Monday, September 15, 2008

ScienceDebate '08

McCain responds to ScienceDebate 2008. Obama answered the questions a while ago; you can also read a side-by-side comparison.

I've decided to summarize each question and the candidate's responses in addition to providing my own thoughts on their responses.

1: Innovation. How will each candidate encourage innovation in science and technology?

Obama: Service scholarship program intended to pay the costs of college for students committed to teaching in high-need areas after graduation. Increase National Science Foundation graduate fellowships. Provide all Americans with broadband internet. Make R&D tax credits for businesses permanent.

McCain: Increase capital by lowering taxes, ideally broadening the infrastructure for technological development. Appoint a Science and Technology advisor to the White House to increase scientific integrity of policies. Eliminate earmarks and allocate some of the money to sci-tech investments, including funds for emerging fields (biotech, nanotech, etc). Reform science and math education. Create employment in rural areas with technology. Meet with academics and business leaders to develop a global agenda.

Pretty much what you would expect from party politics. Obama is focused on getting individuals educated and encouraging them to become teachers; McCain is primarily concerned with businesses and big R&D firms.

2. Climate change. What do you think about existing measures to address global climate change; what other policies would you support?

Obama: Anthropogenic global warming is happening; US needs to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Market-based cap-and-trade system with the goal of reducing emissions by 80% of 1990's levels by 2050. All "pollution credits" must be auctioned by the Federal government. Cooperate with UN and other countries to reduce emissions. Create Technology Transfer Program dedicated to developing green technologies.

McCain: Notes that greenhouse gas emissions threaten to alter climate. Proposes a cap-and-trade system. Goal is reduction of greenhouse gas levels to 60% of 1990's levels by 2050. Wants to increase penalties for violating minimum gas mileage standards by auto manufacturers. Tax credit of 10% of R&D funds to green entrepreneurs and 2 billion USD/year for the next 15 years will be spent on clean coal research. The first company to develop an emission-free automobile will recieve a $5000 tax credit per vehicle sold. Suggests offering a $300 million prize for the development of a battery that will fully supply an electric car.

McCain's cap-and-trade system has a huge hole--he wants to give away "pollution credits" instead of auctioning them, which defeats the purpose of cap-and-trade. The whole point of C-a-T is to create artificial scarcity by inventing an imaginary resource.

Consider a physical resource like oil. There is a limited amount of oil, and oil costs money, so companies want to use as little oil as they can get away with because being wasteful cuts into profits. Conversely, there is no limit to how much pollution a company can put into the air (short of some point where air quality decreases to where people start dying). What incentive is there for companies to reduce emissions, especially if it will cost them more money to do so? C-a-T creates scarcity by turning "amount of pollution you're allowed to produce" into a commodity--like oil. If you have more "pollution credits" than you need, you can sell them to other companies, much like you could sell any other commodity you accidentally bought too much of.

Suppose the government auctions off 80% of available pollution credits. How do you decide who gets the rest? If the government is going to just give them away, who gets them? Short answer: Whoever lobbies the hardest. True, you have to pay lobbyists to lobby, but the system rapidly becomes crooked. Instead of giving pollution credits to whoever is willing to pay the most, you're giving credits to whoever is most influential with congress. Since the whole point of the system is to give companies an incentive to "stay green" because they have to pay for the pollution they put into the atmosphere it should be pretty easy to see why being able to lobby for more credits destroys the purpose of C-a-T.

Obama's Technology Transfer Program is supposed to encourage the export and trade of green technologies (see page 10-11). The technologies will be ideally traded freely between developing countries to reduce global emissions. Sounds pretty good, but lacking in specific details. Then again, I'm not sure how specific you can get in an 11 page "fact sheet." I think that the idea is to provide green tech to countries like China in exchange for whatever they're able to give us in return--if nothing else, it's a gesture that says "the US cares about reducing emissions." It's pretty hard to convince developing countries to do that when we aren't.

