Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"Essentialism": A new stick to beat conservatives with

This latest fashion in psychological research was brought to my attention in an article by Matthew Hutson, a journalist with some qualifications in psychology.  I made some rather scathing comments on Hutson's article here.  In reply, Hutson referred me to the academic journal article which was the chief underpinning of his thinking.  The article is "Social Class Rank, Essentialism, and Punitive Judgment" by Kraus & Keltner (2013).  I thought I might offer a brief evisceration of it.

Essentialism seems primarily to mean belief in genetic determination.  If you believe that a peron is as he is because of his genes, you are an essentialist.  By that criterion conservatives are likely to be essentialists.  And the authors clearly think essentialists are a bad lot.  So who are these essentialists?  In good Marxist fashion, the authors say that your social class position determines that.  So they selected some statements to the effect that your class position was largely genetically determined and correlated that with your opinion of your own class position.  I myself found that your subjective estimation of your social class position was a powerful predictor of other class-related variables back in 1971, so I have no quarrel with them on that score.

What they found in their Study I and Study II was however quite contrary to the Marxist theory.  They found that there was virtually no overlap (a 4% overlap; r = .20) between their measures and your social class.  High social class people were almost equally divided over whether class was genetically determined or not.  So class was NOT behind "essentialist" beliefs.

That might have stopped our dynamic duo but it did not.  In Study III they  looked for other things behind "essentialism".  The disappointing results of their first two studies do however seem to have disheartened them.  Their next experiment was very low quality indeed.  They told a small group of students some lies and then asked them questions about how strongly they would punish certain offences.  If they were serious about measuring punitiveness, they might have used my approach instead of the very ad hoc approach they did use.  Be that as it may, however, the main effect in their analysis was not even statistically significant, let alone meaningful.

Not discouraged, however, they went on to study 4, in which they used tricks to change what class people thought they belonged in.  They then examined how these "manipulated" class perceptions related to punitiveness.  They found some weak effects on type of punishment desired by people in these "manipulated" classes.  In other words, even by abandoning reality altogether they still could not find much in the way of class effects.

With such disappointing results, you will be surprised at their conclusion:

"Social class is a primary determinant of rank in human social
hierarchy, and it profoundly shapes perceptions of the social environment".

Their data if fact warrant the following conclusion:

"Social class is a primary determinant of rank in human social
hierarchy, but it negligibly shapes perceptions of the social environment"

They knew what they were going to conclude from the beginning and stuck with that.  All the experimentation they did was just window dressing that they did not even believe in themselves.  There is no evidence at all that essentialists are the bad guys they were intended to be -- JR


Lawsuit Against Mandatory Union Dues Moves Forward in California

A federal lawsuit filed last May against the mandatory payment of union dues is moving forward in the courts, Fox News reports, and will soon be heard by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The case was filed by a group of California public school teachers who say that being forced to pay union dues violates their right to free speech.

In states that do not have ‘right-to-work’ laws, like California, union members are forced to pay roughly $1,000 a year in dues that help finance political objectives some members may have objections to.

 Union reps say those fees help their efforts to improve workplace safety, for instance, and get better contracts for all employees. They add that teachers can opt-out of paying dues that fund political activities.
But many teachers say opting out is a difficult and intimidating process and claim they face harassment and losing their liability insurance. Others say they get only a fraction of their money back.

“The unions are free to push whatever agenda they please,” says grade school teacher Rebecca Friedrichs, Fox News reports. “I have no problem with that, but I do have a problem with them taking my money to push an agenda with which I do not agree.”

While it’s OK if a teacher wants to join a union, it’s not OK for the state to not compel union membership, explains Terry Pell of the Center for Individual Rights, the group backing the teachers in court.



'They had no idea if my insurance was active or not!': Obamacare confusion reigns as frustrated patients walk out of hospitals without treatment

Hospital staff in Northern Virginia are turning away sick people on a frigid Thursday morning because they can't determine whether their Obamacare insurance plans are in effect.

Patients in a close-in DC suburb who think they've signed up for new insurance plans are struggling to show their December enrollments are in force, and health care administrators aren't taking their word for it.

In place of quick service and painless billing, these Virginians are now facing the threat of sticker-shock that comes with bills they can't afford.

'They had no idea if my insurance was active or not!' a coughing Maria Galvez told MailOnline outside the Inova Healthplex facility in the town of Springfield.  She was leaving the building without getting a needed chest x-ray.

'The people in there told me that since I didn't have an insurance card, I would be billed for the whole cost of the x-ray,' Galvez said, her young daughter in tow. 'It's not fair – you know, I signed up last week like I was supposed to.'

The x-ray's cost, she was told, would likely be more than $500.

Galvez said she enrolled in a Carefirst Blue Cross bronze plan at a cost of about $450 per month through healthcare.gov, three days before Christmas.  'No one has sent me a bill,' she said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified in a December 11 congressional hearing that the federal government can't say how many new enrollees have written checks for their first month's premiums.  'Some may have paid, some may have not,' she conceded.

It's unlikely that a valid insurance card would have changed Galvez' fortunes, however.  Her Carefirst plan, identified on the Obamacare website as BlueChoice Plus Bronze, carries a $5,500 per-person deductible for 2014 – an amount she would have to pay out-of-pocket before her coverage would apply to medical expenses.

