“Free market” health care

Got into an interesting discussion/debate on a facebook friend’s wall the other day about health care reform.  Been a while since I’ve done that.  Anyway, was up to refuting the common misconception that free market principles actually apply to the health care market.  Short version: they don’t.  Yglesias had a great post on the matter earlier in the week.  The rub:

Unnoticed in this is that the only reason most people are insured today has to do with the non-market elements of the system. First, the tax code provides an enormous subsidy for employer-provided health insurance that ends up putting the majority of employed Americans into large risk pools at the expense of everyone who doesn’t work full-time for a big company. Second, Medicare mops up the largest pool of non-employed people by giving single-payer health care to everyone over 65. Third, a regulation bans discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions as long as they maintain “continuity of coverage” as they shift from one employer to another. Fourth, COBRA allows people to maintain continuity of coverage even if they experience transient spells of unemployment. Fifth, Medicaid and SCHIP give coverage to many classes of poor people who’d otherwise be unable to afford it.

An actual free market approach to health care would require unraveling all of this and subjecting everyone to a world in which you can’t get coverage if you’re sick. Which is exactly how you would expect a free market to work. A pyromaniac is going to have a hard time getting fire insurance; if you say “give me some car insurance so I can polish off this bottle of vodka and go drive home” you’re going to have a problem. There’s no reason the market should provide health insurance to people with health problems, and there’s every reason for the market to suspect that anyone who’s asking for health insurance has a secret health problem.



Email etiquette

It being the beginning of the semester, I’ve been getting a lot of emails from my students about space in classes, misplaced syllabi, etc.  Big Steve has a post and link to this guide to email etiquette when emailing professors. Perhaps I should put this on all my course webpages.

Actually, most of my students do fairly well.  My personal pet peeve?  Lack of capitalization.  I see that far more than the entire text message style emails mentioned in the article.  Here were my favorite items:

1. E-mail is forever. Once you send it off, you can’t get it back. Once your professor has it, he or she owns it and can save it or, in the worst case, forward it onto colleagues for a good laugh—at your expense.

5. Subject lines are for subjects. Put a brief explanation of the nature of the e-mail (like “question about paper”) in the subject line. Never include demands such as “urgent request—immediate response needed.” That’s the surest way to get your request trashed.

6. Salutations matter. The safest way to start is with “Dear Professor So and So” (using their last name). That way you won’t be getting into the issue of whether the prof has a Ph.D. or not, and you won’t seem sexist when you address your female-professor as “Ms.” or, worse yet, “Mrs. This and That.”

7. Clear and concise is best. Your prof might get 25 or 30 E-mails a day, so, it’s best if you ask your questions in as focused and succinct a way as possible. (Hint: it’s often good to number your questions). And, if your question is very elaborate or multifaceted, it’s best to go to an in-person office hour. You’ll get better service that way.

Extra Pointer. Before sending a draft of a paper to a professor as an attachment, check to see that he or she is willing to accept such longer documents. If not, see if he or she will look over a page or even a central paragraph of your work incorporated into the body of the E-mail. And be sure to “cc” yourself any time you send a piece of work; who knows the fate of the copy you’re sending?

5-Star Tip. Never e-mail your paper as an attachment in a bizarre format. You might think that .odt is really cool since you didn’t have to pay for Open Office. But what when the professor discovers it takes him or her 20 minutes to find the plug-in that doesn’t work, then another half hour to download Open Office (which ties up all too much space on his computer). What was supposed to be a 15-minute grading job on your paper is now taking over an hour. And then the prof has to assign your grade? Stick to Word.

10. No one really likes emoticons and smileys. Trust us on this one. 🙂

12. This is not IM-ing. So pls dun wrte yor profeSR lIk ur txtN. uz abbrz @ yor own rsk. coRec me f Im wrng. (Translation thanks to www.transl8it.com, which features a neat little Facebook widget.)

15. Spelling mistakes make you look like a doofus. So always use the spel check, and proofread yyour e-mail, two.

16. Signoffs and signatures count. Always end by thanking the professor for his or her time, and closing with “Best wishes” or “Regards” (or some other relatively formal, but friendly, closing). And always sign with your (entire) real name, not some wacky nickname like Ry-Ry or Biff.

I’ll add one.  Don’t call me “Steve.”   Fortunately, those are pretty rare.  I’ll also mention that though emoticons can be overused, I heartily disagree  with #10.  Getting tone right in emails can be tricky without the nonverbal cues of ordinary conversation.  A well-placed smiley can make the critical difference between offense and a laugh or presumptuousness and a good sense of humor.

Chart of the day

Great post (and summary chart) from Ezra on health care, tax cuts, and the deficit:



The intellectual incoherence (and mendacity) of the right clearly knows virtually no bounds.  Tea Party types should be forced to confront this chart every time they complain about the deficit.

On a relate note, Ezra usually lays off the hard core snark and saves it for the likes of Yglesias, but he’s clearly a man inspired.  His evisceration of Greg Mankiw makes one wonder just what it takes to become a Harvard economics professor.  Or maybe Mankiw should stick to teaching economics and less blogging.

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