I have mixed feelings about research prizes. They make sense from one perspective; offering a "bounty" on a particular tech development may spur people to think about the problem who previously hadn't. Sometimes research prizes even create entirely new fields. The problem is that research prizes mean that a lot of people who want to research the problem but don't have the money to start researching can't do anything, even if they have good ideas. It also punishes researchers for every failed attempt; the cost of prototypes and whatnot is ultimately subtracted from the prize money. This means that research prizes are biased in favor of preexisting entities that can afford a greater initial investment to win the prize. If a start-up business gunning for a research prize ultimately spends more money than the prize is worth getting to the desired solution, the company is going to flop and everyone who invested in it suffers a huge financial loss. If a big company spends more money than the prize is worth they can probably afford to abandon the "competition" and focus on other projects. The drug companies do this all the time, in a sense--every drug that doesn't get approved is a huge loss, but they eat it and move on, whereas a start-up that tried to do the same thing would go out of business.

Another issue is that you can't measure the value of all scientific research on whether or not it solves a problem outright. Many times science is a stepwise process; assuming that only one arbitrary endpoint is valuable is a mistake. Also, prizes for specific projects creates an artificial demand that will skew private research budgets toward solving problems that someone (i.e., the Federal government) has decided need solved. Doesn't this go against promoting innovation by "setting an agenda" instead of letting individual firms decide what to research?

3. Energy. What are your thoughts on developing economically and environmentally sustainable energy solutions?

Obama: More federal research dollars for alternative energy ($150 billion over the next ten years). Research dollars should go toward alternative fuels, energy-efficient designs, advanced energy transmission and storage tech, greenhouse gas-sequestering tech, and nuclear power. Increase fuel economy standards 4% per year. Provide loans to automotive industry to build fuel-efficient cars domestically. Increase building efficiency by (50% new buildings, 25% existing buildings). Require 10% of American energy to be derived from renewable resources by 2012 and 25% by 2025. Expand mass transit.

McCain: Reform energy economy "over time." Build 45 new nuclear reactors by 2030. Reform tax credits in favor of renewable power; existing tax credits have been "patchwork" without solving the problem. The market can decide which ideas will move us toward clean energy. Commit federal government to "green tech" agenda. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions (see point 2).

I have to give this one to Obama. His plans are more concrete by a longshot. He wants to set hard limits intended to improve efficiency and renewable energy use; McCain seems to think that the market will solve the problem. The market hasn't solved the problem; people are going to use fossil fuels freely as long as they believe the supply is large enough and they can afford them. Investment in alternative energy over the past several years has gone up, but the oil industry is still the biggest energy industry in America. We can't afford for the end of oil to be in sight before we solve the problem of what we're going to do when we run out--we have to be prepared well in advance.

Increasing nuclear power is a great idea, but there's a lot of resistance to it by people who are ultimately too stupid to realize that nuclear power is both safe and clean. Liberals are to blame for this one; NIMBY and other organizations that keep yelling "CHERNOBYL!" every time somebody mentions nuclear power have so maligned nuclear plants that nobody wants them built anywhere nearby--or at least, they don't want to know about it.

People occasionally accuse Obama of being "an empty suit," but he's thrown out some very specific suggestions for the energy problem.

As an aside, McCain claimed in one of his ads that he would support renewable energy, but at the time of airing, his energy plan didn't even mention wind, solar, or hydroelectric power. Most of his energy policies are focused on developing "clean coal" technologies--which is nice, but coal is not a renewable resource. His website now has a blurb about wind, solar, and hydro power at the end of the segment on alternative energy.

4. Education. The US is behind in math and science scores. What do we do?

Obama: We need more science/math education, even for people not in STEM careers, because an educated populace is good. Supports developing new STEM instructional materials and methods. Federal and state grants and organization will be necessary to make this work. The teaching profession needs to be elevated; too many teachers are underqualified and too many good teachers are underpaid. Need to focus on developing reading skills in children 0-5 years old. Higher education (college) should be more affordable; proposes a $4000 tax credit to pay for the cost of college.

