’s health reform proposal.”

He is one source for the claim that the excise tax will result in raises for workers (though his underlying study is in-apt to the excise tax question). He is the basis for the argument that the Senate bill reduces families’ risk–even if it remains totally unaffordable. Even Politico stenographer Mike Allen points to Gruber’s research.

But none of the references to Gruber I’ve seen have revealed that Gruber has a $297,600 contract with HHS to produce,

a technical memorandum on the estimated changes in health insurance coverage and associated costs and impacts to the government under alternative specifications of health system reform. The requirement includes developing estimates of various health reform proposals on health insurance coverage and cost. The alternative specifications to be considered will be derived from the President’s health reform proposal. [my emphasis]

(h/t Mote Dai)

The President’s health reform proposal? But I thought this was the Senate’s health reform proposal?!?!? (wink!)

Now, HHS says they had to put Dr. Gruber in charge of evaluating health care reform proposals because he’s got,

a proven micro-simulation model with the flexibility to ascertain the distribution of changes in health care spending and public and private sector health care costs due to a large variety of changes in health insurance benefit design, public program eligibility criteria, and tax policy.

Even assuming that Gruber is the only one in the world who can run these simulations, don’t you think it’s rather, um, dubious that the guy evaluating the heath care reform–for $300,000–is also the package’s single biggest champion?

And no one has been transparent about this contract?

Update: Actually, Gruber failed to disclose his $392,600 contracts with HSS. The reference to ongoing work in the bigger, second one refers to a $95,000 contract he had from March 25, 2009 to July 25, 2009.