Archive for the ‘Financing’ Category

The UK: American Healthcare Reform’s Mirror Image

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

If you want to see a twin of our healthcare reform battle, try the other side of the Atlantic: England is undertaking the biggest reform of its government healthcare program, the National Health Service, as part of its massive 5-year austerity program. “After a year in parliament, more scrutiny than any bill in living memory, and more than 1,000 amendments in the House of Commons and the House of Lords,” as the Guardian newspaper put it, “MPs cast their final vote for the (reform) bill.” At its heart are plans which will give primary care providers more sway over the NHS’s £106 billion annual budget, and introduce more private competition. British reform moves quicker than ours — the program takes effect over the next 12 months. A major plank of the reform is the NHS Mandate, under which the government will set targets for improvement in 60 areas of care, such as patients surviving after cancer treatment, and medical errors. The goals? Reduce administration costs by one third.

And, in another instance of seeing double, we’re watching the other side working hard to repeal it and vowing to do so on Day One if they win the next election. “The government’s reforms to the NHS in England have undermined the service and opened the door to privatization,” said (opposition) shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, who championed Labour’s motion, which claims that treatments and services are being rationed in the NHS. In an opposition-led debate on the NHS on 16 July 2012, Mr. Burnham said: “We will repeal the bill; it is a defective, sub-optimal piece of legislation that is saddling the NHS with a complicated mess.” But (government) Health Minister, Simon Burns said: “Far from the meltdown that some gleefully predicted, we have seen a robust and resilient NHS delivering better care for patients. Waiting times remain low and stable, in fact below where they were at the last general election.”

So, just to recap, here we have the conservatives championing reform and austerity and the liberals pleading for repeal in opposition to a privatized system and rationing.  All of this, of course, is part of the cost-cutting program that some say caused Britain to fall back into a double-dip recession. After the 2010 general election, Prime Minister David Cameron, leader of a coalition of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, initially said that the austerity program would finish by 2015. During this period, more than £80 billion would be raised by spending cuts and tax rises. However, the program was extended to 2017 last fall with further savings £30 billion hoped for.

June 2012: Jobs Fizzle

Monday, July 16th, 2012

80,000 was the number. 200,000 is what we need for this to feel like a recovery. And 8.2 is the number that keeps hanging on.  The nation’s unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.2% (that’s 13 million unemployed workers) for the second consecutive month, the Labor Department said Friday.   Businesses added just 84,000 jobs, while governments cut 4,000. Monthly job growth averaged 226,000 in the first quarter but slowed dramatically to an average 75,000 a month in the second quarter.

In response, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 124.20 points to close at 12,772.47, wiping out the Dow’s gain for the week, and Treasuries rose as investors moved their money into lower-risk assets. And the Presidential campaigns took the opportunity to issue a number of extrapolations and the usual host of inaccuracies and overreaches. The Democrats claimed that the unemployment rate has been trending down since hitting 10.10% in October 2009; what they forget to point out is that that’s because of the large numbers of discouraged workers – almost 1 million — who’ve stopped looking for jobs. The Republicans, on the other hand, said that the jobs report proves that the Obama administration’s policies haven’t worked, forgetting that the US was hemorrhaging 700,000 jobs a month when Obama took office. According to Politifact, Obama’s record is 22 consecutive months of private-sector job growth, beginning in Feb. 2010, during which the number of jobs grew by almost 3.16 million, or about 143,000 per month.

Putting the candidates aside, the reasons for the anemic job numbers have started to sound like a bad drinking-game song being played by the pundits as they make the circuit of the talk shows: The warm weather drew construction and manufacturing activity into January and February, but dampened spring hiring; the manufacturing sector contracted for the first time in three years in June;  retail sales were weak, Corporate profits fell in the first quarter of 2012,  the first decline since 2008, according to the Commerce Department; the European Central Bank cut interest rates – a sign of nervousness about their prospects; the end-of-year fiscal cliff sent ripples through the public and private sectors with its specter of higher taxes and reduced government spending; a lame-duck Congress couldn’t pass a Jobs Bill; Republican governors made draconian cuts and instituted public-worker layoffs at the state level; and the Administration didn’t put a big enough stimulus in place which is creating an undertow. Take your pick.

So, are there any bright spots? A few.  Friday’s report showed ticks upward in average hourly earnings (to $23.50, from $23.44 in May) and the length of the typical private sector workweek (34.5 hours, from 34.4). Also, a curious fact is that the number of teens in the workforce spiked by 140,000 to 4,528,000, or 3.2% of the entire U.S. workforce:  So why are teens making out so well in this first month of summer while everyone else, well, isn’t? The Daily Kos reports from 5 May 2012:  President Obama’s Jobs program, which is lining up commitments from the private sector and from government to create summer jobs and internships for young people, has announced commitments for 90,000 paying jobs, up from the 70,000 previously announced in January.

Rick Mattoon: Is the Recession Over?

Monday, March 8th, 2010

 The Fed says the recession is over.  Economic indicators show that the recession is over.  This is the opinion of Rick Mattoon, a senior economist and advisor in the economic research department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and a lecturer at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.  Rick’s primary research focuses on issues facing the Midwest regional economy.

In a recent interview for the Alter Inspire Podcasts, Mattoon warned that most people probably don’t feel like the nation is coming out of a recession because there are few signs of job creation or easier access to credit.  One of the major concerns economists have is that this will be a double-dip “W-shaped” recession because once the bump from the $787 billion stimulus ends, there will be scant pent-up consumer demand for products and services to take the place of government spending.

One positive sign is an uptick in hiring by temporary employment agencies, which usually is considered to be a good harbinger of what future demand will be.  Another interesting theory about this particular recession in terms of jobs is the idea that companies adjusted their employee levels much more aggressively at the beginning of this cycle.  As a result, they are operating at extremely lean levels and so may hire earlier rather than later.

One problem is that there is a skills mismatch in the economy.  Many people who have lost their jobs don’t possess the right skills to find employment in growth industries such as clean energy or healthcare.  The challenge is training these individuals to bring their skills up to par.