McCain: We need to train new students, but we also need to offer re-training for displaced workers. Supported grants for digital and wireless tech for community colleges. We need more science students ("we must fill the pipeline"). Private corporations should be encouraged to sponsor math and science students. Teachers need better training; 35% of Title II funding should go to training. The other 60% of Title II funding should go to teachers who excel as bonuses to encourage good teachers. Supports a $250 million grant to expand online learning opportunities. Continues to support national organizations (NSF, NOAA, DOE, NASA).

Call me biased if you want, but I think having a science-educated populace is a good thing, and Obama apparently agrees.

I've liked the education tax credit ever since I first heard it mentioned. It makes a great deal more sense to give tax breaks to people for doing things that benefit society than it does to give them tax breaks for other things. Giving tax breaks to people for having children makes sense because children are expensive, but nobody gets a tax break for going to college. People bitch about "the welfare state," but giving tax credits for having kids doesn't solve the problem. Giving people tax breaks for getting an education (which helps reduce the overall cost of said education) helps people land higher-paying careers and actually has a chance of fixing the problem instead of patching over it. I'm not saying people shouldn't get tax breaks for having to raise dependents; I'm saying that if you're going to "reward" someone with a tax break, it makes more sense to reward people for pursuing a degree than popping out kids that they ultimately won't be able to support.

The only thing I don't like is the fact that a tax credit doesn't do jack for many students (who aren't working and therefore not paying taxes). An increased stipend or grant would ultimately make more sense.

I like McCain's idea about providing financial perks to good teachers and for teachers willing to teach math and science. I'm not sure how they would ultimately be distributed; my concern is that perks would be handed out based on student improvement of standardized test scores, which is a bad, bad, bad idea.

No matter what we do, we need to find a way to encourage more people to become teachers and a way to increase the quality of teachers in our school systems.

5. National security. Technology is a big part of national security. How should we best use it?

Obama: The space race pushed science education forward in America; bioterrorism and nuclear weapon threats should do the same. We need research for the sake of homeland security. Would like to double the Department of Defense's applied research funding and renew DARPA. The Department of Homeland Security needs to shore up defenses against bioterrorism and cyberterrorism. Reduction of our petroleum dependence (foreign oil reliance) will improve security. We must eliminate erosion of the US manufacturing base and keep defense production domestic.

McCain: We need to adequately fund the military to make sure that our homeland is secure. We need to make sure the American military retains its technological edge, so we need to advance R&D funding.

Er. McCain is always talking about how he was in the military and people are always saying that McCain's national defense plan will more or less be automatically superior to Obama's because of McCain's military record. But all he has to say on the subject of science as it relates to national security is "we need to make sure America remains awesome."
Conversely, Obama points to specific threats (cyberterrorism, biological warfare) and has some specific plans (double DoD research funding, renew DARPA). Keeping defense production domestic seems like a no-brainer; how secure can you be when someone else is building all your weapons?

6. Pandemics and biosecurity. Avian flu (for example) could be a serious threat. What should we do about this?

Obama: Bioterror is a serious threat; wants to invest $5 billion over 3 years in a Shared Security Partnership to form an international intelligence organization against terrorism. Suggests expanding US bioforensics program. Wants to invest in vaccines against potential bioterror agents and technology to trace bioweapons to their origins. Hospitals need to form collaborative networks to respond to any major health crisis. Expand local and state funding for disaster response programs. Stresses funding for drug development and distribution systems--ideally, this will create high-wage pharmaceutical industry jobs.

McCain: We don't know if H5N1 (avian flu) will cause a pandemic, but we need to address threats of bioterrorism. Favors implementation of strategies intended to contain pandemics and alleviate any crisis while still maintaining a functioning economy and community. We need to develop better analytical tools to detect and identify bioterror agents. We must also fund R&D of drugs and vaccines and make sure that we have adequate stockpiles and a response plan if an outbreak occurs.

I really wish the question hadn't been about avian flu just because there's limited evidence that H5N1 is likely to become a pandemic in humans. Oh well. Solid answers from both sides, really.