The Inova radiology department wouldn't speak with MailOnline, and Carefirst did not respond to a request for comment.

A similar situation frustrated Mary, an African-American small businesswoman who asked MailOnline not to publish her last name. She was leaving the Inova Alexandria Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia with two family members.

'I had chest pains last night, and they took me in the emergency room,' Mary said. 'They told me they were going to admit me, but when I told them I hadn't heard from my insurance company since I signed up, they changed their tune.'

She told MailOnline that a nurse advised her that her bill would go up by at least $3,000 if she were admitted for a day, and her doctor told her the decision was up to her.

'Should I be in the hospital? Probably,' she said. 'Maybe it's one of those borderline cases. I have to think that if I were really in danger, they wouldn't give me the choice. But what if I think I'm covered and I'm really not?'  'The emergency room bill is going to be bad enough.'

The Obamacare system has suffered from a long list of setbacks since its October 1 rollout, starting with an inoperable website and ending with rampant uncertainty about whether Americans who enrolled are actually covered.

'We're telling consumers if they're not sure if they're enrolled they should call the insurer directly,' White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on December 2.

The Washington Post reported that day that because of computer glitches in the 'back end' of healthcare.gov, enrollment records for as many as one-third of new insurance customers were corrupted or otherwise contain errors.

Given the Obama administration's latest claim that 2.1 million have signed up nationwide, that means as many as 700,000 Americans might falsely believe they have a current health insurance policy.

Mary and others like her, who took the time to enroll but may not follow the daily flood of news about Obamacare, likely don't know one way or the other.  'Why is this so complicated?' she asked. 'I had my own private insurance last year, but they cancelled me in November. I'm not sure which end is up.'

Private industry estimates put the number of policy cancellations as high as 4.7 million in the last quarter of 2013, mostly involving health care plans that didn't meet the Affordable Care Act's strict minimum standards.

Democrats serving on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce dispute that number, saying in a new report that no more than 10,000 will wind up without affordable insurance options after losing their old policies.

President Obama has attracted widespread criticism, and a 'lie of the year' award from one newspaper's fact-checker, for promising that Americans who liked their health plans would be allowed to keep them.

Dr. John Venetos, a Chicago gastroenterologist, told the Associated Press on Thursday that he is seeing 'tremendous uncertainty and anxiety' among his patients who signed up for Obamacare plans but don't have insurance cards.  'They’re not sure if they have coverage,' Venetos said. 'It puts the heavy work on the physician.'

'At some point, every practice is going to make a decision about how long can they continue to see these patients for free if they are not getting paid.'



Health Insurers Are Being Battered By Obamacare, And They Deserve It

Health insurers were always going to be the bad guys in the battle over Obamacare.  While the law affects virtually every sector of the health care system, it was primarily about health insurance, because of the Democrats’ widely held conviction that the private health insurance industry unethically profits off patients needing medical care.

The primary purpose for the Affordable Care Act was to stop what liberals perceived as health insurer abuses and profiteering.

Much of the “credit” for health insurers’ initial embrace of Obamacare has to go to the head of the industry’s leading trade association, Karen Ignagni, the president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP).  Ignagni is a registered Democrat and former director of the AFL-CIO’s Department of Employee Benefits.

She joined several health care trade associations at the White House in May 2009 to offer $2 trillion in health care savings.  The president used their support to convey the impression of unstoppable momentum, even as Democrats increasingly attacked health insurers.  The health insurance industry eventually backed off its initial support, but that resistance was both tepid and conflicted.

At the time I ran a much smaller health insurance trade association, the Council for Affordable Health Insurance.  CAHI was created in the 1990s to represent free market-leaning health insurers fighting the Clinton health care reform plan.

CAHI’s adherence to a free market philosophy kept it much smaller than AHIP, but it had several of the same member companies.  While CAHI wanted to take a principled stand against the legislation, AHIP did not.  Can you say “awkward”?

For example, Democrats wanted to make health coverage “guaranteed issue,” which requires health insurers to accept anyone who applies regardless of their health status.  It’s because of guaranteed issue that Obamacare included the mandate to have health insurance—to keep people from waiting until they get sick to obtain coverage.

And once the government requires people to have insurance, it must then decide what the policies’ coverage must include in order to determine who is in compliance with the mandate.  And then, understandably, the public demands that if they have to buy coverage it must be affordable, which means government subsidies to lower the cost and, eventually, price controls to keep costs down.

In short, once the government imposes guaranteed issue, the other pieces of Obamacare must follow.  AHIP supported the guaranteed issue provision early on; CAHI opposed it.  And so pressure was put on CAHI to moderate its opposition so as not to send “mixed signals” about the health insurance industry’s position.

As the ACA was being written and debated, I spent some time talking to the CEOs of some of the member companies.  One explained to me how he thought Obamacare would be very good for the industry, another was convinced the Democrats crafting the law were taking their suggestions.  They may have been smart businessmen, but they were woefully naive about politics.

I think it is fair to say that several of the health insurers eventually had second thoughts, but by then it was too late.  Had the health insurance industry taken a strong, principled stand against Obamacare from the beginning—or even a less-conflicted stand after its initial flirtation—I do not think the law would have passed.

Now those health insurers are being whipsawed by a president who knows nothing about insurance, really wants a single payer health care system, never ran a business, and has no respect for an industry he believes is profiteering on people’s medical conditions.



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