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Call him President Trillion: Biden’s eye-watering, wasteful spending

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Call him President Trillion: Biden's eye-watering, wasteful spending

So far the defining word of the Biden era is “trillion.”

The Joe Biden who portrayed himself as a moderate deal-maker during the presidential campaign is a distant memory, replaced by the Joe Biden who is dazzling progressives with his willingness to “go big” — in other words, spend jaw-dropping amounts of taxpayer cash.

Why? Well, Democrats talked themselves into the proposition that there basically isn’t any such thing as spending too much money. Relatedly, the party consensus is that former President Barack Obama went “too small,” with a stimulus package under a trillion dollars, insufficient to the scale of the 2008 recession.

Besides, spending is what Biden can actually do — he can pass his stimulus and relief bills under the so-called reconciliation rules in the Senate, requiring only 50 votes, rather than the 60 it takes to break a filibuster.

Finally, any Democratic president is drawn to the heroic allure of FDR and wants to measure himself against the New Deal.

Biden had a recent meeting with historians in the White House at which FDR was much discussed. One of the participants, historian Michael Beschloss, told Axios that FDR or LBJ may be the most apt analogue to how Biden is “transforming the country in important ways in a short time.”

Any Democratic president would envy the sheer volume of dollars Biden is shoveling out the door: In fiscal year 2019, the federal government, not exactly tightening it belt, spent $4.4 trillion. Biden is on pace to roughly match that with his first two major legislative initiatives — the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill and his new $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal.

Team Biden almost gives the sense that it is working backward — starting with a big, eye-popping price tag and then figuring out what initiatives can be thrown in to reach the top-line number.

The schools have tens of millions of dollars sitting unspent from prior relief bills, and here comes another $100 billion to upgrade school buildings in the infrastructure bill.

The states were lavished with $350 billion in the COVID relief bill, even though many of them didn’t lose revenue during the pandemic. Why can’t those dollars be spent on infrastructure?

The new proposal is an infrastructure, drinking-water, broadband, home-retrofitting, manufacturing, long-term-care, electric-car and unionization bill — and a few other things besides.

The question is whether, when all the money is spent, anyone will point to any transformative change in the country attributable to the legislation. Or whether, like the Obama stimulus, it will be completely forgettable, money strewn over the landscape without leaving much of a trace.

Certainly, the need for infrastructure spending over and ­beyond what the federal government, states and localities already spend is oversold.

A recent paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research noted, “Over the past generation, the condition of the interstate highway network improved consistently, its extent increased modestly, and traffic about doubled. Over about the same time period, the condition of bridges remained about the same, the number of bridges increased slowly, and bridge traffic increased modestly.”

Shooting money out of a bazooka isn’t self-evidently what the state of America’s infrastructure calls for. But when the only tool you have is huge reconciliation spending bills, everything looks like a crisis urgently requiring more profligacy.

The bills are also a substitute for passing significant non-spending policy changes. Unlike FDR, Biden has narrow and tenuous congressional majorities. He isn’t getting HR 1, gun control, a higher minimum wage or immigration reform and perhaps couldn’t even if Senate Democrats eliminated the filibuster.

What he can do, which FDR and LBJ never could, is reach for the word “trillion” as much as possible.

Twitter: @RichLowry

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Opinion

New Yorkers with chronic illness need deliverance from this unfair insurer practice

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New Yorkers with chronic illness need deliverance from this unfair insurer practice

Imagine you have scheduled an MRI or another important treatment vital to your health care and are told it isn’t covered by your insurance until the deductible is met. You point out that you already satisfied the deductible for costly prescriptions, in part through financial assistance from the drug manufacturer. But then learn that assistance doesn’t count.

Welcome to the murky world of “copay-accumulator programs.” First introduced in 2018, this scheme has been used by too many insurers and pharmacy-benefit managers to ensure that only a patient’s own payments count towards deductibles and maximum annual out-of-pocket costs.

For millions of Americans living with chronic diseases, this practice is unfair and harmful. Over 70 percent of respondents to a recent National MS Society survey, for example, reported that they have relied on copay assistance to maintain access to medications essential to managing this chronic disease. There is no cure, and the specific symptoms, progress and severity of MS in any one person are unpredictable.