7. Genetics research. What is the right policy balance between benefits of genetic advances and their potential risks?

Obama: Genetics has raised numerous legal and ethical questions; supports Genetic Non-discrimination Act and introduced the Genomics and Personalized Medicine Act of 2007, which is intended to ensure safety and accuracy of genetic testing. Modifying plants and organisms to improve agriculture is fine as long as we make sure they won't have negative impacts on the environment. Using recombinant DNA (rDNA) to produce protein drugs or replace faulty genes is awesome, but we have to make sure it's safe and proceed cautiously.

McCain: The genetic privacy of all people is incredibly important because of the potential ethical problems involved in storing genetic information. Genetic research can help increase the productivity of agriculture; we should focus on developing higher-yielding crops and improved farming infrastructure.

I think people are panicking about the potential for genetic information way too much. I blame Hollywood. Thanks, GATTACA. The Genetic Non-Discrimination Act is a good idea, though, because the potential for "abuse of genetic information" is still there.

I'm impressed that Obama mentioned rDNA technology because that's some cutting-edge biotech. He probably has some good science advisors.

8. Stem cells. What is your position on government regulation and funding of stem cell research?

Obama: Stem cell research might find cures for several serious diseases. The federal ban on embryonic stem cell research is restricting our ability to find cures for these diseases. Hundreds of thousands of human embryos are stored in fertilization clinics that will ultimately be destroyed anyway; why shouldn't we use these embryos for research instead? Adult stem cell research is good, but embryonic stem cell research should still be pursued because of potential advantages. The National Research Council must be responsible for overseeing embryonic stem cell research to make sure it is being conducted ethically.

McCain: We should fund embryonic stem cell research with federal dollars, but we must not sacrifice our values for the sake of science. Supports adult stem cell research and amniotic fluid cell research. Opposes creation of human embryos for research purposes and voted to make use of fetal tissue created for research purposes a federal crime.

This issue annoys me because it attracts the creation of a horrible straw man: "We shouldn't fund embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) because it hasn't actually produced any cures for any diseases." Aaaaargh! Yes, it is true that no approved medical treatments have been derived from ESCR. It's true that there is no "ban" on embryonic stem cell research, so that's not the problem. There are a fair number of existing embryonic stem cell lines available for research, though not as many as scientific organizations would like.

The real problem people have with ESCR is not that it hasn't produced approved treatments--the real problem is that it violates their personal morals. Even if it had produced viable treatments, these same people would still oppose it. The statement that it hasn't somehow validates their belief. It's essentially saying "not only is ESCR immoral, it's useless, so we don't need to do it." But there's no way to know that ESCR won't eventually produce useful treatments unless we try, and there's no shortage of available embryos. In 2001 it was estimated that 110,000 frozen embryos were stored in the US; the number has only increased. Nobody has to create embryos purely for research; couples utilizing in vitro fertilization have already supplied researchers with a huge number of embryos, and many of them have explicitly wished to donate their surplus embryos for research purposes! Is it really more moral to throw them away than to use them for potentially life-saving medical research?

Saying that ESCR shouldn't be pursued because it hasn't produced viable treatments is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Handicapping researchers of embryonic stem cells is obviously going to reduce the number of ESCR-related breakthroughs.

Enough said; you can probably tell from my position on ESCR that I'm in agreement with Obama on this issue.

9. Ocean health. Scientists estimate that 75% of the world's fisheries are in decline and coral reefs are threatened. What should we do?

Obama: Oceans are important; global climate change could have negative effects on ocean ecosystems, so we should reduce greenhouse gas emission (see item 2). We should expand research on the effect of climate change on marine life. Supports US ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention, an international treaty regarding use of ocean resources. Obama likes long walks on the beach.

McCain: Oceans are awesome; state, local, and federal coordination is needed to reduce issues like invasive aquatic species and agricultural runoff. It is difficult to manage ocean ecology because so many other factors affect oceans without obviously being ocean-related. We need to research the ocean's impact on the carbon cycle, the melting of polar ice, and coastal storms. I was in the Navy, so I love oceans.

Oceans are good. They cover 72% of our planet.

Obama's concerns about ocean health tie into his concerns about global warming, so his statement is basically that his plans to reduce greenhouse emissions should also improve ocean health. Both candidates think more research is needed regarding ocean ecology; McCain makes the excellent point that things that seem to have nothing to do with the ocean affect oceans. I'd like to know what sort of solutions he has in mind for reducing agricultural runoff, for example.

10. Water. How should we address water shortages and the fact that water is a limited resource?

Obama: Prices and policies should encourage efficient water use and discourage waste. Farmers should be encouraged to shift to more water-efficient practices and potentially receive economic assistance to make the shift possible.

McCain: Water is a valuable resource that must be protected. The Department of the Interior and states should make agreements and implement technology to reduce water demand.

Water: Republicans and Democrats alike agree that we need it.

11. Space. How should we prioritize space exploration/research?

Obama: NASA should not only explore space but be involved in researching climate change, energy independence solutions, and aeronautics technology. Wants to encourage the private sector to support NASA. Believes we should re-establish the National Aeronautics and Space Council to oversee space activities.

McCain: Space activities have driven scientific discovery for the past 50 years. The Cold War is over, and this has left NASA uncertain as to what to do; however, we are heavily dependent upon satellites and other space-based assets for communication. Other countries are exploring space (Japan, India, Russia, China, Europe). The role of manned space flight goes beyond exploration; it encourages national pride. Supports funding for more space exploration and science; sponsored legislation supporting the commercial space industry. Wants to maximize the research potential of the International Space Station, maintain space infrastructure, prevent wasteful earmarks that divert potential money away from space research, and guarantee adequate investments in aeronautics.

McCain is seriously excited about space. Who knew? He's definitely got a point--the "space race" is a big part of what pushed science and engineering in the latter half of the last century, and once we'd "beaten the Russians" and been to the moon several times people seemed to get kind of burnt out on space. What they've forgotten is that NASA's technologies ultimately wound up in everybody's homes, partly because we'd spent so much money developing them. Many packaged food technologies, for example, are a product of the space race.

I'm not sure we could artificially engineer another "space race" to push technological development, but space technology has been seen as a proxy for overall technological advancement for the past fifty years or so. The whole reason we wanted to beat the Russians to the moon was that it would somehow prove American ingenuity was better than Russian ingenuity. Now China and India are launching manned space flights. The point is not to go the moon--we've been there. The point is to get people excited about technology with a big, visible symbol. The space shuttle is an excellent symbol of the modern era for that very reason.

12. Scientific integrity. Many government scientists report politics interfere with their jobs. Is it acceptable for government officials to alter or hold back scientific reports if they don't like the results? How will you balance scientific data with political and personal beliefs?

Obama: Decisions should be made based on the best available scientific evidence, not ideology. Transparency is important. I have a bunch of science advisors, including some Nobel Laureates! Plans to appoint people with strong sci-tech backgrounds and ethical qualifications to positions requiring scientific expertise. Wants to establish a Chief Technology Officer to make sure that government agencies have the right infrastructure and strengthen the role of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Would issue an executive order requiring the release of government research publications and wants to guarantee that the results are not distorted by political biases.

McCain: The government spends lots of money on research; the public deserves to see the results. Denying facts will not solve problems; policy should be based on sound science. Wants qualified engineers and scientists to join key technical positions in his administration. Believes integrity is critical to scientific research.

I would like to quote McCain's last line verbatim:

"My own record speaks for integrity and putting the country first, not political agendas."

Um. I don't know about his opinions regarding the integrity of scientific research, but McCain has put his political agenda before his "integrity" (if he's using the word to mean the same thing that I am) on many occasions:

-He accused Obama of voting for "corporate welfare" for oil companies. He actually raised taxes on oil companies.
-He accused Obama of planning to raise taxes on the middle class when in fact tax rates would only increase for families making above $250,000 a year, among other miscellaneous lies about Obama and taxation, like the claim that small businesses would pay more taxes under Obama.
-He also grossly mischaracterized Obama's health care plan.

