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Last week, I found myself at yet another think tank-type meeting about Afghan policy choices. Toward the end, one of the participants, who had long experience in government, asked a deceptively simple question: What would happen if we failed?...
It's Monday, the day after Sunday, which in America means a surprisingly large number of Americans are talking trash about their fantasy football teams. (Good hustle Ben, but the Cleveland Steamers are on a roll.) So forgive us for the gridiron gab, as we reset the play clock on health reform.
As you know, the passage of H.R. 3962 in the House two Saturdays ago pushed health reform into the red zone and brought us closer to the goal line than we've ever been before. The problem, as the Senate prepares to take the field, is that the goal posts keep getting pushed back. A slow handoff between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the CBO has delayed the bill's release, but Reid seems determined to keep the ball moving. Roll Call's Emily Pierce lays out the potential Democratic gameplan going forward:
Talking about health care reform all over the country, I have the opportunity to see many states' health systems up close. In particular, we spend a lot of time in Colorado -- as evidenced by our study on Grand Junction. In the context of current reform discussions, I began focusing on the state in earnest in 2006 when the Colorado Blue Ribbon Commission for Health Care Reform began trying to identify a sustainable future for the state's health care system. It was a privilege to be consulted by the Commission -- a true bipartisan and multi-stakeholder effort -- about choices they could make to cover more Coloradans, improve the quality of care while reducing health care cost growth, and make the health system economically viable in the long run. At the end of a long and impressive (but surely exhausting) process, the Commission's recommendations look prescient, in that they are structurally and conceptually consistent with the federal health reform proposals under consideration today.
Earlier this week, we called attention to the fact that some of the student loan industry's most fervent supporters in the financial aid world are potentially putting their schools and students at risk by refusing to take even the initial steps to prepare for the possible shift to direct lending next fall.
This is particularly worrisome, because as we wrote, no matter what happens with the student loan reform legislation that Congress is considering, the end of the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program is coming. That's because an emergency law that is currently propping up FFEL, the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act (ECASLA), is set to expire this summer and neither the Obama administration nor Democratic Congressional leaders are interested in extending it. So unless the financial markets improve enough so that lenders do not have to depend on federal financing to make government-backed loans to students, colleges will likely have to shift to direct lending.
Department of Education officials have been trying to get that message out. Late last month, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent a letter to colleges that have not taken any steps yet to start preparing for a possible conversion. "While there are encouraging signs that financial markets are rebounding, the most prudent course of action is for you to ensure that your institution is Direct Loan-ready for the 2010-2011 academic year," he wrote. "That way, loan access to your students will be assured."
The Education Secretary's letter set off a firestorm of controversy on Capitol Hill, with the student loan industry's closest allies in Congress falling all over themselves to be the first to condemn the Obama administration of strong-arming colleges. Both the Democrat Ben Nelson and the Republican Mike Johanns from the great State of Nelnet (whoops, we mean Nebraska) sent letters to Duncan (see here and here) last week expressing their outrage.
After several months of debate in Congress and the media, the proposal to create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) has recently taken some important steps toward becoming a reality. Earlier this week, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd included the CFPA in legislation to restructure the nation's financial regulatory system. This comes after the House Financial Services Committee approved a bill last month that would create the agency and which the full House is expected to vote on it in early December. The proposal has also received some support from important voices in the private sector and field of economics. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com wrote a piece this past Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer endorsing the creation of the agency.
President Obama originally called for the creation of a CFPA earlier this year as a major piece of a bold plan to revamp the regulation of the nation's financial system. The new agency would be charged with investigating consumer complaints, making rules, and enforcing regulations for a variety of financial products including mortgages, credit cards and bank accounts. The CFPA would also conduct research and promote financial education. New America's, Ellen Seidman, testified on the President's proposal before the House Financial Services Committee back in June. Click here to see her detailed analysis of the CFPA.
One of our favorite cognitive scientists, Daniel Willingham, is introducing a new recurring feature, "Hall of Shame," on the Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog. His point is to debunk the claims made by the marketers of "educational" products, curricula and technologies that are rooted in flawed "science" -- or none at all.
Willingham's first target is eyeQ, an admittedly odd-sounding software program that claims to double reading speed in two weeks of 7-minute daily sessions, by improving eye-brain connectivity. According to the company that produces eyeQ, more than 750 schools are using the program. Willingham makes short work of its claims.
The coup de grace for me is the website’s claim that the left hemisphere is associated with scientific ability and logic, whereas the right brain is associated with intuition and artistic ability. This cartoon characterization of the brain was discredited 30 years ago.
The Swiss might eat more chocolate per capita than people from any other nation in the world, but you wouldn't know it by looking at their health care stats.
Some say that Switzerland's health care system can provide inspiration, or serve as a model, for the restructuring of the U.S. health care system. Switzerland spends 10.8 percent, or $7,076 USD per capita (30 percent less than the U.S. spends per capita), of its gross domestic product on health care. They boast excellent health care service and enjoy long and healthy lives. Moreover, according to several indicators, the Swiss are healthier than Americans and are, as Nelson Schwartz of The New York Times reports, "generally happy with their system." (Switzerland does, however, still have high health care costs -- exceeded only by the United States and Norway.)
Harvard University's Regina Herzlinger, whom I listened to speak at an AARP and Swiss Embassy event last week, has done extensive research on Switzerland's health care system. In an article for the Journal of the American Medical Association (subscription only), she selects three U.S. states that have similar socioeconomic and population characteristics to Switzerland and demonstrates how the Swiss have lower health care expenses but equal or better health outcomes than the U.S.:
Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw "Radek" Sikorski, husband of Washington Post editorial writer (and Polish cuisine expert) Anne Applebaum, is a compelling, brilliant, eclectic political intellectual who I admire a great deal. In part, I admire Sikorski because while tenacious and committed to his own analysis and views, he maintains an open mind; he listens; and while tenacious, he debates his intellectual opponents without going into the gutter. And he is occasionally unpredictable in all the right ways...
Back in September, we predicted that we'd all be in for "a wild ride" as legislation to overhaul the federal student loan programs makes its way through Congress. Boy, were we wrong.
Instead, progress on the legislation, which would eliminate the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program in favor of 100 percent direct lending, has come to a grinding halt. Senate Democratic leaders have put the student loan bill on hold until they come to a resolution on the sweeping health care reform legislation that has deeply divided the chamber. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's recent admission that he may not be able to get a vote on the President's top domestic priority by year's end means that the student loan measure may not make it to the Senate floor until next January or February at the earliest.
The fate of the student loan and health care measures are intertwined because Senate leaders continue to hold out the possibility of using the budget reconciliation process (the vehicle through which the student loan bill will ultimately be moved) to push through the health care overhaul. While it seems unlikely that they will go down this route (as many of the reforms they are proposing would not survive this type of parliamentary maneuver), they may not have any other choice if they can't get the votes they need to defeat a Republican-led filibuster of the measure.
A report released by the Financial Access Initiative in October 2009 points out that 2.5 billion people or half of the world's adult population is unbanked. This means that they do not use formal or semi-formal financial institutions.
It also shows that socio-economic and demographic factors are not the only determinants of financial inclusion. For example, countries such as India have far wider usage of formal financial services despite the fact that large numbers of its population reside in rural areas.
Some key points: