Thursday, December 12, 2013

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Climate Change's Biggest Threats Are Those We Aren't Ready For: Report

The Huffington Post

By Kate Sheppard

WASHINGTON -- Climatic changes -- and the results of those changes -- could occur within decades or even sooner, and they are becoming a greater concern for scientists, according to a new paper from the National Academy of Sciences.

"The most challenging changes are the abrupt ones," said James White, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado in Boulder and chair of the report committee. White and several coauthors of the paper spoke at a press conference Tuesday morning.

The paper focuses on those impacts due to climate change that can happen most quickly. Among these are the rapid decline in Arctic sea ice that scientists have seen in the last decade and increased extinction pressure on plants and animals caused by the rapidly warming climate.

Many such changes, according to Tony Barnosky, a professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, are "things that people in this room will be around to see." He emphasized that scientists are "really worried about what's going to happen in the next several years or decades."

"The planet is going to be warmer than most species living on Earth today have seen it, including humans," said Barnosky. "The pace of change is orders of magnitude higher than what species have experienced in the last tens of millions of years."

Other, more gradually occurring changes can still have abrupt impacts on the ecosystem and human systems, such as the loss of fisheries or shifts in where certain crops can be cultivated. Rapid loss of ice, for example, would mean that sea levels rise at a much faster rate than the current trend, which would have a significant effect on coastal regions. A 3-foot rise in the seas is easier to prepare for if it happens on a 100-year horizon than if it happens within 30 years.

"If you think about gradual change, you can see where the road is and where you're going," said Barnosky. "With abrupt changes and effects, the road suddenly drops out from under you."

The paper did offer two bits of good news. One, scientists don't believe that climate change is likely to shut down the Atlantic jetstream, a possibility that had been discussed in some scientific research. They also don't believe that large, rapid emissions of methane from ice and Arctic soil will pose a serious threat in the short term, as had been considered previously.

"Giant methane belches are not a big worry," said Richard Alley, a professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University and committee member. "These really are systems that will affect us in the future, but they don't look like they're going to jump really fast."

The paper recommends increased investment in an early-warning system for monitoring abrupt impacts, such as surveillance programs to facilitate closer tracking of melting ice and methane releases, for example. Right now, investment in those systems is lacking in the U.S., and monitoring programs have been cut in recent years.

"The time has come for us to quit talking and actually take some action," said White. He noted that in the modern age, there are cameras everywhere, yet "remarkably very few of those watching devices are pointed at the environment."

"We ought to be watching that with the same zeal we watch banks and other precious things."


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Is Obamacare turning the corner?

The Washington Post
By Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas, November 26, 2013
Welcome to Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas's morning policy news primer. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism, or ideas to Wonkbook at Gmail dot com. To read more by Ezra and his team, go to Wonkblog.
A spin through HealthCare.Gov this morning went smoothly. The site loaded quickly. The process progressed easily. There were no error messages or endless hangs. I didn't complete the final step of purchasing insurance but, until then, the site worked -- or at least appeared to work -- exactly as intended.
My experience isn't rare. There are increasing reports that HealthCare.Gov is working better -- perhaps much better -- for consumers than it was a few short weeks ago. "Consumer advocates say it is becoming easier for people to sign up for coverage," report Sandhya Somashekhar and Amy Goldstein in the Washington Post. "The truth is, the system is getting stronger as it recovers from its disastrous launch," writes Sam Baker in the National Journal. Applying "was no problem at all, with no delays," says Paul Krugman.
Reports from inside the health care bureaucracy are also turning towards optimism. People who knew the Web site was going to be a mess on Oct. 1st are, for the first time, beginning to think HealthCare.Gov might work. Data backs them up: By mid-November, the pace of enrollment in the federal exchanges had doubled from what it was in October.
The Obama administration is certainly acting like they believe the site has turned the corner. Somashekhar and Goldstein report that they're "moving on to the outreach phase, which had taken a back seat as they grappled with the faulty Web site. Next week, the White House will host an insurance-oriented 'youth summit' aimed at people ages 18 to 35, an age group whose participation in the health-care law will be critical to its success."
The White House had held off on this kind of outreach because they believed it would simply drive people to a useless Web site. If they're restarting the outreach, it's because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that HealthCare.Gov will be able to convert the interest into enrollments.
The worry, at this point, is that the site is working in ways that are visible but broken in ways that are harder to see. The Obama administration won't answer direct questions on the percentage of "834s" -- the forms insurers need to sign people up for the correct policies at the correct prices -- that are coming through with errors. Robert Laszewski, a health-industry consultant with deep contacts among the insurers, told the National Journal the problem is getting better, but that his clients are still seeing a five percent error rate. That's still too high.
The systems that determine whether applicants are eligible for insurance are also improving. But inside the administration there's a recognition that it was error-ridden in the first six weeks of Obamacare -- and so the question is how to handle the many people who unknowingly received an eligibility determination that can't be trusted.
Still, it's clear that HealthCare.Gov is improving -- and, at this point, it's improving reasonably quickly. It won't work perfectly by the end of November but it might well work tolerably early in December. A political system that's become overwhelmingly oriented towards pessimism on Obamacare will have to adjust as the system's technological infrastructure improves.
The next challenge for the law, as the White House knows, will be the outreach challenge of signing up enough young-and-healthy people to balance out its risk pools. That's a challenge the White House spent quite a lot of time thinking about before this IT nightmare. The question is whether they still have enough time, and enough clout, to get it right.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Senate filibuster, Boehner and pics

Here are some reflections on two significant events in Washington last week concerning Senate productivity and Obamacare.