Politicians are notorious for being dishonest, and Obama has also stretched the truth on several occasions, but I'm not sure why McCain thinks that he can claim that he always puts the country before his political agenda when he...doesn't. He endorsed the Iraq war and reversed his position on torture to curry favor with his party and secure his presidential bid.


13. Research. What priority will you give research in upcoming budgets?

Obama: Federally supported research is essential and must be continued. Laments the decline in federal research dollars for the physical sciences and engineering. Would double basic science, math, and engineering research budgets over the next decade.

McCain: We must maximize the value of our research spending; has supported increases in funding for the NSF and would like to see "top scientists" decide how to utilize funding. Wants to make sure federal research dollars are allocated based on quality, not earmarks.

Obama wants to double federal funding over ten years; the Bush administration requested $137.2 billion for federal R&D funding. $50 billion of that is supposed to go to science education and modernization of research infrastructure. The remaining $86 billion finances R&D tax incentives. The linked report was updated in 2006; at the time, Bush also called for doubling federal R&D funding over the next ten years. In a sense, Obama wants to leave the existing plan intact.

McCain's budget is based on cutting earmarks, which he claims will save $100 billion. But most sources suggest that "cutting earmarks" will save less than $20 billion. If the $137.2 billion figure is accurate for federal R&D grants, that means we're going to need to come up with about $274 billion over the next ten years. Obama doesn't say where that money is going to come from (troubling), but McCain seems to think that cutting earmarks is going to cover it. This seems improbable.

There's also the fact that earmarks direct funds from executive agencies to specific topics--cutting earmarks won't cut government spending, it will just change the way the same dollars get spent. I'm not sure we're going to get sufficient R&D money from "cutting earmarks" much like I'm not convinced McCain can reduce the federal budget by $100 billion "without cutting into federal programs," especially if he plans to increase defense spending.

This might just be me, but I would rather a candidate offer no details (assuming they will come later) as opposed to offering a plan that is verifiably wrong.

14. Health. How do you see science and tech contibuting to improved health and quality of life?

Obama: Medical science has made huge steps in combating disease; he notes, specifically, advances against heart disease, stroke, cancer, AIDS, mental illness, infectious diseases, and surgical techniques that reduce hospital stays and costs. Notes that US health care spending per capita exceeds other countries but low-income groups suffer from reduced access. Believes that America's health care system is more beneficial for pharma and insurance companies than it is for citizens. Wants to increase employer-based coverage benefits, require insurance companies to cover "preventative medicine" and limit charges by insurance companies. Insurance companies would be required to cover preexisting conditions. Wants to provide tax credits to small businesses and individuals to pay for the cost of health insurance and provide coverage for all children. Would like to see the healthcare system become more efficient, continue to support research to treat diseases, and provide healthcare to all citizens.

McCain: Medical science has developed some amazing cures for illnesses. Telemedicine is an opportunity to increase health care access, especially for patients in remote areas. Insurance costs a lot and many Americans are unable to afford it; we should promote R&D and wellness to reduce costs.

I'm in the healthcare field, so I feel very close to these issues. If you forced me to pick one issue to focus on, I would say that improving the American health care system is at the top of the list.

Private insurance costs a fortune; it isn't reasonable to expect people to purchase private insurance because in the long run it doesn't save them money unless they are struck down by dire illness. My girlfriend has a private insurance plan because she doesn't get coverage through her current employer. She pays $70 a month in premiums. She has a $5000 deductible. For those who don't know what that means, it means that until she pays $5000 out of pocket in a given year, her insurance covers nothing. She is responsible for the first $5000 in health expenses. Now, I don't know what your financial situation looks like, but having $5000 in health expenses would bankrupt her right out. In other words, by the time her insurance picks up the cost, it's too little, too late. All of her standard medical needs--doctor visits if sick, annual OB/gyn appointments, prescriptions--have to come out of her own pocket. The average doctor's office visit costs about $60; the average ER visit costs $383. The last time I went to the doctor I paid $125. The national average cost for a hospital stay, depending on what sort of treatment you need, was $6525 in 1999. In 2007, that figure climbed to around $10,000.

