The Digital Divide is Also Crippling Obamacare Enrollment

appLittle Rock  For all of the criticism of the on-line tools and what Secretary of HHS Sebelius has now called the “debacle” of the web access for enrollment for the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, the 800 pound gorilla in the room is still sitting on the digital divide. 

First, we have huge numbers of Americans who are not only priced out of healthcare, but also priced out of internet access, more than 25% of all Americans and 43% of all African-Americans for example.  Secondly, without experience on the internet that comes with easy and frequent access, and I’m not talking about a once-a-week trip to the library to try to check email or do homework, everything is difficult, which just compounds the problems of a clunky website to start with and intensifies dramatically when it involves something as complex and confusing as choosing health insurance from a bunch of companies and different plans.  Admittedly, time is not our friend in getting everyone into the system by December 15th, it’s just not going to happen, but putting that aside, using more paper applications and 800# call center access could end up more effective in recruiting low-and-moderate income families into the system now, especially with the level of intimidation that now exists about the online access.

This became startlingly clear looking at the experience that the State of Arkansas is having in expanding Medicaid participation up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level.  The good news of course is that Arkansas, rare among many Southern states, is in fact running a hybrid state-federal marketplace and is expanding the program and taking advantage of the fact that the federal government is paying 100% of the first three years, unlike Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and a host of others. 

Nonetheless according to a report in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Department of Human Services sent out 145,000 letters to existing food stamp recipients for whom they had income information and therefore already knew they were within the range of 100% to 138% FPL and therefore automatically eligible for expanded Medicaid.  Bam!   65138 replied with return mail that they wanted to enroll, which all admit is a phenomenal response to any direct mail piece. 

But, now the digital divide does its pernicious work because “…most of those who responded to the initial letter have not responded to a second letter directing them to a state website,, where they can complete the enrollment process.”   Now, remember we have been fighting Comcast hammer and tong to actually deliver the internet access in central Arkansas and the rest of the country required by the FCC’s approval of their merger with NBC/Universal, but they are foot-dragging and trying to politic their way out of doing real work.   Keep in mind as well that Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi are the three states at the very bottom for internet access in the country.  So, really, are you serious, these low income folks can only get into the Medicaid system in Arkansas if they go online?  Duh!   In Arkansas, that means that the state will mandatorily assign them a private insurer and they have 30 days to object and change companies, but essentially, everyone must know the obvious, that the state will end up picking the companies period.  Even on the general state enrollment for Obamacare through their own website half as many Arkansans have applied through paper applications or phone applications as the internet, proving the same point once again, so essentially for every two who go online, one uses paper or a phone where they are more comfortable.  I bet that would be true everywhere and for every state among the uninsured.

There really should be mass distribution of paper applications, even as big and bulky as they are, door-to-door, through health clinics, libraries, driver’s licenses bureaus, hospitals, and any and every place that is willing to let someone pick up an application, get comfortable, and either fill it out, or venture into the wild world of the web.  But, of course that’s only if we are really serious about getting full mass participation in the Affordable Care Act.  In the meantime by happenstance or design, given the uncertainty and tentativeness with which so many of the uninsured approach the web and their often limited access to it, we should not be surprised that so few are succeeding in making it through the maze, regardless of whether the online system is ready and able.


JP Morgan Chase Gaming on Big Settlement

Chase_Bank_Athens_OH_USALittle Rock  Ok, you remember that we were skeptical when news of the $13 billion record breaking settlement between JP Morgan Chase and the Justice Department was announced until the details became clearer.  I just wasn’t sure the leopard could change its spots by buying a new paint job no matter what the price.  Now, the settlement seems to be in danger of unraveling as the details become clearer and the chicanery of the Chase lawyers and accountants in trying to weasel out of really paying the penalty as opposed to having their public relations department put out press releases about direct negotiations between CEO Jamie Dimon and Attorney General Eric Holder.

            First, Chase jumped the gun on Justice and cut a separate deal with the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) for $5.1 billion which got Justice hopping because they are insisting that only $4 billion of their $13 billion resolves those claims. You can visit this site web to be more clearer as  it gets sketchy when it becomes clear that Chase was trying to fudge $1.1 billion of an earlier settlement where it agreed to repurchase bad loans it had bundled and sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac back when they and others were getting away with everything before the housing bubble burst.  Essentially they wanted two dollars of credit on this deal for a dollar really paid.

Holder to his credit is reportedly balking at anything that would allow Chase to try to shift the cost of the settlement unto the FDIC, the federal deposit insurer, not wanting one federal settlement to be paid by another federal agency.  Meanwhile according to insiders talking to the Wall Street Journal, Chase would take all $5.1 billion of the FHFA settlement as a tax deduction, reducing the bite, and at its effective tax rate, clawing back a savings of $1.5 billion in taxes, essentially transferring part of the penalty to the US taxpayers for its own giddy, avarice and community destruction.   Oh, and of course, Chase thinks that there may be some other big chunks they can take as tax deductions as well and they are looking hard for them.  Now, these kinds of maneuvers sound more like the Chase we all know and rarely love.

Justice since the first news of a deal surfaced was quick to say that none of the settlement had to do with Chase’s purchase of Washington Mutual and other assets after the meltdown, partly as a response to an intemperate, whack editorial in the Journal that tired to argue that Dimon was actually Joan of Arc and was being punished now for having done the government a favor back when.  Justice the day after the editorial released some more information about the deal saying nada had to do with Chase’s acquisition of failing institutions.

I suspect that is all part of why this deal has now unraveled a bit.  It turns out that Chase is also trying to “cost out” another part of this settlement by disagreeing with the FDIC about responsibilities for some of Washington Mutual’s bad loans and bonds and seeing if they can tap an FDIC $4 billion reserve fund for what Chase is saying is $5 billion or more in liabilities they don’t want to own up to.   Talk about doing a hustle!

My bet is that they have gone too far and pushed Dimon out on the limb publicly as having reached out to Washington and virtually singlehandedly worked out a deal with Holder for them to be able to let this whole house of cards collapse, so a deal of some sort will come back together.  They may have just found that bargaining in bad faith doesn’t work with Holder.  He seems to know his cards well and be unwilling to fold them or kiss the Wall Street rings. 

Regardless when it comes to these bums, if he’s not our hero, he’s definitely about our only hope.