Thursday, December 24, 2009

Nora's Winter Dance Recital [Bryan]

Nora had her winter dance recital last week. Here is some very poor quality footage. Nora is the third one from the left in the back row as the dance begins.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Our year in review

Our big news of 2009 was the birth of child number three, Stephen Ray Warnick, born February 10th. He weighed a chunky 9 lbs., 2 oz. and arrived via emergency C-section. He has been a delightful baby, with an infectious laugh and easy smile. He took a while to learn to crawl properly; at first he was content to drag himself along on the ground like an old sack. It seems each of our boys inherited some part of them that leaks but shouldn’t. Andrew had chronic ear infections, now Stephen has a blocked tear duct. It requires minor surgery which will happen this month.

Andrew, soon to be four, has grown up a lot this year. He is our boy of strong passions, for better and worse. While there are still tantrums, they are balanced out by his love of cuddling and earnest apologies. He took a Sporties for Shorties class this year, a program at the city rec center, where he enjoyed trying out many different sports. Hockey was a favorite; we’re not sure we want to pursue that. Andrew will probably also turn out to be much smarter than his parents, as he has taken to letters and numbers like a fish to water. He really enjoys (as does Ellie) his three mornings of preschool each week.

Nora, age six, is busy (sometimes too busy) with different classes and programs. She played soccer this year, and continued ballet and piano lessons. Her true love is art, and she can often be found at the table perfecting a drawing or writing a story. Nora also has amused/troubled her parents with the appearance of what we called the “snaggle teeth.” Her two baby front teeth did not fall out properly but became wedged in place, sticking out of her mouth at a 45 degree angle. After many tears, dental inspections, and a somewhat embarrassing family photo (included for your viewing pleasure) the miserable snaggle teeth finally were removed.

Ellie’s life this year has been marked by lots of little changes that have added up to a major life shift--the birth of Stephen; release from her busy church job; the arrival of her sister and brother-in-law, Anna and Spencer Bardsley, in Columbus. It’s been especially wonderful to have Anna and Spencer and their toddler Grace become a daily part of our lives. Ellie does a lot of chauffeuring. She spends too much time in the car, and would welcome music recommendations—all of which must be pre-approved by Andrew and Nora. In church she teaches the seven-year-olds. She’s still running and hopes to run a half-marathon with Anna in May 2010. A lunch group with good friends every Friday keeps her sane.

Bryan continues on much as before, but with more gray hair. He has started writing a book dealing with ethics in school settings. He applied early for tenure this year, and the results so far, including the always exciting department faculty vote, have been positive. Hopefully, next spring Bryan will be an officially tenured Associate Professor at Ohio State. In church, Bryan is serving on the Stake High Council, which, for you non-Mormons, sounds much more ecclesiastically impressive than it actually is. He is working closely with a local Spanish-speaking congregation, and has been desperately trying to recall his very rusty language skills. To keep his sanity, Bryan continues regular sessions of pick-up basketball.

Our main family trip this year consisted of a jaunt back to Utah to visit our families, which included excursions to Moab, Arches, and Dinosaur Land. We also made shorter trips to Cincinnati and beautiful Ithaca, NY (during which we think we developed swine flu). Surprisingly, we survived an impulsive camping trip with a four-month-old down in the lovely Hocking Hills region of Ohio.We feel such gratitude for the many ways we have been blessed this year. Hope everyone has a happy new year!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Should We Support Health Care Reform? [Bryan]

A good friend recently asked why I support health care reform. Why endorse this massive, complex overhaul? What is there to like about it, if anything?

First, let's review the current context. Up to 45,000 people die each year because they don't have health insurance. The U.S. health care system is by far the most expensive in any industrialized nation, and our health outcomes tend to be worse than other industrialized nations. Although we are certainly good at treating certain things, like cancer, we generally get much less bang for our health care bucks. There are also problems with health insurance. Right now, if you have a preexisting condition and don't have insurance, you are headed for financial and medical disaster. Insurance companies also practice shady tactics, like rescission, which involves denying you coverage after you've made a claim on the pretext that they have found some small, unrelated thing in your health history (like some acne treatment) that you did not previously report. Finally, there are problems of runaway costs. If left unchecked, growing health care costs will bankrupt Medicare and the nation within only a few decades.

All of this is unacceptable. Completely and utterly unacceptable. And this bill is the last, best chance we have to do anything real. Now, will the current health care reform bills completely solve these problems? Probably not, particularly with the watered-down reforms that are now being proposed to win over shortsighted, egotistical senators. But here are five reasons why we should still support health reform:

1. New health insurance rules. Health insurance companies will no longer be able to deny people coverage for preexisting conditions or practice rescission. But, you might ask, won't the insurance companies then go bankrupt? How will they afford this? Won't they go out of business? This brings us to number 2.

2. The new individual mandate. Everyone will be required to purchase health insurance. This will increase the insurance pool and give insurance companies thousands of new customers. The mandate will lower costs for everyone and allow the insurance companies to play nice with things like preexisting conditions. But, you might ask, how will people be able to afford health insurance? Isn't it really expensive? This brings us to number 3.

3. New subsidies. Subsidies will be given to poor and middle class families based on a sliding scale. Even the more modest versions of health care reform would help around 29 million people to purchase insurance. This is a huge deal, and it is what we should morally do as a civilized nation. But still, you might ask, will a subsidy really be enough to buy good health insurance? This brings us to number 4.