If you make minimum wage, going to the doctor represents more than a full day's wages in cost. That's more than enough to discourage low-income families from visiting the doctor if they have to pay out of pocket--and that doesn't include the cost of medications or travel to and from the office or the lost wages from having to take off work (if it is necessary to do so, and it often is). Even if you make more than minimum wage, it's pretty clear that health care is prohibitively expensive. The median household income in the US is just over $50,000. In what universe can people be expected to afford dropping one-fifth of their yearly income on a hospital stay?

McCain's statements on health care here don't even touch the issue. Telemedicine? Being able to have your doctor examine you with a video camera instead of you having to go to his office is not going to matter if you can't afford an exam in the first place.

McCain's website has more details about his health care plans. I wonder why he didn't bother going into any of these details for ScienceDebate--I actually have reservations about critiquing his health care plan as described on his site when what I'm primarily doing is talking about ScienceDebate. But I've already done it, so let's do it. In case you're curious, here's Obama's website on his health care plans.

Anyway, McCain favors a tax credit to offset the cost of insurance; the credit would go directly toward purchasing a chosen plan, and any extra dollars will be deposited directly into a tax-free health savings account. The credit would be $2500 for individuals and $5000 for families.

Obama's health care plan involves a tax credit to small businesses equal to 50% of what those businesses spend on health care premiums for their employees. How much money is that? A report from a 2004 NY Times article states that California businesses paid $6.30 per $100 in employee payroll for employee insurance benefits.

So let's run some numbers. Suppose you run a small business with 30 employees, yourself included. You're extremely charitable and your business is doing well enough that the mean income for your employees is about equal to the national median of $50k per year. No, this doesn't mean the janitor is getting $50k; it means that the average of your employee's annual wages is $50k, which allows for a minimum-wage janitor and a high-paid CEO. The average can still come out the same. Anyway, $50k x 30 employees = $1500k. You spend 6.3% of that on providing healthcare for your employees, which is $94,500 per year. Obama wants to give your company $47,250 in tax relief every year. McCain wants to give you and each of your employees $2500 per year (you're all bachelors for some reason), which is $75,000. So McCain actually wants to give you more money.

But what will the benefits be? Obama wants everyone to be able to have coverage equivalent to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP). Here's a table showing plans available nationwide. I could get a Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance plan for myself for $37.97/month or $90.26/month. This chart shows deductibles; I've chosen the BC/BS standard plan, which is the second row on the table. The total per person deductible is $300 per year. Once I met my deductible, an office visit would cost $15 and a hospital stay no more than $100. I would pay 25% of the cost of prescription drugs as my copay, which isn't too bad. I personally would have to spend about $150 a month on prescription drugs (and I'm only on one medication), so I would pay ~$28/month for drugs.

Let me summarize. Obama wants to give you (private citizens) the ability to purchase benefits comparable to the following:

-Premiums of $90/month for a family of four
-$300 out-of-pocket responsibility per person per year
-A copay structure where office visits cost as little as $15-20 and hospital stays run between $100-400
-A prescription drug plan where generics cost as little as $5 and even the most expensive drugs only cost you 50% of their retail value

McCain wants to give your hypothetical family of four $5000 to purchase health care. I don't think he realizes that private insurance for families cost an average of $9950 per year in 2004 and that that price is continually increasing.

I don't think I can stress that enough. If you don't get insurance through your employer and have to buy private insurance, McCain wants to give you half what your annual health insurance costs will be in the form of a tax credit. $5000 sounds fantastic until you realize that the average family will have to pay another $5000 just to get coverage. And that's just premiums. Deductibles are not included--and for privately insured patients, deductibles could easily add up to another $5000. In short, McCain's plan involves families spending as much as $10,000 per year before their health insurance pays a dime.

I've said enough on this subject.

That concludes my analysis of ScienceDebate '08. Hopefully you found it informative. We report, you decide!

1 comment:

The Chemist said...

No comment on McCain, I already figured out I wasn't voting for him a long time ago. I wandered over from Denialism.

However I feel compelled to cheer your blog's byline. I'm so stealing it for use in day to day conversation.