The Senate voted to return some degree of democracy to that chamber.   Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid allowed a simple majority of the Senate to approve allowing Presidential nominations (other than for the Supreme Court) to be approved by a simple majority of Senators.  The response to this feared “nuclear option” was, well, just more of the same passive filibustering by the minority opposition refusing to allow the Defense authorization bill to advance.   Requiring a “talking filibuster” to hold up any legislation in the Senate should be the next rule change.

Last week also saw a major step forward for Obamacare.  House Speaker John Boehner enrolled in a health insurance plan through an online healthcare marketplace.  The world didn’t end.  No one lost their job.  And the government did not get between Speaker Boehner and his doctor.  Take notice Obamacare-haters.  Your leader willingly and successfully enrolled in Obamacare. 
Below are some pics from my meeting last week with Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy Daniel Poneman in Charleston.  The bottom pic includes Sandy Bridges, owner of Palmetto Hammock (49 S Market St, Charleston) and big supporter of our sea level rise education project ( for small businesses.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

This chart is amazing news for our health cost problem

The Washington Post
By Sarah KliffPublished: November 20 at 3:55 pm

This just might be my favorite chart about health care costs as of late. And it's one that contains billions of dollars' worth of good news!


The chart, from the Council of Economic Advisers, shows the Congressional Budget Office constantly revising downward how much it thinks the federal government will need to spend on health care costs over the next decade. That's because health care costs have been growing a lot more slowly over the past few years than they typically do. You can see that below, with a breakdown of health care cost growth by source of coverage.


In private insurance, the average spending growth rate per person has slowed a lot over the last few years. In Medicare, there was no spending growth between 2010 and 2013 and, in Medicaid, per person costs actually decreased some.

All told, health care costs have been growing more slowly over the last three years than any other time period since 1965. More recently, yearly health cost growth slowed from an average rate of 3.9 percent between 2000 and 2007 to 1.3 percent between 2011 and 2013.

The big health policy parlor game for the past few years has been to ask: How much of this change is cyclical, owing to the recession, or structural, partially due to the health law's payment reforms?

The White House has long argued that the changes are structural, and it made that case again Wednesday in a briefing with reporters.

"The slowdown is indisputable," Council of Economics Advisers chairman Jason Furman said. "A very important part of that is structure, and a very important part of the structural story is the Affordable Care Act."

Most health care economists now agree, at least to some extent, with this more structural view.  Even those who argue that the current slowdown is unlikely to last, such as Harvard's Amitabh Chandra and Dartmouth's Jonathan Skinner, still expect slower health care cost growth in the next decade compared with the previous one.

And in some cases, that translates into better health care, too. This chart from the council's report shows a significant drop in preventable readmissions to hospitals (when  treatment goes wrong the first time and the patient must return to the hospital). That happened right around the time Medicare began penalizing such return trips to the hospitals.


Cost savings aside, that's great news for patients, suggesting that the quality of care hospitals are delivering is improving at the same time that spending on that care is slowing down.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Give me your message for the U.S. Dept. of Energy? I’ll deliver it tomorrow.

If there is anything you would like to say to the U.S. Department of Energy, tell me today and I’ll deliver it tomorrow.

U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman will be in Charleston tomorrow.  He will be at the dedication of Clemson University’s Energy Innovation Center, an 82,000 sq.ft. wind turbine drivetrain testing facility. 
Following the dedication I will be meeting him at a business roundtable of local business owners to discuss climate and energy issues.  Mr. Poneman, Sandy Bridges (owner of Palmetto Hammock) and I will hold a brief press opportunity following the roundtable.
So email me with your message for the Department of Energy. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Just be patient

With all the negative news surrounding the Health Insurance Marketplaces, it sure is nice to hear success stories.

WBTV in Charlotte ran this story last Friday.  This couple is going to save 3 to 4 thousand dollars a year and get better benefits through their successful use of  And the money they’re saving has nothing to do with a government subsidy because they don’t qualify. 
Then this weekend the Governors of Washington, Kentucky and Connecticut, all states that are running their own health insurance marketplaces, authored an opinion editorial in The Washington Post that included this statement:

“The Affordable Care Act has been successful in our states because our political and community leaders grasped the importance of expanding health-care coverage and have avoided the temptation to use health-care reform as a political football.”
As more of these positive stories come to light, the supporters of Obamacare will hopefully stop being so defensive.  This is going to work.  Just be patient.