I know the uncertainty. I found out 31 years ago this month that I have MS. A neurologist, reviewing the report of my first-ever MRI exam, said it was a mild case and could remain that way forever — or change without warning.

My symptoms suddenly changed in 2003, and another neurologist, looking at my second MRI exam films, told me that the disease had advanced and prescribed one of the self-injection drugs to manage its further progression. The Mount Sinai Hospital MS Center is part of my family. Regular visits for routine exams, annual MRIs and taking a disease-modifying therapy, or DMT, to help manage the symptoms have allowed me to continue living the best life I can while living with MS.

Last year, the median cost of the more than 20 DMTs available was $91,835 a year. The oral medication I take costs $100,000. Expensive drugs account for approximately 75 percent of the cost of managing MS. Visits to doctors, bloodwork, MRIs and other medical-care necessities add to the financial burden.

Forgoing any of the treatments, especially the regimen of prescribed medications, could severely worsen my condition. Still, a National MS Society survey found that 40 percent of people who take a DMT were forced to alter or stop taking their medication due to the prohibitive cost. Interrupting one’s medication regimen can have unknown, deleterious ramifications.

That’s why it’s up to individual states to end accumulator programs, especially since an effort to regulate them failed in Congress. New York lawmakers can do the right thing and show leadership by adopting legislation this year.

Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried and Sen. Gustavo Rivera, the chairmen of the health committees in the Assembly and state Senate, respectively, have introduced bills that would require an insurance policy that provides coverage for prescription drugs to “apply any third-party payments, financial assistance, discount, voucher or other price-reduction instrument for out-of-pocket expenses” to the insured’s deductible, copayment, coinsurance or out-of-pocket maximum.

These bills would safeguard access to life-saving treatments for those living with MS or other expensive chronic diseases, including arthritis and respiratory illnesses, among many others

When drug companies offer financial assistance programs, patients apply for them to alleviate the burdens associated with the exorbitant prices. Many people living with chronic illness are responsible for thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs. Copay accumulators unnecessarily prolong the period to cross the deductible threshold, meanwhile jeopardizing access to other medical treatments.

To date, six states — Virginia, West Virginia, Illinois, Arizona, Kentucky and Georgia — have passed legislation to compel insurers to count drug-manufacturer assistance toward deductibles. The Empire State should join them.

Insured New Yorkers shouldn’t have to dig deep into their health-insurance policies to find previously unknown terms and costs. Transparency is vital in health care. Both the Assembly and Senate should move expeditiously to pass, and Gov. Cuomo sign into law, legislation that will ban copay accumulator programs in our state.

Kenneth Bandler, a public relations executive, is a member of the board of trustees of the MS Society, Greater New York City-Long Island chapter.

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Opinion

Europe’s vax disaster shows Trump, UK’s BoJo got biggest COVID challenge right

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Europe's vax disaster shows Trump, UK's BoJo got biggest COVID challenge right

In the race to save lives from the novel coronavirus, the United States and Britain are winning. A stunning 47 percent of UK residents and 36 percent of US residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Compare that with the European Union, where only 15 percent of the population has gotten at least one jab. 

America and Britain are ahead thanks to the brash nationalism of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and former President Donald Trump — the very quality that drew the ire of the trans-Atlantic elite. The political import is especially ironic in the American case: While our blue-check Twitterati were busy using Europe as a supposed exemplar to bash Trump, the 45th president was getting things done.  

The United States is now vaccinating as many as 4 million people a day, and President Joe Biden has announced that vaccines are plentiful enough that all adults will be eligible by May 1. It’s a remarkable achievement. 

Biden gets some credit for distributing the shots, but Trump is responsible for producing  vaccines in record time and guaranteeing that America had first dibs on the supply. The current president claims he inherited a mess. In fact, he inherited a miracle — Trump’s Operation Warp Speed. 

In the spring of 2020, Trump put America at the front of the line for whatever vaccines would ultimately be produced. He had the foresight to contract with not one or two, but six different vaccine companies for a total of 800 million doses. Not all six companies’ vaccines would actually be approved and put into use, but he went for all six, because failure was not an option.