4. New health insurance exchanges. The exchanges are one of the best ideas of health care reform. Right now, insurance can only operate within states. This limits competition, meaning that most consumers don't have much selection and that insurance companies have little incentive to cut costs. The solution is to let companies sell insurance in an sort of way -- a big, national marketplace for people to price shop for their medical insurance. The pools of potential customers will be enormous and insurance companies, seeing this potential, will bid aggressively for the new business, thus reducing costs and increasing efficiency. Alas, the current exchanges in the legislation are smaller, open only to small numbers of people, and won't be open until 2014. Sen. Ron Wyden and (Republican!) Susan Collins are currently pushing an amendment that will open these exchanges to more people. I hope they succeed!

5. New Medicare reform and cost control. Even though Medicare is the most efficient medical coverage system we have, more so even than private insurers, almost everyone agrees that Medicare is not as efficient as it could be. The health care legislation will cut out Medicare Advantage, which basically funnels money to private companies to do what the government could easily do itself. It will also establish a Medicare Advisory Council, a panel composed of doctors and medical providers, which will provide guidelines for Medicare cost-control. In short, doctors will be making recommendations about cost saving and efficiency, not politicians. There is also good stuff about preventing medical errors, about increasing research into what kinds of care actually work, and about formulating programs to reward doctors who work together and provide less expensive care. It may be that this is the largest cost control measure the Congress has ever passed (as I've said before, the CBO projects it will cut billions from the deficit, even with the new spending on subsidies).

So, there you have it. If anything approaching this framework passes, I will be happy. As Ezra Klein writes:
The achievement of this bill is $900 billion to help people purchase health-care coverage, a new market that begins to equalize the conditions of the unemployed and the employed, and a regulatory structure in which this country can build, for the first time, a universal health-care system. Thousands and thousands of lives will be saved by this bill. Bankruptcies will be averted. Rescission letters won't be sent. Parents won't have to fret because they can't take their child, or themselves, to the emergency room. This bill will, without doubt, do more good than any single piece of legislation passed during my (admittedly brief) lifetime. If it passes, the party that fought for it for decades deserves to feel a sense of accomplishment.
For more on subsidies, read this report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
For more information on the exchanges, see Ezra Klein's piece here.
For more on Wyden and Collins's important amendment, see here.
For more about the waste of Medicare Advantage, see here.
For more about the Medicare Advisory Panel, see here.
For more information about these cost controls see here and, for what more could be done, see here.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

This and that from Washington D.C. [Bryan]

* It is now official that we are sending more troops to Afghanistan. I'm not surprised by this: Obama always said this is what he would do. Still, I'm worried. President Obama's speech last night was jarringly Bush-like, filled with mostly platitudes and generalities. On the bright side, though, there does appear to be a something of a timeline (begin withdrawal in July 2011), which will put pressure on the Afghans and signal to the larger Middle East that we have no intention of empire building. If "Surge II" does work, I'll be glad. If it doesn't, I guess Obama will have at least conclusively demonstrated that withdrawal is the least worst option.

* In any event, I find it surprising that no one seems to want to acknowledge the cost of war. Wars are very important to people, but even these excellent adventures seem not to be important enough to justify raising taxes. When it was recently proposed that we establish a 1% surtax on everybody's federal tax liability to help pay for the wars, the proposal did not even make it to the House floor for vote. As Yglesias says, "Nobody seems to really think there are national interests at stake that are critical enough to be worth paying slightly higher taxes for. But if a war’s not worth paying for, how can it be worth fighting? And if we don’t pay for the war in the FY 2010 budget, we still need to pay back the loans."

* On the health care reform front, it looks like the public option, a government administered health plan that would compete with private insurance state monopolies, is a goner. I can't say I care that much. The recent public option compromise of compromise of compromise has probably gutted the program of its potential effectiveness, anyway. The Democrats should now use their giving up the public option as a bargaining chip to improve other aspects of the bill.

* The complete CBO analysis of the Senate health care bill have now been released. As I said before, the health care bill is projected to reduce the deficit by $127 billion over 10 years. Not a huge number in the grand scheme of things, but a little saving is better than nothing. The CBO also released a report about what the bill would do to insurance premiums. Premiums would remain steady for people with group coverage, while decreasing for those in the small-group or individual markets (see chart below). Costs would rise for some people, but that is mostly because the government subsidies will allow them to be able to afford more coverage. This is all good news.

* Led by John McCain, the Republicans are presenting themselves as gallant defenders of Medicare. The Democrat's reform bill does indeed include cuts to Medicare Advantage, which is almost universally seen as a program fraught with waste and inefficiency. This is something that Republicans have said they have wanted. So, are they happy now? Nope, they have decided it will help them politically to rile up opposition to these spending cuts. Kevin Drum points out the irony: "Here's a party that opposed Medicare viciously in the first place, routinely spoke out against it in the years that followed, was dedicated to gutting it in the 1990s, voted for major cuts in 1997, and has been using it as a cudgel ever since to get its base riled up over the future bankruptcy of America. McCain himself proposed over a trillion dollars in Medicare cuts just 12 months ago. But now? Well, now it's 2003 all over again and there are elections to think of. So now they're righteously opposed to cutting so much of a nickel out of Medicare spending, even if the cuts are aimed at waste, fraud, inefficient programs, and bad incentives. It's just jaw droppingly mendacious." Amen.

* Some good reporting coming out on Obama's stimulus package. The Wall Street Journal reports on the CBO estimates showing that the stimulus saved up to 1.6 million jobs and added up to 3.2% to GDP. The New York Times surveys private sector economic forecasters (i.e., people who get paid big bucks to give accurate information to companies) who agree that the stimulus is working as predicted and that is was structured properly. While the economy is still struggling, the economists agree, it is doing much better than it would have done without the stimulus: "In interviews, a broad range of economists said the White House and Congress were right to structure the package as a mix of tax cuts and spending, rather than just tax cuts as Republicans prefer or just spending as many Democrats do." See handy charts below.