Operation Warp Speed paid firms to manufacture the vaccines before clinical trials proved they were safe and worked. Companies couldn’t take that risk on their own. It was a bold strategy, and it worked. 

Trump insisted he would have vaccines ready by the end of 2020, a goal naysayers like government virus guru Anthony Fauci said was impossible. Thousands of column inches and many more tweets mocked Trump’s optimism. Before the novel-coronavirus vaccines, the fastest ever vaccine development — for mumps in the 1960s — took four years.

Johnson, like Trump, showed the pluck to partner with the drug companies early and lock in Britain’s future vaccine supply. Meanwhile, the European Union dithered over what to buy and at what price. By the time the Brussels bureaucrats contracted with vaccine developers, 105 days after Johnson signed his deals, it was slim pickings.  That’s largely why the European nations lack supply now.

Looking back, French President Emannuel Macron admits, “We didn’t shoot for the stars. That should be a lesson. We were wrong to lack ambition, to lack the madness . . . to say: ‘It’s possible, let’s do it.’ ”

Now EU countries are so desperate for supply that Hungary has bought 5 million doses from the Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm for a whopping $36 a dose, probably the highest price in the world. Amazing, since China refused to publish clinical data proving the vaccine works. Now there are signs it’s far less effective than the Chinese implied.

Britain has plenty of supply, and Johnson regards that as a vindication of Brexit and proof of the “innovative genius and commercial might of the private sector.” Spoken like his sometime-buddy Trump.

Yet the enemies of both men have tried to rewrite history, with Biden going so far as to claim, “When I came into office, the prior administration had contracted for not nearly enough vaccine to cover adults in America. We rectified that.”

Sorry, even the left-leaning Kaiser Health News rates that “mostly false.” Without the contracts giving the US first dibs on supply, America would have been left high and dry like the Europeans. Worse, the vaccines might never have been produced. Trump’s intervention made warp-speed vaccine development less risky for the companies doing it.  

That’s crucial, because this is not the last pandemic. Trump’s Operation Warp Speed is a model to follow next time. 

In 2019, before COVID struck, Trump’s Council of Economic Advisors warned that a flu pandemic could cost 500,000 American lives, but emerging technologies could make it possible to develop a vaccine against an invading disease in a matter of months, instead of years — provided government could reduce the financial risks.  

That advice was prescient, and Trump took it. The rest is history.

Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York.

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Opinion

Woke CEOs’ foolhardy bid to shape voting laws

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Woke CEOs' foolhardy bid to shape voting laws

More than 120 CEOs and other corporate leaders met on Zoom over the weekend to discuss how to exert pressure to influence legislation around the country. The media would be reporting it as a vast scandal if the agenda were right wing but these are woke executives.

Yale School of Management prof Jeffrey Sonnenfeld organized the gabfest along with the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism and the Leadership Now Project, to plot ways to foil some of the 350-plus voting bills before lawmakers in dozens of states. The attendees reportedly included Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, General Motors CEO Mary Barra, LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman and the chief execs of American, Delta and United airlines.

Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier and former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault urged the group to make a public denunciation of legislation that supposedly discriminates and restricts voting access, with some calling laws like the one Georgia just passed “racist.” Several attendees even called their posturing “critical to democracy.”

Afterward, organizers announced: “CEOs who participated . . . indicated they will re-evaluate donations to candidates supporting bills that restrict voting rights and many would reconsider investments in states which act upon such proposals.”

Plainly, they’ve ignored the pile of poop that Major League Baseball and others just stepped in with their anti-Georgia moves. (The new law leaves the Peach State with more-liberal voting laws than New York or Delaware, for starters, as well as Colorado, which somehow won the All-Star Game.)

Worse, they showed no sense of how unseemly the whole thing is — a project to push duly elected officials into catering to woke opinion.

Contra the organizers’ claims, this isn’t moving “to shore up American democracy,” and anyone running a company should have the common sense to see that. Maybe most CEOs were just paying lip service to win political-correctness points, but it surely at least annoys roughly half their customers.

We’re not sure which is worse: if the CEOs simply calculated that they had to posture left to please the current powers that be in Washington or if they’re fools enough to think that making their company take a side in America’s red-blue battles is somehow moral, their duties to their shareholders be damned.

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